Our Astrophotography Equipment for imaging Galaxies in Spring 2020

Updated: Apr 11

Spring is not like any other season. You don't just wake up on a beautiful, clear day in April and say "I'm going to image a nebula tonight!". Although you could photograph some of them, chances are, the ones that are still available in the sky are either getting too low in the horizon (the Orion Nebula, the Rosette Nebula, Thor's Helmet...), or are very small and difficult (the Owl Nebula, the Cat's Eye Nebula, the Eskimo Nebula...).


Spring is known as "Galaxy Season" for a reason: the sky is full of them! This is because Earth is now facing the outer part of our Milky Way at night and not towards the core where all the nebulous activity occurs. Make sure to read our guide about the 15 best astrophotography targets to photograph in the Spring season!



Galaxies are great, but most of them are small, making the hobby difficult for people who only own a small telescope. In this guide, we will tell you what gear we will use to image galaxies and why each piece is important. We hope this will help beginners build an adequate rig to photograph many deep sky objects this season.



THE TELESCOPE

Which telescope are we going to be using to capture galaxies?

Well, we definitely cannot choose our small refractor, the Meade 70mm APO which excels at imaging large nebulae. We can now pick from two telescopes: The Meade 115mm refractor, or our very first instrument: The Orion 8" Astrograph. We decided to go with the latter, as it has a longer focal length than the Meade 115mm (800mm vs 644mm with flattener/reducer)

Why it matters:

The most important thing we are looking for in a telescope for Spring Season is focal length. The Meade 115mm refractor and the Orion 8" reflector are not that different when it comes to focal length, also the Meade is easier to use on the field. For example, there's no collimation required!


After running a few tests on SkySafari using our "Scope Display" simulator, we realized that 644mm of focal length is still a bit too wide for most galaxies. It is perfect for groups of galaxies, like Markarian's Chain for example, but the Orion 8" Astrograph wins in all other aspects.

Read or watch our full review of the Orion 8" Astrograph

Watch our video about the Meade 70mm APO


Telescope Specifications

  • Manufacturer: Orion

  • Aperture: 8" (203mm)

  • Focal Length: 800mm

  • Focal Ratio: f/3.9

  • Tube weight: 17.5lbs

  • Tube length: 762mm

  • Price: $478



THE MOUNT

We will be trying out a brand new mount for Spring, a pretty high-end one lent to us by OPT: The Software Bisque Paramount MyT Mount. We could have chosen our trusty Orion Atlas EQ-G instead, but we want to challenge ourselves to quickly go through the steep learning curve of the MyT mount and see if the results we get with it are better than usual.

Mount Specifications

  • Manufacturer: Software Bisque

  • Payload Capacity: 50 lbs (100 lbs including counter-weights)



Why it matters:

The better the mount (and the user's knowledge, of course), the better the tracking accuracy. Especially, when imaging galaxies with a long focal length.


With a good mount that can easily carry your entire payload, you can track with little to no backlash. Your pictures will look crisper, the stars will be round, and your overall image will be neater. Most people use an auto-guider to ensure these issues do not occur. Although a mount with an excellent tracking ability will put less struggle on the auto-guiding software, and let it "cruise" rather than making non-stop adjustments. A steady, high-quality mount also helps to avoid elongated stars during the more windy nights. Well, up to a point.

Check out our unboxing video of the Paramount MyT Mount!

Our full review post and video are coming soon!


Mount Specifications

  • Manufacturer: Software Bisque

  • Payload Capacity: 50 lbs (100 lbs including counter-weights)

  • Price: $6,000






THE CAMERA

There are two cameras we plan to use for Galaxy Season. The first one is the ZWO ASI 071MC, a one shot color camera with 16.2 Megapixels and a pixel array of 4944 x 3284. The other one is the QHY 128C, also a one shot color camera but this time with 24 Megapixels and a pixel area of 6036 x 4028.

The QHY 128C will yield higher quality images, and is a full frame camera meaning the object in the frame will appear smaller than if using a cropped-sensor. Normally, this shouldn't matter as we could easily crop out the extra space we don't need during processing, but we have never tried using a full frame camera and so aren't sure which one of the two we'll be using the most!


Why it matters:

As you can see, both cameras above are one shot color cameras. Why don't we use our beloved monochrome camera instead? Well, we can't do narrowband when imaging galaxies. There is only one narrowband filter we could use (more info below), and even then, it wouldn't be required for most galaxies. With a one-shot color camera, we don't have to bother with a filter wheel. Which means no worrying about switching filters throughout the night, and the stacking/processing will be faster and a bit less annoying.

Depending on the targets we plan to image, we may break out our ZWO ASI 1600. It is a mono camera which will allow us to shoot filters independently. This is important because we can then add extra data using the Hydrogen Alpha filter for galaxies with a lot of Ha in them (for example: M106, M51, or M82…).


M106, M51, and M82 photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope


THE AUTO-GUIDING

Auto-guiding will allow us to make sure there is no drifting in our stars so that we don’t have to discard any image. We will be using our Orion 50mm Guide scope, and our ZWO ASI 290MM Mini camera. This is a tiny, lightweight camera that can perform fantastically.

The Software Bisque Paramount MyT mount is known to have extremely accurate tracking. It can do well without an auto-guiding solution, but we still feel safer bringing a guiding camera out with us just in case.


Why it matters:

It is crucial to have an auto-guiding solution when imaging the night sky. Sure, you can do without it, but only if you have a great mount and will use a small telescope. In this case, we'll be using a longer focal length telescope to image galaxies, so it is important to have guiding to ensure the mount always stays on track.



The ASIAIR


Although we'll most likely just be using our laptop when imaging from home, we plan to acquire the data with the ASIAir when doing astrophotography from the desert. This way, we can see what's happening on our iPad while inside our car, without having to bother with cables.


We haven't been able to find a way to control this specific mount with the ASIAir yet so we are forced to use our laptop to prepare and slew the mount.





THE PEGASUS ASTRO POCKET POWERBOX


This is a no brainer, one of the best purchases we've ever done. In case you don't know, the Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox was built to circulate power from a single source (our deep cycle battery) to all our accessories. With this, we will be able to power our camera, our ASIAir, and our mount (we still need to test that out with this mount but it worked perfectly fine with our Atlas EQ-G).

Watch or read our full review of the Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox!



Light Pollution Filter (when imaging from home)

Although we don't plan to image from home very often, we would definitely need a light pollution filter if we do!

A friend of ours, Tim (check out his Astrobin) has kindly lent us his Optolong L-Pro filter. This is a nice broadband light pollution filter which should definitely help image galaxies and star clusters with a one shot camera under light polluted skies.



VIDEO WALKTHROUGH

We made a video in our backyard where we walk around our Spring Astrophotography rig and show you each of the above piece. Make sure to watch it for more information about our setup!






FINAL THOUGHTS

And that's it! This is our full list of equipment we will be using to image galaxies during the Spring season. The key points to remember to image small galaxies are:


  • Pick a long focal length telescope over a small one

  • Make sure to use a good mount and/or have an auto-guiding solution

  • Using a One Shot Camera will make your life easier, but you can also use a monochrome camera and add some Hydrogen Alpha data to get a more impressive and true image.

Do you like Galaxy Season? What equipment do you plan to use to capture galaxies?

We personally can't wait until nebulae start rising again, along with the Milky Way!


Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter





ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY TUTORIALS





GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS

The Astrophotographer's Guidebook

Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!

The Astrophotographer's Journal

Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloguing photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.

The Constellations Handbook

Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order, so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing, and a learning journey through the ages.



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