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Astrophotography on a budget

Styeffo

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Good afternoon all....I hope that you’re well and keeping safe as can be

I’m wondering if you could help me as I’d like to do a bit of basic astrophotography but I’m not really in a position to pay out more than a few hundred pounds.

I’m seeing that my P900 isn’t really equipped for it but I’ve heard a lot about the Panasonic FZ1000.... so any and all ideas/advice welcome.

kind regards
Stef
 

Petrochemist

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The first question is - What sort of astrophotography are you interested in?
Wide starscapes have very different requirements to planets, or deep sky imaging.

For starscapes you want a fairly wide angle lens & good low light performance. It might be possible to get by with a few hundred if buying used but you won't be able to get close to the best shots on the web.

For planets you could probably get away with your existing camera used with a telescope via an a-focal setup (using scope, eyepiece & camera lens) Light gathering power isn't too much of an issue here, but you will want reasonable magnification, so a longer focal length telescope is best.

For nebulae light gathering is top dog, and you'll probably want some special filters (some of which would blow your budget!)

I've only dabbled a little in astrophotography. I picked up a used Celestron 130 Newtonian telescope with a reasonable equitorial tripod & some eyepieces for ~£150 (about 10 years ago). Connecting my Pentax K100d to this via a zoom eyepiece enabled me to photograph 4 of Jupiter's moons (as dots) Jupiter itself being severely over exposed. Poor stock of batteries & the cold caused me to stop rather than getting Jupiter exposed right :(

Unfortunately before my (more experienced) assistant was able to help me have another go urban expansion around our chosen viewing point has made it less suitable. I've never really got the scope set up properly since, stellar alignment is necessary for the motor drive to track properly, and my rare subsequent efforts have only been good enough for viewing.

My collection of cameras now includes a couple of options that are reasonable for starscapes, my Pentax K5ii & it's 10-17 fisheye or my A7ii & a Samyang 14mm/2.8 are my best options but either would probably still set you back ~£500 There are no doubt quite a few systems you can get with narrower FOV that won't be too far behind. I'd recommend picking a interchangable lens camera & a manual focus lens of at least f/2.8. Starting with an adapted 50mm/1.8 on a mirrorless body might be best this will be rather narrow FOV but it's much cheaper than an ultrawide & you'll at least be able to shoot some constellations to develop your skills.
 

Styeffo

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Thank you @Petrochemist for your very informative reply, I think I’m just struggling at the moment and looking for inspiration for my picture taking but I fear skyward may well be out of my reach right now.
 

Ozzie_Traveller

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G'day Stef

To my eyes, there is no advantage going to another (expensive) camera ~ your P900 will / should do the job nicely ......... once you decide what the job entails !

For circular startrails - ezy-pezy and I think we've discussed this before on this forum but I will email you some notes to help you
For stationary images of planets or nebulae, nothing that you or I have got will do the task. This is where a visit to your local astro-enthusiast group is needed to piggy-back onto one of their night-gazing sessions and it will pay dividends

They will have stuff that in digital camera terms is about a 5000mm lens and a mechanism that allows the lens to follow the movement of the target so as to not get any blur

I had a mate several years back with one of these telescopes (about a foot diameter and 2 feet long on a great heavy tripod on wheels to move it around) and his pics were taken onto a $50 slip-in-the-pocket lightweight camera

Hope this helps
Phil
 

Styeffo

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Thanks Phil, if we have then you have my apologies .... I appreciate all you’ve said and sent to me and I’ve just discovered there is a pre set setting called ‘Star Trails’ on the actually camera setting dial. I’d I ever get around to figuring out what I want, you’ll be the 2nd to know.

kind regards
Stef
 

Styeffo

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Hi everyone, I’ve been thinking (always dangerous lol) and I think I’d probably like the idea of constellations and nebulae….anybody used anything reasonable budget wise?
thanks in advance
stef
 

Ozzie_Traveller

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G'day Stef

My suggestion for today would be to pop in to your local community centre and chase up the local astro / stargazing club for details & info

FWIW- I have a mate who is one of these buffs and his stuff is quite impressive ... the 'but' is that the camera used is a $50 second hand 12mpx job that otherwise would slip into the pocket. He says 'a lightweight camera is all that's needed as the main scope does all the hard work'.

Hope this helps
Phil
 

Styeffo

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Thanks Phil, I may well try that….in general then what filters etc could I use on my Fz1000 or even my P900 in order to improve star shots/night sky pictures etc?

Aside from budget I guess my issue is that I’ve so little in the way of spare time in order to travel etc that I’d like to do whatever I can with what I’ve got and maybe the odd extra, does that make sense?

stef
 

Ozzie_Traveller

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G'day Stef

As amateur photographers we have a series of issues to consider with astro photography

Someone in the astro field will have their "10-inch refractor scope" on its mount along with a small electric servo motor so that it will follow the movement of the stars as the earth rotates ~ thus allowing them long - long exposures at low ISO readings. For us, with the camera on a tripod, "it ain't that simple mate"

With something like your or my cameras -- small sensors, 20x or more zoom lens with electronic focussing -- we have to arrange thing carefully
Exposures over say, 15 seconds will show sideways movement / star trails. Using ISOs over say, 3200 will start to introduce noise and coloured artifacts.

For me when I have tried this, the biggest issue is getting a perfect focus ... after setting the amount of zoom I wish to use for a particular star cluster, it needs 1/2-dozen trial pics with a tiny movement of the focus ring (obviously in MF mode) and once I am content, I then wack a chunk of masking tape around the focus ring in case I bump it later

The rest of it is in "M: mode ... 15 secs x whatever max aperture is for 25x to 50x zoom ... ISO 3200 or less ... remote control or 2-sec delay self timer and so on

In the computer, I have found that images need a contrast boost to darken the sky and so bring the stars to the foreground a bit more

Hope this helps
Phil
 
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