The Astrophotography Setup

First, a little history of how I got here….In the summer of 2013, a close friend introduced me to astrophotography while we were experimenting with long-exposure, nighttime photography, at Inglis Falls in Owen Sound, Ontario.  At that time, I was using my wife’s Nikon D7000 DSLR with an 18-105mm kit lens, on a tripod.  Finding new foregrounds and darker skies for shooting wide field images of the Milky Way, was a great experience, while learning the basics of astrophotography.  The problem faced now was that the exposure time restrictions using the rule of 600 while not tracking (compensating for the Earth’s rotation) did not leave much room for improvement.

In April, 2014, I purchased an iOptron Sky Tracker.  This was the first piece of equipment bought specifically for astrophotography, and was a fairly easy equatorial mount to get started with.  I used the Sky Tracker for a few years and had some acceptable wide field results, but I eventually wanted to shoot at longer focal lengths.  I upgraded from the 18mm f/4 to a 200mm f/2.8 lens, and soon after upgraded from the Nikon D7000 to the Nikon D610 body.  At this point, I was really pushing the weight capacity of the Sky Tracker and had to discard as much as half of the data collected in a single night due to tracking error.  Although I did manage to get some decent images at 200mm, time was wasted in the process, and I was once again limited by exposure time (maximum of 60 seconds at 200mm focal length).

In August, 2016, I began investing in dedicated equipment for astrophotography. This upgrade has been the biggest learning curve yet, but has also proven to show the best results.  I am now using a temperature regulated, monochrome CMOS camera with broadband and narrowband filters, attached to an 80mm triplet APO refractor.  This brings my focal length to 960mm (in 35mm terms).  I use a guide camera with a 50mm scope to improve tracking accuracy, and an equatorial mount with 30 lbs. of load capacity (my current OTA weighs about 10 lbs.).  With the combination of a laptop, dew heaters, mount and cameras, all using power; acquiring a good battery was a very important piece to complete this puzzle.  I use an 80 Ah deep cycle battery, which can run everything safely for a few long nights in the field before needing to recharge.

The following is a rundown of the equipment I currently use….when the weather cooperates.

OTA (Optical Tube Assembly)
1. Orion ED80T CF Triplet APO Refractor
2. Orion Field Flattener
3. ZWO ASI 1600mm-Cool CMOS Camera
4. ZWO EFW 8 Slot Filter Wheel
5. Orion Starshoot Guide Camera
6. Orion 50mm Guide Scope

GEM (German Equatorial Mount)
7. Orion Sirius EQ-G EQ Mount
8. 11lb. Counterweight
9. Tube Rings

Power and Accessories
10. 80Ah Marine Deep Cycle Battery
11. USB GPS/Hub/Cables/Extensions
12. Portable table
13. Portable chair
14. Dew heater for guide scope
15. Dew heater for imaging scope
16. Laptop

In later posts I will provide more detail about some of the problems I’ve encountered on this journey, and ways to overcome them. I will also  post about the process of setting up and collecting monochrome data using broadband and narrowband filters, as well as the software and editing techniques I use to develop color images.

Till next time the clouds roll over,


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