Automated star tracking astrophotography with Sky-Watcher
There are generally two types of astrophotography. There’s the kind that’s more like landscape photography, where the skies form a part of the overall scene with the ground, and then there’s the kind where the skies are the main subject and focus of the images. Sky-Watcher makes devices to help with the latter.
Specifically, we’re talking about the Sky-Watcher trackers, which rotate your camera counter to the earth’s rotation to shoot long exposures of the stars and distant planets. We caught up with Sky-Watcher at PhotoPlus 2019 to find out more about them and how they work.
The big problem with photographing stars is that the earth is constantly moving. It makes long exposures difficult, and some galaxy shots can take several minutes or even hours to fully expose the view. Without a means to automatically adjust the camera to counter the earth’s rotation, all you’re going to see is one big mess of motion blur, if you see anything at all.
The Sky-Watcher trackers are essentially multi-axis gimbals which counter the movement of the earth, keeping the camera lined up with the area of the sky in which you’re pointing it. All you need to do is align the unit to Polaris (if you’re in the northern hemisphere), point your camera where you want it to look, and then leave it to it while you shoot. The Sky-Watcher tracker takes care of the rest.
They say it can handle lenses up to about a 300mm f/4 with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, which is a pretty hefty setup, but for really small distant galaxies, you’ll need to move up to a telescope. Sky-Watcher also offers a range of those, along with more powerful trackers capable of handling much higher loads.
The basic tracking system for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras and lenses as shown in the video is around $370, but the much larger and higher-end systems cost up to around $10,000 if your budget stretches that far. You can find out more about them on the Sky-Watcher website.
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John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.