Updated: Mar 3
In this post we will show you every piece of equipment needed to start astrophotography the right way. We will suggest several cameras, telescopes, mounts and accessories that may fit in your budget so you can get ideas on how to build your perfect Astrophotography rig.
Table of Contents:
DSLR Cameras for Astrophotography
Camera Lenses for Astrophotography
DSLR Camera Accessories
Motorized Equatorial Mounts
T-Rings, Coma Correctors and Field Flatteners and T-Mount Adapters
Accessories to Make Your Life Easier
Alternatives for Astrophotography without Equipment
Astrophotography is, in our opinion, the most rewarding hobby of all! It is also one of the most difficult to get into and can become quite expensive. Thankfully, the internet now provides thousands of tutorials, videos, and articles to help beginner astrophotographers get started.
Believe it or not, you can get decent photos of the night sky, including deep sky objects, without spending thousands of dollars on gear. If you read our "Astronomy as a Couple" post, you may know that we started out with an old Point & Shoot camera and binoculars. We definitely do not recommend you start this way, as your brand new smartphone most likely captures better images than our Point & Shoot camera ever did.
We then upgraded to a DSLR camera and a tripod. That was how we got our first great images of the night sky.
Which leads us to the question, "Which DSLR camera should you buy?"
DSLR CAMERAS FOR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
Suggested Beginner Camera - Under $900
These cameras have a relatively low price and are great for beginner astrophotographers on a tight budget, or those who are skeptical they will love the hobby.
We started with the "TXi" series for our first DSLR camera. It was a Canon T3i, which we bought for under $400 at the time. If you follow our YouTube channel, refer to Episodes #1 through #4 to see the T3i's potential.
This cropped-censor camera yielded excellent results for the price we paid for and we really appreciated the tilt-screen feature, which you can find in the newer Canon T7i as well.
The Nikon D7500 is similar and also has a tilt-LCD display. It has recently gotten a price reduction as well. This camera is a great option for imaging the night sky without spending too much money.
Suggested Intermediate Cameras - $900 - $1500
These intermediate level cameras are well known to amateur astrophotographers, as they have great low readout noise and a high dynamic range. This feature is helpful when imaging deep sky objects and the night sky in general, but comes at a higher price than the two previous cameras. In our opinion, it is worth the investment for devoted astrophotographers.
We now use the Canon 7D Mark II as our main DSLR camera. We do not regret our purchase and have gotten great images with very low noise.
If you are interested in filming with your camera, know that the Canon 7D Mark II has great video capabilities. In fact, it is what we use to record our episodes!
Suggested Pro Cameras - $2000 and above
If you are willing to splurge on astrophotography equipment for the long-term, consider purchasing a high-end DSLR camera with excellent low-light capabilities, such as the Canon 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D810A. We were able to try out the 5D Mark IV once for Milky Way photography and it blew our minds! The noise level was extremely low, even at very high ISO, and the Milky Way looked absolutely incredible after a single 25 second exposure at f/2.8.
On the other hand… Nikon's D810A is the only DSLR camera dedicated to Astrophotography. This product was built to capture galaxies, nebulae, and other deep sky objects. It even has an optimized censor that is 4 times more sensitive to Hydrogen Alpha gas than other DSLR cameras! Nikon also advertises the D810A as an excellent camera for wide-field astrophotography, and has a feature dedicated to Star Trail photography!
During the holiday season of 2019, Canon decided to compete with Nikon's D810A and released the Canon EOS Ra, a mirrorless camera also build specifically for Astrophotography.
If you are the position we were in when we first started, you could only spring for a quality camera, but don't worry! You do not need a telescope (and all the accessories that go with it) to do astrophotography.
Actually, it's better to start imaging the night sky with just a DSLR and a tripod rather than complicate your new hobby trying to learn how to use many things at once and then give up.
With the right lens and an affordable camera tripod, you absolutely can photograph the Milky Way, as well as some of the most famous objects in space, like the Andromeda Galaxy or the Orion Nebula. Sounds too good to be true? Check out our video about photographing deep sky objects with just a cheap DSLR camera and a tripod to convince you! You may also want to read our tutorial post about the 15 easiest astrophotography targets without a telescope.
Spending a few months imaging the sky with a DSLR camera and tripod will teach you important aspects of astrophotography. You will not only learn how to use your camera, but also how to focus, how to find your target, how to use an intervalometer, and how the sky differs each season.
In order to get great results and stay motivated, you will need a lens fitted for night time imaging. Please note that if your camera has already came with a lens (usually the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 "kit zoom lens"), you do not necessarily need to buy a new one. The kit lens can yield great results, especially for wide-field imaging, and is often the lens most beginner astrophotographers start with!
Eventually, you will want to get a faster lens (f/1.8 or f/2.8) for your desired focal length, or purchase a telephoto lens to get a closer photograph of deep sky objects.
CAMERA LENSES FOR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
Suggested Wide Angle lenses
Wide angle lenses are best used to photograph the Milky Way, for star trail imaging, or capturing meteor showers.
Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 - This is the lens we use when shooting the Milky Way. It is fully manual (meaning you cannot autofocus or change the aperture through the menus) but is easy to use and yields great results for the price!
Suggested regular lenses
These lenses can be used to get a closer look at the Milky Way band, photograph the constellations, and taking landscape astrophotography.
Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM (also called "Pancake lens")
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM (also called "Nifty Fifty")
Suggested Telephoto lenses
Telephoto lenses are often big and heavy, but can zoom in well. This makes them really useful for imaging galaxies, nebulae or clusters.
At this point, you should have an idea for your camera and a choice of lens(es). Next and last, is the most crucial piece of equipment you need to be able to start Astrophotography, a tripod!
Tripods come in all sizes and prices, but we recommend avoiding the cheap and easy options.
Your tripod will serve you for years to come. It is necessary to have a trusty piece of equipment in the dark because you may bump into it often! A sturdy tripod will make your life much easier when setting up and taking long exposure shots. It also helps to have a tripod that has no problem supporting a heavy camera body and lens.
We have owned 4 or 5 tripods since beginning our adventure into astrophotography, and so far, the ones that were worth the money are the two below.
Orion Paragon-Plus XHD Extra Heavy-Duty Tripod
We purchased this tripod when we had our heavy 20x80 Orion Binoculars. This was back when we were just discovering the night sky and before we ever considered buying a DSLR camera. We had no idea it would become our main tripod when shooting the Milky Way, taking time-lapses and star trails!
At one point, we even attached a star tracker to the top of it, so it handled the tracker, a camera, and a heavy 75-300mm telephoto lens like a champ! We definitely recommend investing in this tripod and we know we'll continue using it for many years.
The Orion Paragon-Plus XHD Extra Heavy-Duty Tripod has a weight rating of 10lbs (although it can handle more in our opinion) and can reach a height of 68 inches. It costs $149.99.
JOBY Gorilla Pod 3K
This may come as a surprise, but this tiny, flexible tripod is actually very sturdy! We often attach our Canon 7D Mark II + lens to the top of it and place it anywhere we like.
Of course, due to its size, you will be limited in terms of angles or if doing landscape astrophotography.
You could place this set up on a sturdy branch or on top of your car to get more height, but why not invest in the heavy-duty tripod instead, right?
The JOBY Gorilla Pod 3K tripod can hold up to 6.6lbs, and costs $69.95.
You can upgrade to the 5K kit if you prefer, which can hold 11lbs, but costs $109.95.
DSLR CAMERA ACCESSORIES
Whether you plan to do wide-field astrophotography with your DSLR camera and tripod or deep sky imaging with a telescope, consider getting one or two accessories for your DSLR. These will make your life much easier and, in the long run, will save you a tremendous amount of frustration and time.
This one is a no-brainer. If you were only going to add one accessory to your equipment, make it an intervalometer. This device will help you to take long exposures, add a delay, set intervals, and control exposure times. Some recent DSLR cameras may now have a built-in intervalometer, but they are often limited in what you can do.
Intervalometers can come either wired or wireless, and are often inexpensive. We have owned two wired intervalometers and although it can sometimes be annoying having it dangle from our telescope, it has never failed us! Wired intervalometers also consume very little power, so you won't have to change your batteries for months.
The intervalometers shown here are examples for Canon and Nikon cameras. Be sure to order one that is fit for the model of DSLR camera you own!
Neewer Intervalometer for Canon (recent)
Fits Canon EOS 7D, 5D Series, 1D, 6D, 50D, 40D, 30D, 20D & 10D
Neewer Intervalometer for Canon (older)
Fits Canon 700D/T5i, 650D/T4i, 550D/T2i, 500D/T1i, 350D/XT, 400D/XTi, 1000D/XS, 450D/XSi, 60D, 100D, & Pentax
Aodelan Wireless Intervalometer for Canon
Fits Canon EOS M6 Mark II, 90D R, 80D, 77D, 70D, 60D, 800D, 200D, 7D Series, 5D Series, T7, T6i, T6s, & T5i
JJC Intervalometer for Nikon
Fits Nikon D750, D610, D600, D7200, D7500, D7100, D7000, D5600, D5500, D5300, D5200, D5100, D5000, D3300, D3200, D3100, Df Z7, Z6 & P1000
Pixel Wireless Intervalometer for Nikon
Fits Nikon D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300 D5500, D90, D7000, D7100, D7200, D600, D610 & D750
We recently purchased a battery grip for our Canon 7D Mark II, and we can honestly say that we wish we got it sooner!
A battery grip gives you the option to have two batteries powering your DSLR camera. This means you will reduce half the need to pause your exposure, turn off the camera, and replace the battery. That saves you a lot of time especially when taking deep sky images. We typically spend 4 hours on most targets, and if we were to use our DSLR camera with battery grip, we would now have to switch the battery just once instead of twice.
When we were first starting out, we couldn't begin to tell you how many times we accidentally lost our framing or focus, because we had to turn off the camera and replace the battery. It was a constant worry. Often we would be inside the car while the telescope was doing its job, and out of fear we would check if the camera was dead every few minutes. If you feel like your battery capacity will give you a headache, consider getting a battery grip sooner than later. The two pictures above show a battery grip for Canon DSLR cameras (left) and a battery grip for Nikon DSLR cameras (right).
We recommend having either two 32GB SD cards or one 64GB SD card for astrophotography.
Both SanDisk and Transcend are known for making excellent SD cards, although SanDisk is often more expensive than their competitor.
We image using the Transcend 64GB card seen above, and it has always been perfect for us. We still have plenty of space on the card when packing up and have never had a problem with it. On the other hand, many amateur astrophotographers recommend having two smaller cards rather than one large one. Sure, you might have to switch them out during the night if one gets full, but at least you will be able to keep half your data if one of them fails and becomes unusable.
SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB - $52.99
Transcend Class 3 V90 32GB - $31.49
SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB - $91.99
Transcend Class 3 V90 64GB - $56.99
Whichever SD card you choose, make sure it is fast, meaning it can write the data in its memory quickly and start copying the next image. A fast SD card will ensure that your camera does not slow down while imaging, you are also less likely to get error messages which could stop your exposures.
At this point, you should have everything you need for DSLR imaging. Now, it's time to get serious with Astrophotography and talk about telescopes, mounts, and accessories!
Choosing your first telescope can be a long and stressful process and we remember that feeling as if it were yesterday. We spent weeks scouring sources, reading articles, watching videos, and even asked other astrophotographers online for advice on what telescope to buy for deep sky imaging.
When you are first starting out, buying the wrong telescope can be a hobby-killer. What if it's too difficult to use? What if the image you get is not what you expected? What if you find it too large or too heavy in the long-term? All of these questions must to be addressed before spending money on what will become your new primary "lens".
Below we are going to talk about the main two types of telescopes for astrophotography: Reflectors and Refractors. There are other types of instruments, but we decided it was best to leave those out of this post as they aren't the best for beginners. Keep in mind the telescopes listed below have been chosen with astrophotography in mind, not visual. If observing planets and deep sky objects is going to be your primary activity, we recommend purchasing a Dobsonian telescope.
Read more about the best telescopes to start astrophotography.
1 - NEWTONIAN REFLECTORS
A Newtonian reflector telescope is made with two mirrors. The light enters the tube and hits the large primary mirror in the back of the telescope, then gets reflected onto the secondary mirror which ends up on your camera sensor.
Fast reflector telescopes, often called astrographs, have a major set back compared to refractors: they need to be collimated often. If you own one of these, expect to collimate the mirrors before every imaging session. Although it might sound scary for complete beginners, know that this is how we started and we made out alright. Collimating is very easy nowadays thanks to collimation accessories like laser collimators. You can read our tutorial and watch our video to see how we collimate our telescope with a laser in under 90 seconds.
As you may have guessed, our first telescope was a Newtonian reflector. We went with the Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9 for its fast focal ratio, its price, and its popularity. We made a full review video and written post about this telescope, check them out!
Its aperture of 8" and focal length of 803mm means that we can frame all Messier objects and many other DSO's perfectly in our camera's live view without cutting anything off. If you plan on purchasing a telescope like the Orion Astrograph as your first imaging telescope, you may be tempted to "upgrade" your cart with the 10" version instead. We almost did, but we're glad we stuck with the 8" tube and checked out. At the beginning deep sky astrophotography with a telescope, you most likely start by capturing the "Easy-3" deep sky objects: M31, M42, and M45.
With a 10" or larger telescope, you may lose part of the arms of the Andromeda galaxy, the outer gas of the Orion Nebula, and a few big stars from the Pleiades from your frame. This is why we always suggest going up to 8" but not over when deciding on you first telescope. You can capture grander images when you hunt for small objects!
If you watched or read our review, we recommend the Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9 for a beginner astrophotographer who's leaning towards a reflector as their first telescope!
Aperture: 8" (203mm)
Focal Length: 800mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.9
Tube weight: 17.5lbs
Tube length: 762mm
2 - REFRACTORS
Refractor telescopes are excellent beginner telescopes. They are easy to use and low maintenance, however, they often are pricier than reflectors. Think of a refractor tube as a big camera lens, where light enters from one end, passes through the objective lens and ends up on your camera sensor.
Unlike the Astrograph Newtonian reflector we talked about, refractor telescopes do not need to be collimated before imaging!
If you decide to get a refractor telescope, look for the term "ED" and "APO" in their description. APO stands for Apochromatic, meaning the instrument was built to reduce chromatic aberration. "ED" stands for Extra-Low Dispersion and works hand in hand with APO scopes. This just defines the type of optical glass used. This combats false color in your images, which would otherwise sometimes make your stars purple instead of white, blue or red.
For your first refractor telescope, we recommend getting a small, portable, and lightweight Apochromatic refractor. Here are our Top 3 for beginner astrophotographers, in no particular order:
1) EXPLORE SCIENTIFIC 80MM FCD100 F/6 ED APO TRIPLET REFRACTOR TELESCOPE
Explore Scientific is known for making superb wide-field astrophotography telescopes. The Explore Scientific 80mm f/6 ED APO Triplet refractor is one of the company's most popular telescopes. It is light, small, and has a relatively fast focal ratio of f/6. The Explore Scientific 80mm ED APO Triplet will give you crisp images of some of the largest objects in the night sky.
Manufacturer: Explore Scientific
Aperture: 3.25" (80mm)
Focal Length: 480mm
Focal Ratio: f/6
Tube weight: 7.5lbs
Tube length: 381mm
2) ORION ED80T CARBON FIBER ED APO REFRACTOR TELESCOPE
Very similar to the Explore Scientific telescope listed previously, the Orion ED80T ED APO Triplet Refractor telescope is most often a beginner astrophotographer's first telescope. This instrument is 2 pounds lighter than the Explore Scientific 80mm, and is $200+ cheaper. Both of these telescopes are considered excellent in terms of price and quality for beginners.
Aperture: 3.25" (80mm)
Focal Length: 480mm
Focal Ratio: f/6
Tube weight: 5.5lbs
Tube length: 381mm
3) MEADE 6000 SERIES 70MM F/5 PETZVAL REFRACTING TELESCOPE
If you'd prefer to go with a wider refractor, consider purchasing the Meade 6000 Series 70mm f/5 Petzval refracting telescope! This is the widest, smallest, and lightest telescope out of the three. It is also a bit faster with a focal ratio of f/5.
This was the first refractor telescope we had the chance to try and we absolutely loved it! You can check out this instrument along with us by watching Episode 13 of Galactic Hunter. In this video, we take the Meade out of its protective case for the first time and aim it at the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae (M8 and M20). Watch the episode and see what this small telescope is capable of!
Aperture: 2.75" (70mm)
Focal Length: 350mm
Focal Ratio: f/5
Tube weight: 4.5lbs
Tube length: 311mm
MOTORIZED EQUATORIAL MOUNTS
If you've been searching the web for astrophotography equipment for a while, you have probably read from dozens of sources that the mount is the most important piece of equipment when it comes to astrophotography with a telescope.
Here is what you need to look for when purchasing a mount for deep sky imaging:
It needs to be a German Equatorial Mount.
It needs to be motorized.
It needs to have a GoTo capability.
It needs to have a large payload capacity.
Below are the 4 mounts we recommend for long-term astrophotography. We do not recommend buying a cheap mount. You will regret your purchase if you decide to pursue this hobby, and may be forced to spend more money to upgrade later.
1) Orion Atlas EQ-G
The Orion Atlas EQ-G is the mount we have been using since we started. It's a little rough around the edges since we always install it in the desert but it has not failed us! This is the most affordable mount in this list and we believe it could last us several more years.
Manufacturer: Orion Telescopes & Binoculars
Database: 42,000 objects
Payload Capacity: 40 pounds
Mount head weight: 36.5 pounds
Comes with a tripod: Yes
2) Sky-Watcher EQ6-R
About the same price as the Orion Atlas EQ-G, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R is also very similar. It has an additional 900 deep sky objects in its database in comparison to the last mount at 42,000. It can also hold 4 extra pounds which is nice considering the very small price difference with the Atlas EQ-G. Sky-Watcher mounts are some of the most popular motorized mounts in Astrophotography and should last you years!
Database: 42,900 objects
Payload Capacity: 44 pounds
Mount head weight: 38 pounds
Comes with a tripod: Yes
3) Celestron CGX
Orion's main competitor, Celestron, makes great mounts as well. The Celestron CGX mount having the biggest payload capacity of the three while still being affordable for a wide range of users. The mount is also the heaviest of the three, which may be bothersome you if you image far from home.
Database: 40,000 objects
Payload Capacity: 55 pounds
Mount head weight: 44 pounds
Comes with a tripod: Yes
4) Software Bisque Paramount MYT Robotic Mount
We were not going to include this mount in our list at first, but for you folks who have some cash to splurge, get yourself a Software Bisque mount! These mounts are expensive but are extremely well-designed and could possibly last a lifetime.
It has the best weight to payload capacity out of all the mounts on this list, by far, and can even hold 50 pounds without any counterweights! We hope to be able to purchase this mount someday, most likely when we have a pier in our backyard as the mount does not come with a tripod for this price.
Manufacturer: Software Bisque
Payload Capacity: 100 pounds
Mount head weight: 35 pounds
Comes with a tripod: No
You now have your astrophotography mount and are ready to go image!
Remember though, this is a motorized mount, and they haven't made them with lunar panels yet (come on Elon!).
With that said, you are going to need a power source to be able to turn on the mount and tell it to track the stars!
We will give you two options below, the "Easy but Unreliable option" which is what we started with but will not last you more than a year, and the "Annoying but Safe option" which should last you many years but is heavier and needs additional adapters to function.
1) Easy but Unreliable Option: Stanley Power Station Jump Starter
The Stanley Power Station Jump Starter is what we started with, and it lasted us a little over a year before losing its power potency.
Why is it Easy?
A Jump Starter is very easy to use, it comes with USB ports and its own cigarette lighter port. That means you can charge your phone or tablet with it, and you can also directly plug your mount's cigarette lighter cable straight into it.
It is also nice to have when imaging far from home because it can fill up air in your tires and can, obviously, also jump start your car if needed.
It also has its own light which is useful when packing up late at night.
Why is it Unreliable?
It is very reliable, or at least until it loses its juice without any indication. We used this jump starter for all our imaging nights and it lasted 4 hours in a row without any problem. The power was strong and consistent, so we were very happy with it!
However, after a little over a year, it gave up. Without any sign, it randomly cut power to the mount for a couple seconds here and there, until eventually began completely shutting off a few days later. We were really devastated when it happened because we drove an hour out, spent 45 minutes setting everything up, and were in a good mood to start imaging when our power source decided to stab us in the back. Et tu, jump starter?
Overall, we liked having this battery with us on the field, and we did not have to worry about any extra cables or clamps during our beginner phase.
2) Annoying but Safe Option: Deep Cycle Battery
After the death of our jump starter, we purchased a Deep Cycle Battery to take the next step into this hobby, and we needed more power for some new accessories.
If, like us, you are not familiar with electricity and batteries in general, a deep cycle battery can be a scary purchase. The thing looks like a brick, there are no USB or cigarette lighter plugs, there isn't an extra tiny light or even a decent handle to conveniently carry it around… Why would you need this, right? Well, mainly because this brick is powerful.
Why is it annoying?
As we said, it lacks a single handle on the battery's case, so you will need to carry it with both hands by two small handles.
This can be tiring when you want to move it to your car but have to open the door with your foot and get the trunk with your teeth. Yikes.
You will also need to purchase an extra cable to utilize it since it does not come with a cigarette lighter port. You will need to buy a cigarette lighter to clamps adapter. With this cable you can attach the clamps to the battery, and use the cigarette lighter port end to connect to your mount's cigarette lighter cable to power it on.
Yes, you could play with electrical wires and build your own case to have plugs directly on the battery case, but as we said, we will assume you are not familiar with working on batteries.
Why is it safe?
Once plugged in, the battery will last you many, many hours before dying. You can't image deep sky objects after sunrise, but if you could, this battery would allow you to continue. Deep Cycle batteries are also known for lasting many years, as long as you charge them properly and do not leave them without a charge for too long. If you decide to take a break from Astrophotography, make sure the battery does not just sit in the garage cold and alone for months, or it will affect its life expectancy.
In short, we suggest you get a jump starter to begin with if you have to drive out far every time you want to image and are just starting out. Although it will last for some time, know that in the long run, you will eventually need to upgrade from the jump starter.
T-RINGS, COMA CORRECTORS, FIELD FLATTENNERS & T-MOUNT ADAPTERS
How do you attach a DSLR camera to a telescope?
Well you may need a few parts to successfully connect your camera firmly onto your telescope.
By now, you have short list of all the large pieces of gear you need for Astrophotography. But don't forget about the small pieces required for the rest to work. First, let's talk about how to connect your DSLR camera to your telescope.
No matter what type of telescope you own, you will need a T-Ring. Attaching this to your camera will allow you to screw in a second adapter that will go directly into the telescope's focuser.
The type of T-Ring you buy should not matter, but you should get a strong one and, of course, one that works with your camera's brand. On the left is a T-Ring for Canon cameras, and on the right is a T-Ring for Nikon cameras, both made by Orion.
If you chose the super fast f/3.9 Newtonian reflector for your first telescope, you're going to need a coma corrector.
Fast Newtonian telescopes (usually f/6 or faster) are great for capturing deep sky objects in less total exposure time as other telescopes but they suffer from coma aberrations. A simple way to fix this is to attach a coma corrector between your camera sensor and telescope.
These are usually expensive, but trust us, you will dislike your images after awhile by not taking care of the coma straight from the beginning. See our post on Messier 27 to see exactly what we're talking about…
If you did not choose a fast telescope, then you may not need a coma corrector, however, you may need a field flattener.
A field flattener is mostly necessary for refractor telescopes with a short focal length. This helps correct the field curvature that becomes apparent in these types of telescopes, and give the stars on the edges sharpness and a more realistic look. On the left is an Orion field flattener, on the right a Meade 6000 series field flattener.
If you own a Newtonian reflector telescope that is slower than f/6, or a refractor telescope that has a focal length of 800mm or more, you might not need any coma corrector or a field flattener!
You can purchase a T-Mount adapter instead, which will allow you to connect your camera to your telescope, just like the other two, but will not have any effect on your images.
You may also get a T-Mount adapter if you do not yet have the funds for a coma corrector or field flattener. You will need at least one of these small pieces of equipment to attach your camera to the telescope.
Auto-guiding is crucial for telescopes with a focal length of 800mm or more, but less important for smaller instruments. We recommend getting a guiding camera for any kind of setup anyway. It will make your stars crisper, make you feel safer, and teach you how auto-guiding softwares works.
1) Orion Magnificent Autoguider Package
We started out with the Orion Magnificent Autoguider Package, because it includes everything you need to start guiding. This is probably the most popular auto-guiding system for amateur astrophotographers around the world. The package comes with a guiding camera, a 50mm guide scope, all the necessary cables and a tiny dovetail and plate. It is quite light and, in our experience, very sturdy.
2) ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
We decided to get this ZWO ASI 290MM Mini camera to replace our guiding camera after we got the ASIAir. This product does not come with a guide scope, so we use the guide scope from our Orion Magnificent Autoguider Package purchase. We recommend sticking with the Orion guiding system as a beginner astrophotographer until you have a reason to switch.
ACCESSORIES TO MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER
Achieving the perfect focus
Although focusing on a bright star is not super difficult, you really want to make sure that your focus is absolutely perfect before launching hours of exposures for the night. A Bahtinov mask is cheap, lightweight, small, and very reliable. Just make sure you get the right size for your telescope!
If you're unsure about how to use it, you can read our tutorial post or watch our video about How to Focus using a Bahtinov mask.
Collimating in seconds
If your telescope is a Newtonian reflector, do yourself a favor and buy a laser collimator. Just like we showed you in our How To Collimate in 90 seconds tutorial post and video, this little gadget will allow you to collimate your mirrors in seconds. This is the one we use and we love it!
Getting the perfect polar alignment
We believe in learning to polar align the good old-fashioned way. But we also believe in not breaking your neck over the learning curve in this hobby. The QHY Polemaster is an accessory that attaches to your mount's polar scope and connects to your laptop. It will help make your polar alignment excellent prior to start imaging. We will post a review of this product soon!
Light Pollution Filters
Depending on where you live or how far you are willing to travel to image the darkest night sky possible, you may or may not want to consider buying a filter to combat light pollution.
CLS filters are great for people who do not have the luxury of being surrounded by a desert or are not into driving out of town to find dark skies. These filters will change the quality of your image to a point where you will not be able to live without them! We never use light pollution filters as we prefer to escape the city lights and image far from home.
If you feel you are past the beginner astrophotographer phase and would like to capture really faint deep space gas, consider buying a narrowband filter.
As you may have seen in Episode 8 of Galactic Hunter, we purchased a Hydrogen Alpha DSLR Clip-on filter (left) for our Canon 7D Mark II for the sole purpose of getting a better image of Barnard's Loop. It was a little tricky for us at first, but we were able to capture some really faint detail which you can see in our comparison shots on our Barnard's Loop post.
Planning ahead is an essential part of Astrophotography, especially if you do not image from home. In the past you had to look at physical maps of the sky to try to coordinate your readings with the day and time you'll be imaging. Now we have powerful software that can give you information on millions of targets. The best part is that a lot of software programs are free!
Stellarium and SkySafari Pro are both software for computers. They can be used to simulate how the sky moves depending on your location, get info on tons of deep sky objects and planets, and you can even check the framing of your camera! Stellarium is free and easy to use. We usually launch Stellarium when we have to check something really fast before going home.
The pro version of SkySafari is not free, although they often have coupons for as much as 50% off on their website. It has a bigger catalog than Stellarium and has more features.
We decided to purchase SkySafari Pro after 3 years, even though we were happy with Stellarium. We bought it mostly so we could connect it to our ASIAir (not part of this list of equipment of beginners) and to slew our telescope anywhere using our mobile device. Stellarium may also be able to do that as well with recent updates.
Star Chart is a free mobile app which you can use to find popular deep sky objects, planets, and stars by pointing your smartphone up and around. It is nice when you want to do a Star Alignment but aren't sure where a specific star is in the sky and want to anticipate which direction your mount will slew your telescope.
For a beginner, we suggest you stick with free software and apps, and would recommend Stellarium for the computer and Star Chart for mobile devices.
The most popular guiding software for Astrophotography is by far PHD2.
PHD2 is so easy to use that its name literally stands for "Push Here Dummy", as one only needs to press a button to begin guiding (well, yes and no).
PHD2 usually works very well, but we did have problems with it a few times. You might have to mess around with the settings but you should expect it to work with default settings.
1) Deep Sky Stacker
Deep Sky Stacker, or "DSS", is a stacking and processing software for Windows computers. This is the processing software we started with and it is how we learned the power of stacking. It is easy to use, user friendly, and most importantly, free!
The processing part of Deep Sky Stacker does lack features, which is why we switched to the next processing software on this list only after a couple of weeks…
PixInsight, unlike Deep Sky Stacker, works on any computer, but it is not free. The software costs $260, and is likely to become more expensive in the future. PixInsight is, without any doubt, the best Deep Sky processing software accessible to amateur astrophotographers. The possibilities are endless and so is the learning curve. PixInsight has one of the most difficult learning curves we have ever seen in any software, so you will never stop learning.
The price might make you hesitate, but trust us, if you are serious about Astrophotography and are willing to spend enough time learning how the software works, this will be one of the best investments you will make in this hobby. We made a 3-part video tutorial on how to stack and process a nebula from start to finish here.
3) Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom will not stack or even process your deep sky images, but is a great finishing tool to enhance the image after it comes out of whichever processing software you used. This will allow you to do simple things like reduce noise, sharpen, or saturate in a quick and easy way. You might not need this if you have done everything perfectly during processing, but we usually like to give it a go before being entirely done with our images just in case.
ALTERNATIVES FOR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY WITHOUT EQUIPMENT
Did you find this list of all you need for Astrophotography equipment a bit… long and expensive, and decided to scroll all the way to the bottom? Well, we decided to add a little side note for those of you who might not want to purchase a lot of gear at the moment, but still want to get some pictures of the stars. Below are 4 alternatives that do not require a lot of equipment and can yield great results!
Astrophotography using Binoculars
As we have mentioned before, we started our Astrophotography journey with a pair of binoculars and an old Point & Shoot camera. Do not expect to capture galaxies or nebulae this way, especially because Point & Shoot cameras usually do not have a way to change the exposure time. But with a little patience and dexterity, you should be able to get an image of a planet and its moons (like Jupiter or Saturn), a double star system (like Albireo) and our moon!
You can also use your smartphone instead of a Point & Shoot camera, which will probably give you better results anyway.
Astrophotography using a smartphone
With the rise of Astrophotography, smartphone companies have been working really hard the past couple of years to make their smartphone cameras more sensitive to light and even allow long exposures shots to be taken. For example, the iPhone 11 Pro now has a low-light camera. Even better, Google advertises that its Google Pixel 4 can take great photos of the Milky Way in just a few seconds!
If you have the telescope but do not own a great camera, you can instead purchase a smartphone adapter and use your phone as a camera, for now.
The results will not be 10/10, but you should be able to image some of the brightest objects in the night sky!
We recommend getting the Celestron Nexyz 3-Axis Universal Smartphone Adapter as it can connect to any telescope, binoculars or even a microscope, which you might find useful in the long run!
Astrophotography with a DSLR camera and a tripod only
You can get beautiful images of the Milky Way, the moon, planets, even galaxies and nebulae just by using a cheap DSLR camera and a tripod. We made a video where we show you our results for several deep sky objects using our old Canon t3i and a tripod, no tracking needed!
Astrophotography using a Smart Telescope
Although expensive, this option does not require you to purchase a hundred different pieces of equipment to have a fully functional Astrophotography rig.
We have tested the Stellina Observation Station many times, and are happy to say that it is impressive. You simply take it out of your bag, set it down, and start shooting with your mobile device. No polar alignment, star alignment, collimation or focusing needed!
You can watch our Unboxing video and read our full review about this product if you are interested.
And this concludes our post about beginner equipment for amateur astrophotographers! Let us know in the comments below if there is anything you'd like us to add to the list, or if you have any questions!
We might make a similar post about Advanced Astrophotography gear in the future, where we may talk about cooled astrophotography cameras, filter wheels, and some advanced accessories.
We wish you the very best on your Astrophotography journey! There are times when you will want to give up, or feel like you are not good enough for this hobby, but keep going! We almost gave up many times, but always learned from our mistakes and are happy we pushed through. Always try to teach yourself how to become better and next thing you know, your images will be featured on magazines and astronomy websites. When that happens, please let us know!
Antoine & Dalia Grelin
GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS
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!
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.
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.