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Radian Raptor 61

My Latest Portable Astrophotography Build

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Are you looking to build a full-featured (GoTo, autoguiding, etc.) portable astrophotography rig for this summer? If so, I think I have found the perfect “template” to follow (with plenty of room for substitutions, of course).

The major difference between this setup and the portable rigs I’ve shared on this site before is that this one features complete mount control via the ASIAIR Plus wifi controller. The entire system can be powered using a portable power station, for complete mobility. 

It’s a lightweight, wide-field refractor telescope configuration that revolves around the Star Adventurer GTi, that doesn’t skimp on any of the modern features astrophotographers have come to expect these days (except an autofocuser). Again, consider this less of a shopping list to follow piece by piece, and more of a roadmap to an enjoyable setup.

A setup like this excels in wide-field nebulae (like the North America Nebula), and large galaxies (like Andromeda), not planets or small galaxies. A travel-friendly setup has its limits in terms of payload capacity, which means a wide-field imaging system.  

portable astrophotography diagram

Want to use a different telescope or camera? No problem. The main idea of this system is that it mirrors a much larger configuration using a robust equatorial telescope mount like the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R.

The new SkyAtlas feature (included in the latest update to the ASIAIR), allows you to tap your way from target to target, using a real-time star map of your sky. It’s a thing of beauty.

The Ultimate Portable Astrophotography Rig in 2022

In this post, I will share with you an ultra-portable, travel-friendly, easy-to-use deep-sky astrophotography setup that I have recently put together. It’s light, it’s battery-powered, and it can (almost) do it all.

It is unlike any other kit I’ve shared on this website before, mainly because I don’t usually use plate solving or mobile apps (in this case, the ASIAIR) to control my telescope during an astrophotography session.

That’s right, I usually stick to the hand controller for the star alignment and GoTo process for my deep-sky astrophotography sessions in the backyard. 

You could say I have been doing things the ‘old school’ way up until now. But in this imaging session, I take advantage of the full capabilities of the ASIAIR Plus and plate solving.

Plate Solving

Plate solving is used to properly align your telescope without doing it all manually (i.e. instead of manual polar alignment). This particular technique uses images and patterns to determine where your telescope is pointed in the night sky by comparing your field of view with a star catalog.

I personally don’t use plate solving to align my telescope very often, especially on mobile-friendly setups and star trackers. To me, a star tracker is all about mobility and freedom. Tethering yourself to a laptop computer adds complexity and the need for a sufficient power source. 


The ASIAIR now includes the SkyAtlas planetarium with plate-solving.

Why I didn’t plate solve for so long:

If your deep-sky astrophotography kit is stationary, in a semi-permanent location, I understand why it makes sense to plate-solve. Especially if you have selected and finalized all of your hardware and software.

Me? I am constantly swapping telescopes, cameras, mounts, and even imaging laptops throughout the year. It takes time to get the software, drivers, and catalogs installed properly each time.

I chose not to spend precious clear-sky time sorting this out and have always opted to star align the mount myself with the hand controller. I don’t get many clear nights a year, and this was the most reliable way to produce an image on a consistent basis.

My observatory, however, uses plate solving to find and solve incredibly faint objects in the night sky, but this is a robust, permanent setup that took a long time to get sorted out.

deep-sky astrophotography setup

Portable Kit Breakdown

Before I get right into the details of how it works – here is a complete breakdown of the portable astrophotography kit I am using for this imaging session:

Power Cables and Connections

I use a 12V 4amp power cable to power the ASIAIR WiFi controller and run some USB dew-heater bands. When running this setup from home I plug into regular household AC power, but both of these items could easily run off a small battery pack (which I will cover in an upcoming YouTube video).

The star tracker mount runs off of 8 x AA batteries, one of my favorite features of the Star Adventurer GTi. I managed to run the GTi for 6 (full) nights before needing to replace the batteries. 

Don’t forget the RJ45 control cable for Sky-Watcher Mounts. This cable connects the ASIAIR to the mount and opens up the most powerful features of this setup. This is the one I use, and I can tell you for a fact that works with this amazing little setup.

control cable for asiair to skywatcher mount

Speaking of cables, there is one cord that is noticeably missing from my setup. One that I just couldn’t live without for the last 10 years, the ST-4. This cable is no longer needed since we are pulse guiding to the mount and not “on-camera”.

Essentially the ASIAIR guiding system sends pulses directly to the mount to make corrections to the tracking, instead of through the guide camera via the ST-4.

If you’re using an ST-4 cable for autoguiding with PHD2 guiding and everything is running well, don’t feel like you are missing out. One of the few added benefits of pulse guiding is that you no longer need to recalibrate your guiding after pointing to a new location in the sky. Not a huge deal.

The change from the ST-4 cable to the RJ45 control cable is a slight improvement, but the real power of this RJ45 control cable for Sky-Watcher mounts is the new plate-solving abilities the mount now has.

Yes, the Star Adventurer GTi can already GoTo objects in the night sky on its own but the ASIAIR takes it to the next level.


If you own an ASI camera and appreciate a streamlined setup, the ZWO ASIAIR Plus will be your new best friend. It is the easiest way to control your dedicated astronomy camera, and automate a sequence of images. 

I was hesitant to switch from my traditional capture methods at first, but have since fallen head over heels for this ingenious device. There are plenty of other options out there for camera and mount control (including mini PC’s), but the ASIAIR does a wonderful job at wrapping everything up into an easy-to-use package. 


The ASIAIR user interface also makes the object location and framing stages of the astrophotography process very enjoyable. You just search for the deep-sky object you want, and the mount slews directly to it and centers it. It’s that easy.

Your telescope mount now knows exactly where it’s pointed, without you fumbling around back and forth confirming alignment stars. The RJ45 control cable connection and the appropriate settings in the mobile app are all you need for this to work.

Even if a good old 3-star alignment makes me feel nostalgic and more connected to the sky, saving 20 minutes of imaging time feels pretty good too.

How it Works:

The ASIAIR interface can do everything here from polar alignment (I have not personally explored this feature) to setting camera temperature to focusing. I have used an ASIAIR for several years to run an imaging plan and autoguide, but I didn’t tap into the incredibly easy telescope control features (including SkyAtlas) until now.

Here is the telescope mount connection panel where I can confirm that the Star Adventurer GTi is indeed connected. Notice that I have the SkyWatcher AZ-GTi/SynScan WiFi mount selected here, along with a Baud 9600 (the default setting). 

sky watcher mount connection

Now the camera, guide camera, and tracking mount are connected to the ASIAIR controller. Two additional pieces of hardware you may wish to include here are a filter wheel (for a monochrome camera), and an autofocuser. 

Make sure that you have set the accurate focal length of your primary telescope and guide scope, or else the plate-solving mode will not work. For me, this was the following:

  • Radian 61 Triplet APO: 275mm
  • Starfield 50mm Guide Scope: 200mm

What is SkyAtlas?

I missed the announcement from ZWO that SkyAtlas was introduced in March 2022. However, after installing the latest ASIAIR update, I noticed a small “star map” box placed on the lower left-hand side of the user interface. 

Whether you call it “planetarium mode” or SkyAtlas, it is essentially the same experience you are used to with a tool like Stellarium. You can also use the traditional “object search” feature on the ASIAIR to find and slew to a target if you prefer.

As with any astrophotography session, you will first need to polar align your equatorial mount before using the plate-solving feature. You can use the aided tool in the ASIAIR, I just do it manually as I did (using the Sky-Watcher polar alignment aid).

how to use skyatlas

The new SkyAtlas feature is in the bottom lefthand side of the UI.

Since I like to dial in my focus before shooting my deep-sky target, the first object I “tapped” on my tablet was a bright star. Because I don’t have an autofocuser, I use a Bahtinov mask to focus the telescope manually. 

Vega is in a convenient spot right now, so I started with that. I simply need to tap on it in the sky map and press GoTo. Now, remember, I haven’t done any type of star alignment at this point.

The mount is going to find this star and center its position on its own by taking pictures and plate solving the star fields it sees. It will automatically center the object, which is so handy when focusing your telescope manually with a Bahtinov mask.

You might be thinking, a bright star is easy to find, “I could have done that on my own”. But what about an extremely faint dark nebula that is nearly impossible to locate manually?

The software will find, confirm, and center any object you want to photograph. It is a similar experience to selecting an object within Stellarium, except this time, the telescope moves towards it and displays the exact framing of your sensor!


Controlling the star tracker with my mobile tablet via the ASIAIR and SkyAtlas.

My Imaging Session

To test out this kit, I set up the telescope in the backyard to collect light on the Veil Nebula complex, a dramatic intersection of supernova remnants in the night sky.

I have photographed each area of the Veil Nebula separately before, but I have never photographed the entire complex at once. The massive field of view (275mm) on the Radian 61 means that I can capture the remains of this exploded star in its entirety.

I decided to use the Optolong L-Extreme filter for this target, and when you see the final image, I think you’ll completely understand why. This light pollution filter does an excellent job of isolating the important wavelengths of hydrogen and oxygen gases emitted by this object. 

Even though I could see the Veil Nebula Complex visually in each sub exposure, the field of view indicator and the exact orientation on the ASIAIR star map confirm that I have indeed enveloped the region.

framing the Veil Nebula

The SkyAtlas feature shows you exactly where your camera and telescope are pointed (including the orientation).

Running an imaging sequence on the ASIAIR is very straightforward. You just need to use the “Autorun” selection in the camera tab and set up a simple series of images on your target. I usually take 40-50 sub-exposures of 5-minutes in length when using a multi-bandpass narrowband filter like the Optolong L-eXtreme. 

This is where you will also set up a sequence of dark frames, flat frames, and bias frames if necessary. For my imaging session, I only used a set of temperature-matched dark calibration frames

Veil nebula complex

My final image of the Veil Nebula complex, captured using this system.

The final image includes 72 x 5-minute exposures (6 hours total) at Unity Gain. The images were registered and stacked in DeepSkyStacker and processed in Adobe Photoshop (with gradient removal in PixInsight).

For a walkthrough of my image processing steps, you can see my detailed instructional guide here: Premium Astrophotography Image Processing Guide

Final Thoughts

I used to manually star align my telescope mounts in place of a software-aided plate-solving routine. Like I said before, this was a matter of convenience, routine (and maybe a dash of procrastination).

However, I was shocked at how well the ZWO ASIAIR mount control (including SkyAtlas) of this little star tracker performed. It was one of the most painless new astro-gear moments I’ve ever experienced.

To have a grab-and-go setup like this with so much control and so much precision is really exciting.

The reason I created this post was so that more people realize that this option not only exists but it’s probably a lot better than you thought. 

If you’re extremely tech-savvy, you will probably (or already have) build yourself a system that can do all of this using a mix of equipment and creative solutions. 

As you know there are a million ways to go about the astrophotography experience and the road you take really comes down to preference and budget. 

I look forward to expanding this system even further to include an electronic focuser and filter wheel and I’ll bring you along for the ride.

This will be my travel astro-rig for summer 2022 and I can’t wait to get it under some dark skies. 

deep-sky astrophotography setup

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Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi

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The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi is a highly portable star tracker that was designed for astrophotography. It allows you to take long-exposure images of space by tracking the apparent movement of the night sky.

Unlike the original Star Adventurer, the GTi model also has the ability to find deep-sky objects in the night sky using the SynScan GoTo system.

Sky-Watcher sent me a production copy of their brand new Star Adventurer GTi to test out, and I’ve been waiting for this version of their iconic star tracker for a long time.

compact telescope

The Star Adventurer GTi can handle a compact telescope complete with autoguiding.

Before the Star Adventurer GTi was released, the only comparable “GoTo grab and go” mount from Sky-Watcher was the AZ-GTi. However, this was an altitude-azimuth mount designed for visual use, not astrophotography. The Star Adventurer GTi combines the best of the AZ Gti and the Star Adventurer 2i into one mount. 

In this article, I’ll cover what’s included with the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi package, and share my early astrophotography using the star tracker in my backyard. As I continue to test the Star Adventurer over the coming months, I will add new information and images to this post. 

Setup Pictured Above:

Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi
Tripod: Radian Carbon Fiber Quick Release Tripod
Controller: ZWO ASIAIR Plus
Camera: ZWO ASI2400MC Pro
Filter: Radian Triad Ultra (Quad Band)
Telescope: Radian 61 Triplet APO

Blue Horsehead

The Blue Horsehead Nebula captured using the Star Adventurer GTi and Radian 61. (2.5 hours exposure)

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi

The one major missing feature of the original Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer star tracker was GoTo functionality. “GoTo” simply means that you can pick an object in the night sky, and the mount will point to it for you. 

Now, I know not everyone feels this feature is essential, but “how do you find objects in space?” was the most common question I got from beginners using the original Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer

To find and photograph a deep-sky nebula or galaxy in the night sky, you first had to manually find it yourself. This was a major roadblock for newbies that were still learning the sky, and/or didn’t have the resources to come up with a solution to the problem on their own.

With the Star Adventurer GTi, you simply tell the mount what you want to see, and it points right to it. The best part is, you can do all of this on your mobile phone or tablet connected to the mount via WiFi. 

Big Upgrades

The SynScan GoTo system (the same one in Sky-Watchers larger mounts) is the big upgrade for the GTi, but this next-gen star tracker improves on almost all other aspects of its predecessor as well.

You can now autoguide in both RA and DEC, control the brightness of the built-in illuminated reticle, and fine-tune your polar alignment with a studier, more substantial EQ wedge.

In fact, the Star Adventurer solves nearly every issue I had with the previous model, yet manages to retain its small form factor and portability. I believe the GTi will be one of the best-selling astronomy products of all time. 


Above, I have labeled the key components of the Star Adventurer GTi. The design and function of the mount is very similar to a larger GoTo equatorial telescope mount but in a travel-friendly package. 

The EQ mount head weighs just 5.7 lbs, which is lightweight and small enough to fit into your camera bag on carry-on luggage. To keep things compact, a collapsable carbon fiber tripod is recommended (this is one I use).  

Update: April 20, 2022

I have now run the Star Adventurer GTi with the ZWO ASIAIR Plus, complete with a dedicated astronomy camera, guide camera, and autoguiding. Controlling the GTi mount through the ASIAIR interface (plate solving, object centering, etc.) was absolutely fantastic, and the autoguiding performance was impressive (Total RMS Error hovered between 1.0-2.0″).

To connect the mount to the ASIAIR for mount control (and autoguiding) you need this cable. You may find a similar option available online through one of the many astrophotography equipment vendors, but this is the exact one I use. 

where to buy

  • GoTo SynScan System (hand controller or mobile app)
  • Robust EQ Wedge and Base
  • Larger Counterweight and Bar
  • Autoguiding in RA and DEC
  • Built-In Illuminated Reticle (dimmable)
  • High Latitude Counterweight Position

If you already own the original Star Adventurer Pro Pack (or the newer 2i edition), you may be less interested in the GTi as you already have a reliable astrophotography platform. For those of you in this position, I would ask yourself whether adding a motorized DEC axis (with autoguiding potential) and a robust GoTo system is worth the upgrade. 

The fact that the EQ wedge base is now integrated with the mount head (unlike the original Star Adventurer) means that this star tracker is mount stable more than ever. The more robust counterweight shaft and 5-lb counterweight increase stability even further. 


  • Computerized: Yes
  • Counterweight Weight: 5 lbs
  • Drive Type: Worm Gear
  • Head Design: Hybrid
  • Autoguiding: Yes, ST-4 Port
  • Instrument Capacity: 11 lb
  • Latitude Range: 0 to 70 Degrees
  • Mount Head Weight: 5.7 lb
  • Power Supply: DC 12v or 8x AA
  • Telescope Connection: Vixen Style
  • Tracking Accuracy: 0.35″ in RA / 0.44″ in Dec
  • Tracking Rates: Sidereal / Lunar / Solar
  • Tripod Attachment: 3/8″
  • Warranty: 2 years

The Star Tracker Effect

If you’ve been taking long-exposure images of the night sky on a stationary tripod, chances are you will reach a point where tracking is your logical next step. You can do some amazing things without a star tracker, but entering the star tracker world allows you to start shooting dim objects deeper, and longer.

Without tracking, your exposure times are limited by the apparent rotation of the night sky (the stars will begin to trail). Unless you are creating a star trail photo, this is an undesirable effect that only gets worse as you increase your focal length. 

A star tracker removes this barrier by matching the precise speed and rotation of the earth to essentially “freeze” deep-sky objects in place. The standard tracking rate for this motion is known as the sidereal rate (the rate of movement of the stars across the sky as the Earth spins), which is the default tracking speed of all equatorial telescope mounts. 

how to use a star tracker

Star trackers come in many shapes and sizes, but are generally considered to be a portable version of a much larger equatorial telescope mount. They are well-suited for Milky Way photography using a camera and lens, but can also carry compact refractor telescopes in the 50-60mm diameter range. Personally, I enjoy taking on all sorts of astrophotography projects with my star trackers from wide-angle nightscapes to deep-sky nebula photography.

Along with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro, the original Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer and 2i models are some of the best star trackers available on the market today. They are highly portable and capable star trackers, and I will continue to use mine for Milky Way photography, nightscapes, and more. But when it comes to mounting a longer focal length lens or telescope, the GTi has some nice upgrades that deep-sky imagers will appreciate.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi mount

Packages and Features

The Star Adventurer GTi is sold in two packages. One includes the tripod kit and mount head shown above, while the other is just the Star Adventurer GTi mount head on its own if you already own a photographic tripod with ⅜” central bolt and a flat base.

I expect most amateur astrophotographers to spring for the mount head-only package, as you will likely already own a suitable, stable photographic tripod. I have tested my Radian Carbon Fiber tripod with the Star Adventurer GTi, and it is a perfect fit. This tripod is slightly lighter than the Sky-Watcher version, and allows me to raise the height of the mount head significantly. 

The GTi includes a V-style mounting saddle to mount your astrophotography telescope or favorite camera lens. This is the ‘smaller’ style saddle like the one on the HEQ and many other equatorial mounts.

You can see the short dovetail I’ve fastened my camera lens collar to here. A small mounting plate with a ¼” thread to fasten a camera body (like the one included with the original Star Adventurer and 2i) was not included in the production copy Sky-Watcher sent me, so just a heads up there.


The SynScan GoTo system allows you to find any object in the night sky. 

The Star Adventurer GTi can support an imaging payload of up to 11 lbs (this includes the weight of the camera, lens or telescope, and all accessories). If you’re familiar with the original star Adventurer, it’s the same overall weight limit, and it’s really not a whole lot.

I expected this model to bump up the overall payload capacity, but I guess you could say this limit ‘forces’ you to keep things light and portable. This thing is definitely still a star tracker.

So, if you’re thinking of mounting a telescope with autoguiding, stick to something compact and portable like the Radian 61 or RedCat 51. This is the type of setup I’ll be using on the GTi this summer when Ashley and I take our camper on the road on our star party circuit.

Speaking of portability, the GTi is powered by (8) AA batteries. Even with brand new batteries, the power light on my copy of the GTI continues to flash (as if the batteries were getting low). I am told this is a firmware issue that will be sorted out before the official launch.

When using the mount at home, you can also power the mount using an external 12-volt power supply.

Star Adventurer GTi with telescope mounted

The Star Adventurer GTi with an astrophotography telescope mounted (Radian 61).

Astrophotography Tests and Results

To test the Star Adventurer GTi’s unguided tracking performance, I mounted a DSLR (or in this case mirrorless camera) to the GTi, with my Canon EF 300mm F/4 telephoto lens. I took several 60 exposures of the Eagle Nebula region during a rare 2-hour period of cloudless skies. 

I was able to take impressive 60-second unguided exposures at this focal length, and with a spot-on polar alignment, I am sure I could even longer. If I were to add a small autoguiding setup, I am confident 5-minute exposures are absolutely possible. 

Now I could have loaded this baby up with gear, but I intentionally decided to keep it simple for this “first look”, because I think many of you will be using the GTi with a setup like this (or maybe a smaller lens), especially if you’re new to the hobby.

But make no mistake, I’ll be using this rig completely decked out with a refractor telescope and autoguiding later on this year. This includes running a dedicated astronomy camera via the ASIAIR Plus and a small battery pack (maybe you can see it in person if we run into each other at a star party this summer).

unguided performance

A single unguided 60-exposure at 300mm using the Star Adventurer GTi. 

First Impressions

Balancing the load is critical on a star tracker, and it was dead easy to accomplish with a lightweight setup like this. The integrated wedge and tracking mount head feel very solid, much more so than the original Star Adventurer. 

The base of the mount and the connection to the tripod are solid and secure. I ran into a small issue with a stiff right Azimuth knob out of the box, but I took it all the way out, re-threaded it in straight and it’s working flawlessly now.

Loosening the RA and DEC clutches feels comfortable and secure as well, although it does feel a little odd using such a small thumbscrew to tighten the RA clutch. If you live at a lower altitude than I do here in Ontario, Canada, you have the ability to change the position of the counterweight shaft to the ‘lower latitude’ position for clearance. 

The tripod that comes with the GTi is much smaller and lighter than the one you would find on a full-blown equatorial mount. It’s not much to look at, but it actually feels surprisingly solid. There are some nice grippy, rubber feet on it.

For a mount head of this size, it feels very secure, and you can easily carry the entire setup around with everything attached. Even though the manual says not to do this. 

star tracker

Polar Alignment Process

The built-in polar scope makes polar alignment quick and easy. There is a built-in illuminated reticle this time around, which is great news for anyone who either didn’t use… or lost the external one that came on the original Star Adventurer.

To turn it on, you simply need to open up the SynScan app on your phone and adjust the slider to the brightness of your liking. There is a polar clock utility in the app, so there is no need to hop over to another tool for this process on your phone.

Manually adjusting the alt/az bolts on the mount to line up Polaris in the correct spot only takes a minute. This skill will come in handy the next time you set up in a new, dark sky location with minimal gear (trust me).

Polar Utility Clock

SynScan Pro Mobile App

If you already own a Sky-Watcher mount like the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro, you could connect your existing SynScan hand controller into the mount head and control it like your EQ6-R.

I prefer to use the Sky-Watcher SynScan Pro app on my phone to control the mount via WiFi. Here I can quickly perform tasks such as set my location, run a star alignment, and select and slew to my desired target.

SynScan Pro App

The Sky-Watcher SynScan Pro app connects to the mount via WiFi.

If you have connected your DSLR camera to the mount using the correct cable, you can even run a series of exposures through the Sky-Watcher app. I’m still just using a remote shutter release cable for now, but I’ll be browsing Amazon shortly to get the correct 2.5mm jack for the built-in snap port.

I really like the controls for moving the mount in RA and DEC. You can easily change the slew speed to your liking, and it’s smooth and responsive. Choosing a target (whether it’s for star alignment or to GoTo) from a long list of objects is a much better user experience than navigating through one object at a time on the hand controller screen. 

And, of course, for those of you that want full control of the mount and with plate solving and pulse guiding (ASCOM/EQMOD), you can connect the mount to your laptop using the USB Type B port. This thing seriously feels like a miniature EQ6-R Pro. It even kind of looks like one.

Final Thoughts

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi provides an excellent solution to the most notable missing feature of the previous version. Yet it manages to retain nearly the exact same amount of portability and form factor as its younger brother, which is what star trackers are all about.

I love that it’s battery-powered so that I can completely disconnect from the grid and take this astro rig anywhere I want. In my mind, this is the ultimate travel setup, and it truly feels like a more advanced equatorial telescope mount in a tiny package.

This is a GoTo equatorial mount that can fit in your carry-on bag. If you’re a travel nightscape photographer or aspiring deep-sky imager, you are going to freak out when you try this mount.

I can’t believe this is how far the hobby has come, and it’s not even fair that newcomers entering now have options like this. I’ll end this article with a recent photo I captured using this setup from the backyard during a 2-hour gap in cloud cover this month.

I hope this was useful to you, and until next time, clear skies.

Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula (and Swan Nebula nearby) using the Star Adventurer GTi and a 300mm lens. 

Photo Details:

  • Total Exposure Time: 70 x 60-seconds at ISO 800 (1 hour, 10 minutes)
  • Sky Conditions: High Clouds, Bortle 7
  • Camera: Canon EOS Ra
  • Filter: None
  • Telescope/Lens: Canon EF 300mm F/4L (at F/4)
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi


Best Used For:

• Milky Way Photography
• Deep-Sky Astrophotography
• Nightscape Photography

What I Like:

• Overall Design and Function
• Robust wedge and Counterweight
• SynScan Pro Mobile App
• Built-in Illuminated Reticle

What I Don’t Like:

• Only 11-lb Payload Capacity
• Polar Scope Cover (pops off way too easy)
• Tiny Azimuth Adjustment Knobs

Star Adventurer GTi for astrophotography

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ZWO ASIAIR Plus Review

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The ZWO ASIAIR Plus is the third generation of the popular ASIAir wireless controller. This tiny red aluminum box aims to replace your laptop computer, imaging software, USB hubs, power supply, and even your WiFi connection. 

The goal of this device is to make collecting images of deep-sky objects (or planets) easier, and automated. You can control everything on your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android) from inside the house.

The “Plus” improves on several aspects of the previous “Pro” model, including a 2.5X faster I/O speed and an enhanced antenna for a stronger WiFi signal. Capturing images of space while you sleep has never been easier.

horsehead nebula

My image of the Horsehead Nebula using the ASIAIR Plus to control the imaging session. 

The biggest differences between the new ASIAIR Plus and ASIAIR Pro are the extended WiFi range, faster I/O speeds (thanks to onboard eMMC storage), a new USB type-C port, and real-time power voltage monitoring within the mobile app. 

The latest ZWO ASIAIR update (2.0) became available to the public in September 2022 and has now officially been released. The update includes some impressive new features including a much-anticipated mosaic planning mode. 

Differences between ASIAIR Plus and Pro

I skipped over the ASIAIR Pro, so the power ports are a nice upgrade from the original ASIair. Here is a list of all the external ports on the device:


  • USB Type-C
  • Micro SD
  • 12V DC Power x 4
  • Ethernet x 1
  • DSLR Shutter Release
  • USB 2.0 x 2
  • USB 3.0 x 2

asiair plus wireless controller

The ZWO ASIAIR app is the absolute best way to control the portable ZWO AM5 harmonic drive equatorial mount (big surprise). It has revolutionized my personal deep-sky astrophotography experience in the backyard and is now the equipment behind some of my absolute best images.

The ASIAIR is truly a professional-grade image-capturing tool with advanced features that experienced imagers will enjoy. I currently use the ASIAIR Plus to run all of my ASI cameras, including the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro and 7-position filter wheel.

best astrophotography telescope

Using the ZWO ASIAIR Plus to control the AM5 Harmonic Drive Equatorial Mount. 

A new, smaller version of the ASIAIR was launched in October 2022, the ZWO ASIAIR Mini. Just like the ASIAIR Plus, the fourth-generation ASIAIR Mini includes 4 USB ports, 4 power ports, and a WiFi antenna, but the USB ports are all 2.0. 

I have not personally tested the Mini version, but it looks to be a solid choice for anyone looking to control a second astrophotography rig using the ASIAIR. It is the smallest and most affordable option yet. Okay, back to the ‘Plus. 

Painless Astrophotography 

Have you thought about switching your laptop and about 4 pieces of software for an all-in-one portable device? I did, for a while, but I came crawling back to my classic “computer in a bucket” routine soon after.

The third installment of the ASIAIR legacy aims to correct the previous device’s shortcomings that were enough for guys like me to return to their old ways. This includes everything from the WiFi range, to overall system stability.

The astrophotography accessory that “changed the game” is now more refined and capable than ever. It costs $299 USD and replaces your laptop computer for astrophotography (if you’re running an ASI dedicated astronomy camera, that is). 

ZWO sent me a demo copy of the latest edition of their flagship wireless controller. I reluctantly agreed to modify my beloved setup and capture rituals to get a true feeling for the ASIAIR Plus experience. 

I think the following graphic ZWO shared on the ASIAIR Plus product page illustrates the main purpose of this device quite well:


That’s me, before the ASIAIR Plus, on the top left. 


By now, you’ve probably heard of the ASIAIR. It’s essentially a mini raspberry pi computer with all of the tools you need for a complete imaging session with your ZWO camera (or “mainstream” DSLR).

Existing ASIAIR users seem to really enjoy them (often owning more than one of them) and I think it’s because it really solved a number of problems that beginner to intermediate astrophotographers were having.

It streamlines the start-to-finish capture process and allows you to do everything from your phone or tablet without touching the telescope or even going outside.


What the ASIAIR Plus Does:

  • Deep-sky imaging
  • Exposure previews
  • Plate solving
  • Focus assistant
  • Polar alignment assistant
  • Guiding
  • Autorun
  • Multi-target plan
  • Planetary imaging (video)
  • Live stacking

Instead of monitoring a laptop computer outside that is tethered to your equipment via cables, you are free to leave your equipment alone and control everything from your phone.

The device connects to your mobile phone or tablet via WiFi, just like you would for your home internet connection. Your home WiFi connection is not lost, but you may have to connect/re-connect to the ASIAIR WiFi if and when the connection is lost.

Rest assured, your imaging session does not stop if you lose the WiFi connection, and your images are safely stored as they come through. 

telescope with asiair plus

Why I Waited for the “Plus”

It’s remarkable to see how far this hobby has come in the last 10 years. No matter how the old-school crowd of astrophotographers feel about this device, it really is an incredible innovation.

I think the ASIAIR is responsible for ushering a new wave of astrophotographers by reducing the friction of the setup and image acquisition process, and that’s one heck of an accomplishment.

smart wifi controller

The unit is slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor. 

So if the AISAIR is so great, why haven’t I used one for the last 2 years?

To be honest, the ASIAIR fixes a lot of problems I didn’t have. I love my old-school setup routine, (including my laptop), and my personal love for astrophotography is stronger than ever.

I am happy to set up my (all-weather) laptop computer in the backyard and use familiar software tools (such as Astro Photography Tool) that provide me with complete control over my imaging sessions. 

I log in remotely to my PC using tools like AnyDesk, so I am accustomed to the freedom of controlling my telescope from inside the house. But let’s be honest, I spend most of the time outside with my rig anyway (even in the winter).  

But I realize the way I do things is not for everyone. People appreciate the features of the ASIAIR that allow astrophotographers to spend more time capturing images, and less time tweaking settings and installing updates on their PC.

With that out of the way, let’s see what all the fuss is about:

First Impressions

The ZWO ASIAIR Plus starts shipping in November 2021. As new information becomes available, firmware updates are applied, and all features are explored, I will append the article to include the latest information. 

ZWO supplied a demo version of the ASIAIR Plus to me, but it is on loan unless I decide to purchase it from them. These are my honest, real-world opinions, and ZWO does not have any control over what I say.

Although my astrophotography reviews are not overly technical, they are practical and hands-on. At the time of writing, I’ve used the ASIAIR Plus to run a number of deep-sky imaging sessions in the backyard.


Instead of using a micro SD card to store the OS (as the ASIAIR Pro did), the ASIAIR Plus has a custom-designed board featuring eMMC storage. This provides faster read and write speeds and improved system stability.

The full-frame dedicated astronomy camera I used produces 50MB raw images in Bin 1×1 mode, and the device had zero issues processing the data. I much prefer storing my image files on a USB drive over the micro SD card I used with the original ASIair. 

The 4 x 12V DC output ports are incredibly handy to have riding along with your telescope. These ports can be used to power devices like your ASI camera, a dew heater, and even your telescope mount.

This significantly cuts down on the number of cables running all over your imaging system. 

plus vs. pro

You can now transfer image files from the device to your PC via the USB Type-C cable. 

The Mobile App

The first thing I did was download the ASIAIR mobile app on my smartphone. I use a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, so I found the app in the Google Play Store.

The latest ASIAIR app is similar to the original version, with some clever improvements. I can see everything here from the camera temperature, dither settings, and even the focus position (if I was using an autofocuser, of course).

ASIAIR mobile app

The ASIAIR mobile app.

Set-Up Process

I entered in my location details, along with the specifications of my gear including the telescope focal length. When your ASI cameras are plugged into the device, they are recognized immediately and can be selected from the drop-down menu.

The user interface is clean and easy to navigate. The entire setup process, including connecting the device to WiFi, was smooth and painless from start to finish. 

ZWO put a lot of time and energy into their beta-testing period, and it seems that all major bugs have been addressed at this point. This is great news for those looking to order one when it officially launches in November.

I really like the power output settings. You can clearly see what’s plugged into what port, and how much power it’s drawing.

My Equipment

For my early testing of the ASIAIR Plus, I used a ZWO ASI2400MC Pro as the primary imaging camera, and for autoguiding, the ZWO ASI290MM Mini. The ASIAIR Plus powers both cameras, which are connected via the supplied (with the camera) USB 3.0 and USB Type-C cables.

The files produced by the ASI2400MC Pro are huge, so it was a great test of the devices read/write speeds.


To power the ASIAIR Plus itself, I use a 12V 5A power adapter I purchased on Amazon. If you’re looking for a decent power supply for the ASIAIR Plus, this is the one I use

The camera is attached to the Radian 61 APO. The laptop is gone, and everything rides together on the telescope mount. The ASIAIR Plus comes with a handy mounting option, but I found good old velcro strips to be a great option for now.

The ASIAIR Plus is actually a little thinner and lighter than the previous versions, so it adds virtually no additional weight to your imaging setup.

astrophotography equipment

The setup shown above is a stripped-down version of what the ASIAIR Plus can really do, as it can control everything from the mount to the filter wheel.

I’ve only used the ASIAIR Plus a handful of times so far due to weather, so I’ve only utilized the wireless image capture feature, along with the built-in autoguiding system.

Astrophotography Gear Used in Testing

Focus and Framing

I enjoyed the focus and framing tool to confirm that my images were as sharp and centered as possible.

I regularly use a Bahtinov mask to confirm critical focus of my camera and telescope, but the ASIAIR Plus includes a FWHM measurement for those also using an autofocuser. 

The focus/framing mode is essentially a continuous loop of short-exposure images. This is a great time to tweak the final framing of your deep-sky target.

focusing the camera

Live-view focus using the ASIAIR Plus. 

Mount Control

Once you have properly connected the ASIAIR Plus to your equatorial telescope mount, you can control your imaging sessions with accurate GoTo functionality. The SkyAtlas feature within the ASIAIR mobile app is absolutely amazing.

This allows me to choose any object in the night sky, and the telescope mount will autmatically find it and center it. The plate-solving capabilities of this system can save a lot of time and frustration.

I especially enjoyed using this tool when controlling the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi, a highly portable GoTo star tracker. Owners of this portable mount will be happy to know that the ASIAIR is the perfect companian for it. 


This level of control not only lets you choose the deep-sky objects you wish to photograph, but also centers them in the field of view. The latest update to the app even includes a mosaic-planning tool, which is great for creating large, high reolution images. 

For many folks, controlling your telescope mount with the ASIAIR Plus might be one of the biggest draws to the product. Plate solving helps with everything from focusing (by automatically centering a bright star), to framing deep images for narrowband imaging

How to connect mount

Related Article: How to Connect the ASIAIR to Your Sky-Watcher Mount

Once you have successfully connected your telescope mount to the ASIAIR Plus, you can use the search tool to find and slew to deep-sky objects in the night sky. I have now controlled a handful of telescope mounts via the ASIAIR, including the popular Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

Polar Alignment

For those that appreciate electronically assisted polar alignment (similar to the QHY Polemaster experience), the ASIAIR Plus has its own built-in polar alignment feature.

You can see my using the polar alignment feature of the ASIAIR in my complete astrophotography routine video below. The ZWO AM5 Harmonic Drive Mount does not have a polar scope for manual alignment, so I was finally forced to use the tool within the app. 

Many beginners struggle with the polar alignment process of an astrophotography mount, and I believe this is one of the main reasons the ASIAIR Plus and its predecessors are so popular.

Keep in mind that the polar alignment tool in the ASIAIR plus requires that you have a view within 30° of the celestial pole. The entire process usually takes me about 5 minutes to complete, starting from scratch with the tripod roughly pointed north. 

Polar Alignment

The polar alignment tool is straightforward and fun.

WiFi Range

The ASIAIR Plus corrects the biggest issue I had with the previous versions, the WiFi range. The dual-band antenna now reaches about 20 meters (65 ft), which is more than enough for me to get things running and keep tabs on my imaging sequence anywhere in the house.

It’s a dual-band WiFi network (2.4G/5G). ZWO states that the 5Ghz WiFi is faster than 2.4Ghz, but the range is better using 2.4Ghz. I personally used the 2.4Ghz range and experienced very little lag in the system.

The system is also a lot more stable in terms of the firmware and it boasts a 52MB/second write speed in order to handle today’s monster sensors and precious data coming through.


In my experience, the autoguiding feature of the ASIAIR Plus worked flawlessly, each and every time. Keep in mind, I was shooting with a very forgiving wide-field telescope and full-frame camera.

The tool is extremely easy to navigate and run. Once your guide camera is connected and you have entered in the focal length of your guide scope, expect a quick calibration run and reliable autoguiding throughout the night. 

The guiding tool allows you to dither your images between each exposure, which (along with calibration frames) is extremely important for capturing quality data to integrate. In case you couldn’t tell from the image below, yes, the ASIAIR supports multi-star guiding. 

Guiding with the ASIAIR Plus

The Guiding Tool.

Live Stack/EAA

It is possible to live stack your images using the ASIAIR Plus. This is often referred to as electronically assisted astronomy (EAA), as it allows you to get a better look at your chosen deep-sky object by taking several short-exposure images. 

While reviewing your live stack images, you have the option to adjust the histogram to taste so that you can better view the target. If you’re looking for a great demo on the live stacking tool, check out this video

Running an Imaging Plan

I really enjoy the shooting schedule mode of the ASIAIR Plus. It makes the process of setting up a new imaging session crystal clear.

All of the important information is displayed, from the light frame exposure length to the binning mode

You’re able to set a sequence of images to run automatically, whether they are your light frames (picture files) or calibration frames such as dark frames and flat frames. 

Keep in mind that if you want to edit the specifics (such as exposure time, dithering) of your Autorun plan, you must reset the plan. There is no “edit” option to interrupt the imaging sequence and make changes to your settings. 

Rest assured, this will not discard the images you have already taken. This feature is one that Yannick (Cuiv the Lazy Geek) hopes will be improved upon in the future.

ASIAIR telescope

We successfully ran two ASIAIR rigs at the Okie-Tex Star Party in 2022. 

My Results

My first tests were to just control the temperature of the camera and shoot a sequence of dark frames in the house. The FIT files came through flawlessly and were stored on my USB 3.0 thumb drive for easy transfer the morning after.

Framing and focusing your target on the ASIAIR Plus is a pleasure, the live-loop feedback on my phone allows me to fine-tune my focus and tweak the positioning of the mount for framing.

Trevor Jones (AstroBackyard)

I decided to photograph the Lobster Claw Nebula for my first test of the ZWO ASIAIR Plus. This is a large nebulae region in Cassiopeia that includes plenty of other interesting deep-sky objects nearby.

When I combine a full-frame camera (ASI2400MC Pro) with my wide-field telescope, I can collect massive regions of space in a single shot. It was a thrill to see each exposure come through on the screen of my phone as I sat inside the house.

The user interface is pretty close to perfect in my eyes, I can’t think of a better way to display the information. I love being able to monitor the progress of my imaging session and auto-stretch the raw images as they come in. 

Here is the final result of about 4 hours of overall integration using the ASIAIR Plus to control my imaging session.

Lobster Claw Nebula

The Lobster Claw Nebula, Bubble Nebula, and Cave Nebula. 

Final Thoughts

If you already have an original ASIAIR or ASIAIR Pro, and you’re happy with it (and any workarounds you’ve made to extend the WiFi), I doubt you’ll feel an immediate need to upgrade right away.

But if you’re a “laptop guy” like me who’s been patiently waiting and watching the development of this product improve, now might be the time to finally dive in. The WiFi range on the original was annoying, but it was the stability/bugginess that scared me away.

The latest ASIAIR update (ASIAIR Version 2.0 Public Release) includes several new features that I am excited about, including image stacking, camera rotation assistance, and a slick new mosaic planner. The point is, this device seems to just keep getting better.

Veil Nebula

The Eastern Veil Nebula.

The ASIAIR Plus is a fantastic product, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to streamline their astrophotography experience using a ZWO ASI astronomy camera. 

I very rarely use my laptop computer for deep-sky imaging anymore. The ASIAIR can run a sophisticated imaging plan over mulitple nights using a monochrome camera and several filters. For my current stage of imaging, it is an excellent fit.

My mobile phone is always on hand, and I can check on my imaging plan inside the house via the WiFi connection. 

I’ll continue to use the ASIAIR Plus here in the backyard, and may finally have to retire one of my faithful astro-laptop computers for good.

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My Best Images & The Gear Used

On this website, I do my best to share information and astrophotography tips that provide value. I could pat myself on the back about all of the great astrophotography images I took this year, but it is of little interest to anyone if I don’t explain how I took the shot. 

In this article, I’ll share my best astrophotography images of 2020, and the equipment setups used for each image. This way, you’ll have a better idea of what’s behind each image, and how you can accomplish a similar result yourself.

Capturing the images with the right set of gear is only half of the equation, of course. If you’re interested in learning how I process my deep-sky astrophotos, consider taking a look at my premium image processing guide

astrophotography equipment

The Gear Behind My Best Images of the Year

As you know, 2020 was a strange year. I spent a lot of time at home and took most of my astrophotography images from my light-polluted backyard (Bortle Scale Class 7) in the city. I tried to capture a mix of galaxies and nebulae this year using a number of different telescopes, cameras, and filters.

I’ve included links to the equipment used for each shot, from the filter to the telescope mount. You obviously don’t need to use the exact set of gear to replicate my results, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

I have also included the software used to photograph the images with my laptop computer, and the post-processing software as well. 

For the absolute latest images, consider following AstroBackyard on Instagram and Facebook. For a behind-the-scenes look at how the images are created, you can also subscribe to my YouTube Channel

best astrophotography images

Messier 82: The Cigar Galaxy

  • Object Type: Irregular (Starburst) Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

After a cloudy start to the year, I finally began my first serious astrophotography project in March. I have always wanted to photograph the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82) with enough focal length to reveal the interesting structure of this irregular galaxy

In the past, I’ve collected light on this area of the night sky using a wider field-of-view (400mm-800mm). This allows you to create an image that features 2 distinct galaxy types in a single shot (Spiral and Irregular). 

Nearby Messier 81 always seems to get plenty of attention from the amateur astrophotography community, so I decided to give its neighbor some love. I don’t recommend photographing this galaxy on its own unless you’ve got at least 1000mm of focal length. 

Overall, I managed to collect 5 hours and 25 minutes of total integrated exposure time on this galaxy in Ursa Major. I am happy with the result (definitely my best yet), but I would have liked to capture more hydrogen-alpha data to really bring out the “fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions”. 

Messier 82 galaxy

The Cigar Galaxy in Ursa Major. 

This was an early project using the Starlight Xpress SX-42 (Trius 694 Mono) CCD camera, and I was still very new to building LRGB images in Adobe Photoshop. This camera features a 6.1 MP monochrome CCD sensor with 4.54-micron pixels. 

It is my first CCD camera, and it has provided me with some of the most incredible deep-sky images I have ever taken (including my APOD in June 2020)

Starlight Xpress Trius 694 Mono CCD

I now have an astrophotography rig better suited for photographing small galaxies (Celestron Edge HD 11), but the 6-inch refractor used for this photo is well-suited for medium-sized galaxies like M81 and M82.

Each and every exposure used for this image was 5-minutes long. 300-seconds seemed to be enough for the Ha, but I don’t think I’ll shoot my LRGB sub-exposures so long in the future.

Messier 51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Soon after completing my Cigar Galaxy photograph, I pointed my telescope towards the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. In the northern hemisphere, it’s an excellent project to take on in the springtime.

Again, I used my Astronomik LRGB filters and the Starlight Xpress monochrome CCD. With pleasing results on the Cigar Galaxy a month earlier, I decided to keep shooting 300-second sub-exposures on the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Unlike my image of Messier 81, I shot plenty of luminance data for this target (36 x 300-seconds). I believe this helped to keep the noise minimal, even after substantial stretching to the saturation and curves. 

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. 

The aperture of the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 (6-inches) helps to resolve faint, detailed structures in galaxies like this. The Esprit 150 really is a dream telescope for refractor fans.

Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO

The Starlight Xpress filter wheel is an absolute pleasure to use with my Trius 694 mono CCD camera. After installing the ASCOM drivers on my laptop computer, I can connect to the filter wheel using Astro Photography Tool and can change filters quickly and reliably depending on the subject matter. 

It’s a 7-position wheel containing a complete set of Astronomik Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, 6nm H-Alpha, 6nm OIII, and 6nm SII 1.25″ filters. A filter wheel is a must if you plan on using a monochrome camera to build full-color images over time. 

NGC 2539: Thors Helmet

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky Narrowband (HOO)
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Thor’s Helmet Nebula is a fascinating deep-sky target in Canis Major and an object that can be difficult to capture from the northern hemisphere. From my backyard, this nebula skims the trees and rooftops of the neighborhood, allowing only a short window of opportunity.

Until this photo, I had only attempted Thor’s Helmet once before, using a telescope with a short focal length (400mm). This time, I was able to get an up-close view of this dynamic emission nebula at 1050mm using the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO refractor.

I photographed this nebula in HOO (Ha, OIII, OIII). This means that I mapped the hydrogen to red, and the oxygen to green and blue. For this subject, I think it creates a beautiful result. 

Thors Helmet

The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro equatorial mount has been extremely reliable since it arrived in late 2019. This observatory-grade GoTo mount can handle a payload of up 75-pounds, yet handles like an EQ6-R Pro with an identical user experience. 

This tracking mount has spent much of the year outside, with a Telegizmos 365 cover protecting it from the elements. It was so nice to have a deep-sky astrophotography rig already polar-aligned and ready to image when the weather allowed for it.

Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro

On clear nights, I will set up an additional rig (usually the more manageable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro) to capture another deep-sky object at the same time.

NGC 6888: The Crescent Nebula

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

The Crescent Nebula is an extremely popular deep-sky target for amateur astrophotographers, and for good reason. The problem is, it’s small. To capture a detailed portrait of this 25-light-year wide cosmic bubble, you need some serious reach. 

If you haven’t noticed a recurring theme in all of the images on this page up to this point, you should. Again, the incredible Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 Super APO refractor was used to create the image.

1050mm focal length is more than enough magnification for this object, but with a full-frame mirrorless sensor, you get some of the surrounding nebulosity too. 

Crescent Nebula

The Canon EOS Ra was my most-used camera of 2020, and it remains my favorite camera for astrophotography of all time. A full-frame modified sensor is something to treasure. The extremely user-friendly format of a mirrorless camera attached to the back of the telescope reminds me of how I got started in this hobby, and the joy it brings me.

Many people doubted my decision to purchase the Canon EOS Ra, and the critiques claimed it was overpriced. After nearly 30 image projects completed with this camera, I can safely recommend it to anyone looking for a reliable all-around astrophotography camera. 

Canon EOS Ra

The Radian Triad Ultra quadband filter is an incredible fit for the Canon EOS Ra, and this was the filter I used for 90% of my deep-sky shots using this configuration. 

It can be difficult to showcase the faint shell of oxygen surrounding the Crescent Nebula, and for this, I needed a little help. I applied a 25% layer of OIII data using my monochrome CCD camera to the image to really make that outer shell ‘pop’.


  • Object Type: Solar System (Comet)
  • Imaging Style: Broadband Wide-Field
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

Photographing Comet NEOWISE was an unforgettable experience. The tail of this evaporating iceberg in space was long and beautiful. 

There were thousands of images of Comet NEOWISE taken in July 2020, and some of them were remarkable. I did my best to capture this memorable scene from my backyard using basic equipment.

Comet photography is quite different from traditional deep-sky photography, although there are a few best practices that came in handy. I used my Rokinon 135mm F/2 lens and DSLR to photograph this comet on July 17th, 2020. 


The best part about photographing this comet was that it did not require an expensive deep-sky imaging rig. A portable star tracker and camera lens worked perfectly to capture this long icy snowball in the sky. 

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is a dependable, battery-powered, ultra-portable star tracker that can handle up to 11-pounds of gear. I’ve used this little EQ mount with everything from a DSLR and 50mm lens, to a Radian Raptor 61 APO. 

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i

You may be wondering why the comet is lying on its side in this image when most photos show it pointing downward. The silhouetted treeline at the bottom of the photo is actually the side of my neighbor’s tree, and I rotated the frame to capture the Comet lengthwise.

The position and timing of the comet made photographing this celestial event a challenge. It sat rather low in the sky, and there was a limited window of time to capture it in the early morning, or just after dusk. There are many things I would change if I could photograph Comet NEOWISE again, but I will have to wait until it returns to Earth in 8,786.

  • Total Exposure Time: 7 Minutes
  • Details: 32 x 14-seconds
  • Camera: Canon EOS 60Da
  • Telescope/Lens: Rokinon 135mm F/2
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

The Planet Mars

  • Object Type: Solar System (Planet)
  • Imaging Style: RGB 
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CMOS 

The Mars Opposition was another amazing celestial event that seemed to further ignite interest in astronomy in 2020. On October 13th, 2020, Mars was at its closest to Earth, and I photographed the planet shortly before this date.

Up until this year, my best photos of Mars were tiny, blurry orange orbs in the sky. I had never captured any interesting details of the planet’s rocky surface before. 

This type of astrophotography requires different acquisition software and a completely different post-processing routine as well. The results were incredible, considering I still have much to learn.

Planet Mars

High magnification planetary imaging is still quite foreign to me, although I have been photographing planets for quite some time. This time, I used a large SCT (Celestron Edge HD 11) and a dedicated astronomy camera that excels in planetary photography.

Celestron Edge HD 11

The most difficult part of the process was painstakingly removing and replacing each RGB filter in front of the camera (and re-focusing each time) to create a full-color image with my monochrome camera. This is exactly why filter wheels exist, I just did not own one at the time. 

The process becomes even more challenging as the planet slowly rotates (some, faster than others), and you realize that the rotation has created a mismatch in terms of surface details from one color to the next. 

NG 6960: The Western Veil Nebula

  • Object Type: Supernova Remnant
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

I took several photos with the versatile QHY268C one-shot-color astronomy camera in 2020. It was difficult to choose a favorite, as they all ended up being my best versions of each object to date. 

The Veil Nebula looked especially beautiful when captured with this camera, and I photographed it from every angle possible. The Optolong L-eXtreme filter was made for this target, and I was thrilled with my results using this combo.

The separation between the hydrogen and oxygen gases of this nebula from a light-polluted sky was impressive. If you’ve ever photographed the Veil Nebula using a broad spectrum filter, you’ll know that it can easily get buried underneath a sea of stars.

Western Veil Nebula

The sensor size of the QHY268C is APS-C (crop-sensor), which is quite large in the world of dedicated one-shot-color astronomy cameras. I thoroughly appreciated the field of view this sensor captured, in stunning high-resolution detail.

Although many of my best images of the year were captured using a monochrome camera, one-shot-color cameras continue to be a practical way to complete an image with limited time. In the case of the QHY268C, the image quality doesn’t have to suffer, either.

QHY268C Camera

Messier 31: The Andromeda Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Broadband RGB 
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 4 skies to photograph the Andromeda Galaxy in October 2020. This sensational broadband galaxy often looks best when photographed without the use of filters. 

Unlike most other galaxies, Andromeda is very large, and you may be surprised to find out that your current camera and telescope configuration will not fit the entire galaxy in a single frame. 

Andromeda Galaxy

This is one of the many sensational images captured using the Radian Raptor 61 apochromatic refractor telescope. This shows off the massive field of view provided at 275mm focal length. The conditions were far from ideal that night, but I am happy with how the photo turned out nevertheless. 

apochromatic refractor telescope

I used my portable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro GoTo equatorial mount for this photo and took advantage of the autoguiding feature of the mount. The entire imaging rig was very manageable, and one that I will certainly bring on more adventures away from home in the future. 

As for the processing, I have shared an Andromeda Galaxy image processing tutorial in the past, and those techniques are largely unchanged today. 

The Milky Way 

  • Object Type: Milky Way Photography
  • Imaging Style: Wide-Field Nightscape
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

This photo was taken on a rare adventure away from home in 2020. My wife Ashley and I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 3 skies during new moon. The night sky was jaw-droppingly gorgeous from this location.  

The core of the Milky Way was obscured by trees, but there was a large opening to the sky straight overhead on the property. Luckily, the timing was perfect as Cygnus and Cepheus are full of beautiful nebulae regions. 

The Milky Way

For this photo, I used my Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera with a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 lens attached. This is a spectacular lens for astrophotography, particularly nightscape images like this.  Sigma 24mm F/1.4

I compensated for the apparent motion of the night sky using a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i star tracker. This portable rig is so easy to set up and record wide swaths of the night sky. It is hands-down the best Milky Way Photography setup I’ve ever owned.  

I used a different stacking software for this shot, one that is more suitable for landscape astrophotography. Sequator is a simple-to-use stacking software that does a great job of reducing noise in your image to provide an impressive file to process.

  • Total Exposure Time: 14 Minutes
  • Details: 9 x 90-seconds at ISO 3200
  • Camera: Canon EOS Ra
  • Telescope/Lens: Sigma 24mm F/1.4
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: Sequator
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula

  • Object Type: Planetary Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

The Helix Nebula is one of those deep-sky objects that remind you of why you got into astrophotography. Its iconic shape and bold colors can spark a passion for astronomy and space like few other objects can.

I photographed the Helix Nebula on several occasions in the summer of 2020, yet still didn’t manage to collect enough exposure time to truly do this object justice. This image is not technically amazing by any stretch, but it is still one of the most exciting photos I took all year. 

For this image, I took advantage of the amazing Optolong L-eXtreme filter and QHY268C color camera once more.

Helix Nebula

To achieve these colors, I had to do some selective stretching and color balancing. The outer rim of hydrogen in red/orange is pretty standard, but in my data, I had to pull the greenish/blue area in the center way up. 

The central region of this nebula was much more greenish in the “out-of-the-camera” image. The Optolong L-eXtreme does a great job of separating the important wavelengths of light associated with some of the most popular nebulae in the sky.

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter

This is quite a small target, so plenty of aperture and focal length is needed to really get a good look at the Helix Nebula. 

Final Thoughts

This was hands-down the busiest year of astrophotography I’ve ever had. There were a lot of sleepless nights, numb fingers, and long image processing sessions. My reward? The images in this article, and the countless memorable nights under a clear night sky.

I hope you have gotten some value out of the descriptions of these images, so you can tackle the job yourself. Of course, you do not need to use the exact configuration I did to achieve these results, but at least you will have a benchmark to start from. 

If you have any questions about the astrophotography equipment discussed in this article, please feel free to let me know in the comments. Until next year, clear skies!

best astrophotography images

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Radian Raptor 61 Review

|Telescopes|27 Comments

The Radian Raptor 61 is a triplet apochromatic refractor telescope for astrophotography. It features a compact design with features custom-suited for wide-field, deep-sky astrophotography.

Since the Raptor arrived in September, I have taken some of my best astrophotography images to date with it. In this review, I’ll share all of the image examples I have collected since the prototype arrived at my door. 

This compact telescope was designed for astrophotography with a camera attached, not visual observations through an eyepiece. If you’re interested in taking pictures of deep-sky objects in space, a wide-field imaging refractor telescope is one of the best options available (especially if you are new to the hobby). 

Radian Raptor 61 Review

At only 4-pounds, the Raptor 61 is suitable for portable, lightweight star trackers such as the iOptron SkyGuider Pro, or Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. Even after adding a small autoguiding system to the mix, you will still sit well below the 11-lb maximum payload capacity of the most popular star tracker mounts.

This telescope is perfect for those that capture their astrophotography images with a DSLR/Mirrorless camera, or a dedicated astronomy camera. The large image circle (44mm), built-in rotator, and filter vault make capturing your next deep-sky project a painless experience. I enjoy pairing my Canon EOS Ra full-frame astrophotography camera with the Radian Raptor 61 most. 

Radian Raptor 61 example image

IC 1396 captured using the Radian Raptor 61 and Canon EOS Ra. Trevor Jones.

Orion Nebula H-Alpha

The Orion Nebula in H-Alpha. Starlight Xpress Trius 694 Mono CCD + Raptor 61.

My Involvement

In February 2020, I spoke to the CEO of OPT (Dustin Gibson) about the possibility of designing an “AstroBackyard signature series telescope“. The idea was to create a beginner-friendly astrophotography telescope that skipped over as much frustration as possible. 

Countless phone calls, emails, sketches, and mock-ups followed this conversation, and eventually, the Radian Raptor 61 emerged. You may be interested to know that our original idea included the AstroBackyard branding on the scope and even an actual signature. 

In the end, we decided that there were just too many people that didn’t care/know who I was! 

I was adamant about building a wide-field, compact triplet that would allow beginners to experience positive results, right out of the gate. I chose the specs that I felt were most important for my personal astrophotography needs, and the team at OPT executed the specifics of that plan in terms of manufacturing a functioning prototype. 

The final result was a sleek matte-black triplet refractor with a focal length of 275mm at F/4.5. Pride and accomplishments aside, I believe that this telescope is a serious contender for the best compact astrophotography telescope on the market.

The following video helps explain how the development of the Radian Raptor 61 materialized over time.

Radian Raptor 61 Review

The Radian Raptor 61 was designed to be the ultimate portable astrophotography telescope, and I believe it lives up to this description. There are other great refractors in this category, of course, but none quite like this F/4.5 triplet APO.

The Raptor 61 weighs just 4 pounds with the included mounting rings, meaning that it can be used on a portable star tracker mount or modest equatorial telescope mount with ease.

The Raptor is similar in size and profile to a telephoto camera lens, but with the added modularity of a dedicated astrograph. Mounting a guide scope, attaching and focusing your camera, and framing your deep-sky subject are all extremely easy tasks on the Raptor 61. 

I have found myself reaching for the Radian Raptor 61 first when my time under a clear sky is limited. In fact, I can keep the entire imaging setup intact (including the equatorial mount), and simply carry the rig in and out of the garage at a moment’s notice. 

apochromatic refractor telescope

View Complete Specs and Order from OPT. 

The Radian Hex Rings feature a robust locking mechanism that reminds me of a high-end watch. These rings were specially designed for the Radian Raptor 61 by Optec, and is probably the first thing you’ll notice when you see this telescope. 

The rings grasp the telescope securely, and the tension of the rings can be adjusted using a tiny Allan key if necessary. The rings include soft padding on the inside to protect the matte black finish of the optical tube. 

The rings also include and an ingenious slot to run your cabling along the base of the dovetail. You can channel the cords to a single source at the back of the telescope.

This is handy when wrapping a dew heater band around the dew shield of the Raptor 61, and a guide scope on top. You’ll likely leave the dew heater band on the telescope at all times when not in use, and simply connect the RCA plug to your dew heater controller before you start imaging. 

Here’s a look at my camera bag when I travel with this scope. I keep the camera in the bag as well, along with the guide scope mount and t-ring. You’ll notice I also leave the Canon EF-EOS R adapter on the camera body at all times. 

Radian Camera Bag

A look into my camera bag. 

For me, the best part of the hex ring design is the ability to easily mount the Radian Raptor 61 to the dovetail, and mount a guide scope on top. This isn’t necessary to image with the Raptor 61, but for those shooting exposures longer than 3 minutes, it’s a logical next step. 

The standard thread size allows you to mount your existing guide scope bracket on top of the Raptor. I mounted my William Optics 50mm guide scope rings securely to the hex rings for autoguiding. 

Andromeda Galaxy Radian Raptor 61

The Andromeda Galaxy. Radian Raptor 61 + Canon EOS Ra. Trevor Jones.

Adding a small 50mm guide scope adds a bit of weight to the overall imaging setup, but it is well worth it in my opinion. The ability to autoguide exposures to 5-minutes in length (with dithering) is handy for deeper projects. 

My best images with the Radian Raptor 61 were created by using 5-minute exposures at ISO 3200 with the Radian Triad Ultra filter in place. I’ve also used a dedicated astronomy camera with this telescope (ZWO ASI294MC Pro), but I think the Raptor 61 is best enjoyed when paired with a full-frame sensor. 

I expect others to pair a monochrome dedicated astronomy camera and narrowband filters to the Raptor 61 to create detailed wide-field portraits of the night sky. To date, I have only captured images in one-shot-color with this telescope. 

Raptor 61 Key Features

This telescope aims to make the process of getting up-and-running under a clear night sky as painless as possible. You do not need to go looking for a suitable mounting plate that allows you to balance your setup, or find a matching reducer/flattener to flatten the field of view.

The telescope is ready for you to attach your camera (with the correct spacing), right out of the box. You can thread your favorite 2″ light pollution filter into the filter vault, and be on your way. The attention to detail towards the needs of deep-sky astrophotographers is overwhelmingly evident with this package. 

Radian Raptor Telescope

  • Ultra-portable astrophotography telescope
  • 275mm focal length at f/4.5
  • Apochromatic Triplet Optics
  • Radian Hex Rings with integrated cable management channels
  • Full-frame image circle
  • Field corrector built-in
  • 4″ V-style dovetail & Radian 6.5″ universal D-style plates included
  • 10:1 factory-tuned rack & pinion focuser
  • 2″ Filter Vault for light pollution/narrowband filters
  • Built-in 360º rotator
  • Radian padded-insert travel backpack
  • Built-in retractable dew shield
  • Optional automated focuser upgrade available

The cost of this telescope seems to be a sore spot for some folks, at $999 USD. Personally, I think the price is competitive when you add in all of the extras like the premium rings, dovetails, and built-in corrector.

The world of photography and optics is expensive in general, and I believe anyone that’s invested in quality camera lenses will be less-shocked at the sticker price of this telescope. But don’t get me wrong, $1000 is a lot of money, and you’ll need to justify the expense to yourself (and possibly your spouse) before taking the leap. 

With that being said, if you use the telescope almost every clear night over the next 5 years, was it a waste of money? Or did it pay you back ten-fold? (Feel free to use this line on your significant other). 

Radian Telescopes Bag

First Impressions and Early Results

When the Radian Raptor 61 first arrived, it came inside of the Radian branded camera bag. I immediately noticed the stocky weight of the optical tube, and quickly mounted the telescope to the included Radian hex rings. 

The package I received was a prototype and did not include the bonus items that others will enjoy. This includes the beautifully designed box with the phrase “For those who collect light in the dark“. And for those wondering, yes, that was the phrase I chose. 

My Setup:

beginner astrophotography setup

Note: For my Andromeda Galaxy image, I used the same setup, but without the Triad Ultra Filter. 

You’ll need to remove the protective cap on the interior of the Raptor 61 that covers the built-in reducer/corrector lens. This may throw you off at first, as you will not be able to look through the optical tube until it is removed. 

I attached my Canon EOS Ra camera to the Raptor 61 using a standard Canon T-ring. You simply need to secure your camera to the M48 threads of the spacing tube at the imaging end of the scope. 

The 10:1 rack & pinion focuser is robust and buttery smooth. It is one of my favorite features of this telescope because it is critically important for deep-sky astrophotography. The locking screw does not shift the image either, which again, shows you how much attention was given to the overall user experience of this scope. 

The first image I captured with the Radian Raptor 61 was the Heart and Soul Nebulae region. I managed to collect 6.4 hours of total exposure on this subject using the Canon EOS Ra camera and Triad Ultra filter.

heart and soul nebula radian raptor 61

Heart and Soul Nebulae. Radian Raptor 61 + Canon EOS Ra.

By the time the first 5-minute exposure finished, I knew that this telescope would be very popular in the astrophotography community. Seeing a large nebula region appear on the screen at a massive 275mm of focal length is an experience like no other.

The William Optics RedCat 51 offers a similar feeling, but the added aperture and slight focal length increase of the Raptor 61 make a surprisingly noticeable difference. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my RedCat, but I believe the difference in images justifies a clear line of separation between the two.

Not only did the F/4.5 optics gather enough light to reveal faint areas of the nebulae in 5-minutes, but the entire image was extremely detailed and sharp across the majority of the frame. I did see some elongated stars at the very edges of my full-frame image, but I believe this was because of the shallow Canon T-Ring I was using on the camera.

Depending on the camera you pair with the Raptor 61, you should see a crisp image edge-to-edge out of the box with the standard spacing provided on the scope. To slightly increase the spacing, you have the option of threading on a standard 48mm extension tube between your camera and the threads at the end of the Raptor. 

Those attaching a DSLR camera to the Raptor 61 will enjoy a near-perfect spacing for a completely flat image out-of-the-box. If you’re using a dedicated astronomy camera such as the ZWO ASI294MC Pro shown below, you may need to make some slight tweaks to get the spacing just right. 

ZWO ASI Camera

A ZWO ASI294MC Pro Camera attached to the Radian Raptor 61.

The combo shown above allowed me to collect the widest field-of-view I’ve ever had with my ZWO camera. I chose to photograph the Lobster Claw Nebula with this setup and I am very happy with the resulting image.

It’s safe to say that unless you’ve attached your dedicated astronomy camera to a camera lens using a specialized adapter, the field-of-view on the Raptor 61 (275mm) will be your widest yet. Image/Pixel scale will come into play here, but no matter which camera you use, you can expect an extremely sharp image at this magnification. 

I am sure many people will use the Raptor 61 with their one-shot-color and mono ZWO cameras, and I think you will be quite happy with the creative images possible using this combo. 

 lobster claw nebula

The Lobster Claw Nebula. ZWO ASI294MC Pro + Radian Raptor 61.

Optical Performance

Among the many “controversial” subjects that forum members and Facebook group users chose to focus on, was the glass material used on the Radian Raptor 61. Heated discussions took place on Cloudy Nights about whether the Raptor 61 used FPL-53 glass or not.

I believe this thread may even still be alive if you’ve got a few hours of free time. I have no idea what glass type the factory uses, in this design. If this is a pivotal factor in your telescope buying decision, then you will likely have a hard time justifying the purchase of a Radian Raptor 61 (or a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 for that matter). 

objective lens

I am not going to pretend to be an expert in optical design, but I can tell you that the apochromatic lens design of this telescope has been carefully designed to meet the highest imaging standards of today’s astrophotographers.

My personal results with this telescope should help put your mind at ease about image quality, but I have a feeling that any uncertainly will be further addressed when others begin to share their images with this scope. 

With the correct spacing and no issues with tilt in your imaging train, you should be able to achieve an image field that is completely flat and free of coma and chromatic aberration. 

As I mentioned in my video, I did experience some coma at the very edges of my full-frame images. This not an issue for me, nor was it anything I haven’t seen before with my wide-field imaging refractors. 

Radian Raptor 61 telescope

Electronic Focuser Upgrade

Although the package I received included the optional motorized focuser, I have only ever used the Raptor 61 with the manual focuser. Although I have not tapped into the automated focusing system via ASCOM for this scope, I did install the electronic focuser upgrade on the scope to see how it fits.

Installing it to the telescope in place of the focuser knob was a straightforward process with the help of an Allan key. Those that demand critical focus over long periods of time will appreciate this automated option for their system. 

electronic focuser upgrade

The Optional Electronic Focuser Upgrade attached to the Raptor 61.

Complete Specs:

  • Aperture: 61mm
  • Focal Length: 275mm
  • Focal Ratio: F/4.5
  • Image Circle: 44mm
  • Tube Rings: Radian Modular Hex Rings
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Carrying Case: Radian Padded Insert Backpack
  • Corrector: Integrated Corrector with three-element design
  • Dew Shield: Included
  • Dust Caps: Front and rear caps included
  • Filter Attachment: 2″ / M48 Filter Vault
  • Focuser Knobs: 10:1 Dual Speed with Locking Knob
  • Focuser Design: Non-Helical Rack & Pinion
  • Included Dovetails: 6.5″ universal Losmandy D Style and 4″ Vixen V Style
  • Optical Design: Apochromatic Triplet Refractor
  • OTA Length: (Dew Shield Retracted) 235mm
  • OTA Outer Diameter w/o Hex Rings: 80mm
  • OTA Outer Diameter: 90mm with Dew Shield
  • Rear Camera Connection: M48 x 0.75 (wide T Ring compatible)
  • Recommended Back Focus: 55mm (can be reached with included adapters)
  • Rotator: 360º with Locking Knob

Final Thoughts

The Raptor 61 has a lot going for it, and I am not just saying that because I hold a sense of pride and ownership of this product. I believe that the added features and attention to detail have earned the reputation of “best portable astrophotography telescope”, but that’s not for me to decide. 

I have taken my personal best images of the California Nebula, Heart and Soul Nebula, and IC 1396 using the Radian Raptor 61. This is a subjective decision, but I can tell you that the optical system did not hold me back from creating my best work in any way.

An included Bahtinov mask would have been a nice touch to this package, and a number of people have expressed this. For now, you’ll have to use your own focus mask, or simply fine-tune the focus on a bright star. 

The Radian Raptor 61 was not meant to be used for visual astronomy, nor is it suitable for small galaxies or planet photography. If these are your aspirations, a much larger telescope with more magnification is a better fit. 

But if you’re like me and prefer to capture large nebulae regions in the sky in a single shot, the Raptor should be a serious contender for your next wide-field astrophotography telescope.

California Nebula

The Radian Raptor 61 is Available at OPT.

Most importantly, I believe the Radian Raptor 61 package removes many of the early headaches amateur astrophotographers face when getting started.

Backspacing issues, mounting hardware, and focusers that aren’t up to the demanding challenges of deep-sky astrophotography are just a few of these hurdles that don’t exist with this telescope. 

A positive experience from the beginning will help ease the astrophotography learning curve. The Raptor 61 is probably the easiest astrophotography telescope I’ve ever used in terms of finding focus, and framing targets.

It’s lightweight, and easy to balance, meaning you’re much less likely to run into any issues in tracking, even on an entry-level equatorial mount or portable star tracker.

The bottom line is, when you just need everything to go right (like when you’ve booked a last-minute Airbnb under dark skies to photograph the Andromeda Galaxy), you need a telescope that won’t let you down. That is the Raptor 61’s specialty. 

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Photographing the Lobster Claw Nebula

|Nebulae|7 Comments

The Lobster Claw Nebula (Sharpless 157) is a bright emission nebula. It lies near the edge of the northern constellation Cassiopeia, bordering on Cepheus. As you’ll soon see in my long-exposure image, this bright HII region is surrounded by many more interesting deep-sky objects.

It sits very close in the sky to another popular emission nebula for amateur astrophotography, the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635). Although I have photographed the Bubble Nebula several times, it wasn’t until this year that I focused my attention on the neighboring Lobster Claw Nebula. 

Lobster Claw Nebula Location

The Location of the Lobster Claw Nebula.

If your GoTo equatorial telescope mount does not allow you to choose a Sharpless Catalogue object, you should be able to find the Lobster Claw Nebula by traveling south from NGC 7635 (The Bubble Nebula).

You can also “star hop” your way over to this nebula, starting from the bright star Caph in Cassiopeia. From my location, Cassiopeia and Cepheus reach high into the sky in the Fall, which makes October/November the best time to capture the Lobster Claw Nebula.

Don’t bother trying to view this visually dim deep-sky object through the eyepiece of your telescope, this emission nebula is best enjoyed through long-exposure astrophotography. 

The Lobster Claw Nebula

Lobster Claw Nebula

The Lobster Claw Nebula Region. Trevor Jones.

  • Cataloged: Sharpless 157 (sh2 157)
  • Common Name: Lobster Claw Nebula
  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Constellation: Cassiopeia

In terms of deep-sky nebulae in the night sky, the Lobster Claw Nebula is quite large. A wide-field optical instrument with a focal length of less than 500mm (paired with the right camera sensor) is recommended to ensure you capture the entire thing.

For my photo, I used a Radian Raptor 61 Triplet APO telescope with a focal length of 275mm. Combined with the micro four-thirds sensor of the camera I used (ZWO ASI294MC Pro), the field of view included the nearby Bubble Nebula, Messier 52, and NGC 7538.


I deal with plenty of light pollution from my backyard, so I used an Optolong L-eXtreme filter to isolate the H-alpha and OIII light emitted by this nebula. This helps to create a dynamic looking image, at the sacrifice of a more natural-looking image.

Shooting at an F-Ratio of F/4.5, I choose to capture my individual sub-exposures at 4 and 5-minutes in length. The camera was set to “Unity Gain”, and I captured a respectable amount of overall exposure time on this target (80 frames).

Autoguiding was utilized to improve the tracking accuracy of the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount and capture sharp images throughout each exposure. Dithering via PHD2 Guiding was leveraged to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of my final image.

You can see a picture of the complete deep-sky astrophotography setup used for this picture below. Here is a breakdown of the gear used:

Equipment Details:

astrophotography telescope

Photo Details

  • Total Exposure: 5 Hours, 20 Minutes (80 Frames)
  • Image Acquisition: Astro Photography Tool
  • Calibration Frames: 40 Dark Frames
  • Stacking and Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020
  • Size: 2.37 x 2.96 deg
  • Radius: 1.897 deg
  • Pixel Scale: 3.95 arcsec/pixel

For a better understanding of my image processing workflow (including the stacking and calibration stages), be sure to check out my premium image processing guide

The Lobster Claw and the Bubble

There are several interesting deep-sky objects within or near the Lobster Claw Nebula. Planetary Nebula Sharpless 157a and open cluster NGC 7510 can be seen in the image when viewing the Lobster Claw Nebula up-close (see below).

As I mentioned earlier, this nebula sits right on the border between Cassiopeia and Cepheus. In fact, the open star cluster (NGC 7510) is listed as being located in Cepheus!

Lobster Claw Nebula objects

My image was captured using a refractor telescope with a focal length of 275mm. A telescope with a short focal length is advantageous when capturing large areas of nebulae in a single frame. 

An even wider field of view showcases the nearby Bubble Nebula, Messier 52, NGC 7538, IC 1470, and more. If I ever attempt to capture the Lobster Claw Nebula region again with a full-frame camera sensor, I will try to include the nearby Cave Nebula as well.

As you can tell, there are a lot of concentrated areas of hydrogen in this area. Click on the annotated version of the image below for a closer look at this busy section of the night sky. 

annotated image

The Lobster Claw Nebula and Surrounding Deep-Sky Objects

A telescope or lens with more magnification can create a wide-field image (nearly 2 degrees) like this as well, but you must create a mosaic image using multiple frames. The extra work will likely pay off because you’ll have an image with more detail and resolution. 

Related Video: Capturing the Same Object using a Small vs. Large Telescope

Focusing and Framing the Subject

Like many other large nebulae regions, framing this target up just right can be tricky. Finding the Lobster Claw shape isn’t too difficult, but deciding where it should be placed within the frame can take some time. 

Luckily, the Lobster Claw Nebula is bright enough to pick up in a 10-30 second test exposure. From there, it’s a matter of using a reference image to determine which nearby deep-sky objects you can include with it. 

The focal length of your telescope or lens will dictate the overall field of view available, but your camera’s sensor size and image scale will come into play as well.

astrophotography setup

In my case, It was easy to frame up the Lobster Claw Nebula and Bubble Nebula safely within a single frame, but the Cave Nebula was just out of reach. I try not to squeeze in another deep-sky object if it means cutting off an outer edge of my primary subject. 

Focusing the telescope manually was a breeze (the Raptor 61 has a motorized focuser option) and I did not need to adjust focus throughout my imaging session as the night progressed. There were several bright stars to choose from in the field to use as a reference.

I rotated the field significantly from my initial framing on the Lobster Claw Nebula. Rotating the adaptor and filter vault on the Raptor 61 is a smooth process, literally. I have the tension of the rotator adjusted to a degree that allows me to slowly rotate the camera sensor while maintaining my original focus. 

The zero-shift focuser locking screw holds the stocky focuser drawtube in position, yet allows just enough play to make subtle, fine adjustments using the fine focus knob. 

Radian Raptor 61

This is one of the first photos captured through the new Radian Raptor 61 triplet apochromatic refractor. Until this image, I had used the Raptor 61 with my full-frame Canon EOS Ra and Radian Triad Ultra filter exclusively.

This time, however, I tested the performance of this telescope with a one-shot-color dedicated astronomy camera (ZWO ASI294MC Pro) and the Optolong L-eXtreme filter. I am certain that this will be a popular configuration, and I wanted to make sure there were no surprises. 

Radian Raptor 61

The Radian Raptor 61 APO

As you may know, I was heavily involved in the design of this astrophotography telescope, and the features and specifications were selected to meet my needs as a full-time astrophotographer. I believe that beginner-to-intermediate astrophotographers will be absolutely thrilled with the capabilities of this versatile triplet APO.

This compact telescope is extremely user-friendly, and the only hurdle you may have early on is refining the backspacing of your camera sensor. In my experience, the field is extremely sharp, but you’ll need to fine-tune any sensor tilt to ensure the very edges of your full-frame sensor are pinpoints. 

Thanks to its balance of practicality, performance, and affordability, I believe that the Radian Raptor 61 will be one of the most popular telescopes for astrophotography of all time. I will continue to test this wide-field astrophotography telescope in the backyard over the coming months and share my results. 

Radian Raptor 61 Example Images

Images captured using the Radian Raptor 61 APO.

Final Thoughts

Although I am happy with my final image of the Lobster Claw Nebula captured from home, I would like to photograph this deep-sky object again under dark skies. 

There are some gorgeous blue and gold stars in this region of the night sky, and narrowband filters can not achieve the natural look I am hoping for. This image by Mark Shelley of the nebula should give you a better idea of what I mean. 

I hope my experiences capturing the Lobster Claw Nebula from my light-polluted backyard have inspired you to take a photo of this gorgeous emission nebula from your own backyard.

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