My "Tak Stack" from back in the day! And cows.
At this time I decided to get more serious about astrophotography and picked up a 16 inch f4.5 Newtonian with equatorial mount and I haven't stopped since! The film days were wonderfully simple compared to the more rigid requirements of digital imaging and so the equipment has evolved much over the years. Most of what I currently use is off the shelf, very little is home-made any more. Quite a contrast to the 60's and 70's when much of what people used was home made. There is now so much commercially available equipment that the combinations are virtually endless. There are now visual and photographic options available in almost any price bracket - you just need to decide how much you are willing to throw at this hobby! Be warned that once you start into this hobby, you will never be satisfied with what you have! There is always something bigger and better just around the corner.
I do not have a back-yard so all of my imaging sessions have been in the field. It is great to be out under the dark Alberta skies but the 200 foot trip to and from the car with all the equipment gets harder as I get older! I am constantly changing my arsenal of equipment, here is the current lineup. (April 2021)Mountings:
900QMD pictured with Vixen VC200L Scope
Losmandy G-11 pictured with the Vixen VC200L
Sky-Watcher EQM-35 Pro
Astro-Physics AP130EDT pictured with 900QMD and Monolith pier
Takahashi FSQ on G-11 Mount
"The Big one" dwarfing the imager!
"The Little One" - my smallest imaging scope.
The Astro-Tech AT72ED.
The Vixen, on the 900QMD mount.
The Canon 70-200 attached to the STF-8300 camera
Wow, this has been a long list! In 1987 I acquired an Olympus OM1 and lenses as my primary astro camera. Around that time I also bought a Canda Technologies cold camera. This device used dry ice to cool the film to about -40C to improve film performance and colour balance. There are a few examples of how well this device worked scattered throughout the photo collections on this website. Most film images were taken with the OM1 or the later addition - the OM2. In 1992 I added an 8" f1.5 Schmidt camera to the collection. This photographic telescope bent film into a convex shape and brought wide field, high resolution images to the fold. With this camera I used primarily Kodak hypersensitized Tech Pan 2415 film. This camera filled the gap between camera lenses and prime focus with telescopes nicely. There are image examples scattered throughout the photo galleries on this web site. With a focal ratio of f1.5 this camera was incredibly fast!
I bought this camera in 1995 from my doctor, Dr. Fegler of Bragg Creek, Alberta. This unit was built primarily as an auto-guider and was based on the tiny TC-211 CCD sensor from Texas Instruments. As of May 2012 I still own this camera. It wasn't all that great as an imaging camera though I did get a few images from it.
In March 2002 I started down the dark side with the purchase of my first CCD camera. From SBIG in California, the ST237 was my first stab at digital. The camera wasn't huge at 640 x 480 pixels but it was affordable. It showed me that a: my equipment wasn't good enough and b: you can't guide accurately enough manually for digital! Hence another bout of equipment upgrades from the DS16 mount purchased 1986 starting, with the Losmandy G-11.
The ST237 I eventually added a colour filter wheel to in order to take colour images but in addition to the small pixel count, the camera sensor was rather noisy. My first upgrade was made possible by an offer from Brady Johnson who had an excess of ST-8 cameras and a need for an ST237 as a guider. So began my first auto-guiding camera from SBIG. The guidechip was only the tiny ST4 TC211 chip but let me guide so much more accurately than by hand. Plus, there was no flexure caused by using a separate guide telescope. The CCD wasn't very efficient in the blue and image transfer was very slow via the parallel port on a laptop but it got the job done with a whopping 1500 x 1000 pixels. I was happy with this camera until Jim Janusz posted an ad on Astromart...
Woo-hoo! This was it! a serious CCD astro camera with enhanced blue sensitivity and (ironically) an ST-237 chip for guiding. I used this camera for several years and was very happy with its performance. You will find many images from this camera in the galleries. It was replaced when I got wind of Stuart Heggie selling his ST-10XME.
A much bigger sensor at 2000 x 1500 pixels, how could I go wrong? This camera is stunning. the sensor is amazingly quiet and as my first non-blooming gate camera, incredibly sensitive. Approaching 98% quantum efficiency, this is one of the more sensitive sensors from Kodak. I still own this camera and have added almost every available accessory to it including the 10 position filter holder. One day I will venture into narrow-band imaging with this camera. However, the blooming of this camera means that some targets are simply not easy to shoot! For example, shooting the Orion Nebula meant that I had to manually de-bloom 45 individual exposures, plus the exposure times were so short that I was unable to shoot long enough for good s/n ratio in the fainter parts of the nebula. And so I started my search for something to compliment the ST10. The big plus with this camera is that is has a 2nd CCD sensor - another ST237 - built in, used exclusively for guiding. This really simplifies setup!
In November 2011, SBIG announced the MK. II version of their budget camera based on the 8.3 M-pixel Kodak sensor. This camera has small (5.4 micron) pixels with shallow wells making it a good match for my smaller scopes in addition to telephoto lenses. It was also anti-blooming making targets with bright stars in the field possible again. I ordered one with the 5 position filter wheel, leaving narrow band something for the ST-10XME to deal with. At this time, I have not been able to get a flexure-free guide scope working with any of my scopes, so I now use the dedicated SBIG off-axis guider for this camera. This limits the camera as I can't get it to fit in some scopes due to flattener spacing requirements but the St-10XME still works with these scopes for now. It was purchased primarily for wide to medium field imaging leaving the ST-10XME for long focal length work, so it still fits into the plans with the off-axis guider.
The STF-8300M from SBIG
Shortly after selling the ST-4 autoguider I realized that in order to use an off-axis guider with the new STF-8300M above, I still needed a guide camera! For this purpose I picked up the SBIG ST-i mono which fits nicely into the 1.25" tube on the off-axis guider. Not much more to say about this piece - it isn't for taking pictures but to allow the other cameras to do so.
The ST-i from SBIG
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