Much of the modern success in amateur astrophotography is dependent on the marvelous advances in telescope, mount, and sensor technology that have come about in the last twenty years or so.  The contribution of new software advances and open source projects must be included in this as well and is equally as responsible for the successes of imagers.  Below I present the hardware as well as software that I use, along with any links to product pages where appropriate.  Clicking on any of the highlighted technical terms will give additional information in interpreting the bulk of techo-babble that's about to ensue.

 

Hardware

 

My primary imaging rig is housed in a mini roll-off-roof imaging obervatory of my own design and build - Inner Light Observatory.  The primary OTA is a Stellarvue SV105 apochromatic refractor.  The stock focuser has been replaced with a 2" Moonlite focuser with high resolution stepper motors for computerized focus control.  This is saddled on an Orion Atlas EQ-G mount, modified with a Rowan belt kit (Rowan Astronomy).  The mount sits on a custom built 8" diameter steel pier and is coupled using a top plate adapter from Dan's Pier Plates.  The primary imaging camera is a QSI683 (Quantum Scientific Imaging) with integrated 8-position filter wheel and off-axis guide port (wsg-8 model).  This is outfitted with a Starlight Express Lodestar X2 guide camera. All equipment is connected via USB to a StarTech 7-port  DC USB hub and powered by a PowerWerx 30 amp DC switching power supply (imaging camera is powered separately on it's own adapter).  I use Anderson powerpole couplings for all power connections which are run to a Rigrunner fused power bank (including dew heaters).  The entire assemply is connected to an APC battery backup and surge protector.  The rig is controlled by an on-board Quantum Access fanless PC stick with built-in wifi (Intel BayTrail T quad-core, 2GB DDR3L ram and 32GB storage - built in micro SD supplies additional 64GB storage) runing Windows 10.

 

My secondary rig consists of a mobile setup for lightweight, wide-field imaging.  For this rig, the OTA is an Astrotech AT65 EDQ apochromatic quadruplet.  I'm using the stock focuser and typically use an Orion mini kit for guiding - a 50mm guide scope and Orion Starshoot Autoguider camera.  This is saddled on a Celestron Advanced VX mount and controlled via laptop.  I primarily use a Canon 700D (Rebel T5i) for imaging on the mobile setup, but sometimes use this camera on the main rig as well.  The camera has been modified by Hutech (IR cut filter removed).  I also will occasionally piggyback the 700D on these imaging setups to capture wide-field Milky Way shots while imaging other targets with the QSI (as seen in the main rig image to the right).

 

Software

 

I use several, powerful pieces of software to manage image capture, guiding, and processing.  These are commonly and broadly used by astrophotographers and are considered among the best available for the task.  For image capture on the main rig I use Sequence Generator Pro (Main Sequence Software) - one of the best pieces of capture and control software in my opinion.  The software controls all devices via EQASCOM and can handle image capture, autofocus, dithering, auto meridian flip, plate solving, multiple target capture, and even observatory control.  I'm using SGP for just about everything except observatory control and my main imaging rig is fully automated.  This allows two things - frequent and efficient imaging and something elusive and rare in amateur astrophotography... sleep!  As much as I love being out under the stars, work nights and those bitter cold nights of New England winter can cripple an imaging run.  The ability to quickly get up and going and have data waiting for me when I wake is worth much more than what Ken and Jared are charging for SGP (don't tell them that!).

A standard-bearer for a number years in guiding software has been PhD guiding by Craig Stark.  Although there are other pieces of software out there, this is now open source and in its second major edition (PhD2).  Many features of PhD guiding work well with SGP including automatic reversal of calibration data on meridian flip, auto guide star selection and the drift alignment tools in later versions.  On my mobile setup I typicaly use BackyardEOS for DSLR control and image capture - a great piece of software, intuitive and powerful.  This lacks built-in planetarium software or plate solving so I use Cartes du Ciel and Astrotortilla to patch those needs, respectively.  I'll likely migrate over to using SGP on the mobile setup eventually.

On the processing side, DeepSkyStacker is an excellent, free piece of calibration solftware that I've used extensively.  More recently though, I've been using one of the more powerful processing suites availble, PixInsight (PI).  Though unintuitive and relatively cumbersome to learn, PixInsight is the go-to software in astrophoto processing.  Having a deep background in Photoshop however, I find that many functions in PI can more easily and effectively be accomplished in Photoshop.  Therefore, I tend to use both in tandem and find that this yields more flexibility with post processing in particular.

 

 

 

Inner Light Observatory

SV105 on Orion Atlas EQ-G

AT65 EDQ on Celestron AVX

©  2017 D. Heilman