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Mallincam Wireless Exposure Controller; Yes or No?

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#1 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 04:13 PM

OK, I am about to fall off of the fence that I have been sitting on regarding the Mallincam Xtreme, though I am also considering looking for a used Collins I3 instead of the Mallincam.

In looking at the various packages I see that there is an available wireless exposure control. Does anyone see this as a necessary item? I would love to hear opinions, but please let me know why or why not.

Oh, and I am also slightly technologically challenged, so the Mallincam is already going to have a pretty big learning curve for me without additional complications. It would be nice to hear if the wireless controller makes things easier or harder to learn.

I don't know if it matters, but I would be using the Mallincam in a 14.5" f/4.3 Starmaster with a MFR 3 with 10mm extension, as well as in my EON 120, though not as often as the Starmaster. I would probably be using my laptop or a 9" LCD monitor. Wish I could use the Speco that everyone raves about, but my observing shed is too far from the house to access AC.
 

#2 mclewis1

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 05:01 PM

Doug,

The first consideration is your laptop, if it's always around the scope then of course you have the option of PC control, if not then the wired/wireless remote combo will be required. Note the wired/wireless comment, to use the Xtreme remotely (to do anything beyond 3 second exposures) without a PC you need BOTH the wired hand controller and the wireless exposure controller on the camera at the same time.

Any minor installation issues aside I've found the PC control to be more "straightforward" to understand and use compared to the menu system built into the cameras. You will still need to understand some of the background of the menu system to get the most out of the camera but I find when all the PC control stuff is in front of me that I do a better job of controlling the camera.

If you go the manual remote control route you'll really need to sit down and understand the menu system on the camera. I found that the material written for the MCHP camera made the most sense, and then I brushed up on the differences with the Xtreme (longer exposure, flexible cooling, CCD mode, etc.). Virtually all the material written for the Xtreme is oriented towards a PC controlled setup.

Once you've achieved some reasonable comfort using the camera that way you'll still likely find that you don't want to be "jumping around" between dsos and solar system objects too much. It's much easier to keep the camera in it's extremely sensitive modes of operation and only work with the exposures and such. You will also find that you'll need to tweak the contrast/brightness and perhaps a few other video controls on your monitor or PC.

There is of course a ton of info on the Yahoo Mallincam group as well as on Jack Heuercamp's website. Another great source of knowledge is on NightSkiesNetwork.com, there's nothing like watching a live broadcast and interacting with the guy controlling the Mallincam to understand what's going on.
 

#3 wolfman_4_ever

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 05:41 PM

You don't need the wired hand controller if you don't have a PC... it's the same as the buttons on the back of the camera...

It's good if you don't want camera shake by touching the rear of the camera.. Or if walking the 20+ feet might cause the universe to spontaneously combust around you.
 

#4 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 06:45 PM

Mark, thanks for the very detailed response! Also, thanks to Dave for clarifying the buttons on the camera vs the wired remote, as I was going to ask about that.

Looking again at Jack's site, and reading one of the reviews that he links to, it looks as though using my laptop would be the preferred method for using the Mallincam Xtreme. Not to mention that going without the wireless/wired controllers saves more than a few dollars!

As to software, is the free download MC software decent enough, or would I be better going with one of the third party drivers that have been mentioned on this forum?

Here's what I am now looking at, but I am open to suggestions for any additional items:

MC Xtreme w/o wireless or wired controllers
MFR 3 with 10mm extension
a frame grabber device, either the one offered by Mallincam or one of the cheaper models on Amazon

Anything else? I was also wondering about filters, such as an IR or Ha filter?

Sorry for all the questions, but I sure appreciate any and all replies.
 

#5 mclewis1

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:50 PM

Doug,

There are a number of great Mallincam Xtreme control software apps. A few of them are also minimal pay for type as well. I'd start of with one of the free ones and then see if you want/need some of the features in the other ones. The "standard" one is listed as Mallincam Control Software version 2.8 (or "Stephan's" software).

Some of the apps are control only and some include the video presentation portion as well. If you choose a control only app there are plenty of great video presentation apps as options as well. Under Windows AMCAP is the most basic but something like SharpCap is my favourite (in terms of capabilities and ease of use). Many of the regular imaging apps (such as Nebulosity) also have the capability of displaying a webcam video feed (which is what most of the USB video frame grabbers look like to a PC). Because of the USB frame grabber sitting in between the PC and the Mallincam on the video side you usually won't find a camera entry for a "Mallincam" in most software products.

When you are looking at connectivity of the whole setup I find it helps to remember that these are two completely separation concepts (control vs. video) and they are not interrelated in anyway other than both originating at the camera.
 

#6 mclewis1

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 09:08 PM

Doug,

As for other stuff like filters and such ...

I'm not sure an IR cut filter will do much with your big reflector. Perhaps something general to cut mild light pollution and sky glow - a Lumincon DeepSky, or one of the LP specific models (Astronomik CLS-CCD, Orion SkyGlow Imaging, Hutech IDAS LP v2 etc.). Beyond that it depends on your conditions and what you are viewing. Astronomik UHC for bad LP, a fairly narrow Ha, and an OIII would cover most situations and objects.
 

#7 johnpd

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 05:00 AM

Doug,

Stick with the laptop. It makes things a lot easier.

JohnD
 

#8 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:24 AM

Thanks again for the great advice, all of you have made my decision much easier.

So, laptop control it is, and I will check out the free control software first as well as a decent LP filter. I already have an Orion Ultrablock and OIII filters but those are both visual rather than imaging filters. I am in a borderline yellow/green zone, and on a good transparent night, my NELM is typically in the 6.0 range, though light pollution is gaining steam thanks to "progress".
 

#9 James Cunningham

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:33 AM

I had both the Mallincam Xtreme and a night vision eyepiece. By far, I preferred the Mallincam. I sold my night vision eyepiece. I also agree that going the laptop route is easiest and you can use some software like Astroplanner to make observation lists and use the software to slew to where you want to go. The software that comes with the Mallincam is good but the Miloslick software is even better because of it's enhancements including built in stacking.
 

#10 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:50 AM

Thanks Jimmy! I have been looking at the Miloslick site and it looks good. I will most likely start with the free MC software until I figure things out, then start thinking about Miloslick.

FWIW, a few years ago I was observing with someone who had both the MC and an I3, and he also preferred the MC. At the time I preferred the I3, because it was more like the observing that I was used to. OTOH, I found the color views of objects to be more visually pleasing. Another consideration for me is that I have a communications tower across the road from me. The red housing at the top of that tower has faded to the point of being almost clear, so it puts out a flash that is more white than red, and I fear what may happen should the telescope slew past that light, thus giving the I3 a dose of strong white light. FWIW, I've been after the local Sheriff to fix that light for 4 years, but without success.
 

#11 dragonslayer1

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 03:29 PM

call the FAA on the light, should be flight saftey and they should get on it ASAP
 

#12 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 04:07 PM

I did file a complaint with the FCC last week, but didn't think to file with the FAA as well. I also filed a complaint with the FCC two years ago, but nothing was done about the light. The Sheriff's Department actually owns the tower but they don't seem to care about its condition.
 

#13 Jack Huerkamp

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:39 AM

By law, the flashing light at night is supposed to be red with a white light backup if the red light goes out. I have a cell tower a mile or so from the house and occasionally the red light fails and I call the cell company (they have the contact info and tower # posted on the fence surrounding the facility) and within a short time period the red light is restored.

Jack H
 

#14 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 12:53 PM

Jack,

This one is a single light tower, so it is painted orange/white with red markers and a red obstruction light on top. It's the housing for that top obstruction light that is faded to white, and the one that I have tried repeatedly to get the Sheriff's office to repair. I've even offered to pay the $250 for a new top light, but have never received a response.
 

#15 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 01:09 PM

Ok, I just sent my deposit for the Mallincam Xtreme. Thanks to everyone for your help and ideas! I really look forward to this new learning curve, and I am sure that I will have plenty more questions in the future.

Jack, it was great chatting with you today!
 

#16 Ira

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:27 PM

Just for the record (since it seems all is settled after your talk with Jack), the wired hand controller is not that hard to use. In fact, it gives you a much more "tactile" sense of what's going on with your camera. I also have no difficulty switching back and forth between deep sky and solar system objects. It does take a few sessions to go up the learning curve, but that's what a hobby is all about, isn't it? :)

As for the wireless timer, the Mallincam Extreme is limited to a 2.1 second integration without the wireless timer or computer control. I found taking a laptop computer out into the desert every night, booting it, launching apps, getting all the dongles connected, a royal pain in the ar$#. The camera is actually well designed to work stand alone with no computer. So, I decided to give up on the laptop for now. So, without a computer to control it, you definitely need the wireless timer. With it you have essentially unlimited integration times available. I also find the wired remote control essential. It is just not convenient to walk up to the telescope and use the controls on the back of the camera, especially since you really need to be watching the image on your monitor to see what the controls are doing to the image.

As for documentation, I found that it was rather confusing and helter skelter. There's alot of it, but it isn't integrated well. The most helpful document I found was a 1 page "cheat" sheet that gave you the default settings for many different types of objects. From there it is easy to jump off and experiment on your own. I have thought of doing my own documentation, based on my learning curve, but haven't been able to get around to it yet.

/Ira
 

#17 James Cunningham

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 09:11 PM

I just ordered one of those cheaper ones. Where did you find the cheat sheet? Thanks.
Jim
 

#18 Ira

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 09:21 PM

Jim,
I found the cheat sheet in a bunch of documents I downloaded from the Mallincam web site. I'll see if I can find it on my computer and post it somewhere.

/Ira
 

#19 James Cunningham

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 09:27 PM

Thanks. you can also send me a private e-mail.
Jim
 

#20 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 10:33 AM

Ira,

Thanks for your thoughts!

While I may buy a portable monitor, like the Watec 3.5" or similar for travel, I plan to stick with my plans to use the laptop for most of my Mallincam use.

Fortunately, I live under mag 5.7-6.0 skies (even with that bloody radio tower), and my observing shed holds my telescopes and other gear, so I very rarely travel to star parties or other darker sites. While I do have some setup time, the laptop setup will be minimal, and it can be hauled out with my eyepiece case. I really don't see how I could save much time, if any, by using a standalone monitor rather than the computer, and it can't be anymore of a hassle than hooking up the wired remote and trying to find a place on my telescope to hang it, IMO.

Since the MCX is really built with computer control in mind, I want to start out that way. Besides, I seriously doubt that I could find a standalone 12 VDC monitor that would beat my laptop's 17" HD display. I only wish that I could use the MCX with a HDMI cable.

I really do look forward to this new learning curve though! :)
 

#21 mclewis1

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 11:32 AM

Doug,

With a good laptop (display wise) I would just get a good quality S-video cable (all gold ends and good shielding) and probably bite the bullet on the Mallincam USB frame grabber. Yes it's more money than most USB frame grabbers but it does (in the E version - MCV-1E) have the addition of a black level adjustment which really does make images stand out on a good LCD display. This additional capability is not available on any USB frame grabber, it usually requires another piece of gear (video processor or the obsolete Mallincam DVE).

There are S-Video to HDMI adapters/converters but they aren't cheap and don't appear to buy you anything video quality wise over the MCV-1E. With a full remote site setup (no lappy) and the desire to run with minimal power and off of a nice LCD display then maybe the HDMI converter route might make sense.

Using the supplied control cable and a suitable USB-serial adapter (and probably tape the connections together) along with a good S-Video cable and USB frame grabber you can bind them together so they can be stored and rolled out very simply. The next step up from this might be a nice combined control/video (and maybe power if that made sense as well) cable from Zeningeering (who makes the control cable).

Remember that you've always got that second video output on the Mallincam (it's always active) for a composite video connection. This makes a lot of sense for folks who want a small monitor at the scope for focusing or framing and don't want to mess with the primary video connection. You can also use thinner and more flexible video cable for this second monitor if it's going to be close to the camera.
 

#22 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 11:51 AM

Wow, excellent advice! It so happens that when I placed my order yesterday, I did actually purchase the MCV-1E USB Frame Grabber. I was going to go to a cheaper one on Amazon, but figured I would just go with a higher end grabber.

Hmmmmm, now I am back to considering a Watec 3.5", or similar, monitor to keep at the scope for focusing. Since my laptop will be out of the dew in my shed, I was kind of wondering how I would check focus without running back and forth. I didn't even think about the fact that I would have an extra connection available.

OK, having looked at the Watec 3.5" online for around $400, maybe I can find a small LCD monitor that's a bit cheaper! I wonder if something as cheap as this monitor would work well enough to achieve focus, if not for normal observing?
 

#23 A. Viegas

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 10:09 PM

Doug,

If you are just going to be using the small monitor at the scope for alignment, and focusing i thinkmyoumcan go,cheap. I use a 9" Portable DVD player with composite input and its totally fine. I think I paid $89 for it 6 months ago.

You are going to,have alot of fun with the mallincam. Enjoy!

Al
 

#24 mattflastro

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 10:52 PM

Wow, excellent advice! It so happens that when I placed my order yesterday, I did actually purchase the MCV-1E USB Frame Grabber. I was going to go to a cheaper one on Amazon, but figured I would just go with a higher end grabber.

Hmmmmm, now I am back to considering a Watec 3.5", or similar, monitor to keep at the scope for focusing. Since my laptop will be out of the dew in my shed, I was kind of wondering how I would check focus without running back and forth. I didn't even think about the fact that I would have an extra connection available.

OK, having looked at the Watec 3.5" online for around $400, maybe I can find a small LCD monitor that's a bit cheaper! I wonder if something as cheap as this monitor would work well enough to achieve focus, if not for normal observing?

There's also a 7" LCD monitor with two NTSC inputs (RCA only) for under $40 .
A step above is the excellent Lilliput 7" HD , high definition, with analog and HDMI inputs for around $180 . This has way better definition than the low cost screens , higher contrast , better color reproduction and is used frequently by the pros . Also runs a couple hours on its internal rechargeable battery.
 

#25 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 11:41 PM

Al, yes, the small monitor would be for alignment and focusing only, I will use my laptop for observing.

Matt, thanks! I was looking at the Lilliput. I may give that one a try later on.
 






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