Orion XT8 SkyQuest 8″ Dobsonian Telescope Review

I have had an Orion XT8 SkyQuest 8″ Dob for a few years now and it has held up well. This telescope has offered up a nice view of a lot of objects but for some reason I have never written about it. Let’s change that. Here is a short Orion Skyquest XT8 review.

Orion XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

I bought this telescope several years ago and paid less than the Orion Skyquest XT8 price on Amazon, but like most things, prices have gone up a little and they have changed the scope a little. My old Orion XT8 came with a couple of eyepieces and I believe one of Orion’s Deepmap 600 maps which I love. The new one has eliminated one eyepiece and the map, but thrown in a few enhancements we will look  at.

This is the older version which only had a 1.25″ rack and pinion focuser whereas the newer ones seem to come with a 2″ crayford which I can say would be a huge improvement. While this older focuser is not nearly as nice and I can’t use it with 2″ eyepieces, it is still a solid unit.

The newer versions of the Orion XT8 and  my version both come with a red dot finder which is really cheap and flimsy. I much prefer Orion’s Orion EZ Finder Deluxe which sadly is not available any more. You can however get a Astromania Finder Deluxe Telescope Reflex Sight from Amazon which is almost an exact copy, yea!

The best thing about this scope is that it is a solid scope, both in build quality and image quality. My Zhumell Z8 scope is a much nicer scope to use than this Orion XT8 and came with better accessories, but for the money, this is an awesome starter scope and no one will regret buying one. 

Orion’s technical support is also first rate and should you run into any problems, the solution is a quick phone call or email away. You probably won’t need that however because this Orion XT8 is not only well built, but drop dead easy to assemble and use as well.

Opening the Orion XT8 box you find the tube in one section and the base/parts in another. Assembling the base was a simple matter of three side pieces and the bottom, along with a hand full of allen head screws for which they provided the tools. 

Orion XT8 unboxed

Once the base was assembled, you can just set the tube in the base and attach the side springs which put tension on the setup so the scope stays where you put it. Other telescopes I have used have adjustable tension while this one does not, but I fail to think of a scenario that a typical beginner would get into where that would be a problem. In fact, the only time I have used my tensioners on my Zhumell Dob is when I was doing something the telescope was never designed to do in the first place so I am not going to penalize the Orion XT8 for not having it.

About the only thing left is to slide the finder into the slot for it and tighten it down, then grab the eyepiece and start looking around.

Initial thoughts on moving the scope around are that it is pretty smooth in both altitude and azimuth movements. Years later, it is still remarkably smooth. As smooth as the more expensive scopes that use high end ball bearings for everything? Well no, but for much less expensive scope it is more than smooth enough and seems to keep that smoothness over the years. Using the teflon (I am assuming) pads on the altitude might actually be a really good thing as bearings can wear out and possibly corrode, the pads probably will not.

One of the down sides to any Dobsonian telescope, including this Orion XT8, is the cool down time. This is the time it takes for the telescope mirrors to adjust to the temperature outside. Typically you take the telescope from an air conditioned inside to an outside viewing location and the temperature can vary between the two locations by up to forty degrees. This temperature variance causes terrible viewing as the mirrors cool down (or warm up). Once the mirrors have equalized, the viewing is exceptional. Although not included with the scope, Orion does have a cooling fan that attaches to the back of the Orion XT8 to help it cool down faster.

Although I much prefer dual speed crayford focusers in my telescopes, the single speed rack and pinion in my Orion XT8 is pretty nice, and very functional. The newer single speed crayford in the new version of the Orion XT8 I am sure is an excellent focuser. Users I have talked to say it is very fast and smooth and a real improvement over the rack and pinion design.

25mm Plossl eyepiece that comes with the Orion XT8

The 25mm eyepiece provided with the scope is a solid eyepiece for a beginner and provides excellent views of the moon, Andromeda galaxy, Orion nebula, and a host of other popular beginner targets. Unfortunately this one eyepiece choice can leave someone a little lacking so I would suggest you get an Orion moon filter and an Orion 12.5mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece to round things out.

Orion gives you a coupon for a download of some astronomy software included with the Orion XT8. I am not a fan. You can get Stellarium for free off the internet but really, who has a computer out next to their telescope unless they are doing astrophotography? Better options include Orion’s own Deepmap 600 which is awesome in the field, a nice Planisphere (be sure to select the right one for your location!) or any number of excellent phone/tablet apps.

If you wanted something a little nicer you could always go with Orion’s XT8 Plus. When looking at the orion xt8 vs xt8 plus, the plus includes adjustable tension, secondary mirror thumbscrews adjusters, two eyepieces, a 2x barlow and a dual speed crayford focuser for just $100 more:

Orion XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Whichever Orion XT8 you decide on, you will have a telescope that should last for many years and provide excellent views.

I hope you enjoyed my little review of the Orion XT8 Dobsonian telescope!

 


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Astrophotography image storage and backup

Astrophotography image captures can add up quickly. They also tend to not be very small. Once you add in darks, bias and flats, you can have quite a mess on your hands. 

Organization

The fist problem is figuring out how to store the files so that it makes sense and you can get the files you need in a hurry. I started off with just a folder where I threw everything in and thought my naming convention would keep my astrophotography image collection organized enough. I was very very wrong.

What I recommend now is a different method, and I suggest you take a look at this one and then make changes to get a system that works for you. Organization is not just so you can go back and find stuff, which you will want to do, but  also to make processing and backups easier.

If you tend to shoot multiple targets in one night and rarely if ever shoot the same target over multiple nights and combine them, the method I recommend for your astrophotography image folders is something like this:

One way to store your astrophotography image collection

This was the first astrophotography image organization system I used. In this case, you start off with a folder called Astrophotography, then make a folder inside of that for each year, then one in that for each session, then one inside that for each target. Lastly, you have folders inside each target folder for each of the image types you are storing. If you are shooting monochrome CCD, then inside the Lights folder you could have folders for Red, Green, Blue and Luminance. Or you might have folders for Ha, S and O3 if you are shooting narrowband.

If on the other hand you tend to shoot the same target over multiple nights you might try something like this:

Another method of astrophotography image organization

In this system, each target can be shot over multiple nights, even spanning years. Either way, you may need to adjust things based on the way you need your astrophotography image collection to work for you. You will probably adjust things over time to better suit you as you evolve.

You might also need folders for processing or storage depending on what your astrophotography software or astrophotography tools require. For example, Photoshop tends to need little more than a PSD file while other astrophotography post processing software such as PixInsight makes a ton of files as it steps through processing towards your final astrophotography image.

How much storage?

This can be a pretty complicated figure which depends heavily on what camera you shoot, and how many frames. Let’s take a look at one session of mine and then extrapolate from there.

On January 3rd, 2014, I imaged Caldwell 4 (among other targets). I took 25 lights, 25 darks, 2 bias and 2 flats along with 5 focusing shots of this target that evening. Each image from my Nikon D7000 is about 10MB in size. In total, there were 59 camera images coming to a total of 590MB of data I want to keep for that one target. That much imaging took about five hours, so let’s say that is about 120MB/hr.

If you are a prolific astrophotographer you might image two nights a month (new moon only) and that works out to about 16 hours a month for 12 months or 192 hours. Multiply that by the 120MB/hr figure we got earlier and you have 23GB of data. Now we need to figure for processing and my experience has been that either with PixInsight or Photoshop I tend to have a lot of image files for processing and output so let’s double our previous figure and say that is 46GB of astrophotography image data.

Of course if you are dealing with FITS files from a CCD the capture images may be smaller, but you will probably have more processing files.

And lest we forget video, if you plan on doing planetary or some high resolution lunar work, our video files might be pretty large as well. Let’s say our video runs about 125MB per minute of capture and a reasonable capture might be five minutes per capture, of which we have 20. That all comes out to about 12.5GB, doubled for processing makes 25GB added to our 46GB to make 71GB of data per year.

Keep in mind that this formula was meant to show you how you can calculate your own data consumption, not really to say you need 71GB of storage per year to put your astrophotography image collection on. Heck, if you get good and you have an astrophotography photos for sale you might want to keep multiple copies in different sizes.

Internal or External?

Now we need to decide on whether we want to keep our astrophotography image collection inside our computer, or externally such as on an external USB hard drive.

Having all our images on our internal hard drive will make finding and processing those image faster, it will also make it easier to fill up our hard drive (a very bad thing) and if something happens to our computer, we could potentially lose our images easier this way. If I was going to buy an internal hard drive for astrophotography image storage I would use this one:

Seagate Green 4TB SATA Internal Hard Drive

Seagate Green 4TB SATA Internal Hard Drive

Putting the images on an external hard drive is moderately safer, and a little slower, although it also gives us portability so we can work on our images anywhere. If you want an external hard drive and will be processing the images while they are on this external hard drive, I would suggest this one:

Fantom Drives Gforce3 Pro 4TB 7200 RPM USB 3.0

Fantom Drives Gforce3 Pro 4TB 7200 RPM USB 3.0

If you just want one to store the images on, copy them to the computer for processing and then copy the finished product back to the external, then I would suggest this one:

Seagate Expansion 2TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0

Seagate Expansion 2TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0

Personally I keep the images I may work on in the near future on my local computer drive and then keep a more “permanent” copy of all my images on a NAS (a big fancy external hard drive that connects through the network).

Backup solutions

You know what is worse than your imaging session getting rained out? Getting awesome images and then losing them because a hard drive failed or you accidentally deleted the wrong folder. That is why you need a backup.

The only real  backup solution I can recommend for astrophotography image backup is BackBlaze. Why them? Because for $95 a year, you can upload unlimited images (or any other data you want) and they will keep it all nice and safe. I should reword that because it sounds like you have to remember to upload your  images and that is incorrect, all you have to do is install BackBlaze and tell it where your astrophotography image files are, then let it do its thing.

In addition, they keep multiple versions of your files which helps protect you from things like cryptoviruses and overwriting files you didn’t mean to. With versioning, you can get the previous version of the file instead of the current one, or the previous to the previous, etc. Click on one of the links for BackBlaze and get a month free trial, what are you waiting for?

Of course they back up not only your  astrophotography image files, but all your other files too!

I hope you enjoyed my article on Astrophotography image storage and backup!


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Social Media addition to Allans Stuff

Allans  Stuff joins popular social media

It is probably overdue but Allans Stuff is finally joining social media. To start off, we will work on getting our blog posts  linked/posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, in that order. This may take a while to get fully implemented so if you are primarily a Google+ user it may  be a little while before you start seeing content. Of course we will be engaging with our fans on these platforms as well but that too may be a little slow to start with so please bear with us.

We already have a presence on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/AllanHall with about 550 subscribers and over 100,000 video views, so be sure and drop by and subscribe to the channel. There are a lot of good videos already with more on the way.

Follow Allans Stuff on Facebook as AllansAstroStuff , on Twitter @AllansStuff, on Instagram and on Google+.

Of course you can also send a message using the Contact Me form here on the website, or use our newly revamped astrophotography forums.


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Astrophotography objects for beginners book released

Book on astrophotography objects

Today I am proud to release a new book aimed squarely at beginning astrophotographers who want to know what astrophotography objects they can image with their equipment.

From the webpage:

Are you interested in astrophotography objects in the northern hemisphere?

Do you need good information on astrophotography objects that can help you as a starting point?

Taking images of astrophotography objects that are millions of miles from Earth is about as complicated as it sounds and when you start out you will find it hard to target the right ones.

Size, brightness and type are just a few of the more common considerations, but there are many more that relate to the type of equipment you have to hand and what the best tools for the job will be.

Now, with 50 Best Astrophotography Targets for Beginners, you have a handy information guide that will provide the starting place you seek, with information on:

  • How to get started
  • Tackling close astrophotography objects like the sun and moon
  • What the targets look like
  • The best time of the year to shoot them
  • How big the targets are
  • How to find them
  • What the images look like straight out of the camera
  • And much more…

Once you have mastered the techniques needed to take stunning photographs of these amazing beginner astrophotography targets you can move on to further reading on the subject, but making sure that you are taking quality images of some of these is the first step.

Designed with the novice in mind, 50 Best Astrophotography Targets for Beginners provides good, clear information in an easily understood format, allowing you to take the photographs you’ve always wanted to take. It even includes photographs that realistically shows you, as a beginner, what you can expect to achieve. There are no NASA or Hubble images in this book!

Aimed specifically at the beginning astrophotographer using a camera such as a DSLR in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the book you have been looking for.

Get a copy today and see how it will improve the way you take amazing shots of the heavens that will impress and delight friends and family alike!

The book is available today in both print and Kindle editions. 

Buy the book on astrophotography objects now          Get more information on the astrophotography objects book

Get out an image those astrophotography objects!


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Astrophotography forum back up and running

Relaunch of the AS Astrophotography Forum!

When I first started writing books I thought setting up a forum for support of the books would be a good idea. Unfortunately I never really kept up with it and soon it fell by the wayside. It soon broke to the point that new users could not even register. Sad.

Recently I have had some people ask me what happened to the forums and so I decided to put in some work and get them back up and running. After many upgrades, head pounding, and new additions, the new and improved astrophotography forum is ready for action.

ASForums Astrophotography Forum

While originally intended to support my books, since my books are primarily aimed at astrophotography, that theme will permeate the forums making them mostly an astrophotography forum. This should be pretty obvious with the big moon phase at the top right of the screen!

Of course there is a set of astronomy forums in there too. Even though most of my work has been with a DSLR, and most of my books cover that form of imaging, this is not just a DSLR astrophotography forum.

Since allans-stuff.com is one of the leading astrophotography websites today, it just made sense to have its own astrophotography forum where you can not only discuss the techniques presented in my books, but general imaging topics too.

So if you have any comments, suggestions, ideas or corrections about any of my books, or want to talk about astrophotography, astronomy, or any other subjects really, head on over to the forums. If you have any problems getting signed up, use the contact form here on allans-stuff.com to send me a message and I will get it straightened out for you.

Hop on over to the AS Forum and post up some astrophotography pics!


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New raw data added to Long Exposure Astrophotography page!

A while back, a customer who goes by Brucer on Amazon, suggested I add more data to the web page for Long Exposure Astrophotography so people who bought the book would have more astrophotography data to practice with. I thought that was an excellent idea but was crazy busy at the times.

I have found some time to add a little to the website so I am please to announce I have uploaded additional astrophotography data including lights, darks and bias files that I used to process my images of M16 the Eagle Nebula, M22 cluster, IC281 the Pac Man nebula, and NGC6992 the Eastern Veil Nebula.

New astrophotography data added to the Long Exposure Astrophotography book page

These are the exact same raw files I used so you can see the end results I came up with on my website. That gives you something to shoot for!

Although I can not always fulfill every request, I really love it when people give me suggestions to help other readers learn astrophotography and I do what I can. If you have any ideas, suggestions or requests, please do not hesitate to use the contact form or drop by the forums and let me know.

Clear skies!

Allan

Enjoy the new astrophotography data!


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