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Cameras

The next step is choosing a camera. You can use webcams (typically for planetary or the moon only), DSLRs or dedicated astrophotography cameras. I don't use webcams or DSLRs so you may need to seek out the advice of others for using those devices.


There are two main types of sensors, CCD and CMOS. CMOS is the newer type on the market. CCDs are very sensitive but are more expensive. CMOS is typically much cheaper for a given sensor size and some of the newer models are very sensitive. They also tend to be less noisy. Most manufacturers have stopped making CCD sensors and have switched to CMOS.


DSLRs can work well provided they will come to focus in your telescope. This issue is most prominent with Newtonian type telescopes. The issue is the focuser on a newtonian doesn't have as much travel as a refractor or cassegrain. The problem stems from the fact that newtonians are set up for visual use and the camera typically has to get in much farther than the focuser will allow. There are workarounds such as moving the primary mirror closer to the secondary mirror using spacers or getting a low profile focuser. You could use a barlow if you're doing planetary imaging but it won't work well with deep space objects. If you're buying a newtonian telescope for video astronomy, consider picking up a type known as an Astrograph. They're designed to allow cameras to focus. They can still be used visually with extensions. For DSLRs, the Canon Rebel series are well-regarded for astrophotography and can work in a video astronomy setup. For video astronomy, you'll need software that can take an image and save it to a hard drive (Canon EOS). Then you would use a program like Astrotoaster to process that image as it comes in.


My preference is for cameras dedicated to astrophotography/video astronomy. My personal favorite as of this writing are the ZWO brand CMOS cameras. I own an ASI224MC and an ASI294MC Pro. I've used them in newtonian and refractor scopes with no issues. They are powered by the USB cable that connects to the computer so they are relatively easy to set up and use (one cable from the camera to the computer). The ASI224MC is a 2MP camera which costs around $250-$300 as of this writing. The ASI294MC Pro is a 12MP camera with an integrated TEC cooler built into it. It currently runs about $1000. Other popular brands that use the same sensors include QHY, Mallincam and Altair.


I've also used a Starlight Xpress Ultrastar-C and a Lodestar X2M CCD cameras with good results. The Starlight Xpress cameras are particularly good for newtonians as they're a 1.25" cylinder which can slip deep into the focuser. They're primarily intended as autoguider cameras but they work well for video astronomy. The Lodestar X2M is a mono camera (black and white) which retails for around $550-$650 and has a 0.4MP sensor (752x580). The Ultrastar C is a color camera which retails for around $1000 and has a 1.4MP sensor (1392x1040).


The Revolution Imager CCD cameras are well-regarded, though I've never used them. The CCD models can send an image directly to a monitor with s-video inputs. If one didn't want to bother with a computer, the RI is probably the way to go. If one wanted to use them with a computer, they will require a frame grabber and are a bit messier to work with (power cables, s-video & USB frame grabber). It has a 0.5MP sensor (976x494).


#videoastronomy #cameras

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