Equipment

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Telescopes

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Coronado Solarmax II 90  – July 2011

I bought a while back a coronado PST and got enthusiastic about H-Alpha observing.  The 90mm aperture allows relatively high resolution photography in the H-Alpha wavelength.

This is the “single stack version”. I plan to acquire later on  the double stack filter.

First views were impressive.  I have the version with a 15mm aperture filter on the back  and it is far than enough since the primary usage of this telescope is digital photography, and second visual observing.


In addition of the Telescope, I acquired two accessories to complement H-Alpha observing:

  • Baader Herschel wedge for white light and Calcium-K line observing
  • Baader Calcium-K 8nm narrowband filter

You can see below the Herschel Wedge mounted on my Stellarvue 90mm,

The calcium-k narrowband filter can be used in conjunction with the Herschel Wedge.

In addition, I acquired the DMK 41au02.as camera: even though the maximum frame rate is 15 fps, the larger resolution (1/2″ ) of the sensor is well adapted for Solar (and lunar) astrophotography.

Celestron EdgeHD 1100  – February 2011

This is my last acquisition.  I use it (for now) mainly for planetary imaging, and plan to us it for planetary nebulae imaging.

I found the visual views (planetary so far) very pleasing.

This telescope has a relative large aperture and yet is lightweight enough to be handled by one person.

See the pictures of Saturn I took with this telescope

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Stellarvue Raptor 90 Triplet  – September 2010

I acquired this Telescope as a replacement for my Orion 102ED, to do short focal imaging.

This Apochromatic triplet provides great images, whether visually or photographically. It has a carbon fiber tube, and the feather touch focuser is very sturdy and precise.

The photography shows the Stellarvue and FS-60c mounted on it, ready for auto-guiding.

I am very satisfied with it, and would recommend it to anybody looking for a high quality refractor in this aperture size.

This is really a pleasure to image with this set-up: no cool down time, no collimation …

Here is a set of  Emission Nebulae pictures I recently took with this refractor, and a color picture of the Pacman Nebula

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Takahashi FS 60-C Refractor – May 2010

A small but great quality refractor, built like a tank. I got it in June 2010.

I use it as a grab and go scope, a guidescope and  as a wide field astrograph (with a flat field corrector)  – see picture of Markarian’s chain with this telescope.

Visual observation esp. contrast is great. A great telescope but also a great scope for bird watching…

Very light and ideal to take in a carry on luggage along with a DSLR and teleobjectives.

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Orion 8″ Newtonian Astrograph – March 2010

My new acquisition (March 2010)

I acquired the 8″ orion Newtonian astrograph for a couple of reasons:

  • Fast focal ratio telescope to reduce exposure time
  • Great capabilities given the price – it  compares well with a SCT of same aperture for deep sky imaging but provide a faster optic
  • Large field of view compared to instruments of similar diameter
  • Lightweight and easy to set up (compared to larger focal length Newtonian) or a Maksutov Newton of same diameter, putting less stress on the mount
  • Do not break the bank… The cost of the Fs60-c I use as a guidescope on the picture above is twice the price of the 8″ optical telescope tube…

Optics is not perfect and shows spherical aberration – but it is not a big deal for prime focus photography in average seeing condition. One can still capture quite sharp images if the telescope is well collimated.  The relatively large aperture and short f/d ratio allows to use it as a “light bucket” to take pictures of faint nebulae, even in a light polluted environment.

But collimation has to be done each and every time – and even repeated if the scope is pointed to another direction – collimation is not held very well. That is why it is critical for this telescope to have all the possible collimation tools.  I use a laser collimator, finalize the collimation with an orthoscopic quality eyepiece. Then if needed touch again the collimation once a CCD is installed using the “CCD inspector” program – allowing me to assess precisely the collimation and do real time collimation using a succession of snapshots. The nice thing with CCD inspector is that you just need to take snapshots of any part of the sky and do not need to center exactly the focus on a bright star…

I use with this set up  a Coma corrector (Baader Multi purpose coma corrector) – a must have accessory for this (astro imaging only) telescope.

Here is an example of B33/Horsehead nebula taken with this telescope.

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Orion Maksutov-Newton 190mm (7.5″) – July 2009

This telescope went through a thorough star testing done with an artificial star (as for the Mak Cassegrain below).

I made the test and found (after thorough collimation) the optics extremely satisfactory, with nice diffraction patters in focus, and very similar (almost textbook-like) forward and inward out of focus diffraction patterns.

Visual image of Jupiter was also crisp and contrasty, making it a good planetary instrument when well collimated, even though this is not the primary purpose of this scope (which is flat field astrophotography).

On the cons side,  as per Mak-Newton design,  the OTA   weight implies a robust mount – and ideally a Pier   – for serious astrophotography work.

Maksutov_newton_08082009_3Maksutov_newton_08082009_9

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Celestron  Schmidt Cassegrain   9″ 1/4

It is probably one of the best Celestron SCT in terms of compromise between portability and “raw power”:

- large aperture but lightweight enough to be carried and installed on the mount by one person – without too much struggle…

- it has  a primary mirror at f/d 2.5 instead of f/d 2 for the other models  which makes it supposedly better for planetary observing ( but I never saw facts / data proving that…)

The OTA is seen below with a Losmandy plate to support the guidescope. I found it quite efficient to minimize tube flexture between the OTA and the guidescope.

The takahashi FS-60C is here used as a guidescope.

I used it at the beginning for planetary observation.

More recently, with my pier and NJP mount (and better imaging techniques…)  I am using it  for Galaxy
and Planetary nebulas imaging (using it with the Celestron reducer / corrector).

This is a great scope, very versatile, still lightweight but with great capabilities.

Collimation needs to be done regularly –  to get the best of this telescope.

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Mount

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Takahashi NJP-Z Mount on Pier

I used to have an Atlas Mount (bought in July 2009), which has a fantastic quality price ratio. However I felt I reached the limit of it, especially when trying to do long exposure with long focal telescope and more than 30lbs of gear.

I bought in September 2010 a used NJP-Z mount. The NJP-Z is the last series of the NJP, but with a modified base identical to the EM-400 base. NJP mounts, which are somewhat between the EM-200 and EM-400 are not longer produced.  Too bad…

The mount is fixed on the Pier using an EM-400 pier adapter.

The NJP-Z is lightweight enough to be transported in one piece yet can carry up to 70lbs of gears. The polar scope precision is fantastic as on the other Takahashi mount and allows quite precise polar alignment without the use of drift alignment.

I use an Ascom driver, the Ascom platform, and Skytool Pro v3 for go-to operations. Autoguiding is done with a star shoot autoguider directly connected to the NJP autoguider port. Go-to functions and auto guiding requires a computer. I use a Toshiba netbook which has up to 8h of autonomy on a single battery charge.

The pier was bought at Skyshed. I would recommend this company.

The ordering process went pretty well and it was fairly easy to contact them to check from time to time how things were progressing. The ordering took about 2-3 weeks.

I dug  a  45″ x 14″ hole and filled it with concrete for the pier base. Four 1/2″ J-Bolts are used to support the Pier.

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Astrotrac Travel System – July 2010

Acquired in July 2010 – in preparation for a trip in New Mexico in September 2010. I am trying out the mount before with different instruments:  Takahasi fs60c and Canon 200mm Teleobjective with Canon XTi.

So far, it sound like a very robust mount, great for Wide field astrophotography. Here is one of the first picture I took with a Canon 200mm teleobjective.

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Cameras

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Canon XTi

I bought this camera about two years ago. A great camera with low noise, and high resolution.

See M42 and M31 wide field images taken with a 200mm used Teleobjective.

Update – the Canon XTi was modified by Hap Griffin with an Astrodon Near IR cut filter. Here is an example of a wide field picture I took with the modified camera.

Used in conjunction with an Astronomik CLS CCD filter, this is really a “killer” combination to take shots in a light polluted environment.

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Qhy8

I got this camera in March 2010  from Starizona. Really easy to use, with extremely low noise and great resolution. For example – see the picture of M1 I took with the Qhy8.

It has a medium size pixel (7.8 Microns) ideal to use with medium to low focal length.

I use it with my 8″ Newtonian and SV90  refractor.

The only complaint: terrible time to install the native drivers – and buggy Ascom drivers…

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Qhy9

I got this camera in Jan 2010 from ccdlab. The qhy9 is a black and white camera with high resolution (+8MP) and small pixel size that I intend to use primarily for

  • narrow band imaging and LRGB imaging
  • LRGB pictures at longer focal length (requiring 2×2 or 3×3 binning)
  • “science” work such as Astrometry, and photometry

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Software

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I have a large collection of software I have been using during the past 2 years. I but in “Red bold” are the one I found the most useful at this stage…

Observation Planning

SkyTool Pro V3: a nice observation and astrophotography planning software

Carte du Ciel v2.76 – Freeware

Winjupos – Freeware to compute planets ephemerids – including Central Meridian for Jupiter and Saturn,

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Image Capture and pre-processing

Maxim DL 5: simple to use software with great camera / driver support. I used it mainly for pre-processing (flat / dark substration, alignement, stacking)

Maxpoint: optimize mount tracking. I have not tried it out.

Astroart v4.0

Registax  - Freeware:  I use this software to process my planet pictures. Great free software!

Avistack- Freeware: I found AVI stack to be the best option for processing planetary images of the moon and the sun. With Registax and Avistack this is all you need to stack and optimize your planetary imaging.

CCD inspector: real time collimation and assessment of field curvature. Great tool to optimize CCD imaging..

PhD Guiding – Freeware – great and very simple to use for auto guiding. Amazing to have such quality software as a freeware…

AIP4Win v2.0: the software companion to the great reference book on imaging.

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Post processing

Photoshop CS4 extended edition: do not need to present this program. I used Paintshop Pro in the past. But given the capability of Photoshop – and all the training and books on this product – there is in fact no other option I found to process my pictures… Very expensive though.

AstraImage 3.0: good deconvolution routines in this program.  I routinely use the maximum entropy deconvolution and wavelet sharpening for planetary imaging (photoshop plug in)

Neatimage 6.1 Pro

Noise Ninja: noise reduction program with many “tweaking options”. My preferred one.

Focusmagic v3.0: a great sotware and photoshop plug in to enhance image sharpness through sophisticated deconvolution algorithms. I use it routinely on planetary and deep sky imaging.

RC-Astro GradientXterminator: great plug in for gradient reduction by astrophotographer Russel Croman,

Nik Software – Sharpener Pro v3.0

Genuine Fractal 6.0: enlargement of pictures for poster size printing.

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Others

Visual Pinpoint - Astrometry

  1. #1 by Lambert Gagnon on September 14, 2010 - 1:54 pm

    Hi,
    I am thinking to get the Orion 8″ f/4 instead of the Mak-Newt because I have a CGEM. I wrote to Orion staff and they told me that I can’t put a guide scope on it. How did you put yours on? and what are the ring and dovetail?
    Best regards,
    Lambert

  2. #2 by jmeriaux on September 14, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    Hi Lambert,

    I used the standard rings coming with this telescope. They have holes on the top – and you can thread quite easily a dovetail bar with Rings attached to it.
    I got the dovetail bar at scopestuff – l think it is the eqd4 (but cannot verify I am on vacation this week) – http://www.scopestuff.com/ss_eqdb.htm
    You can buy also the corresponding cradle rings for the guidescope at scopestuff as well – http://www.scopestuff.com/ss_rings.htm
    You can use the Orion 80 short tube or any other short / cheap scope as a guidescope – it will work fine.

    Re: your choice – the Mak Newton is superior optically but on the heavy side. Great if you have a permanent pier – but even with my Pier I do not use that much… Too big / heavy!
    The Newton 8″ is very light and fun to use but a Coma Corrector is mandatory for photos. For this purpose, the Baader MPCC works great with CCDs or DSLR. You’ll have to use a laser collimator and be patient with collimation though – at f/d 4 it is very sensitive.
    Hope it helps. Thank you – Jean-Christophe

  3. #3 by Mark on September 26, 2010 - 7:01 pm

    Beautiful pics! I am wondering what kind of scope you would recommend for a guy wanting to start out in the hobby? I would like something versatile that could accommodate good viewing and decent photos at the same time.

  4. #4 by jmeriaux on September 26, 2010 - 11:34 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I’ll give some general statements here but it depends on your budget and what you want to do…
    To start with I would recommend a 100mm /4″ APO or semi-APO refractor at f/d 6 – f/d 7. It will be a fine visual instrument and great scope to start astrophotography. At this focal length you should be able to get great results fairly quickly (you’ll need in addition a cheap guidescope like the Orion Short tube 80mm and an autoguider like the Orion star shoot autoguider). Orion Telescope is on the budget side but you’ll find some good price/quality products there. Stellarvue is slightly more expensive but does generally high quality products – you may want to look there… Along with the telescope a mount such as the Orion Sirius or Celestron CG5 is needed with such a configuration… Hope it helps…
    Thanks – Jean-Christophe.

  5. #5 by Lambert Gagnon on October 11, 2010 - 9:39 am

    Hi Jean,
    I have another question for you. How did you put the finder scope on it? Last weekend, I tried to use the finder scope, guide scope and it didn’t go well. I guess you must drill holes to support the new finder scope.
    Thanks,

  6. #6 by jmeriaux on October 11, 2010 - 12:37 pm

    Lambert,

    On the 8″ astrograph scope rings – there are 3 holes on the top of each ring [ don’t know if it is the case for yours],
    I was able to use the pair of holes on the left or right [ not the ones in the center of the ring]. The guide scope and guide scope rings are slightly off center this way – but it has not been a problem for me when imaging…

    Hope it helps… Jean-Christophe

  7. #7 by thomas smith on July 24, 2011 - 3:56 pm

    hi,
    great site,very informative.love your astrophotos.
    you use a 190mm mak newt and a 8 inch f4 ,in your opinion if you only could have one which would you choose?
    i have a 8 inch f5 and mpcc on a eq6,just starting in astrophotography,would like the sharpest images possible.
    in your opinion does the maknewt beat the 8inch mpcc combination in sharpness and contrast.
    many thanks
    thomas
    [australia]

  8. #8 by jmeriaux on July 26, 2011 - 9:07 am

    Hi Thomas. Thanks for your feedback! Regarding your question – I would be you – I would stick with what you have for now. With a MPCC baader corrector you should get pretty good images.
    The Mak Newton is very sharp and as a pretty good optics. But the OTA is very heavy and is close to 40lbs when adding the guidescope, camera etc.
    In fact I used to have a EQ6 – and got a little bit frustrated at the beginning with the Mak Newton -because it is quite tricky to achieve a good tracking with this weight on the EQ6.
    As a matter of fact I underutilized the Mak Newt till I bought my Takahashi mount which has a 75lbs weight rating for photography.
    The EQ6 is a great mount with a fantastic quality/ price ratio but I would say the EQ6 supports 30lbs for photography purpose – not more [or it gets really tricky],
    So I would say if you start in this hobby I would start with what you have – this is a great configuration to start with. You should be able to get quite good astrophotography with it…

  9. #9 by Chris Pedersen on October 29, 2011 - 1:15 pm

    I really like your site — it’s encouraging to know someone else in the SF Bay Area has been successful doing astrophotography in spite of the light polution.

    I noticed that many of your “Planets” photos were taken with the Orion Maksutov Cassegrain 7″, but that it doesn’t show up in your equipment list. I’ve been thinking of getting that scope for visual and planetary astrophotography, but am wondering if the Celestron 9.25″ would be a better choice. Since you’ve owned both, I thought I’d ask you — especially since you haven’t replaced your “Planets” images with ones from the C9.25. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Best, Chris.

  10. #10 by jmeriaux on October 29, 2011 - 7:43 pm

    Hi Chris,

    It is hard to say – overall I think you’ll get fairly comparable results between the Mak 7″ and SCT 9.25″ in terms of planetary performance . But I would personally recommend the Mak 7″ if your focus is planetary observing. In my specific case, my Maksutov 7″ was better for visual observation compared with the SCT 9.25. It was slightly better / comparable for planetary astrophotography (depending on the target).

    But it may depend on each telescope – some may be better than others …

    Some other thoughts:

    The Maksutov-Cassegrain design has a lower central obstruction, and visually provide a very pleasant image, better than SCT of roughly comparable size like the 9.25. Also the telescope keeps extremelly well its collimation.

    The sct 9.25″ has a much larger central obstruction, and it pays its toll in terms of contrast. However the greater light gathering power of the SCT 9.25″ allows to take frames with shorter exposure compared with the Mak 7″ at equal resulting focal length.

    Also the SCT is a great multi purpose telescope and is a great performer for DSO observing and imaging. The Mak 7″ sweet spot is planetary observing. Planetary nebula, Globular cluster, and bright nebulae are good targets too – but it is not a telescope suitable for any deep sky object astrophotography ( visual back is 1.25″ only, long f/d unsuitable for DSO astrophotography).

    As you noticed most of my pictures were done with the Mak 7″… My primary planetary scope now is an EdgeHD 11″” – a big step up. But it shows a real difference with the Mak 7″ a couple of nights a year!…

    Hope it helps!

    Thanks – Jean-Christophe

  11. #11 by Chris Pedersen on October 30, 2011 - 9:16 am

    Hi Jean-Christophe,

    Thanks for the quick and informative reply. Based on that, I’m thinking my “step up” from my ancient Meade ETX90 will be the Orion Mak 7″ on an Atlas EQ-G with a dual-plate adapter so I can do widefield captures with my SLR. I’m also toying with the idea of trying to make an adapter for 1.25″ narrowband filters for my Sigma 120-300 F2.8 lens, and using them with a modified Canon 20D. I know there’s no perfect setup, but this feels like a flexible path for now. Thanks again for your site and feedback!

    Chris

  12. #12 by WALCZAK Benoit on January 11, 2012 - 12:45 am

    JC,

    En surfant sur ton site, je suis impressioné sur la qualité des images/photos et du matériel utilisé.
    Je contaste que cette passion pour l’astronomie a perduré au fil des années.
    Te souviens-tu à Saint-Saulve de la première carte élaborée, point par point, avec un Oric Atmos ?
    Ca ne nous rajeunit pas !
    Benoit

  13. #13 by Gabriella Diniz on February 6, 2012 - 11:33 am

    Hello! I am a college student in an Intro Astronomy course working on an astrophotography research project. My partner and I are working on researching different techinques for photographing and getting clear images. Do you have any basic tips for beginners? My blog lists some of our research questions as well. Thank you!
    ~Gabriella

  14. #14 by jmeriaux on February 6, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    Hi Gabriella,

    Regarding planetary images, I would recommend the excellent web site from Damien Peach, renowned astrophotographer,
    http://www.damianpeach.com/simulation.htm – you can look also there – http://www.iceinspace.com.au/63-468-0-0-1-0.html and here – http://www.astrosurf.com/cidadao/super.htm

    The way you optimize planetary images and nebulae / faint object images is not the same.
    But generally speaking getting “clear” images is about many different things, for instance
    – Image capture: Optical quality
    – Image capture: Perfectly aligned (collimated) optics
    – Image capture: High speed / sensitive Cameras with adequate filters
    – Image Processing: Noise reduction (by stacking many images)
    – Image Processing: Contrast enhancement, and better -Deconvolution or Wavelet algorithms for image enhancements…

    Hope it helps – Best regards! – Jean-Christophe

  15. #15 by Anonymous on February 6, 2012 - 2:02 pm

    HI Jean,
    Are you from Quebec? I just read the above post about Saint-Sauve. You have an very impressive collection of mounts and telescopes.

    Hi Gabriella,
    There is a good book about astrophotography called The New CCD Astronomy by Ron Wodaski.
    Then there is also the Bahtinov mask. It’s a simple gadget and it does help.

  16. #16 by jmeriaux on February 6, 2012 - 3:30 pm

    No I am from France … There is a “Saint Saulve” in France too…

  17. #17 by Chris Purves on June 12, 2012 - 4:34 am

    Hi,

    I would be very interested to hear your latest thoughts on the astrotrac and the fs-60. I am trying to decide on a portable mount for my fs-60cb right now. The Astrotrac is a possibility.

    Cheers
    Chris

  18. #18 by jmeriaux on June 12, 2012 - 9:20 am

    Hi Chris.

    Here is my experience: both the astro trac and FS 60c are really fantastic astro gears. But what I found is that with the FS60c on the astrotrac you a pretty limited to short exposures [ a couple of minutes]. This is not an ideal combination as it reaches the limit of the Astrotrac or at least what it has been designed for (I tried it once, when travelling in new Mexico). Teleobjective (200mm, 100mm, 50mm) will be much easier to operate on the astrotrac and will provide stunning results with little effort.

    The best shots I made with the FS 60C where on larger mounts (Orion Sirius, Atlas , then Takahashi). A mount like the Orion Sirius mount is fairly lightweight, will support the FS60C easily and will allow you to do a better tracking with auto guiding if you go for longer exposures.

    This is my personal opinion .. So you may want to find other people who tried out. But IMHO the astrotrac – as a primary mount for the FS 60c – is not an optimal choice.
    For occasional use (visual observation, short exposure shots – 2/3 mins max) this works for me though…

    Hope it helps… Jean-Christophe

  19. #19 by Chris Purves on June 13, 2012 - 10:38 am

    Thanks Jean-Christophe.

    I must say I am really surprised – The astrotrac suggests it can handle 15kg and the FS-60cb is only 1.3kg!!! Is yours the new or old model ? The site suggests they have been using scopes up to 6 inches!

    Cheers
    Chris

  20. #20 by jmeriaux on June 13, 2012 - 10:56 am

    Hi Chris,

    This is my personal opinion though… And my model is I think the old one [ bought 2 years ago]. I think one can reach some results with patience – but in my personal opinion the real astrotrac sweet spot is teleobjectives & wide field for focal length 3min) with the FS 60 at f/d 6 will be not that easy (but doable with patience). Or you need to get the focal reducer to bring the focal length and FS 60c f/d ratio down. Or you need to limit yourself to brighter objects to keep each individual exposure time relatively short.
    The canon 200mm I use with the astrotrac has a much lower f/d ratio ( I use it at f/d 3-4. so you can do great shots in short exposures [ 2/3 mins]. With the fs 60c f/d ratio, you need much longer exposure (f/d 6 or so) – or you need to get the f/d down by using the Tak focal reducer…

    Hope it helps…. Jean-Christophe

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