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There are a countless variety of fascinating stellar objects. Now you’ve learned the basics of astrophotography, let’s try capturing constellations and nebulae more vividly using an equatorial mount. And step on further to shoot the moon and the planets.

Shooting constellations and nebulae (tracking-mount shooting)

Stars in constellations and nebulae can be captured as point-like images with the fixed-mount photography method, using a short exposure with a camera mounted on a tripod, but when you try to capture details of constellations like Orion or clusters of stars like the Milky Way, tracking photography using an equatorial mount is a useful option. An equatorial mount allows you to track the diurnal motion, ensuring that the light from the stars accumulates at the same spot on the camera’s image sensor. Not only will the stars be photographed as a individual points, but you’ll also be able to capture dimmer stars that you would miss out on with fixed-mount photography. A portable tracking mount will be handy for your first challenge.

The great summer triangle shot with a Nikon digital SLR camera D5500, using a portable tracking mount

©Takayuki Yoshida

Lens: AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II (shot at 18 mm)
Filter: Kenko MC PRO Softon (A)
Mount: Vixen Polarie [Celestial tracking mode]
Image quality: 14-bit RAW (NEF)
Exposure: [M] mode, 180 seconds, f/4
High ISO NR/Long exposure NR: Low/On
White balance: Auto
Sensitivity: ISO 1600

Equipment

Nikon digital SLR camera or Nikon 1-series Advanced Camera with Interchangeable lenses
Lens (fast wide-angle lens or normal lens)
Tripod
Tripod head
Remote cord
Equatorial mount

What is an equatorial mount?

The stars and stellar objects are in constant diurnal motion, moving slowly across the celestial sphere. An equatorial mount is a device made to follow that movement. The motor inside the device drives the mount, gradually rotating around the polar axis, thus allowing you to track the diurnal movement of the stars and capture them as point images.

Setup

Setting example
A camera (A) on a mount head (B) is fixed onto the rotating axis of a portable tracking mount (C). The tracking mount in turn is fixed onto a camera tripod via a tripod head (D), so that its rotating axis is aligned to the earth’s axis. The camera starts following the diurnal motion of the stars as it is turned on. You’ll need to set up the tracking mount before you start shooting.
• For more information about the use of your equatorial mount, refer to the manufacturer’s website.

Nikon D5500 attached to a tracking mount.

(A) Camera, (B) Mount head, (C) Tracking mount, (D) Tripod head

Equipment courtesy of VIXEN CO. Ltd.

>Click here to learn about fixed-mount shooting

Lunar photography

For us on Earth, the moon presents itself as the most familiar of all astronomical subjects. To get a shot using a digital SLR that has the moon filling the whole frame, you would normally need heavy equipment, like a lens with a long focal length or an astronomical telescope. For a simpler way to enjoy lunar photography, the COOLPIX P900 or P610 are recommended, as these compact digital cameras have a focal length to rival that of an astronomical telescope. The P900 and P610 come equipped with a Moon option among their scene modes, which allows you to take stunning photographs of the moon with ease.
Furthermore, you can try to capture the moon’s craters using manual mode or aperture-priority auto mode, to bring out the best of the camera’s long focal length.

Recommended cameras:

COOLPIX P900
COOLPIX P610

Shot with the COOLPIX P900 with the Scene mode set to ‘Moon’

©Lucas Gilman

Focal length: Approx. 2000 mm equivalent (in 35mm format)
Scene mode: Moon
Exposure: 1/500 second, f/6.5
Sensitivity: Auto ISO
Lens servo: Single-servo AF (AF-S)
White balance: Auto
COOLPIX Picture Control: Standard
Vibration Reduction (VR): Off

Photography for the planets

Planet photography requires some serious equipment, for example an astronomical telescope with a long focal length. However, if you have a digital camera incorporating high-power zoom lens, you’ll be able to capture marvelous views of planets and their satellites with the application of just a little photographic know-how. Our recommendation for this is the Nikon COOLPIX P900 compact digital camera. The camera’s optics cover up to 2000 mm* equivalent focal length, which easily matches that of an astronomical telescope and allows you to take your first steps in planetary photography.
The photos here are taken with a COOLPIX P900 attached to an equatorial mount. Using the digital zoom, you’ll have a focal length equivalent to 8000 mm*, which is enough to capture Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s bands. The planets have an amazing variety of forms, and become fascinating subjects that we hope you can take on the challenge of shooting.
*35mm-format equivalent

Recommended camera:
COOLPIX P900

Jupiter and the Galilean moons shot with the COOLPIX P900 [tracking-mount shooting]

©Yasuteru Yamano

Focal length: Approx. 8000 mm equivalent (in 35mm format/with 4x digital zoom)
Exposure: [M] mode, 1/2 second, f/6.5
Sensitivity: ISO 400
Lens servo: Manual focus (M)
White balance: Direct sunlight
COOLPIX Picture Control: Standard
Vibration Reduction (VR): Off
Correcting filter: Not used

Rings of Saturn shot using the COOLPIX P900 [tracking-mount shooting]

©Yasuteru Yamano

Focal length: Approx. 8000 mm equivalent (in 35mm format/with 4x digital zoom)
Exposure: [M] mode, 1/15 second, f/6.5
Sensitivity: ISO 100
Lens servo: Manual focus (M)
White balance: Color temperature (4550 K)
COOLPIX Picture Control: Standard
Vibration Reduction (VR): Off
Correcting filter: Not used

Jupiter’s bands shot using the COOLPIX P900 [tracking-mount shooting]

©Yasuteru Yamano

Focal length: Approx. 8000 mm equivalent (in 35mm format/with 4x digital zoom)
Exposure: [M] mode, 1/100 second, f/6.5
Sensitivity: ISO 100
Lens servo: Manual focus (M)
White balance: Direct sunlight
COOLPIX Picture Control: Standard
Vibration Reduction (VR): Off
Correcting filter: Not used