Category Archives: Gear Reviews

This is where I will post all of my reviews on astro gear

QHY183M Review – Part 2

As promised, now that I have done some imaging with my new QHYCCD 183M Mono ColdMOS Back Illuminated camera here’s the second part of my review on the camera.

Pixel size:- The pixel size on the 183M is 2.4um which I absolutely love, on my Sky-Watcher 8 Inch Quattro F4 the camera gives me a field of view of 0.62 Arcseconds/Pixel, which is a fantastic resolution, I remember when I had my Atik 383L+ and my Astro-Tech AT8RC F8, that offered me a resolution of around 0.63 Arcseconds/Pixel, so I am now imaging at almost the same field of view but at F4 and at 20mpx, but let’s just put that into comparison on the same scope, the first image below is IC434 taken with the Atik 383L+ on the Quattro, and the second image below is taken with the QHY183M on the same telescope, you can see what impact it has on the field of view:

FOV on Atik 383L+ with 8″ Quattro F4

FOV on QHY183M with 8″ Quattro F4

As you can see from the above two images the difference in the field of view due to the chip and pixel size, to put that in comparison, the following table compares the two cameras:

CameraQHY183MAtik 383L+
Pixel Size2.4um5.4um
Chip Size13.3mm x 8.9mm17.6mm x 13.52mm
Chip Resolution in Pixels5544x36943354 x 2529
Total pixels20,479,5368,482,226
Field of View on 8" Quattro F40.62 Arcsec/Pixel1.389 Arcsec/Pixel

Camera Sensitivity:- Since moving to the QHY183M I have had to make changes to how I image, having owned the Atik 383L+ for a good few years, I got used to imaging with it, so when I moved to the QHY183M I suddenly noticed that this camera was quite a bit more sensitive, the first image above consists of 300 second frames for the LRGB whereas the second image consists of just 150 second frames, yes 150 second frames!!!

When I first started imaging M81/M82 with the QHY183M, I immediately started with 300 Second frames, I ended up with the same amount of 300 second frames that I had with the Atik 383L+ but I just could not process it, after further analysis I noticed then that the lights were severely clipped, to put this into perspective, below is the Sequence Generator Pro Histogram for both the 300 second exposure (left) and the 150 second exposure (right)

As you can see the histogram on the left for the 300 second exposure is severly clipped on the right side of the histogram indicating that the exposure was too long, the histogram on the right for the 150 second exposure is a lot better, there is still some slight clipping happening but this was a luminance frame, this clearly indicates that the 183M is much more sensitive than my previous CCD imager.

The following two images were produced with the 183M, firstly IC434 consists of 19×300 Second Exposures in RGB and the Second Image of The Owl Nebula consists of 27×300 second exposures in RGB + 25x600S in Ha

Software Integration:- As you probably know already, I use Sequence Generator Pro for my image acquisition and the integration with the camera has been pretty seemless, the ASCOM platform driver works pretty well, and I have the camera set to the default gain and offset setting that QHY have provided which is 16 of Gain and 76 for offset:

UV/IR Sensitivity:- I have read online that the 183M is a little bit sensitive to UV/IR Light, so I asked the guys at QHYCCD about this abd they informed be that the window on the senor is straight clear glass, so it also lets in UV/IR Light, which for me is not an issue as all of my Baader filters are UV/IR Blocked anyway, but it is something to consider if I ever change filters.

Conclusion
The camera has performed way beyond my expectations, had to change some of my approaches to image acquisition but that was to be expected, I am extremely happy with the camera and look forward to getting more data to compliment the Luminance for M81/M82 in the not so distant future.

If you are considering the QHY183M as an imaging camera, and would like to discuss, then feel free to reach out to me.

Clear Skies

QHY183M Review – Part 1

After much waiting (due to delays on Sony Sensors) I have finally received my QHY183M ColdMOS camera from QHYCCD which I collected from ModernAstronomy last weekend, so I apologise for the really bad weather we’ve had.

As you all know, for the past few years I have been using an Atik 383L+ Mono 8.3Mpx CCD Camera, so when QHY announced the QHY183C I immediately asked them if there was going to be a mono version to which they said….Yes!

So firstly you might ask why I chose the QHY183 camera?  Well the simple reason for this is that it offered me a higher pixel resolution for almost the same field of view that my Atik 383L+ offered, however there were other factors that swayed my decission:

  • Back Illuminated Sensor
  • High Quantum Efficiency (QE)
  • Optimal Cooling
  • Lightweight

So let’s first of all talk about the back illumination and what this means to astrophotography.  Typically CMOS sensors are orientated with the light receiving surface and the transistors/wiring facing the light, so when imaging it is possible to get reflections of light bouncing off the circuitry, with a back illuminated sensor, all the circuitry are on the underside of the surface that faces the light, thus elliminating the possibility of reflections bouncing off the transistors, the following image shows this in a bit more detail (Courtesty of QHYCCD):

So obviously the more light we can get to the imaging surface the better it is for our data acquisition, every photon counts right?!

The QHY183M has an extremely high Quantum Efficiency (QE) of 84% which means that more data is absorbed by the chip than my previous imaging camera which had a QE of just over 60% based on the KAF-8300 sensor from Kodak.

One of the first things I tested when I unpacked the camera was the cooling system, I wanted to know how good the cooling system was, QHY stated between 40-45C Delta, so considering the outside temperature was +5C I managed to get the camera down to -41.6C which was a delta slightly above the 45C promised by QHY, so considering I typically image at -20C this now means I can image when the outside temperature at night is even as high as +25C which typically doesn’t happen in the UK.  I also noticed that the QHY183M uses less current than my 383L+ did to get ot the same temperature, so another bonus of less power requirement.

Weight is always an astrophotographers enemy, so it was much to my delight that the QHY183M weighs a lot less than my ATIK 383L+ did, the 383L+ weighed in around 700g and the QHY183M weighs in around 450g.

Out of the box
My first impression of the camera is that it is well built, a bit more of a compact design in comparison to my previous camera, has a USB3.0 connector (even though I am still using USB 2.0) and has a port to connect a dessicant tube to if required.

Software Installation
Driver installation was relatively straight forward, if you are using a third party imaging program like Sequence Generator Pro, make sure you install the ASCOM drivers so that SGPro can then speak to the camera.  In SGPro there are options for Gain settings, according to QHY the unity gain for the 183M is 11, so I have mine set to this value in SGPro.

Image Download Speed
After completing my dark frames library, I noticed that the download speed from Camera to Observatory PC was much much faster than my Atik was, even though I am using the same USB 2.0 Hub, on the Atik it could take anywhere up to 20 seconds to download the image at 1×1 binning, obviously the QHY183M is a much bigger sensor at 20mpx, however the image download time is circa 5 seconds which reduces image acquisition time greatly for multiple exposures.

Dark Frames
My dark frame library is completed, below are four different exposure times, 90, 180, 300 and 600 seconds, each image consists of 25 frames combined using PixInsight

90 Seconds:

180 Seconds:

300 Seconds:

600 Seconds:

As you can see the darks are really good, if you stretch out the images you will see the AMP glow on the right side of the image, this will be removed in dark frame subtraction and is a common artifact on all CMOS based imagers.

I did have the occasional icing issue on my 383L+, however the QHY183M has a heated optical window, so time will tell on how often I will need to use the dessicant tube.

Conclusion so far…before imaging

Pros:

  • Excellent design.
  • Lightweight.
  • Very predictable cooling system cools to -45C below ambient.
  • Cooling system is much quieter than my previous camera
  • Less current draw versus my previous camera.
  • Easy software installation.
  • Very fast download speed of around 5 seconds per frame at 1×1 Binning.
  • Very high QE of 84%

Cons:

  • AMP glow, I am probably being a bit mean considering all CMOS based cameras are subjected to this.
  • M42 thread on the camera is not long enough for the StarlightXpress EFW, I had to place a piece of card between the camera and the Filterwheel otherwise the camera just keeps spinning round and doesn’t tighten.
  • There’s no electronic shutter like my previous camera, which means for my dark frames it has to be completely dark in the observatory

I hope this review is beneficial to you all, especially if you are considering either the 183C or the 183M.  I will post part 2 of my review when I have actually got it all focused and acquired some photons from the sky.

Atik 383L+ Cooled Mono CCD Imaging Camera

After owning the Atik 383L+ Mono CCD Camera for over three years now, I would say I am definitely qualified to write a review.  I bought my camera back in 2013 when I lived in Ireland it was during the time when I transitioned from imaging with a Cooled and Modified DSLR Camera to Mono CCD Imaging.  At the time I was considering one of two cameras, the QHY8 Mono CCD and the Atik 383L+ Mono CCD, at the time the QHY was slightly cheaper but the Cooling Delta and Readout Noise was better on the Atik despite the fact that they both used the Kodak KAF8300 chip.

When I first received my camera, I was thoroughly impressed with the build quality, the red aluminium casing gave it a really professional feel to the camera and came complete with USB Cable, 12v Cigarette Power Cable and Software Media, all packaged really well, and when taking the camera out of the box, you could tell that Atik had put a lot of effort and consideration into their build quality and finish of the camera.  So far so good!

People quite often ask me how big the camera is, it just so happens that at the time I got my camera, I took a picture of the camera next to a AAA battery, just for comparison you can see that it is a fairly compact camera and at around 700g wasn’t too heavy either.

Because I couldn’t wait until my filterwheel had arrived, I wanted to test the camera functionality, so I installed all of the software onto my desktop PC and plugged the camera in.  At the time I got the camera, I was using Nebulosity to perform my image acquisition, so the first thing to do was build my dark frames at my desired temperature of -20C.  The dark frames showed very little in the way of noise which I was extremely happy with.  The installation of Drivers and  ASCOM Platform drivers all went perfectly without any problems, and Nebulosity worked well using the ASCOM Camera platform driver.

Once my filterwheel had arrived from StarlightXpress it was time to get the camera aquainted with the telescope, and at the time I was using an Astro-Tech 8 Inch Ritchey Chretien telescope on my already 3 Year Old NEQ6-Pro mount. Mating the camera to the filterwheel was relatively easy, I placed a thin cork shim onto the male thread of the filterwheel and screwed the camera on and adjusted the rotation of the filterwheel adapter to make sure the camera was at the right angle, I used the rubber shim to stop the metal to metal binding which makes it difficult to remove later, adding in the cork shim still allows it to be tightened up.

Since I had built my dark frame library, it was time to build my flat frames library, for this I used an EL Panel, one of the things I noticed was that a short exposure time of <1.0 seconds left a dark area to the lower right of the frame, after speaking with Atik they confirmed it was just the mechanical shutter, so I had to reduce the light on the EL Panel in order to increase the exposure time to get around this, other than that my flat frame library was built.

My first light for the camera was going to come from NGC7635 – Bubble Nebula in Narrowband, and whilst I must admit my imaging has come a long way since I took this picture, it is what it is and I was very happy with the results of sensitivity the camera delivered especially as this image is only 3x1800S frames for HA, OIII and SII.  Since I have had the camera, I have produced a substantial number of images to date and continue to do so using my Atik 383L+ Mono CCD Camera.

So how does Atik fair with me as a company, well it just so happens that I had to send my camera away for service due to excessive moisture causing Ice Crystals during cooling, I filed a support ticket with them and within a few days I got my camera back completely moisture free, I do not blame the camera here for the moisture, but more the fact that when I had my observatory located 15 miles away, I used to forget to switch the camera power off which would push a lot of moisture through the camera.  But the service from Atik was simply awesome.

Here’s a picture of the camera still used today attached to my F4 Quattro, I use Sequence Generator Pro for all my target acquisitions today but still using the ASCOM Camera Driver which is extremely stable

Just to recap why I am happy with the camera:

  • Build Quality
  • Size and Weight
  • Software Deployment
  • Sensitivity
  • Quietness of the camera

What could have been better?

  • Power cable – This could have been a stretchable power cable as I did run into a problem recently where the cable became snagged and it ripped the wire out of the jack plug that plugs into the camera, fortunately it didn’t damage the plug in port of the camera
  • Heated chip chamber, most cameras seem to have this now
  • Different colour options – I would have loved the camera in Blue or Green

You can see many of the images I have taken with this camera in my CCD Image Gallery Section here

 

 

Skywatcher Quattro 8-CF Imaging Newtonian

After much deliberation and conversations back and forth with Bernard at Modern Astronomy, I finally decided to go for the Skywatcher Quattro 8-CF 8” F4 Reflector, there was a number of factors that helped me reach this decision, most of it was the British weather being so unpredictable that I needed to get as many photons for my images in the shortest available time.  I was used to imaging at F7.5 that the F4 was going to give me significantly faster optics, I also opted for the Carbon Fiber version purely from a thermal expansion perspective as it was going to perform better than the steel tube version.  I also opted for the 8” as the Native focal length of 800mm suited me perfectly, and I plan on getting the Keller reducer to bring it down to 560mm @ F2.8.

Setup and Collimation
When I received my telescope and optically matched Aplanatic Coma Corrector, I was impressed with the build quality of the scope itself, internal baffles to boost contrast as well as eliminate stray light, and the focuser is pretty sturdy for a stock focuser, and quite easily handles the weight of my CCD and Filterwheel.  I mounted the telescope next to my Guide scope on my Skywatcher EQ8, I wish they had provided a Losmandy plate with the telescope, but the Vixen style bar still worked out well.  After balancing the scopes on the mount I was ready to check the collimation, for this I used my Farpoint Collimation Kit, firstly the laser to ensure it hits the centre spot of the primary, and the laser return reached the centre point of the laser collimator itself, the adjustments required were very minor.  After this I verified the collimation with the Farpoint Cheshire and it verified that the collimation was correct, only thing left to do was a star test, for this I used a 10mm Eyepiece and a fairly bright defocused star, the star was spot on, I could see all the concentric rings.  I then proceeded to perform the same star test with the CCD and the Aplanatic Corrector to verify, which of course it did.

Scope Details:
Focal Length: 800mm
Apperture: 8 Inch
Focal Ratio: F4
Tube Composition: Carbon Fiber
Focuser: 2″ Dual Speed Linear Power Focuser

First light
My first target for 2016 is the Iris Nebula, my first set of frames came through and for a 5 minute exposure I was impressed with how much data I had collected, data that would have taken over 15 minutes to collect on the F7.5 refractor I now use as a guide scope, I managed to finish a target off within a few days of imaging rather than over a multitude of nights

I have also not had to re-collimate the scope or adjust the focuser on the scope over the few weeks I have had it, so overall I am above and beyond happy with my decision and I am now able to image targets in a shorter timeframe which in the UK you have to grab every clear sky you can

A few months on
I have had to re-collimate the scope 0 times, even after removing the primary mirror assemply for cleaning, the focuser is still rock solid and holds the camera gear extremely well.   I have made an addition to the scope, I have added a fan system to the rear of the primary mirror, the fan also has some nichrome wire which allows the air being blown around the primary to be just above the dew point which prevents dew forming on the primary and believe it or not the secondary also, even in high humidity sessions.

Build Quality: Extremely pleased with the build quality of the scope, even the focuser is sturdy and holds all of my gear really well

Collimation: Extremely easy with the right tools, it has required no further collimation in the months that I have now owned the scope

Improvements: Could have come with a fan assembly, most of the other F4 scopes from other vendors do

Conclusion
After months of usage, I have produced some really good images in short timeframes due to the fast F4 ratio, I am looking forward to using this scope again next season with 3nm NarrowBand filters and possibly the Keller Reducer to bring it down to F2.8