Optics and cameras are working in the darkness
Over the last ten to fifty years, there has been an enormous development in available astrophotography tools. It is creepy how detailed and colourful images can you capture from your backyard about the beauties of night skies. Of course, this is unimaginable without special instruments especially built for astronomical image capturing.
My current equipment
For deep-space imaging:
- Custom designed and made 8” F3,8 Astrograph (Orion UK optics)
- Self-made carbon fibre sandwich core tube in solid mounted scope support brackets
- ASA 0,95x Wynne corrector (50mm corrected imaging field)
- SkyWatcher EQ6 Pro GOTO mount (midified)
- Canon EOS 550D (modified for astrophotograhpy)
- Atik Horizon cooled astronomical CMOS camera
- Atik EFW2, 7x36mm automated filter wheel, with LRGB and 6nm Ha, OIII, SII filters
- Lacerta M-Gen autoguider
- Skywatcher 50mm finder scope for guiding
For imaging the Solar system:
- GPU 5" F9.45 Oil-spaced APO (Polished by Csaba Almási, optical design: Pál Gyulai)
- SkyWatcher H-EQ5 Syntrek mount (modified)
- ZWO ASI 174mm camera
- Televue Powermate
- Baader Cool-Ceramic Herschel wedge
- Solar continuum filter
- ND filters
My former instruments
I have carefully selected my instruments from the very beginning. I always like to think deeply about the possible ways and alternatives. It motivates me to continuously developing my existing equipment and acquire more and more advanced techniques given for amateur astrophotographers. In the following list, you can find my main instruments I have ever used. All of them represent a milestone in my astrophotography career / beautiful hobby.
My first astronomical telescope
2001 - 2003
I got my very first telescope from my parents. It was a 76/700 mirror telescope on an AZ mount which was not really a professional instrument, but was abundantly enough to decide that I am more seriously interested in this hobby. The first sight of the Saturn's ring, the multitude of the Lunar craters and some of the brighter nebulas have gave lifelong experiences to me. As a beginner, the accurate adjustment of the optical elements have caused serious problems that had to be done before each and every use. I could not become acquainted with this action, so I left to use reflecting telescopes for a long time.
SkyWatcher 100ED - HEQ5 mount
2003 - 2006
Shoe from a shoe store, telescope from a telescope store said by the astronomers. I wanted to look deeper into the universe, so I was excited about a step-up opportunity. I found beneficial the refracting telescopes.
It was a huge leap for me to switch to the SkyWatcher's 100/900 ED telescope. The new instrument produced an incomparably better picture quality. I was engaging by its visual world. When I have ordered this telescope in the shop, I got in touch with the astronomical community in Hungary and also entered to the Hungarian Astronomy Association. After several years of satisfied usage, I sold this scope so it is not my possession anymore.
Against the H-EQ5 mount I use to date. The mount head was modified several times. The first step was being a proper internal cleaning and replacement of the bearings. I had to change the whole electronics in it to realize the possibility of guided shoots. Several measurements were made on the tracking accuracy and was turned out that the finishing and the precision of the gear driven system leaves much to be desired. To correct the mistake, I have redesigned and let to manufacture completely the drive chain. I have implemented a timing belt driven drive and a high-precision grinded worm gearbox. These upgrades solved the tracking problems of my mount. With the new transmissions, approx. +/- 2.5 ... 3.0" accuracy can be achieved alone by the mount, which is a major step forward compared to the starting +/- 30".
Philips ToUCam II Pro 840k
We are on the verge of the digital photographic revolution. In addition to the visual observations, I also thought of capturing what I have seen. As the technique of web camera photography did not seems too complicated, I decided to use the Philips ToUCam II Pro, which was the most proven one at this time in my country. At the very beginning, I have made my first images by completing the visual observation. They were mostly Moons and planetary images. I am still keeping the camera in my drawer as a beautiful memory of a lovely age.
Canon 350D DSLR camera
2006 - 2011
Apart from capturing the Moon and larger planets, I dreamed of shooting galaxies and nebulas. Even a longer exposure has shown more than someone could have seen through the telescope with naked eyes. At first, I was thinking of an analogue film technique - at this time most of the deep-sky images were made by this way all over the world - but after a few initial tests I have chosen the emerging digital technique.
The Canon 350D had gave a number of challenges and technical problems to deal with. I had to solve the exact compensation of the Earth rotation, automated control of the exposure sequences, and the stable and reproducible operation of the entire system. A long-lasting learning period has also begun with the necessary digital image processing.
GPU 127/1200 Oil-spaced APO
When I have begun to become more interested in the world of telescope, I was impressed by Pál Gyulai's writings. Especially, in which he has explained the specialties of the different optical systems. He was the one, who started to polish an apochromat at home based on his own optical plans. At that time, the dream telescope for me was an 127/1200 achromat. Originally, I wanted to buy such a telescope instead of the 100ED, but unfortunately there was no chance to catch a really good quality exemplar. Thanks to Pál Gyulai, I had the opportunity to buy a telescope with exactly the same parameters, but with an apochromatic color correction. Seeing his determination, I have placed my confidence in him and I have taken it to realize a better scope then my dream one.
This telescope has been enriching my instrumental plant since then and many Sun and Moon images have been captured by detecting light beams through its optics.
GPU 80/525 Oil-spaced APO
2007 - 2015
The light gathering power of the F9 systems used so far to capture the faint nebulas has been rather slow. I have wanted something faster, preferably with a short focus, which is more tolerant of the inevitable blunders of the initial learning process.
The GPU 80/525 APO got this task. For a long period of time, the lens was mounted in a PVC rain-pipe tube and at the other end a simple focuser was connected. Finally, in order to fully exploit its performance, I moved the optic into an aluminum tube. This was my first telescope which has built based on own ideas and plans. This instrument provided an excellent base to dive myself in deep-sky photography.
The telescope is no longer in my possession, but I managed to pass it on to someone who is perfectly aware of its curiosity. That person has been become the owner of a unique telescope, including the optics, from which only one exists all over the World.
The Imaging Source DMK41 CCD camera
2008 - 2017
Digital cameras exclusively designed to capture solar system objects have been appeared in the market. These cameras were really expensive, but its capability to capture uncompressed video files and the higher sensitivity of the monochrome sensor produced significantly better raw video compared to the quality and opportunity of the best computer webcams.
After a long time of consideration, I ordered the DMK41 model of “The Imaging Source". The camera was far exceeded my expectations and I used it to capture moon and sun images until 2017.
Lacerta M-Gen autoguider
In the distant recess places – where an astrophotographer feels himself really good - the availability of electricity is rather limited, while the telescope and all related devices work with electricity. At this time, the accurate tracking of the sky was only possible by connecting a laptop or computer to the system. So, most of us did not have the opportunity to disconnect from the power network to take images under the really dark observing sites.
Thanks to the genial device of a Hungarian amateur astrophotographer, Zoltán Tobler, the dream of the astrophotographers became true. MGen is a low power consumption device that controls the telescope’s sky tracking, if necessary. After trying out and purchasing the device, it was no longer necessary to connect to the 230V. It's a huge step forward.
Canon 550D DSLR camera
2011 - 2017
The functionality of DSLR cameras has improved a lot to 2011. Although, the Canon EOS 350D has been a perfect start, it was worthy for modernization.
As a successor, I have chosen the Canon 550D. Fortunately, at the time of the purchase I had the opportunity to choose a low-noise piece. The new device with its 18 Megapixel sensor delivers more than twice higher resolution, four generations better sensor technology, significantly enhanced color resolution and the liveview that facilitates the focusing. The replacement of filters for capturing the emissions nebulas did not wait for so long. It has become my main recording device for a long time period. High amount of the currently available images in my galleries were taken with this camera.
SkyWatcher Esprit 100ED
2012 - 2012
This year, my Newton telescope was built and I was over with the first light trials. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with its performance. It turned out that the support cell of the main mirror caused an unwanted problem. While I was working on fixing the errors of the telescope, I was also preparing for my first expedition to the Republic of Namibia. My plan was that I would have gone with the GPU 80/525 APO, as there was no chance of fixing my new telescope’s errors until we went to abroad.
That time a possibility popped-up to test the newest SkyWatcher Esprit 100ED. The manufacturer of the telescope has sent some first preproduced scopes to the traders. I was lucky that I could use one of them during my expedition by favour of the Budapest Telescope Centre. The complete optical design of the telescope is the work of Pál Gyulai, so the high optical quality was given. Despite of the short-term use of this telescope – thanks to the extremely favorable astroclimate of Namibia – it increased my gallery with numerous images.
200/750 Newton astrograph - EQ6 Pro GOTO mount
There was a long journey until I found my current and main instrument. As I was able to capture more deeply the celestial targets, it was clear for me that the aperture ratio is never too fast and the diameter is not large enough. It also became clear, that despite my previous bad experiences a mirror telescope can provide these boundary conditions. Thanks God, there were some encouraging examples by home-made telescopes.
In 2010, I started the mechanical plan of the telescope. I chose an Orion UK 200/760 parabolic mirror and a secondary mirror. An ASA 3" Wynne corrector is used to correct the optical errors of the imaging plane. I did not regret time to find out the difficulties in design, the pitfalls and cornerstones of the telescopes. I refined the three dimensional model for more than a year before the actual production. I bought the necessary materials, searched for the available manufacturing capabilities and facilities in order to create the essential parts.
The critical point of the system was the production of a zero thermal expansion carbon fibre tube. Unfortunately, I did not know anyone who would have produced the product in a reliable price and high quality. Therefore, I decided to do it by myself. Countless information is available online about this topic and about the actual implementation. Furthermore, I got a lot of help from the distributors, from friends and from the composite laboratory of the Budapest University of Technology. At the end, I was able to produce a high quality product with own hands.
The first starlight passed through my telescope at the end of 2011. When some problem has been arisen. To fix these existing problems, another piece of research and an idea from scratch helped me. It was extremely useful that the whole plan of the telescope was available for me. The parts needed for repairing the optical instrument could be made without any trial.
Although it is fashionable to use visible carbon fiber pattern, I would have liked white telescope. I left the painting at to the end of the scope building procedure when everything was working properly and the weather conditions were predicted to be bad for a while. Only one issue came up. The paint hardened extremely slow because of a mistake of the painter workshop. During a complete autumn and winter season I rolled the tube on the top of the radiator in my living room.
The SkyWatcher EQ6 mount that carrying the telescope could not escape from multi-step upgrade. Besides the metal-dust removal, I have replaced the bearing of the axles and the drive chain. I have modified the original gear transmission system to belt driven one in order to reduce the PE error of my mount. Thanks to this, my EQ6 mount controls the movements of my telescope more rigid and smoother.
ZWO ASI174mm astro CMOS
Somewhere around 2013, the Chinese ZWO camera manufacturer released its digital video cameras mainly for Moon and planetary photography. My DMK camera was a very good rival for the first version of Chinese ZWOs. The breakthrough was coming up when the ASI174 model came out to the market. I wanted to try this new camera with my own telescope. The dramatic improvements have been definitely clear. The use of the DMK camera has become more and more questionable due to its FireWire based connection to the computer (this interface is almost inaccessible on new devices). Starting of 2017, I am using a ZWO ASI174mm camera for capturing Moon or Sun shots.
ATIK Horizon cooled CMOS camera - ATIK EFW2 automated filter wheel - Astronomik filters
Atik Cameras Ltd. – a company specialized in astronomical image recording equipment – announced an open competition. The apropos of this completion was that Atik have wanted to test its brand-new camera with astrophotographers before release it onto the market. The interest was enormous for this opportunity. Two days after the announcement – well ahead of the set deadline – Atik had to close further applications. I have submitted my application for this completion, which was finally among the ten lucky ones who finally got the chance to make a beta test on the camera.
In the same year, I have successfully applied for the Hungarian Talent Support Program which helped me to get a full set of boardband and narrowband filters mounted into an automatic filter wheel for my new camera.
I hope that this new image capture device will open a new horizon and opportunities in the field of astronomical photography for me. According to my plan, this cooled CMOS camera with the filter set is going to replace completely my previously used Canon EOS 550D camera.