Getting Started with Astrophotography
Acquiring a decent telescope with a motorized mount, an equatorial mount if possible, literally opens the sky for you. With such a telescope you could minimize star trailing by piggybacking your SLR camera to your telescope and allowing the motorized mount to track the stars as they move above you. If you are really ambitious, you can always try your hand at eyepiece projection or even prime focus astrophotography. Now I'm going to be truthful here, once you start delving into this realm of astrophotography things start to get more challenging. Due to this, the best thing to do at this point is purchase a web camera, or one of the many commercial digital cameras that are geared for this purpose. For example, Meade's LPI or DSI digital cameras are examples of such devices. The picture to the left is of my Fujica 35mm film SLR camera with a Meade camera adaptor attached. I have found this setup to be very sensitive to mount gyrations, so a very steady mount is absolutely required if you plan on using 35mm film for astrophotography.
In my case I decided to go the inexpensive route and purchased a Logitech QC Pro 3000 webcam. Be sure that whatever webcam you buy it uses a CCD sensor chip as opposed to a CMOS sensor chip. This is because CCD based webcams are much more sensitive under darkened conditions. The best way to utilize these web cameras is to take the screw on lens that comes with them off and screw on a telescope to webcam adapter which can be purchased either from Mogg or other suppliers. Such an adapter is pictured below. Once the adapter is in place you can simply slide the webcam into the focuser tube of the telescope and begin prime focus astrophotography. You will soon notice that no matter what you do to the webcam software to increase the webcams ability to detect dim objects you will hit a brick wall. Now I'm talking about deep sky objects, you will have no trouble photographing planetary objects like Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon. Anyway, I recommend you spend a good deal of time getting to know your setup by photographing planetary objects before you move up to DSO photography.
It is important to add what software you can use to assist in taking planetary and DSO imagery. I use a few different software packages, but it is entirely up to you which one you prefer. I like to use K3CCDTools and AstroVideo as my primary image gathering software. Depending on the application I will use one or the other. In astrophotography it is common practice to do image processing after capturing the initial images. This involves aligning, stacking and summing up the many images taken during a session. K3CCDTools and AstroVideo have this capability built in, but it is possible to use software that is specifically designed for this purpose. I use Registax 4 to do alignment, stacking, and other work depending on what I'm trying to accomplish. I also use PhotoShop 7 for post processing of the stacked and aligned images. There is a lot of software out there catering to astrophotography, some free some not, so just search around until you find something that fits your needs.