James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Cool New Tool for Astrophotography

The AstroTrac TT320X-AG has got to be one of the coolest new tools for the astrophotographer, and is something I would really love to add to my collection. The basis of this unit is that it is easy to polar align and has exceptional tracking abilities that allow you to track the stars, moon and sun with it's variable rates. The latest release even allows for the addition of an autoguider but judging from the images that I have seen taken with it, it's really not required. It can hold an incredible load (large camera lenses) without flexure and still maintain excellent tracking. The images above demonstrate how the Astrotrac fixes to a tripod and how the camera mounts on it. The key is good polar alignment and for this it is essential to purchase the optional polar alignment scope

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Versatile Equipment Collection

I am very proud of the gear that I have, as simple as it all is. I've been stabbing away at this hobby for a good many years now and I have a pretty good feel for what works and what won't. I've seen a lot of people come and go and a lot of gear trade hands based on usage. My setup is very basic. I have an Orion Paragon HDF2 tripod and an LXD 75 mount at the core. I have 5 optical configurations to ride on these base units, the Meade SN6, an Orion ST-80, the Garret Optical 15x70's on the FarSight binocular mount, a Canon XS DSLR, and a Meade LPI. How many different ways can this be configured?

1. Mount the ST-80 on the tripod shoe, use as an Alt-Az grab and go
2. Mount the ST-80 on the Vixen dovetail/EQ2 plate, place on LXD75 for a nice equitorial refractor
3. Mount the camera on the tripod shoe, use for widefield stationary ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
4. Mount the camera on the Vixen dovetail/EQ2 plate, place on LXD75 for unguided with tracking - ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
5. Mount the ST-80 and camera on Vixen dovetail plate, install LPI into ST-80 for autoguiding with setup number 4
6. Mount SN6 on LXD75, piggyback DSLR on accessory bracket - guided or unguided ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
7. Mount SN6 on LXD75, install ST-80 tube rings to accessory bracket, use ST-80 with LPI to autoguide the Canon XS/SN6 at prime focus - ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY
8. Mount the binoculars on the tripod shoe, use as an Alt-Az grab and go
9. Mount binoculars on Vixen Dovetail/EQ2 plate, place on LXD75 for an equitorial GoTo binocular
10 SN6-LXD75 for visual, ST-80/Paragon HDF2 for visual, handhold binoculars

All of these combinations allow for at least two full setups with equipment not utilized in the primary setup. I realize this is not the "ultimate" setup, but I can't help but appreciate what a diverse, flexible and mobile combination it gives me, for doing everything from viewing and photographing lunar eclipses, constellations, planets, DSO's, aurora, sunsets, etc. It's always smart to keep these things in mind when acquiring equipment because if there is one thing I have learned it is to be diverse, you never know what you might be getting into or wanting to get into. Be armed, you will need it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's Here

Back on November 13, 2009 I wrote of an accessory that I felt needed to be added to our collection of machined items. I was referring to an accessory that would allow one to mount a red dot finder onto a camera hot shoe to facilitate precision pointing because it is nearly impossible to see through the viewfinder on a DSLR and the Live View feature will only pick up the brightest stars, and then only if they are in the field of view.

This item will be shipping in mid-August for those who would like one.