Complete Telescope Rig
Deep sky astrophotography equipment typically includes an equatorial mount, telescope, camera, autoguiding system.
My astrophotography equipment has been built over time starting with the very basics and adding with the nice to haves when my budget has allowed me to. As you will know by now this is not a cheap hobby!
**UPDATE** December 2019 I decided that I wanted to undertake dual imaging! the reason for this is just to obtain RGB data with a one shot camera while simultaneously obtaining narrowband data. the RGB data will be used for star colour with Bicolour images i.e. SHO (Hubble Palette)
Telescope - William optics RedCat51 f/4.9 @ 250mm focal length.
Camera - ZWO ASI183MC OSC
While all the basic items of equipment are required for a successful deep sky image, the most important peace of equipment is the equatorial mount. When it comes to producing breath taking images, the telescope mount accurately tracks the movement of the night sky allowing you to get those pin point stars!
Purchasing a equatorial mount is often the first step beginners take when building their first astrophotography rig. Choosing a telescope mount can be difficult as there are many different types at very different price ranges.
if you are a beginner I would recommend purchasing a sky watcher equatorial mount. They are really good mounts and used by most amateur Astrophotographers and at a very good price range.
There are several types of telescopes available on the market, two of which being apochromatic refractor and Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. Its very important you understand what type of imaging you would like to undertake prior to making a purchase.
My personal preference is the apochromatic refractor telescope for astro imaging that offers a wide field of view for capturing bright Nebula's and some galaxies that require large wide field of views. An apochromatic refractor has several benefits when it comes to deep sky astrophotography including excellent contrast and colour correction. These telescopes are capable of capturing amazing details of incredible galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.
I do own a Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope which has 200mm aperture at F/10 giving me a 2000mm focal length. this telescope even equipped with a x0.63 focal reducer. the scope does not offer a wide field of view which is its disadvantage. as you are limited to targets that require long focal lengths. however this can be an advantage if you are looking at imaging those deep galaxies throughout galaxy season.
Optical Design : Apochromatic Triplet with ED element
Diameter : 100mm
Focal Length : 550mm
F-ratio : f/5.5
Linear Power Focuser Diameter : 3"
Tube Weight : 6.3 kg
Tube Dimensions : 10.5 x 47 cm
Case Dimensions : 57 x 50 x 28 cm
if you are a beginner with a small budget I would recommend the Sky Watcher ED Pro Series this range of telescope is a great starting point for collection protons.
When is comes to selecting a imaging camera this can be very tricky. now most beginners normally start with a DSLR camera which are ok, they produce beautiful images. however if you do not already own a DSLR camera my recommendation would be to purchase a dedicated astro imaging camera.
There are two types of sensors a CCD and a CMOS chip sensor, my preference has always been CMOS sensor as this sensor is capable of collecting amazing details at very short exposures, even as short as 60seconds.
Then you have mono and one shot colour sensors. if you are just starting out with astrophotography I would recommend you purchase a one shot colour camera as these are less complicated and easy to learn the producers of calibrations frames , etc
However I did jump straight from a DSLR camera to a CMOS Mono camera, which was very challenging. But after many nights of trial it eventually paid off. Mono sensors are more sensitive however require a filter set to be able to obtain a RGB coloured image. each filter requires its own calibration flat which can be time consuming however the rewards are worth it!
My Camera is a ZWO ASI1600MM Cooled CMOS camera purchased at first light optics
You only need a filter wheel if you have a mono camera. as described above mono cameras require you to collect data using filters (Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, Ha Alpha, OIII & S-II)
The most common filters used by beginners are Red, Green & Blue, these filters when stacked and integrated produce a RGB image, Luminance and Narrowband can be integrated with RGB to produce more details.
With more experienced astrophotographers image mainly with narrowband filters to produce palettes images such as SHO & HOO palettes with occasionally adding RGB for star colour.
The QHY Polemaster is a must have really! this great device does two great things.
1. Saves you a lot of back and neck pain while trying to polar align through your polar scope.
2. Gives you accurate polar alignment in under 5min.
This great camera comes equipped with the QHY polar software which allows you to get precise polar alignment during the fine tuning stage. as you may already know the better your polar alignment the better your guiding performs. the better your guiding the longer the exposures can be.
Focus Stepper Motor
The pegasus focus cube is a nice to have. not really escential if you have parfocal focal filters that do not require focusing during an imaging session between filters.
However I find it usual when using auto focus in sequence generator pro to get precise focus for sharp pin point stars.
A manual controller can also be purchased that allows easy manual control of the stepper motor and can be easily be switched between auto ands manual control at the press of a button.
My Control Module
At the heart of my telescope rig is the my control module!
This is where everything is powered and controlled! it also helps with cable management! and we all know how messy cables can be when astro imaging!
The equipment used is very simple, we have the pegasus ultimate power box which is a brilliant peace of equipment. This box combines Power, Dew Heaters, USB and environment sensors all into one power cable and one USB cable. The module is then equipped with a intel M3 PC stick that holds all the necessary software to successfully collect data to produce a finished image once processed which I can remote access from the warmth of my bed via team viewer. Therefore no need to sit outside on those cold winter nights.
If your wounding how do I do this without internet at remote sites , etc thats easy! all you need is a access point router and set up team viewer to allow LAN connections. Therefore you do not require internet to remote access the PC stick.
Now you may have noticed that I do not have a synscan controller plugged into my EQ6R-PRO thats because I use EQMOD control. which is a software that controls all the functions of your mount from your PC without the need to sit outside on the synscan controller. All you need is to download EQMOD and replace your synscan controller with Lynx Astro EQDIR cable.
If like me you don't like holding your laptop outside while trying to slew your mount using your keyboard or mousepad I have installed a bluetooth games controller to control specific functions on my mount like slewing, parking , adjust slew speeds etc.
The final gismo to this module is the GPS stick that links to EQMOD for obtaining accurate location data that is imported directly to your mount.