Astrophotography Equipment Guide: Everything Useful

Astrophotography equipment means anything from a camera to an image editing software. Your astrophotography kit can contain dozens of devices, some affordable, some quite expensive. This is one of, if not the most, costly field of photography. You will want to start off with the basics, but in the end, after you completely fall in love with astrophotography, you will feel the need to buy all the wonderful devices that will help you capture the most mesmerizing images of the deep sky.

astrophotography equipment

Astrophotography Equipment – The Ultimate Stargazer Kit

  • Astrophotography camera

There are many types of cameras you can use to shoot the stars, galaxies, nebulae, etc. You can capture astronomical objects with a DSLR camera, a dedicated CCD camera, a point-and-shoot, and even the standard webcam.  As you can see, there are options to suit every pocket.

However, we would recommend you choose to go for the DSLR.  Digital single lens reflex cameras are easy to find, offer high-quality images, and you can use them in your day-to-day life. DSLRs feature removable lenses that come with a variety of focal lengths to fit your astrophotography need. For excellent results, attach a telescope to the camera to act as a lens. You won’t be disappointed. Additionally, you get full control over the shutter speeds, the aperture, and ISO.

  • Telescope

The second most vital tool of astrophotography equipment would be the telescope. The type of telescope you will choose to invest in (and mind you, they are pricey) largely depends on the kind of astrophotography you are into. The three common types of telescopes used for astrophotography are the Newtonian – the most affordable, the Schmidt-Cassegrain, and the Refractor – the most expensive.

Large telescopes are costly and also require expensive mounts. Beginners might want to start with a small refractor and add a field flattener to fix some of its issues. You can find out more about the best telescopes for astrophotography here.

telescope with a dslr attached

  • Mount

You also need a good mount to add to your camera and telescope in order to track the stars. There are many types of mounts, but the most used for astrophotography are the equatorial and the horizontal ones.

An equatorial mount has one of the axis directed towards the north or the south pole. This way, the polar axis is parallel to the Earth’s rotation axis.

A horizontal mount has one axis directed towards the zenith and controlling the azimuth angle, while the horizontal axis controls the elevation angle. This type of mount is not the ideal option for astrophotography.

Use an equatorial mount for your astronomical imaging because they are the best for this kind of photography, and they come in different price ranges. Some are quite affordable, and you can spend as little as $200 on a decent mount, which is quite cheap considering these devices can get up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • T-Mount

When hooking your camera to a telescope to use it as the camera’s lens, you will definitely need a T-mount adapter. You can find one specially made for the type of camera you use, whether you use a Canon or a Nikon. You will place it on the body of the camera and then insert it into the focuser of your scope. It is a cheap little tool, and you can spend less than $50 on one.

  • Autoguider

Another addition to your astrophotography equipment is the autoguider, used to keep your mount focused on the target, be it a star, a star cluster, nebulae, and more. You have two options: either choose a guiding telescope or an off-axis guider.

Guiding telescopes are mounted on top of the primary telescope used for imaging. Then, a guiding camera is plugged into the scope, and you can control it using a software on your computer. If choosing this method, consider the fact that you will also need to invest in a guide scope ring that is placed between the guiding scope and the main telescope.

Off-axis guiders are small devices with a little prism. Just as with a guiding scope, a camera has to be connected to the off-axis guider. This is a very precise method, and you won’t need to carry a second scope with you on your shooting trips. However, you have to be sure that your off-axis guider is well built and both it and the guiding camera are as sensible as possible.

astrophotography autoguider

  • Remote Release

A remote release is used to open the camera’s shutter without touching it. This prevents any movement and vibrations that may blur your pictures. The either wired, and wireless remote release only opens and closes the shutter once per every pressing of the release button. A timer remote controller offers more advantages because you can program a series of long exposures and pauses between frames.

  • Software

When it comes to astrophotography, there are plenty of software that can help you achieve the best results. The great thing about it? It’s one astrophotography equipment you won’t have to worry about having to carry with you and weighing heavy on your back.

The astrophotography software you should look into include DSLR camera control, image acquisition automation, software-assisted focusing, autoguiding software, image calibration software, photo stacking software, and editing tools.

With the help of astrophotography software such as camera control or software-assisted focusing, you can control the most important functions and settings of the camera using your computer. This means features such as ISO or shutter speeds to focus. Autoguiding software also helps you obtain higher tracking accuracy. The image acquisition automation software allows for many short exposure captures at specific time intervals that you can ultimately stack or combine. Through image calibration software you can get rid of some unwanted fixed signals or correct signal modifications.

startrails  software

Finally, you will want to adjust the color, brightness, noise, and more. There are many post-processing software available, some specially developed for astrophotography, some for universal use (Photoshop, for example). You can use programs such as Images Plus, IRIS, AstroArt, AIP, Startrails or you can stay with the classic Photoshop that has countless features that will really make your pictures pop.

Lightroom is also a good solution when it comes to basic corrections. It is also an excellent tool for organizing, managing, and also sharing your astronomical pictures.

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Best Telescope for Astrophotography – How to Choose Your Scope

Already looking for the best telescope for astrophotography? This means that you are ready to go on your celestial journey and shoot for the stars. Astrophotography is a beautiful hobby to take interest in, whether you want to keep it at a basic level or get serious about it. Either way, there’s no escaping you getting a telescope.

The three most important items that every astronomy enthusiast who also wants to take on photography should look into are a good camera, at least a decent telescope, and a solid tracking mount. You most likely already have a good DSLR camera to work with, and the mount should be on its way. But first, let’s find you the best telescope for astrophotography.

Astrophotography is quite an expensive form of photography. It requires patience and a lot of saving up. This being said, it is best to wait a while and save for a few months before going shopping for a telescope. The quality of the product will also dictate the quality of your end image. Downloading that perfect shot onto your computer and seeing how neatly you focused on your subject will make all efforts worthwhile.

astrophotography

How to Pick the Best Telescope for Astrophotography

You’ve probably spend some time choosing your camera, looking at different models from countless manufacturers, and also checking how much you afford to spend on it. You will do the same when it comes to picking your telescope. There are a few factors you should consider when choosing your equipment:

  • Area of interest. What astronomical objects would you most likely want to shoot? If you are fascinated by planets, you will need a telescope with a long focal length to get a glimpse at the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and so on. But if you are keen on taking pictures of galaxies, nebulae, or star clusters, then a short focal length telescope will do the trick.
  • Portability. The size and weight of your scope is an important aspect. Don’t invest in a giant telescope if you don’t have a car to fit it in and no one to help you carry it. No matter what you choose to go with, remember that you will have to set up your telescope each time you use it if you don’t have a permanent observation spot to install it on.
  • Budget. How much are you willing to spend on astrophotography? Don’t go too big if astrophotography is just a passing phase.

Attributes of the Best Telescope for Astrophotography

best telescope for astrophotography

Telescopes are built to gather photons (light) and use it to help you examine your image in detail with your digital camera. This means that you will get to take a glimpse at fainter stars and star clusters that you otherwise would not be able to see with your bare eye. Smaller details can also be observed thanks to the scope’s magnifying capabilities.

Both telescopes and camera lenses have three primary attributes:

  • Aperture. As a rule, in astrophotography, you should always use large aperture because it will collect more photons. This feature will determine how much you get to see of the fainter stars in the night sky.
  • Focal length. As previously stated, think about what you want to take pictures of. The longer the focal length, the higher the magnification of the scope. It will be perfect to capture planets and double stars on camera.

Short focal length scopes will help you take wonderful photos of galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and more. Just as the aperture, focal length is measured in inches or millimeters.

  • Focal ratio. Focal ratio is the bridge between aperture and focal length. It is basically the focal length divided by aperture. Its importance is evident when you want to shoot extended astronomical objects such as galaxies. A fast focal ratio assures short exposure, and will record the image faster.

Short focal length scopes usually have faster focal ratios whereas long focal length telescopes will have slow focal ratios.

Best Telescope for Astrophotography – Choosing Your Optical System

best telescope for astrophotography in the field

Refracting telescopes

Refracting telescopes use lenses to gather and focus the photons (light). This type of scope requires little maintenance because the optical tube is sealed, thus reducing problems with seeing effects that can affect other types of telescopes, such as the Newtonian.

Refracting telescopes allow for high contrast viewing, making them the excellent for lunar and planetary observation and all forms of deep-sky photography. This type of telescope is more expensive than some reflecting and the catadioptric telescopes.

Reflecting telescopes

Reflecting telescopes use mirrors to gather and focus the light. Most of these telescopes feature an open tube design, having the main mirror at the tube’s bottom end. When the light comes at the open end of the scope’s tube, it hits the main mirror and is reflected to the second mirror, a flat one fitted at the top of the tube. Light is then conducted out of the side of the scope’s tube for either viewing or photographing.

There are three types of reflecting telescopes:

  • Newtonian. Good Newtonian scopes provide high quality images of both planetary objects and deep sky targets. However, they can be high maintenance, since you must collimate it every viewing session and recoat it since its coating eventually gets to deteriorate.
  • Ritchey – Chretien. This type of scope is corrected for aberrations that might ruin your picture, which makes it perfect for astrophotography.
  • Cassegrain. It might not be the ideal option for night sky photography since it suffers from astigmatism and coma aberrations. Cassegrains are also kind of slow, around f/12, and can cause other problems for astrophotographers, such as curvature of field.

Catadioptrics

Catadioptrics scopes use both reflective and refractive optics. They use a primary mirror for light gathering and a second mirror for magnifying the light and return it to the tube’s bottom. These telescopes have a lens element at the tube’s front end to correct aberrations.

There are two types of Catadioptric scopes you should look into:

  • Schmidt – Cassegrain. These are quite popular scopes for astrophotography because they are cheap and easy to find. However, they are slow, around f/10, and do not have a flat focal plane. Nonetheless, they can still provide good pictures of the deep-sky.
  • Maksutov. These scopes are good for planetary photography, but the f/ratios can be too slow for other types of astrophotography.

telescope stars

In terms of what they have to provide to those eager to photograph the night sky, the refracting type can offer the best telescope for astrophotography. They are low-maintenance, free of some of the issue that other types of optical systems might have, such as overheating, optical dust, or the need of collimation before every session.

Looking for the best telescope for astrophotography? Have a look at the Orion EON 104mm ED-X2 f/6.25 Triplet Apo Refractor Telescope, Orion EON 130mm ED Triplet Apochromatic Refractor Telescope, Celestron Advanced VX 6 Refractor Telescope, or the more affordable Orion ED80 80mm f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope and Orion 120mm f/5.0 Refractor Telescope Optical Tube Assembly.

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