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Archive 2013 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount
  
 
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #1 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount
Feature Thread Winner, Steve Perry, wrote an article on how to use a star tracking device to capture the night sky using long exposures. He used a very popular tracking mount called "Astrotrac".

Here is an excerpt from his article:

"Like most landscape photographers, I look forward to amazing clouds at sunset. Thereís just nothing quite like a dramatic sky and a successful image to close out the day. On the other hand, thereís nothing quite as discouraging as facing a bland, barren sky as the sun slides towards the horizon. Or at least thatís the way I used to think..."

Read the entire article



Feb 23, 2013 at 01:51 AM
dennist
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p.1 #2 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Awesome. I've been wanting to get one of those and this may have pushed me over the edge!

Dennis



Feb 23, 2013 at 03:16 AM
astro-ep
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p.1 #3 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Great article...

Here's another night sky tracker from a company that's been making astro-mounts for many years. It's a derivative of their very popular and capable GM8 Equatorial Mount (used to own one).

http://www.losmandy.com/starlapse.html

A couple differences to note. First, the Star Lapse will track continuously (no rewinding). It also has different rates that can be used for time lapse panning. The Astro-trac probably has the edge on tracking accuracy, however.

Thanks for highlighting Steve's excellent write-up.

Eric



Feb 23, 2013 at 04:19 AM
Stilltime
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p.1 #4 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Great article! I've been wanting to get one for a while, but Adorama has been out of stock quite a few months

Very inspiring though! I've been tempted to try out the Vixen Polarie, although for about the same price the Astrotrac sounds much more appealing.

Chris C.



Feb 23, 2013 at 04:34 AM
Todd
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p.1 #5 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


I have one... It's great. I used it to take these two photos that were blends:
The AstroTrac is a great device, portable, and lightweight. I have taken up to 10 minute exposures with mine.

1.
Texas Star Party
14-24 f/2.8 @ 14mm
Nikon D700







2.

The Rocky Mountains in RMNP CO
Nikon D800E
Nikon 35mm f1.4G







3.

Milky Way from fort Davis Tx
Nikon D3
85mm f/1.4G
10 minutes on the astroTrac







Get yourself one. Buy locally in the USA,
http://www.optcorp.com/product.aspx?pid=14905&kw=AstroTrac%20&st=2



Feb 23, 2013 at 04:46 AM
harshaj1
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p.1 #6 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Thank you so much Steve . Great article.
Harsha



Feb 23, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Danpbphoto
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p.1 #7 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


I have seen the Astro-Trac at use a few times and it doesnot disappoint.
I used my Losmandy GM 8 on my ex-Takahashi FS102 and my Canon 20Da riding along.
Dan



© danpbphoto 2013


M45





© danpbphoto 2013


Butterfly Nebula




Feb 23, 2013 at 03:05 PM
teked
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p.1 #8 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Great article Steve. Really got me psyched to try it.

Cheers,
Ed



Feb 23, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Todd
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p.1 #9 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


The astroTrac is nice. However one tip was left out of the article that Steve wrote. Once the astroTrac is aligned, it's good. If you move your camera to another part of the sky, you must realign. It will shift. Point your camera on the object you want to shoot and then fine tune the alignment, otherwise you will get start trails or a slightly trailed photo. You will need to align it everytime you move the camera, it gets out of alignment just enough to trail if you don't touch up the alignment. It's not hard, doesn't take long, but it will have to be done.

Also Steve's photo shows the astroTrac on his RRS BH55 ball head. It's nearly impossible to get precise alignment on the North Pole with a ball head. You really need a gear head with slow motion controls to get precise alignment. Especially when using a long lens. A ball head may be good for wide lenses, but not for long ones, I'd say 50mm and wider. There are three places on the polar scope to put stars for alignment, not just Polaris. Manfrotto makes a Jr and large size gear head ($250 & $450) and minute precise adjustments can be made. I suggest not using a ball head to align the astroTrac so you won't be moving all over the sky.

Todd



Feb 23, 2013 at 05:14 PM
blueimage
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p.1 #10 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Thanks so much for posting this! Great examples and tutorial. I've been pondering getting the AstroTrac...and this has pushed me over the purchasing hump.

I have a question pertaining to one of my intended uses. I want take the AstroTrac on an upcoming Serengeti safari......with plans to take night shots with large Acacia trees in the foreground. I know the trees (foreground) will be blurred in the tracking image, and that I'll have to take a separate image to freeze and expose the foreground to my liking - my question is: how hard is it to layer the images with the sharp stars showing through an also sharp but complex foreground (leaves and branches) The examples I see are of a less complicated foreground horizon.

Thanks for any input,

Jim




Feb 23, 2013 at 08:32 PM
 

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wlpelzmann
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p.1 #11 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Very informative and helpful article. I was interested in the Vixen Polarie, but the Astrotrac looks like a more robust design that would permit using heavier, longer focal lengths, if desired, in the future.


Feb 24, 2013 at 01:38 AM
Steve Perry
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p.1 #12 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Thanks for the comments on the article everyone

@Todd -

Awesome shots!

I agree, the ball head is a little less than ideal, but I do mention in the article that a pan or gear head would be a better choice and make for easier, more accurate alignment

Also, I really never had any problems relocating the camera's postion without realigning the unit, but shooting wide all the time I might not be noticing it. I do keep a good hold of the tripod so it doesn't move on me. I'll keep it in mind next time I'm out though - thanks!



Feb 24, 2013 at 02:33 AM
dgdg
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p.1 #13 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


I decided on the vixen polarie as I need to travel as light as possible. The polar scope works well and I have had nearly a 240mm fov for 4 minutes without any trails at 100% viewing. Of course, the main limitation is the 4 pounds weight (although some have put a mini borg scope on it so this is a conservative limit). Sometimes the camera can bump into it with extreme angles. That being said, it is the size of a vhs tape and can bear my camera body and a 70-200 mm f4. I can adjust the camera position without having to polar align again, but if everything isn't snug or you torque the system you have to realign. A geared ballhead for polar alignment is essential.

Here is one before moonrise at glacier national park.





Milky Way, 20mm f3.5, 3-4 minute subs, ISO 800, Astro modified T3i







Pleiades - Vixen Polarie, Canon T3i, about 150mm f4, cropped slightly




Feb 24, 2013 at 02:52 AM
kwilliam8
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p.1 #14 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Steve,
Great article. Thanks for taking the time to write things up! I have had the astrotrack in my "wishlist" on Adorama for about 10 months. I finally ordered it yesterday, after reading your articles. I may have to wait awhile for it to get back in stock. Oh well - I should have pulled the trigger long ago.
Todd,
Thanks for your tip about realignment.

Keith W.



Feb 24, 2013 at 04:08 AM
EL_PIC
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p.1 #15 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Very Interesting.
Much lighter and simpler than my LF in-camera masking days.



Feb 24, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #16 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


I just got the Astrotrac mount yesterday and took a couple test shots from my light polluted backyard.
As a hobby, I read about astronomy and can identify some constellations but have no astrophotography experience. To make things worse, there was a very bright full moon out there...but I had to test my new toy!

First, I mounted the Astrotrac on my RRS ball-head as Steve suggested. From my tests, aligning is possible but challenging...actually quite frustrating.
However, when mounted on the Astrotrac TW3100 Wedge instead, aligning Polaris took only about 20 seconds. The fine adjustments on this head are easy and super precise.

This gave me the confidence I needed to push the limits and attach my Canon 500mm f/4L IS II on it. I was surprised how rock solid the entire thing was with this heavy lens but was not expecting good tracking with such long focal length.
So, I aimed it to the Orion Nebula and focused on it using 10x live view. I recommend re-visiting Polaris alignment when a heavy lens is mounted.

Technical info:
Single shot (with LENR - Long exposure noise reduction)
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III (unmodded)
ISO 320
Shuter speed: 1 minute
Tracking mount: Astrotrac with Wedge
Focal length: 500mm (Canon 500mm f/4L IS II)
Aperture: f/4

I removed light pollution in Lightroom. It's nothing great but I'm happy with my first astro shot!




Orion Nebula

  Canon EOS 5D Mark III    EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens    500mm    f/4.0    60s    320 ISO    0.0 EV  




Feb 24, 2013 at 07:25 PM
DonH
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p.1 #17 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


And pleased you should be, Fred. Very nice.


Feb 24, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Steve Perry
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p.1 #18 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Looks awesome Fred!


Feb 24, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #19 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Thanks guys. I can see how this can become quickly addictive.
For those who only want even more portability shooting Nightscapes with their wide-angle or lighter lenses, there is now a great alternative to Astrotrac.

It's called iOptron SkyTracker and its design is very similar to the great Vixen Polarie but with many improvements like an included illuminated scope, ability to hold 6.6 pounds of weight, a built-in wedge and 24hr battery performance. Since my main interest is landscape photography, I just ordered one to try it out.
B&H has is for $399:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/915892-REG/ioptron_3300w_skytracker_camera_mount_with.html

I'm also working on a quick tutorial on how to blend two images together when shooting low ISO Nightscapes with a tracking mount: One long exposure for the tracked stars and the other for the foreground elements.



Feb 24, 2013 at 10:21 PM
astro-ep
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p.1 #20 · Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount


Definitely an ambitious start with great first result, Fred. Congratulations !

That's a lot of lens for an Astro-Trac! With 500mm and a full frame sensor, you're shooting at a resolution similar to my set-up (~3.5 arc-sec per pixel). If you have the new Astro-Trac, you might want you give autoguiding a try (when you shoot with that 500mm howitzer).

From my perspective, the main problem with Astrophotography is that it is very addictive. I started shooting with a Canon 30D and a 200mm L lens on a Losmandy GM8 equatorial mount, and my first shots were not as good as yours. I wanted deeper shots and rounder stars. 4 years later, I'm shooting with dedicated deep sky Astrophotography gear (when the weather permits).

I hope you catch the fever

Eric
PS, Here's my Orion (in very similar image scale), if you're interested...
http://smu.gs/14bAWIu



Feb 24, 2013 at 10:44 PM
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