A Simple Helical Crayford Focuser

How simple can a focuser be?

This has been a bit of a design challence for me… Just how small, how simple, can I make a focuser and yet still provide excellent usability. My latest Helix 1-14 design is my best yet.

A simple helical crayford telescope focuser
A simple helical crayford focuser

As my 3D printer design skills improve I applied lessons learned and the unique capabilities of an FDM printer to the problem of a focuser. After a bit of a journey I have arrived at a design I can consider finished. Is it the final design? I may tinker some more, but I am satified for the moment.

The design is based on a few ideas from here and there, products I have seen or used, internet postings from others faced with the same challenge. I am not one for just printing someone else’s design, I rarely do that, I want to do my own, and maybe make it better.

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Getting Focus Right

Focus is one of the most frustrating problems when shooting in the dark. The number of astrophotos ruined by poor focus is legion. Worse, the problem is often not found until afterwards, when hours of effort have been wasted. Very slight errors in focus can spoil an otherwise great photo.

Taking photos in the dark creates a situation where the normal solutions do not work… Autofocus simply will not operate without enough light. Taking the lens off and attaching the camera to a telescope results in a completely manual focus. Simply focusing through the viewfinder is not accurate enough.

Bahtinov Mask
A Bahtinov focusing mask in use on the front of the AT6RC telescope
The simplest method of focusing in the dark is to use the live view feature of the camera. By placing a bright star or distant streetlight in the view and magnifying you can achieve a reasonably good focus much of the time. This is not perfect, even the magnified image is a little mushy near ideal focus, making perfect focus difficult to judge. If you find yourself in an after-dark situation, without any special equipment along, this is the method to use.

Do remember to switch off the autofocus feature of your lens. Once you get focus set correctly you do not want to lose it the moment you touch the shutter button. Not that I have ever done that… Never? Well, perhaps maybe.

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