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I have a Celestron Astromaster 114EQ and live in a city (so light pollution is pretty bad). What would be a reasonable DSLR camera for taking photos of the moon and planets? My budget is under £250 (about $400US).

I have tried a borrowed Nikon D50, but that applies some automatic filtering to the image, and you can't stop it. I was considering a Canon 1000D, but wanted some more experienced thoughts!

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migrated from physics.stackexchange.com May 8 '12 at 3:12

This question came from our site for active researchers, academics and students of physics.

    
To clarify: the Nikon D50 was configured to apply some automatic filtering. That is, I'm sure it can be configured to not do things automatically which would have let you get better results. –  Dan Wolfgang May 8 '12 at 12:11
    
If only your budget was more, I'd suggest the newly announced Canon EOS 60Da (note the 'a' after the model number - not a typo). On the other hand, you may be able to find its predecessor the 20Da secondhand somewhere at a bargain price? –  Mike May 8 '12 at 12:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For the moon and planets, you should consider a Webcam -- see for instance http://www.astronomyhints.com/webcam_make.html . If you don't want to hack your own, you can try one of the low-end imagers from the usual suspects, such as the Celestron NexImage Solar System Imager.

You should also consider afocal photography: http://www.aoas.org/article.php?story=2007062522295274 I use a universal mount with a point-and-shoot and it does very well with the moon.

If you want to hook directly up to the OTA using a T-Ring adapter, I'm not sure what the D50 does, but I can set up my Nikon D80 to behave well-enough. (Of course, my D80 still has an IR filter, which you'd want to get rid of in a dedicated astrophoto rig...)

Update: I totally forgot about "live focus," which Nikon's of the D80 and D50 generations didn't have. If I were to buy a DSLR with the intention of regularly using it for astrophotography, the ability to use the LCD to focus would be a MAJOR factor.

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A few years ago soon after Canon 20D was released, Canon has released a custom-made model especially for astrophotography, called the Canon 20Da. If has a modified IR filter to allow more light through to the sensor, it had "live" view to help with autofocus (years before the feature appeared in other DSLRs) and had High ISO 3200 which at the time was outstanding.

I have never owned one, but I own the 20D which is now my second camera and after 40k shutter actions it is still going strong. It's a magnificently built model, highly recommended.

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1  
Canon have also now updated this with the 60Da :-) –  Mike May 8 '12 at 12:20
    
You only want the IR filter removed for nebula that have Hydrogen-Alpha emission, so that's not needed for the moon and planets. –  Paul Cezanne May 8 '12 at 12:21

The Canon Digital Rebel or similar is a good entry level camera, relatively inexpensive but having all the bells and whistles needed for astrophotography. I asked around among my astrophotography buddies; that's what they recommended, that's what I bought, and I've been very happy.

You're going to have trouble using any DSLR on that telescope, because it probably doesn't have enough back focus to allow you to focus the camera properly. You may have to move the mirror up the tube to reach focus with a DSLR..

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I have that same scope.

I also have an older Digital Rebel that I've used to take images through it. Things to be aware of:

  1. Long-term exposures will drain your batteries quickly. I don't know if there's such a thing as a DSLR with a Bulb setting that mechanically locks the mirror and shutter open (so you're not relying on the battery for minutes at a time), but that would be something to look for. Either that or find an external power pack that plugs into a wall or something.

  2. Noise. With my DRebel, very long exposures at any ISO setting result in a lot of noise (thermal, I think). I don't (yet) know of any good way around this. My camera's several years old, though, so the newest models may not have this issue (or not have it as badly).

  3. Focusing. Between my aging eyes and the DRebel's viewfinder, focusing is a bit of a crapshoot. I usually have to take several images and check them on the LCD to lock in the focus (edit and even then it's 50-50; what looks sharp on a 3" screen may turn out to be a fuzzy blob on your computer screen).

  4. The LCD screen. That sucker can be bright at night; you'll want to crank the brightness all the way down, and even then you won't want to look at it directly unless absolutely necessary. Every time you check the screen, you'll have to wait a couple of minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted again.

I can get pretty good shots of the Moon (or I will, once I collimate the mirrors properly) since it's big and bright and doesn't require long-term exposures. Everything else has been a crapshoot so far.

Non-camera things to be aware of:

  1. Alignment. You will need to align your scope as close to the celestial North pole as you can, otherwise you're going to get streaks for any long exposures. I have yet to master this skill.

  2. Tracking. You will need to nail the speed on the motor drive to track whatever object across the sky accurately (the Moon moves a bit slower than the stars), otherwise different streakiness. I have yet to master this skill.

  3. Light pollution is going to be an issue in your images as well; if it's hard to see through the scope, it's going to be hard to see in the image (unless you pay $$$$ for a light pollution filter).

Edit

  1. Mounting the camera will throw off the scope's balance; you'll want to rotate the scope in the mounting ring so that the camera is over the scope's centerline to minimize stress on the focusing tube and the mount. You'll also want a remote release -- you don't want to touch the camera or any part of the scope before making an exposure.

You'll need a T-mount and an adapter ring for whatever camera you wind up getting. Those are fairly inexpensive (I think I paid about $30 altogether).

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On your first list: 1. the sensor would still draw the power 2. Take dark frames and subtract them out digitally. 3. Focusing maskes, like a bahitnov, work wonders. 4. If you put a piece of red tinted film over your LCD, it will protect your night vision better. –  rfusca May 10 '12 at 16:59

Don't forget about the used market!
For that budget, you can pick up used hardware off Astromart.com and the Cloudynights fora and do quite well.

Many times the camera may be pre-modified or you can at least talk with the previous owners about the way they've used it and any limitations.

FWIW, Canon is the way to go for DSLR Astrophotos. There's decent support for Nikon and somewhat less for Olympus and Sony. Virtually no support for Pentax (which is what I use). Software to support the Canon line (backyard EOS is one example) helps the user automate a lot of astrophoto-specific activities like focus, dither between shots, and interface with processing software.

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