Imaging Equipment

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Current Equipment List
Astro Physics AP900 GTO GOTO German Equatorial Mount
StarlightXpress HX916 CCD Camera
SBIG CFW-8 Color Filter Wheel
SBIG ST-4 CCD Autoguider
Meade LXD55 8" Schmidt-Newtonian Scope with UHTC coatings; D=203mm, F=812mm, f/4
Takahashi FS60C APO Refractor; D=60mm, F=355mm, f/5.9
Orion 90mm Achromat Guide Scope D=90mm, F=900mm, f/10
Vixen VC200L VISAC 8" Catadioptric Scope; D=200mm F=1800mm f/9
Takahashi Sky-90 APO Refractor; D=90mm F=504mm f/5.6
Schuler (from AVA) 10nm H-Alpha Narrowband Imaging Filter

I started doing astrophotography with a Meade 203SC/LXD500 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The optics on this 8" SCT were good, but the LXD500 equatorial mount was a bit undersized for the optical tube (plus photography accessories!), which made getting vibration-free long exposures difficult, despite doing things like making my own very stable wood tripod (see below). Still, I managed to get enough good results (see the M51 image below) to keep me going, and make me realize that I needed better equipment!

The next step up was a Meade 10" LX200 scope. Considerably more stable and solid than the 203SC/LXD500, and the computerized GOTO was a joy to use. It was a considerably better platform for astrophotography than my previous setup!

Shortly after getting the LX200, I also purchased a TeleVue TV-85 APO refractor, with the main goal in mind of wide-field film astrophotography. The LX200 was a fine piggyback platform (see the image above), and I got some good film shots done with this combination.
Eager to get involved in CCD imaging, I purchased what I thought would be a good CCD for the LX200: a used SBIG ST-6B CCD camera, along with a CFW-8 color filter wheel. The ST-6B enabled me to learn about CCD imaging, and was a good starting point. I learned focus techniques, making dark frames, flat-field frames, exposure lengths, and all of the other sometimes arcane and technical aspects of CCD imaging. I got some decent results:

I felt like I was making postage-stamp images, however, with the small chip in the ST-6B, and longed for something larger. So I sold the ST-6B on Astromart, and purchased one of the just-released MX7-C cameras from StarlightXpress. The MX7-C is a one-shot color CCD camera, which sounded a lot simpler to me than the seperate red, green, blue filtered exposures I was doing with the ST-6B.
The MX7-C was a great camera. I began getting decent pictures with it right away, and within a couple of months was making some really good images with it:

For a while I used a Takahashi EM-10 Equatorial Mount to carry the TV-85, a guidescope, and sometimes a camera with various focal-length lenses. The Tak mount had nearly perfect tracking performance, and was fairly small and easy to transport, but it just couldn't carry enough of a load for me, and having it at the same time as the LX200, with its computerized GOTO, made the poor little EM-10 seem like a throwback to the 1950's :) So, despite the wonderful tracking, it went off to Astromart as well.
While the 10" LX200 was a good piggyback platform, it often frustrated me trying to image at longer focal lengths using the SCT, and was getting less than optimal results trying to get shorter focal lengths out of it with focal reducers, which introduce vignetting and optical aberrations. So one day I put the LX200 up for sale on Astromart, and purchased a brand new Losmandy G-11 mount. I also sold the MX7-C CCD camera to purchase StarlightXpress' newest offering, the megapixel HX916 monochrome camera with 1300x1030 resolution.

I put the TV-85 on the Losmandy mount (talk about overmounted!), added a guidescope and an SBIG ST-4 autoguider, and started doing higher-resolution CCD imaging! After some initial difficulties with the G-11 mount, it's working great now, and the ST-4 guides it nicely for long exposures. While the TV-85 is great for wide-field work, I also wanted more aperture for higher resolution, so I picked up a 6" Meade Schmidt-Newtonian OTA (LXD55, without the mount), and installed the TV-85 on top of it. Now either one can be the imaging scope or guidescope.
I also recently picked up a new SBIGCFW-8 color filter wheel. Despite what you may have heard, this filter wheel works perfectly well with non-SBIG CCD cameras, and is a fine unit. I control the CCD camera, filter wheel, and guider using MaximDL/CCD software from Cyanogen/Diffraction Limited. Using Maxim to run everything lets me set up, focus, find a guide star, and program in an entire exposure sequence (dark frames, luminance, red/green/blue exposures), and walk away (or sleep!) while the exposure sequence runs. Great stuff. This combination is capable of some impressive images -- I got one of my best images to date with this setup:

New in May 2002, I received the Meade 8" Schmidt-Newtonian telescope I had ordered months ago. This new scope is an 8" f/4 scope (with a focal length of 812mm), and I got it with the new UHTC coatings (ultra high transmission coatings). The new coatings from Meade are supposed to dramatically increase light throughput, especially at wavelengths that are important for imaging such as the H-Alpha wavelengths. Full tests have yet to be conducted, but I have got the SN8 mounted up on the Losmandy G-11 mount, and have given it a first light test -- the optics look pretty darn good. Check out my images page (HERE ) for the latest images form this setup!

Always in a quest for more, more, more however...I have an AP900GTO mount coming in July/August 2002. Hopefully I can be happy with my equipment for some time once all of that is in place, but somehow I doubt it...:)

Things never quite work out as planned...the July/August 2002 delivery for the AP900GTO mount slipped and slipped, but it finally arrived, in late January 2003 as seen above. As of this writing I've only had one night out with it, but what a wonderful, beautiful piece of equipment! Solid as a rock, wonderful tracking, and very accurate GOTO performance. I'm certainly looking forward to many years of imaging with this fine mount. I also have a newly-acquired Takahashi FS60C APO refractor on the AP900GTO mount, riding on top of my 8-inch Schmidt-Newt as seen in the picture above. I'm pretty well set with equipment now, though I will be looking for a longer focal-length instrument do shoot those smaller galaxies with -- perhaps a used 8 or 10 inch SCT?

M31 with the Takahashi FS-60C, all one frame (NOT a mosaic!)

Update, September 2003: I did get that 8" SCT, a very nice Celestron C8, that I used mainly for imaging Mars during its close approach in 2003. It served me well, then went up on Astromart, while I picked up a few new little babies...

I mentioned the wonderful little Takahashi FS-60C above -- what a superb telescope! My first Takahashi, I now know why everyone raves about them so much. Even the little 60mm scope gets the full Takahashi treatment of oustanding workmanship, buttery smooth focuser, and outstanding optics. The little 60 shows almost no false color through its front-flourite doublet optics, and with the f/4.4 reducer (at 255mm FL) beats the heck out of any Nikon or Canon camera lens for spectacular wide-field imaging! See my recent images of M31 (above) or the North American/Pelican Nebulae mosaic for an idea of what "the little scope that could" does. Wonderful!
To replace the C8, I picked up a used Vixen VC200L 8" scope -- this is a catadioptric scope like an SCT, but with aspheric mirrors and built-into-the-focuser correcting lens elements to provide a wide, fully-illuminated, flat field for photography and a very small 15 micron spot size even at the edges of the field of view. I've only had the Vixen out for one quick imaging session so far, but it looks like a real winner. We call this scope "the poor man's Ritchy-Chretien" because of its optical configuration and reasonable price -- it'll be my primary longer focal-length scope for quite some time.
The latest addition is a Takahashi Sky-90, which I picked up for a real bargain price (brand new!) while on a recent trip to Japan ($450 off US list price, from Kyoei Space World in Tokyo). Having owned the lovely little Takahashi FS-60C, and finding such a bargain price on the Sky-90, I just had to have another Tak! 90mm of extremely portable (only 13.8" long all collapsed down) doublet-flourite perfection. First light should be any day now (as of end of September 2003), so expect to see some wonderful images from this gorgeous instrument on the imaging pages soon! Something is probably going to have to go to help pay for the Sky-90, though -- probably going to be my 90mm guide scope and 8" Schmidt-Newt, since I can cover those two focal lengths and uses with other scopes now...

All of the Equipment I've Owned and used (past and present) for Imaging
Celestron C8 8" SCT
Meade 203SC 8" SCT
Meade LX200 10" SCT
Meade 6" LXD55 Schmidt-Newtonian
Meade 8" LXD55 Schmidt-Newtonian
Orion 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain
Orion 90mm Achromatic Refractor
Orion Short-Tube 80mm Achromatic Refractor
Takahashi FS-60C APO Refractor
Takahashi Sky-90 APO Refractor
TeleVue TV-85 APO Refractor
Vixen VC200L VISAC 8" Catadioptric

Astro-Physics AP900 GTO Computerized German Equatorial
Losmandy G-11 German Equatorial
Meade LXD-500 German Equatorial
Meade LX200 Computerized GOTO Fork Mount
Meade LXD-55 Computerized GOTO German Equatorial
Takahashi EM-10 German Equatorial

CCD Cameras
SBIG ST-6B (with SBIG CFW-8 filter wheel)
SBIG ST-7E (with SBIG CFW-8A filter wheel)
SBIG ST-4 Autoguider
StarlightXpress MX7-C
StarlightXpress HX916

Special thanks to Astromart (run by Herb York from Anacortes Telescope and Wild Bird) -- without that wonderful astronomy classified web site, I would never have been able to so easily wheel and deal to use such a wide array of equipment! Thanks, Herb!

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All images Copyright (c) 2000-2003, Paul LeFevre
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