What is astrophotography?
Astrophotography is the technical term used for taking photographs of celestial objects such as the planets, the moon, the constellations, deep sky objects and meteor showers.
Unsurprisingly, many budding amateur astronomers become interested in astrophotography very quickly as it offers a great way of sharing and documenting astronomical objects found during various viewing sessions. Many of the specialised astrophotography accessories and techniques available now make it possible to get superior views of the night sky than what is achievable with the naked eye looking through a telescope eyepiece.
So is it any wonder many passionate astronomers want to get into astrophotography?
In this article we will make some assumptions:
- This is the first telescope you’ve purchased that you wish to use for astrophotography
- You would still like to use it for visual observations
- You are not going to use the scope in a fixed location i.e. a garden observatory, so easy set up and portability is important.
What do I need?
The first thing to consider is the mounting type. For lunar, planetary and solar imaging, any mount type that offers motorised tracking in Alt AZ or Polar mode will be fine. It would also be useful if the tracking rate can be changed from sidereal to lunar or solar rate for better accuracy when tracking the Moon or the Sun.
Suitable cameras for this would be the Celestron NexImage or the Altair GPCAM series
Celestron’s AstroFi or Skywatcher Synscan series are great examples of cost effective AZ mounts suitable for solar system imaging. They are however, not suitable for deep sky objects that require long exposures.
For long exposure photography, you’ll need a mounting that can operate in polar mode. Some mountings can operate in polar mode, and Alt AZ mode can also be used.
An example of a telescope mounting that can be used in Alt AZ and Polar mode would be the Celestron 5SE. This is an excellent choice for observation and as a first astrophotography set up.
The other and perhaps the most versatile option, would be a small-to-medium sized German Equatorial mounting like the Skywatcher EQ5 or the Celestron AVX. Both of these mounts operate in polar mode, so can be used for long exposure astrophotography.
The Celestron AVX can carry a much higher payload than the Skywatcher EQ5 yet, still remains portable and features WiFi compatibility, all star polar alignment and compatibility with Celestron’s Starsense Auto Align accessory.
Once you have chosen your mount, you can start imaging with your DSLR camera. You do not even need a telescope at this stage as you can use the lenses you already have with your camera. Simply fit your camera to the GEM and you can make wide field long exposure images.