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BEST TELESCOPES & GEAR FOR
Astrophotography

Astrophotography is one of the most popular aspects of modern astronomy. It is also one of the most time­-consuming. Each photograph requires hours of data capture, and even more hours of data processing. However, with our expert help, you can hit the ground running with the right gear for the kind of astrophotography YOU want to do.

Whether it’s planetary imaging or deep­sky, DSLR or CCD, we can help you find exactly what you are looking for to get the images you want. The staff here at Cloud Break Optics are avid astrophotographers with years of experience in the field. Having an expert available to help you at all the steps will prevent you from spending unnecessary money and losing valuable time.

There are three main items necessary for good astrophotography: 1) A good, solid motor­-driven tracking mount (preferably German­ Equatorial, but not necessary), 2) a telescope, and 3) a camera. There are also a handful of astrophotography accessories that will make imaging easier but are not necessarily “required.”

MOUNTS

This is arguably the most important part of your entire setup. Astrophotography is near impossible without a good mount. Always err on the side of over­-mounting your telescope, rather than under-­mounting. You can always grow into your mount but trying to take long exposures of faint objects on a mount that doesn’t adequately hold your telescope is an exercise in futility. A German­ Equatorial mount is preferred, as it will eliminate field rotation as it tracks your object through the night sky, though an Altitude-Azimuth (Alt-Az) style mount works just fine for planetary, lunar, and solar photography.

Mounts we recommend for astrophotography:

TELESCOPES

The best type of telescope for astrophotography will vary greatly depending on the type of imaging you want to do. If you want to image the planets and have fine resolution on the moon, you will want a telescope with a large aperture and long focal length. If you prefer wide­field images and deep-sky imaging, a fast (lower f/ratio) telescope would be more preferable.

For either type of specialized imaging, you will want to pair your telescope with a particular camera so that they complement each other and optimize your imaging train to achieve your goals. A more detailed discussion about the interplay between these parts of your astrophotography system can be found in the blog series Astrophotography: Pixel by Pixel.

Refractors and reflectors both work well for astro­photography applications, but each design has its pros and cons. For example, one major consideration is back­focus distance. Does the telescope have enough back­focus to accommodate your entire imaging train? What type of optical aberrations do you need to correct for? Refractors tend to need their field curvature corrected when using today’s larger sensors. Fast reflectors will most likely need correction for coma. These accessories take up back­focus or change it completely, which may alter what accessories you can use.

We recommend thinking about what kind of imaging you want to do. All telescopes can image all things, but some will image certain types of objects better than others. You’ll also want to make sure that your telescope has a robust focuser. Trying to focus with a focuser that doesn’t support your imaging train or has poor resolution just makes your night frustrating. We highly recommend our line of motorized focusers for achieving critical focus.

Telescopes we recommend:

CAMERAS

The type of astrophotography camera you choose will also depend on the type of imaging you want to do. Planetary imagers will want to look at cameras that can take a high number of frames per second with small pixels, allowing you to get around the scintillation in the atmosphere. Deep­sky imagers are going to want to look at our line of cooled CCD or CMOS cameras, which can cool the sensor to reduce the noise and are incredibly sensitive to help pull the faintest details out of each shot.

Additional camera considerations include what kind of field ­of ­view you want, as well as the image scale your telescope-­camera combination will produce. Additionally, if you plan to do deep­sky imaging, we highly recommend an autoguiding solution. Some cameras, such as our QSI line of cooled CCDs, offer an integrated off­-axis guider prism to which you can attach your guiding camera. Other setups may require the use of a separate off-­axis guider or a separate guiding telescope with its own guiding camera attached. While autoguiding isn’t necessary, it dramatically increases the exposure length you can take without seeing drift from the mount and is highly recommended for long ­exposure deep­sky astrophotography.

Cameras we recommend:

  • Your own DSLR! (A DSLR is a great way to get started with astrophotography)
  • ZWO ASI 120MM-S (Beginner, Planetary, Auto-guider and all-sky camera)
  • ZWO ASI 178 (Full range of options, beginner/intermediate, planetary)
  • Altair GPCAM3 385C (Color, beginner, EAA/Live-Stacking)
  • ZWO 1600M/C Pro (Cooled CMOS, intermediate, large sensor)
  • QHY 183M/C (Cooled CMOS, intermediate, high resolution)
  • QHY 168 (Cooled CMOS, color, deepsky, intermediate)
  • ZWO ASI 094 (Cooled CMOS, full-frame, color, intermediate)
  • Starlight Xpress 814 (Cooled CCD, deepsky, intermediate/advanced)
  • ATIK 16200 (Cooled CCD, deepsky, advanced)
  • QSI 683 (Cooled CCD, deep­sky, intermediate/advanced)
  • FLI ML8300 (Cooled CCD, deepsky, advanced)
  • FLI PL16803 (Cooled CCD, deepsky, large format, advanced)

Whatever your imaging goals, we want to help you achieve them. There is nothing like having your telescope out for a long night of imaging, and then working through your newly ­acquired data to create a beautiful image. The staff here at Cloud Break Optics have experienced the trials and tribulations of getting our own imaging setups going and can help you sidestep the pitfalls and get you on the road to success (inquire about our astrophotography classes!). Astrophotography doesn’t have to be daunting. Let our expert staff help you navigate the decision­-making process. We’re here to help you and can’t wait to see what you create!

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