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Novice who is lost in a sea of options

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#1 JCH Nature Center

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Posted 18 November 2019 - 10:25 AM

Hi everyone, my name is Kelly and I am extremely new to the whole telescope/astronomy field in general but I have always been interested in it. And I apologize if my type of question has been answered elsewhere, as through my research of this forum I have not found one. I am looking for a camera that will fit my needs of EAA. 

So I recently landed a job that had an observatory that was being neglected and I have been the front runner to getting it into the 21st century.  We now have an 18" Starmaster that we bought used but in great condition (it is 3 years old currently) that has Goto. I have been able to use it fairly easily being a novice myself but what I really want is a way that we can have large groups view what is being seen in the telescope. I am big into community outreach so being able to have either a live feed, or something close-to-live (maybe a constantly updating picture) that not only I can figure out/use but others who are novices as well to telescopes (and astronomy in general) will be able to navigate with a little teaching. This camera will also be advantageous for individuals who cannot make it up the steps to the telescope itself. We also recently got a 5” Celestron NexStar 127SLT (f/12).

In a perfect world I am looking for something that deals out a high quality image in color that I will be able to stream to a large HD Monitor for larger group viewing. If there is a possibility of no laptop/computer that needs to go along with it that would be great, but there is the whole issue of how simple and user friendly software is that needs to be addressed (which is something I did not even think about prior to scouring through these forums). Since the main focus for this camera would be education and outreach, being able to see deep sky objects as well as solar system objects would be ideal, but I do not know if that is even possible to have some sort of camera to do both.
I have been trying to navigate through the sea of different posts (and acronyms that go along with) to the best of my ability but I keep coming out frazzled and overwhelmed each time.

I had looked at the Mallicam HD-10 as a solution, but found reviews that the software can be super frustrating and you cant see deep sky objects almost at all. I have seen positive things for some sort of Atik with infinity color but everything was jargon heavy and hard to interpret, so might be above my learning curve capacity. And then there are a bunch of ZWOs, one of which might work for what I want is the ASI071MC Pro (color), but with so many options I don’t even know where to start making decisions.

So I am asking if anyone could help steer me in the right direction of the type of camera that will fulfill my needs.
1. High quality image in color
2 user friendly software (the simpler the better)
3. Ability to see solar system and deep space objects
4. Live feed (or close to it) to be able to plug into monitor/tv.
5. optional computer (not a big deal if I have to go through a  laptop first but if I don’t have to that’s one less step)

I’m not looking for perfection, but something that I can use to showcase how amazing and awe-inspiring astronomy is and EAA sounds like just the right next step for outreach to groups of people as well as observing easy and accessible for people who cannot make it up steps to the telescope. I really appreciate any suggestions and input anyone has. 

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#2 sg6



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 11:06 AM

The set up I am familiar with used SCT's - 8", 11" and 14". All Goto.

As far as I know no reducers but slight uncertainty on that but will assume none.


System there is:

Scope - Camera - laptop - projectors - screens.

Laptop is there to control scope - TheSky and control the camera, basically alter settings as necessary.

As the [lace uses 3 scopes then it is easy to alter scope 1 while the view from scope 2 or 3 is being displayed, and so present a good presentation. 1 scope may make this a bit more involved.


Not sure what camera control software is used actually.


Cameras: Fairly large chip/sensor. All now ZWO.

My feeling is they run an ASI294 MC color on at least one - cameras were updated but not all at once so a bit of evolution. All are color, not that a great deal of color comes through, some on M57.


Another might be the ASI 183 MC. Oddly don't think they have the ASI 1600 MC. But they have new ZWO's and older QHY's around, so in a way lots of cameras.


Just recalled they use 2 laptops per scope now. USB3 was the cause of this. Just needed a faster laptop. So one for TheSky and goto other for the camera output. When on USB2 1 laptop did one scope. Worth keeping in mind.


So I suppose yours would be:

Scope - Camera - laptop1 - laptop2.

Laptop1 controlling scope (maybe), laptop 2 displaying video output


Not difficult but it is not plug and play, you have to get it all connected and communicating.


The 5" Nexstar is likely a good one to start on and then transfer to the Starmaster and change camera parameters as required for the somewhat faster scope.


One thing the place did was make a small extension tube for an eyepiece such that if extension tube and eyepiece removed and replaced by camera the focus did not need altering. You will need something to do it.


That way you go to object, center object and swap from eyepiece to camera with no loss of target. Believe me USEFUL. Actually do this first - make a small extension/adaptor.


You will need to work through the actions. It will not (likely) just work.

#3 bobzeq25



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 11:17 AM

There's a sea of options, because there's a large number of choices.  Depending on their circumstances, everyone will have their own favorites.  Asking for opinions here is unlikely to solve your problem.


I'll try, with a good "middle of the road" choice.  The Atik Infinity.  It was designed by smart people to meet needs such as yours.  You can see more information and sample images here.




I fully expect people to chime in with "better" alternatives.  They may, or may not be, for you.

Edited by bobzeq25, 18 November 2019 - 11:19 AM.

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#4 eyeoftexas


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Posted 18 November 2019 - 11:48 AM

Indeed, there are many, many options, and being a novice myself, I can only offer my support for the Atik Infinity.  I recently purchased one, and have been using it with my AT115EDT, and have really enjoyed it.  It is simple to use, and provides very good results.  If you just work through the manual with the camera and software once or twice, it turns out to be very easy to use.  Setting up the camera and connecting to the computer is simplicity defined.  Again, there are definitely other options, but the Infinity is a very good choice that you can have up and running for a modest price.


Good luck and Clear Skies.

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#5 OleCuss



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 12:10 PM

The Infinity has a pretty small (but not tiny) sensor.  Paired with a rather long focal length you'll have a FOV which I'd consider too small to make me happy.


I'd be looking long and hard at either one of the IMX294 cameras or an IMX071 camera.  The bigger sensor will mean a bit easier time both finding and tracking your targets - as well as letting you image bigger targets.


Also, at star parties I'd anticipate doing at least some planetary imaging of the brighter planets.  You are talking about lots of aperture with lots of light-gathering and to me that means I'd want to go with short exposures in rapid sequence (possibly as a video file).  I think the Infinity can only get 3 frames per second.  If you use a small ROI for planetary imaging you can get a really good frame rate with either an IMX294 or an IMX071 camera.


If I were in your situation with that kind of focal length there is simply no way I'd even consider the Infinity.  But not everyone sees things the way I do.

Edited by OleCuss, 18 November 2019 - 12:11 PM.

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#6 Rickster



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 01:21 PM

OK.  First things first.  Your Starmaster is a goto dob, right?  And probably has a focal length in the 1800mm (f4) range.  If true, then your scope presents a unique challenge for EAA.  It's limitations will determine what camera is best for you.  There are only a few here that have worked with a large goto dob.  Advice from the others will likely not be helpful, or worse.  I run a 16" Newt that came from a dob, but it is now on a equatorial mount.  So I can help some, but the best advice will come from one of the few that have worked with goto dobs.  Search this forum for "dob."  Here is a good one for starters.



Edited by Rickster, 18 November 2019 - 01:22 PM.

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#7 barbarosa



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 01:57 PM

May I suggest that you visit NightSkiesNetwork.com. There is a separate and different  Canadian version where you are more likely to see Malincams in use. The two sites use different applications and there are drawbacks with both sites. You will see many different combinations of cameras, scopes, sky conditions and software.


Let's talk about the US version first. It has a higher quality video feed and if you join you can listen and talk with the broadcaster and other viewers. There is also a chat box. Broadcasters are almost always willing to discuss what the equipment and software and will sometimes run what amounts to a tutorial when someone asks. ZWO cameras are common along with DSLRs and some CCD astro cams. SharpCap and AstroToaster are in frequent use. There is a current problem with the audio feed pending an update in the site software. To get two way audio or to ensure that you hear everyone who talks you must use  Chromium Portable, a small standalone browser, easily downloaded and installed. No current MS, Chrome or other browser supports the audio, you can look with them but not hear. You can still use the chat box.


The Canadian site (owned by Mallincam) uses Flash, which may or may not concern you. The video quality is distinctly lower, but the gang there are nice and helpful.


The video feed on the US site is compressed HD and not quite as good as what the broadcaster sees on his or her display. In a live presentation your video will be whatever resolution the camera and display support.


To get good images on the display you generally must use a computer, but as already mentioned you can use the computer to run the camera, the mount. A free planetarium program such as Stellarium can be used both to point the mount and to show the sky and object to the audience. There are some cameras or video eyepieces that can feed a display directly, but avoid them. The images are always going to be inferior.


Software, you can't avoid it. Some is easier to use than others, some is tied to a particular camera or brand. 


But for deep space objects software allows image stacking and that is critical. Many CMOS cameras are very sensitive and you can get good images by stacking short exposures <30s. The audience sees the first image come in and then watches it improve with every new sub. You the maestro of the controls, can tune the image, enhance it, and on the screen the audience sees reds and greens and blues and browns and dark dust lanes. It won't be the same as 10 hours of subs but it will impress.  Because of the short exposures and software that corrects for field rotation and drift you can use alt az mounts and get good results with the Nexstar 127.


One of my cams is due back from warranty service today and if the clouds hold off I will broadcast tonight on NightSkiesNetwork.com at about 6PM PST. If you are just a drop in guest you can't actively participate, but if you PM me we can exchange email addresses and arrange it so that I can do a tutorial or setup run through of some sort.


If it is clear in the east you might see someone from Canada, NY, PA or GA, If you are up late enough or early enough and the weather cooperates there are broadcasters in NZ and Australia who get great results and are very helpful.


Your project sound like a winner.

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#8 Seaquel47


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Posted 18 November 2019 - 09:00 PM

I would definitely pay attention to what OleCuss, Rickster, and barbarosa have to say, they have a lot of experience.  Having said that, I have started my EAA experence with an 85mm refractor, the Atik Infinity camera and the Infinity software.  I can say it is easy to use and I got very nice pictures of the Lagoon Nebula almost immediately.  I am working to learn SharpCap because I think that it will give me better results but I am learning that it is another level of difficulty to get the results I get from the Infinity software.

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#9 OleCuss



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Posted 18 November 2019 - 09:44 PM

The beauty of the Infinity is its software.  I've not used it but it seems to be really good at doing the processing.  I think its images look a bit over-processed but that's not a big problem and I'd consider it to be a good thing for outreach events.


The difficulty is that it is a small sensor and when combined with a long focal length you get a tiny FOV which makes it impossible to frame some of the bigger targets and difficult to find and to track targets.


The Atik Infinity camera has a wonderful form factor which I think is great for use with a lot of fork-mounted SCTs so it pains me that those SCTs tend to have long focal lengths. . .


The Atik Infinity's ICX825 pixels are large.  They are big enough that you are likely only modestly over-sampled with 18" Starmaster.  The difficulty is that the sensor is a bit noisy so there is going to be at least some noise penalty if it is used with that OTA.


The IMX071 has somewhat bigger pixels than does the IMX294.  This means that while both will be over-sampled with the 18" Starmaster the IMX071 will be a bit less over-sampled.  But both sensors are low-noise so over-sampling won't really matter that much.


The IMX071 is the bigger sensor and that will mean that it will be a little easier to framer targets as well as to locate and track them.  The size differential between the IMX071 and the IMX284 really isn't all that great, however (especially for the ASI and QHY versions) so the FOV penalty for going with the ASI or QHY IMX294 cameras isn't really all that great and it seems likely that the IMX294 sensor is otherwise superior (although I know of no testing to prove that).


The upshot is that for me the best choices would be either an IMX294 or IMX071 camera.


One other camera which is probably at least worth brief consideration would be the Atik Horizon.  You get a sensor of reasonably good size and you can use the Infinity software with it.  This means a relatively stress-free experience using the Infinity software with a sensor much bigger than that of the Infinity camera.  It won't work quite as seamlessly, however, with the SharpCap software which is probably the most sophisticated software for what we do - this is a downer for some of us and no problem at all for others.


Now it is worth noticing at least one other thing:  With fast the fast optics of that Starmaster if you don't already have one, you are almost certainly going to want to get a good "coma" corrector such as a version of the Paracorr.


Also worthy of consideration would be to get the ASA 2" reducer/corrector.  This would have the effect of reducing your focal length thus increasing your FOV, making finding, framing, and tracking targets easier.  It would also reduce the over-sampling you'd be getting with either the IMX071 or the IMX294.  I've yet to actually see one so I'd be talking to the vendor about suitability for use with the Starmaster.  I think it would work well but I'd check with others before putting out the money for that.

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#10 Noah4x4



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Posted 19 November 2019 - 11:40 AM

+1 for Infinity software.


I spent a year struggling with a DSLR and it's 200 page instruction manual. Too many settings, too many things to go wrong. Yet I had the Horsehead Nebula on screen inside ten minutes at first light with my Atik camera using Infinity software. 


I have tried SharpCap, but it has a more challenging learning curve because it isn't dedicated to a specific camera range. I now use Sequence Generator Pro. But for a newcomer or for teaching groups of youngsters you won't beat the simplicity of Infinity. Sadly, it only works with Atik cameras. 


+1 for the Atik Horizon. 


I am a tad biased as I live merely 60 miles from Atik's HQ and have visited their offices and workshops (great people). But Atik Cameras are made in the European Union, have build quality second to none, and the Horizon's combination of 16 megapixel and low noise is compelling for EAA especially if combined with a 4K UHD display. 


BTW,  Sharpcap will now work with the Atik Horizon as full driver support has been added (since October 2019). What makes Infinity software so easy to use is that it will recognise Atik's simple preset settings. Sharpcap will now mimic this step, making Sharpcap a little easier for beginners with Atik cameras too. Hence, you now have multiple software choices ( I use Sequence Generator Pro). But you won't beat Infinity for point & shoot simplicity. 

Edited by Noah4x4, 19 November 2019 - 11:42 AM.

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#11 KlausPe


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Posted 20 November 2019 - 03:20 PM

I would like to contribute my experience with the Atik Infinity. As already mentioned, the software is stable and very easy to use. Unfortunately there is no possibility to change the screen display (as for example in SC) except for the histogram. In any case it is worthwhile to edit the image afterwards if you want to document your observations.
The image field of my 8"/f10 SC with the Night Owl reducer is about 39` x 29`.
By the way
the number of Infinity users does not seem to be very high. I'm still looking for advice regarding H-alpha images (7 or 12nm) and image editing.






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#12 bobzeq25



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Posted 20 November 2019 - 05:56 PM

 I'm still looking for advice regarding H-alpha images (7 or 12nm)

This is unusually simple.  12nm has less contrast than 7nm.  7nm costs more than 12 nm.


That's all the factors involved.  <smile>

Edited by bobzeq25, 20 November 2019 - 05:57 PM.

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#13 KlausPe


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Posted 20 November 2019 - 06:45 PM

Silly question, simple answer ...  <smile>



Thanks for the answer,


the exact question would be, if the Infinity stacking software still finds enough stars when using a 7nm Ha filter (stacking parameters are fixed !). I tried a 12nm filter, it works. But 3o seconds exposure are not enough (Alt/Az mount).


Unfortunately, English is not my mother tongue, so please forgive me if you don't have such smooth phrases. But I do my best <smile>



Greetings    Klaus


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#14 Howie1


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Posted 20 November 2019 - 08:16 PM

Does all the above help you Kelly?


I think many of us have done outreach. I certainly have. Public are not concerned about Hubble like quality. If you can show them stuff pretty quickly, even if it's a bit blurry/ too garish in color (over processed) they don't mind. They still see it and marvel you can show them that in such a short time with amateur stuff. And you can explain why the different colors, and shapes of the objects so they learn at the same time. And so for that purpose ... the above folk are suggesting the Atik Infinity and the software which it comes with. I reckon that's a good choice. 


As you say, there's many options for scope and many options for camera and many options for software ... so it is confusing. So having a camera and software known to work well as one purchase, you  have one half of the battle to decide what to get solved in one package. And while your goto dob isn't the perfect solution for the scope, it will work. There's many who have used Atik Infinity and its software on such a type of scope (which moves left-right and up-down ... called alt-az mount). So once again, it's a known to work solution to work with the Atik Infinity.


So your scope at the observatory, the Atik Infinity and its software is a known combination and as above posters are telling you, pretty quick and pretty easy to learn how to get images quickly. Go for it!


ps .... You will still have a learning curve and wonder what the heck the terms and sliders in the software do! So the suggestions of watching NSN and asking folk who are broadcasting, and also search YouTube for "Atik Infinity" and you will see live desktop videos of people using the software, and of course asking on the forum .... people will help you out. So sounds like a good solution to get you going. 

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#15 JCH Nature Center

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 09:39 AM

Thank you so much to everyone who has given me advice! You have no idea how much this has helped narrow things down. 


It seems like with researching most people with a dob use the 294, but I think I am leaning more toward the Atik family of things because of the ease of use. I agree with your point, Howie1, that most people are not going to be upset if the image isn't perfect, which is something that I myself will have to come to terms with grin.gif

I'll be sure to check out NSN as well to help the learning curve a little bit. 


My last question for the matter is if I go with something like the Atik Horizon, or Infinity (which would be better suited?) will I be able to still do images more close to home, such as the moon or planets? 


Thanks for letting me pick all of your brains! You all rock! 



Edited by JCH Nature Center, 21 November 2019 - 10:45 AM.

#16 OleCuss



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Posted 21 November 2019 - 12:06 PM

The Horizon is much more likely to please you.


And yes, you can use the Horizon for planetary and Lunar shots - it'll work fairly well.  However, given the focal length of your telescope you may not be able to fit the entire image of the Moon onto the sensor.


The Atik Infinity camera is another matter.  You can, of course, do some Lunar and planetary work but especially if you want to do high-quality planetary imaging (and post-processing) the Atik Infinity camera is grossly unsuitable.  IIRC it will only get you a frame rate of three frames per second and that is pretty pitiful for planetary AP - and it won't generate an .avi video container file for processing with AutoStakkert or Registax.  The FOV will also be very tiny for Lunar shots - you probably won't like even that.  For Lunar and planetary work with that big OTA I think the Atik Infinity would be a very poor choice.


I would expect the Atik Horizon to make you pretty happy in most regards.  I would expect the Atik Infinity to disappoint you in most regards when paired with that OTA.

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#17 Matt Harmston

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Posted 23 November 2019 - 08:21 AM



There is much good information in this thread already.  One thing to point out, however.  Having recently reviewed the HD-10 in Astronomy Technology Today, I found its non-PC control software to be pretty straightforward.  There are fewer settings to adjust, but it is pretty streamlined.  That said, it is designed for planetary, lunar, and solar viewing. While you can get brighter DSOs, doing so wasn't its design intent.


When it comes to deep sky cameras, I cannot argue with many of the recommendations here. We live in an amazing age of technology! My camera case has MallinCams, but there are many good cameras out there. Those that use the 294 chip are really quite versatile in terms of lunar and deep sky viewing.  They are pretty good for planetary if you have a long enough focal length (which is not a trivial consideration). I find (as do others in the MallinCam user group) that the DS10c (TEC and non-TEC) is really a versatile setup, permitting very quick acquisition as well as longer exposures if desired.  But, again...I can only speak about cameras in my case.


Good luck in your search. I'm not sure where you are in southern MN, but I hope you don't get our eastern Iowa clouds!


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