October 30, 2022 New(ish) Astrophotography Tools

Camera geek info:

  • Panasonic DMC-GF7 set at f/2.5, 30 second exposure, ISO 800
  • LUMIX G 14/F2.5 II, 14 mm fixed
  • Tripod

Camera geek info:

  • Panasonic DMC-GF7 set at f/2.5, 10 second exposure, ISO 6400
  • LUMIX G 14/F2.5 II, 14 mm fixed
  • Tripod

Since summer 2021, I’ve been acquiring some more advanced astrophotography tools (toys?).  

My first and biggest acquisition was a new tracking mount with GoTo capability, an iOptron CEM40.  This was my first GoTo tracking mount, and it is amazing.  It is so much easier to enter the object to point towards and watch the mount rotate to point the camera there than to iterate on camera images to find the object.  It is also a beautiful mechanical device.  I bought it because of its design and because it is relatively lightweight but could still handle the 8” or 10” telescope I eventually wanted to get.  However, it came with a steep learning curve.   

One thing I learned was that there are two different alignments that need to be done: the polar alignment to physically align the tracking axis with celestial north, and the GoTo alignment.  Just polar aligning is not sufficient.

For polar alignment, the mount comes with a polar alignment camera, but when I got it, the software only ran on a PC, which I did not have (there is a Mac version now, but I have not played with that yet).  So I was using the polar iterate align option with the digital display on my camera, and that was a slow, frustrating, and sometimes unsuccessful process.  

For the GoTo alignment, I use the three star alignment technique.  I read that the mount will try to combine new alignment measurements with the previous ones, so I delete the old alignment data prior to aligning.  I also search for zero position to get the mount set prior to doing any alignment.

My second acquisition was a Celestron StarPointer Pro Finderscope.  It made a huge improvement in my ability to align the tracking mount over using my camera screen to align it.  

My third acquisition was a Williams Optics Zenith Star 73 III APO telescope.  It is a 430 mm focal length, 73 mm diameter two element refractor.  It is a beautiful piece of hardware.  Although it is significantly smaller than what I originally intended to get, I picked it because I wanted to photograph larger objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and because the larger the telescope gets, the more difficult it is to point.  And since I was still struggling with alignment … 

My fourth acquisition was a very low end PC to interface with the polar alignment camera.  It made a huge improvement in my ability to polar align the tracking mount.  What, even with a finderscope, was a slow and frustrating process, is now a less than 2 minute process, and much more accurate.

With all that, and a lot of trial and error, I am now very pleased with the images that this setup is producing.  As a teaser, here is a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).  

Camera geek info:

  • Canon EOS 60D in manual mode, 179 second exposure, ISO 1600, custom white balance 3500K
  • Williams Optics Zenith Star 73 III APO telescope
  • Williams Optics Flat 73A
  • iOptron CEM40

Expect to see more in the future!