Updated: Jun 7
It is no secret that Astrophotography is an expensive hobby! While the main pieces of your equipment, like the mount, the telescope, and the camera, can cost in the thousands of dollars, there are many important items you can get for just a few bucks!
In this post, we decided to combine five inexpensive accessories that any astrophotographer will find super helpful. They range from just a few cents to $30 max.
Let's go over them right now, and let's start right away with our favorite in this list!
1) Cable Management Sleeves and Straps
Does your astrophotography equipment look like a Spaghetti monster?
Messy cables is the last thing you want when imaging, especially for those of you who are able to do astrophotography from their backyard and usually go to bed while the telescope is doing all the work. Long dangling cables are likely to get stuck somewhere in your setup, especially during an automatic Meridian Flip!
if you are lucky, your mount will be able to tell something is wrong and safely turn its tracking off before anything bad happens. But many mounts do not have this feature and will just keep on slewing forcefully until the motors either overheat or the cable/whatever it is attached to... rips.
Cable management sleeves, as well as cable straps, are very affordable and might save your equipment! Inside our first cable sleeve, we have our:
Camera to Mini PC USB cable
Camera to Pegasus Box power cable
The camera now has only one cord instead of two dangling cables.
In our second cable sleeve, we have our:
Mini PC USB cable to Mount
Pegasus Box power cable to the battery
There is now only one cord going down to the ground instead of two cables.
On top of cable sleeves, we also use cable straps to attach the sleeves on the side of our telescope!
The price of the sleeves varies depending on the length, but this cable management sleeve is more than enough and only costs $8.99!
Same thing for straps, this pack of cable straps costs $6.29 and has plenty!
2) 3D-Printed Spacer Rings
Unless you are lucky enough to have the perfect back-focal distance for your imaging rig with just the adapters that came with the camera and telescope, you will need spacer rings!
Spacer rings are very thin (0.5 to 2mm) rings that are made to slightly increase the back focal distance between your camera sensor and the next piece of glass (whether it is a field flattener, a coma corrector, a reducer, or the telescope itself). Without perfect back-focus, the stars on the edge of your frame will look elongated. Back-focus is even more crucial when using a full-frame camera, and can be a real pain to get just right.
I talk about spacer rings and how to use them in the video above, which might help you achieve the perfect back focus for your setup!
There are many places where you can get spacer rings, but we find that most of the prices you find online are absolutely ridiculous. Seriously, is a plastic 0.5mm ring really worth $14? Well, I don't know, you tell me.
The best thing to do is to look for sets that are 3D-printed. Unless you somehow break them or crush them like a brute, these rings will work just as well as the metal rings, for a fraction of the price.
This set of 16 rings (M42) costs $14. That is less than $1 per ring.
This set of 12 rings (M48) costs $14. That is about $1.2 per ring.
This set of 9 rings (M54) costs $14. That is about $1.5 per ring.
3) Tripod Vibration Suppression Pads
Tripod pads are the type of item you never think you need... until you actually need them.
We never bothered purchasing tripod pads, but on several occasions, we wish we did! You might have seen our video about our very first time visiting a Bortle 1 sky.... where our mount sunk into the ground without us noticing and we could not get any astrophotography done. We got so depressed and still have a bitter feeling whenever we think about that time.
This may sound a little crazy, but $30 tripod pads would have saved our entire weekend. We would have had much better memories of that trip and would have gone through so much less frustration than we did.
A second time where we really wish we had these pads was when imaging from the Mojave National Preserve. Our usual imaging spot was taken that night and we had to drive further up the road. The ground was full of sand and it was close to impossible to set up the equipment without the tripod sinking into the sand.
Tripod pads are sold in sets of 3, and can reduce vibrations to up to %100. They will help ensure that:
Your mount stays stable on smooth surfaces like sand, snow, or mud
Your mount does not sink into the ground throughout the night
Your mount and OTA will not be affected by vibrations from a nearby busy road or from you walking around
Your tripod feet don't get dirty
These Tripod Vibration Suppression Pads cost $29.99
There is a catch though, which is explained extremely well in James Lamb's "Talking Astrophotography Tripods - What's Important" video. Vibration suppression pads are great against vibrations and sinking ground, but do not do well against wind gusts! Wind gusts will destabilize the tripod about three times as much as if you did not use the pads. One of the reasons is because damping pads cancel out the actual stiffness of the tripod.
Screenshots taken from James Lamb's video, make sure to watch it!
4) Flats Panel
Taking flats is very important, it helps remove any unwanted artifact like dust spots and hair, as well as vignetting in your images. It also helps remove some of the noise (yes!).
Although you can take flats at dusk or dawn without any accessory but just a white t-shirt, you will need a Flats panel if you plan on taking flats during the night. The good thing is, you don't need a fancy $500 electronic flapping panel to do this!
We actually use a sketcher's tracing pad as a light source when taking our flat frames... and we only paid $19 for it! Although these are not attached to your telescope and do not flip back and forth at the push of a button, they work just as well as providing clean white light for your flats. You can even pick the intensity of the light by holding the power button!
All you need to do is take the panel out of your bag, place it on your telescope, plug it into any USB source (we either plug it in directly to our main battery or to our Pegasus box) and just turn it on! In our opinion, this is more than enough for most astrophotographers, and the $500 panels would only be worth the money if you plan on using them for a permanent observatory.
The flats panel we use is available in three different sizes, so be sure to get one that is large enough for your telescope!
5) Strap Wrench
Ever tried taking off an adapter from your camera and had to ask your daddy to loosen it for you?
Not me, because my daddy lives 5,540 miles away from Vegas.
We've had adapters stuck to each other for so long to the point that we almost decided to buy new ones... until we tried loosening them with a strap wrench. Adapters usually get stuck after a long cold night, or just a long period of time without being separated. They can be a real pain (literally) to remove and sometimes close to impossible.
Strap wrenches are often used by mechanics and plumbers to loosen oil filters, faucets, and more. They're also used by grandmas to open jars. Well, nowadays, more and more astrophotographers are using them to loosen their adapters! All you need to do is wrap the rubber part of the wrench around the adapter, and loosen it. It really does work well, and we are glad to have a strap wrench in our closet.
This set of two different size strap wrenches on Amazon costs $18.99.
Want to learn all aspects of astrophotography in the most efficient way possible?
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We hope that you just learned about at least one of these items so that you can think about us whenever you use it when doing astro!
If you have some other cheap but helpful accessories in mind, let us know and we'll add it to this post or make a Part 2!
We'll see you next time and Clear Skies.
Antoine & Dalia Grelin
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