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Will be testing the Astrel16200B mono camera over the next few weeks

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#1 dhaval

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 10:07 AM

Hello all,

I am going to start this thread with a view to outline the testing of Astrel's 16200B (which uses KAF-16200 chip) over the next few weeks/months, provide the test results and my honest opinion of what I think about the camera - its strengths and weaknesses (as they pertain to me specifically, others will be free to make their own conclusions obviously).

 

I will be testing the mono version of the camera (which I believe uses a Class II KAF-16200 chip) with a 7 position filter wheel built in to the camera (I will be using either Celestron's OAG or ZWO OAG - both are M48 connection and the camera has a native M48 connection). I still don't have the camera in my possession, but I am hoping it makes its way over from Italy safe and sound over the next couple of weeks.

 

In this post, I am looking to provide some background, the reasons why I will conduct tests and what do I intend to test (at a high level). I still haven't fully flushed out a strategy for testing this camera, but I hope people in here can guide me through some of that. 

 

Background

Ever since selling the QHY16200A (7-position FW), I have been on the lookout for another brand of camera that uses the KAF-16200 chip. The reasons for selling the QHY16200A were mostly related to having to manually set gain - it is a cumbersome process (at least for me - one of the reasons I am not a big fan of CMOS cameras), so the intent was to look for a camera where gain would be set at the factory. I have also been looking at slightly more cost effective versions of the camera, thereby ruling out FLI and SBIG. The only remaining options then were ATIK and Starlight Xpress (even the SX version would have to be a used version to make financial sense of it).

 

I had not considered Astrel - for a couple of reasons 1) I believe Astrel came out with the 16200 camera only very recently and hence they were not even on my radar and 2) When I had taken a cursory look at Astrel's 8300 camera on OPT, it had thrown me off because they seem to be using 27mm filters and I am not sure who manufactures 27mm filters other than Astronomiks, certainly not Astrodon (Far Point Astro now) or Chroma. However, I recently saw a post here on CN where someone was asking about Astrel cameras and I went to their website and saw that they had a 16200 camera as part of their line up. As I explored more, I found out that the camera lacked ASCOM drivers for that particular camera (or at least at the time they were in the process of writing that piece of code). In lieu of the ASCOM driver, Astrel sells their cameras with optional components that allows controlling the camera without the need for an additional PC, however, it was my understanding that such a system would only work if the person imaging would be close to the set up and not in a fully automated setting. I remember posting in here and asking the question of anyone was using Astrel's 16200 camera in an automated setting - there obviously are not a lot of people doing that right now. However, that post drew the attention of Andrea - one of the owner's of Astrel and he responded to that post indicating that they had just released the ASCOM drivers for the camera (built on the ASCOM driver for their 8300 camera which apparently is widely used in remote/automated observatories). I immediately got in touch with Andrea to learn more and since then, both Andrea and Antonio (the other owner/founder of Astrel Instruments) have spoken with me via email and explained what they do and what separates their products from the rest. I won't go in to the details of those conversations, those details can be found on their website.

 

For me, there are two things that have me excited about this camera - 1) Initial cost of the camera. The camera is very decently priced (at least in Euros and from what I hear, there are no import duties on CCD cameras from Italy to the US - I have tried verifying this information from multiple sources and everyone seems to concur with the no duty aspect assuming one does not use FedEx or UPS - FedEx and UPS seem to add a huge handling fee, but that is not the discussion of topic here) and 2)Of all the 16200 cameras out there, Astrel is the only manufacturer that allows using 36mm filters for the KAF-16200 chip. Assuming that works, THIS IS HUGE! (the cost of 50mm filters from either Astrodon or Chroma adds significantly to the overall cost - yes, you can use other 50mm filters, but I am of the opinion that filters are probably a trifle more important than the actual camera for collecting better data overall - not by much mind you, just a bit more).Astrel sent me a couple of test images (attached is a single 10 minute Ha sub using a F4 and 1150mm FL scope that Astrel sent me) and there is very minimal (but uniform) vignetting on the corners (I will be using a F8 scope, more about that later in this post) - but if I can make this work for my set up, I imagine this to be a game changer for this particular chip for people seeking a cost effective 16200 camera.

 

Equipment

I plan on conducting all testing using my Meade LX850 ACF 10in F8 scope. The scope will be mounted on an AP1200 mount using APCC Pro. All my equipment is/will be in a remote observatory (MaRIO) in the deserts of West Texas. I will be more than 1500 miles away from the equipment during some of the tests.

 

With regards to software that I have - I have PixInsight as my image processing software. Outside of that, I do have a copy of SGP and Prism for image capture automation. I don't have other image capture software, but I am assuming if the ASCOM driver works with SGP and Prism, it should work with the likes of CCDAP and ACP as well. 

 

Testing Strategy - What to Test?

As part of my testing, I intend to test the following:

 

1) Camera: The most obvious test will be to ensure I can get the camera to work according to its specs. This will mean testing back focus, temperature regulation (being in West Texas, this will be interesting), electricity consumption, connectivity to other hardware (OAG, extension tubes, etc.), fixed noise, etc. Of primary importance to me, given that I will be using 36mm filters, is how accurate the filter wheel works in terms of being able to center on the chip every time I turn to a new filter. This is extremely important if there is any vignetting. I want the vignetting, if there is any, to be uniform and consistent.  

 

2) Camera+Scope: While this is not necessarily a test of the camera per se, I do need to see if the Meade ACF F8 version produces a flat field with this particular chip. There is no real documentation around the image circle for the telescope, however, in seeing some of the images captured using this particular scope and a 8300 chip, it is clear that the telescope produces a flat field for the 4/3 sensor. I am hoping that is the case with this camera combination as well, however, if it is not, it won't be a ding against the camera, just a note to myself that I probably need a different scope! I won't be using a reducer or flattener with this scope, so apart from the flat field test, this combination will also help me test how bad the vignetting is at F8. Again, I am not so worried about vignetting per se (as long as it is consistent and uniform), the benefit of using 36mm filters clearly outweighs the dis-advantage of having to crop out some of the FOV if I have to. I think I can live with that. 

 

3) Software Integration: This is by far the most important test as far as I am concerned, primarily because I don't believe Astrel has tested the ASCOM driver for this camera using a remote/automated setup. If ASCOM does not work, I cannot use this camera. Period. I will be working with Astrel Instruments to fine tune the drivers if need be (and Andrea has promised to work with me in this regard), but it will be a real shame if the ASCOM drivers are not up to snuff. From what I have been told, the drivers are based on their 8300 chip cameras and it should work (and I am assuming it should not be too big of a leap between the two cameras with regards to drivers), but it still needs to be tested and seen! The other piece that Astrel wants me to test is their image automation suite. I am not sure if I will be getting a camera that has those components, but if I do get it, I will try and test the camera to see if their software suite (especially their image automation software) can work in a remote setting without the need for ASCOM (although, I am not quite sure how that will work with APCC/PEMPro/PHD2 - those are critical elements in automating a remote set up using A-P mounts and I am willing to bet that their stand alone image automation tool cannot yet do all the things that a combination of those software can do). But, I will oblige and test however much that I can and provide my honest feedback to Astrel in particular and this community in general.

 

Assuming the ASCOM driver works well, I am going to hope that APCC Pro can pick up this camera - it will be important to run APPM (APCC's pointing model) and PEMPro (obviously not part of APCC, but it is my understanding that Ray has written major components of APCC and obviously PEMPro). Those two are critical for A-P mount's critical functioning and not being able to work with those two pieces of software will also throw a spanner. I hope Andrea is communicating with Ray to ensure this works smoothly! (Hint, Hint)!

 

What have I found so far?

I have exchanged a few emails with Andrea and two with Antonio. My initial feel is that they know what they are doing. They seem cordial to work with and the fact that Andrea volunteered to work with me to test the ASCOM driver, makes me feel a bit comfortable. The devil, as they say, will be in the details of course - but initial impressions have been positive. 

There is one thing that I have to admit (and this is just me) - Astrel manufactures their cameras using what they call a "smart-camera" approach. What is shown on their website leads me to believe that the camera has a computer chip embedded on to the body of the camera. What is not clear though is, how would one really use that chip - can I install a lite OS on it (for folks wanting to leverage INDI drivers, this may be useful), can I use something like a headless monitor connection to take a peak in to what the OS can offer, etc.? Like I mentioned, maybe it is me that doesn't understand those nuances, so, if anyone using their cameras has clarity, please feel free to notate that as part of this post.

 

For now, I encourage people who have tested other products to chime in if I have the right constructs for my testing strategy and add to what I may be lacking. I would also like to hear from people what would they test, apart from the obvious of course.

 

A bit about the timeline - I won't be receiving the camera for at least 2 more weeks - so this post is a bit early, but I wanted to put this out so that I don't forget what I am trying to do with this camera. I am sure I can perform initial testing really quickly, even see how the vignetting is holding up given that I have the scope with me and not at the observatory. However, ASCOM testing and other software testing won't happen till I get my equipment to the remote observatory, which by the looks of it won't happen till Labor Day weekend (early September). I am hoping that once the equipment is out there, I will conduct initial testing rather quickly, but some aspects may have to be deferred to a bit later. I will also have to rely on Astrel Instruments and given that they are in Europe, it might be difficult to coordinate some of the hands-on testing with them, but we will see.

 

I am feeling excited about this camera, just because I can use 36mm filters with the 16200 chip. Hopefully, I am not building up my expectations too high! 

 

CS! 

 

PS: I will be purchasing the camera from Astrel-Instruments, I will not be using a "test" camera, but rather a camera that I will own from the get go. It does not change a thing about my testing philosophy or methodology, I hope to test with the same vigor as I would test a "test" camera. I should also mention that I am not affiliated with Astrel in any way other than being a customer.

Attached Thumbnails

  • nordamerica_filt3_Ha_1_resize.jpg

Edited by dhaval, 30 July 2019 - 11:57 AM.

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#2 motab

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:11 PM

Looking forward to your results. The ability to use 36mm filters would be a huge advantage.
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#3 BenKolt

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:20 PM

Dhaval:

 

Very intriguing product, particularly that they say this camera can use 36mm filters.  The proof will be in the testing!

 

I would recommend that your testing involve different scopes with varying F-number and focal lengths if possible.

 

Two questions for now:

  1. Did Astrel send you full fits files with headers or just jpegs of images?  I ask because I can't tell from your posted image if it has been cropped.  I assume that it is a single uncalibrated frame with no processing other than stretching, but that would be good to know.
  2. Does this onboard processor perform any kind of addiitional processing to the images?  I assume that if it does have this capability, it can be controlled.  One would usually want to read off the "raw" frame from the sensor itself rather than rely on whatever post-processing steps have been built into the processor unless one has complete control and understanding of it.

Thanks for posting this!  I look forward to hearing more about it.

 

Best Regards,

Ben



#4 motab

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:39 PM

Just noticed a potential small issue if you’re running remotely and that’s the approach of using a low vacuum chamber. They write that they expect it be okay for two weeks at a time and include a manual pump to evacuate air every once in a while. They have an argon-filled version that is supposed to last months at a time rather than weeks.

Not sure if frosting up is a general issue given your low-humidity location but just a heads up in case you missed that.

Mo

#5 dhaval

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:46 PM

Dhaval:

 

Very intriguing product, particularly that they say this camera can use 36mm filters.  The proof will be in the testing!

 

I would recommend that your testing involve different scopes with varying F-number and focal lengths if possible.

 

Two questions for now:

  1. Did Astrel send you full fits files with headers or just jpegs of images?  I ask because I can't tell from your posted image if it has been cropped.  I assume that it is a single uncalibrated frame with no processing other than stretching, but that would be good to know.
  2. Does this onboard processor perform any kind of addiitional processing to the images?  I assume that if it does have this capability, it can be controlled.  One would usually want to read off the "raw" frame from the sensor itself rather than rely on whatever post-processing steps have been built into the processor unless one has complete control and understanding of it.

Thanks for posting this!  I look forward to hearing more about it.

 

Best Regards,

Ben

Ben - 

Answers to your questions - 

 

1) Astrel sent me JPG files. The one that I attached is indeed an un-calibrated version of a single 10 minute Ha exposure. They also sent me a calibrated version (just flats calibration, no darks) with slight stretching and DBE to remove light gradients (the filter used was 7nm Optolong 36mm). I am attaching that file here. I did not post that originally because I don't think that shows me anything of value other than what can be achieved. I don't believe this was cropped (at least Andrea's email did not mention anything about it being cropped). But, I will attach it here so that people can look at it and make their own conclusions. When I do my testing, I will make a dropbox folder so that I can share actual FITS files - darks, flats, bias, lights, etc.Originally, I had intended to ask them if they could send me a raw image, but I went ahead and asked if I could purchase a camera and do my own testing. So, I will wait till I get the camera and filters and go from there. 

 

2) I believe (don't quote me on this), but the onboard processor does not perform any additional processing of the images. The camera does come with 16gb memory to store images directly on the computer thereby negating the need to transfer images over USB to a computer, but they are in the raw format. Now, the onboard processor is really a mini computer from what I understand, loaded with a form of Linux (I believe it is Ubuntu or one of the many deb variants of Linux). On that OS, there are various programs like image capture, focusing, guiding, etc. and INDI drivers so that one can use full Linux automation if need be. Astrel wants me to test that, but I am going to speculate that it won't work with my set up because I don't believe that APCC Pro works with Linux (I know there is an INDI driver for A-P mounts, but I am sure I will loose additional functionality that APCC Pro provides, especially APPM). 

 

Hope this helps.

Regards! 

CS! 

Attached Thumbnails

  • nordamerica_filt3_Ha_1_cal_DBE_elab_resize.jpg

Edited by dhaval, 30 July 2019 - 01:59 PM.


#6 dhaval

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:50 PM

Just noticed a potential small issue if you’re running remotely and that’s the approach of using a low vacuum chamber. They write that they expect it be okay for two weeks at a time and include a manual pump to evacuate air every once in a while. They have an argon-filled version that is supposed to last months at a time rather than weeks.

Not sure if frosting up is a general issue given your low-humidity location but just a heads up in case you missed that.

Mo

Mo,

That is an excellent point. However, Astrel is going to send me a camera where they will pre-fill the vacuum chamber with inert gas at atmospheric pressure. Apparently that holds for about 12 months or so. You can re-fill that gas yourself if need be, so I won't have to worry about that. Even the vacuum pump that they supply, it says on their website that the vacuum holds for a week or 2, but according to Astrel, it actually holds well for months. But, you are right - I am not experimenting with that at this point for remote operations.

 

CS! 



#7 akulapanam

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 02:26 PM

A couple of comments.

The gain on the QHY is a one time thing and they have made recommendation for a setting that works very well.

36mm will cause vignettiing at fast focal ratios unless that filter is almost right up on the chip. There is a formula for this. I will find and post.

A manual vacuum sounds like a bad idea to me
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#8 akulapanam

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 12:36 AM

Here is the formula :   minimum_filter_size = ccd_diagonal_length + (filter_to_ccd_distance / focal_ratio)

 

So a 36mm filter will only not produce vignetting at F8 if you are under 8mm between the filter and the chip surface. That's a big pass for me.  Why go and spend $4k+ on a camera and then go cheap on filters?


Edited by akulapanam, 31 July 2019 - 12:36 AM.

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#9 rockstarbill

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 02:43 AM

Here is the formula :   minimum_filter_size = ccd_diagonal_length + (filter_to_ccd_distance / focal_ratio)

 

So a 36mm filter will only not produce vignetting at F8 if you are under 8mm between the filter and the chip surface. That's a big pass for me.  Why go and spend $4k+ on a camera and then go cheap on filters?

That has 30 second frame download times... When FLI offers the supreme package for a few thousand more that you literally never have to worry about.

 

This whole cost of filters thing, IMO, is silly. from 36mm to 50mm round the cost with Chroma for 3nm is negligible when you look at the return on investment. 


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#10 dhaval

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 05:43 AM

That has 30 second frame download times... When FLI offers the supreme package for a few thousand more that you literally never have to worry about.

 

This whole cost of filters thing, IMO, is silly. from 36mm to 50mm round the cost with Chroma for 3nm is negligible when you look at the return on investment. 

Bill,

One of the things that I do want to test is the download speeds. I should preface this by saying that in the strictest of senses, 30s is slow, however, how that impacts remote operations remains to be seen. 

 

Astrel also mentions that this is the read out speed - I am not a computer or electrical engineer, so I am not sure whether it makes a difference if you are trying to store images on the on-camera memory or if the read out speed is when you are transferring to a computer via a USB connection. I am guessing that read out speed is just reading the data off the sensor regardless of where it goes (either on-camera or external storage), so the 30s will still apply regardless of where you are going to store the information.

 

Again, like I mention - a lot of testing to be done. 

 

With regards to Chroma - last time I bought their filters, they had AR on one side not both, which was causing halos around bright stars. AD filters obviously don't have that issue. The cost difference between AD 36mm and 50mm is around $1600 for the full set - LRGB+SHO (if buying new). 

 

CS!


Edited by dhaval, 31 July 2019 - 07:23 AM.


#11 Alekai

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 06:01 AM

Hi Dhaval,

 

 

I had not considered Astrel - for a couple of reasons 1) I believe Astrel came out with the 16200 camera only very recently and hence they were not even on my radar and 2) When I had taken a cursory look at Astrel's 8300 camera on OPT, it had thrown me off because they seem to be using 27mm filters and I am not sure who manufactures 27mm filters other than Astronomiks, certainly not Astrodon (Far Point Astro now) or Chroma. 

 

 

Assuming the ASCOM driver works well, I am going to hope that APCC Pro can pick up this camera - it will be important to run APPM (APCC's pointing model) and PEMPro (obviouslynot part of APCC, but it is my understanding that Ray has written major components of APCC and obviously PEMPro). Those two are critical for A-P mount's critical functioning and not being able to work with those two pieces of software will also throw a spanner. I hope Andrea is communicating with Ray to ensure this works smoothly! (Hint, Hint)!

 

 

There is one thing that I have to admit (and this is just me) - Astrel manufactures their cameras using what they call a "smart-camera" approach. What is shown on their website leads me to believe that the camera has a computer chip embedded on to the body of the camera. What is not clear though is, how would one really use that chip - can I install a lite OS on it (for folks wanting to leverage INDI drivers, this may be useful), can I use something like a headless monitor connection to take a peak in to what the OS can offer, etc.? Like I mentioned, maybe it is me that doesn't understand those nuances, so, if anyone using their cameras has clarity, please feel free to notate that as part of this post.

 

 

About 27mm filters: unfortunately, this was a misunderstanding with OPT: the 8300 cameras can mount any 1,25" unmounted filter. We have customers with Astronomik, Baader, Optolong, Astrodon and Chroma: Astronomik decided to make a custom line of 27mm filters for our cameras, so you don't have to unmount the filters from the cells in order to mount them in the wheel.

 

About ASCOM driver: it works well with SGP, so it should work, but it's a "standard" that sometimes is quite open to interpretations :-). Of course we don't have access to each and every ASCOM client, but I'll be more than happy to help and modify the driver if needed. I'll be happy to speak with Ray if needed, just put us in contact in private.

 

Smartcamera approach: think of it as a camera with an embedded computer similar to a Raspberry Pi built-in. There's a standard Ubuntu Linux OS already installed and filled with astronomy applications like KStars/Ekos, PHD2, Cartes du ciel, lin_guider and even polemaster. There's also Siril, which is a very good post processing sw that you could use to automatically calibrate and stack the exposures during the acquisition sequence. This computer has USB ports (and LAN, WiFi, general purpose I/O) where you can connect your equipment (mount, guider, focuser, ...) and communicate with it using INDI, which is the Linux equivalent of ASCOM. You can then connect to the camera using WiFi or LAN and you get the desktop of the embedded computer on your smartphone/tablet/PC.

 

Bye,

 

Andrea


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#12 Alekai

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 06:10 AM

Hi Ben

 

Dhaval:

 

Very intriguing product, particularly that they say this camera can use 36mm filters.  The proof will be in the testing!

 

I would recommend that your testing involve different scopes with varying F-number and focal lengths if possible.

 

Two questions for now:

  1. Did Astrel send you full fits files with headers or just jpegs of images?  I ask because I can't tell from your posted image if it has been cropped.  I assume that it is a single uncalibrated frame with no processing other than stretching, but that would be good to know.
  2. Does this onboard processor perform any kind of addiitional processing to the images?  I assume that if it does have this capability, it can be controlled.  One would usually want to read off the "raw" frame from the sensor itself rather than rely on whatever post-processing steps have been built into the processor unless one has complete control and understanding of it.

Thanks for posting this!  I look forward to hearing more about it.

 

Best Regards,

Ben

1- I have the fits at home, will put it on dropbox and share a link tonight. This is at f/4. No cropping: you can notice the black frame around the image, which are the dark columns and rows that surrounds the light-exposed part of the sensor

 

2- No, we don't do any processing on the images: what you save is the raw fits from the sensor. We have on-board the Siril postprocessing sw which could in principle be used to calibrate the images after they've been saved, but by default you only get the raw fits

 

bye,

 

Andrea


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#13 Alekai

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 06:30 AM

Hi,

 

Here is the formula :   minimum_filter_size = ccd_diagonal_length + (filter_to_ccd_distance / focal_ratio)

 

So a 36mm filter will only not produce vignetting at F8 if you are under 8mm between the filter and the chip surface. That's a big pass for me.  Why go and spend $4k+ on a camera and then go cheap on filters?

the nominal distance between the filterwheel and the sensor is 4mm, so the filters are very close. Anyway, you're always going to have a small amount of vignetting at the corners as the 36mm filters diameter is reduced to 34mm due to mounting and possibly filters imperfections near the edges which should be covered: this is the trade-off for using 36mm filters with this sensor, everybody can judge from the image above or the ones that will hopefully come if this is good enough.

One exception are normal camera's lenses, where the last lens could be smaller than the filter.

 

>Why go and spend $4k+ on a camera and then go cheap on filters?

 

the idea is exactly the opposite: using 36mm filters you could maybe buy higher class brands, while with 2" you may be forced by your budget to choose lower ones. Unless you have an infinite budget! :-))

Bye,

 

Andrea


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#14 BenKolt

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 08:13 AM

Hi Ben

 

1- I have the fits at home, will put it on dropbox and share a link tonight. This is at f/4. No cropping: you can notice the black frame around the image, which are the dark columns and rows that surrounds the light-exposed part of the sensor

 

2- No, we don't do any processing on the images: what you save is the raw fits from the sensor. We have on-board the Siril postprocessing sw which could in principle be used to calibrate the images after they've been saved, but by default you only get the raw fits

 

bye,

 

Andrea

Thanks for the information, Andrea.



#15 Alekai

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 04:07 PM

Hi Ben,

 

Thanks for the information, Andrea.

here is the link to the raw fits file of the jpg above:

 

https://www.dropbox...._Ha_1.fits?dl=0

 

Bye,

 

Andrea


Edited by Alekai, 01 August 2019 - 04:10 PM.



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