Astrophotography is a fun part of photography. Astrophotography is not suited for everyone though. Staying out all night while getting cold & on some occasions waiting for clouds to disappear for a clear night can take some patience. Modern-day DSLR/DSLT/Mirrorless cameras can capture a night sky with no fuss, including the Milky Way. Check this post with photos of the Milky Way. However, even with today’s technology, they have their limitations.
Perhaps two most significant issues photographers face when taking astrophotography images is star trail and noise. Earth moves & so does your camera that’s fixed to a tripod whilst the night sky is moving. In turn, this leads to a star trail. Exposure times usually are limited from ten to thirty seconds, depending on what lens you use. Having limited exposure times also produces other problems. Short exposure times can restrict what can be captured by a camera sensor. It is accepted though that Stars & Milky Way is achievable within this time frame.
Another problem is increasing ISO, leading to an expanded grainy, noisy look. There are methods to help obtain a clearer & well-exposed image such as stacking a series of images to improve quality, but it does not eliminate having to use high camera ISO settings. If anyone reading this has done image stacking, I am sure it’s agreed that this can be a lengthy process that sometimes may not work out. Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer motorized mount comes in to help with this.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer & Astrophotography
Star Adventurer by Sky-Watcher is a handy piece of equipment. Helping to alleviate a need to mass stack a series of images. Or at least help to reduce time when processing photos. By aligning the device to Polaris in the sky, it helps to achieve exposure times far higher than what a camera can capture when fixed on a tripod.
Star Adventurer is also designed mainly for cameras & lightweight telescopes. So it’s an excellent start for anyone getting into astrophotography without having to use expensive, massive telescopes. Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is particularly favourable with lightweight glasses that can have a camera designed for astrophotography attached to the end with the help of adaptors.
Using a Star Adventurer also eliminates two problems highlighted earlier. Star Adventurer moves with trails of the stars. Chances of star trail are removed, or significantly reduced. Also, the fact that exposure times have increased leads to lower ISO settings, helping to catch a cleaner image. Getting as close to Polaris as possible can extend exposure times of up to ten minutes or more.
In this review, I will be setting up Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer in a picture guide. Photos of the Milky Way and Stars included below.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer – Whats Included?
Aside from a central unit, Star Adventurer comes with a selection of handy add-ons/extras depending on which package you purchase. I have the pro pack astro/photo Bundle which consists of:
- Star Adventurer unit
- Ball Head Adaptor
- Illuminated polar scope
- Equatorial Wedge
- Mounting assembly
- Counter Weight
One negative view is an exclusion of a ball head. You have to purchase this yourself or use an existing one. They are cheap enough to buy on their own, but it would be good if this is included.
You have to provide other items not included such as a tripod, shutter button etc. This is explained next.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer – What Else is Required?
Aside from what is in the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer box from new, other items will be needed to make life just a little bit easier. Some of it you may feel you will not need most of this, however having all of it including anything extra that can make your life easier is excellent:
- Shutter Button
- Lens heater
- Ball Head
The tripod needs to stable enough to hold the unit & camera along with a counterweight. I use an old heavy tripod more suited for video cameras, capable of carrying it’s own in a strong wind. Also, bear in mind that with everything attached, it can be a payload of up to five kilograms, so a flimsy or cheap tripod is not recommended.
Setting up Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
The first part of setting up the unit is most natural. Just screw on the Star Adventurer to a robust and sturdy tripod. Then make sure it is level.
Aligning Polar Scope
Probably the worst part of using Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, aligning to Polaris. It is a very fiddly affair that can also hurt your neck when using its viewfinder as it is challenging due to the angle. There is a solution to this & shown below. If you would rather do this using a guide or tracker with software, there is an option to add this to the unit or mounting assembly. In honesty, I have not felt the need to do this. Well not yet anyway, until I wanted to get a little more serious by using telescopes that can zoom into nebulas. For landscape photography purposes & zoom lenses, a manual polar align should be sufficient as long as it’s aligned correctly.
Finding Polaris is not too complicated once you get used to knowing where it is. In general, it is located facing north just above Big Dipper. There are also many apps for your mobile phone to help you find it. I use SkyView Lite, a free app that points to where stars are in the sky.
Aligning Polaris with Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
When Polaris is found, align it with the Polar Scope inside Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. I use a mobile app called Polar Scope Align. There are lots of similar apps available, but this one is free & does the job. Note the latitude on the upper left. Number fifty-one will be needed to align correctly with Star Adventurer. Read the Useful Apps for Astrophotography guide for more.
Place tripod and unit into a position where it is roughly in a northerly direction of Polaris. The rest can be done using the levers. A helpful aid to guide Star Adventurer to Polaris is merely using a piece of card with an inverted arrow wedged in the mounting platform. The rest is completed when viewing inside the Polar Scope.
Using Polar Scope Illuminator
Everything is nearly set. At this point, you can either set the rest of the equipment onto the Star Adventurer and use supplied polar illuminator, or merely use the illuminator on its own before setting up. I set everything up first, then align the scope. It’s less of a hassle as fitting equipment after alignment can knock it out of line. It also an excellent idea to switch on Star Adventurer & set it to the star icon so it follows the line when setting up.
Fine Tuning Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
With everything set up, align the polar scope using adjustment knobs to get as close to Polaris as possible. It needs to match what you see on the Polar Scope align App shown earlier. The view of the night sky will be upside down when viewed inside the polar scope, make sure you are aware of this.
Final Set Up
Now Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer has aligned it’s time to set up the rest of the kit carefully. I have everything attached, ready to go. Make sure alignment is still correct after everything is set up.
Taking Astrophotography with Star Adventurer
So now everything is good to go. All that needs to be done is pointing the camera in a direction you want it to be using the ball head. Be gentle when doing this so as not to knock alignment out. It’s also good to check alignment everytime you move the camera or make any other adjustments to be sure. There are some varying configurations to set up. I usually use all of the equipment along with an extra camera, but it can also be set up for a lighter look. There are a few possibilities so set it up as shown above, but use one that is comfortable for your needs.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Results
Results below are from a trip to Stack Rocks & Green Bridge of Wales in Castlemartin. I used a full frame camera & a crop sensor camera. Both gave pleasing results; however, a full frame camera edged it by allowing more light into its sensor. Minimal processing had gone into the RAW files. Changes made during processing were a small reduction in noise & slight saturation with a vignette in the corners.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Final Thoughts
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is an impressive bit of equipment for any astrophotography enthusiast. There are models out there that can align to Polaris automatically, but it is not that hard to set it up yourself after some practice. A bonus of having a load of up to five kilograms makes this a significant bit of kit that can support up to two cameras at the same time. Most models providing a similar job cannot handle such a high load weight, so Star Adventurer wins.
I have taken exposures of up to six minutes & am confident that going higher in exposure times would not be a problem. however, I feel that six minutes is more than enough without having a risk of overexposure. Light pollution from nearby towns etc. does not pose too much of a problem. But this also depends on where you live. If you live in areas that are heavily light polluted but is still capable of capturing the milky way, then this needs to be taken into consideration.
Also, bear in mind that the images above were taken with a wide angle lens. If I was to use, for example, a 200mm lens then the exposure times could be much shorter if I was not aligned close enough to Polaris. However, that is not to say that having a very long exposure time with a telephoto lens is not possible.
Sky Watcher-Star Adventurer Bad Points
At the current time, I can only think of two negative points when using Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer & that is the polar scope. If there were a way to light the polar scope up inside the unit rather than using an illuminator externally, then this would make this a brilliant tool. However, this is already brilliant. If you plan on buying one I would recommend it.
Another final negative view is the angle of Sky-Watcher when aligning Polaris using its Polar Scope. As a tripod needs to be low to avoid wind affecting images, it can hurt your neck due to an awkward angle. A right angle viewfinder can solve this problem but if the unit could have one built in, even better.
Some links to useful sites relevant to Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer.
- Polar Scope Adaptor – An adaptor to use a right angle scope for Star Adventurer. The owner of the site also produces some other great items for astrophotography.
- Quick Set Up Chart – A handy guide to set up quickly.
- Set Up Video – Still stuck? Watch this useful video to set up Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer.
Looking to find more places to take Astrophotography? Check my Astrophotography Locations in South Pembrokeshire Guide.