Tag: iOptron Skyguider Pro

Chasing the darkness in Greece on Crete

This year we made our traditional summer vacation in Greece a bit earlier. The main reason was the cheap plane tickets to Crete. The destination was given, what remained was to specify the precise location. My friends recommended the southeast coast, so I started to search and found a house with a suitable terrace in the abandoned village Chametoulo. According to the light pollution map, the location should be perfect. We arrived at night, parked in front of the village, and moved all our stuff to the house through very narrow, steep streets. The first thing, which struck my eyes, was the presence of several LED powerful street lamps. WHY? Why there are street lamps in the empty village? Who pays for the electricity? Anyway, the terrace was partially covered and protected from the street lamps. On the other hand, it was very dark anywhere you look. I measured the SQM and directly at the zenith reached 21.55, which is a very good value. I started to get excited, but during our stay, my excitement was turned into frustration. It was very windy all the time. Some days it was less windy, but still, the conditions were far from being optimal. Fortunately, I took two rigs with me. The classical 150/600 mm Newtonian, sitting on RST 135 mount. The second one I tried in the winter – the pocket astrophotography rig. Askar F4.5 180 mm refractor, coupled with Canon 6D astro-modified and all this on extremely portable iOptron SkyGuider Pro. The Newtonian was totally unusable in the wind, but tiny Askar had no problems at all and I took roughly 1300 photos with Canon 6D camera.

Here is village Chametoulo during the day:

And here is village Chametoulo during the night:

Here is the double rig. I attached a 20 l canister to the tripod holding the RST 135 and 150/600 Newtonian to minimize the vibration due to the wind, but unfortunately, it didn’t help.

In the end, I managed to capture a couple of galaxies: M101 Pinwheel, M31 Andromeda, but otherwise, I gave up with 150/600 mm Newtonian. The smaller rig based on iOptron SkyGuider Pro performed much better. My primary target was Rho Ophiuchi @180 mm focal length. Then I captured the most interesting nebulae in constellations Serpens and Sagittarius – Lagoon, Trifid, Eagle, and Omega nebulae. Then I moved to the constellation Cygnus and capture it with many different focal lengths. And finally, I made a stop at the constellation Cassiopeia to compose the Heart, Soul nebulae with the Double Cluster NGC 869 and 884.

The Milky Way was not possible to photograph directly from the house, due to the street lamps in the village. I had to take a car and drive a bit to get to the South Coast Viewpoint:

Technical details:

LensSamyang 24 mm f1.4 @ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure16x15s, ISO 1600
Date2021-07-14


IC1805 Heart Nebula and IC1848 Soul Nebula

One of the last deep space objects I captured on Crete are two visually large nebulae. And these are IC1805 Heart Nebula and IC 1848 Soul Nebula. Both are very dim objects, therefore I set the shutter speed of the Canon EOS 6Da camera to 3 minutes and let it capture the light shooting from the constellation Perseus the whole night long. Even NGC 884 869 Double Cluster fit in the field of view.

Technical details:

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure50x180s, ISO 1600
Date2021-07-12

Cygnus

I went to Crete without a detailed plan on which deep space objects to capture. The primary target was Rho Ophiuchi, which I captured really well. Then I started to think about the next objects. Obviously, if you are in a dark place, you can point your camera nearly anywhere. However, there are some regions full of stars and deep space objects. For example constellation Cygnus, which is sometimes called the Northern Cross. It is located visually on the plane of the Milky Way galactic disk, therefore there are many deep space objects.

Let’s have a look at a wide-field picture captured by a 24 mm lens attached to Canon EOS 6Da:

Let’s zoom a bit by changing the lens to a 50 mm focal length. Here the constellation is perfectly centered:

Let’s zoom further to the central star Sadr by change of the lens to 180 mm focal length:

Let’s keep the focal length 180 mm and let’s have a look at the left star Deneb and very famous North America nebula:

Again, let’s keep the focal length 180 mm and change to perspective to the bottom (eastern) star Aljanah, where the beautiful supernova remnant the Veil nebula is located:

In total, the camera collected 15.5 hours of light and I am happy with the result.


IC1396 Elephant’s Trunk nebula

Elephant’s Trunk nebula is an emission nebula located in constellation Cepheus. I tried to capture this magnificent nebula in 2017 and in 2018, but it never fit in the field of view of my camera-telescope assembly. This time I used a focal length of only 180 mm, combined with a large full-frame sensor. Well, and finally it fits. Moreover, even the B174 dark nebula at the bottom left corner found the spot on the sensor. The picture was taken under a very dark Cretan sky.

Technical details:


Rho Ophiuchi region

Rho Ophiuchi is in my opinion the most beautiful assembly of the nebulae in the universe. Blue, red, and orange colors are combined to create this magnificent cloud complex. The dominant yellow star Antares (Alpha Scorpii) is a red supergiant, one of the largest visible stars. The star Alniyat (Sigma Scorpii) is surrounded by ionized hydrogen gas. Between these two stars is the M4 globular cluster, which I captured on Fuerteventura. The blue nebula is Rho Ophiuchi, also captured by me earlier.

In order to capture the whole beauty, one has to use a relatively short focal length (I used 180 mm), combined with a large sensor area (I used full frame 36×24 mm), and take the shots at a very dark location. This was my primary target during our trip to Crete 2021 and I am very happy that I finally got it framed. However, there is another beautiful nebula called Blue Horsehead in the visual vicinity and if I would turn the camera 90°, I would manage to capture it. So, there is a target for my next expedition.

Technical details:

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure38x120s, ISO 1600
Date2021-07-07

M8 Lagoon nebula M20 Trifid nebula

Constellation Sagittarius is full of deep space objects. I think we all agree that the most beautiful one is the Lagoon nebula, accompanied by the Trifid nebula. I captured these nebulae already, but with a much longer focal length. This time I used a significantly shorter telescope – only 180 mm to reveal the other deep space objects. The bright star at the bottom left is the star Kaus Bolearis, where the archer has his head. This star is surrounded by the globular clusters: M22 Great Sagittarius cluster on the left and M28 on the top.

Technical details:

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure50x60s, ISO 1600
Date2021-07-03

iOptron SkyGuider Pro, Askar FMA180 f4.5 review

I made a big step towards ultra-portable astrophotography. On Kythira I first time placed my workhorse Canon EOS 6Da on mini mount Baader Nanotracker and made quite stunning pictures of the Milky Way. I was so excited and started to think about more serious “pocket-size” astrophotography. The requirements were the following: no external batteries, telescope, and camera should have max. 1.5 kg weight, focal length around 200 mm. The camera it’s simple, I simply keep using modified Canon 6D.

The telescope is quite trickier, but I found Askar FMA, which has a 220 mm focal length, which is shortened by included a full-frame reducer to 180 mm. Aperture 40 mm yields for this focal length to speed F 4.5. The scope weighs only 400 g (700 g with the rings and EOS adapter). There is an M48 thread at the front of the telescope, which is very useful to attach the 2” mounted filters, particularly if you live in a light-polluted area.

There are several travel mounts on the market. Probably the most famous is Skywatcher Star Adventurer. I was about to pull the trigger on this mount, but I found another one, which will fulfill my requirements even better – iOptron SkyGuider Pro. iOptron has the same payload (5 kg with counterweight, 1.5 kg without) and has many interesting features:

  • Integrated illuminated polar scope
  • The torque from the motor to the worm gear is transmitted by a belt (this should minimize the backlash),
  • Integrated battery, which can be changed by USB cable
  • ST-4 socket for autoguiding

iOptron is slightly lighter than Skywatcher, so the decision was made. And how does it perform? I must say: VERY WELL! I got a chance to use it at home, so I screwed the IDAS NB1 filter in front of the Askar and captured the center region of Orion and California nebula. The mount is tracking very accurately even without any counterweight and the number of bad photos caused by poor tracking was zero.

The telescope surprised me very positively as well. The connection to the camera is done by T-thread (M42), so I expected significant vignetting on the full-frame sensor, because the diameter of the thread is 42 mm, whereas the diagonal of the sensor is 43 mm. Surprisingly, it vignettes very little, and even flat frames are not necessary. The darker corners can be corrected by dynamic background extraction in PixInsight. The stars are a little bit oval at the bottom corners, but we are here looking at a full-frame sensor. In the end, I am very happy with the price/weight/performance ratio of Askar.

Let’s have a look how heavy is the whole rig:

Tripod2.3 kg
iOptron SkyGuider1.5 kg
Canon EOS 6D0.8 kg
Askar0.7 kg
Total5.3 kg

This can fit into any backpack.

Here are the pictures:

Technical details:

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure60x60s, ISO 1600
Date2021-02-18

Technical details:

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure44x120s, ISO 1600
Date2021-02-18

Chasing darkness in Switzerland – Flims Laax

I got a fantastic idea to combine our ski vacation with chasing darkness and creating some spectacular wide-angle astrophotography. I started to search for a hotel, preferably at the top of the mountain, where would be very low light pollution. I found one – Berghaus Nagens in ski resort Flims-Laax. According to the light pollution map, there should be ideal conditions given by the altitude 2000 meters above the sea level, leaving the bright villages in the valley. The hotel has a south-oriented terrace, which should be also optimal to capture the most interesting deep space objects. I knew that to take even the portable telescope together with ski equipment is not feasible, so I took just an astro-modified Canon EOS 6D, two lenses, a tripod, and a portable mount. During our trip to Kythira, I used Baader Nanotracker, which did the job, but I was struggling a lot with polar alignment, so I decided on an upgrade. Specifically, I purchased iOptron Skyguider Pro. It is still very portable, but almost like a real equatorial mount with integrated polar scope.  

So, I booked the hotel, packed ski, previously mentioned astro-equipment, and left for a couple of days towards a new experience. The arrival is quite strict – you have to be at the bottom gondola station between 15:00 and 15:30, to take the lift up. If you miss this gondola, you will not get up. Fortunately, we managed and even first evening we saw few stars in holes between the clouds. The next night the weather improved, but the clouds were still making serious astrophotography nearly impossible. Last two nights the sky cleared and even the Orion arm of the Milky Way was visible by the naked eye. I grabbed a sky quality meter and measured only 21.0, which is not that spectacular. The problem was not caused by the light from the hotel’s restaurant (they switched the lights off at 23:00), but the reason is that we were surrounded by slopes, which have to prepare and the Pistenbullys making the job done have extremely powerful headlights. I can imagine that as soon the ski season is over and the snow melts away, the conditions will be excellent. In the end, I took only two pictures 24 mm and 50 mm of the constellation Orion. Such poor performance can be explained by the extreme weather conditions (freezing -15°C) and my complete tiredness after the whole day of skiing. It’s definitely easier to spend a whole day on the beach and in the evening do some astrophotography because your body is charged by solar power.

Anyway, these few days were mainly about skiing and we enjoined that very much. I cannot imagine a better place for this purpose. One can simply put the ski on at 8:00 be alone on the very well-prepared slopes. Berghaus Nagens is therefore 100% recommendable.

Technical details:

LensSamyang 24 mm f1.4 @ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure46x15s, ISO 1600
Date2021-02-14

Technical details:

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.0
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure44x30s, ISO 1600
Date2021-02-13