@Don & @Reinz: I'm really glad to hear you guys are interested in astrophotography. I think this is a GREAT time to get into the field...the technology we have today makes the cost of entry relatively low (if all you want to do is very wide field work, all you really need is a $800-$1000 mount, and your DSLR + lenses). If you find you really like it, high quality equipment can be purchased for only a few thousand dollars more, such as an astrograph OTA (like the AT8RC) and maybe an entry-level cooled astro CCD, the cheapest of which cost around $1500, about the same as a midrange DSLR.
The technology is pretty darn good, too. With an entry-level Atik CCD camera, people are producing high quality images that rival what NASA was getting a decade ago. Even highly advanced software packages for processing have become cheaper. It used to be that dedicated astro processing tools cost about $1000. Today, you can buy PixInsight, an extremely powerful processing system, for around $250.
Anyway, great time to be getting into astrophotography. I wish you guys the best, it's very fun (especially if your more technically minded, and enjoy a challenge.)
I started with a really crappy 3" refractor telescope and got hooked!
I picked up a Celestron Advanced GT tracking mount... it's nice and solid and seems to track quite well. After lots of fiddling with aligning mounts, I ended up putting in some patio stones in the yard, made sure they were as level as possible, and marked where the tripod legs go... instant alignment! I have an 8" reflector telescope that I can use, or I have a mounting rail with a quick release camera mount. I have shot video of planets through the telescope, 2X barlow, and a 60D and run the images through Registax and I have just started to get interested in image stacking for nebulas...
The more I learn, the better the images get, and that just makes me want to try harder.
Ah! So your already into it. Great to hear! Is that a 60D, or the 60Da (just curious)?
I haven't tried planetary yet. I'm using my 600mm lens as a scope, and it isn't even remotely long enough to do planetary. Right now is pretty much the time for planets, though. At night, we have Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn all near their closest approaches to earth (I think Jupiter hit perigee in January, and Mars hits Perigee this month!)
I just picked up a new contract, and it should pay decently. I may pick up the AstroTech AT8RC or AT10RC, to get myself an actual OTA that I can use a barlow with, and get a planetary imager. I don't want to miss the opportunity we have right now with all three planets high in the sky during the night.
Backyard EOS seems like a perfect tool for capturing images of nebulas.... what software do you recommend for processing the images?
For processing, I recommend you start with Photoshop. You should pick up Carboni's Astronomy Tools actions, and maybe Annies Astro Actions. These are practically essential, as they take otherwise complex, multi-step operations to help you stretch, denoise, deblotch, and enhance your images, and makes them "one click", effectively. Some actions might pop up some standard photoshop tools for input, but for the most part, these two action sets make up the core of the astrophotographers toolbox. At least, for DSOs they do.
Now, you do planetary, and planetary generally needs some different processing. I haven't looked too deeply for planetary processing actions, but I'm sure there are some out there. I'd look around, see what you can find. Ready-made actions really make the processing go faster, and are well worth the $20, $30, $50 you have to spend on them.
For planetary images, it's been recommended that I get a Celestron Neximage 5 CMOS Solar System Imager Camera to use instead of my DSLR... and I have been thinking of getting a 6D to replace my 60D for night skies... the 60D is real noisy!
I do recommend getting a proper solar system imager. However, in my research, a lot of Celestron's equipment turns out to be bottom rung. They make excellent OTAs, and their CGE Pro mount is quite good, however their guide camera and neximage imagers should probably be avoided.
If you want a good planetary imager, I would look at QHY (http://qhyccd.com/en/left/page3/qhy5-ii-series/
). They make a MUCH better imager, using Aptina sensors (high Q.E., high dynamic range). You could also look into the Starlight Xpress Lodestar (http://www.sxccd.com/lodestar-x2-autoguider
). The Lodestar X2 was just announced, however it uses the new Sony ICX829 sensor, which is one of the most sensitive sensors on the market. The Lodestar has always been one of the most recommended guiding cameras, although it also works for planetary (IIRC)...the catch is that it is VERY expensive. Another option is the SBIG ST-i, which is also a guider and planetary camera. I like SBIG, Santa Barbara Instrument Group, good old "Made in the USA". Plus, I used to live very near Santa Barbara when I lived in California...kind of my old stomping grounds. The ST-i is more often used as an off-axis guider with the SBIG astro CCD cameras, but it is also a very good planetary imaging camera. It's cheaper than the Lodestar, but I think a little more expensive than the QHY.