Astrophotography Setup

People use all types of setups for wide-field astrophotography including a simple tripod/camera (which I started with) to an equatorial mount with remote control. Before diving into the actual processing of images, I feel I should first explain my astrophotography setup to give you a better idea of how I acquire my images.  This setup is always evolving and I will add or drop from it as I experiment with other equipment and processes.

My imaging location is in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, a relatively rural place with dark skies overhead. I do not have a permanent observatory, thus I need to break-down and store my equipment at the end of each imaging session.


My basic setup includes:

1.  iOptron ZEQ25GT equatorial mount. It is a basic GOTO mount with hand controller and a 25-pound payload capacity. Info can be found at http://www.ioptron.com.  It has been a very faithful mount, easy to use, easy to align.  With a 400mm lens I get excellent results with up to 90-second exposures.  I’ll cover the mount setup in another article.

2.  Canon 6D DSLR camera.  I also have a Canon T3i and Canon T4i for use. In recent months, I have also been using a Celestron C6-A SCT telescope.

3.  Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens (although any lens will work).  The 400mm gives me the same effects of using a small refractor telescope.  I’m currently experimenting with a Canon 2x Extender III converting my 400mm lens to an 800mm lens with a drawback of loosing my remote focusing…..more on this later.

My Basic Field Setup

My Basic Field Setup

The photo above shows my basic field setup (photo taken using a Lensbaby Fisheye lens, more info at http://lensbaby.com).  The board and brick stay in place for a quick alignment of the tripod.  Power is supplied from a wall outlet in my garage.  Currently, everything runs across the lawn (changes coming in the summer).

My wide-field setup.

My wide-field setup using a 400mm lens.

Now for the neat part.  I run everything from the comfort of an indoor environment (mostly).  USB cables are connected to the Canon 6D and the iOptron hand controller.  The cables run to my desktop computer, nicely located near my coal stove.  This allows me to control the camera AND camera focus using the software package Backyard EOS v3, check them out at http://www.otelescope.com.  The second USB is used for the mount control, this is accomplished by using the software package Starry Night Pro v6, you can check them out at http://astronomy.starrynight.com/.

This basic setup allows me to select objects, slew to the object, frame the subject, and photograph it.  Backyard EOS allows me to set the number of exposures, how long each exposure will be, etc.  A buzzer in the software notifies me when the process is complete.

There are other checks and protocols I’ll cover in upcoming articles including the actual mount setup and alignment, ASCOM software drivers, and much more.

Deepsky setup using a Meade 12" LX-90, Celestron CGEM-DX mount and my trusty Canon 6D.

Deepsky setup using a Meade 12″ LX-90, Celestron CGEM-DX mount and my trusty Canon 6D.

Imaging Saturn - July 31, 2015.

Imaging Saturn – July 31, 2015 using my Celestron 6″ telescope on an iOptron ZEQ25 mount.

 

Comments or questions are always appreciated.

….Tom

5 Responses to Astrophotography Setup

  1. Trevor says:

    Very cool to see the gear you use to take incredible images Tom! I am envious of your dark skies and scenic backyard. Looks like you are enjoying it to its full extent:)

  2. Kiran says:

    I enjoy following your photos and wondered if you could recommend an off axis guider for the lx 90 telescope series (I have the 8 inch model). I also wondered if you yourself used some sort of guider? Many thanks

    Kind Regards

    Kiran

    • Tom Wildoner says:

      Hi Kiran – I only recently started using a guide scope. If you have the LX90 alt-azi mount, I never had much luck with it. I put my LX90 on a Celestron mount. I thought about using an OAG, but decided to use a separate guide scope. The OAG I was going to use was made by Celestron (which will work on your Meade). The guide camera I use is made by ZWO and is the ASI290MC camera (which I also use for planetary and moon photography). I use this camera on a Canon 400mm lens which is piggy-back mounted on my LX90, that is my guide scope.

      • Kiran says:

        Thanks Tom i didn’t know if celestron oag works on a meade, i will certainly bear that in mind. I actually have mine on an equatorial wedge and that has helped a lot with the tracking. Another quick question if that’s ok. Do you know how you can get hold of a piggyback bracket for an lx90. They seem to be discontinued. I didn’t know if the universal celestron ones worked with meade telescopes to. Many thanks and hoping you don’t mind a second question 🙂

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