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  • Writer's pictureJames Paulson

Astrophotography Tips – Part 2 – Decide on your Imaging Rig

The best part about building a new imaging system from scratch is that you get to start with a clean slate and window shop while you think about what you want. Once you draw a plan for what your system will look like when it gets there, it just become a matter of priorities and price which pieces come along and when.

I am going to deal with the mount in another article, and although I would argue that is by far the most important aspect of a good imaging system, for now we will just stay focused on the OTA, camera(s), guiders, etc.

I am going to come right out and say it. I think the best choice a beginner can make in an imaging rig is a small aperture (80mm and under) apochromatic refractor with a field flattener. I’d like to tell you that is what I did, but it isn’t. I didn’t listen to the advice and went and bought what I wanted, which was a reflector scope. It was a beautiful scope, lots of features and more but it had a few things going against it.

One was the size. Size equals weight and weight demands top notch mounts. Another thing that it had that made me run like hell when I realized it was a mirror cell that was challenging to collimate and also resulted in pinched optics, leading to triangle stars. At 762mm focal length in an f/5, it was plenty fast enough and had a beautiful field of view, but it was restricted, and it still had some coma.

The smaller refractor that I bought later opened my eyes. First of all they don’t require collimation. And if you buy a good one, they are well color corrected with pinpoint focus and beautiful stars. To this day I will advise anyone who wants to take quality deep sky images to invest in a refractor. If I had to have only one telescope to do imaging with, this would be it.

You are welcome to go your own route though. People like Trevor Jones are out there to guide you and give you good product advice. Definitely get to know the sales people at your preferred astrophotography store and be sure to talk with them ongoing once you decide on a first step. They will give you good product advice and help you choose peripherals to compliment your goals.

As for myself, the small scope that I am using as my higher quality imaging rig (and as a grab and go) is my Explore Scientific ED80, and it can deliver some great results on a tight budget. I think it is a great starter scope, but I encourage you to shop around and talk around alike. There are lots of smaller apo scopes out there today that fit right in. Best of luck.

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