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ASI 290MC/MM yet another new camera from ZWO!

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#76 charotarguy

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 12:47 PM

 

Hello,

 

great day : i can plug my Canon FD 50mm 1.4 to my brand new ASI178MC (ok, i changed my mind concerning the ASI290MC).

 

My new setup :

 

23032-1464373603.jpg

 

Now, i will be able to make EAA and very wide field photo.

 

Great news for me, really.

 

Alain

 

Alain,

Very nice setup. Where did you get that dovetail to attach the camera to the mount? 

 

Hiten

 

That seems to be a Sky Watcher Star Adventurer dove tail from their astro package. 



#77 easybob95

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Posted 09 June 2016 - 02:10 AM

Hello Hiten,

 

To attach the camera to the mount, i took the Skywatcher L-Bracket camera holder for Star Adventurer :

 

star-adventurer-l-schiene.jpg

 

It is a very very useful accessory you can setup as you want (and not very expensive at all).

 

It works perfectly with the ZWO cameras bodies.

 

Alain



#78 Aivar88

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 09:12 AM

hello all astro aliens!

im all new to this astro stuff. bought myself ES ultra light dob 12" for visual use but im interested in some imaging also. plan is to buy EQ platform and some camera. done some research and as i understand with dobson and eq platform, i can take few seconds to maybe few minutes exposure times so for good result i need high sensitivity camera with low noise ? is 290MC good for my needs? will do planetary and hopefully some DSOs too. waiting for all suggestions you guys can give. budget would be around 500 euros for a camera.


Edited by a101, 20 September 2016 - 09:16 AM.


#79 Astrojedi

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 11:02 AM

Yes, you should stick with the lowest read noise camera possible. An ASI290 mono or ASI224 color can build fantastic detail even with 5s sub exposures stacked in real time. Both these cameras can do both planetary and DSO, although FOV will be small for some of the larger nebulae.



#80 Aivar88

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 06:53 PM

or does is make more sense to go astrovideo. mallincam jr pro for example ? which will give me nicer views ?



#81 Astrojedi

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 09:34 PM

Note that using a video cameras like the MC jr without a computer requires a mount capable of 30s - 2min exposures for best SNR. Best suited to EQ mounts. In my experience most tracking platforms for dobs will struggle to deliver exposures longer than 10-15s without tracking errors as these are not really meant for imaging. You can still use video cameras but will need to stack using a computer. But MC support of 3rd party SW is weak. At that point I would just recommend a USB based camera.



#82 jimthompson

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 10:33 PM

I disagree with Astrojedi's recommendations.  I have an ASI290MM and am quite aware of its capabilities.  I also have used a number of different MC cameras.  The MC Jr is perfectly capable of delivering enjoyable views, single frames, in under 30sec.  Brighter DSO's like Messier objects will all be easily achieved.  You can also live stack frames from the Jr. using Sharpcap just as easily as you can with any other camera.  The ASI290 as well as other USB based cameras are challenging to use, I find, unless you can get your focal ratio below f/4.  I am guessing your GOTO accuracy will be lacking (12" DOB on a tracking platform), so you will also have problems finding objects in your small field of view if you use the 1/3" chipped sensors like those in the ASI290 or ASI224, or even the LN300 based camera packages for that matter.  I would stick to 1/2" sensors or larger.  If you like the idea of a USB based camera then the Infinity, Ultrastar, MC DS2.3+ and StarVision all fit that bill however the cost is in the $1000 range.  If you prefer the idea of an analog camera so only a monitor needed in the field, then the MC Jr. is a good option.  You should also check the buy-sell boards around as Xtremes or older cooled MC cameras come up for sale fairly often and you might find a good deal.

 

Regards,

 

Jim T.



#83 Astrojedi

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Posted 20 September 2016 - 11:53 PM

Jim, I don't agree. The MC jr sensor is not that much bigger. You can easily reduce the 290 more aggressively to compensate and get a similar FOV.

 

With a dob you want to keep your sub exposures short. I have tried many dob platforms and most don't deliver reliable tracking for more than 15-20s.

 

I had a MC Xtreme couple of years back which is arguably MC's most sensitive camera. Only the very brightest objects were visible in single exposures less than 20-30s. My view is that you really need an EQ mount (that can track well) with that camera to really realize the potential of all the dollars you are spending for a MC jr. Sure you can stack but MC's 3rd party SW support is extremely poor so SW choices are very limited and you will have to deal with quite a few cables and connections.

 

If you are ok using a computer for stacking then a USB based camera with a single cable is much easier to use and will provide a much longer runway in terms of growth and capabilities. I would say reduce aggressively and you will be fine. 

 

If you want a larger sensor another option is the Lodestar X2 color. Starlight Live software that comes with it is fantastic. Also consider IMX185 or IMX178 sensor based cameras. I cannot emphasize enough how important low read noise is for generating SNR using short exposures. 

 

And personal preference is very important. I never liked the single exposure images produced by the MC cameras. I much prefer the higher quality images from the USB cameras.


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#84 Aivar88

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 03:45 AM

one more question, those VIDEO cameras like atik infinity, probably MC jr etc. have read noise around 6e. is that different with videos or whats the case `? asi 224mc has 1e but atik inifity 6e . can i videos-observe in near real time with asi224 camera same way i could with MC jr or infinity  ? im perfectly fine using computer and if must even a 0.5 focal reducer if really needed.


Edited by a101, 21 September 2016 - 04:18 AM.


#85 jimthompson

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:22 AM

Hi Astrojedi,

 

My understanding is that it is difficult to achieve "aggressive" focal reduction on a DOB due to available focus range, which makes your argument about 1/3" chips being capable of the same FOVs as 1/2" or larger chips simply by using more focal reduction potentially moot.  My experience with an Xtreme is apparently different than yours as I have had good success with exposures under 30sec.  Certainly your sky conditions play a big role, so if you are under heavy light pollution and need to use filters, your total exposure time will tend to drift up into the 60sec range.  That being said, there is no reason why one can't stack short frames from an analog camera and stretch the result's histogram to get the sensitivity you want...exactly the same as if using a USB camera. 

 

Your statement that there are fewer software choices to use with analog cameras is misleading.  Off the top of my head, you can use an analog Mallincam with:  Astrolive, Miloslick & Sharpcap...all of which provide stacking and histogram control.  I also use VirtualDub with my analog cameras to give access to some nifty filters like WarpSharp or UnsharpMask.  With a ZWO camera your choices are Astrolive or Sharpcap, with the Infinity camera you can use only the Atik software, and with the SX cameras you can use the StarlightLive software.  Seems like in fact there are more software choices using the analog camera.  There is also Astrotoaster out there but you can use that with any camera that allows you to save screen captures.  Thus in my opinion your argument about analog MC cameras having poor software support is incorrect.  Perhaps you are mistakenly lumping in MC USB cameras with this discussion?

 

I am in agreement that the Lodestar X2 is a very capable camera.  If the OP is interested in a laptop driven camera system then I would recommend they consider it as one of the options.

 

Personal preference is indeed a huge part of what type of camera people like to use.  I find myself sitting on the fence.  I can appreciate the subtle details that stacking many frames at short exposures can reveal, and the advantage of working with a single cable, however with this comes a commitment to a way of doing things.  Most of the time, with the way I observe, this commitment is fine.  In the field or doing outreach this commitment is harder to accept.  To this day I still believe that my Xtreme ICX418 delivers the most vibrant colour and sharpest detail of any camera I have used, and all in a single exposure.  No dicking around with darks or tweaking colour channels or trouble finding enough stars to get a good stack.  Sharpness of image, or rather the lack there-of, is in my opinion a huge weakness of all USB cameras.  I am at a loss to explain why none of these USB camera software packages have a sharpening tool, something that analog cameras have had since the beginning.

 

Best Regards,

 

Jim T.



#86 jimthompson

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:39 AM

one more question, those VIDEO cameras like atik infinity, probably MC jr etc. have read noise around 6e. is that different with videos or whats the case `? asi 224mc has 1e but atik inifity 6e . can i videos-observe in near real time with asi224 camera same way i could with MC jr or infinity  ? im perfectly fine using computer and if must even a 0.5 focal reducer if really needed.

Unfortunately the sensor manufacturers are not consistent in their definition of sensor performance.  Many of the CCD sensors we are talking about quote a dark signal in millivolts (mV), but the CMOS sensors have a read noise value quoted in electrons (e).  Makes it hard to compare based on published stats alone.  There are two approaches to live observing today:  use a sensor with good noise and excellent sensitivity to give you a usable image in a single frame, or use a sensor with excellent noise and good sensitivity to give you a usable image in a stack of frames.  The latter approach did not exist a couple years ago, and has only come into popularity due to the recent availability of affordable cameras with very low noise CMOS sensors.  So the answer to your question: "Can I video observe in near real time with an ASI224 camera the same way I could with an MC Jr or Infinity", is YES and NO...Yes you can live observe with a USB camera, but No it is not in the same way as you would with an MC Jr. or Xtreme.  The two methods are different.

 

Regards,

 

Jim T.



#87 Aivar88

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 12:11 PM

huhoh. kind of complicated this thing without any experience :p , i guess ill have to get a larger sensor nad lower read noise to be sure i wont have to buy more cameras than one. something like asi 1600mc would be best bet? or does that large sensor have any down sides for short exposures ?



#88 Astrojedi

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 12:37 PM

 

one more question, those VIDEO cameras like atik infinity, probably MC jr etc. have read noise around 6e. is that different with videos or whats the case `? asi 224mc has 1e but atik inifity 6e . can i videos-observe in near real time with asi224 camera same way i could with MC jr or infinity  ? im perfectly fine using computer and if must even a 0.5 focal reducer if really needed.

Unfortunately the sensor manufacturers are not consistent in their definition of sensor performance.  Many of the CCD sensors we are talking about quote a dark signal in millivolts (mV), but the CMOS sensors have a read noise value quoted in electrons (e).  Makes it hard to compare based on published stats alone.  There are two approaches to live observing today:  use a sensor with good noise and excellent sensitivity to give you a usable image in a single frame, or use a sensor with excellent noise and good sensitivity to give you a usable image in a stack of frames.  The latter approach did not exist a couple years ago, and has only come into popularity due to the recent availability of affordable cameras with very low noise CMOS sensors.  So the answer to your question: "Can I video observe in near real time with an ASI224 camera the same way I could with an MC Jr or Infinity", is YES and NO...Yes you can live observe with a USB camera, but No it is not in the same way as you would with an MC Jr. or Xtreme.  The two methods are different.

 

Regards,

 

Jim T.

 

 

Jim,

 

Note that dark current usually expressed in mv/time and read noise expressed as e are two totally different concepts. I have been buying astro cameras for decades now and I have always seen camera manufacturers provide both specifications. So confused about your comment.

 

For me the key difference between old video cameras and the newer USB cameras is that the video cameras can be used without a computer but you need the ability to take longer exposures. The USB cameras especially the CMOS ones are far more versatile and capable. But adoption always takes time. People are used to what they are used to. If I was starting out I would buy the future not the past. The only exception being if you wanted a computer free experience.

 

Hiten



#89 Astrojedi

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 12:59 PM

huhoh. kind of complicated this thing without any experience :p , i guess ill have to get a larger sensor nad lower read noise to be sure i wont have to buy more cameras than one. something like asi 1600mc would be best bet? or does that large sensor have any down sides for short exposures ?

 

Sorry if this is confusing. Let me try again. Don't hesitate to PM me and I can help you navigate this complexity.

 

The 1600 is very good for traditional long exposure imaging due to the sensor size you get for dollars paid, low noise and the ease of calibration. But the lower QE requires slightly longer exposures which poses a challenge if you don't have an EQ mount. Also large sensors require more optics to provide a flat field. Another drawback is that the very large files produced do slow down real time stacking & processing on low and mid end computers.

 

For EAA you should go with the most sensitive camera (i.e. lowest read noise and high Quantum Efficiency - ability to convert photons into an image) that you can buy. Such a camera can build detail even with very short sub exposures. This will give you tremendous flexibility and save a lot of frustration if you find out that your Dob cannot track properly for more than a few seconds. I have helped many folks with dobs and believe me this really matters.

 

If you are worried about reaching focus QHY produces CMOS based cameras in a barrel form factor which can be inserted into the eyepiece barrel. In terms of sensor size also there are many choices. For example the IMX178 and IMX185 offer larger sensor sizes.

 

Additionally these newer CMOS cameras are incredibly versatile. Due to the very high frame rates and incredibly low read noise they can also be used for planetary imaging/viewing.


Edited by Astrojedi, 21 September 2016 - 01:00 PM.


#90 Astrojedi

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:09 PM

 

My understanding is that it is difficult to achieve "aggressive" focal reduction on a DOB due to available focus range, which makes your argument about 1/3" chips being capable of the same FOVs as 1/2" or larger chips simply by using more focal reduction potentially moot.  My experience with an Xtreme is apparently different than yours as I have had good success with exposures under 30sec.  Certainly your sky conditions play a big role, so if you are under heavy light pollution and need to use filters, your total exposure time will tend to drift up into the 60sec range.  That being said, there is no reason why one can't stack short frames from an analog camera and stretch the result's histogram to get the sensitivity you want...exactly the same as if using a USB camera. 

 

 

I think this is as much a problem for the MC jr as it is for any other camera which does not have a barrel form factor. QHY produces these CMOS cameras on barrel form factors which solves this issue. Also the Lodestars have barrel for factors.

 

My experience with video cameras has not been good from my light polluted location. I have found stacking not be a luxury but a necessity. But note that the relative difference between approaches holds even for dark skies. While the video camera performed better the same USB cameras with stacking were exceptional.

 

 

 

Your statement that there are fewer software choices to use with analog cameras is misleading.  Off the top of my head, you can use an analog Mallincam with:  Astrolive, Miloslick & Sharpcap...all of which provide stacking and histogram control.  I also use VirtualDub with my analog cameras to give access to some nifty filters like WarpSharp or UnsharpMask.  With a ZWO camera your choices are Astrolive or Sharpcap, with the Infinity camera you can use only the Atik software, and with the SX cameras you can use the StarlightLive software.  Seems like in fact there are more software choices using the analog camera.  There is also Astrotoaster out there but you can use that with any camera that allows you to save screen captures.  Thus in my opinion your argument about analog MC cameras having poor software support is incorrect.  Perhaps you are mistakenly lumping in MC USB cameras with this discussion?

 

You are correct on that. Analog cameras use USB capture devices so it is really the capture device that needs to be supported. But if you really want a video camera and you are looking to stack then I would go with a much cheaper solution like the Revolution Imager or a LN300 as any advantage the MC has disappears if you start stacking.



#91 jimthompson

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:17 PM

Hi Hiten,

 

I have attached an image of the performance table for the venerable ICX428.  Note the use of "dark signal" in mV, not mV/time as you suggest.  I have not seen the read noise quoted by every camera manufacturer.  Certainly many of the new ZWO cameras and others from well known astrophotography camera makers use that unit of performance, but it is hard to find such information online for analog cameras.  That makes it hard to compare the two based on written specs alone.

 

If it is accepted that a computer will be used along with software that permits stacking, then one can use short exposures with an analog camera just as well as they can with a USB one.  The read noise may be higher with the older analog cameras but the signal to noise for a single frame can  also be higher if the settings are right.  Perhaps a bigger shortcoming is the limit in bit depth presented by video capture devices.  I am not yet convinced that there is an obvious advantage to using USB cameras over analog when it comes to length of time required to generate an image of comparable exposure and signal-to-noise.  The gap is closing however so we'll see if I have the same opinion 6-mo or a year from now.  How "pleasing" an image results is of course totally subjective and pointless to argue.

 

Regards,

 

Jim T.

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  • ICX428 sensor performance.png


#92 mclewis1

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:21 PM

I had a MC Xtreme couple of years back which is arguably MC's most sensitive camera. 

Nope, not even close.

 

The Xtreme normally uses a 418 chip. It only has the option of using the more sensitive 428 chip. The Jr. uses the 428 chip so at the same AGC (gain) levels it's more sensitive than the Xtreme (but because of the lack of cooling it's noisier at longer exposures). The real king of sensitivity is however the Xterminator with that 828 chip, that with the variable gain and cooling produces some really surprising short exposure images ... but at a price that's out of reach for a lot of folks.

 

The downside in the increase in sensitivity between the chips is a decrease in color saturation. The 418 still produces (IMHO) the nicest color images (just not at the resolution we'd all like).


Edited by mclewis1, 21 September 2016 - 01:21 PM.


#93 jimthompson

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:26 PM

There are so many valid choices of camera these days, I can understand why newcomers are confused.  To be frank either type of camera, analog or USB, is perfectly capable of providing a pleasing EAA experience.  It pays to visit websites like NightSkiesNetwork to get a better feel for what the work flow is like and what the results can be before deciding.  Don't base your decision on the opinions of just a couple different users.  Clearly Hiten and myself have different approaches and different expectations, but in both our cases we have found what we like and are getting great enjoyment from it.  That is the power of EAA!

 

cheers,

 

Jim T.



#94 Astrojedi

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:34 PM

Hi Hiten,

 

I have attached an image of the performance table for the venerable ICX428.  Note the use of "dark signal" in mV, not mV/time as you suggest.  I have not seen the read noise quoted by every camera manufacturer.  Certainly many of the new ZWO cameras and others from well known astrophotography camera makers use that unit of performance, but it is hard to find such information online for analog cameras.  That makes it hard to compare the two based on written specs alone.

 

If it is accepted that a computer will be used along with software that permits stacking, then one can use short exposures with an analog camera just as well as they can with a USB one.  The read noise may be higher with the older analog cameras but the signal to noise for a single frame can  also be higher if the settings are right.  Perhaps a bigger shortcoming is the limit in bit depth presented by video capture devices.  I am not yet convinced that there is an obvious advantage to using USB cameras over analog when it comes to length of time required to generate an image of comparable exposure and signal-to-noise.  The gap is closing however so we'll see if I have the same opinion 6-mo or a year from now.  How "pleasing" an image results is of course totally subjective and pointless to argue.

 

Regards,

 

Jim T.

The last I noticed Sony was not a camera manufacturer but the sensor manufacturer. Over the years I have used cameras from SBIG, SX, ATIK, QHY, and they always mention both these metrics as it is usually measured by the camera manufacturer. But yes for the newer CMOS cameras information on dark current is sometimes is not available. Although given the nature of the sensors and the fact that you don't need longer exposures dark current is usually not an issue specially for the cooled ones.

 

Also dark current accumulation always happens over time hence is always defined as mv over time. It is meaningless to have a mv dark current without specifying a time interval.

 

With the same QE, lower read noise will always reduce total exposure time.


Edited by Astrojedi, 21 September 2016 - 01:50 PM.


#95 Astrojedi

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 01:57 PM

 

I had a MC Xtreme couple of years back which is arguably MC's most sensitive camera. 

Nope, not even close.

 

The Xtreme normally uses a 418 chip. It only has the option of using the more sensitive 428 chip. The Jr. uses the 428 chip so at the same AGC (gain) levels it's more sensitive than the Xtreme (but because of the lack of cooling it's noisier at longer exposures). The real king of sensitivity is however the Xterminator with that 828 chip, that with the variable gain and cooling produces some really surprising short exposure images ... but at a price that's out of reach for a lot of folks.

 

The downside in the increase in sensitivity between the chips is a decrease in color saturation. The 418 still produces (IMHO) the nicest color images (just not at the resolution we'd all like).

 

Correct. My bad. Yes I missed the Xterminator. But the reason I was using the Xtreme is because it has the same sensor as the camera in question i.e. MC jr and the only one I used.

 

To be honest Instead of the Xterminator I would just go with Lodestar 2 color which uses the same sensor and saves you hundreds of dollars and comes with the excellent Starlight Live software.


Edited by Astrojedi, 21 September 2016 - 01:58 PM.


#96 jimthompson

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Posted 26 September 2016 - 02:40 PM

Just for fun I brought my ASI290MM along on a camping trip this weekend.  With the stock fisheye lens from ZWO I was able to capture a pretty good view of the nice dark skies we had.  No tracking, no darks, just a live stack of 10 x 10sec frames.

 

cheers!

 

Jim T.

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