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Backyard of the Week | July 12, 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 Peter Forister in the United States.

Peter Forister Setup

Location: Virginia, USA

This is a highly portable deep-sky astrophotography setup, free of laptop computers and AC adapters. The freedom a setup like this provides should not be overlooked. 

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is a capable star tracker that allows Peter to take long exposure images of deep-sky objects at varying focal lengths. This model uses 4 x AA batteries to power the device, meaning no charging or external power source is required. 

Although the simplicity of this setup limits the type of projects available, an impressive number of targets are still within reach. Speaking of reach, the zoom lens (Sigma 100-400 F/5-6.3) Peter has enough magnification to pull medium-sized galaxies in for a closer look.

Peter Forister

Peter Pinwheel Galaxy

The Pinwheel Galaxy by Peter Forister

Capturing small to medium-sized galaxies is no easy task. Star trackers are typically best used for large wide-field targets such as nebulae, but Peter proves that a DSLR lens and star tracker combo is up to the task with his impressive photo of the Pinwheel Galaxy. 

Peter’s HDR (high-dynamic range) photo of the moon turned out exceptionally well. Clearly, Peter has some serious Adobe Lightroom skills to blend exposures of different lengths so seamlessly. 

HDR moon photography

The moon by Peter Forister.

Peter’s Equipment 

Primary Imaging Camera Canon EOS Rebel T6
Primary Imaging Lens Sigma 100-400mm Canon EF
Star Tracker Star Adventurer 2i

What does Peter love most about his gear?

‘I love the versatility of a DSLR/lens combo, letting me image wide and small targets, all while staying on a reasonable budget!’

Peter’s setup might be the most affordable kit ever featured on the Backyard of the Week. This is great news for anyone looking to replicate Peter’s results using a similar configuration.

Careful planning and setup (and great image processing) can overcome the assumed limitations of a budget astrophotography rig. 

Peter Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy by Peter Forister

The image of the Andromeda Galaxy above exemplifies Peter’s attention to detail and careful planning for each imaging session. Photos like this are not possible without great polar alignment, balance, and the right camera settings. 

If you currently own a DSLR camera and zoom lens and want to enter the world of astrophotography, the image above should be very exciting to you. 

The Camera

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 (now replaced by the Rebel T7) is an entry-level DSRL camera with an 18 MP CMOS Sensor. This camera can collect detailed RAW images at a maximum resolution of 5184 x 3456 pixels. 

This camera includes all of the handy features astrophotographers have grown to appreciate such as 10X live-view focus and Av (aperture priority) mode to help when taking flat frames. The only feature it would have been nice to see on this model is an articulating (swivel) LCD screen for easier use when the camera is pointing towards the sky. 

Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR Camera.

Canon EOS Rebel T6

Peter’s Rebel T6 is currently not modified for astrophotography. However, the subjects he has chosen to photograph do not require a modified sensor to capture brilliantly.

Galaxies, reflection nebula, and even bright emission nebulae are all available to stock DSLR camera owners. In fact, I actually prefer the cool colors a stock camera produces on many targets “out-of-box” (before adjustments are made in post) over a modified astrophotography camera.

The Lens

The Sigma 100-400mm Canon EF is an ultra-telephoto zoom lens that is compatible with both full-frame and APS-C Canon DSLR cameras, which makes it a versatile option for both distance and camera types.

Considering the reach of this lens, with a maximum focal length of 400mm, it is well under the weight limit of the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro star tracker with room to spare for your camera and any other accessories. 

Sigma 100-400 lens

This lens was not previously on my radar, and I am surprised that I haven’t seen more astrophotographers using this sub-$1000 lens for astrophotography. The reviews of this lens on the web are solid, which does not surprise me considering my experience using Sigma lenses for astrophotography

Sigma 100-400mm Specs

  • Type: SLR Telephoto Zoom 
  • Focal Length: 100 – 400mm
  • Focal Ratio: F5-6.3
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs (1.13 kg)
  • Camera Mount Type: Canon EF

Peter OrionNebula

Orion Nebula by Peter Forister

The Telescope Mount

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i is my top choice (slightly edging out the iOptron SkyGuider Pro) when it comes to portable star trackers for astrophotography. The fine-tune declination controls and AA battery power are the difference makers between this tracker and the competition.

The Alt-Az base can be a little tricky to fine-tune, but other than that this tiny EQ mount is pretty close to perfect. An 11-pound payload capacity opens this tracker up to a wide variety of camera and lens (and small refractor telescope) setups. 

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i

Once the Star Adventurer has been accurately polar aligned and balanced, you can expect sharp long exposure images of up to 4-5 minutes. A star tracker is the difference-maker when it comes to deep-sky astrophotography and Milky Way nightscapes. 

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

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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