Cameras

SBIG ST-8E w/CFW-8 filter wheel (2001)

CCD camera with built in auto guider - Kodak 1600 chip, TI guider chip.

Sets up easy, auto guider is the biggest advantage - when properly aligned and calibrated it has tracked error-free for over two hours on the LX200 - if we could get the laptop to run unattended that long we could stay in where itís warm.  Had the USB and guider upgraded.  Well worth the effort.  Download images in a few seconds instead of a couple minutes.  Focusing is so much easier!  Also, the larger guider chip significantly eases use.

SBIG STF-8300C (2012)

Wowser!   Fantastic match with the TV-60is.  Only real issue with the camera is it is only compatible with 64 bit systems.  Processing single-shot color images is very different than traditional tri-color imaging, some ways it is easier, some ways it is more difficult.  I find that I occasionally need to breakout the color channels in Photoshop to tweak them individually, dealing with light pollution gradients is more difficult than with a tri-color imaging run.  The anti-bloom is great for shooting close to bright objects.  I have tried numerous times to shoot the Flame Nebula only to be beat down by the bright star next to it.  This camera got a decent image the first try. 

 Digital SLR

400mm lens and to heck with using a scope for lunar and comet shots, with the Vibration Reduction on I can hand hold lunar shots.  50mm f1.8 is great for satellites and asterisms.

Assorted 35mm

We gave up on these, except for wide field shots, neither of us have the patience to hand guide them.

Web Cams

Celestron NexImage

Basic webcam.  While the camcorder does quite well on solar system videos, the small, bright LCD is extremely difficult to focus in the dark.  The image on a computer is much easier to focus with.  Also, using the webcam eliminates downloading and converting the video to a format that the computer can process.  I generally take 20 seconds of video at 25 fps so I end up with around 500 images to play with.  Some frames are dropped so the exact number does vary a bit.  Sometimes it drops more than it keeps so I just reshoot the video, it only takes another 20 seconds.  Using the provided AmCap software, you can adjust all of the cameras parameters; frames per second, the exposure length, gamma, brightness, contrast, saturation, white balance, gain, video compression, and output size.  It also has a full auto mode which works quite well on lunar images, but poorly on planets.  Just like with the digital cameras, imaging planets is such a contrast issue (small bright object, solid black background) that the auto settings just can't hack it, they tend to over expose the planet in an attempt to bring out some background detail. - Mysteriously died - replaced with ------->>

StarShoot Solar System Color Imager II

When the Celestron died I received a flyer from Orion Telescopes featuring their new Solar System imager.  I snagged it up and am extremely pleased.  It uses a 1/2" CMOS chip with a resolution of 1280x1024.  While that does not mean a higher quality image, it does translate to covering more sky than the smaller 640x480 chip of the other webcam systems on the market.  The supplied Maxim DL Essentials software allows for single image capture, as well as video.  It is good for single images, it really sucks for video.  Use AmCap or something else for video capture.  Maxim also processes the video, but breaks it into individual frames bringing you computer to its knees.  If you install Maxim DL Essentials it replaces all of the webcam drivers on your computer, removing the ability to adjust camera parameters.  Forget it and use AmCap and RegiStax.  That's too bad, Maxim DL CCD is my favorite imaging program for both capture and processing with the SBIG.

Thanks to Microsoft changing the web cam hardware specs in Win 7 neither of the above cameras will work with 7, good thing I still have an XP laptop.

I have noticed that all of the astro webcams receive overall negative reviews on the various web sites.  My belief is that most buyers are not aware of the difficulties of astro imaging and the software and knowledge required to process the video to a finished, quality image.  Of course it doesn't help that the manufactures seem to portray them as a easy to use as a point-n-shoot taking family snapshots.

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