Tag Archives: Long Exposure

ZWO ASI2400MC Pro Full Frame 24mpx camera review

I was lucky enough for 365Astronomy to offer me one of the ZWO ASI2400 full frame cameras to test and write a review, so obviously I jumped at the chance, and within a couple of days I was successfully imaging and acquiring data with it, so firstly what is the ASI2400?

The ASI2400MC Pro is a full frame 24mpx camera that utilises the Sony IMX410 back illuminated sensor, ZWO produced a similar camera before which was the ASI128MC Pro (24mpx) and they also have the ASI6200 (62mpx), so what are the differences between the cameras?

ASI2400MCASI128MCASI6200MC
Image SensorIMX410IMX128IMX455
Pixel Size5.945.973.76
Full Well Capacity100ke76ke51.4ke
Cooling Delta-35C-35C-35C
Resolution6072×40426032*40329576×6388
ADC14-Bit14-Bit16-Bit
Read Noise1.1e-6.4e2.5e1.2e-3.5e
DDR Buffer256MB256MB256MB
QE >80%>53%>80%
FPS (Video)852

If we compare the ASI2400 and the ASI128 since they have similar pixel sizes and offer almost a matching resolution, but the ASI2400 clearly is a better camera, with a higher full well capacity, this means that it takes a lot more to saturate out the colours around bright stars for example, but also a big increase on the quantum efficiency going from 53% to >80%.

Now the first thing I noticed was that the ASI2400 was only slightly cheaper than the ASI6200, but the ASI6200 is offering a much higher resolution, so why would people not just go for the ASI6200? Well it comes down to pixel size, the ASI6200 has a pixel size of 3.76 so it would be better suited to a short focal length scope, if I attach the ASI6200 to my SharpStar 15028HNT which has a focal length of 420mm at F2.8, this will give me around 1.85 Arc-Seconds per Pixel which for UK skies is an ideal figure, the ASI2400 has a bit more flexibility with the focal length of telescopes because of the larger pixel size, so whilst the ASI6200 offers a higher resolution image sensor of 62mpx, the ASI2400 offers more flexibility of a higher focal length telescope.

When I unboxed the ASI2400 I was very impressed with the quality, this was the first ZWO Camera I have ever actually seen in the flesh, the red finish matches my SharpStar 15028HNT, but one thing that I noticed straight away was the two additional USB Ports on the top of the camera which I sat and thought to myself that it would certainly help with tidying up my cables around the scope. In the box was a couple of adapters to obtain the very common 55mm back focus, two USB Cables, and a USB 3.0 cable, and the camera arrived in a very nice case too.

I removed the camera sensor cover and revealed the massive full frame sensor and compared it to the APS-C sized camera I have and was like wow, that’s a big sensor, here’s a picture of the sensor:

Size matters, the Full Frame sensor on the ASI2400MC Pro

I noticed too that there was a special tilt plate on the camera which in my opinion is a critical point, my other camera has a tilt plate that is very cumbersome to use, so after a while of looking at the sensor, I decided to start adding my ZWO filter drawer and M48 extension tubes in order to get it connected to the mount, I am using the ZWO M54 2″ Filter drawer which has a 2mm M54 to M48 adapter too, threading the filter drawer on the camera was very smooth, but I would not expect anything less than that with ZWO kit connecting to ZWO kit, here’s a picture with the filter drawer and the Optolong L-Pro 2″ filter connected to the camera:

ZWO M54 Filter Drawer connected to the ASI2400MC Pro

Once connected to the telescope, I had to find out where the camera was facing when connected at the optimal distance of 55mm as all of my image train is threaded on, once identified which direction the top of the camera sensor was facing I could rotate the focuser and then re-check the collimation with the laser before putting the camera back on and connecting the cables.

Identifying which side of the camera the top of the sensor was is so easy on this camera, there’s what looks like a black plastic button on the side of the camera, it is obviously a cover of some sort, but this also indicates which side the top of sensior is located, something I wish all camera vendors would do.

One of the first things I do when testing out a new camera is dark frames, all vendors claim they have zero amp glow, so this is always my first test, and the ASI2400 didn’t let me down, indeed there was zero amp glow and I tested with various exposure times and gain settings, here’s a 300S exposure with Gain 26 which has had a Screen Transfer Function auto stretch applied:

After connecting it all up to the telescope, and acquiring some darks, flats, and BIAS frames, and the skies were clear, it was time to put the camera under a proper test, I had set a couple of targets up, the Cygnus Loop and the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula using the Optolong L-eXtreme Narrowband filter and here are the results:

Cygnus Loop – Eastern Veil, Western Veil and Pickerings Triangle – 29x300S at Gain 26, ASI2400MC Pro on the Sharpstar15028HNT using the Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Band Filter
Elephant’s Trunk Nebula – 19x300S at Gain 26, ASI 2400MC Pro on the SharpStar 15028HNT using the Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Band Filter

So you can see the camera performed really well, stars are almost perfect in the corners (a little fine tuning required on spacing), I am hoping to get a few more clear nights over the next few days to build on the above images and really show off the performance of the ASI2400, and I can’t wait to test it out on the Iris Nebula.

Conclusion:
The ASI2400 is in my opinion an awesome piece of kit, that massive full frame sensor has the adaptability for longer focal length telescopes due to the larger pixel size, the advantage of the USB Hub built into the camera, the adjustable tilt plate on the front of the camera is the most advantageous aspect, would have saved me so much time trying to rectify tilt instead using copper shims, but also the smaller things that are equally as important like having something to identify which way round the sensor is rather than trying to figure it out with images in my opinion is what sets this apart from other similar cameras from other vendors.

If you are looking for a full frame camera and have a short focal length telescope, the ASI2400 or the ASI6200 full frame cameras will do just the job,but any longer focal length scopes, then the ASI2400 is the right choice.

Additional image taken since writing this post:

M31 – Andromeda Galaxy – 51x90S frames at Gain 0 using the Optolong L-Pro Filter, darks and flats applied

A step by step guide to Collimation

If like me you own some sort of reflector telescope, whether this be a Newtonian, Dobsonian, Ritchey Chretien or as I have a Hyperboloid Astrograph then you’ll know that there is a very strong importance on collimation, the faster the optics the more critical collimation becomes, especially for imaging. After recently removing the rear mirror assembly for cleaning, as well as changing from the QHY183M to the QHY268C-PH amongst onther stuff in the imaging train, I wanted to share my experience and knowledge around collimation. Let’s start off with the details on what I use

Part 1 – Aligning the Secondary Mirror with the Focuser

Now on my SharpStar 15028HNT, they recommend you unscrew and remove the corrector from the focuser, however I have found no dofference in collimation with or without the corrector in place and because it is part of the optical train I’d rather include it in the collimation, so the first step for me since my primary mirror was currently removed was to check the secondary alignment with the focuser, as well as the rotation of the secondary in relation to the focuser, in order to do this, I use the Teleskop-Service Concenter eyepiece, the eyepiece itself has a set of rings engraved into the plastic apperture like so

Teleskop-Express Concenter Eyepiece markings on lower end of barrel

I ensure that my focuser is at the most inward position and since my SharpStar has an M48 thread on the focuser, I used a 2″ extension tube that has an M48 thread on it, and placed the concenter eyepiece in there:

M48 threaded 2″ Extension tube with Teleskop-Express Concenter Eyepiece

This serves well to get the rotation and alignment of the secondary with the focuser by ensuring that the mirror appears as a perfect circle between the rings, now you can adjust your focuser position in order to get the edge of the mirror to appear on the lines, this is what the view looks like through the concenter eyepiece:

Here you can see the secondary mirror appears circular and in line with the concenter eyepiece markings showing a successful alignment with the focuser

The blue at the top right of the image is a piece of card I stuck behind the secondary in order to show the edge of the mirror better.

As you can see my secondary mirror is pretty much perfectly aligned with the focuser and square with the focuser also, if your mirror shows up as more eliptical, this means the mirror needs to be rotated, if the mirror does not fit in within the circle itself, for example if it is over to the left or right, you will need to move the mirror forward or backwards by means of loosening or tightening the central screw that holds the secondary.

You can see from the following image, I have a central screw which is used for moving the mirror up or down the tube away from or closer to the primary, as well as rotation of the mirror, but then there is also the three collimation screws that are used to adjust the mirror direction itself which we will talk about in the next section

Here you can see the central adjustment screw for adjusting the mirror rotation and centering the mirror with the focuser, the three outer scres are used for adjusting the tilt of the mirror to align with the primary

Part 2 – Aligning the Secondary Mirror with Primary Mirror

Now that we have our secondary mirror lined up and square with the focuser, the next step is to align the secondary with the primary, now for this I will use my FarPoint Astro Laser collimator, which itself has recently been collimated by FarPoint Astro, now you can re-use use the 2″ extension tube and place the laser into the tube, but for the SharpStar I will use the M48 to 1.25″ lockable adapter like so:

FarPoint Astro laser collmator in the SharpStar M48 to 1.25″ Adapter

Now the point of this part is to ensure that the laser hits the centre spot of the primary mirror, if it does not, then this is where you would adjust one or more of the three screws on the secondary, as you undo one, you should tighten the other two, as you can see from this image, I need not make any adjustments as the laser hits the centre of the primary perfectly:

Here you can see that the laser hits the primary mirror centre spot

Part 3 – Aligning the Primary Mirror

Now since I do not have to make any further adjustments to the secondary mirror, it is time to focus on the primary mirror, the trick here is to get the laser beam to return to the point of origin, here’s an example of the primary not being correctly aligned:

You can see two dots here, one is the laser aperture, the other is the reflection of the laser from the primary mirror, this reflection needs to meet the aperture

You can clearly see the red dot to the top left of the laser apperture, this means that the primary needs some adjustment by means of the three collimation screws which are situated on the rear of the primary mirror assembly:

Here you can see the primary mirror collimation screws, the larger push/pull the mirror, the smaller are locking screws to secure the mirror in place after successfully collimating.

Most telescopes have a push – pull method here, turning anti-clockwise will push the mirror further up the tube, whereas turning clockwise will pull the mirror towards the bottom of the tube, it is very important not to keep turning anti-clockwise because this could result in the screws becoming disconnected from the primary mirror. After an adjustment on a couple of the collimation screws, my primary is now aligned properly as the laser beam returns into the laser apperture:

Here you can see that there is no additional dot, the dot is centered right on the laser aperture indicating primary alignment is complete

Once the laser collimation has been completed, it is easy to verify this with the FarPoint Auto-Collimator, the eyepiece has a mirror inside which allows you to see where the centre spot of the mirror is and will form a slightly pale dot in the middle, if the dot appears in the middle then you have your collimation pretty much spot on after following the above, maybe a very slight adjustment on the primary collmation screws is all that is required, you can see here what the view looks like:

It is also normal on faster telescopes to see the mirror appearing offset as opposed to central to the OTA itself. Once completed, I would typically then perform a star field test and I prefer to use the Multi Star Collimation in CCD Inspector for this, you can of course use the de-focused star method.

I hope you found this useful, I just thought I would share my process in performing collmation to help others who may be on that journey also.

QHY268C APS-C Colour Camera Review – Part 1

As many of you know, I have been using QHY cameras for a while, but with my plan to move to a RASA telescope next year and wanting to image with a bigger sensor than the QHY183M I decided to go for a bigger sensor but moving away from Mono, the latest addition to the QHY familly is the QHY268C Photographic Version. I had been talking to the QHY team for a long time about this particular camera, and finally I have one.

The QHY268C is a once shot colour camera based on the APS-C Sized back illimunated Sony IMX571 sensor, the camera has a true 16-Bit Analog to Digital Convertor (ADC), now there are a few camera models out there using this sensor, cameras such as the ZWO ASI2600, but one thing that sets the QHY268C apart from the others is the ability to have a 75ke full well capacity which is 25ke higher than the ZWO ASI2600. In my opinion, when imaging at fast focal ratios, a higher full well is desired to protect the colour around bright stars for example.

Opening the box I was greeted with a camera that was bigger and heavier than my 183M, but then the sensor is much bigger than the 183M anyway so this would be expected, but what I did not expect is the additional items that came with the camera:

Inside the box was:

  • QHY268C Photographic Version
  • UK mains plug for 12V AC adapter
  • 12V AC adapter
  • Car 12v power cable
  • Self locking power cable
  • 1.5M USB 3.0 cable
  • Dessicant drying tube
  • Self centering adapter plate
  • M54 to M48 adapter plate
  • M54 to 2″ nose adapter
  • A range of spacers to give you from 0.5mm to 13.5mm spacing
  • Associated screws for spacing adapters

QHY cameras have come along way since I bought my QHY183M, one of the things QHY has really worked on is amp glow, my early version of the QHY183M was renowned for was amp glow, which could be removed in image calibrations, but the QHY268C produces no amp glow whatsoever, below is a dark frame of 600S taken at -13.5C and you can clearly see there is no evidence of amp glow.

Single frame 600 seconds, Gain 26, Offset 30, -13.5C – Mono (Not Debayered)

Attaching to the telescope was pretty straight forward as I had already planned the imaging train before the camera arrived, since I will be using the SharpStar 15028HNT F2.8 Paraboloid Astrograph which has an M48 thread, I decided to keep the whole imaging train at M48 except for the camera of course which has an M54 thread, so I did not actually need to use any of the adapters that came with the camera, the reason for this is because I wanted to include a filter drawer, so my image train consists of the following (from telescope to camera)

  • TSOAG9 – TS Off Axis Guider (9mm)
  • TSOAG9-M48 – TS M48 Adapter for the OAG (2.5mm)
  • TSFSLM48 – TS 2″ Filter Drawer with M48 Thread (18mm)
  • M48AbstimmA05 – TS Optics 0.5mm Aluminium spacing ring (0.5mm)
  • TSM54a-m48i – TS M48 to M54 Adapter (1.5mm)
  • QHY268C with M54 Centering Adapter (23.5mm)

As you can see with all the above I reach my desired back focus of 55mm perfectly, if I was not going to be using a filter drawer (For my Optolong L-Pro and L-eXtreme filters), I would probably have stuck with the spacers that came with the camera. Below is a picture of the camera successfully connected to the telescope.

As far as settings go, after speaking with QHY on this at great length, I will be imaging in Mode 0 (Photographic mode) to avail of the massive 75ke full well, offset I will leave at 30, but Gain I will use two different settings, I will use Gain 0 for most bright objects with the L-Pro filter, but for the L-eXtreme, I’ll probably set a gain level of 26, luckily with SGPro I can set the gain level per object. From a cooling perspective I always image at -20C, one thing I have noticed is that this camera cools to exactly -35C below ambient, I tested this when the ambient temperature was 20.10 degrees, and the camera cooled down to -14.9C, it was always 25C lower until the ambient dropped below 15C and the camera remained at my setting of -20C.

The build quality of the camera is as expected having owned a QHY183M, one thing I did notice is that the fan in the QHY268C is much quieter than the 183M. Technical Details of the camera:

CameraQHY268CQHY183M
Image SensorSony IMX571Sony IMX183
Sensor SizeAPS-C1″
IlluminationBack IlluminatedBack Illuminated
Pixel Size3.76um2.4um
Effective Image26mpx20mpx
Full well capacity51ke
(75ke in extended mode)
15.5ke
ADC16-Bit12-Bit
Image Buffer Memory1GB/2GB128MB
Max Cooling Delta-35C-40C
Weight1006g650g

I can’t wait to get imaging with this camera, I have a very aggresive target list for this year in both RGB and Narrowband with the Optolong L-eXtreme filter, I will write part two of the review once I have some actual imaging data. Time to build my dark library.

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!