Without having a way to track the stars you are limited to star trails and ~30 second exposures. You are going to want something more than you run-of-the-mill $20 tripod for this type of work. A popular choice is the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head (Amazon, Adorama or eBay) which has a large weight capacity and very smooth and accurate fine tuning. With a couple pieces of wood and a few pieces of hardware you can make a tracking mount that you manually turn yourself (typically at 1RPM). I built one following the instructions in this guide here before moving onto other methods. The Astrotrac (Amazon or Adorama) was first to the market with an affordable and portable tracking solution for DSLR users.
It features solar and lunar tracking modes like the Polarie but lacks the half speed starscape mode. If you already own a telescope on an equatorial mount with a motorized tracker you can simply piggy back your camera onto the telescope (there are adapters sold for this purpose) or even directly attach your camera to the telescope. The star closest to the southern celestial pole is Sigma Octantis in the constellation Octans. If you can see both Magellanic clouds, forming an equilateral triangle with the third point being the celestial pole gives you an easy way to find Sigma Octantis. Now that your camera is tracking the stars you can fully take advantage of exposure stacking. I discussed these in previous parts of the guide but dark frames are identical to light frames except you put the lens cap on your camera when taking them.
I have been researching astrophotography for only a week and it has been some what overwhelming. I was told the flat frames MUST be taken at the same ISO and orientation of the camera and with same focus of your object when you took your lights. The Orion Nebula photo gives people the false sense that this is achievable with a standard dlsr and lens. I have used a Sigma-DG 50-500mm lens and a Canon 70D and have some excellent pictures of Orion. I getting into astrophotography with a Pentax K3 ii, does anyone had any tips for using in camera sensor tracking? This will require a bit of financial investment but there are some budget-conscious options like the home-made barn door tracker.


While you have a huge variety of pictures to take with that restriction (as seen on the previous page) you open up a whole new set of possibilities if you have an equatorial tracking mount as seen above.
This is so you can keep your tracking polar aligned but freely move your camera in all directions to take different shots. Tracking won’t be very accurate but if you build it to exact specifications and polar align decently you can have widefield exposures of around 5 minutes without any trailing.
It is probably too shaky and inaccurate for telephoto shots but for wide or medium shots it will definitely get the job done. It’s smaller than your camera body, runs off two AA batteries (2-3 hours of tracking on those) and is insanely easy to set up. It’s a cool compromise that lets you do nice 1 minute starscape shots instead of the regular 30 seconds while keeping both landscape and stars in decent focus. One feature it does have is a tracking port for autoguiders to further improve tracking accuracy. You can also use the Southern Cross method as shown in the diagram to get you close to the pole. Stacking is when you take a bunch of images of the exact same thing and then stack them on top of eachother to improve the signal to noise ratio.
This article breaks it down perfectly and I now have the confidence to purchase equipment and start giving it a try. However following recommendations I ordered a manfrotto 496RC2 ball head but it doesn’t fit the Polarie as it has a bigger whole for the screw. How do you use these in any software like Deepskystacker or even Photoshop as ARW is not a recognised file?
Any type will work as long as it can support the combined weight load of your tracking mount, camera and lens but the best type by far is the geared heads as they make fine tuning your polar alignment much simpler. The downside is you will be manually turning it the whole time which means sometimes for hours at a time. Due to its design the Astrotrac is technically more accurate at tracking – accurate enough for people to use telescopes on it. For the barndoor tracker you would sight along the hinge and for the other mounts they have either a scope to use or in the case of the Polarie a small hole to look through.
This can drastically reduce the amount of noise in your final picture and all that extra signal will let you stretch the faint details of deep sky objects much better in post. Eventually you will hit diminishing returns for adding more exposures but more never hurts.


It is VERY important to take dark frames at the same temperature as your light frames as temperature has a big effect on noise and hot pixels. It’s best to use Aperture priority with the lowest ISO setting of your camera (usually ISO 100 or 200). One tip to remember is to shoot your darks and flats at the same orientation as your lights (portrait or landscape) – it just makes things easier when you are processing everything. I live in a semi rural enviroment, with fairly dark skies, and there is a house about 150 metres down the road with an illuminated intruder alarm. We are going to USA in June and will be visiting Pikes Peak, Monument Valley and Yellowstone and hoping for lots of Big Dark Skies on the way. At the moment I am converting every file to TIFF which is time consuming and I don’t know if it gives me the right results. The Tripod, the tripod head for your tracking mount, the tracking mount itself, then a ball head and your camera. With a ball head you will have to hold your entire apparatus as you align it – definitely possible but probably frustrating. It also holds a lot more weight than the Polarie but the downside is its less portable and slightly more expensive.
In addition to regular frames (called light frames) there are other frames you should be taking to maximize the quality of your final image. I don’t think the scope is a necessary purchase unless you plan on doing a lot of 300mm+ long exposure shots. There’s nothing special about this number, I just find it to be a good compromise of quality and the amount of time it takes to capture it all. It comes standard with a polar scope though at most places you can buy it and when you factor that in, its only slightly more expensive than a Polarie + polar scope combo. I tried using my 300mm lens to get the Orion Nebula but it didn’t come out on the Deep Sky Stacker. Aim the camera away from the sun so there’s no gradient and its evenly illuminated across the frame. You can also use a light box, or throw a few white sheets in front of the lens with a bright light source behind it.



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