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Getting Started If You Already Own a Telescope

  Here's some tips on what you can try if you already own a telescope.  


Prime focus astrophotography is not the easiest place to begin unless you are imaging the moon.    If you already have a telescope on a half-descent mount and if it is already equipped with a tracking motor then I would recommend the following pathway into astrophotography:


1. Mount an old film SLR ($US 20 second-hand) camera piggyback-method to your telescope. Buy a camera ball socket ($US30) from a camera shop and somehow (use a light block of pine wood if necessary) afix your camera securely to the top of the telescope, or failing that remove the telescope and just mount the camera and a board of wood securely onto the mount. The ball socket will allow you to point the camera ANYWHERE to take a photo provided the mount itself is correctly polar aligned.  If you have a DSLR camera like the Canon 350D or similar then you are LAUGHING!  Just switch on the scope's tracking, click the camera and wait a few minutes for great results....

2. Use a FAST (f/4 or better) SLR lens on the camera that has focal length of 50 mm or less.

3. During the day focus the camera at infinity (look at some distant hills), put an infinity focus mark on the lens barrel so you can line it up in the night time when you have to.  You cannot focus correctly on stars by looking through the viewfinder.  You can get close, but you'll get no cigar...  Focus is very, very important.

4. Polar align your mount as best as you can (this is very, very important).

5. Use the BULB setting on your camera to take a picture with your mount correctly polar aligned and with the RA motor running. Use a cable-release ($US 15) for starting and stopping each photo. Point the camera at the Milky Way if it's high in the sky or point at some other area where there are lots of stars grouped together in the one area. Higher in the sky and getting near overhead is the best.

6. Take several exposures. Check your iris is wide open at f/4 or wider. Check exposure is BULB and that it works to give you a very long exposure. Use ISO400 or ISO800 film to begin with. Take exposures of length 2, 4, 6, 8 and 16 minutes and get them developed ASAP to check your methods. The results can be pleasing.

7. AFTER you do this try the same thing but this time guide the photos by looking through the telescope and adjusting (only the big errors) with the motors - be really careful not to bump anything.

8. Have fun.

9. Get yourself T-Thread and camera adapters ($40) for your camera suitable for prime-focus.


10. Make yourself a Bahtinov Mask or a Hartmann Mask.

11. Under a half-moon or a quarter moon do a Rough Polar Alignment.  A quarter moon produces the easiest to get, most pleasing photos.

12. Use an eyepiece to centre a very bright star in your telescope's field of view.

13. Remove the eyepiece and connect up your camera at prime-focus.

14. Looking through the viewfinder of the camera use the Bahtinov Mask or Hartmann Mask over the front of your telescope to get as close to good focus as you can.

15. Without changing focus slew to the moon.

16. Take a series of photos with various shutter speeds 1/100th second 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000...

17. Get pictures developed ASAP to see how you go. When you finish with the moon take some exposures (1,2,3,4 minutes) of a bright DSO just to see the problems/issues with tracking and polar alignment.

18. Have fun.


19. For planetary imaging, the moon and even for bright DSOs get a low-light video camera or a web cam. The Mintron 62V1-Ex (color) is what I use ($US 250), but I read that TuoCam and Meade's DSI are also very good. If you get a B&W video camera you will need to get RGB ($US 100) filters if you want to create color images.  (Color is not important for the moon)

20. Get a 1.25" or 2" adapter to physically attach your video camera to the focuser of the telescope.

21. Get some way to feed the video into your computer. The choice of camera and your existing hardware will determine this. Some video cameras have composite (standard Video) while others will have a firewire or USB connection. I use the Mintron's composite video to view what's happening on TV and its S-video feed goes simultaneously to a camcorder (Mini-DV) tape. I take the camcorder and connect it to my computer using the camcorder's firewire connection. Use Astrovideo software (free trial) to capture images and Registax (free trial) to stack images of the moon and planets.

22. Have fun.

If you don't have fun doing this then you may not last the distance...

All images and content of this website are copyright (c)2005 Bill Christie.  All rights reserved.

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