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Backyard of the Week | June 14, 2021

The AstroBackyard Backyard of the Week highlights astrophotography setups from around the world. A “backyard” can be a balcony, driveway, garden, or wherever else you set up astrophotography equipment at home.

By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the equipment amateur astrophotographers use to take deep-sky images, you can get a better understanding of the process.

This week’s backyard astrophotography equipment profile comes to us from Gary Crawford in Canada.
Gary Crawford Setup

Location: Ontario, Canada

Gary’s SkyShed POD observatory sits in the corner of his backyard creating the ultimate observing and astrophotography hangout. A permanent observatory allows you to get up and running quickly when the forecast calls for clear skies.

In Ontario, our winters are long, and the nights are very cold. Having a camera and telescope that is already set up and polar aligned means you don’t have to spend an hour setting up gear with frozen fingers!

Gary Crawford 

Gary uses a computerized GoTo equatorial telescope mount to track the apparent motion of the night sky inside of the dome. The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is about as reliable as it gets in the intermediate-level telescope mount class. 

Riding on top of Gary’s EQ6-R is a Meade 6000 Series 115mm triplet ED apochromatic refractor. This apochromatic refractor features a 3-element design that does not require an additional focal corrector lens.

It can capture detailed images of objects in space at a native focal length of 805mm at F/7. In the photo below, you’ll also notice that Gary uses a Primaluce Lab EAGLE computer control unit that is conveniently mounted directly underneath his refractor.

Gary Crawford Setup

Gary’s Equipment 

Primary Camera ZWO ASI2600MC Pro
Primary Telescope Meade 6000 Series 115mm APO
Mount Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Filter(s) Baader Neodymium, L-Enhance, IDAS LPS D2, IDAS NBX
Guide Scope Starfield 60mm
Guide Camera ZWO ASI120MM-S
Dew Control ECCO controller
Camera Control Software N.I.N.A
Other Accessories ZWO OAG, Eagle3, Quark Chromosphere, Hinode Guider

What does Gary love most about his gear?

“It’s all reliable and results in images that I thoroughly enjoy (on the technical side), and it’s a sanctuary that takes me from this pandemic struggle to other worlds in time and space (on the philosophical side)”

A one-shot-color camera and a refractor telescope are a practical pair for the weather we experience here in Ontario. In terms of maximizing clear sky time, a setup like this is tough to beat.

The ZWO ASI2600MC Pro is an impressive one-shot-color dedicated astronomy camera that features a large APS-C-sized cooled CMOS sensor. This allows Gary to take advantage of the large image circle of his Meade APO, and capture wider areas of the night sky in a single photo. 

Here is an image Gary captured from his home observatory of the glorious Pleiades Star Cluster in Taurus. This image should give you a good idea of the field of view Gary enjoys when the ZWO ASI2600MC Pro is paired with an 805mm focal length telescope. 

Pleaidies Gary Crawford

The Pleiades by Gary Crawford.

The Camera

The ZWO ASI2600MC Pro is the one-shot-color version of the monochrome camera I currently shoot with. This cooled CMOS camera has the perfect pixel size (3.76 microns) for most deep-sky setups and can capture stunning, high-resolution images of nebulae and galaxies.

I know this sensor well, as it is the exact same one used in my QHY 268C. Either of these cameras would make an excellent choice for anyone that currently shoots with a crop-sensor DSLR camera.

The upgrade would allow you to capture full-color images with incredible dynamic range, without the noise you’d experience with an uncooled DSLR.

ZWO ASI2600MC Pro

The ZWO ASI2600MC Pro.

The Sony IMX571 sensor used in the 2600MC Pro is back-illuminated. This allows better light acquisition than a front-illuminated sensor that you would typically find in a DSLR camera. 

To run a dedicated astronomy camera like this, you will need to power the camera using an AC adapter and use specialized software such as N.I.N.A or APT to control it. 

Here is a gorgeous image of the Orion Nebula Gary photographed using his backyard rig:

Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula by Gary Crawford.

The Telescope

The Meade 6000 Series 115 mm APO features a 3-element lens design providing sharp, well-corrected visual views, and incredible astrophotography potential. It may be difficult to get your hands on a Meade telescope these days, but there are several options available in this category. 

This telescope weighs just over 12 pounds, making it a more practical size than larger ‘scopes to accommodate a wider selection of equatorial telescope mounts. The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro can handle this OTA with ease, along with all of Gary’s photographic accessories.

Meade 6000 Series Triplet 115mm

Meade 6000 Series 115 APO Specs

  • Type: Apochromatic Refractor
  • Field Flattener: None
  • Diameter: 115mm
  • Focal Length: 805mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/7
  • Weight: 12.3 lb (5.5 kg)

I personally tested the 70mm (quadruplet) version of this telescope back in 2017 and absolutely loved it. As the name suggests, the Meade 6000 Series 70mm Quadruplet was a four-element design, in an extremely compact package. 

The Telescope Mount

There have been a staggering amount of Sky-Watcher EQ6 R-Pro telescope mounts featured on the Backyard of the Week.

This product has a solid reputation in the astrophotography community, and I believe it is one of the reasons amateur deep-sky astrophotography has grown exponentially in popularity over the past 3 years. 

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount

A tracking telescope mount is the single most important piece of your setup, and the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a reliable solution in the intermediate category. 

The Filters

Gary uses a number of astrophotography filters to capture images of the night sky. Gary has listed a mix of broadband light pollution filters, as well as multi-bandpass narrowband filters for specific projects.

Generally, broadband filters like the Baader Neodymium and IDAS LPS D2 are used when the moon is not present, and when photographing targets emitting light in the broad spectrum (such as galaxies and reflection nebulae). 

Multi-bandpass narrowband filters like the IDAS NBX and Optolong L-eNhance are used primarily for emission nebulae targets and are a handy choice when the moon is out. 

Gary’s Filters:

  • Baader Neodymium
  • Optolong L-Enhance
  • Astro Hutech IDAS LPS D2
  • Astro Hutech IDAS NBX

L-eNhance Filter

The Optolong L-eNhance Filter.

The Guide Scope

The Starfield 60mm Guide Scope has a focal length of 215mm, and is perfect for short-medium focal length refractors like Gary’s Meade 115 APO. It’s a simple product with a non-rotating helical focuser, allowing you to easily achieve a tight focus on your guide star.

A guide scope is used in harmony with a guide camera to improve the tracking accuracy of the telescope mount using autoguiding. I personally own this guide scope and it has served me well for several years. 

starfield guide scope

The Starfield 60mm Guide Scope.

One thing to keep in mind when shopping for a new guide scope is the mounting hardware. Some guide scopes include mounting rings and a dovetail mount, while others include the OTA only. 

You’ll want to confirm that you have a way to attach the guide scope on your primary imaging telescope in a secure fashion. There are several types of mounting solutions available depending on your setup. 

The Guide Camera

Gary uses ZWO ASI120MM-S monochrome CMOS camera for autoguiding. This little camera features a sensor that is 1280 x 960 pixels wide and doubles as a capable little lunar and planetary camera.

It can capture image frames at an impressive 60 frames per second at full resolution. The 1.25″ nosepiece of the camera fits neatly inside of the focuser tube of the guide scope for autoguiding use. ZWO ASI120MM-S

Thank you for sharing your backyard astrophotography set up with us, Gary! You can view Gary’s astrophotography on SmugMug or Instagram

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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