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A few 'bits &' bobs'

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Author Topic: A few 'bits &' bobs'  (Read 663 times)
Big Dipper
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« on: September 11, 2010, 07:45:34 pm »

As someone who loves to combine two of my favourite hobbies - i.e. astronomy and photography - I would nevertheless describe myself as a bit of a Luddite! I have never taken a laptop outside with me and when I used to image with my 11" SCT & stand alone autoguider I often ended up having a night of frustration while trying to get the autoguider to 'see' the glaringly obvious guide star in my illuminated reticle! As I would often use a baby monitor so I could keep an ear out for the autoguider when tracking to ensure it was 'clicking away' normally, given my short fuse with matters electronic I did sometimes wonder how any nearby 'newbie' parents who may be tuned into the same frequency would react if baby's first ever words were four-letter in nature!  Grin

Although currently scopeless, my fairly modest setup now consists of a standard tripod & budget lenses (all of which were purchased over 20 years ago when I was really into SLR photography). My modified Canon 350D is attached to my AstroTrac and I let my remote timer take the exposures while I survey the night sky with my 10X50 binoculars. I've been more than happy with this setup for over three years now & have pretty much forgotten what the word 'frustration' means!  Smiley

I don't usually post images here but thought I'd share some which I'd taken over the past 2-3 weeks. There are some lovely pairing/triplets etc. up there if you know where to look. The Leo Triplet, the Bubble nebula & M50, M81/82, the Heart & Soul nebulae with the Double cluster all come instantly to mind along with the ones imaged below.



Clusters and nebulosity in Auriga. Unfortunately I didn't manage to fit in M37 which was just outside the field of view with my 135mm lens.


M35, NGC443 & NGC2174 - again taken with a 135mm lens.


The California nebula (NGC1499) taken with my 70-300mm lens set at around 220mm focal length. This is an excellent target for a widefield setup.

Wishing everyone clear skies.  Smiley
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Andy

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markt
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2010, 08:43:40 pm »

Top shots and a great report! Cheesy
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2010, 11:34:06 pm »

Great work Andy, you've captured some lovely detail here-looks like your set-up is working a treat.
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JohnC
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2010, 02:58:59 pm »

Great images, Mark. That's amazing with the equipment you're using.

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Big Dipper
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2010, 12:26:07 am »

Thanks for the kind comments everyone. John it's amazing just how many deep sky objects are suitable for imaging with cheap lenses of 500mm focal length or under.

Here's one which I did about a week or two ago using the same 500mm f8 lens on my AstroTrac.


Mark (AKA Andy).  Grin
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Andy
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2010, 07:32:09 am »

Another great addition Andy!  How do you rate the astrotrac mount?  I've thought about getting one for sometime now as a quick grab and go / portable setup.  Any issues with it?
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2010, 04:07:18 pm »

Amazing, Andy. I really thought you'd have to have some pretty expensive gear to get these sort of shots I'm seeing here.
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Big Dipper
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« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2010, 02:43:43 pm »

Many thanks for the kind comments, Mark & John.  Smiley

John, my set up is pretty much as basic as you can get! My AstroTrac is mounted on a standard camera tripod which I bought over 20 years ago when I was really getting in to general SLR photography. Three of my five lenses  - a Paragon 500mm f8, a 50mm and a 135mm, were bought around the same time (the 135mm was second hand), with the two remaining ones (a 18-55mm zoom & a 75-300mm zoom) having being bought second hand on ebay. The only real expenses that I've had, aside from the AstroTrac, were having my Canon 350D DSLR modified by changing the standard filter with one which allowed far more of the Ha emission line to be recorded (a 'must' if emission nebulae are your favourite target for imaging) and buying a Manfrotto 410 Junior geared head to fit between the tripod & AstroTrac. The geared head allows you to make micro adjustments during polar alignment which, of course, makes for far better tracking. Yes, I shall never attain the superb standard that many amateur imagers are producing nowadays with the likes of dedicated CCD cameras but that doesn't bother me in the least so long as I continue to enjoy what I'm doing (which is all that really matters IMO).  Smiley

Mark, getting an AstroTrac was probably one of the best purchases that I've ever made, astro-imaging wise. I have the original version (model TT320 - which has since been improved) and did a mini review of it around 3 years ago which you can read here. The person behind Astrotrac, a guy named Richard Taylor, must have read my review as I subsequently received a bottle of champagne in the post, totally out of the blue!

Personally I have had absolutely no issues with mine but from reading reviews on other forums & astronomy magazines, the only niggles that seem to sometimes come up are the design of the polar arm in which you slot the AstroTrac's polar scope & the ease that the polar scope can sometimes be knocked out of its holder. The arm was redesigned when the newer model came onto the market (i.e. the TT320X) & was made longer which made it easier to use - mainly because there was less chance of your camera & lens set up obscuring the polar scope's view of Polaris & nearby polar alignment stars. With the latest version - the TT320X-AG - the other main criticism, namely its cost, has now been partially addressed, too.

The main advantage of the AstroTrac to me is the fact that it is very easy & quick to set up/take down again. When I had my 11" SCT & ST4 autoguider, I would often come home from work feeling pretty tired & even though the sky may have been clear, I just didn't have the energy & motivation to set everything up & then spend a further half an hour looking for a guide star which my autoguider could 'see'. Also, whereas with the SCT I would locate an object for imaging by moronically dialling in its RA & dec co-ordinates using the scope's manual setting circles, I now find it far more rewarding locating an object on Starry Nights software beforehand and then star hopping to the selected target using a small 6X30 finderscope which I modified so that it could slot into the camera's hot shoe adapter. Another bonus of using this latter method is that it has greatly increased my knowledge of actually being able to place where individual DSO's are in the night sky rather than spending long periods of time just looking at setting circles!

So yes, I'm one very happy AstroTrac owner & have spent far more nights outdoors than I ever did in my 'prior to AstroTrac' days!
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Andy
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« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2010, 04:04:11 pm »

Top images Andy!, and really fascinating text/discussion along with the visuals for digesting, fascinating reading. I was really impressed with the image of the Horse Head and Flame Nebulae - wonderful  Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2010, 12:04:11 am »

Found this very interesting Andy and stunning images. Is their anything you could point me to for imaging the night sky with a 300mm lens on a standard tripod other than the Moon. As the dark nights are coming in setting myself some goals.
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« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2010, 01:38:44 pm »

Thanks for all the details Andy, i've had an Astrotrac on my shopping list for sometime now, may well have to invest in one next year...
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Big Dipper
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« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2010, 05:58:03 pm »

Many thanks Martin & Dave - appreciate your comments.

Dave, until I got my AstroTrac I had no idea that there were so many targets suited to a moderate telephoto lens & wider field of view. I'm assuming that you're using a static tripod without a motor drive which will limit your exposure time unless you are specifically wanting to record star trails (a standard 50mm lens can record the night sky for around 20~30 seconds before trailing becomes an issue).

The summer Milky Way remains very prominent in the evening sky and always gives very pleasing results no matter what focal length is used to image it. Just point the lens in the general direction of Cygnus for the best results (least ways for us 'northerners').

There's a 'very easy to find' planetary conjunction happening at the moment (I say 'easy to find' because one of the components, Jupiter, is by far the brightest object in the night sky (with the exception of the Moon, of course). Frame it with your 300mm lens per the simulation below with Jupiter near to the bottom & slightly to the left of the field of view & hopefully you will catch a greenish point of light towards the upper right of the field which is the planet Uranus. Good luck!  Smiley


Another target which looks promising for the next few weeks is the comet 103P/Hartley. However I see you've been following Martin's thread on this subject so won't go any further about it in this post.

Some of the best known open clusters are coming back into view which would make for some nice shots. First to rise is the lovely Pleiades cluster (M45) - AKA the Seven Sisters. Shortly afterwards, but still in Taurus, comes the Hyades cluster with the bright but unrelated foreground star Aldebaran. Being reddish in colour, it makes a lovely contrast with the actual stars which make up this cluster. Later still in the small hours comes the famous Beehive cluster (M44) in Cancer.

Another subject that you may want to have a bash at is recording star trails around Polaris. This can yield some very dramatic results & as the intention is to show star trails, you won't be limited in exposure time by the Earth's rotation. Bear in mind, however, that light pollution may overwhelm the image if you're limited to shooting at an urban location.

A final thought for now & very well suited to a static tripod is to take a series of identical exposures of the same area of sky and then use some freeware on the web to make an animation from the shots. Hopefully you'll get a far better result than the rough & ready animation which I posted here last year.

Best of luck & look forward to seeing images from you as & when skies permit.  Smiley


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Andy
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« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2010, 08:38:12 am »

Thanks for taking the time to do that Andy. I will let you know how i get on, appreciated Smiley
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