Equipment - astrodan


Equipment is an integral part of the astrophotography hobby. I try my best to let my astrophotography skills and aspirations lead the need for new "toys" and not the opposite (it's very easy to desire a bigger fancier scope - it's harder to develop the skills to fully exploit it once you get it though...).

This is a photographic journey down memory lane - as I retrace, to some extent, the scopes and tools that I've used throughout. 

Although my fascination with astronomy can be traced back to my junior year at UC Davis in 1999, when as part of a course I first looked through a newtonian 8", I did not buy a telescope until 2011, and did not go into astrophotography until 2012.

scope 3

This is pretty much how I started: after buying myself a "CPC800 Deluxe" scope for Christmas it only took me a couple of months to realize that visual observing wasn't satisfying enough and I wanted to attach a CCD to that visual back.

The CPC 800 is a Alt-Az mount built around a fabulous Aplanatic SCT tube called "Edge HD8".  Unfortunately the combination is simply not suited for astrophotography.  So, despite the obligatory placement on a heavy duty wedge (resulting in balance issues that needed to be corrected - as demonstrated by the picture here), this solution only lasted six months or so.

The main problem was that the 2000mm Focal Length was truly excessive for the limited tracking capabilities of the mount (which was in fairness more than adequate for visual use!).

So, I jumped  on a great deal for a 4" triplet refractor, an Explore Scientific 102 f/7, which was being discontinued at the time.

This was a great move. Imaging at 700mm FL was so much easier, I found renewed faith in the hobby. The little camera at the end of the scope was an Atik 314L+.

It mounted a fantastic low-noise Sony CCD sensor (ICX285), but unfortunately it was the color version, which prevented me from shooting H-alpha, for which that triplet is perfect.

Also, I had to piggy-back the triplet on the Celestron OTA - not good. That mount was truly at the limits of its capabilities. I needed a new mount...

CPC 800 with piggy backed ED102
AP gear

In June of 2012 I sold the CPC system and bought an iOptron mount, an iEQ45, which at the time was highly praised practically everywhere (forums, specialist press and so on...)

Transitioning to a GEM mount definitely helped, but I did not love the iOptron. In fact, I came to despise it. Looking back, even though it performed adequately, it came with such a sterling reputation that I was expecting much more. (Here I learned an important lesson about the astrophotography forums - but that's the topic for whole other blog).

Also, I found a few bugs in the firmware that ranged from annoying to quite simply dangerous (on a couple of occasions the mount started to randomly slew around - this was fixed by a new FW release).

Mechanically I found the mount mediocre - it came out of the box with a very high periodic error, and I had to really beg ioptron to replace the worm with a better one. They did (at my expense), but the replacement was only marginally better.

I stuck with it for almost a year, determined to learn as much as I could. I found myself stuck also because there's a famous "gap" in the range of prices for astronomical mounts: plenty of competitors below $2k and a few players above $10k-15k - but precious little in the middle.

In any case this setup was good enough  to convince me to upgrade the camera (the atik was a poor match for the ES102), and I bought a used QSI583 which opened up a  world of new  possibilities with narrowband imaging and of course new challenges!

In April 2013 I had had enough of the iOptron, so I bought the smallest (And most affordable) Astro-Physics mount: the Mach 1 GTO.

This is the mount that "changed my nightlife"! I no longer had to worry about minuscule amounts of imbalance that would kill tracking performance, about random slewing motions or anything mount related. This was the mount that just worked flawlessly out of the box.

The periodic error that I measured  out-of-the-box was smaller than 1 arcsec peak to peak, with PEC (recorded at the factory) turned on. 

What this mount enabled was letting me concentrate on improving all the other aspects of astrophotography: getting accurate focus, framing in the most effective way, and of course, honing my post-processing skills.

April 2013 is where I started to produce images that I considered worthy of being shared.

AP gear in the field
Setup at GSSP 2013

In the summer of 2013,  having had 4 months or so to learn to use the AP Mach 1 effectively, I decided to get a longer FL scope that would allow me to frame smaller galaxies and planetary nebulae.

The Mach 1 certainly wouldn't have any problems handling the increased pixel scale.

So right on time for GSSP 2013 (the golden state star party), I got the OTA I started this adventure in the first place: an Edge HD 8.

I mostly use it at its native focal length (2000mm f/10), and on occasion I use the Celestron 0.7x reducer to obtain 1400mm at f/7

Towards the end of 2014 I decided to replace the ES 102 triplet (102mm f/7) with a similar but faster and better built refractor: a Stellarvue SVQ100 (100mm f/5.8 quadruplet).

This is a compact refractor that does not require a flattener and already came with a pre-installed 3" focuser ready to be motorized with my existing motor and controller. It's as close as grab'n'go as I'm ever going to get.

A really good match for my QSI583, and possibly a larger chip in the future.

The setup hasn't really changed since the acquisition of the SVQ, but since 2016 I have configured the setup to run completely automated, through usage of automation software and a number of packages that work interconnectedly.

Also, for maximum usability, since 2016, the setup on the scope includes a mini-PC which runs and controls the entire setup.

More information on this is available on a different page on this website.

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