Frequently Asked Questions
- Which telescope is best suited for astrophotography?
- Which mount is best suited for astrophotography?
- Which camera is best suited for astrophotography?
- How do I learn astrophotography?
- Which objects should I start taking photos on?
Before answering the questions above, I must say that these are most commonly made questions by beginners. I would dare saying that astrophotography is a life-time long journey for everyone attempting to master it for several reasons. You’ve got to know your own equipment really well, such as DSLR cameras, mounts, telescopes, etc. You’ve got to know at least how to orient yourself between the most common constellations manually and not through a computer (Orion, Big Dipper, Aquila, Taurus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, and so on), you’ve got to identify the planets where and when they appear in the night/evening/morning skies. Not before knowing how to handle the basic optical equipment as well as orienting yourself around the night sky, will be the right time to start with astrophotography. The reason is simple: You will be less frustrated when things go wrong and you will decrease the chances of quiting after you’ve purcased expensive optical equipment.
It depends from what and where from you want to observe. There are two major telescope types. Lens and mirror telescopes.
In mirror telescopes we’ve got the Newtonians, Schmidt Cassegrain (Abbr: SCT), Maskutov and finally sometimes you will get across some combinations of these.
In refractor telescopes or most commonly known as lens telescopes we have different types such as regular lenses or apocromatical lenses (Abbr: APO).
If you want to be stationary and perform backyard astronomy by building your own observatory, or just mounting your telescope on your lawn, then a mirror telescope would suit your needs both for observing through oculars with family and friends or for astrophotography. A mirror telescope is a simple construction and most cost efficient in comparison to lens telescopes. Often mirror telescopes are large and less mobile. For a newtonian you need to turn around the tube attached within the rings in order to observe different objects the same night making it sometimes frustrating. At times the newtonian telescope will be unreachable if you wish to observe high up in the night sky. In other words there are pros and cons for mirror telescopes. Another issue with mirror telescopes is the coma effect making stars to appear like tiny comets with small tails.
If you live in a suburb and got light polution in your area then you need to move out in remote locations and become mobile. You need a telescope that is lightweighted and easy to carry around. The answer to these needs would then be a lens telescope. If you’re going to buy lens telescope you need apocromatical ones or they wont suit you for astrophotography. Lenses are dispersing the light wavelengths and apocromatical lenses are correcting this error making it less visible on your images.
An equatorial mount. Mounts exist in two categories. German equatorial mounts and Alt-Az mounts. Both mounts will suit astrophotography, however you need to purcase a wedge in order to convert your Alt-Az to become an equatorial mount. I personally use German equatorial mounts. I find them much more accurate and easy to carry around and load them in my car. You can disassemble them quickly into smaller parts in difference to an Alt-Az were you are stuck with a big fork and a big azimuth motor attached to it.
If you aim for deep sky astrophotography then a Digital-SLR (DSLR) camera would suit you perfectly. Today you may find a lot of second hand cameras for a fair price, however you should beware not acquiring a camera from a professional photographer. Professionals use to take a huge amount of photos during the lifetime of a camera. Since cameras are made of mechanical parts then a well used camera might start working less efficient then a new one or brake down sooner then later. A new camera is also under warranty period.
Regardless, choose a camera from a well known manufacturer (such as Nikon or Canon). Do not choose a camera on how many pixels they have, rather compare the number of pixels in relation to the sensor size.
Other camera types are the CCD-cameras which are not mobile and are meant rather for stationary observatories. Some astrophotographers are using Web cameras but these are meant only for planets.
The best way is to buy a book or two and contact your local astronomical society. Some members may have astrophotography as common interest and will be able to help you out. However, do not expect or demand things by them. You might have a lot of questions by choose wisely which ones you wish to ask. Too many questions and all at once will only scare them away. I would recommend to study first some literature on the subject to acquire the same terms and language most astrophotographers use. Some astronomical societies are arranging courses or workshops in astrophotography. Other societies own their own observatory where you might get the chance to try a few telescopes and observe together with more experienced members.
For starters, I would recommend beginning with our solar system. There are so many beautiful objects and things to discover, watch objects moving in real time by studying the details. Our Moon would be the natural first choice with its vast fields dominated by a countless amount of craters, mountains and overall rich topology. Planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, Venus and Mars would be the next step. Trying to find them is depending on the season of the year. Jupiter is an excellent object during fall time while Saturn is dominating the skies during spring as Jupiter disappears towards west by then. Search the internet and you’ll find guides that let you know which objects are dominating your skies during a certain period in time, print out charts and start looking around the meridian (southwards) by scanning your objects systematically from east to west. That will give you good knowledge to handle your telescope and also teach you how to orient yourself around the sky. Make sure you plan your observations in advance, assembling your equipment takes a whole deal of time in preparing everything, making your gadgets easily accessible in the darkness. You should commit yourself knowing your equipment really well because you want to keep your night vision and definitely don’t want to use light sources searching for stuff. Observing with other astronomers you will be taught early that the light discipline is one of the most fundamental rules out in the field. If you approach a meeting area with other astronomers make sure you turn off your vehicle’s lights in advance while approaching the last bit of the road, avoiding blinding anyone.
Planets are in general the “easiest” objects to take photos on. These are bright and predictable objects that have many features to enjoy and distinguish between. Jupiter moons (a.k.a. the Galilean moons) can be seen orbiting their planet in real time and can shift their positions during the same night, appearing and disappearing behind and in front of Jupiter. Saturn’s tilted rotational axis can shift from year to year making its rings shift around at different positions. That will give you the immediate impression that space is truly a living place!