I’ve been upgrading quite a lot recently and I’m almost at the point where I’m happy with this portable setup. It should keep me going for years.
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G (EQ6)
This mount has served me very well, I can’t think of a more reliable mount in its class right now. Coupled with the amazing EQMod software this is very hard to beat for the price. I bought this new from OPT in 2011 after selling off an old project car and I haven’t regretted it one bit. Periodic error is pretty low, I can image with a 300mm lens for ten minutes without guiding. And at 800mm focal length the guider is easily able to do its job.
I have a good amount of weight on the Atlas but it handles it without complaint. I could probably put a 10″ newt on top without a problem!
I have also added the Atlas mount extension, this lets the mount track past the meridian for awhile. I routinely go an hour past the meridian and so far haven’t run into any big issues. This is very useful for doing mosaic work. The mount is pretty hefty and has plenty of room to mount accessories. You can see I have a usb hub mounted on the DEC house and my cameras power adapter mounted on the RA housing, both are fixed with velcro.
Polar alignment is easily accomplished with the built in polar scope. It is usually miscollimated from the factory but if you take the time to collimate it (inside the RA housing) will work very well. I can also drift align but I have found using EQMod + the polar scope is adequate… I have no problem doing 10-15 minute subframes so I’d rather spend dark sky time gathering data rather than drift aligning if it isn’t necessary.
Scope: Orion 8″ f3.9 Astrograph
I purchased this scope in May of 2012. It’s two inches larger in diameter than my previous imaging Newtonian and quite a bit faster. I am amazed at how quickly I can acquire images at f4! Without any filters and shooting @ISO 1600 I can capture a fully saturated image in 3 minutes. Using a CLS filter that time increases to 5 minutes and with an HA filter (12nm) 10 minutes. Incredible! The resolution increase from the 6″ is very noticeable especially in faint background galaxies. Focal length is in a nice zone, 800mm. I can capture nice wide fields but not without loosing a lot of detail.
I use the scope with a Baader Multi Purpose Coma Corrector, otherwise the edges would look terrible. It does a fairly good job of correcting the field, not perfect but a huge improvement over not using any corrector and it doesn’t change the magnification. I recently upgraded the scope with a Moonlite focuser which I plan on adding a high resolution stepper motor + controller to. Focusing at f3.9 isn’t forgiving and while I can do it by hand a motor would make life much easier.
Camera: Canon T3 (1100d)
Purchased this around December 2011 from OPT. Its very affordable compared to other models but still has a fantastic low noise sensor. I was using a Canon 350D previous and the different is huge! I still have the 350D but only use it for occasional wide field work. As you can see I have a cooling system for the T3, more on that later. Two days after buying the T3 I took it apart and replaced both the LPF and the moire filter. This makes things a bit sharper and lets in more infrared light which is useful in capturing hydrogen alpha data. I typically use this camera at ISO1600 if I can get it cooled below 20c, anything over that and I need to use ISO800. I have an external AC power supply for it I bought off Amazon for $9 which has served me well.
My DSLR cooler was designed and given to me by my friend Stephen. It concists of a peltier with a 5/16th hole drilled through the middle directly fixed to the base of the T3 with a 1/4×20 nylon screw. A heatsink + fan is attached to the peltier to keep things cool and a insulated cover is wrapped around everything. It works very well, usually giving me a 10-12 degree drop from ambient. It also features a temperate controller that displays the temp of the peltier. The coldest I have ever gotten it was -35C with translated to 0C at the camera sensor. Ambient was around 12c
Autoguider: Orion SSAG on a Stellarvue Raptor II 80mm
It simple and works well albeit a bit on the heavy side.
Here is everything I take out with me to the dark sites, all in my trusty 1985 Volvo 240 Wagon (over 360,000 miles!). Excellent car for astro-trips. It can handle all the rough dirt roads, its easy to fix on the side of the road if you need to and it gets much better mileage than a pickup truck while still able to haul nearly as much gear. And the best part is two people can comfortably sleep in the back!
I also bring my current visual scope, an Orion XT8. Quick and easy setup and it gives me something to do while imaging.