Pushing the Tracker

Gear List

Here's what you need to push the Move Shoot Move (MSM) Star Tracker ever so slightly past the limits of its warranty. :)
Have fun you rebel you.

The Complete Kit gets you everything you need except for a tripod and ball head. You do want both the laser and the polar scope; for me at least the laser is sufficient for targets to the north but targets overhead or to the south require the higher precision of the polar scope. There are a few other options you may want to consider also:

  • Benro Geared Head. A geared head trades the compactness and portability of the Wedge for more precision. If you travel with the MSM you want the wedge; if you shoot from your backyard, as I do, I recommend the geared head.

  • Z-Mount. This small device allows you more flexibility in moving the ball head away from the tracker and tripod to easier position your camera.

  • Dew Heater. By slightly heating your lens it keeps dew from forming and blurring your shot. I've forgotten to turn mine on before and actually had the lens frost over.

  • Red Headlamp. The last thing you want to do after polar aligning is to bump into the tripod.

Not wanting to spend time fighting my photos I wanted a camera that was capable of usable one shot color images. For me this set the list of requirements;

  • Sony Back-illuminated CMOS. Having experience with back-illuminated sensors in cameras I knew that they are a game changer for low light. High light sensitivity + wide dynamic range = Sony.

  • APS-C sensor. Surprising how much people will argue in favor of a full frame DSLR for astro and then when they switch to a dedicated camera they are fine with a one inch sensor. My requirement was 4/3 or higher, preferably APS-C.

  • Around 24 megapixels. This one really gets technical but suffice it to say at the time of my purchase this was the correct number.
    (A 26mp Sony APS-C sensor gives you a 3.76um pixel size with a 50ke well depth.)

  • Color. This was the hardest decision. Three factors pushed me to the purchase I made; the perfect camera was not yet available in mono, the cost of filters and wheel was high, and I notice people never seem to have enough time to properly finish their set of images so end up compromising.

  • Cooled. No question about it. This is what makes a dedicated astro camera better than a modified DSLR. Cooling the sensor reduces noise.

Welcome to dedicated astro cameras; they're stupid. The ASI2600 pretty much consists of a sensor, an air conditioner, and a dew heater, that's it, no brains. You can use a laptop and freely available software (linked to at ZWO site) or you can buy one of these dedicated astro computers and control the camera over WiFi with an app on your cellphone. This Pro version also includes USB and 5v power ports for accessories.

This is the magic part that lets you attach standard Canon lenses to the ZWO camera. This particular adapter was chosen as it allows you to easily use standard 2" astro filters.

The best size lens for shooting deep space with the MSM Rotator is 135mm. Therefore I wanted a prime lens close to that range. The Irix won for a few reasons;

  • Company Reputation. Irix came recommended by other astrophotographers as a company that not only made quality products but responded to the needs of the community.

  • Infinity. Astrophotographers reported Irix lenses reliably have the infinity mark at infinity. (Surprising how many lens manufacturers do not.)

  • Weather-sealed. When you shoot all night your equipment tends to get covered in either dew or dust.

  • Focus lock. One less thing to worry about at night. The best way to focus is by pointing at a bright star, unfortunately not all targets have the brightest stars. Therefore you have to focus then move the camera, which often leads to the focus getting changed. With focus lock I setup the camera and lens on the tripod, attach the lens warmer, then let the lens have time to adapt to the ambient temperature. Afterwards aim at a bright start to focus, lock the focus off, and not worry about it for the rest of the night.

  • Note: a benefit and a deficit is the fact that it is a macro lens. Having macro capability makes it multi-functional but it puts most of the focusing control at the near range leaving very little play at the far end. Dialing in the focus on stars with this lens is delicate work.

You can never have enough stuff:

  • ZWO Duo-Band 2" Filter - dual narrowband filters out that pesky light pollution. Also removes moonlight!

  • Manfrotto 055 XPRO 3 - a beast of a tripod. Not for traveling with, for stability.

  • Benro IB2 Ball Head - the perfect blend of cost and strength. I own several cheaper heads but this is the only one I trust for astro.

  • 330 Watt Power Station - big ol battery. Should be able to run all your equipment all night on this. As long as you keep the dew heater on low, it's a pig.

  • Tripod Hammock - put the big ol battery in it. Holds the battery where you can get to it and the added weight stabilizes the tripod.

  • DC 5.5x2.1 Power Cable - to provide power to ASIAir from big ol battery. This is the cable you want. The ASIAir can pull 10 amps, the battery cigarette port can put out 10 amps, all other ports and cables are rated at 5 amps. This is a 10 amp cable. You're welcome.

  • TP-Link Range Extender - the WiFi range on the ASIAir at 5ghz is very small, so I use this device to extend the signal to my couch :)