Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Gear

You know,  I really should be packing.  Useful stuff - like underwear and water bottles.  Making sure we have what we need for 2 weeks of family vacation.  In attendance for the first week will be my wife and two daughters (ages 8 and 6).  A week later our friend Marc (ShuShu "uncle" to the girls) will join us with reinforcements (that is, all the stuff we forgot).  Yes, I really should be packing.

But instead I'm writing a few lines about what I "pulled together" over the previous 8 weeks or so.  There must be some rule about astronomy gear.  Something like "whatever your budget or think it will cost - triple it and you might have enough to get by if you have enough 1/4 screws, duct tape and batteries".

All my current gear is big.  Heavy.  As in, not shipping to New Mexico.  Must find light gear - oh, and suitable for astrophotography.  Yeah - let's add a completely new discipline to the mix just to make it more fun!  This is gonna be so cool.

The Gear.  Hey Marek ... Polar Aligned yet?
Read on for the shopping list - and my single handed attempt to keep the world economy from collapse!

Telescope.  Decided on a AstroTech AT80LE.  Light carbon tube, f6.  Fairly reasonably priced.  I wasn't spending more than $1K on this.  Easy peasy.  Arrived in short order from the good folks at Astronomics.

Mount.  AstroTrac Travel system.  What I wanted but US distributors didn't have any in stock.  And I wanted it "soon" so I could "practice" before shipping out for the real deal.  Emailed the company directly (Bristol England),  and worked with the very helpful and efficient Lynn.  She assured me they could get a rig to me by mid June.  They did.  This little gem rocks hard - with a few caveats for sure, but customer service was A+.  With shipping from the UK, somewhere south of $1800.

Camera.  Oh yeah, didn't I mention I didn't have a suitable DSLR?  Have an Olympus E620.  Fine enough camera for terrestrial work I guess.  But for astrophotography?  Noise like looking at old UHF antenna TV between stations.  So, Canon T2i.  Only none available.  Like nowhere.  Amazon, B&H, brick and mortar, other internet camera houses.  Its like Canon was telling the US ... I know you all want one of these ... just can't have em unless you beg.  Begging didn't work.

My thought ... no self respecting, ahem, "photographer", ahem, buys gear at Best Buy.  I stop in and of course they don't.  But a check of other stores in the Bay Area ... there is 1 ... yes 1 at another Best Buy 10 miles away.   So I paid too much, with a kit lens I didn't want (turned out to not be so bad), but hey ... a camera in hand ....  Just south of $900.  Hey, is my wife reading this?  Hmmm, maybe shouldn't be so open with the the spendy numbers.

Lens.  I have the light kit 28-85 zoom for daytime pics. Astro?  Buy one good lens. Only one choice here.  EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM.  $750 at B&H.  Just buy it.  Yum.

Other bits and pieces you only discover you need when you go to use your equipment for the first time.  Manfrotto this and that, adapters, trips to Orion for tee ring and extenders, nuts, bolts, craft store for attempts to make Bahtinov masks, cheap chinese auto timer, little hard to find batteries ... Real Hair Shirt Stuff.  Adds up.  Lets say another $350.

Lens.  I lied.  Well I lied to myself.  Above.  When I thought I'd only buy one good lens.  EF 100mm Macro f2.8L IS USM.  $950 or so from B&H.  ulp.  Only needed that one little tiny push from James.  Thanks James.  Rocks.

Software.  Mac guy.  Not religious about it.  Just made the switch a year ago and haven't looked back. Already had PS4.  EOS utility for exposures (free!).  Bought Nebulosity for processing.  Stark is god.  $60.  Feel like I am using Einsteins slide rule or something.  Don't understand what all the lines and scales are for but just holding it makes me feel smart.

Lens.  OK OK ... I didn't lie again.  Honest.  Didn't spend a penny.  A friend loaned me a EF 50mm f1.4.  Doesn't count in my head.  I didn't spend any money.  Thanks Charlie.  Way cool.

That's it.  Just plain ran out of time to buy things.  Hopefully I have it covered.  Yikes.