Nikon D700 DSLR

This is arguably the finest full frame camera of its class in the world. Canon users will justifiably say otherwise. I will say that if you want to get into astrophotography with a DSLR—high end or not—buy a Canon model due to its popularity among astrophotographers. On the top end both cameras are beyond the abilities of most amateur photographers.

 

However, Nikon has the name and the tradition.

 

Orion Atlas EQ-G Computerized Goto Mount

The Atlas EQ-G is a heavy duty, very stable platform on which to mount a telescope for visual or photographic work. It may be over-kill for visual work. But that over-kill in extra design, engineering, manufacturing, and production eliminates a host of variables that can torture you in the field, whether the “field” is your back yard (like me) or some dark sky place in Arizona.

 

The manual for the EQ-G is on the low side of adequate. This is not a big drawback since the device is easy to set up, figure out, and use. Plus, help abounds online for this most popular of the bigger mounts.

 

In Europe, the same mount is called the Skywatcher EQ-6.

 

Astro-Tech AT8IN F4.0 Imaging Newtonian

The AT8IN and the Orion the Orion 8in. f/4.0 Newtonian Astrograph Reflector are almost the same telescope. Both are reputedly fine instruments. I opted for the Astro-Tech version from Astronomics due to its subtle enhancements over the Orion. These include a better focuser, light baffles in the OTA, a slightly lower price. Astronomics advertises the AT8IN as an imaging scope, with visual duty listed as possible. Orion advertises the Astrograph as a telescope fine for visual and astrophotographic work.

 

ImagesPlus Camera Control

This is a key link between the camera and the computer. This piece of code controls everything from focus to image capture. The learning curve is a little steeper than I would like, but I have been spoiled by things like the iPhone!

 

ImagesPlus Camera control will allow you to set up an imaging session, start it up and then go to bed as your laptop assumes command faithfully ordering you DSLR to capture images at the settings you define.

 

ImagesPlus Processing 3.82a

 

Nikon Capture NX2 2.2.3

The more I use NX2 the more I wonder why I want Photoshop. I compare what I do with NX2 to what I see videos of people using Photoshop do in several to many steps, and I always think “Gee. NX2 will do that with a single click or levels change.”

 

I just wish NX2 enjoyed the popularity, and thus the third-party support, of Photoshop.

 

LView Pro 2006

I have used Lview for a very long time. This is powerful software. Every time I decide I need something different I discover that LView will not only perform the new task but do it well. I suppose it would help if I would actually take a few minutes to read the documentation.

 

A Typical Astrophotography Session Including Post-Processing

This is what all the hardware looks like when configured for imaging.

 

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Pictured above; Astro-Tech 8” f/4.0 Imaging Newtonian, Orion Atlas EQ-G Goto mount, Nikon D700 DSLR, Dell XP laptop.

 

Everything is powered via 110vac adapters, except the mirror cooling fan, which runs off eight AA batteries. It was just too convenient to change.

 

The Nikon is attached directly to the focuser using the “prime focus” configuration in which the telescope’s optics replace the camera’s lens. There is no eyepiece in the focuser; the optical path is telescope mirror, telescope diagonal mirror, coma corrector, DSLR sensor. (Coma correctors correct the optical deficiency in mirrors that tends to make stars look like comas with flares attached. This affect becomes more pronounced the closer the edge of the field of view.)