Category Archives: Gear Reviews

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

ZWO ASI6200 62mpx Full Frame Camera Review

I recently wrote a review on the ZWO ASI2400 24mpx full frame camera, so I thought I would also do the same for the big brother which is the ZWO ASI6200 full frame camera with a mammoth 62mpx which I picked up from 365astronomy when returning the ASI2400 after the review. Looking at both of the cameras, there is no obvious difference from the outside except for the model number, both cameras are exactly the same size and feel roughly the same weight and the build quality is identicallyu exceptional.

ASI6200MC Pro One Shot Colour Camera

If we compare the specifications of the ASI6200 to the ASI2400 we can see where each camera has an advantage over the other:

ASI2400ASI6200
Weight700g700g
SensorIMX410IMX455
Sensor SizeFull FrameFull Frame
Pixel Size5.94um3.76um
Resolution24mpx62mpx
Full Well Capacity at 0 Gain100ke51ke
Qe>80%91%
ADC14-Bit16-Bit
High Gain Mode140100
Full well at High Gain Mode20ke18ke

So as you can see from the comparison on specification there are some differences, the ASI2400 has the edge on full well capacity, however the ASI6200 has a much more smaller pixel size as well as a higher Qe which to me gives the ASI6200 the edge over the ASI2400.

Now since both cameras are the exact same field of view due to them both being full frame sensors, the question is how does this affect resolution, clearly the ASI6200 has the upper hand having significantly more pixels than the ASI2400, but how does this translate to an image?

Iris Nebula taken with the ASI2400MC Pro, 82x150S at Gain 26, darks, flats and BIAS frames applied
Iris Nebula taken with the ASI6200MC Pro 48x150S at Gain 100, Darks, Flats and BIAS frames applied

As you can see, both cameras offer the exact same field of view, however when you zoom in on the images you start to see where the ASI6200 excels above the ASI2400 with the higher resolution

On the left is the ASI2400MC Pro and on the right is the ASI6200MC Pro

As you can clearly see from the above two images, the 6200 offers a much better resolution which will allow a much finer level of detail, however, depending on your sky conditions and focal length the ASI6200 might not be possible due to over or under sampling

You can see here, that on my SharpStar 15028HNT which has a Focal Length of 420mm the ASI2400 would lead to Under Smapling in my “OK” seeing conditions

But the ASI6200 shows in the green area:

If I increase the focal length to around 1150 the ASI6200 no longer becomes suitable and the ASI2400 is more suited to this focal length and sky conditions:

So as you can see, both the ASI2400 and ASI6200 is not a “One Size Fits All” scenario, you have to work out the best suitability depending on your conditions and equipment to be used.

From a price perspective, the ASI6200 is only slightly more expensive than the ASI2400, but both cameras offer the full frame capability and a fantastic field of view, but for me personally the ASI6200 beats the ASI2400 when using the focal length of my SharpStar 15028HNT. Just like it’s smaller version, the looks, feels, sounds and operates exactly the same way. Here is another image taken with the ASI6200 and then my Synthetic SHO version which I will be writing a tutorial on how to acomplish with Dual Band Filters.

North America Nebula – 60x300S at Gain 100 using the Optolong L-eXtreme Filter on the SharpStar 15028HNT
Synthetic SHO using the same data as the previous image

Either way, both ZWO cameras I have tested have been of awesome quality, and I would recommend either camera if you wish to go down the full frame route, but personally my favourite is the ASI6200MC Pro, more images to come since this is now my new camera.

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

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.

SharpStar 15028HNT

After months of trying to get my trusty Sky-Watcher Quattro F4 to work with the ASA 0.73x reducer I decided to go all in on an F2.8 astrograph. After doing some research I stumbled across the SharpStar 15028HNT F2.8 Hyperboloid Newtonian Reflector from my local supplier 365Astronomy.

After toying with the idea and speaking to my good friend Nick from Altair Astro and with the idea of going back to a refractor, I decided that I could not go back to slower than F4 and I wanted something that in essence would work with a bigger sensor than my QHY183M, and the Sharpstar looked like it could work for me, so I placed my order with Zoltan from 365Astronomy and collected it the following day.

Unboxing the scope, I was like a young child at christmas, the scope came with a very sturdy protective hard case and removing the scope out of the case you could immediately feel that a lot of time and effort had gone into producing the 15028HNT.

Aperture: 150mm
Focal Length: 420mm
Focal Ratio: F2.8
Weight: 6kg
Tube Material: Carbon Fiber

With the scope unboxed I started to fit my equipment onto the scope. In order to fit my Sesto Senso I had to rotate the focuser 90 degrees clockwise due to the telescope mounting rings, this is when I noticed an isue that one of the grub screws on the focuser would not tighten and I needed to stop the backlash, fortunately there’s another grub screw on the other side that tightened and stopped the backlash.

Before I attached my imaging equipment, I had to ensure that the telescope was collimated, so I stumbled across the collimation guide which after speaking with my good friend Terry Hancock over at Grand Mesa Observatory who was also evaluating the same scope, we both agreed that the colimation guide wasn’t very well written as it mentioned nothing about collimating the primary. One thing that it mentioned is to remove the corrector, Sharpstar include a tool for you to remove the mounting plate and corrector, but here is a word of advice……..remove this when the telescope is cold, take that advice from someone who tried to remove it whilst it was warm!

I performed a laser collimation with my Concenter Eyepiece to check the secondary, and then a laser to check the primary, now the collimation guide says to remove the corrector, I have done validation with both the corrector removed and the corrector in place, and it made no difference whatsoever, so my opinion is to leave the corrector in place.

With the scope closely collimated, I mounted my StarlightXpress Filterwheel and Camera which with the 15028HNT is an M48 thread for the gear to screw onto.

I will post some images as soon as I have completed some, the weather has been pretty poor (probably because I bought a new scope), but the frames I have got so far are very sharp, pinpoint and I can honestly say I have never seen images come directly off the camera so sharp.

My field of view with the QHY183M is around 1.21 Arcsec/Pixel which gives me a FOV or around 1.81°x1.2° and I love the difraction spikes being at 45 degrees compared to the 90 degrees on the skywatcher and I already have a pretty full target list for this scope ready to go this season.

Apart from the couple of product issues I have experienced (Grub screw on focuser and tube clamp thumbscrew being threaded) I am extremely happy with the scope, it is performing really well and here are a couple of work in progress images that I have started

Dark Shark Nebula Moscaic Panel 1 – 51x300S in Red, 25x300S in Green and Blue
Elephant’s Trunk – 51x300S in 6nm Ha
M45 – Mosaic Panel 1 – 12x150S in R, G and B

After a few weeks, the telescope has held collimation very well, I have not had to perform any re-collimation, I will re-evaluate this in the much colder months of winter.

I am so happy with the scope that I am actually considering a second one for an OSC Camera with a bigger sensor.

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.

The source to the halo around bright stars

When I moved to the Sky-Watcher Quattro telescope I noticed some bizzare halo’s around bright stars in my images, this was evident in both my Atik 383L+ CCD Camera as well as my QHY183M ColdMOS Camera when using the Quattro 8-CF at F4, if you browse my galleries you will see what I mean, and it was more noticable in my Narrowband images. Below is one of my recent images where you can see the halo around Magnitude 3.9 star 15 Mon in the Christmas Tree Cluster / NGC2264.

I contacted Baader back in February 2019 since all of my filters were Baader, and I noticed that the Halo was present in all of my filters but significantly less in Red, but more prevalent in Narrowband filters, so the logical cause would be the filters. Baader immediately dismissed this to be the fault of their filters and suggested that my Coma Corrector be the root cause.

Not convinced that the Coma Corrector was causing the issue, I did some research online and came across a brilliant page on the Astronomik website where they claim to have resolved the majority of the Halo issue, and after reading the following line from the page I was convinced the filters were my issue:

In recent years very fast optical systems have become popular for imaging. The energy in a filter induced halo grows exponentially as the f-ratio decreases. Additional to this, the smaller the FWHM band pass of the filter, the stronger the halo.

The above line described my issue perfectly so I mentioned this to Baader who again dismissed the possibility of it being their filters and again put the blame firmly to my optical train. Again not happy, I contacted Astronomik and Eric emailed me back very promptly and offered to send me out one of their 6nm Ha filters to test. A few days ago the filter arrived and I was able to perform some testing against the Baader filter also for comparison on the same star.

Since the star in my image above was of magnitude 3.9, I wanted to find something similar, so I found star Alhaud VI and proceeded to obtain 15x300S Exposures for each filter, and here are the results:

Astronomik 6nm HA filter, 15x300S with Darks and Flats applied
Baader 7nm Ha filter, 15x300S with Darks and Flats applied

So as you can see the Baader filter shows a high amount of Halo around the bright star and the Astronomik filter does not, now if this was something to do with the rest of the optical train there would be evidence in the Astronomik filter also.

Now I agree there will be some reflection in the optical train, all that glass in the coma corrector, the glass on the camera etc, so I thought I would have a look at both images in a bit more detail, zoomed in on the stars there is what appears to be a slight halo in the same place on both images:

Astronomik 6nm Ha Filter
Baader 7nm Ha Filter

So both filters show the Inner Halo which in my opinion would not be visible in an image, but again clearly the Baader filter has some reflection issues happening as you can clearly see two additional Halos. The interesting thing about all three Halos is that the central one visible in both filters has no relationship to the distances between the other two in the Baader, however the two outer Halos on the baader are the same distance apart as the middle halo is from the star, so clearly this is some sort of reflection.

Conclusion:
Astronomik have done a fantastic job at eliminating Halo artifacts around bright stars, clearly the Baader filters are causing major Halo artifacts because if this was the optical train then it would be evident in the Astronimik filters also, I suspect that the Baader filters are not optimised for faster focal ratio imaging systems. I have provided this information to Baader and await a response from them.

Good job Astronomik Filters

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!

Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox

I spent a lot of time looking at PowerBoxes/USB Controllers, the late Per Frejvall had developed a very nice Remote USB Hub but of course with the passing of Per, these are no longer available. I looked at two hubs, the HitechAstro Mount Hub Pro abnd the one I settled for was the Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox.

Unboxing the PowerBox I was pleased with the build quality, they even ship mounting brackets for you to be able to mount it onto your setup, here’s an image of mine mounted on top of my Sky-Watcher Quattro:

Pegasus Astro Ultimate PowerBox on Imaging Setup

I loaded up the software onto the observatory PC and again pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get started and configure the names of the powered devices connected as well as names for each of the dew heaters, in the following image you can see my power connected devices and my dew heater for my guider camera:

Screenshot of Control Software

I configured the software to automatically power my devices the moment the unit is switched on, so what do I have connected to the PowerBox?

  • QHY5L-II Guide Camera
  • StarlightXpress USB Filterwheel
  • PrimaluceLabs ROBO Focuser
  • EQ8 Pro Mount PC-Direct Cable

I didn’t connect my QHY183M at the moment as I discovered that during image download it seemed to cause a timeout on the QHY5L-II Camera, I have raised a ticket with Pegasus Astro on this one. From a Power perspective, I only have my QHY183M and my Rear Fan assembly/heater connected as I currently do not have the power cable to connect directly to the hub for the EQ8 Pro (On Order). There is also a temperature sensor for the ultimate version, which works well as an interface for Sequence Generator Pro and my Auto Focuser routines.

I have been using the Hub now for a good few months, I am pretty happy with it, am I totally happy you might ask, well to be honest there’s a couple of niggly things that I have emailed Pegasus Astro about (awaiting a response):

  • Voltage. I am running 13.8V regulated bench power supply capable of delivering up to 15A which is powering the hub, however when devices such as the camera, dew heater, fan assembly are all running, the voltage level drops down to around 12V according to the software, I would not expect this to do so, I would expect it to remain 13.8V. My EQ8 Pro mount is powered by the same supply (but not through the hub currently) and during slew the voltage in the software does not change, so it’s obviously something being caluclated within the hub somewhere.
  • Issue with USB3 Camera (QHY183M) is still outstanding
  • When you set the power to the dew heater for example I always run it at 170, however when the software restarts you have to manually go and set this again
  • Ability to reboot or “Disconnect” a specific USB Port remotely would have been nice.

The main reason I wanted something like this was the ability to reboot the hub remotely, with standard USB Hubs this is not possible, as above, I would love to have a bit more granularity on this and have it on a per USB port but it works well for me right now.


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 size.

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.