My first serious telescope arrived at my house in late November 2018. I had an old Bushnell refractor which I never found more useful than looking at the moon. Had I known previously that sophisticated astronomy equipment was available for amateurs, I would have been in the hobby long ago. Now I am left to pursue the hobby in my dotage!
In the past year it really has become almost an obsession. Nothing beats the excitement of finding a deep space object I have never before seen pop up on my computer screen! In getting into the hobby I did realize that to look at the galaxies and nebulae I was interested in I would need to do astrophotography. To me visual observing was seeing the moon, small bright planets (Jupiter and Saturn) and a glimpse of a fuzzy blob like Andromeda or Orion. I wanted more than that. I did a little mostly online research about equipment, noting that telescope aperture actually is the main determinant of what it is possible to see, and settled on a Celestron 8SE (8 inch) kit, which came with the Alt-Az mount. I also purchased the Celestron wedge, which I knew I would need for photography.
That combination of equipment did not last too long. First, I had an accident with my scope after three weeks; it fell off the mount breaking the collector after a false engagement with that mount, which I actually do regard as problematic. I also found that using the 15 pound wedge was a limitation, and the scope did not have a full excursion of the sky with it. Ultimately my credit card company paid for the repair of the scope.
I could not be where I am now without Youtube videos! With the information I gained there I learned that for my goals an equatorial mount would be the way to go. I found a Celestron Advanced GT mount on Ebay for $450.00. It is the predecessor to the AVX mount, and I don’t think there is much difference. I have had good results with it, and if you see me at a star party that is what I will have.
I also quickly found that setting up in my yard, doing a polar alignment, and having to tear down and set up again was a non-starter for me. We were fortunate in having space in our yard for a permanent setup. In a period of less than a month I threw together my “observatory”, a Lowe’s seven-foot shed on a concrete slab, moved with $50.00 Harborfreight tools winches. This setup costs less than $3000.00. It has made a huge difference in my ability to take advantage of breaks in the weather for short observing sessions, and the permanent accurate polar alignment is a blessing. If you have 200 square feet of unobstructed space in your yard and a serious interest in the hobby, go for it!
After the accident with the 8SE, I engaged in a series of equipment trades, sales and purchases which have resulted in my current armentarium….four telescopes! I also had soon learned that different celestial objects require scopes with different focal lengths, and focal ratios (the “F stop”). I would say that at least two are needed for a serious astrophotographer. I currently have the Celestron 8SE, a Bresser AR 152 six-inch refractor, which I bought on Cloudynights for $450.00, an Explore Scientific 8 inch Newtonian, and the queen, my recently acquired Celestron Edge HD 11 inch Smith Cassegrain scope. I also quite recently got the Hyperstar unit for the 11 inch SCT. Initial results with it have been very pleasing! The only item I bought new was the ES Newtonian.
For most of the past year, I have been using an astromo-dified Canon T3I DSLR camera, purchased used on Cloudynights. It produces excellent results, and with Backyard EOS software is almost point and shoot. Observing what the high-end astrophotographers on Astrobin are using, I just started using a dedicated AP camera, the ZWO 294 MC Pro. I don’t think there is going back to the DSLR! Exposure times are a fraction of what they were with the DSLR, and guiding almost is a non-issue (but not quite!)
At the advice of a highly knowledgeable astrophotographer on Cloudynights, and actually, in imitation of a couple of people in the area, I sold the Celestron CGEM mount which I had traded up to, and bought an Astrophysics Mach 1 mount, able to handle the Edge 11 inch, which also does provide much better guiding, and, having gotten past the learning curve for it, quick and accurate goto’s. It may well be my final mount!
The beauty of this hobby is that one can engage in it at many levels, and it really is limitless. You can always do a better image of something you already have taken, with better detail and colors. Check out Astrobin.com! The learning also never ceases!