Unguided and piggyback photography require modest investments in time and money to achieve good results. Prime focus astrophotography requires a substantial investment in time and money just to get started. The cost in equipment can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Getting the right equipment is the easy part. Prime focus imaging requires skill as a technician. You will encounter numerous challenges and, if you want your photos to look good, you will have to solve them.
|The prime focus method is a little bit harder than the others. It involves using your telescope as a very long camera lens. For this method you will need:
An SLR is needed because the telescope is now the camera’s lens, hence to see through the telescope the camera viewfinder needs to be actually looking through the lens (an SLR). If you already have a digital SLR that’s great, it’ll be easier for you to pick up the technique as you can see the pictures straight away. But if you don’t have one I wouldn’t rush out and buy one, you’d be better off getting an old mechanical SLR because you won’t run down the batteries and you’ll be able to do the other methods I’ve described as well.
So, you’ve got your camera, a T-ring, a camera to telescope adapter and a telescope. Remove the lens of the camera, and put the T-ring in it’s place. Screw the camera-telescope adapter into the T-ring, and then place the barrel in the eyepiece holder. If you look throught the camera’s viewfinder, you should be looking through the telescope (you might need to focus it a bit, usually at prime-focus the focus point is at an extreme of the telescope’s focus). You should be ready to go!
The most difficult thing with prime-focus is getting the exposure right. You’re camera’s light-meter probably won’t work, as it will not compensate for a dark sky (it wasn’t designed to work under these conditions). The best thing to do is to take lots on different exposure settings, write down the settings for each shot, and compare them to the pictures when they come back from the lab (this is where digital owners have the one-up- they can see what works straight away). Expect to waste one or two rolls of film in acquiring the technique.
The magnification you get is actually surprisingly low. It is roughly your telescope’s focal length divided by 50. You can increase the magnification by using a barlow lens, most camera-telescope adapters have a screw thread in their barrel so you can take the lens out of your barlow and put that in to double the magnification (remember, though, you trade off brightness and sharpness for it).
With this method, be aware that sometimes the corners are blackened on the film, due to the telescope lens being round and the film being square, this is known as vignetting. In most cases it won’t matter however, as the background is black anyway!