Equipment

DAMFO - Dark Arts Mobile Field Observatory Phot by Adam Correia

A lot goes into my images in terms of planning, setup, aquisition. and post-processing. I often tell people it’s not about what equipment you have, but how you use the equipment you have. And this is as true as it ever was. But inevitably, people will always want to know what I use to get get my images. And that’s a fair question, as equipment is definitely a big part of the equation.

So here is a list of the equipment that I use on a regular basis

Cameras

There are 2 varieties of camera that I use. I have some Nikon DSLRs that I use for everything from regular daytime photography to deep sky imaging, and a planetary / solar system imaging camera.

Nikon D7000

This is the first DSLR camera. It’s been through a lot over the years, but has always been a reliable piece of gear. At the time of writing, it’s at over 60000 shutter actuations and still going strong. With its 16 MP APS-C sensor, it’s gotten me a lot of great images both at prime focus of my telescope and with regular lenses. It’s the camera I used to get my 2 prize winning images that can be seen on the Awards page.

Nikon D5100

This is the second DSLR I bought. I’ve used it for regular photography, but it lacks a lot of the features of the D7000 and better cameras for regular photography. What it does have going for it is the same 16MP sensor and processor as the D7000, which means in manual mode through a telescope, it performs identically. It also has 2 great advantages over the D7000. It’s much lighter, and it has a flip-out screen, making it far more suitable for use on a telescope.

Nikon D750

This is my newest DSLR and my only full frame camera. This camera is a beast in every way. Its low light performance is incredible and it’s noise tolerance even at higher ISO settings is admirable. Paired with a wide angle lens, it’s a real champ for taking pictures of the Milky Way or Aurora Borealis.

This camera is also my favourite for full disc lunar imaging. Its large buffer and quick frame rate make it a great lunar camera. Its full frame sensor gives it a wide field of view, so when used wiht my larger 8″ SCT scope, the entire moon fits into the field of view without requiring a focal reducer.

ASI120MC-S

ASI120MC-SThis is my lunar (closeup) and planetary imaging camera. Essentially a webcam on sterioids, this little USB3 beast can stream video at over 100 fps, which is what’s needed when shooting planets.

Equipped with a guide port, this camera also serves as my autoguiding camera when doing deep sky imaging with my 8″ SCT.

Lenses

Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

One of Nikon’s best lenses. This is my catch-all lens that I use for everything from night photography to daytime portrait. Its wide f/2.8 aperture lets in plenty of light while its top quality ED glass produces sharp images free of chromatic aberration. It’s not cheap at around $2500 CDN new, but worth it.

Vivtar 13mm f/2.8

A great and rather inexpensive ultra-wide angle prime lens at under $500 and suited for full frame sensors, this lens is all manual, but that’s all that’s needed for night photography. Its wide aperture and excellent quality ED glass make it a prized lens for wide field night photography. I love this lens and use it all the time.

Nikon 55-300mm f/3.5-5.6

A “kit” lens by any description, this little lens has served me well and I still use it regularly, even on my D750. It’s only made for DX crop format, but delivers the goods. I’ve taken some really great deep sky images with this lens with my camera mounted to my SkyTracker.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8

Again, a “kit” lens by any standard, this little lens has gotten me some fantastic images, including both my prize-winning images seen on my Awards page. It’s also gotten me an incredible tracked long exposure image of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8

Another great ultra-wide angle lens suited for full frame camera. Its wide aperture makes it a pleasure to shoot at night with. It has limited zoom functionality, but I rarely ever use it at anything other than its shortest focal length. It does exhibit some coma at the edges – the most of any of my lenses – but not so bad as to ruin photos. If used on a crop sensor, the areas suffering from coma are basically not captured at all.

Telescopes

Meade LX90Meade LX908″ Meade LX90 ACF

This has been my main imaging scope for high power planetary, lunar and deep sky imaging since the beginning. While the mount it came with proved to be a lemon and Meade’s technical support less than stellar, the scope’s optics are second to none.  It’s gotten me breathtaking closeup shots of the moon and spectacular high resolution images of deep sky objects

Explore Scientific ED80Explore Scientific ED80

At the time of writing, this is the latest addition to my gear. Optically speaking, this is the finest instrument I’ve ever had the pleasure of looking or photographing through. It’s premium optics deliver razor-sharp, colourful wide-angle images of anything I point it at. Its small size and light weight make it an ideal grab-and-go scope when I don’t want to drag all my gear with me, and its wide field of view means I can get reasonably long exposures without requiring auto-guiding.

Despite its small 80mm aperture, it delivers the goods when it comes to imaging all but the smallest deep sky objects. In those cases, it just doesn’t have enough magnification.

Sky-Watcher Black Diamond 120

I no longer own this scope, but it served me well when I had it. Its large aperture and fast f/5 focal ratio produced some very bright images of anything I pointed it to. Unfortunately, due to its achromatic optics, it suffered from significant chromatic aberration when shooting bright objects. While a great visual scope, it wasn’t well suited for photography, which is the reason I sold it and got an ED80 instead.

Mounts

Celestron Advanced VX

This is my main mount for both of my telescopes. It’s a great mount for (comparatively) not a lot of money and probably the best bang for the buck when it comes to computerized equatorial mounts. It can hold an ample 30lb payload and provides very accurate tracking for scopes up to 8″ in size.

iOptron SkyTracker

One of my favourite toys!. This camera tracker is as good as it gets from something in such a small and affordable package. It’s gotten me some amazing deep sky images, tracked Milky Way shots, and can also be used as a motorized pan head for time lapse photography. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

Software

Photoshop

The be-all, end-all to any photo editing. From the most basic of editing to the most complicated, this is the tool that can handle it all. Its price used to put it beyond the reach of most people, but now with the Creative Cloud pricing, the Photoshop and Lightroom combo come in at a very affordable $10 US / month. In my opinion, this is a must-have. I use it for everything.

Lightroom

Another incredibly powerful piece of software. I don’t really use it as much for deep sky image processing, as Photoshop does everything better, but when it comes to processing large batches of images for my time lapse movies, I’d be hard-pressed to find anything else that works this well.

DeepSkyStacker (DSS)

Used for stacking deep sky images. This free program is pretty ancient and still only 32 bit, but it simplifies the job of stacking lots of shorter exposures into one incredibly detailed, low noise image. This is a MUST-HAVE for anyone shooting deep sky images.

Planetary Image Pre-Processor (PIPP)

This is used to pre-process raw video or photos of planets and the moon before stacking. It has many functions, but this free program has become an indispensible tool for me. I use it on every moon and planetary image I shoot without exception.

Autostakkert!2 (AS!2)

This has a single function – to stack planetary and lunar images. And it does it extremely well. It’s no-frills and doesn’t have a lot of options, making it very simple to use. But you will require other tools as well to process your image after stacking.

Registax

Also for stacking planetary and lunar images. But it has many other features such as wavelet adjusment tools to aide in post-processing. It’s basically and all-in-one package for the job. I find AS!2 seems to do a better job at stacking most images, but there are some times when Registax just seems to do a better job.

So there you have it. This is what I use to get my results.