As an alternative of a New Lens for Astro Images, Think about a Star Tracker As an alternative

Since Milky Means Core season is in full swing, on this article I’m going to degree up and talk about certainly one of my favourite subjects: star trackers.

So what in tarnation is a Star Tracker? Feels like one thing they might use in Star Wars.

Concern not, you aren’t alone. The title definitely sounds overseas, however after this write-up, I’m hoping you possibly can toss across the phrase at your subsequent time-friendly household gathering—I don’t know, possibly which may not be the strongest matter.

One factor I’ll point out is that these are very niché gadgets. That is the kind of product I might advocate getting after dabbling in astrophotography and nightscapes for a couple of nights and seeing if it’s your factor. And for those who have no idea the place to begin, try my tutorial on how to find and shoot the Milky Way.

A star tracker is a few type of motorized gadget which when correctly aligned can observe the Earth’s sidereal rotation and thus compensate for the relative motion of the celebrities. The rotation of the Earth is why we have to use the NPF rule to shoot the celebrities, in any other case the celebrities will start to path if the shutter is dragged out too lengthy. Because of this we are able to expose pictures of the celebrities for for much longer. Why is that this an enormous profit and what does that must do with shopping for a brand new lens? Maintain studying to search out out. This will get shifty.

You’ll have began researching a brand new lens to choose as much as enhance your astro work. And that is exactly the place I might say freeze. Report scratch. Lemme let you know a bit of secret…. your cash is significantly better spent on a tracker than it’s on new glass. Now okay. Full disclosure. A tracker shouldn’t be going to thoroughly substitute the necessity for a brand new lens, however it’ll basically convey new life to your present lenses. You’re nonetheless much better off shopping for a $250 tracker over even a $500 lens due to how a lot functionality these items have. I’ll stand by that assertion to the max as a result of…

A Tracker Can Make a Mediocre Lens Nice

Yeah, you heard that proper. No bamboozles. Why? How? What? Dan, you possibly can’t simply flip an 18-55mm equipment lens and fake it’s a 24-70mm f/2.8. No. No. You’re proper about that, however pay attention to a bit of secret right here.

In astrophotography, many properties generally mentioned when utilizing a lens within the day turn out to be irrelevant. For instance autofocus velocity, depth of discipline rendering, and many others. However on the counter, some distortions not sometimes seen through the day make their means into astro pictures. Issues comparable to coma, astigmatism, and longitudinal chromatic aberration (loCA).

So then how does a tracker repair these distortions? Easy. As a result of the tracker is “following” the celebrities, we are able to expose for longer. Say 2-, 3-, and even 4-minute pictures, wow! With that being attainable there may be way more gentle reaching the sensor and thus not solely can we convey down the ISO to cut back noise, however we are able to additionally cease down the lens! Once we cease down our lenses, we’re mitigating a few of these distortions. That is true for any lens. Easy physics.

Look a the distinction in nook sharpness by stopping down a Nikon 20 1.8G f mount lens by only one cease. I might not advocate utilizing this lens extensive open for example.

Earlier than

A Tracker Will Improve Element in Astro Pictures

I imply who doesn’t need the juiciest astro pictures on the market? Effectively, a tracker can let you get that juice. This once more goes again to longer exposures. Longer exposures will let you not solely cease down enhancing the sharpness of your glass as talked about above, however it is possible for you to to decrease your ISO. With a decrease ISO, there can be a lot much less noise in your pictures. And once more, the rationale we are able to decrease the ISO right here is since you are getting extra information in your pictures.

Fast notice: Noise shouldn’t be a product of ISO. Lack of sign is. ISO is the “quantity dial” basically at which you’ll be able to alter your sensor to in an effort to brighten your pictures. It doesn’t compensate for a scarcity of sunshine. Trackers DO as a result of, once more, longer exposures. So with extra sign, there may be much less noise, and thus way more detailed pictures. Fairly wow, proper?

Try this comparability between an untracked and tracked file.


The identical digital camera and lens had been used on this setup. Discover how additionally the celebrities are a lot sharper within the tracked shot? It is because I used to be in a position to cease down on account of benefiting from longer publicity.

The Caveat: Trackers Require Extra Work

With each motion, there may be an equal however reverse response (I suppose that sort of works on this sense)? What I imply by it is a tracker not solely requires extra work to make use of and arrange, however it’s an extra merchandise to maintain in your bag, tackle hikes, and journey with. I personally suppose the added bulk is well worth the outcomes, and I hike with mine and can all the time convey it, nevertheless it simply must be stated.

Additionally, and it is a biggie, chances are you’ll be questioning what occurs to the panorama when the tracker is rotating your digital camera. You guessed it, the panorama turns into a blurry blob!

One thing has received to turn out to be blurry on this equation, and that’s simply the way in which the cookie crumbles. To fight this blurriness then, you will want to shoot an extra shot(s) with the tracker off and use Photoshop or Gimp or different software program to masks and mix them collectively.

Extra shot
Blended collectively.

Nonetheless, I see this as sort of an upside because it permits you to take separate lengthy exposures of the foreground and thus have a nightscape shot that isn’t only a silhouette of the panorama. (See examples above).

Trackers additionally require you to be in a location that has entry to a transparent view in the direction of your celestial pole (Polaris for Northern Hemisphere, Southern Cross for Southern Hemisphere) to correctly align them. That is known as a Polar Alignment. I hardly ever discover this to be a problem, nevertheless. However after all, your mileage might differ relying on the place you’re capturing so it must be stated.

Selecting a Tracker

Trackers are available in all types of shapes, sizes, and worth ranges. You possibly can even make them your self for like 20 bucks if you’re helpful (do a seek for “barn door tracker”). I’ve seen among the most cost-effective fashions available on the market listed for like $80 that are completely able to dealing with one thing like a Canon EOS Insurgent and lens, all the way in which as much as the full-on mega large and costly equatorial mounts that are meant for capturing deep house targets and planets with telescopes.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of which one you can purchase on this publish, however if in case you have already accomplished some preliminary analysis on a mannequin or two you’re eyeing up, be at liberty to lemme know within the feedback under and I can chime in with my suggestions based mostly in your finances and what you wish to shoot. Since we’re speaking about widefield nightscapes nevertheless, fashions to remember are the Sky Watcher Star Adventurer (each Pro and Mini), iOptron Skyguider Pro (what I exploit personally), iOptron Skytracker Pro, Move Shoot Move Tracker, Omegon Lightrack Mini, and the Vixen Polarie.

Notice: I’m not affiliated with any of the merchandise talked about above in any means. The hyperlinks used are direct hyperlinks to every respective producer. I can be referencing the iOptron Skyguider Professional going ahead on this tutorial as a result of that’s the reason I personal, however once more, no affiliation with iOptron (or the William Optics Base, Gitzo, Vello, and Actually Proper Stuff merchandise for that matter).

I extremely advocate getting a tracker with an altitude-azimuth base or including one in if the mannequin you need doesn’t include one and you may afford it. This can make polar alignment lots simpler as they’ve latitude markings printed on the positioning and can all the time preserve your tracker degree as long as the tripod is degree. If not, use what you’ve got for now. It is going to nonetheless work.

Tracker with alt-az base setup.
Tracker with double ball head setup.

Polar Alignment

That is the enjoyable half! Like I stated earlier, I’m not going to concentrate on polar aligning your tracker particularly as all fashions differ in some small methods. As an alternative, I’m going to offer you a fundamental overview in addition to ideas and tips to get any tracker setup and nail a polar alignment, which some would argue is essentially the most tough a part of the setup. In fact since I can be utilizing my tracker for example within the following steps it could appear I’m speaking about my mannequin particularly, however I feel for those who use this information as a foundation for understanding how these items work you possibly can apply this information to ANY tracker.

My greatest recommendation is a couple of days previous to heading out is to familiarize your self with the night time sky utilizing the free Stellarium program. Toy round in there with the celebrities within the night time sky and how one can perceive the place to look to search out both Polaris or the Southern Cross.

I extremely advocate going via the steps through the day to get a really feel for the controls of your tracker, in addition to trying via your tracker’s polar scope if yours has one whereas transferring them knobs in your alt-az base or ball head to see how the tracker strikes. Understanding this motion will make it lots simpler to align the whole lot when it goes darkish.

My tracker’s polar scope.

In case your tracker has a polar scope as a substitute of a laser, you will want to obtain a Polar Scope app. This can make it lots simpler to get a bang on polar alignment. The app can even show your latitude for dialing it into your alt-az base.

1. When you find yourself out in starland, make sure you let your eyes alter for quarter-hour, and observe the steps utilizing crimson secure gentle to maintain your eyes darkish tailored.

2. Lookup. Embrace the celebrities. They’re lovely and are a uncommon web site lately due to light pollution.

3. Discover the pole star with the bare eye. Don’t lose sight of it.

4. Seize your tripod and open it up. In case your tracker got here with an alt-az alignment base, you will want to take away the pinnacle. If you’re utilizing an extra ball head in your tracker and preserving the pinnacle in your tripod to align, you don’t must do something at this level.

5. Subsequent take away the pinnacle if required. This can expose the three/8”-16 customary thread on the base.

9 occasions out of ten it is going to be this dimension, but when yours has a 1/4”-20 thread you possibly can seize a 1/4”-20×3/8”-16 bushing for cheapies.

6. Screw on the alt-az base your tracker got here with, or if you’re utilizing an extra ball head to align your tracker, connect your tracker to that head at this level.

Reference the linked photos for example the 2 methods to set these infants up.

7. Subsequent, and this a bit of secret I really like telling individuals to assist out with a polar alignment, use the compass in your cellphone to roughly place the course your polar scope appears to be like in the direction of when mounted on the tracker vaguely in the direction of the pole.

Okay, that seems like a mouth full, however hear me out. Your tracker both makes use of a polar scope or a laser to align with the pole. Whichever course your alignment device appears to be like in the direction of, is the course you wish to have going through 0º.

It doesn’t must be spot on at 0º, there are changes to right this on closing alignment.

8. At this level, use the spirit degree in your alt-az base or tripod if it has one, and degree the tripod.

When you don’t have a base or tripod that has a degree, you need to use your cellphone. Attempt to get this as near excellent as attainable.

9. Connect your tracker to the alt-az base or ball head.

10. Fireplace up your polar scope app and spot the quantity slapped subsequent to the latitude studying.

Use the altitude knobs in your alt-az base to dial this quantity in because the numbers in your base correspond to the latitude.

That is already a terrific begin to rapidly discovering the pole as now half the work is just about accomplished.

11. Flip your tracker on.

In case your tracker has a polar scope, at this level it must be illuminated with the tracker within the on place.

12. Look via the reticle of your polar scope.

It could must be rotated to a sure place for the crimson gentle to light up it.

Notice: Some trackers have a removable polar scope illuminator. At this level, it’s best to connect it.

13. In case your tracker has a laser as a substitute of a polar scope, connect it.

14. Bear in mind whenever you discovered the pole star in step 2? Now it’s time to discover it along with your tracker.

15. Look via your polar scope or laser and concurrently use the knobs in your alt-az base or ball head to maneuver the whole tracker to the pole star. As soon as you possibly can see the pole in your scope or the laser is pointing instantly at it, congratulations, you received.

16. At this level, laser-aligned trackers are just about good to go, however trackers with a polar scope are a bit of extra exact and require a couple of additional steps.

17. Refer again to your polar scope app and discover the place the pole star is situated on your given time and place. Use your changes on the alt-az base or ball head to get it as near that location as attainable.

18. As soon as full, connect your ball head (or 2nd ball head) to your tracker’s bracket, then connect the bracket to the tracker.

19. Connect your digital camera to the ball head on the tracker. To any extent further, all motion of the digital camera might want to happen utilizing the ball head. DO NOT MOVE THE TRACKER ITSELF. This can mess up your alignment and you’ll have to begin another time and that’s no enjoyable.

20. Professional tip, rotate your ball head so the little notch faces instantly up so you possibly can simply right for the angle of the tracker as a consequence of your alignment.

21. Time to shoot!

Body up some compositions, and use a distant or bulb timer to take a couple of minute exposures.

The higher your polar alignment is, the longer the exposures could be!

As I stated, that is extra of a normal overview of trackers and find out how to get began with anybody. Good luck!

Concerning the creator: Daniel J. Stein is a passionate nightscape photographer working full-time in New Jersey in his household’s industrial plumbing contracting enterprise. The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the creator. You’ll find extra of Stein’s work on his website and Instagram. This text was additionally revealed here.

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