Backyard of the Week | July 19, 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 Caleb Carone in Ontario, Canada
Location: Mississauga, Ontario
Caleb deals with a lot of the same weather patterns and light pollution issues I do, as he is only about 1 hour away from me. In fact, his light pollution is likely even worse, sitting within the metropolis known as the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).
The photos you are about to see were captured next to one of the largest cities in North America. Effective light-pollution filters and careful image processing are critical for success in these conditions.
I have enjoyed watching Caleb’s progress on YouTube, and his astrophotography equipment continues to expand and evolve. The latest addition to Caleb’s setup is a ZWO EAF (electronic automatic focuser) and he even re-submitted his entry to include the upgrade.
If you review Caleb’s images on Instagram, you’ll notice his photos gradually improve over time in terms of clarity and detail. His progress is astounding, especially considering that he began this journey only one year ago.
His latest photo of the Lagoon Nebula includes just over 2 hours of exposure time using the Optolong L-eXtreme filter. This is hands-down his best astrophoto to date, and I know he was really excited to watch each sub-exposure appear on the screen.
The Lagoon Nebula by Caleb Carone.
Caleb’s camera and telescope combo excel at large nebulae regions, but the resolution of his camera allows him to explore smaller deep-sky objects as well. For example, the Dumbbell Nebula appears quite small at this focal length (360mm), but he has managed to produce an impressive photo of this object with his system.
In fact, there are a number of smaller targets in his gallery that I am surprised he was able to collect at this image scale including Bode’s Galaxy, and a close-up version of the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula.
The Dumbbell Nebula by Caleb Carone.
|Primary Imaging Camera||ZWO ASI183MC Pro|
|Primary Imaging Telescope||William Optics Zenithstar 61 II APO|
|Telescope Mount||Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro|
|Guide Scope||William Optics UNI Guide 32mm|
|Guide Camera||ZWO ASI120mm Mini|
|Electronic Focuser||ZWO EAF|
What does Caleb love most about his gear?
“I love the fact that I could take it outside every clear night because it’s not heavy. It takes amazing photos of the night sky. It’s a great beginners setup!”
I really like Caleb’s setup from top to bottom. The wide field of view is perfect for capturing crisp images of some of the best deep-sky objects in the night sky.
The telescope mount (Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro) is an interesting choice, and I think others will be thrilled to see what’s possible with this portable, astro-mount.
The ZWO ASI183MC Pro is a one-shot-color dedicated astronomy camera with a 1″ CMOS Sony IMX183 sensor. The resolution of this 20 MP camera is 5496 x 3672 pixels, with a pixel size of 2.4 microns.
The 183MC Pro is a great fit with Caleb’s Z61 telescope in terms of image scale. Shorter focal length refractors like the Z61 (360mm) and Radian 61 (275mm) create an image scale of 1.3 – 1.8, right in the sweet spot.
The affordable price tag makes the ZWO ASI183MC Pro a popular “first astronomy camera” for many deep-sky astrophotographers. Making the leap from a DSLR camera to a cooled, dedicated astronomy camera often leads to an eye-opening experience in data quality.
ZWO ASI183MC Pro.
Caleb utilizes the incredibly popular Optolong L-eXtreme filter to capture deep-space images from his light-polluted backyard. This dual bandpass narrowband filter isolates Ha and OIII wavelengths of light emitted by certain objects in the night sky.
It’s important to choose projects that are suitable for a multi-bandpass narrowband filter like this. Emission and planetary nebulae are great, broadband galaxies are not.
The Optolong L-eXtreme Filter.
The William Optics Zenithstar 61 is ultra-portable and compact. It weighs just over 3 pounds, making it a great fit for a star tracker or lightweight equatorial telescope mount.
William Optics Z61 II
This doublet APO captures deep-sky images at a focal length of 360mm at F/5.9. Caleb is using the dedicated field flattener for this telescope, the William Optics Flat 61A.
This provides an edge-to-edge flat field of view with a 45mm image circle. It’s not a reducer, so you continue to shoot at the native focal length of the telescope when in use.
I personally tested one of the very first William Optics Z61 APO doublets back in 2017, and it continues to be a favorite in the astrophotography community.
The latest version of the Z61 includes a longer dovetail bar than the original, and a handy “Cat handle” to mount a small guide scope on top.
William Optics Z61 II
- Type: Apochromatic Refractor
- Diameter: 61mm
- Focal Length: 360mm
- Focal Ratio: f/5.9
- Field Flattener: FLAT 61A, FLAT61R
- Tube Weight: 3.2 lbs
The Telescope Mount
I have never used the Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro mount, but I’d love to get my hands on one. It’s a no-nonsense astrophotography mount that’s built for smaller telescopes (refractors up to 100mm) and camera lenses.
This entry-level EQ mount weighs only 22 pounds (including the tripod), giving you no excuse not to bring it outside when a clear night pops up. It includes a GoTo functionality with the reliable Sky-Watcher SynScan system.
At this price point, I don’t think you’ll find a comparable GoTo telescope mount with autoguiding and a 22-lb payload compacity. If you’re having trouble finding a new model, I bet a “stepping stone” mount like this will pop up in the astronomy classifieds eventually.
Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro mount.
And just a quick note to those looking to “hyper-tune” your modest equatorial telescope mount for better performance (improving backlash etc.). Before you take that cover off, do me a favor and make sure that you’ve got your polar alignment, balance, and autoguiding system running properly first.
After 10 years of using beginner-level mounts, I have never had the need to make any modifications for optical performance.
The Guide Scope
The William Optics UniGuide 32mm guide scope is a tiny optical tube that conveniently slides into the included “Cat handle” on the Z61. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another piece of kit that can make such a monumental difference in tracking ability for the price.
I personally use the 50mm UniGuide scope on multiple deep-sky setups, but the 32mm is definitely much cuter. The focal length of this tiny scope (120mm) is perfect for compact refractor setups like Calebs.
The Guide Camera
I have officially run out of ways to cleverly describe the ZWO ASI120MM Guide Camera. This guide camera is used on almost every deep-sky astrophotography kit featured on the AstroBackyard Backyard of the Week.
If you need a camera for autoguiding that just works (and can take solar system images too) buy the ZWO ASI120MM Mini immediately. The reoccurrence of this piece of equipment is nearing comical status. Am I being pranked?
ZWO ASI120MM Mini.
Caleb mentioned he is using a QHY PoleMaster electronic polar scope. This simple device allows you to confirm that the polar alignment of your equatorial telescope mount is bang-on.
Whether you’re using a Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro, or an EQ8-R Pro (I use the PoleMaster on this mount), I think you’ll find that the time-saved and peace of mind this camera provides pay off over time ten-fold.
QHY PoleMaster Electronic Polar Alignment Device.
I also see that Caleb is using a filter drawer to house his 2″ filter. This is the best way to swap between filters without disrupting the careful spacing and rotation of your imaging train.
Caleb is why I created AstroBackyard. We share the same indescribable passion for capturing the night sky and sharing it with others.
This was the first post he shared on his Instagram account almost 1 year ago to the day. Now, he is sharing everything he learns on his own YouTube channel and has an incredible gallery of images under his belt.
Well done, Caleb.! I look forward to following your journey for years to come.
Thank you for sharing your backyard astrophotography set up with us, Caleb! You can view Caleb’s astrophotography on Instagram.