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Apogee Ascent A8050 CCD Arrival and First Light

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#1 Nate B.

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 09:04 PM

I happened to be the lucky recipient of an Apogee Ascent A8050 chipped camera (KAI-8050; 8.1mp Mono Interline 4/3" format, 5.5um pixels) at NEAIC this year. Turns out I was already intrigued by the Apogee Ascent lineup for several reasons and have an Ascent A694 on order with the newer Sony ICX694 6mp 4.54um pixel chip.

It would figure the new toys always come during the worst parts of the moon phase but at least a big bright moon guarantees it'll be clear.

Here are a few pics of the new camera:


The Apogee Ascent has only 2 connections; the Filter Wheel shares the USB and Power with the camera reducing connection count; fewer wires is always welcome!
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I have a Starlight Xpress OAG mated to the Ascent via a 2" SCT thread. The OAG seems a very nice fit for the Ascent and the Lodestar Guider comes to focus in the middle of the range with this camera / filter wheel combination.
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For a sense of scale I've included some calipers.
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Here's a size comparison between my Apogee U8300 with AFW50-9R 9 position 50mm rounds filter wheel. Obviously there is the camera size difference but the difference between the 8x1.25" and 9x50mm wheel is quite large. Weight wise, the U8300 and FW tops out at about 6.6 lbs while the Ascent setup comes in at half that or ~3.25 lbs. This is still about 1.25 lbs heavier than an Atik ccd/fw combo for comparison.
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First light was on my old Pentax 75mm EDHF refractor with baader solar film. You can see that the camera is well proportioned on such a petite refractor as the Pentax 75mm.
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Here is a side view of the image train. Note that the back focus requirement of the camera and filter wheel is only 31.6mm. I am considering having my father machine an adapter to replace the current spacer on the Starlight Xpress OAG with a slightly smaller one to allow perfect 55mm t-standard spacing with this setup. That allows all those common field flatteners, reducers, correctors, etc. to work with this system. I've always felt limited by the 55mm spacing and always wondered why the camera companies didn't offer a turn key system (camera/FW/OAG) that delivered on the 55mm spacing. Atik and SX both deliver their 694 chip cameras with FW and OAG at 59.5mm and 59mm backfocus. I guess this is another one of those custom parts moments! At least with this setup it's simply shaving some excess material off the OAG spacer. I don't believe there's a way to shorten the systems from SX and Atik to allow the OAG to be used with a 55mm spacing but maybe I'm just missing something...
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A quick shot through the Pentax 75mm with Baader solar film for a non-typical first light.
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And another first light through the AP130EDT F/8 with 0.75X reducer giving ~820mm focal length on the moon while working out focus on the OAG guide camera.
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So far nothing of significant note on the camera since I haven't had a true deep sky first light. Max cooling was a little over 30C which matched up with the published spec range of 30-35C and matched the bench report from Apogee at 32C below ambient. So far it looks like a nice little camera system that will serve me well for portable use. The larger Alta body with better cooling will live in the observatory on the big focuser that can hold the weight while the Ascent will most likely venture out to dark sites on smaller scopes, and will hopefully play host to some wide field camera lenses for narrowband imaging of the summer sky.

Thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I've been a happy long time Apogee customer and received this camera as a raffle prize. I am not affiliated with Apogee in any other way nor do I receive any compensation from them. I posted this first light to share in the excitement of new equipment and as a service to the community to highlight a camera line that I have had trouble finding any other online information on.

Cheers!
Nate

#2 Ricky

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 09:27 PM

Great report Nate.

#3 Nate B.

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Posted 27 April 2013 - 10:51 PM

Thanks Ricky.

Still need to finalize spacing on the scope but took a few RGB 5 minute frames of M13. Compressed and highly cropped with moon nearby...

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#4 Wembley2000

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 01:28 PM

Great write up. How long does it take for the ascent to cool down? I am considering the A694 and 8 position filter wheel as my first mono ccd purchase.

Thanks,
Brian

#5 Bob Moore

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 07:03 PM

I'm still laughing abut you wining after the story you told me the night before.

#6 Nate B.

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 10:50 PM

Brian,

I am expecting my A694 to arrive any day now. Should be a very nice camera in many regards.

I haven't timed the cool down on the A8050 but it does seem slower than the Alta bodies which were already noted as being slower than the competition. Personally, I'm always opening up the observatory to cool down and turning the camera on then so cool down time is never an issue there and for field work it's always at temp by the time I finish my short polar alignment and target acquisition. To me cool down time isn't critical as it never held me back.

Regards,
Nate

#7 Nate B.

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 10:55 PM

Bob,

Some form of karma I'm sure :roflmao:

Hey, thanks for another great NEAIC! Hopefully we'll have different stories to swap next year.

Cheers,
Nate

#8 pbsastro

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 07:09 PM

Brian,

I am expecting my A694 to arrive any day now. Should be a very nice camera in many regards.

I haven't timed the cool down on the A8050 but it does seem slower than the Alta bodies which were already noted as being slower than the competition. Personally, I'm always opening up the observatory to cool down and turning the camera on then so cool down time is never an issue there and for field work it's always at temp by the time I finish my short polar alignment and target acquisition. To me cool down time isn't critical as it never held me back.

Regards,
Nate


Thanks Nate. I will be very interested in your A694 report, as I am considering a 694 camera myself, and am trying to decide between the four brands I know to carry it: Starlight, Atik, QHY and Apogee. Do you have an opinion on these or know other brands?
Surprising you say the A8050 takes longer to cool than other brands, as it seems to me this kind of cooling with big external fan, should be more efficient.

Pedro

#9 Nate B.

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 09:40 PM

Pedro,

I should be more careful how I word things. When I said "noted as being slower than the competition," I meant that FLI routinely calls out the fast speed at which they cool compared to Apogee's slower approach. Lots of opinions there I'm not going to touch...

The Ascent seems to cool a little slower than the Alta I have. I have no idea how fast cooling is on Atik, Starlight Xpress or QHY for comparison.

For the price I think the Ascent is a competitive option from a trusted US company with, in my opinion, better build quality than some of the others. Only testing will say what's better.

I hope to have the A694 soon for testing. Can't wait :jump:

#10 pbsastro

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 05:44 PM

The A694 seems to be the best match for my requirements. Only negative thing I see is 6V supply. Most astro devices are 12V, so astronomer batteries are 12V. We can covert the 12v to 6v, but that means half of the battery power is waisted.

#11 andysea

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 09:05 PM

There are 6v deep cycle batteries that you can buy. Since I think it's always a good idea to power the camera from a separate battery, 6v shouldn't be an issue I think.

#12 pbsastro

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 06:10 PM

There are 6v deep cycle batteries that you can buy. Since I think it's always a good idea to power the camera from a separate battery, 6v shouldn't be an issue I think.

Yes you are right, power the camera from a separate battery is recommended for noise immunity. However there is still the need for a dedicated charger just for the camera, and less flexibility regarding (available charged) batteries use.
But I agree it is not a major issue, and in fact is the only issue I find.






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