Since 2004 I’ve taken almost all my astrophotos with Canon digital SLR cameras, from the original Canon 300D Rebel to the Canon 5D MkII, 7D, and now the wonderfully low-noise Canon 6D and Nikon D750. For several years, the Canon 20Da, an astronomical variation of the trend-setting 20D, was my mainstay for most imaging. I now use its replacement, the 60Da, for many shots. You’ll see images credited to all these cameras in my galleries at AmazingSky.Photoshelter.com. The home page at my Gallery site features many more recent images.
For time-lapse sequences, some of which are featured on blogs here, I often use motion control gear from Dynamic Perception, Radian, and eMotimo. All these devices slowly pan or slide the camera over a scene while triggering the shutter for a series of 200 to 400 exposures.
However, many images are taken with no more than a camera on a tripod, usually with some length of time exposure. Deep-sky images require a tracking platform to allow the camera to follow the stars as the Earth turns. For some wide-angle shots I use a dedicated Kenko Sky Memo tracking platform (shown here), or the iOptron SkyTracker or Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, compact trackers designed to hold a camera body and short lens.
Shooting with longer focal lengths (300mm or more) requires a telescope mount, while closeups of objects requires shooting though a telescope. I prefer 80mm to 130mm apochromatic refractors (Astro-Physics, TMB and Officina Stellare brands) riding on Astro-Physics AP 400, AP 600 and Mach 1 mounts. For auto-guiding long exposures, I’ve used a variety of auto-guiders over the years, but now settle on the Santa Barbara Instruments SG-4 or the Orion StarShoot.
IMAGE PROCESSING NOTES:
I’ve long preferred to use only Adobe products, to keep the image processing workflow within the same interconnected family of software, notably now Photoshop CC 2015, and its related programs, such as Adobe Bridge (for image selection) and Adobe Camera Raw (for processing RAW images from digital SLR cameras). Adobe Lightroom serves as a wonderful image cataloguing and rating program, allowing me to sort through thousands of images and pick out the best for this site and other applications. LRTimelapse is a wonderful supplement to ACR or Lightroom for processing time-lapses.
Apple Aperture is excellent for the preparation of books, print items and slide shows, but Lightroom works best for the actual cataloguing of Photoshop images, some of which can be upwards of 1 gig in file size with Smart Objects, Adjustment Layers, etc., all required to allow for non-destructive image editing. Photoshop is also wonderful for creating stacks of images and mosaics/panoramas, such as some of the Milky Way pans in my Deep-Sky: Milky Way Gallery. I also use PTGui software for panorama stitching of all-sky scenes taken with ultra wide lenses.
For lots more tips and techniques on astrophotography with DSLR cameras, see Chapter 13 of my book The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide — it contains extensive instructions on getting started in astrophotography.
Also, my new multi-touch ebook How to Photograph and Process Nightscapes and Time-Lapses, contains 400 pages of tips, techniques and tutorials on this exciting area of astrophotography. It is available exclusively through the Apple iBookstore for Macs and iPads.
Thanks for looking and reading!
— Alan Dyer, August 2015