Astrophotography Gear: Optional Equipment

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Naturally, a camera, lens, mount, and tripod are among the essentials for astrophotography. But there are a few optional items you might want to add to your kit as well.

Let's take a look at just a few items that you might want. Keep in mind that the kind of gear you'll need is somewhat dependent on the types of astrophotography you intend to pursue.

With that in mind, here's a short list of some optional items.

A Telescope

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This is probably the most obvious purchase if you're planning to reach out with your camera.

Not all scopes are intended for deep space viewing, though, so you may want to consider one even if you're just planning to stick with wide field astrophotography for now.

It's also important to remember that higher magnification means not only more cost for the scope, but more sophisticated equipment required for stabilization and tracking.

There's much to know about focal length, aperture, back focus, and other mechanisms of optics. But here are a few that we recommend for DSLR photography in the three main categories of astrophotography.

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For wide field photos, the Vixen ED103S is a great choice in a refractor, especially for the novice. It's ideal for those who want to reach out a bit more with a precision instrument at a reasonable cost.

For basic deep sky imaging at a reasonable price, you might want to take a look at the Vixen R200SS Newtonian Reflector Telescope (shown above). This reflector provides a 200mm focal length with an f/4 parabolic primary mirror that gives you extremely sharp images.

With a scope of this size, you can see groups of nebula, comets, and star clusters. Add an optional coma corrector, and you'll get even sharper coma-free images.

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For a little more telescopic power, you can opt for something like the Vixen VMC260L Reflector Telescope that's ideal for deep sky and planetary astrophotography.

This rig is a modified Cassegrain design with a long focal length and a large 260mm aperture to collect the light needed for high-quality photos of deep space. And with a double meniscus corrector lens design, spherical aberration and field curvature are eliminated while offering superb contrast in your images.

I know the technicalities of telescopes might be confusing, so be sure to visit the links in the Learn More section below for more details.

Learn More:

A Mounting System

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There are two factors that create challenges when shooting celestial objects from a terrestrial location:

  1. High magnification ratios exaggerate even the smallest movement.

  2. Because the earth rotates, keeping a distant object in the field of view during long exposures or over multiple exposures requires tracking or otherwise adjusting the angle of the scope. This is also a factor in initially locating celestial objects, compounded by the fact that those objects are also moving.

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Obviously, the solution for the minimizing movement of the scope is to use a highly stable mount on a very rigid tripod. The second factor is much more complex and there are many solutions available, from star charts and the most basic manual tracking systems to sophisticated, computerized "go to" and tracking firmware.

There are basically two types of mounts available for telescopes, and the difference is important for astrophotographers.

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An alt-azimuth mount, like the Vixen Porta II shown above, adjusts the angle of the optics along two axes, altitude and azimuth. These two axes must be adjusted independently in order to keep an object centered over time. A mount like this requires a universal plate to attach a camera to it and is ideal for photographing bright objects like the moon or Venus.

An equatorial mount, like the Vixen Advanced Polaris Mount shown below, is also adjusted on two axes. However, one, known as the polar axis, is aligned parallel to the Earth's rotation while the other, declination, adjusts the line of sight perpendicular to the polar axis to locate objects. Once an object is located, only the polar axis needs to be rotated to keep the object centered.

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The equatorial mount is generally preferable for astrophotography, but for those of you investing in an astrophotography setup now, an alt-azimuth mount is perfectly fine. Regardless of the type of mount chosen, however, it will need to matched to the scope or scopes you'll be using. Most manufacturers, like Vixen Optics, offer mount and tripod combinations dedicated to specific lines of scopes, so be sure to consider the scope you'll use before choosing a mount.

Learn More:

Software

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There are a great number of accessories you may need or want, and the list will vary according to the categories of astrophotography you're involved in. There are a few items, however, that will be common to all aspects of astrophotography, and one of those is software.

Image stacking is a very common practice in astrophotography, and you'll eventually want to have image editing software that's capable of it. If you're already using a recent version of Adobe Photoshop, you've got it covered. If not, consider a subscription to the Creative Cloud version.



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