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What did you upgrade troughout this hobby - what did improve


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As we all know this hobby is not the easiest to start with. Most of us when starting thought, ooh this should not be that difficult and why do I need that expensive equipment?

I am only doing astrophotography for 2 years. And in this short time I bought, swapped, modded and upgraded quiet a lot of equipment. And I was so happy with my first photo's, and looking at them now I think "dham, that is total crap".

So the idea of this topic is to tell and show your old equipment / photo's and your current equipment / photo's. What where the big improvements and what should a beginner be aware of.

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I think I was quite lucky in buying a pretty complete set up from a chap who was giving up. 

After a few sessions getting know how to use it all, I realised I was having cabling issues so invested in a Pegasus UPB V2. this resulted in one cable down for power and one to the laptop.

After a few more sessions I realised my feet were really suffering from being outside all night freezing so figured out the best way to go was to use a Raspberry Pi4 as a server linked by 20m ethernet cable to my laptop. I can now sit in relative warmth and monitor everything from my workshop, pop out with bino's occasionally and more importantly let it all run automatically and go to bed.

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I will start with my experience.

My first scope was a Celestron astromaster 114EQ. Just bought it because I was searching for a new hobby, and this is where it al started.

So trough this scope I saw Jupiter and Saturn and was blown away. This was the start of my love for astronomy and astrophotography. In the past I like making photo's so I started searching on the internet how you van make photo's trough a telescope.
I bought a sony next N5 complete with 1.25" to t2 adapter and a T ring for on the camera and I was ready to go.

How wrong could I be. Having a mount without tracking an using a camera on a bird jhones reflector scope. If you thought you haver seen some coma in pictures made with a newton telescope, this was next level.


But it was still my first picture.

Now I knew I had to upgrade, this was not working and looking at other forums and image galleries I knew this is what I wanted to do. So I bough a second hand Mead LXD75 with the original goto mount. And this was awsome. Finlay I had goto options and tracking, I was so happy. And then I learned why astrophotography is difficult.

Apparently auto guiding is pretty important. A guide scope and guide camera was added to the setup and I was ready to go, after breaking my head for about 2 days before I was able to get the mount working on my laptop. It is so difficult to get old equipment working when you have no clue what you are doing.

But I learnt a lot and behold my first real picture


I was so impressed that I could make these kind a photo's form my backyard. I just loved it.

So I started buying cheap UHC and CLS filters form ali-express. Got an spare DEC and RA motor for the mount, and after receiving them the original DEC motor broke. Upgraded the camera to a Canon 650d. Modded the camera by removing the filter. Bought a QHY 8L CCD camera which I used two times and sold it again because the exposure time was insane.

Had some very annoying times with the LXD75 mount where it just forgot it was tracking and started slewing like crazy. All fun and good times.

And now for about a  year I have a Skywatcher AZ-EQ6 mount with a Skywatcher 150psd and a Celestron c8. I am still using my canon 650d, but I also have a altair 294c which I just started using. And the best Thing I bought for my newton, was a ES coma corrector. A coma corrector made so much more impact than I was expecting, and for anybody who is in doubt of buying one, just do it (but buy a good one). I also made some modifications to my carport for a more permanent setup of my mount.


And my newest picture


Just seeing the improvement in 2 years time is huge, but it also cost a lot. Even second-hand this equipment is not cheap. And I am wondering what I will upgrade the coming months and how much improvement I will make over the next couple of years.

And the most important advice I can give someone; don't give up and keep trying.

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Some things that made a difference out of proportion to their cost:

Bahtinov masks.

Bluetooth joystick to control the mount while looking through scope or a finder.

Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector.

L-enhance filter - only abandoned because I got a mono cam and narrowband filters.

Astro-modding then cooling my DSLR.

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Pretty much everything.

Started imaging with Megrez 90 on HEQ5, unmodded 550D, unguided. Added guiding, big improvement, then SX Trius 694 and filters (Baader), still on tripod, swapped the Baader NB for Astrodon 3nm, put the HEQ 0n a pier.

Big upgrade, swapped out the HEQ5 for an ASA DDM60, could ditch the guider, replaced the Megrez 90 with a TS Photoline 130 f/7 triplet apo.

Now in the final stages of building an obsy with an ODK12 on another ASA mount, a DDM85 this time.

Still have the HEQ5, Megrez 90 and all the rest.

Try not to think of the hole this little lot's put in my finances.

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Have changed everything over the years.

1st Big step up, was having my DSLR modified.

2nd Moving to a mono camera and filters.

3. Installing an Observatory.

Moved through various scopes, currently own 4.

4. Buying a Samyang 135mm F2 lens to do widefield, fantastic lens for imaging.

Other than that just getting more skilled in processing.


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When I discovered that the Raspberry PI could be used as the image acquisition computer with Astroberry/Ekos/Kstars and I no longer needed to nurse the scope then things became so much better. Set up a sequence and leave the PI to it. Go to bed, it aims, plate solves, guides, captures, meridian flips, carries on. It then can change target or filter and does the same again. Come back the next day and all is done (assuming the clouds didn't stop play!). It can do mosaics, open and close the dome (if you have one), brew up and sweep the path etc. The last two it can't - yet... but I'm sure @Gina has some ideas on how to achieve that.

Prior to that I was using a laptop Windoze PC inside a plastic box (which I still use for Moon images) and AstroPhotographyTool which is good but not as good as a full blown application like EKOS at controlling an observatory. 

The advantages of a PC is there are many good observatory grade programs, like Sequence Generator Pro, that require a beefy Windoze PC to run. The disadvantages of a PC are it constantly wants to upgrade itself sometimes in the middle of a image run! I work in cyber security for my day job and one of my disciplines is the eminently hackable Microsoft Windows Server OS so it keeps me in employment. Those hacks drive the constant "upgrades". 

However I was fed up of wiping dew off the laptop screen (hence the plastic box). But the humble, UK designed, relatively cheap Raspberry PI came along combined with the free Astroberry operating system and it was a game changer for me.  

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Posted by: @Carastro

The photo of your mount on a table looks seriously Scary, and how to you manage to mount everything up there, or do you mount it down below and then lift it all up?

How do you PA? 



This was a picture of the old setup. But looking at the mount you can say it is a bit questionable on the table. But the table is just as sturdy as a class two floor, so it can hold up a bit over 500kg per square meter.

I have to use a lader to mount the scope. But i can stand on the table while doing that, so that leaves enough working space. 

All in all it is not the perfect setup, but it works pretty wel. 

Polar alignment is done trough phd, with polar drift and drift alignment. But because it is an "fixed" setup this only needs to be done once every couple of months.

And like most of you are saying remote controlling the setup makes your life so much easier. I am using an dedicated old laptop to do this. 

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I run a couple of headless PCs that run Win 10 Pro so I can set them to only update during the day.

The main software is ASA Autoslew for controlling the mount, and Sequence that handles the sky models and the sequences. These new "flavour of the month" software packages that everyone raves about are only now just catching up with what Sequence has been doing for years beyond count.

Capture is with Maxim DL6, with PinPoint handling the plate solving.

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Apologies for the long post. My last 5 months have been constant upgrades. Due to lockdown finding stuff used has been a nightmare, so I've been mostly restricted to new.  I thought I'd go through each phase as it's been a process of continued improvement. I've gone from grateful to having captured an image to being critical that my framing 3 degrees from where I wanted it to be.

In May my gear consisted of and EvoStar 120, NEQ6Pro (bought in 2010), EOS 50D and a dead power supply.

Gear had not seen light in 5 years (as my handset reminded me).

First thing I had to fix was power. I observe at home so a mains powerpack was the key. Plugged it all in and everything worked.

EvoStar 120 is a good scope but CA is an issue, so I added a 200PDS.

This got me imaging.  

Next addition - Coma Corrector to deal with streaking stars - Big improvement

My next idea was to break from the handset, so ordered the Synscan WiFi adapter. Not a great upgrade. I found a tablet hard to use as it had no tactile controls. On the handset you can feel the buttons while eyeballing the target. Sold this for what I paid for it.

My mount for many years has had bent bolts. I could polar align, but it was a balancing act - New bolts from ebay - problem fixed.

EQMOD Cable/Game Pad - Swapping to PC control and using a gamepad fixed my handset issues. I also moved to APT at this point. APT has revolutionised everything.

Cheap 60mm Chinese guide scope + ASI120MM.  I started guiding and exposure times went to around 120 seconds.  My limit was now light pollution.

IDAS LPS P2 - Fixed exposure times. I can now go long. (I've gone as far as 240s, I know I can go further)

Not so much an upgrade - I moved to plate solving.  This really changed my ability to frame and target

My EOS 50D was causing issues - the sensor has always been noisy and my batteries were all dying, so I sold a guitar and bought an ASI294.  Huge change - no more swapping batteries mid session (often 3-4 times!).


The new camera just dropped into the rig - so much easier to use too (especially with a prepared dark library)

With longer exposure times I was shooting more and more Nebulae - took a chance on an Optolong L-eNhance.  This has made a massive difference to  everything.  This filter brought out so much more detail.

Finally with winter coming I wanted to consider wide field options, so bought the 72EDF. A second scope was always on my list but I figured it it was 12 months away. Only used it twice and still ironing out issues, but I get the small refractor thing now.

Now I'm going to say every month brought measurable improvements. I was lucky in that I could sell a few bits to buy a few bits and during the lockdown could use money saved on petrol and work expenses. On the downside I have spent some time trouble shooting and will now only first light new gear on item at a time.  In a normal world I would have treated this as 24 month project.

What would I do differently? I think I should have gone small refractor first. I had an unconscious bias toward newts due to starting back in the 80s.  The 200PDS is brilliant, but it's a bit cumbersome to setup.

My approach has been to break each step into a project. So getting guiding working was a priority over light pollution filters. Working from PC entirely was priority over new camera. Working out how to use a CMOS camera was priority over posh filters.

The biggest advantage I had was I was pretty experienced visually. I knew what guiding was, had an idea what plate solving was and had some experience with EQMOD. I would not recommend a novice follow this kind of timescale... but in terms of a visual to imaging swap it's working out okay, so far.


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So many things and steps you made are comparable to what I did and what I now have.
I also would like to buy a additional wide field refractor next to my newton. But still have not seen a good offer on the second-hand websites. But that will come, probably with a focal length around 400mm.

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@Bas Second hand sites are crazy right now. Ebay more so. I recently watched nearly new Redcat sell for more than a new one.  I think as new supplies have long lead times at the moment, so used prices are going up.  Comets, Mars and Lockdown have generated a lot of interest. I think my return was definitely aided by not having to get up on weekdays for a month.

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OK, the biggest improvement was also by far the most expensive, when I moved from Ruislip in West London, SQI 18.4, Bortle 8 to the Bride Valley in West Dorset, SQI 21.66, Bortle 4/3.

The difference in sky quality is mind blowing, and imaging, especially galaxies, is so much more rewarding.

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When I was thinking of moving I had several search areas open in Rightmove, Galloway, Mid Wales, Exmoor, and two in Dorset. I eventually rejected Galloway because of weather an the high northern latitude would have eaten into the summer darkness, similarly, Wales was rejected because of the weather.

Eventually came down to this area of Dorset as I have family living in Blandford Forum, and didn't want to cut myself off too far.

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I will add my equipment changes and improvements down as well, sorry for the long story inbound. When I started this lovely hobby back in 2008, my first scope was a Bynostar 130/900 on a wobbly EQ2, which I mainly used for some visual observing. Within a year I decided that astrophotography was what I wanted to do, so I got myself a NEQ6, controlled by EQmod.


With this combo I enjoyed a really well spent holiday in the French Alpes, goto-ing all over the place and viewing many many Messier.

After this, i got my main imaging scope, a 200/1000 Skywatcher Newton, along with my first camera, a Canon 350D DSLR and took my first image in 2010.


The next upgrade, was modding my 350D. This was quite an advanced mod, not only replacing the IR/UV cut filter but also added peltier cooling to the CMOS sensor. Also got myself a MPCC mKII to get rid of the nasty coma. And improved my processing by using the Carboni astro tools. Guiding was introduced with a QHY5/8x50 finderguider.


After this my next huge improvement was again on the processing side, by addapting the DSLR-LRGB workflow using a synthetic luminance in my processing.


I then made an Arduino controled stepper motorfocuser from a topic on SGL.


Also I started doing Ha and HaRGB shooting with my DSLR.


The next huge step was setting up a micro observatory on my 2nd floor balcony.


Next HUGE eyeopener was in processing again by making the move to PixInsight, and this is such a joy for a severe color blinded person like myself, as I always struggled to get decent color balance in some of my images.


SOme time after that, my trusty 350D was starting to give me more and more issues, so I had to take a break for some time, also dealing with a divorce at the time.


This year I got back into astrophotography and build myself a new observatory and moved to a dedicated astrocam, the Altair Astro Hypercam 269C Pro TEC.


So this is were we now stand, if only the weather would improve............

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Posted by: @Bas


Nice and cool story.

Would you mind making a new topic about how you processed the iris nebula. That is a impressive improvement you made. And would love to know how to do that. 


This is where I got it from, and the video on this page gives a real in depth view on how to use this processing.


My process for the Iris Nebula image is summarized below:

Original RGB image in Nebulosity 2.5:
 -Color balance [CB]
 -DDP using standard settings [DDP]

Original CB/DDP RGB image in Photoshop CS3:
 -Carboni's v1.6 Vertical Banding Noise Reduction
 -Levels [black-, Grey-, and White points]
 -Convert to greyscale [This creates the Synthetic Luminance]
 -Convert back to RGB [RGB reconvertion is only done for easy of interpretation of PS histgram and tools]
Synthetic Luminance in Photoshop CS3:
 -SmartSharpen entire image
 -Carboni's v1.6 Deep Space Noise Reduction [Removes noise from background, not DSO]
 -Curves, selective on weak dustlanes, with anchored background and highlights, 2x normal curve, followed by repair of contrast in highlights, in this case the center of the Iris, by a selective curve using layer masks,1x normal and 1x contrast curve
 -Screen Mask Invert to pull out the weak dust lanes even further from the backgroud
 -Highpass Filtering on the Iris'scenter using a layer mask
 -Shrink Stars using a minimum filter
 -Final tweaks on Luminance using Curves, especially in the Iris center
RGB processing in Photoshop CS3:
 -Curves and Levels to bring RGB to a comparable level as the Luminance
 -HLVG, medium strength
 -Carboni's v1.6 Space Noise Reduction
 -Carboni's v1.6 Less Crunchy, More Fuzzy
 -Increase saturation using Jay GaBany's method [3 copies of RGB, 3rd copy Luminosty blend mode, 2nd copy soft light blend mode, flatten all 3 copies] Repeat to taste, 3x for this image. This results in a slightly over saturated image

 -Luminance addition, blend mode Luminosity, at 50% opacity, flatten
 -Carboni's v1.6 Less Crunchy, More Fuzzy
 -Gaussian Blur (2px)
 -Increase saturation in Lab mode [Reds and Blues]
 -Increase saturation using Jay GaBany's method, 1x
 -Luminance addition on 100% opacity, Luminosity blend mode [The general idea is to increase the saturation of the RGB stepwise, until the luminance can be added at 100% opacity]


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My reaction would be "How long is a piece of string?".  Seriously though, I've been into astronomy, mainly imaging, for 10 years and changed pretty much everything!  Can't even remember a lot of it.  I may have a think though and see if I can write something.

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I had an issue with polar alignment cricked neck and dirty knees. I bought a right angle adapter for the inbuilt polar scope and that worked ok for a bit. However it still relied on my eyes and they are not that good.

I upgraded to the QHYCCD Polemaster to aid polar alignment. It now takes me about 2 mins to do it from initial scope setup as I don't have a fixed observatory.

There are other solutions, IOptron for instance, software solutions like Sharpcap etc. but Polemaster works well for me. No more strained eyes, cricked neck and I have clean knees. 

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Posted by: @TerryMcK

I upgraded to the QHYCCD Polemaster to aid polar alignment. It now takes me about 2 mins to do it from initial scope setup as I don't have a fixed observatory.

There are other solutions, IOptron for instance, software solutions like Sharpcap etc. but Polemaster works well for me. No more strained eyes, cricked neck and I have clean knees. 

Here here, yes me too.  Bought Polemaster when I fractured my knee some 4 years ago, it's brilliant and as you say "No more strained eyes, cricked neck" and I still can't kneel comfortably after 4 years as they left the pins and plate in situ.


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