Tag Archives: Long Exposure

StarlightXpress Lodestar X2

I was lucky enough that Terry from StarlightXpress sent me a Lodestar X2 for me to test to see how well it performed against my existing guider camera, so it only seemed fair that I provide my feedback via an equipment review. Many who know me know I have been using a QHY5L-II camera as a guide camera for a few years now but after seeing a few of my fellow astrophotographers using the Lodestar cameras it seemed silly not to try one out.

In comparison to the QHY5L-II the Lodestar X2 is a true CCD camera and not a CMOS camera, so immediately this would yield some higher sensitivity in what stars can be selected. One thing that is immediately noticable between the cameras is the Lodestar X2 is longer than the length of the QHY5L-II.

Just to add some more comparisons:

QHY5L-IILodestar X2
SensorAptima MT9M034Sony ICX829
Sensor TypeCMOSCCD
Sensor Size6.66mmx5.32mm6.47mmx4.81mm
Pixel Size3.75um8.2umx8.4um
MPX1.2mpx0.4mpx
QE74%77%
Length54mm85mm
Weight45g50g
Cost (27 Aug 2019)£175£378

The first time I used the Lodestar X2, I was shocked at how many stars were in the field of view, for the same 2 second exposure I usually guide at there was a lot of stars to choose from, far more than I could see with the QHY5L-II, there is probably a number of reasons for this, higher sensitivity of the CCD Sensor, slightly higher QE, but also the FOV, with the QHY5L-II on my 8″ Quattro with a 0.73x reducer it would yield a field of view of 0.47°x0.35°, the Lodestar X2 on the other hand would yield a field of view of around 0.6°x0.48°.

Since I use PHD2 for guiding one thing that was immediately apparent was the built in driver for StarlightXpress cameras, I asked Terry which would be the best to use, he said either, it makes no difference, so I tested this and he was right, the in built driver and ASCOM driver produced the exact same result, I remember specifically with the QHY5L-II that QHY recommend you do not use the in built driver and always use the ASCOM driver. When firing up the Lodestar X2 in PHD2 I built my dark frame library in order for me to see how good the ICX829 was for noise, so I compared the 2 second exposures and there was very little difference between using a dark frame library versus not using one, the QHY5L-II definitely requires a dark frame library in PHD2 that’s for sure!

My first night of guider testing seen a little bit of odd behavoiur with the Lodestar X2, since I am using the Pegasus Astro Ultimate USB Hub, I had everything connected in there, including the QHY183M which is a USB3.0 camera albeit connected to a USB 2.0 hub. When the camera was downloading the image the Lodestar would display an array of dots on the screen. Terry confirmed that it was an indication that it was dropping down to USB 1.0 speed. It turns out that when I did the same thing with the QHY5L-II as the guider camera, the QHY5L-II would actually go unresponsive according to PHD2, so I moved the imaging camera to a dedicated USB 3.0 port on the Intel NUC and never had a repeat of the issue on either camera.

PHD2 has no issues picking up and selecting a guide star, there’s plenty of stars to choose from

Conclusion
The Lodestar X2 is awesome as a guide camera, it works extremely well, very sensitive, the only drawback in my opinion is price, at over double the price of the QHY5L-II camera maybe a tad out of some folks price range.

M101 / NGC 5457 – Pinwheel Galaxy in RGB

M101 / NGC5457 or most commonly known as the Pinwheel Galaxy is a face on spiral galaxy in Ursa Major and has a distance of around 21 million light years from Earth.

The QHY183M picks up quite a lot of the Ha detail in this galaxy without me having to image separate Ha Filter data

Image Details:
101x150S in R
101x150S in G
101x150S in B

Total Capture time: 12.6 Hours

Acquisition Dates: Feb. 27, 2019, March 29, 2019, March 30, 2019, April 1, 2019, April 11, 2019, April 12, 2019, April 14, 2019

All frames had 101 Darks and Flats applied

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

NGC4565 – Needle Galaxy in RGB

The Needle Galaxy is located int he constellation of Coma Berencies and is an edge on spiral galaxy at a distance of 30-50 million light years from earth

Image Details:
101x150S in R
101x150S in G
101x150S in B

Total Capture time: 12.6 Hours

Acquisition Dates: Jan. 28, 2019, Feb. 3, 2019, Feb. 25, 2019, Feb. 26, 2019, Feb. 27, 2019, March 26, 2019, March 29, 2019, March 30, 2019, April 1, 2019

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

NGC 2264 – Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree Cluster in HaRGB

Located in the constellation of Moneceros, this image shows both the Cone Nebula and the Christmas Tree Cluster, located around 2600 light years from earth the Cone Nebula being an emmision Nebula

Image Details:

101x150S in R
101x150S in G
101x150S in B
101x300S in Ha

Total capture time: 21 Hours

Acquisition Dates: Jan. 9, 2019, Jan. 31, 2019, Feb. 3, 2019, Feb. 14, 2019, Feb. 15, 2019, Feb. 23, 2019, Feb. 24, 2019, Feb. 25, 2019, Feb. 26, 2019, Feb. 27, 2019, Feb. 28, 2019, March 24, 2019, March 25, 2019, March 26, 2019, March 28, 2019, March 29, 2019

The NBRGB Script in PixInsight was used to blend the Ha into the RGB Image

101 Darks, Flats and Flat Darks were used in the frame calibration

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
Filterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB and Ha
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

M78 / NGC 2068 in RGB

This is the first time I have ever imaged this object, I will re-visit next year when I will image at F2.8 with a wider field of view using a keller reducer.

Since this object is in the southern area of sky, I am limited by trees and the house on the data I can capture in a single night

Image Details:
101x150S – Red
101x150S – Green
101x150S – Blue

101 Darks, Flats and Dark Flats

Image Acquisition Dates: Jan. 1, 2019, Jan. 2, 2019, Jan. 8, 2019, Jan. 9, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019, Jan. 28, 2019, Jan. 30, 2019, Feb. 10, 2019, Feb. 20, 2019, Feb. 23, 2019, Feb. 24, 2019, Feb. 25, 2019

Equipment Used:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB and Ha
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

IC36 Y Cas Nebula in SHO

Located in the constellation of Cassiopeia this rather feint nebula is illuminated by a very bright Magnitude 2.15 star Navi

Image Details:
101x300S in SII – Red Channel
101x300S in Ha – Green Channel
101x300S in OIII – Blue Channel

Total integration time: 25.2 Hours

101 Darks, Flats and Dark Flats applied

Acquisition Dates: Oct. 27, 2018, Dec. 13, 2018, Dec. 27, 2018, Jan. 1, 2019, Jan. 2, 2019, Jan. 4, 2019, Jan. 8, 2019, Jan. 9, 2019, Jan. 11, 2019, Jan. 18, 2019, Jan. 20, 2019, Jan. 23, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019, Jan. 28, 2019, Jan. 30, 2019

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium Ha, SII and OIII
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

PrimaluceLabs Sesto Senso Robo Focuser

Getting the best FWHM in your images is something that I have struggled with when imaging a whole night. As the temperature fluctuates, so does the FWHM in your images, this was a problem I had with my images at the beginning of the season. I looked around and the only focuser I could find was not a stepper motor focuser, so it didn’t offer predictable results. Since I am using the stock focuser for my Sky-Watcher Quattro 8-CF (and it’s a solid focuser at that), I did not really want to change focuser mid-season, so I did some research and landed upon the PrimaluceLabs Sesto Senso ROBO Focuser.

Now my expectations here were pretty low since I tried an electronic focuser and tried to use some sort of Auto Focus routine without any length of success, but when the Sesto Senso arrived I was excited as I looked at it and thought to myself that this would do the job.

Out of the box the Sesto Senso is very solid, good quality feel to it, and came with a bunch of different adapters for different focusers, one specifically for my Sky-Watcher Focuser too. I read the installation instructions a couple of times and set to work on upgrading my scope.

Installation
Installation was fairly easy and straight forward, I removed the slow focusing knob off the focuser and attached the adapter for the Sky-Watcher that came with the Sesto Senso, so within 30 minutes it was successfully fitted. And I can still manually focus with the fast focusing knob on the other side of the focuser:

After all the physical installation was done, I then needed to install the software on the observatory PC, since I image using Sequence Generator Pro, I proceeded to install Sesto Software and the ASCOM driver so that SGPro could talk to the focuser, again this was relatively simple to do. Once this was completed it was important to load up the Sesto software and perform a calibration so that the Sesto Senso knows where the most innner and outer focus positions are.

Setting the Focus Control module in SGPro was a breeze, for this I used a Focusing Mask to get a rough focus and set that point for all of my filters, now the following setting are what works for me really well, but basically:

  • I use 20 data points to achieve focus.
  • Step size between focus points is 20
  • Focus frame is 10 seconds for all filters, this is to get a better normalised focus frame, I was finding 5 seconds was too short and gave un-predictable results.
  • I set it to re-focus after a temperature change of 3.0 Degrees C since the last focus.
  • I re-focus on any centering action which is useful if you use a mirrored telescope like me.
Sequence Generate Pro Auto Focus settings
You can see here that my start off point is 50146, so it will go 10 points either direction of this point at 20 steps per point

I have now been using the Sesto Senso for a few months now and it has not failed me, I maintain a good FWHM value throughout the night and it an awesome piece of kit, well done Primaluce Labs. Is there anything that I would change about it?

Only one thing…….It requires separate power, which in all honesty I can understand why but if I could run the power through USB that would be a bonus.

One problem I have with the Auto Focus routine in SGPro is that in the image sequence, since my filters for LRGB are all parfocal, but my Narrowband filters are not, I only wish to focus on a filter change if it’s going from LRGB to Narrowband to LRGB or Narrowband to Narrowband, unfortunately SGPro doesn’t have that intelligence in the sequence, I am trying to persuade Jared to have that in there to make life that bit more simple.

Anyway I hope this review inspires you to consider this awesome piece of kit, it’s certainly helped me!

IC5146 / Cocoon Nebula in HaRGB

This is my first time ever imaging this target, and like the Crescent Nebula and Pelican Nebula I am limited to a 2.5 hour window per night to acquire data due to trees / house getting in the way, luckily I managed to get a lot of Ha data on this subject to blend this into the RGB image which smoothed out the lack of data for RGB somewhat, I would have liked to have got more RGB Data and I may re-image this with longer exposures on RGB next time also

Cocoon Nebula in HaRGB
Cocoon Nebula in HaRGB with PIxInsight 2x Drizzle

Image Details:
56x150S in R
56x150S in G
66x150S in B
101x300S in Ha

Acquisition Dates: Sept. 25, 2018, Sept. 27, 2018, Sept. 29, 2018, Oct. 20, 2018, Oct. 22, 2018, Oct. 26, 2018, Oct. 28, 2018, Oct. 29, 2018, Nov. 14, 2018, Nov. 17, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018, Nov. 30, 2018, Dec. 7, 2018, Dec. 9, 2018, Dec. 12, 2018, Dec. 13, 2018, Dec. 27, 2018, Jan. 4, 2019

All frames had 101 Darks and Flats applied, the Ha layer was blended using the new NBRGB Script in PixInsight 1.8.6, the more zoomed in picture is of the same data but with a 2x drizzle applied then cropped

Equipment Details:
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
Focuser: Primalucelab ROBO Focuser
FIlterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium RGB and Ha
Power and USB Control: Pegasus Astro USB Ultimate Hub Pro
Acquisition Software: Main-Sequence Software Inc. Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: PixInsight 1.8.6

Flickr Link: https://www.flickr.com/…/465843…/in/album-72157688487449350/

AstroBin Link: https://www.astrobin.com/384658/

NGC6888 – Crescent Nebula in SHO Narrowband

This object is a little tricker for me since I only have a 3-3.5 hour window per evening due to trees and the house blocking my view, this is also the first image that I used the drizzle function within PixInsight to be able to provide a detailed up close version of the image, I was very happy to have captured the brown “Globules” within the nebula to

Crescent Nebula in SHO Narrowband
Same object but with a 2x drizzle function in PixInsight applied

Image Details:
Red Channel – SII Data – 89x300S
Green Channel – Ha Data – 64x300S
Blue Channel – OIII Data – 109x300S

101 Darks, Flats and BIAS Frames used 

Equipment Used:-
Imaging Camera: QHY183M Mono ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Imaging Scope: Skywatcher Quattro 8″ F4 Newtonian
Guide Scope: Skywatcher Finder Scope
Guide Camera: QHY5L-II
Mount: Skywatcher EQ8 Pro GEM Mount
Focuser: PrimaluceLabs ROBO Focuser
Filterwheel: StarlightXpress 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader 7nm Ha, SII and OIII
Acquision Software: Main Sequence Software Sequence Generator Pro
Processing Software: Pixinsight 1.8.5

M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy in LRGB

Another Image that I have previously imaged with the Atik Camera, again demonstrating a different resolution obviously showing off a bit more detail, here’s the image previously:

Equipment Used:
Imaging Scope: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian
Imaging Camera: Qhyccd 183M 20mpx ColdMOS Camera at -20C
Guide Scope: Sky-Watcher Finder Scope
Guide Camera: Qhyccd QHY5L-II
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8-Pro GEM Goto Mount
Filterwheel: Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW
Filters: Baader Planetarium 36mm LRGB Filters

Software:
Image Acquisition: Main Sequence Software SGPro 3
Guiding: PHD2
Image Processing: PixInsight

Target Details:
Name: M51 / NGC5194 / Whirlpool Galaxy
Constellation:Canes Venatici
RA: 13h 29m 53.00s
Dec: 47° 11′ 51.10″
Distance from Earth: >23 Million Light Years

Image Details:
Luminance: 101×150 Second Exposures
Red: 85×150 Second Exposures
Green: 85×150 Second Exposures
Blue: 85×150 Second Exposures
Total Exposure Time: 14.83 Hours

Acquisition Dates: 6 Apr 2018, 19/20/21 Apr 2018, 5/6/7/8/9 May 2018