CHEAP AND EASY ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
with your own camera and a star tracker
Astrophotography isn’t about high magnification!
Most folks assume you need a powerful telescope for astrophotography. But you don’t. You only need a powerful telescope if you want to shoot small space objects. There are hundreds of HUGE space objects which can be shot without very much magnification at all… like the Andromeda galaxy below which is FIVE TIMES LARGER THAN THE MOON! I shot this picture with a 180mm camera lens.
This picture was taken with a 40 year old180mm Leica apo telyt camera lens on a small skywatcher star adventurer tracking mount from my mum’s back garden in Devon.
All we’re trying to do is spin our camera in the opposite direction to how the earth is spinning.
If the earth would just stop spinning then Astrophotography would be easy. We could point a great big light bucket dobsonian up at the sky, take a twenty minute exposure and wind up with a beautiful, crisp picture of deep space. Unfortunately we need a motorised mount to hold our telescope still for the full duration of the exposure while the earth spins beneath it.
How to do it (polar aligning)
- Line the mount up to the rotation of the earth by pointing the inbuilt polar scope at the North Star
- Stick the camera on a ball head and then stick the ball head and camera on the tracking mount.
- Use the ball head to point the camera at the target
- Start taking pictures.
When you are at high magnification holding the scope “still” is tough… but when you don’t zoom in much its a lot easier… and a lot cheaper. “But what’s the point of not shooting at a high magnification” I hear you cry, “Surely that’d be a bit pants”. Well I hate to disagree with you but I strongly disagree with you. From Earth the Great Nebula of Orion is twice the size of the moon and the Seven Sisters star cluster (below) is at least 3 times bigger than the moon. And there is loads more cool things to see that are simply enormous, you’ve just never seen them because they are so faint. Anyone can download the high magnification stuff from NASA’s Hubble galleries but only you can take unique pictures that reveal these big structures and you can do it with a DSLR and camera lens and a relatively cheap earth derotation device (aka a star tracker).
Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Pack
What blows me away with these mounts is that they track as accurately as mounts that cost twice as much. Note this version comes with all the accessories you need although if you’re doing wide angle stuff with lenses then you might also want a ball head
The best trackers in my opinion are the Skywatcher Star Adventures. The cheapest, mini version of this device is good although above I recommend its big brother with the pro pack because the extras give you more flexibility and the adjustable wedge makes aligning the mount to the rotation of the earth easier and more accurate. There are other similar astrophotography travel mounts but the Star Adventurer is the only one I’ve properly tested. Its very good. I’ve even stuck a little guide scope on it and successfully taken 30minute long subs. It is comfortably accurate to 2 arc seconds whilst guiding.
Star adventurer light weight tripod
Any sturdy camera tripod will do but if you don’t have one there are these… they are light but can only handle light little mounts that carry light little telescopes or lenses like these.
My regular travel rig set up
I often use my canon 6d and the Samyang 135mm lens with my Sky Watcher Star Adventurer but on this occasion I pushed the set up with a 50year old 180mm APO Telyt lens and the ZWO asi294mc camera to reveal the reflection nebula M45 (aka Seven Sisters).
Great Astrophotography Lenses
Sigma F1.4 50mm art Lens
I love my Sigma f1.4 50mm art lens. It is so fast and sharp it can catch Orion nebula setting through the trees with just a ten second exposure. Perfect for timelapse…