First Light Report on MallinCam
Color Hyper Camera from October 18,
2006; Crozet Virginia
Observing tools: MallinCam Color
Hyper Camera (a highly specialized video camera) with focal reducer and 10mm
extension (a configuration for the widest field of view possible) – placed on a
12.5 inch Truss Tube Dob that was mounted on a
Compact Platform. Camera output was
examined on a 9 inch DVD player screen (a relatively poor monitoring capability,
which was our own limitation).
Summary of MallinCam Color Hyper
Color HYPER is a full-featured advanced astronomical observational video CCD
camera featuring a Peltier-assisted radiant cooler, 6
and 12 second extended shutter integration (in addition to the standard 2.1 second
integration mode), and a color bar generator for properly calibrating the
monitor. The 12 bits system APC feature
allows full picture enhancement of vertical and horizontal pixels, a freeze
image feature, two Gamma selections, a high light feature
for Lunar and Planetary images. The camera comes with a custom designed high
precision 1.25" adapter, a Class 1 CCD sensor, and Grade 1 components. It also contains unique custom manufactured
high gain circuitry. The 3 sections of the internal parts of the camera are the
ccd sensor, the main board (dual
CPU and Dual Memory with a total of 32 megs), and the video section where the
image is sent to the correspondent monitor or capture card. Outputs include
both BNC and S-video connections.
When the shutter is open at 6 or 12
seconds, the photons are accumulated like a full size cooled ccd imager made for astronomy. Once
the accumulation is done, it is sent immediately to the memory via the main CPU
that processes and applies functions that are selected in the menu of the
camera. The DSP (digital signal
processing) is adjustable. There are two memories in the MallinCam.
Both memories are 16 megs, which are split to offer
functions that are controlled by a second CPU. The output always remains at 30
frames per sec. (Otherwise, a TV or monitor would not be able to "lock
in" the signal.)
Conditions: clear; one day past a cold front passage that
brought lots of rain; high humidity for the 2-hour session; calm winds. Everything was wet by the end of the 2 hour
about 3 miles East of the Blue Ridge
Mountains in Central Virginia. Our back yard observation “pad” is at 850
feet elevation. Sky pollution is low to
medium in the East from Charlottesville
and low in the West from Waynesboro.
Background: This was our first attempt to use the color
hyper camera. Our previous experience
was with the B&W Pro Dob (same
designer/manufacturer) whose output went to a Toshiba high resolution B&W monitor. We have used Pro Dob
camera about one year. Our first video astro camera (a Stella CAM EX) was purchased about three
years ago but is no longer in use. We
have used video astro cameras for about 3 years and
have been observing about 5 years with a C8, 12.5 Dob, and C5i. We consider our observing skills about
average. About half of our observing is
with small groups (children and adults). Over half of our time on the scopes is
using video astro cameras. We have about 5 years experience with
observing. Having passed the ½ century
mark, our eyes are not “young” – we like things that make viewing of objects
easy to study. We unashamedly enjoy and encourage the observation of God’s
Objective of this observing period: This 2-hour period was
the maiden voyage for our MallinCam Color Hyper Camera,
which we knew was only enough observing time to test the camera basics in a
chosen configuration and a few key camera settings. We chose a nosepiece configuration to get the
widest field of view, which means attaching the manufacturer’s focal reducer as
well as a 10-mm extension piece (extends the field just a bit more). We wanted
to test the “sense up” accumulation mode (a 2 second period), the extended 6
and 12 second modes with TEC (thermo-electric cooling). Specifically, we aimed to test the camera as
we just described on a few DSOs for orientation and comparison. We bought the camera because of a
long-standing desire to observe live with color, so we wanted to see what color
brought to our table.
Camera settings and operation:
We generally used the 128 sense up (2 second) mode with TEC (thermo
electric cooling) turned on as we looked for each chosen object. The 2-second lag time is tolerable when
moving the Dob in a small
area as we settled on a specific field of view.
Then we adjusted to 6 or 12 second mode as appropriate. Overall operation of the color hyper camera
was no more complicated than the Pro Dob camera,
which is not hard to operate. The
buttons and locations are the same on the back of the camera. It does not take long to get used to their
position by “feel”. In comparison, the
intuitive “feel” and operation of the buttons is similar to our experience with
Sky Commander, which is also very intuitive and easy to learn.
Color adjustments on the color hyper camera are available. We stayed with the manufacturer’s recommended
settings on RED, which were reduced a bit, and BLUE, which was heightened
slightly, because of the inherent sensitivities of the color CCD chip. Later in the period adjusted the RED to slightly
improve its sensitivity but it was still set just below the “zero” or central
point of the scale.
The focus that was achievable with the color hyper camera
was very good – a little better than the focus we could achieve with the Pro Dob. In general, one uses faint stars to focus these
cameras but seeing stars as “point” sources is usually tough in the
“accumulation” mode. This camera (among
the three we have used) comes closest to making the stars “point sources” when
physical telescope focus is correct. As
a result, it makes actual viewing of star patterns and star color variations a
pleasure. (We only have a rack and
pinion mechanical focuser to adjust telescope focus but it is tight and easy to
adjust to gain the maximum from the video astro
The in-focus travel that I needed for the color hyper camera
with the focal reducer as used on my f4.5 Dob
is more severe than the Pro Dob camera in-focus
requirement, but focus was achievable with a low profile 2 inch/1.25 inch
We looked at
approximately 15 objects—a mixture of globular clusters, galaxies, nebula and
planetary nebula. Our comments on a few
of the objects follow. Keep in mind that
we have 3 reference points: (1) observing
with the same scope with the Pro Dob and the Stella
CAM EX, (2) a virtual observation period online on 14/15 October with the color
hyper camera attached to a 14 inch CGE at a SW US observation site--while we
observed the output live on a laptop and a large projection screen in
Louisiana, and (3) observing with EPs (Panoptics,
Radians, Denk II binoviewer
with Antares W70 EP pairs).
Dumbell Nebula/M27. The object on 2s mode was already better than
what we could see in an EP and, of course, the color was nice. The focal reduction meant that the object
took no more than 15 per cent of the 9 inch DVD screen. Going to the 6 and 12 second mode enhanced
color and definition very nicely. It was
a delight to see the array of blue/green in most of the object with red at some
of the edges. The view was nearly as
good as that which we saw online from the 14 inch CGE with the same
camera. We turned to “zoom”
feature on and saw the object fill screen with definition and color. There was no noticeable break down in the
image on zoom. At that point, we concluded
that the camera was worth the cost—even if we only had a few objects that were
as beautiful. I cannot wait to look at the stellar cloud “folds” in some of the
outer sections of M42 this winter.
Ring Nebula/M57. It was as enjoyable as M27. We had no difficulty seeing the central star
and the one star in the central region that is off center. The coloration was wonderful; contrast was
excellent. The nice thing about this
object in color is the “core” color that gently contrasts the ring color. The picture held nicely with the Zoom set at
maximum on top of 2 inch Televue Barlow.
M76/Planetary Nebula. Compared to the “google”
pictures, we saw the same detail but in color, and there was some color.
NGC 6992 (one strand). This is such a large object that we did not
know what to expect and surface brightness is not that good. We examined one strand of 6992 on the 2 s,
6s, and 12s modes – each with increasing (as one would expect) nebulosity
evident. The reds were nice and helped
us see the strand in the midst of faint stars.
M71/globular cluster. There was good resolution of stars. Different
colorings among the stars could be observed.
The color hyper camera actually adds enjoyment to seeing globular
clusters compared to the Pro Dob because of more
precise ability to focus the camera and the variation in the colors of the
stars in the cluster.
M13/Hercules cluster. I was pleasantly surprised that the view was
much better than the view I could see with the Pro Dob
camera, which is also good. Resolution
of stars was good, color variations could be seen, 2 s and 6 s modes did very
well. The “core” was not washed out.
M33/spiral galaxy. This was our last major object. It filled the screen. Arm definition and overall shape that we
could see was fair to good; color was evident and improved our viewing pleasure
(faint reds were especially noticeable), smaller “fuzzies”
in the field could easily be seen.
Compared to the Pro Dob, the color added to
the picture and the definition/resolution was almost as good. However (and please note this confession), as
I was checking the telescope right after we observed the object I found that my
secondary was completely misted over with dew!! We would have seen much better
without the misted secondary, but object was still beautiful. We were so
focused on the screen that I forgot to check the condition of the optics. The last 3 or 4 objects we looked at were
probably affected by the same problem.
General star and star pattern observation note: My wife and I really enjoy studying objects
and the color sensitivity of this camera makes this camera a “keeper” for us. However, we also enjoy looking at stars and
their patterns in many parts of the sky.
We were very pleased that our ability to focus stars with the color
hyper camera and the ability to see star color variations were much better than
we had expected.
Bottom line: From our experience, we know that the MallinCam Color Hyper will be our primary higher
magnification sky viewing tool. It is
worth the extra money and viewing ability as offered by the Pro Dob camera, which is still a very good tool. The Stella CAM
EX, which is an older video astro camera, is not as
good as the Pro Dob camera. While we still view with eye pieces, the MallinCAM color hyper camera enables us to see detail,
color, and contrast that we could never see using an eye piece on the same
night with the same scope. With a change
in our output viewing device (our DVD screen was not very good as an output
viewing device), it will be an outstanding live
viewing device for us or for a group.
What a lovely night it was; and what lovely nights we will be having!!
Roland and Linda Beard
Crozet, Virginia Members, Charlottesville
Addendum—Observing Period with Color Hyper Mounted on 16” RC
(local private observatory):
Our second “test” night was with another local astronomy club
member, Dean Wilder, whose 16 inch RC is mounted on a pier and in an
observatory at 3200 feet (on top of Flat Top Mountain just East of the South
section of the Shenandoah National Park.
The views of the Saturn and Cat’s Eye were beautiful; the Dumbbell
filled the 14 inch monitor screen with detail and structure we had not seen in
our 12.5 in Dob. We also had
a nice view of M74’s spiral arms and pinkish center/core. Since Dean had not tried a video astro camera like this before, we took of the rising moon
at the end of the session by reducing the appropriate gains and changing camera
settings for fast electronic shutter exposures (accumulation/integration modes
were turned off). This permitted what we
call a ‘low-altitude pass’ over several parts of the
moon’s surface. The 2-hour session was a
real pleasure. Dean’s reporting to the local Charlottesville Astronomy club were very similar to our conclusions from our home observing
pad: he really liked the camera and
wants it for a similar set-up for public gatherings at his observatory.