My Equipment


EQUIPMENT NOTES:

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.comThe 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.

Nightscapes Book Cover

Thanks for looking and reading!

— Alan Dyer, August 2015

15 Replies to “My Equipment”

  1. Hi Alan,

    This is short notice, but I’m thinking of getting a DSLR for Cyber Monday… could you tell me the link where you compared Canon and Nikon DSLRs for astrophotography? I need to upgrade my equipment for August’s TSE! Thanks, and best wishes.

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for posting an informative page.

    I’ve been having some success in taking astrophotos with my trustworthy Canon 40D and a Losmandy’s Star Lapse mount. I’ve been using Lightroom and an HDR software for stacking and will try and use a PC software wrapped for my Mac.

    The main issue I’m having to contend with is the sky background from a nearby town. This is especially the case when one uses lens encompassing several degrees, or tens of degrees, as the background is often not homogeneous across the frame. I wonder if you have had to deal with that at some point and/or if any of your books deal with this. Any pointers would be highly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Antonio Mario

    1. Hello – You can use the HSL tab when processing Raw files in Adobe Camera Raw to reduce the colour of the unwanted light pollution. Do the same in Photoshop with the Selective Color adjustment. Or at least make the area appear less yellow or artificial in tint. You can also use the gradient tool to darken bright areas near the horizon. Or use Luminance masks to target bright areas to selectively process those areas. See http://www.shutterevolve.com/tutorials/ for some tips on using Luminosity masks and free actions for creating them.

  3. Hi Alan,

    I have recently purchased a 6D and seem to need to use way higher ISO’s and exposure times than I needed to with my old T3i. I’m thinking it’s something in the settings maybe, I’ve looked around and changed a couple things but it still seems to be quite a bit less sensitive than the T3i. Targets in the same scope when imaged from similar dark sky spots would need something like 400 ISO and 300-500 seconds with the T3i and I would need to shoot the same object at 800 ISO with my 6D same exposure times. For reference I’m using a Celestron Edge HD 8 as my primary scope.

    PS currently I’m in transit to a new life in Los Angeles, once there I plan on purchasing your book as I don’t currently have a shipping address. It looks like it’s full of a ton of great information!

    Any help or hints will be much appreciated!!

    Clear Skies,

    Tom

    1. Tom — It’s possible the old T3i was not as well calibrated as it should have been and what it said was ISO 400 was really 800. The key thing is what do the images look like for noise when shot at the same exposure times and image densities/histogram profiles? The 6D should be much less noisy. Are you really shooting under the same sky conditions — or comparing new shots with the 6D with old shots with the T3i? Shoot both cameras the same night now and see what the difference is. — Alan

  4. Good afternoon,
    I too have appreciated your contributions to Sky News – thank you!
    I am thinking of purchasing the Kenko Sky Memo for my (unmodified) Canon 60D (unmodified) with remote interval timer and have some questions.
    First, how much will I lose using an umodified 60D compared to the 60Da – in other words would it be at all worthwhile getting a Sky Memo?
    Second, where in Canada can I find the Sky Memo? Actually, I’m currently in Japan and it and the tripod are available at a good price from Amazon here – but I don’t know if they have English instructions. If not do you know where a set of English instructions can be found?
    Third, I understand that a balance weight an associated bar are required. Do you have any advice about that? My camera and lenses would weigh less than 1.5 kg.
    I’m really interested in doing this because my 7 year old is getting very interested in space and astronomy and he will be visiting me in Canada this July/August.
    Thank you,
    Stephen.

  5. Mr. Dyer; Since I have decided to enter astronomy as a hobby, I find your publication The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, as well as your contributions at Sky News to be most helpful, highly informative & easy to understand. As a disabled person, with lots of free time, your informative writings have brought me many many hours of enjoyment, enlightenment & discovery. I look forward to reading more of your published materials & looking at your recent photography work.

    I enjoy the the information/photography you have provided in The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, so much, that I am especially anxious to attend the April workshop you will be hosting in Didsbury & gaining knowledge from someone like yourself. Your efforts have inspired me to want to spend endless hours under the dark skies of K-Country & Alberta’s foothill areas north of Sundre or west of Nordegg at the top of Shunda Mountain.

    I do have one little question for you today, that being; Can you recommend any company that I can send my Canons to be modified in Alberta? McBain Camera in Red Deer does not provide this service at any of they’re locations, if you can recommend someone south of Edmonton who can do the work, I would greatly appreciate the knowledge.

    Until April, Cheers!

    1. Hello Kevin. Thanks for the kind comments. I don’t know of anyone in Alberta who does Canon camera mods, and the only one in Canada I’ve been aware of is KW Telescope who advertise in SkyNews. I would contact them. Otherwise, you would have to send it to a dealer in the US like Hutech Scientific.

  6. Alan,
    Enjoyed your article about the Canon 60Da in the January 2013 Sky and Telescope. Can you advise which Camera shops stock the 60Da preferably in Sydney?
    Regards,
    Ken.

    1. Hi Ken, while the article appeared in the Aus S&T it originally appeared in the Sept American S&T and I live in Canada. But when I was in Oz last month I was told that Oz Canon was just beginning to bring in the 60Da, thus the review which Greg decided to run in his Oz edition. But not being familiar with the Oz market I cannot tell you which shops carry it in stock. Only the biggest ones I assume or they can order it for you. Best ask around. Clear skies! – Alan

  7. Hi Alan,

    I am new to astrophotography and have lots of questions. Would you ever consider writing a book sharing your astrophotography knowledge using a dslr? I will be acquiring an AP 130 early next year, along with a Mach 1 mount, and would like to use my Canon 5d mk II, but there is very little written about it. I know there is a steep learning curve and any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Craig Eadler

    1. Hi, As a matter of fact I have written a book about digital astrophotography using DSLRs, or at least a substantial chapter. Ch 13 of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide co written by Terence Dickinson and myself has much of the information you’re looking for. More about the book is at its website at http://www.backyardastronomy.com. The book is available at any online book retailer or at most decent bookstores. I, too, use an AP130 and Mach 1 and a Canon 5D MkII. I use it with the 6×7 field flattener.

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