I wanted to share my portable astrophotography setup with the community. Hopefully, someone will find it helpful, especially the part about using a smartphone with SkySafari Plus to locate targets. Check out the photo of the setup below. I started with a solid Manfrotto tripod I already had from my days as a videographer. I then added a Sony A6300 mirrorless camera (which I use for studio photography, as well). Then, after much deliberation and research, I purchased the Ioptron Skyguider Pro and a William Optic Zenithstar 73 with the 73A Field Flattener (basically the heaviest WO telescope I could put on that guider). It is a fantastic combination, very capable, and I love it.
I am new to astrophotography and when I started using this setup I found it very challenging to locate targets. I live in Northern California where the typical light pollution level is orange. I would start by finding the nearest bright star to my target. Then I would take a guess (left, right, up, down 15 degrees, 10 degrees, etc.) and then take a 10 second test exposure. If I found the target, great. If I didn’t, I would make another guess, and so on. Sometimes this went well; most of the time it did not. Soon the whole thing started to become very tedious. To solve this problem, without the added expense and weight of getting a computerized mount, I added my smartphone to the mix. I purchased the Sky Safari Plus app and an adjustable mount with a ball joint to mount my smartphone to my camera (at the flash mount).
Now, to locate a target, I (again) begin by locating a nearby bright star. I focus it and center it on my camera screen. Then, with the app open and adjusted for frame size (5.6 degrees X 3.0 degrees for my camera setup), I adjust the smartphone mount so that the view in the SkySafari app is the same as the one on my camera screen. Once they are aligned I can then type the target into the search field on the app. It will then give me arrows to follow as I move my telescope, until the target is centered.
Again, I take a test exposure. The target is almost always within my camera frame.
This method is not perfect. The target is not always centered. And I cannot, for example, expect my smartphone to track accurately 30 degrees across the sky. But most of the time, if I start nearby, the target is within frame.
Thanks for all of the information you post. It is really helpful.
One more thing: I find that I can always get rock-solid one minute exposures from the Ioptron, and that I can often get rock-solid two minute exposures (depending on how often I want to go back and polar align as I move from target to target).
I brought this rig up to Lake Tahoe last weekend where I was able to shoot for a couple of hours before the moon rose. Each of the stacked images is the full frame and made from sixteen one-minute exposures with five dark frames and one bias frame. I’ve included a couple of individual frames for comparison. I stack them using Deep Sky Stacker then in Photoshop I jack up the exposure, play with the levels a bit, then tune the color. I go for a natural look.