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Backyard of the Week | May 10, 2021

Backyard of the week May 10, 2021

The AstroBackyard Backyard of the Week highlights astrophotography setups from around the world. We break down each piece of the system so you can understand exactly what goes into a successful imaging kit. 

This week’s backyard astrophotography equipment profile comes to us from Christopher Mills from Michigan, USA.

Chris Mills Imaging set up

Chris uses a Samyang 135mm F/2 (Rokinon 135mm) lens to capture his deep-sky images. This is a spectacular camera lens for astrophotography, offering the perfect mix of focal length and aperture for many deep-sky projects. 

His setup is extremely portable and includes some nice upgrades from a traditional star tracker configuration. I especially love the William Optics star tracker upgrade kit that includes the improved wedge base. 

I personally enjoy this package on my iOptron SkyGuider Pro, and forgot that I could use it on the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer as well!

Chris Mills Imaging setup

Location: Michigan, USA

The upgraded hardware improves the polar alignment process and overall stability of the setup. Christopher also uses a William Optics dovetail bar to find the perfect balance for his Nikon DSLR camera and lens atop the Star Adventurer Pro

I must say, I am a tad jealous of Christopher’s beautiful location on the farm. Bortle Scale Class 4-5 skies make observing and photographing the night sky a memorable experience. 

Christopher Mills 

The following image of the Andromeda Galaxy is an incredible reminder of the vastness of space. Christopher did a great job of framing up the galaxy throughout his session, and clearly, the tracking and focus were spot-on.

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy by Christopher Mills.

For beginners, taking a long-exposure tracked image can be a challenging process. An image like the one above may seem nearly impossible to achieve.

However, when you begin to understand the basic fundamentals of polar alignment, stability, and balance, you’ll soon be able to capture incredible sights like this yourself. 

My first dozen attempts at the Andromeda Galaxy were not nearly this good!

Christopher’s Equipment 

Primary Imaging Camera Nikon D7100 (Astromodded)
Primary Imaging Lens Samyang 135mm F/2
Star Tracker Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro
Star Tracker Base Upgrade William Optics Base Wedge Upgrade Kit
Filter STC Optics Multi Spectra Filter
Dew Control USB Powered Dew Heater

What does Chris love most about his gear? The simplicity and quick set up.

A portable astrophotography rig like this is great for those that must travel to a dark sky location for an unspoiled sky. Being able to quickly get the rig aligned and on-target allows you to sneak in extra imaging sessions when the forecast surprises you with a clear hour or two.

I appreciate the attention to detail on this rig. Christopher utilizes the external power supply port on the Star Adventurer when imaging from the backyard, a handy feature if you’re worried about the batteries letting you down.

I also like the compact, USB-powered dew heater band he uses. This is an excellent solution for keeping the optics dry on a humid summer night. A pocket-sized power bank is all you need to power the band. 

The Camera

Christopher uses an Astro modded Nikon D7100 DSLR camera. This is a crop-sensor DSLR with a 24.1 MP CMOS sensor.

He did not mention the exact type of modification performed, but it involved removing the stock IR cut filter that blocks certain wavelengths of red light found in nebulae.

Nikon D7100

Nikon D7100 DSLR Camera.

It is not necessary to modify your DSLR camera to enjoy astrophotography, but it will open the doors to exciting new projects. 

This camera was modified by Spencers Camera. Learn more about astrophotography cameras, and which type is best for your interests.

North America Nebula

The North America Nebula and Pelican Nebula by Christopher Mills.

The Camera Lens

Christopher uses a Samyang 135mm F/2 lens to capture images of deep space from his backyard. This lens offers a useful focal length (135mm) for many projects and captures a beautiful, flat field of stars. 

If you enjoy capturing large nebulae regions (the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex comes to mind), this lens should be on your wish list. 

The fast optics give you more control over your camera settings, and the focuser feels like it was meant for making subtle adjustments on a bright star.

Samyang f/2.0 135mm lens

Samyang 135mm F/2 Lens (Nikon).

Samyang f/2.0 135mm Specs

  • Type: Manual Prime lens
  • Focal Length: 135mm
  • Focal Ratio: F/2
  • Weight: 830 g (1.83 lbs)

The Star Tracker 

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is portable, easy-to-use, and reliable. 4 x AA batteries power this equatorial mounts motor, and the entire kit fits neatly into your camera bag.

This mighty little tracker can handle up to 11 lbs. of astro gear and includes several tracking modes depending on the type of astrophotography you’re into. 

Star trackers have exploded in popularity over the last 5 years, and more and more people are enjoying long-exposure astrophotography because of this.

sky-watcher star adventurer

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer (Pro Pack).

This little EQ mount can carry a small telescope (such as the William Optics RedCat 51 or Radian Raptor 61) and even supports autoguiding. 

You’ll need to attach the mount head to a stable tripod for a successful night of imaging.

The Filter

The STC Optics Multi Spectra filter is a broad-spectrum filter designed to reduce known wavelengths of light associated with light pollution

The bandpass transmission graph below shows that the important Hb, OIII, Ha, and SII wavelengths are allowed to pass through to the sensor.

STC Astro Multi-Spectra Filter

Transmission graph of the STC Optics Multi Spectra Filter.

Certain camera modifications (such as the full-spectrum mod) require an astrophotography filter with an IR-cut to function properly. 

Be sure to inquire about this information before getting your DSLR or mirrorless camera professionally modified. 

Accessories

William Optics Base Mount Upgrade

This is a great option for anyone unsatisfied with the stability of their Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer or iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

I personally use this base on my iOptron SkyGuider Pro and have found it to make the polar alignment process easier, as well as add stability to the entire rig. 

William Optics Star Adventurer Upgrade

Christopher also uses the William Optics Declination adapter and Vixon-style clamp to mount his camera on a dovetail bar. Again, these subtle improvements provide more options for finding balance, and create a more robust tracking system overall.

USB Powered Dew Heater

A dew heater band is something many amateur astrophotographers realize they need after they run into trouble. A little moisture on your camera lens is enough to completely ruin an astrophotography session.

A simple USB-powered band is all you need to warm the objective of the lens and keep your long-exposure images sharp. 

Christopher Mills backyard

Murphy!

I could not resist posting a picture of this handsome fella. A night of astrophotography is a little sweeter when you have a companion nearby!

Thank you for sharing your backyard astrophotography set up with us, Christopher! View Chris’s astrophotography on his Instagram

This is a great way for beginners to see a deep-sky imaging setup that is being used to successfully photograph the night sky.

Be sure to fill out the form to submit your backyard for a chance to be featured, and don’t forget to include your Instagram handle to help grow your following. 

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