MY MAIN CCD CAMERA
2010 has been my year for upgrading equipment. I first purchased the Starlight Xpress filter wheel in February which is just a wonderful, sturdy design, the real bonus is it's powered solely by USB. Then in May I purchased a starlight Xpress SXVR-H16 camera. I do really like this camera. Although it's a departure from the Sony chips , utilising a Kodak KAI4021M chip in this model, I can see no real problem at all with noise as the two stage peltier cooling system seems to handle this well. The R version has regulated cooling control which is now included in all SX's new lines of CCD cameras. The H16 has a square chip with the physical dimensions 15.15x15.15mm: 7.4uM x 7.4uM, Image format: 2048 x 2048 pixels. The best thing I like about this chip is its 40,000e full well capacity in comparison to many other chips on the market. And of course nearly all of SX cameras weigh in around 400- 500 grams, apart from the SXV-H35 & 36. So this is a big plus if your focuser can't handle great weights.
2009 was quite a poor year for imaging in my location, so thinking of maintenance, mid year I replaced my mounts stepper drive motors/ system to servo motors controlled by the SiTech control box and software by Sidereal Technology.
As of late August 2005 I purchased a used StarlightXpress HX916 usb 1.1 cooled monochrome CCD camera. This is the third StarlightXpress camera I have owned (the first a HX516) and only have high praise for the quality images they are able to produced. This camera, like many of the SX range utilise the low noise Sony chips so dark frames are not needed at all! The size of the CCD chip used in the HX916 is 8.7x6.9mm and is a Sony ICX085al Super Had chip. Its resolution is 1300x1030 consisting of a 6.7x 6.7uM pixel array. These cameras produce excellent mega pixel colour images by use of a filter wheel or slider through separate integrations with RGB filters when these are combined together. However the HX916 has now been super seeded by the popular SXV-H9 and SXV-H9c (a one shot colour camera)
StarlightXpress CCD cameras have been out on the amateur astronomy market since around the mid '90's. Founder, designer and developer, Terry Platt first began researching ways to take digital images for astronomical purposes in the mid '80's. The only ones doing so at this period were professional astronomers. Through Terry's R & D over the years that followed, his innovations have made digital imaging accessible for most amateurs on tight budgets.
Starlight Xpress have now a wide range of imagers to suit most any telescope with their varying F ratios. From super high resolution mega pixel models like the SXH35 & 36 down to the MX516. Many are One shot colour cameras that don't need the added expense of filters and filter wheels.
Visit them at their Website www.starlight-xpress.co.uk/
MY GUIDE CCD CAMERA
As of February 07, my HX516 has returned to me. I've upgraded it to USB1.1 It is a fantastic guide camera and has no problem finding a bright enough guide star at 2 sec exposures so my guide scope seldom needs to be touched. Its chip size is 4.9 x 3.65mm. Full resolution data: 660x494 with 7.4x7.4uM pixel size. This camera can also produce good colour images by use of a filters. A good starting CCD for those venturing into digital astro imaging. In the past I have used a Starlight Xpress MX516, Meade DSI Pro, Meade LPI, Logitech pro4000 and a modified B&W Connectix webcam.
Imaging was never far from my mind. I constantly drooled over the astro mags with the great shots amateurs were taking using hyper sensitised films. As I did quite a bit of B&W developing when I was younger, I knew what I would have to buy. With all the go gear, not to mention try and get inflammable fluids via our freight services here, that in it's self would have been a pain, I would still have to have a good flip mirror system, auto guider, or manually guide- not my idea of relaxation. Plus, forget about using my existing automatic SLR and buy another that was manual. If I didn't want to do B&W images, I would have to do some research into colour processing or rely on the chemist/ pharmacy's quick photo service. This would be a time consuming, and the latter a disappointing exercise, if only to show, you had a major stuff up. Man…the list went on when I sat down to add it all up. Then I was noticing more and more shots in the astro-mags, people were beginning to use digital CCD imagers. Some of the results were good. Still not really like 35mm though. But this took my eye. After doing some minor arithmetic, I found that it would be heaps cheaper in the long run, and you didn't have to wait days to see your mistakes. It was instantaneous. But once again the ol' hand brake was on. I couldn't afford such prices. So yes I looked, drooled even more and found myself becoming a little bored with just gazing through the eyepiece and not recording what I was seeing. For the next couple of years my keenness waned slightly. Two years on from that, I was only taking the scope out when the thought carried me, or when a friend was interested in a tour. But ultimately I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do.
I let it slide for a little while, only checking prices in the astro mags every six months or so. Nothing had changed.
Another year on I checked again, this time on the net. Instead of things going down a bit, they'd gone up.
A little dismayed, I began to type in different search criteria, then, came across numerous amateur astronomy sites with people modifying Quick Cams. The more I read and gazed upon their shots, the more I was interested. This was right up my alley, and besides, even if some of the shots weren't great, I pondered, at least I was going to be learning the basics of astro-imaging.
And this is where my digital deep sky mining started!
MY FIRST CCD CAMERAwas a Greyscale Connectix Quick cam which had a TC255 CCD chip (used in ST-5c's). So here I was, I built a housing, which over the months had various transitions, used a CPU fan to cool the back of the chip and a switch to disable the anti blooming gate. With various home made focal reducers, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
But this really only wetted my appetite and once I bought the HX516, this little home made cam became my guide camera for a time and as they say, the rest is history.
See my Astronomy Links page.
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