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Thread: CCD Recommendations

  1. #1
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    Default CCD Recommendations



    I want to get into astrophotography at some point. I've only just received my CGEM 800 and haven't taken it out yet, and I want to master it visually before I start to attempt imaging. So this purchase will be down the line a bit, I just want an idea of how much money I'm going to need to save.

    I want to take pictures of planets as well as DSOs. I don't really want to modify a DSLR for imaging, I would rather have something ready to go. The simpler I can keep it, the better, even if that means spending more money. I've seen very decent images from NexImage 5, but it doesn't seem to be made for DSOs. I haven't been able to find out much about Skyris, but it seems it's also best for planetary imaging only. The Nightscape cameras seem to do a very good job with DSOs. How are they with planets? They're pretty expensive, but I'd be willing to wait and save my money if I need to. Also, not anytime too soon, I plan to upgrade to an 11" Edge HD to use on my mount. So I would start with the camera on my smaller scope, and I'd like to use the same one for the bigger one I'll get later as well.

    Recommendations for other CCDs are also very welcome

  2. #2
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Get yourself a decent DSLR. I'd say Nikon but only because I own a few. Canon seems to be the DSLR of choice since it comes with "Backyard EOS" which looks like a pretty useful piece of software.
    Whatever DSLR you get, make sure it has a bulb setting and a cable release (or better, cable intervalometer). The long exposures with bulb are essential. Most cameras are limited to 30 seconds or less. That simply isn't enough for some of the fainter details. I have rather poor images of Mag 8 DSOs at 30secs - somewhat better at 3 minutes.

    The cable release means you don't touch your scope and introduce vibrations. Vibration isn't quite as bad with low pixel counts (640x480), but when you have a 20 megapixel camera or something similarly ludicrous, then any tiny shake is going to cover a lot of pixels and be readily apparent.

    DSLRs will perform well on planets but you need a lot of focal length to get much more than a dot. The planetary imagers seem to be geared around frames per second, not long exposure so they won't perform well at all on DSOs where you need minutes per exposure.

    Without knowing what mount, I'd take a guess and say you will need a bigger mount for an 11inch scope to work well for photography. The accepted wisdom for AP is keeping the weight to a half of the mounts maximum payload. That will be one hell of a mount to carry 100+ kilos or 240lbs (11" Edge HD at 120lbs x 2). And then you have the guide scope, camera etc to add.

    The reason why I'd recommend a DSLR over a dedicated astrophotography camera? You can still use your DSLR during the daytime at kids parties and weddings etc.
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Hi AstroNurse, cool name,

    I am on a similar path at the mo, and seem to always arrive at the CDS600D from central DS; a DSLR that is already cooled and de-filtered, and comes with Backyard EOS software. I have an 80mm refractor, as it seemed when I read the fine print all of the images I really dug were all imaged at or around the 400mm focal length.

    The central DS camera was appealing as;
    - It has an APS-C sensor and my telescope with a field flattener is optimized for this sensor size. CCDs with similar size sensors are worth HEAPS~! This sensor size on my 80mm will retain the nice widefield views that the telescope is capable of.
    - It is one-shot-colour, so the learning curve is small, compared with CCD, and especially mono CCD.
    - Backyard EOS has a drift alignment function built into the software to help with precise mount alignment to pole
    - It is costing less than my second hand full frame DSLR that I bought to take photos of the kids, as opposed to any decent CCDs which cost a lot more for similar specs, and from what I can tell there is practically no difference between OSC (one shot colour) CCD and DSLR. The real difference is between OSC and mono with filters, but then that is many many times more expensive in $, complexity and time
    - you can buy a unit, plug it in, and image.

    I am taking the plunge at the moment and buying a CDS600D, so have not got any images yet to show, and am really inexperienced myself, but thought I'd share my reasons none the less...!
    I am confident that the mount and telescope I have bought are capable of some exceptional images, so wanted initially a DSLR that could make use of this platform, while I learn some skills.

    Go well!
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Since you asked about CCDs, I'll share some info:

    There are two basic varieties, the planetary cams (like the Skyris series you mentioned) which have smaller sensors but can download with high frame rates. You can get color versions or monochrome versions (with these you need filters - which complicates things a bit but do allow you to *generally* get higher resolution images and play around with a couple other more "advanced" imaging techniques). Generally these are not cooled, meaning that with ambient heat will contribute to noise in images.

    Then there are the CCDs meant more for deep space objects. Generally, these include some mechanism for thermo-electric cooling so ambient temperature will not contribute to noise in the images. Better ones offer set-point cooling, where you can set the temperature of the camera to, for example, -15 deg C or lower.

    CCD cameras come in a huge variety of sensor sizes and capabilities, which can be seriously confusing. In general there are again two varieties, color (usually called "one-shot-color" or OSC) or monochrome. Monochrome cameras require filters to get the full value out of them, but they are generally (for somewhat complicated reasons) more sensitive and yield images with better resolution than the OSC.

    Then there are variations in sensor size and variations in pixel size. Many of us use a camera based on the Kodak KAF-8300 sensor, and all the major players in the CCD camera market make a camera based on this sensor in either OSC or monochrome versions. A big part of the reason is that it's a pretty large sensor and "inexpensive" as quality sensors go. With the sensor's size, the image field is not too different from what you'd get with an APS-C sensor found in most DSLR cameras. Cameras that use this include the QHY9, Atik 383l, SBIG-8300, QSI-583, Orion has a couple versions of cameras that include this as well.

    Sony-based sensors are better in many ways, in that they have far less noise than the Kodak sensors, but they are also sometimes called "crop sensors" because they are physically smaller, the field of view in the images will be a lot smaller than the Kodaks. They also tend to have smaller pixels, which while this does allow for better resolution, your guiding must be very good to make full use of these cameras.

    You should check out this tool called CCDcalc. It'll let you put in data for a particular camera and match it up to a telescope to get an idea of the field of view.

    Since you mentioned using an CGEM 800, with that 8" SCT, that should be a major consideration in choice of CCD camera. Crop sensor cameras will be very difficult to handle at long focal lengths. To me, you'd want to make sure you get a Celestron 0.63 reducer/flattener - this will bring your telescope down from f/10 to f/6.3 and give you a wider field of view. You'll also need a guide camera, and/or an off-axis guider set-up.

    Believe me, it adds up fast!

    On the other hand, if you wanted to get started with planetary imaging - a decent planetary camera - even a OSC model (such as the QHY5l-II or ZWO ASI120MC) - you've already got everything else you need!

    Good luck!
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    I don't want to alarm you but, taking astro photos isn't as easy as you might think. It's an ongoing process of compiling data over months and years and saving every shot you take. There's a huge learning curve in long exposure, as apposed to short exposure video AP. I've done short video's of Solar system objects for about 8 mos. it's been one great ride and now I've got a Digital camera that I can use with my Z10 cannon. If I get frustrated , I'll leave it be and walk over and start viewing w/my Z10 or my grab n go refractor until I feel up to it again. "You will get frustrated" and it's nothing like viewing, conditions have to be great for long exposure AP. I've got the "PO MAN" set-up and it works for me. I might be a disabled astronomer but, I can achieve AP. One step at a time with a lot of help from my forum friends.
    Last edited by stepping beyond; 03-09-2014 at 03:47 AM.

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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Your 800 will do very well for AP. You will want the focal reducer for it for sure. And it will do quite nicely for viewing. Right now before you do anything else get the Tempest fan cooling system from Ed over at Deep Space Products. It will cut your cool down time dramatically and keep the scope at thermal equilibrium all evening long. This is a must for maximizing your viewing enjoyment with an SCT and for imaging down the road.

    After that consider starting with a DSLR. The Canon T3i is a good starting point at about $500 for a kit. It will do both planetary and DSO because it has the ability to AVI video capture which is what you want for planetary as well as long exposure which is what you want for DSO imaging. For DSO you will need the focal reducer with your scope.

    Once you are ready to step into the CCD come back and ask again. You are at least a year out from imaging if you do things right and a lot can change in a year. What I mean by that is from my own and other's experience you want to spend at least 6 months and better a year just learning your scope, your mount, and your night sky. This will make that step off into the deep end that is AP much easier to do and much less frustrating. AP is frustrating enough without adding in the complexities of learning your sky, mount, and scope on top of it.

    But to answer your question budget wise plan on spending upwards of $2,000 for a one shot color (OSC) CCD and upwards of $3,000+ for a mono CCD, filter wheel, and filters. Frankly I would skip the OSC and go directly to mono since most imagers end up there at the end. Add another $300-$600 for a CCD dedicated to planetary imaging. But for sure start with the DSLR. That way if you decide you don't like it you can always use the DSLR for regular photography.

    The Edge 1100 will be fine on the CGEM for visual but you will be pushing the mount very hard if you try AP with it using anything other than Hyperstar. You will need to put it on a pier and get a larger counterweight bar to move it into the range where AP is possible with it. I say that because the only difference between a CGEM DX and the CGEM are the bigger counterweight bar and the stronger tripod. Everything else on the CGEM and CGEM DX in terms of internals are the same. Moving the CGEM to the pier more than equals the bigger tripod.
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    You definitely want to start with a Focal Reducer to make life easier. That said, a used SBig ST-2000XM [Mono] or ST-2000XCM [OSC] would be a really great way to start. One Shot Color makes life easy, but will limit the ultimate quality of the resultant image. But for starting out, you would not notice the potential limitations at all. With a used Mono Camera, you could go with a Filter Wheel or stay simple by using Starizona Filter Drawer for manually swapping the Red, Green, Blue and likely an Ha Filter too. I suggest Ha, as you will find out quickly that a 1/3 Moon shining away ruins contrast quickly. But you can continue on imaging with a Narrow Ha Filter in place. Nice!

    The used Mono or OSC would likely run about $800 to $900. SBig makes really great products and has excellent support. The ST series cools decently and are excellent quality imagers. The ST-2000 is also a dual chip Camera. So you can image and guide off the same Optics. No need for a Guide Scope or to fight limited guiding due to flexure. The pixel array is only 1600x1200, but is large enough to create Wallpapers for most Laptops. I had one myself early on and can not think of any short comings except for the ST-4000XCM series Camera that produces a 2048x2048 subframe with the same pixel size [yielding the same Image Scale]. But the ST-4000 would likely be harder to find for sale and would likely be about 50% cost more to purchase.

    I have no DSLR experience to draw on. I went with CCD for better cooling, color handling, easy focusing and compactness. It is a choice that I would make again.

    -> I suggest you download CCDCalc from Ron Wodaski. The free Software let's you match Scopes and Cameras to show how it would frame on a whole list of DSO Targets. You can also key in Barlows or Focal Reducers, or the values for a Camera or Scope that might not be on the listing. And the Database can be easily edited to list only the Scopes and Cameras that you are interested in. A highly recommended Tool.

    Hope something here helped. For questions, just send a PM. Enjoy journey into AstroPhotography. I think there is something for just about everyone there in the Hobby. AlanP
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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Hi!

    A DSLR is a great start - some never 'upgrade' to CCD. They are dead simple, easy to manage, are useful outside of the few clear nights and have a fantastic field of view.

    I used a Canon D600 for some time while learning the ropes, moved on to a CCD, sold the Canon since I don't really do any other photography. Loss 60 punds (120 dollars?).

    It sure was a cheap way of learning.

    I use this as well for scope/camera combos:

    http://www.newastro.com/book_new/camera_app.php

    Good luck!

    /Jesper

    EDIT: It would be rude not to answer your actual question! I use the Atik460, and along with the Atik490 those are the ones I'd personally recommend :-)
    Last edited by Jessun; 04-03-2014 at 05:52 PM.

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    Default Re: CCD Recommendations

    Well, this is a big decision, and one not to be taken lightly. First, you need to know your image scale. You can calculate your image scale and field of viewof any potential camera. You can calculate it here. Image Scale and Field of View Calculator. Your goal is to have an image scale of about 1-2 arcsec/pixel.

    Next, is to figure out what you want to do with it. Planetary and DSO generally are mutually exclusive as far as cameras are concerned, although you can do planetary with DSLRs. I never did it as I had a webcam. A Guide to DSLR Planetary Imaging

    Next, is to figure out whether you want to go one shot color (OSC) or monochrome. If you go OSC, then I would recommend a DSLR of some ilk, Canon or Nikon, although more astrophotographers use Canons. I know you wrote you didn't want to get it modified, but I would recommend doing it if you want to get more Ha. This image was taken with my modified DSLR a couple of years ago (I just got around to processing it recently). Modded DSLRs can be used for daytime no problem with custom white balance settings. You can get a refurbished camera body from somewhere like B&H photo for reasonably cheap. For modifying cameras, I personally recommend Gary Honis, but there are others like Hap Griffin who are just as good.

    The advantage of DSLRs are ease of use, pure and simple. Disadvantage is that they are not cooled and you can get a lot of thermal noise. I grew to dislike the Bayer matrix pattern on them.

    It all depends on how much money you want to spend. My DSLR finally died (okay, to be more accurate I accidentally killed it) and I had a decision to make. Do I get another DSLR, or do I finally jump ship to monochrome?

    I ended up deciding with the 8300 sensor because it had an image scale well within the parameter of 1-2 arcsec/pixel and decided on a QSI 683. But cooled CCDs are not cheap.

    If I were starting out, this is what I'd get:
    hhttp://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/SLR-Digital-Cameras/ci/18978/N/4112501919
    There is a Canon T3 used with a lens for $329.
    Then I'd get it modded by Gary Honis ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY & DIGITAL IMAGING by Gary Honis or Hap Griffin DSLR Modifications
    There are other modding services.

    Then I'd get one of these puppies. CAMERA ADAPTERS for TELESCOPES & MICROSCOPES!
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