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Orion

How I Captured the Boogieman Nebula

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In this article, I’ll describe how I photographed the Boogieman Nebula (LDN 1622) in the constellation Orion using my camera and telescope. This was the first time I had ever captured this deep-sky object before, and one of only a handful of dark nebulae I have ever photographed. 

LDN 1622 is a dark molecular cloud that is just shy of 10 light-years across in size. The Boogieman Nebula is surrounded by the intense hydrogen gas of Barnard’s Loop and close by to other fascinating deep-sky objects like Messier 78.

In this article, I’ll cover everything from the astrophotography equipment I used to capture the shot, to the image processing techniques I performed to create the final image you see below. My hope is that you can replicate some of my techniques to produce your own image of the Boogieman Nebula to enjoy.

the boogieman nebula

The Boogieman Nebula in Orion. 32 x 4-minutes (2 Hours 8 minutes total)

As most of you know, I take the majority of my deep-sky photos from my backyard at home, but during the new moon phase, I like to escape the city lights and head to a dark-sky site.

This winter has been terrible for astrophotography – night after night of cloudy skies. But in late February, my astronomy weather app (Astrospheric) indicated an upcoming clear patch of sky appearing within the cloud cover.

I crossed my fingers that this forecast would hold true, and booked a one-night stay in a cabin under Bortle 4 skies. Although it was snowing while I set up my telescope, the clouds parted as darkness fell and I was able to enjoy about 4 hours of clear-sky time in total. 

Related Article: The Best Astronomy and Stargazing Apps for your Smartphone

Video:

If you would like to follow along and see what the cabin I stayed in looked like, feel free to watch the video below. If you take your astrophotography images in the city like me, I highly recommend searching for dark-sky rentals on Airbnb during the new moon phase.

The Boogieman Nebula

The Boogieman Nebula is a beautiful dark nebula in Orion. Also known as Lynds Dark Nebula (LDN 1622), it is a dark molecular cloud that sits on top of a faint background of hydrogen.

The reflection nebula known as Messier 78 resides nearby, and you may want to consider including this nebula in your image if your field of view is wide enough. 

  • Cataloged: LDN 1622
  • Common Name: The Boogeyman Nebula
  • Constellation: Orion
  • Object Type: Dark Nebula
  • Distance: 500 light-years away

This rather dim object benefits from a dark sky. The Boogieman Nebula (and all dark nebulae) are likely too faint to successfully capture from my backyard in the city.

Nearby M78 is an attractive reflection nebula that glows brightly above Orion’s Belt. At a distance of about 1,500 light-years, this reflection nebula is lit by nearby hot, young stars. The cool blue look of this reflection nebula plays well off of the warmer red regions of hydrogen gas in terms of photographic composition. 

There is plenty of hydrogen gas nearby as well, this region lies next to the massive Barnard’s Loop, which shines in deep red and magenta when photographed with an astro-modified camera.

The main reason I had never photographed the Boogieman Nebula until now is that there are so many other gorgeous deep-sky objects in this region.

I had to restrain myself from capturing the Horsehead Nebula next door for the 12th time. In the image below, you’ll see that the Boogieman Nebula lives north of the bright star in Orion’s Belt known as Alnitak

Boogieman Location

The location of the Boogieman Nebula in Orion. 

From mid-northern latitudes, the best time of year to photograph the Boogieman Nebula is from November to February. From my latitude in Ontario, Canada, LDN 1622 rises to a maximum apparent altitude of about 45 degrees in the sky. 

Due to its proximity to the 3 bright stars in Orion’s Belt, the Boogieman Nebula and M78 are quite easy to find in binoculars or a telescope. Unlike Messier 78 at magnitude 9.5 (which can be seen in a small telescope), the Boogieman Nebula is much too dim to be seen visually through the eyepiece.

Orion constellation map

The location of the Boogieman Nebula and M78 in Orion. 

My Equipment 

I brought my Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro telescope mount on this trip. It’s not the most portable telescope mount in the world, but it allows me to mount a small to medium-sized refractor with autoguiding.

This equatorial telescope mount is capable of precise tracking, even using a telescope with a focal length of 1000mm+. The largest telescope I have mounted to the EQ6-R Pro was a William Optics FLT 132 (750mm). 

It can handle a much heavier load than my star tracker, which I also brought along to capture some wide-field images using my Rokinon 135mm F/2 lens. I have yet to take a look at this data and process the image!

astrophotography telescope

The William Optics RedCat 71 and ZWO ASI2400MC Pro. 

The EQ6-R Pro has proven itself to be reliable and work well in my cold Canadian winters, every time. In fact, the temperature dropped to -15 degrees Celsius throughout the night during this imaging session.

The telescope is a William Optics RedCat 71. This has become my go-to travel telescope, as it offers an excellent balance between focal length and portability. This telescope weighs about 7 lbs, making it a great option for those trying to travel light. 

The camera attached to the Cat 71 is a full-frame one-shot-color model, the ZWO ASI2400MC Pro. This allows me to pull in an impressive amount of sky in a single shot at the telescope’s native focal length of 350mm.

I was very excited to test this camera when it first arrived, as I view it as the dedicated astronomy camera equivalent to my Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera. It offers a massive full-frame, back-illuminated color sensor with TEC (thermoelectric cooling).  

I have enjoyed using this camera on several projects over the past few months, including my best ever image of the Iris Nebula and the Pleiades. This 24-megapixel camera captures huge images with incredible detail when zooming in. 

ZWO ASI2400MC Pro

I use the ZWO ASIAIR Plus to run my imaging session. This device allows me to wireless run the imaging session, controlling everything from autoguiding to setting the sequencing plan. 

The ASIAIR Plus replaces my laptop computer, which means I have less to pack on my astrophotography excursions. I control everything from my smartphone and have precise control over things like the focus and framing of my target.

I did not use a light-pollution filter to capture this scene, hoping that the Bortle 4 skies would be enough to bless me with clean sub-exposures in broad-spectrum light. I keep an empty Starizona filter drawer in front of the camera to achieve the recommended back-focus for my camera. 

location of my telescope

Setting up my telescope on the property at the Airbnb.

The cabin I stayed in was very cozy and warm. I was able to set up and run my telescope outside using a long extension cord (through a window) to power the mount. 

Because I used the ASIAIR wifi controller to run my imaging session, I could monitor the sequence and make adjustments to the camera from inside of the cabin.

My Camera/Telescope Tilt Issues

I think I’ve identified a tilt issue on this system. Tilt just means that the image sensor of my camera isn’t perfectly flush with the image plane of the scope.

A big sensor like the one on the ZWO ASI2400 is very demanding in this regard. When using this combo, I noticed that the stars on one side of the image always start to elongate.

At this point, I am unsure whether the tilt issue is due to the optics of the telescope, or the camera sensor itself. I believe it is the optics, as I did not notice this issue when attaching the ASI2400MC Pro to another telescope (SW Esprit 150).

tilt issues in astrophotography

A diagram of tilt issues in an astrophotography optical train. ZWO ASI Article.

Unfortunately, these rare clear nights don’t allow much room for tweaking and testing, so I’ll have to live with it for now and avoid placing my target in the ‘danger zone’ side of the image.

The viewers of my YouTube channel have offered some helpful suggestions to help me correct the issue. I know that some people swear by the CCD Inspector to fine-tune their optics, but I have not used the tool myself. 

For now, I will continue to work on finding a solution so I can fully utilize the entire field of my telescope with a full-frame camera attached. 

Related Article: The Best Astrophotography Telescope for a Beginner

Image Processing

To create the intermediate file for processing, I stacked 32 x 4-minute exposures (with 20 dark frames) in DeepSkyStacker. This produced a calibrated master file with just over 2 hours of total exposure time. 

The image below represents the ‘before’ image (stacked), with very few image processing techniques applied. As you can see, the image is much duller and less dynamic than the final image I produced.

This should give you a better idea of what to expect ‘out of the camera’, whether you are using a DSLR/Mirrorless, or a dedicated astronomy camera.

the before image

My “before” image of the Boogieman Nebula and M78.

At this stage, all that has been applied to the image is a quick stretch to the linear file and some background extraction. You may notice the blue light on the right-hand side of the frame, which is a stacking artifact of a bright flare emitted by the star, Alnitak.

The Boogieman Nebula and M78 cover a wide area of sky (3 degrees +), and unless you are using a wide-field optical instrument (350mm or wider), you likely won’t capture both objects in the same field of view. Even using the full-frame ASI2400MC Pro and 350mm RedCat 71, the objects were closer to the edges of the frame than I was comfortable with. 

sensor view

When planning your next deep-astrophotography project, make sure to check and see what your field-of-view will look like using your specific camera and telescope combination. For this process, I use the “sensor view” tool in Stellarium to see if my intended target is a good fit for my system. 

During the final stages of setting up my imaging session, I had to precisely rotate the camera to match the framing shown above. The bright star, Alnitak, made this process much easier. Bright stars in the field give you a near-real-time reference point to aid in the framing process. 

image processing guide

Related: My Astrophotography Image Processing Guide

One of the key aspects to processing the Boogieman Nebula was to carefully preserve the natural, diverse mix of colors in the area. Barnard’s Loop is vibrant red, while the LDN 1622 and the Messier 78 region include several blue and yellow stars.

Star reduction was critical to draw more attention to the nebulae structures, without going overboard and destroying the natural beauty of a filterless, broad-spectrum image. In the end, I would have preferred to have had double the amount of exposure time, but I think the dark skies helped me produce high-quality data in such a short period of time. 

My Final Image

I ended up with 32 x 4-minute sub-exposures on the Boogieman Nebula and M78 (2 Hours, 8 Minutes total exposure). My camera tilt issue meant that I needed to crop the image down from about 80% of the original frame.

I am thrilled to have finally photographed the Boogieman Nebula, especially during a cloudy winter like the one we’ve had this year. Click the image for a larger view:

Boogieman and M78

The Boogieman Nebula, Barnard’s Loop, and Messier 78 in Orion. 

Final Thoughts

As brief as the experience was, it felt so good to be under a sky full of stars again. I know my videos have been a little staggered lately, but it’s just because I need to feel the energy of this hobby firsthand to really get into it.

I don’t want to force the creative process, as much as it pains me to watch 2 weeks go by without posting a video. I want to share exciting moments and experiences that inspire you to get out and photograph the night sky yourself.

That’s what excites me, and hopefully, you appreciate them too.

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Orion Image Gallery: Your Astrophotos

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As we approach the Full Moon in March, we have to accept the fact that the stunning winter deep-sky astrophotography objects have faded into the West for another year.  Galaxy Season is upon us, with new and exciting imaging opportunities for your camera and telescope.  Before I dive into some of the Spring deep-sky targets on my agenda, I’ve decided to honor the amazing images captured by fellow amateur astrophotographers from around the world over the winter.

astrophotography blogI reached out to the AstroBackyard community on Facebook, asking everyone to share their images of Orion this winter.  I am happy to report that I received a large number of submissions for this gallery. The images were shot of various regions of the Orion constellation, using a wide variety of astrophotography equipment and processing methods.

Orion Image Gallery: Your Astrophotos

The following images are from fans of the AstroBackyard Facebook page.  Please respect the photographers work by not using their amazing images without their permission.

Richard Hum:Horsehead Nebula and Orion Nebula wide field

Description: 

This is a blend of two captures, one for HH/Flame, and another for M42. Shot on my unmodified Canon 760D with a 70-200mm 2.8 lens on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer.
I love the Star Adventurer as a portable tracking setup, it tracks fairly accurately and has the option of autoguiding if I want in the future.

Scott Hartney:

Orion Nebula with 11" Celestron SCT

Description: 

New to astronomy, this is my first attempt at capturing an image. Taken with my Nikon D5100 through a Celestron 11″ SCT. It is a short 10-second exposure. I am still learning the scope and BackyardNIKON software.

Jason Smith:

Orion Nebula ED80

Description: 

This was my first trial with the Explore Scientific ED80 earlier this winter. View Jason’s AstroBin Profile.

Aidi Williams:

Horsehead and Flame Nebula

Description: 

This was the best of what I managed to capture. Sky-Watcher Esprit 120, EOS 600D, 0.6X Reducer.

Victor Van Puyenbroeck:

Orion Nebula - Orion ST80 Achromat

Description: 

Taken with a cheap Orion ST80 achromat, so the stars are not very pretty but the nebula is definitely there! Processed in PixInsight.  View Victor’s AstroBin Profile.

Tudor Vlad C:

Orion Nebula in Ha with QHY163m

Description: 

Luminance only HDR image. 3min, 30-second, and 10-second exposures. QHY163m and a 6 inch newt. 1.7 hours total. Full-resolution image on Flickr.

Tiago Narcisco:

Witch Head Nebula

Description: 

This is my attempt at the elusive Witch Head Nebula, taken with a Canon 600D and a 200mm lens on a Star Adventurer Mount.  View Tiago’s Astrobin Profile.

Description: 

Widefield shot of Orion, Running Man, Flame and Horsehead nebulas. 600D with 200mm lens on a Star Adventurer Mount.

Wade Smith:

Description: 

Ha-RGB-HDR, 5hrs, 45 min. 70-200mm with a 2x teleconverter, AVX mount, Lacerta MGEN auto-guiding (stand alone). 3:45 RGB – 2:00 Ha, a few 15 & 30 sec. No support data, the AG uses dithering. Looking back, I should’ve added more Ha time, flats and bias frames.

Description: 

Wide field at 200mm, about an hour of data.

Tammy Zorde:

Description: 

Only a single image/no dark (this was just a test shot before guiding started). 8″ Newt, canon 5dmkii, 30secs, iso1600, processed in Adobe Lightroom.

John Januszewski:

Description: 

Taken with a Celestron C8 with a .63 focal reducer and a Canon T4i camera.

Manuel Cortez:

Description: 

Mount: Celestron AVX,  Camera: Canon xs (unmodded), Guider: Orion StarShoot Autoguider with 50 mm scope, OTA: 80mm Sky-Watcher.

Mike Aitken:

Max Beier:

Cris Cros:

Description: 

Jan 19th 14mn d330 Celestron Nexstar 4se.  View Cris’ Time Lapse Video on YouTube.

Nazame Anuar:

Description: 

Jan 22 single shot, lots to learn!

Kurt Zeppetello:

Orion Nebula - Kurt Zeppetello

Description: 

Click here for full-resolution image and description on Kurt’s Website.

If you have questions about any of the photos in this Orion image gallery, feel free ask on the AstroBackyard Facebook page.  The community of backyard deep-sky astrophotographers continues to grow, with a focus on positive feedback for beginners. This is also where I share my personal experiences in astrophotography as I learn more.

View my latest version of the Orion Nebula

Desire, Dedication, and Determination

I know how much work goes into producing images of deep-sky objects like the ones above.  Not only does it require technical knowledge and patience, it requires cooperation from the weather.  It also means spending time alone in the dark for hours on end!  The fact is, we weren’t really alone, we were all photographing the same area of space together.

Orion Nebula through a telescope

My first “real” attempt at M42 vs. my latest version (2017)

Latest Blog Tutorial: Deep-Sky Image Processing in Photoshop

Thank you to everyone who participated in the post, and for sharing your hard work with those who wish to dive into astrophotography for themselves.  Seeing real results from amateurs using modest equipment is inspiring.  Your image may have sparked the passion in a new amateur astrophotographer.  If that someone is you, then I urge you to join the AstroBackyard.

Astrophotography should be enjoyable at every step.  Remember the feeling you got the first time you saw color from a nebula in your camera and hang on to it. 

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Astrophotography in the City

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Saturday Night Under the Stars

Astrophotography in the City

Last weekend I posted a new video to my YouTube channel titled DSLR Astrophotography – A Night in the Backyard with my Camera. It is now Early-April, and we are in what amateur astrophotographers call “Galaxy Season”, as we transition from the Winter Constellations like Orion and Taurus, to the Summer Milky Way objects.  In between, there are some fantastic deep-sky objects to observe in the Spring Constellations Leo, Coma Berenices, and Bootes.

The forecast called for clear skies on that crisp, cold Saturday night in Southern Ontario, and I was ready to image some deep-sky objects with my camera and telescope.  After a late dinner, it was a race against the clock to photograph my first subject of the evening, the Waxing Crescent Moon. If you want to jump straight to the video, you can find it at the bottom of this post.

Live-View DSLR Through a Telescope

Using the Canon 70D’s live view screen for telescope observing

Crescent Moon Astrophotography

 

I barely had time to get the beautiful Waxing Crescent moon into my telescope’s eyepiece before it became obscured by the surrounding trees in my neighborhood!  I shot a live-view video of the moon (with Earthshine visible) with my Canon EOS 70D DSLR through the telescope.  This may be of interest to anyone wondering what the view is like through an 80mm refractor telescope.  You need an adapter to attach the camera to the telescope, which you can buy online here.

After I focused the Moon and experimented with different ISO settings and exposure lengths, I snapped a couple of shots before moving on with the rest of my night.  You can have a look at the equipment I use for astrophotography here.

 

Earthshine Moon

The sky from my backyard

Next, I wanted to provide some examples of the dark-sky quality from my backyard.  Living in the central part of town has its advantages, but dark skies are not one of them!  I experience heavy light pollution from all directions.  This makes using a light-pollution filter on my camera necessary for long exposures.  Currently, I use the IDAS LPS clip-in filter on my Canon Rebel Xsi DSLR.  This allows me to capture exposures of up to 5 minutes from my backyard.

 

Astrophotography in the City

The night sky from my backyard on April 9, 2016

 

The Big Dipper Asterism

Looking towards the Big Dipper in Ursa Major

Deep-Sky Target: Edge-On Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Once the moon had set, I promptly prepared my deep-sky astrophotography rig for a night’s worth of photons on my photography subject.  I settled on NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy because of it’s size, magnitude, and current location in our night sky.  The Needle Galaxy is an edge-on spiral galaxy that resides about 30-50 million lights years from Earth.  This handsome galaxy is the current photo in my 2016 RASC Observer’s Calendar hanging in my office at work, perhaps that is what gave me the idea!

Astrophotography in the City - Needle Galaxy from my backyard

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Photographed on: April 9/10, 2016

Total Exposure Time: 54 Minutes (18 x 3 Min. Subs @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ-5 Pro
Camera: Canon 450D (modified)
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

This interesting NGC object shows up rather small in my 80mm telescope, as many galaxies do.  A larger telescope with a focal length of 1000mm or more would be a better choice for this DSO.  I also had a bit of a challenging evening out the background colour of this image.  Flat frames would have made this issue much easier to deal with in post-processing.  With just under an hour of exposure time, it is safe to say that I will need to add more time to this image to bring out the colour and detail.


AstroBackyard on Youtube

I am completely blown away with the response to my YouTube Channel has received.  Thank you to everyone who has subscribed, I look forward to many new astrophotography videos in the future!

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M42 – The Gorgeous Orion Nebula

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Located below Orion’s Belt, the Orion Nebula is now gracing our skies each night

The skies were clear in Niagara last weekend, so I set up my telescope for a night of astrophotography imaging. There are so many great imaging options at this time of year. The Pleiades, the Pacman Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy and the Dumbbell Nebula are all on display right now, to name a few.

I settled on the Orion Nebula because it’s an “all-nighter” object from my backyard viewing area. I set my trusty Canon 450D to capture 60 three minute exposures while I slept. The focusing, framing and camera control was all accomplished with my new favorite piece of astronomy software, Backyard EOS.

I find that I am able to achieve an extra tight focus on this deep-sky object because of the 4 stars (Trapezium) located within the Orion Nebula. They seem to be the perfect size for my cameras live-view preview screen at 10 X view. I may use this “focus-test” for imaging nearby objects in Orion such as the Rosette Nebula and M78. I’ll calibrate the mount, hop over to M42 for a tight focus, and then frame the new object up afterward.

I decided to include the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, NGC 1975 and NGC 1977) because I feel that it completes the image and fits so nicely in my field of view. A larger telescope would be more suited for an isolated shot of Messier 42 on its own.

Orion Nebula - Astrophotography Image

M42, NGC 1973, NGC 1975, NGC 1977

PHOTO DETAILS

50 x 3 min frames @ ISO 800
Total Exposure Time = 2 Hours, 30 Minutes
20 Dark Frames Subtracted
Canon Xsi Camera through 80mm APO Refractor

Learn how I process my images in Adobe Photoshop (Tutorial)

How to find M42 – The Orion Nebula

If you want to locate this glorious nebula, you will first have to locate the Orion constellation in the night sky. It is very easy to spot, if you’re looking at the right time of year. The winter months in The Northern Hemisphere are the perfect time to get familiarized with this exquisite creation of the Heavens. The constellation is unmistakable once after you spot the three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row that make up Orion’s Belt.

The Orion Nebula is perhaps the best deep-sky target for a beginner. Here are some general tips for getting started in astrophotography:

Beginner Astrophotography – How to Get Started and What You Need

Under dark skies, you should be able to find the Orion Nebula quite easily below Orion’s Belt. A careful observation with the naked eye will reveal a curved line of stars “hanging” from the three stars of Orion’s Belt. This collection of stars represents Orion’s Sword. Look for Orion Nebula (also known as M42) about midway down the Sword of Orion. Your eyes will see it as a small, hazy white spot. A long-exposure photograph like the one above brings out substantially more detail than can be observed with the naked eye.

The constellation of Orion

Observing the Orion Constellation this Winter

M42 is a wondrous sight through a pair of binoculars. Start by locating the three stars in Orion’s Belt, and move downward towards Orion’s sword. You will know when you have found the Orion Nebula because it is one of the most rewarding celestial treasures one can observe.

This enormous cloud of gas and dust lies approximately 1,300 light-years from Earth. This giant nebulous cocoon is giving birth to an estimated 1000 stars. The four brightest stars located within the open star cluster included in the nebula, are known as the Trapezium and can be distinguished when looking through a backyard telescope.

field of view

The Orion Nebula imaged through a Meade 70mm APO telescope.  

I plan on observing and imaging this brilliant winter constellation over the next few months. I hope I have inspired you to get out with your binoculars or telescope and enjoy the beauty of the night sky with your family!

Orion Nebula Video Close Up

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LRGB Processing Technique for Orion

Astrophotography LRGB Processing Technique

A useful guide to processing the Orion Constellation using a DSLR Camera and Tripod

From the very moment this video started, I knew I was in for a real treat. The motion control time-lapse of the Milky Way moving across the sky was the perfect primer for this high production, quality tutorial.  Lonelyspeck.com is an informative and beautiful website created by Ian Norman –  A full-time traveller and photographer. In the following video he will explain how to process a photo of the Orion Constellation using the LRGB processing technique. He stacks multiple exposures to reduce noise, corrects vignetting, and greatly enhances the contrast and colour of the photo.  The exact camera settings he used, including ISO, exposure length and aperture details are shared.

 
 
 

He uses nothing more than a regular tripod and a DSLR camera equipped with a standard prime lens. The location he chose for this tutorial was Red Rock State Park in California.  The initial processing steps take place in Adobe Lightroom, a different approach than I currently use. Based on this tutorial, I may need to incorporate Adobe Lightroom into my astrophotography processing workflow.

Another major difference in this photographer’s technique is the fact that he stacked the photos directly in Adobe Photoshop as opposed to a third-party software like Deep Sky Stacker. I have heard of a lot of astrophotographers who swear by this method. One thing to note is that stacking via “photomerge” in photoshop will consume a large amount of RAM on your system, and could result in a system crash. Be sure to have your work saved, and have some time set-aside for this process to take place.

One of the biggest factors in the amazing results Ian was able to achieve, was the pristine dark skies he was able to shoot in. It is not possible to bring out the faint details seen here from the city. I can’t wait to try this tutorial myself. I am amazed at how much detail he was able to pull out from such short exposures. I hope that you find this tutorial as invaluable as I did.

 
 

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Astrophotography Telescope Buying Guide – Under $2000

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Astrophotography Telescope Buying Guide

Note: This post was created back in July 2015, I have since purchased a new astrophotography telescope, the Explore Scientific ED102 (The number 1 telescope on this list)!

So you’re in the market for an astrophotography telescope, are you? There have never been so many affordable options for the amateur astrophotographer on a tight budget. I am often asked which telescope I use, and which one I would recommend for beginners. The quick answer is a high-quality, doublet or triplet refractor.  

Larger models can be very expensive (and heavy!) due to the high-quality ED glass used. I think you will be quite surprised at the performance of a small 65-80mm refractor such as the Explore Scientific ED80 I currently use for astrophotography. To view the types of wide-field images I have taken using this small telescope, please visit my photo gallery.

An astrophotography telescope buying guide? I thought you were an amateur? Yes, it’s true, but I decided that since I was doing all this intense research into which telescope I will be buying next, I would share it for others in my position to help streamline your search.

I have researched refractors made by Orion, Meade, Sky-Watcher, Tele Vue, Takahashi, Vixen, Astro-Tech, Explore Scientific, Stellarvue and William Optics. Please remember that this is my personal list, and I am by no means an expert! I tried to keep a high standard when browsing for telescopes.

All of the telescopes on this list are apochromatic refractors. I hope this top 10 list is useful for anyone looking to buy a refractor telescope for imaging under $2000 US. 

Keep in mind that with my limited budget, I am interested in getting the best balance of aperture, performance, and quality I can afford. A high-end instrument like the 76mm Takahashi might be the number one choice on your list, but it doesn’t make sense for my situation. So without further adieu, here is MY top 10 list of refractors for astrophotography:

10. Tele Vue TV76

Astrophotography Telescope - Tele Vue TV76 Doublet Refractor

Thanks to Marc Fitkin, there is an extremely useful and insightful review of this telescope on his blog. He notes the ability to use this scope as a prime lens for daytime photography as well as astrophotography. Tele Vue telescopes have a reputation for being top-quality instruments that will last a lifetime.

Because I will be using this scope for astrophotography exclusively, a model that excels in visual use has less of an impact on me. The reason this high-quality scope lands at 10 on my list is because it is at the extreme end of my budget, yet has an objective of only 76mm. Maybe one day I will be in a position to purchase premium-priced optics, but not yet.

Price: $2,000 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Ring Mount, 20mm Eyepiece, 2″ Diagonal, 1.25″ Adapter, Custom Soft Case

 

9. Sky-Watcher 80mm Esprit ED

Sky-Watcher 80mm Espirit

This is another model that comes with an aluminum case, diagonal, and a finder scope – a huge bonus for me. The heavy-duty Sky-Watcher exclusive “Helinear Track” focuser is a nice touch. This scope actually includes a thread-on field flattener and adaptor for Canon cameras! A major selling point for someone like me. 

I do, however, wonder how much of an upgrade this would be to my current ES ED80. The built-in dovetail is a turn-off for some, but I think it is a great feature. It is nice to see companies like Sky-Watcher catering to astrophotographers, a trend I am sure that will continue.

Update: I had the amazing opportunity to try out the Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 ED APO in 2018

Price: $1,649 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Thread-on Field Flattener, 2.7″ to 2″ Adapter, 2″ to 1.25″ adapter, 2″ Diagonal, Canon Camera Adapter, Tube Rings with “V” Dovetail, Carry Case

8. Takahashi FC-76DC

Takahashi FC-76DC fluorite doublet

I can’t believe there is actually a Takahashi under $2000! Takahashi has a reputation for building a superior quality astrophotography telescope. This fluorite doublet is tied with the Tele Vue for smallest objective on this list. This instrument has the highest quality glass of all the telescopes on this list, and is very lightweight (4 lbs).

This telescope operates at a f/7.5 focal ratio, and includes a fixed dew shield. The downsides for someone in this budget are the small objective and 1.25″ focuser (though it can be adapted to 2″ with an additional accessory). The views through this “Tak” have been described as absolutely stunning.

Price: $1,949 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: None

7. Vixen ED103S Refractor

Vixen ED103S Apo Telescope

The official product description from Vixen states “ED103S lenses are almost free of chromatic aberration in all colors and are critically sharp edge to edge. The astro-photographer will be especially pleased with the high contrast images through this telescope.” 

The dual speed focuser, 4.1″ objective, and overall weight of just 8 lbs is what has me interested in this white beauty. Not to mention that it’s short tube length of 31.5″ makes it extra portable. A handy in-depth look at this instrument written by Pernel Johnson can be found here.

Price: $1,799 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Carry Handle

6. Meade 115mm ED APO

Meade 115ED Apo Triplet

Meade has catered to the next generation of imagers with this astrophotography telescope. The older version of this scope was almost identical to the Orion EON 115mm. The newer Series 6000 model uses an upgraded FK61 extra-low dispersion glass. Some notable features are the 3″ Crayford focuser, sliding dew shield, and overall build quality.

Update: In 2017, I had the opportunity to test the Meade 70mm Quadruplet APO

Price: $1,999 US (Ontario Telescope and Accessories)
Accessories Included: 3″ Diagonal, Cradle Rings, Mounting Dovetail, 8 x 50 Viewfinder, Hard Case

 

5. Stellarvue SV80ST

Stellarvue SV80ST-25FT

Forum users on astronomyforum.net reported that this Stellarvue Apo has an easy-to-use, well-built focuser. It allows the entire imaging train to screw together, giving you accuracy and stability when imaging. A flattener is a must-have to accompany this scope to eliminate coma, a trait many of these refractors have indeed. User reviews are very high for this precision instrument with the focuser being the biggest draw.

Price: $1,295 USD (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Hard Case

4. Astro-Tech AT106

Astro Tech AT106 Telescope

Sky and Telescope reviewed this scope back in 2009, saying: “the Astro-Tech AT106 provides all the benefits of a first-class 4-inch apo but without the premium price. I highly recommend it.” I have found a number of positive reviews about this modestly sized refractor. 

There is a great in-depth look including sample astrophotos at the scope on Stargazerslounge.com. This astrophotography telescope uses high-quality Ohara glass, and comes with a dual speed 2.7″ Crayford focuser. At just under the $2000 range, (including an aluminum case) This telescope is definitely a top contender for my hard-earned cash.

Update: It appears as though this telescope is no longer available.

Price: ?
Accessories Included: Hard Case

3. Orion EON 115mm ED

Orion EON ED Triplet Apo

An astrophotography telescope from one of the oldest most trusted brands in the hobby. Time after time, Orion products deliver and continue to impress their reviewers. My first telescope was an Orion, so this brand holds a special place in my heart. This APO has been around for a LONG time. (I found a review from 2006!)

This quality instrument offers excellent color correction by way of the FK-61 extra-low dispersion (“ED”) optical glass in its air-spaced triplet objective lens. With a focal length of 805mm at F/7, this is a fast, medium wide-field scope. The extendable dew-shield and multiple knife-edge baffles protect your eyes from off-axis reflections and glare to ensure a view with excellent contrast. 

The extra aperture for the price is what puts this scope near the top of my list. The massive 3″, rotatable , dual-speed focuser is an attractive feature for astrophotographers.

Price: $1,499 USD (Orion Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Dovetail Bar, Foam-lined Carry Case, Starry Night Software

2. William Optics GT102

William Optics GT102

There are many fans of William Optics, and for good reason, they make quality instruments for a fair price. The focal ratio, 102mm diameter objective, and reputation of this scope make this one of my top choices for “next scope”. The optional DDG digital readout on the focuser is a neat feature, and would help me achieve accurate focus with my camera.

 I own the WO 72mm Megrez Doublet, and have had many great experiences with it for both astrophotography, and daytime nature photography.

Update: It appears as though the older version of this telescope is no longer available, and only the 20th anniversary edition is now for sale. Unfortunately, it now has a price tag that exceeds $2,000 USD! However, if you are looking for a more affordable option, have a look at the William Optics Z61

Price: $2, US (High Point Scientific)
Accessories Included: 2″ to 1.25″ Adapter, Mounting Rings, Dovetail

1. Explore Scientific CF 102mm

Astrophotography Telescope - Explore Scientific Carbon Fibre 102mm Apo Refractor

With over 4″ of aperture, and weighing just 7 lbs – Explore Scientific calls this the “perfect balance between portability and light gathering power”.

The HOYA ED glass is virtually free of chromatic aberration, and produces bright high-contrast images. The carbon fiber tube is highly temperature stable, eliminating the need for focus changes with temperature fluctuations. I am not going to lie, I am a little biased towards this telescope because of my unbelievably positive experience with the ED80.

Update: June 2016 – I bought this telescope!

I was contacted by Explore Scientific to upgrade my ED80 to the 102mm CF! Since then I have photographed many deep-sky objects including this version of the Lagoon Nebula:

M8 - The Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula

Price: $1,099 USD (High Point Scientific)
Accessories Included: 2″ Diagonal, Deluxe Case, Finder Scope Base, Vixen Dovetail

Well, there you have it, my top 10 list for anyone in the market for an astrophotography telescope. As you can see, I plan on sticking with Explore Scientific. At the end of the day, it comes down to value for me. If you have any hands-on experience with any of these telescopes and would like to comment, please do so below – I would love to hear them!

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Rosette Nebula – Stock Canon DSLR

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How the Rosette Nebula looks with a Stock DSLR

Will an unmodified Canon DSLR pick up the red nebulosity?

Happy New Year! I was finally graced with some clear skies that showcased the beautiful winter milky way on Monday.

The moon was about 19% lit, and it didn’t set until about 10:30 pm, so about half of the data in the photo above was captured with the moon still out.

The sky conditions were so fantastic on Monday, it was a shame I had to leave early to get a good night’s sleep for work the next morning.

The Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49) is a large circular HII region. The open cluster NGC 2244 (Caldwell 50) is closely associated with the nebulosity, the stars of the cluster having been formed from the nebula’s matter.

Rosette Nebula Stock

Caldwell 49 – The Rosette Nebula
Imaged Monday, February 3, 2014

38 subs, 3.5 Minutes Each totaling 2 Hours 13 Minutes

I used the Explore Scientific 80ED telescope for this photo because the size of this object is quite large. I am quite happy with my end result, although I plan on processing the photo several more times to try and pull out as much detail as possible.

I highly recommend Noel Caboni’s Astronomy Tools Action Set for Adobe Photoshop. I found it very helpful when processing this image, and every other image I have taken. For the price of a cheap filter, you can drastically improve your astrophotos. Well worth it!

Complete Astrophoto Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Tracking Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours 13 Minutes (38 x 210s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC
Support Files: 12 darks

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Winter Stargazing in Orion

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Winter Stargazing
M42 & M43, The Orion Nebula (& Running Man)

Imaged Friday, Nov 29, 2013 from Ontario, Canada.

Camera Equipment and Settings:

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours (30 x 240s)

Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in DeepSkyStacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC

Support Files: 15 darks

Winter Stargazing in Orion

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula, south of Orion’s belt. It is one of the brightest and well-known nebulae in the night sky. It is clearly visible in binoculars, even from light-polluted city skies like the one in my backyard! This nebula is well-photographed by amateurs and pros alike.

It was one of the first objects I ever photographed through a telescope, and I still remember my reaction when I saw what appeared on my camera screen.

As a matter of fact, I kept one of the very first images I took of Orion back in 2010 with my Canon Powershot Point-and-shoot camera…

My first image of a nebula with a point and shoot camera

One of my first astrophotography images – M42 – The Orion Nebula

The Orion constellation is probably the most gratifying constellations in the sky to photograph. The powerful figure of Orion the hunter is so prominent, it makes you think of all of the other people who stared up at him in wonder for thousands of years.

Here is an image of the constellation I took from my parent’s backyard as Orion rose over the neighbor’s fence. As luck would have it, there was even a meteorite that came streaking by during the shot!

The Orion Constellation

I haven’t posted in a while. My excuse is a combination of cloudy skies, switching hosting services and of course, the holidays. The image above was the last time I have been able to gather enough photons to create a decent photo. The weather has been pretty miserable, constant clouds with lots of precipitation and very, very cold! (Last night was -38°C with the windchill!)

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