When we start or want to start doing astrophotography we don't have the slightest idea of what equipment is required to do it. Then we ask people who are already immersed in the hobby or look for articles about it, but sometimes at the end we find information with so much detail that it is complicated to have an idea of what is needed.
This is why I present a general idea without going into too much detail of the most common elements used in astrophotography so that those who are starting almost from scratch can get the big picture about the equipment required. The detail of accessories at the moment of buying each equipment will be described in later articles.
Before we go on to the subject, let me clarify some points:
- Astrophotography consists of two phases: acquisition, which is the procedure of taking the photo with the equipment we have available, and the second part is the processing of the photo (developing) with which we will transform our raw photo and bring out all its details using specialized software. In this article we will only talk about the equipment used for the acquisition.
- In astrophotography, although there are more complex equipments than others, it is not required a level of experience as such to be able to start either with a specific equipment. This depends on your budget, your time availability, but above all your commitment and patience to learn this activity:
- There are people who are not 100% sure and buy the cheapest equipment to get an idea of what it is about and as they advance in experience, they acquire more complex and more expensive equipment.
- There are people who have the resources and time to go straight into complex and expensive equipment from the beginning.
A very important aspect to consider is that when you change the type of equipment you will find new problems inherent to it and new situations that need to be solved, for example, when changing from a DSLR camera to an astrocamera you will need the use of a computer, when starting with a mount with tracking you will need to learn to align to polaris, etc. This will be discussed in a separate article.
Commons elements of a astrophotography setup
|Mount: it is the base on which we will hold the rest of the equipment. In this category we include from the simple common photographic tripods, mounts with camera tracking to more sophisticated mounts that can carry telescopes and cameras weighing several kilograms. Contrary to what many beginners think, choosing and investing in a quality mount should be the #1 priority over all other items of your equipment because if you don't have a good mount with a good degree of accuracy it won't do you much good to have the best telescope or camera.
|Optics: this is where the lenses and telescopes come in. It is not necessary to have a telescope to do astrophotography, in fact, there are certain objects in the sky in order to take them out completely you need to do it with camera lenses.
|Acquisition: Next we will talk about cameras, which fall into two categories: DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), which are the cameras we commonly use for common photography, and astrocameras, which are cameras specially designed for astrophotography.
|Accessories: It is necessary in many cases to have extra accessories such as camera intervalometer, telescope spacers, bathinov mask for focusing, etc.
Note: We will only mention the most common and indispensable, as this article is only to give a general idea to those who are starting.
If we could summarize it in one sentence, we would say that it depends on what type and quality of photo you want to take and based on that is the equipment you will have to choose. Below is the list of equipment in order of complexity and the photos you can take with each one.
Complexity: very low
DSLR camera & tripod
Type of images you can achieve: simple wide-field night panoramic photos of no more than 30 seconds exposure (this depends on the lens you use and the time allowed by the camera's bulb mode).
Tripod: Don't complicate yourself with brands and overly priced tripods at this level. Any kind is good, I just recommend to buy a ballhead tripod.
Cameras: this models are popular for astrophotography Canon t6i, Canon t7i, Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Nikon D5100, Nikon D610, Sony a7s II
DSLR camera, tripod + intervalometer
Image types that you can achieve: wide field, no more than 30 seconds exposure (this depends on the lens you use and the time allowed by the camera's bulb mode), circumpolar photos, trails and timelapses videos.
Intervalometer: just make sure it has the connector specific to the camera model.
Popular lens for wide field: Rokinon 10mm f/2.8
DSLR camera, tripod, intervalometer + tracking mount for cameras
Kind of images you can achieve: deep space. The camera mount is an inexpensive option that will allow you to start off easy in a less complicated way. Here the situation becomes more interesting as the camera mount will allow you to follow the movement of the stars in the sky and you will be able to take pictures of objects such as nebulae, galaxies, etc (this depends on the focal length of the lens you use and the time allowed by the camera's bulb mode). Usually the camera's tracking mount will allow you to take pictures with an exposure time of 1-2 minutes.
Popular tracking mounts for cameras : Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, IOptron Skytracker, IOptron Skytracker Pro, IOptron SkyGuider Pro,
Popular lenses for astrophotography: Samyang 135 mm f2.0, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L-IS II USM
DSLR camera, tripod, intervalometer, computarized equatorial mount + telescope
Kind of images you can achieve: deep space, long focal length. An equatorial telescope mount will allow you to capture smaller objects with telescopes in addition to obtaining more stability. However, depending on the focal length of your telescope, you can only take 1 to 2 minutes of exposure time. To adapt the camera to the telescope, you will need a special T-Ring for your camera brand. As for the telescope, it is highly recommended that you start with a refractor.
If you are going to buy a set with a telescope you will need to buy the autoguiding system (see next point)
Entry-level mounts: Celestron AVX, IOptron CEM25P, Ioptron IEQ30, Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5, Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro,
Popular refractror telescopes for astrophotography: William Optics ZenithStar 61, Orion ED80T Carbon Fiber ED APO, Takahashi FS-60Q Fluorite, William Optics Red Cat,
DSLR camera, tripod, intervalometer, computarized equatorial mount, telescope + autoguide system
Type of images you can achieve: deep space with long exposure times The autoguide system consists of an extra telescope that commonly has a planetary or lower level camera installed and is used to correct a periodic error that equatorial mounts have that does not allow long exposure photos to be taken. This system consists of monitoring the position of a reference star continuously, and when this star moves out of position, the auto-guiding system sends the necessary corrections to the mount.
This allows us to take pictures with frames of 5, 10 or more minutes of exposure. Here we could say that we would already have a complete astrophotographic equipment.
There is another problem to take into account: usually it is necessary to have a computer to which we will connect the camera of the telescope since it is a software that will analyze the image and send the necessary corrections. There are self-guiding devices that do not need a computer, but they are usually more expensive.
RGB (color) astrocamera, sturdy tripod, computarized equatrial mound, telescopio, autoguide system
Kind of images you can achieve: deep space with long exposure times and better quality. An astrocamera has only what you need to take astrophotography unlike DSLR's which are general purpose. They have a cooling system that improves image quality by reducing sensor noise. The complexity with astrocameras is that you will necessarily need a computer to do the image capture, unlike DSLRs.
Popular RGB astrocamerass: ZWO ASI2600 Pro, ZWO ASI294MC Pro, ZWO ASI071 Pro Cooled
Monochrome astrocamera + filters + filters wheel, tripod, computarized equatorial mount, telescope, autoguide system
Monochrome astrocameras offer the best quality compared to DSLRs and RGB. Why use a monochrome astrocamera to capture color shots? DSLR and RGB cameras capture all colour in one shot (that's why they are commonly called OSC-One Shot Color), but what they do internally is capture green, red and blue pixels at the same time, so they capture less of those colours in each shot. Monochrome cameras, on the other hand, capture 100% of the color taken with the filter used. That's why, for example, for a complete color photo, 20 minutes of exposure are taken using the red filter(R), another 20 minutes using the green filter(G), and another 20 minutes using the blue filter(B). Then they are put together in a software at the time of processing, generating a better quality image.
But don't get it wrong: the monochrome camera has captured more color and details for each 20 mins filter than a RGB camera capturing 1 hour of total expousre.
For these setups the complexity increases as you have to handle the filter's wheel, the astrocamera, as well as the self-guiding device, the mount, etc.
Monochrome cameras: QHY QHY600, ZWO ASI183GT
Filters Astrodon Tru-Balance Generation 2 E-Series, Baader LRGB Filter
Imagen por Christoph Lichtblau