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help me make a $300k decision

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#1 prefetch

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 12:10 PM

let's say you had a budget of $300k to purchase a camera for a 1-meter f/4.25 telescope.

 

and let's say you had narrowed down your decision to 2 cameras:

 

FLI Kepler KL6060 BI

FOV: 50'x50'

resolution: 0.49 arcsec/pixel

QE: ~95%

well depth: 102,000

full frame fps: 11 

 

Andor iKon XL 231

FOV: 50'x50'

resolution: 0.73 arcsec/pixel

QE: ~90%

well depth: 300,000

full frame fps: 0.5

 

 

considerations:

  • the goal is to take pretty pictures
  • preferred targets are nebula and galaxies
  • average seeing is ~2.5 FWM - the very best seeing is no better than 1.5 FWHM

assumptions to be questioned/validated:

  • deep well depth will allow the 1-meter aperture to really shine by using long exposures to capture faint features without blowout.
  • high fps may allow for lucky imaging to try and beat the poor seeing, but will require very high QE.
  • resolution is a less important factor because the poor seeing negates any low resolution advantage.

current take:

  • kepler could do lucky imaging, but has a relatively weak well depth which won't allow for exposures longer than a couple of minutes
  • kepler isn't available yet, and might not be available for another year.
  • ikon can't do lucky imaging, but has a super deep well depth that will allow for long exposures that may capture very faint features in long (> 10 minute) frames
  • ikon is available now.

 

so the question i'm asking is - which camera would you buy (or is there another camera which is even better given the scenario?) and why?

 



#2 ChrisWhite

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 12:33 PM

Well, if the goal is to"just" take pretty pictures... Whats the need for all of this?... unless of course you have 300k to burn and cant make the same exact pretty pictures with a mount/scope/camera of equal pixel scale that costs 15x less. 

 

On a serious note, whats the download speed of a single sub?  When imaging with short exposures you can waste a lot of dark sky time due to downloading.  My 183 takes a couple seconds, while my 6120 takes 20 seconds.  I loath doing exposures under 180s with the QSI due to this, although on a fast newt, optimal for broadband is only 60 seconds...


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#3 Sky King

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 12:38 PM

Hi, Good to look before you leap. I am not the person to advise you on these cameras. But, if I had that kind of budget, and wanted great pictures, I would look into renting time on a remote island observatory somewhere. There are amazing places that turn the equipment over to you for a period of time via the internet. Then you get a really dark site with excellent views and the best equipment. Good luck! 


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#4 Astroman007

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 12:56 PM

If I had that much money at my disposal, I would buy the finest and largest TEC or other fine refractor (8" or so) desirable to myself, full set of TV eyepieces, TV binoviewer, steadiest mounting (pier), and a sturdy observatory building with Ash Dome and attached office / study.

For a camera, I'd get the appropriate Canon DSLR.

The rest of the money ($100,000 at the very least) would go into my bank account for savings. Or...wait a minute...for cheap land in Socorro County NM on which to build my observatory in the first place! Then savings. smile.gif


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#5 Xeroid

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 01:05 PM

With that kind of budget, I would contact the major camera manufactures and ask THEM to submit proposals & specifications for that scope.


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#6 MapleEve

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 01:15 PM

Buy one Chilie Scope then you have them all and it won't cost that much.
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#7 TOMDEY

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 01:52 PM

Well, this is only me... statistic of one... but our best luck at work has been with FLI. Great performing/reliable (very) high-end commercial cameras and great customer support. I would do (what we always did at work) buy two or three identical cameras. The first one for use and the other (at least one) all calibrated and in the stable as backups. The day one needs maintenance or factory service, you're glad for the other one or two. Also, with more than one ~identicals~ great for troubleshooting the usual technical nuances with your instrument etc. At work, time was money... so spare everything was a no-brainer. For hobby stuff, that's much more flexible. If your scope has other people relying on it being operational... leans in the direction of spare stuff.

 

Yeah, I'm the kinda guy who has a spare backup generator, at home... even spare household thermostat and a second water heater plumbed in... just in case the ~primary~ one goes bad.    Tom


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#8 prefetch

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 04:06 PM

while i really appreciate all the feedback so far, no one has actually answered the original question of which camera you would buy and why would you buy it...  lol.gif

 

i guess tom did say that he's had a good experience with FLI as a vendor, which is nice (me too) but i don't have the budget to buy two or three of the KL6060 cameras.  i can buy one.  they are expensive.  

 

chris white, the download of a sub is the frame per second figure listed.  and i guess it's a fair question as to what the need is for it, but i would then ask you what the need for your equipment is, and the answer is probably something like "this is the best equipment i can get for my budget" and my answer is the same.

 

xeroid, no camera manufacturer would be enticed to derail their product roadmap for such a relatively small amount of money.

 

 

so....does anyone have any suggestions about which of the two cameras to buy and what your reasons would be?  i'm interested in discussing the relative technical merits like well depth etc. 


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#9 Mike Sandy

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 05:12 PM

The FLI is a new CMOS sensor and a new camera design (at least it seems to be to me) - while the Andor is an established camera with a back-illuminated CCD.  For this class (and at this price point) of camera - I'm not sure I'd want to be on what I would consider the bleeding edge of camera and CMOS development - you may be more comfortable with that than me, I've been there - done that.  Not something I'd want to do again.  Seems like either camera would be a bit over-sampled for your normal conditions - the FLI obviously more so, and they'd be about right on the best nights. So I looked at the specs of the two cameras.

 

Looking at the chip performance, at the top of the line the CCD231-84 chip can offer better QE from 400-500 nm >90% than the KL6060 which runs in the 60-85%, and shows similar improvement in the NIR range 700-800nm (at least with the BEX-DD option).  So while the peak QE of the KL6060 "might" be very slightly better, the QE improvement of the CCD231-84 chip runs deeper into the Blue and NIR range and should be more beneficial overall. I'm not sure that long exposures are inherently better than multiple shorter exposures.  It comes down to the SNR in the exposures - in my mind you trade read noise for dark current with shorter exposures.  I didn't see a read noise number for the KL6060, but the dark current at -20 degrees C was only .1 eps where as the CCD231-84 was .6 eps at -60 degrees C, so the CMOS chip is indeed pretty low noise.

 

These are both premium cameras with huge chips - does anyone make filter sets that size?  With the FLI you would want the optional 90mm shutter for sure.  Seems like for pretty pictures either of these are likely overkill.  Yes - they would be some of the largest chips around, and that's important for your FOV with a 4250mm focal length scope.  You'd adjust to and be happy with either one I'd guess.  I was an early adopter when the 16803 chips came out.  I didn't enjoy being the beta tester for an emerging new camera/chip.  YMMV....so enjoy the trip whichever way you go.  But wow - a 1 meter scope, what a treat!


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#10 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 05:26 PM

The Keplers have been out for a while so I don't see them as bleeding edge any more.

 

Since the issue is more or less purely pretty pictures, my buying decision would be based on where I lived and support. I have had wonderful support from FLI (US based) but Andor (UK based), when they bought out Apogee, left a lot of orphan equipment out there (including a wheel that I own). Andor has a very limited US presence and I'd want to see who they have who can answer a question on the phone when I have a problem or just want information before I'd ever buy anything from them again.

 

I completely respect that there are technical differences but if you are an aesthetic imager, over the years you will own such a camera (plus wheel, etc) the support issue is way more important than the cited differences in QE or cooling or dark current. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#11 nmoushon

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 06:08 PM

I just want to point out that "lucky" imaging is not taking subs that are seconds long....let alone minutes long. True "lucky" imaging is sub sec exposures and stacking thousands if not tens of thousands of subs. More on the lines of planetary imaging than DSO imaging. I'm not that knowledgeable on"lucky" imaging but I dont see sub sec exposure having a well depth problem. Also read noise is an important factor to consider.

If you avg on 2.5 FWHM then I would also look more closing at the pixel size. 10x10um vs 15x15um is a big enough difference that this should be considered with the specific scope and your local conditions. 

 

With that all said though I would be hesitant to pick a not yet released camera at this price point....I dont mind being a test subject for new equipment but not at this kind of price point. Personally, if these where my ONLY two options, I would go with Andor. I think in the end, even if the FLI is a bit better, it wont be enough to tell if all you want are pretty pictures. If there was a more scientific reason then maybe the bit of extra performance might be worth the unknowns of a new camera....maybe. 

 

Also, if you really want to play around with "lucky" imaging I would test out a cheaper (much cheaper) CMOS camera and play around with that. This is a really expensive camera to "play around with" on lucky imaging....especially if your main purpose is long exposure DSOs. 


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#12 Mike Sandy

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 06:28 PM

The Keplers have been out for a while so I don't see them as bleeding edge any more.

 

Since the issue is more or less purely pretty pictures, my buying decision would be based on where I lived and support. I have had wonderful support from FLI (US based) but Andor (UK based), when they bought out Apogee, left a lot of orphan equipment out there (including a wheel that I own). Andor has a very limited US presence and I'd want to see who they have who can answer a question on the phone when I have a problem or just want information before I'd ever buy anything from them again.

 

I completely respect that there are technical differences but if you are an aesthetic imager, over the years you will own such a camera (plus wheel, etc) the support issue is way more important than the cited differences in QE or cooling or dark current. 

 

Rgrds-Ross

All really good points - especially WRT the ability to get support for the camera down the road.  I was not aware of the Apogee/Andor connection - I've been away from the hobby for 5+ years. Even though the Kepler camera platform has been around, I'd still suggest caution with a new chip. You got to be willing to deal with the likelihood of repeated delivery delays and initial teething problems.  The FOV would be very close if you went with a proven 16803 chip (or similar sized chip).



#13 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 07:10 PM

Sadly, the 16803 chips will no longer be made after the end of March. From what I can see if you want a camera for 10 years, you don't want to buy a CCD at this point because who knows if a replacement chip will be available. Me, I've got one of the QHY600 cameras on order for use in my PW 12.5 CDK. I doubt I'll see it for another 6 months but it was just too much of a bargain to pass up.

Rgrds-Ross



#14 Peter in Reno

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 07:43 PM

The specs for both cameras do not show ASCOM compatibility. What capture or automation software do you plan to use with either camera? Many popular automation software require many equipment to be compatible with ASCOM including cameras.

 

Peter



#15 prefetch

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 08:36 PM

I just want to point out that "lucky" imaging is not taking subs that are seconds long....let alone minutes long. True "lucky" imaging is sub sec exposures and stacking thousands if not tens of thousands of subs. More on the lines of planetary imaging than DSO imaging. I'm not that knowledgeable on"lucky" imaging but I dont see sub sec exposure having a well depth problem. Also read noise is an important factor to consider.

yes, this is why i posted the fps (frames per second) information.  the andor will not be able to do any lucky imaging, but has the deep well depth.  the FLI doesn't have the deep well, but will be able to do lucky imaging at 11 fps.

 

you're right - i should test lucky imaging on the system with a cheaper cmos to see if i think it's worth investing into large frame lucky imaging.



#16 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 November 2019 - 09:53 PM

Well, I use the SKYX and MaximDL. The FLI Kepler cameras are supported by both packages so I'm good to go. If you have $15,000 for a camera and $10K for an OAG, wheel and filters, then you have $500 for gold standard software like those two packages. FLI, like SBIG also offers an SDK for 3rd parties to roll their own implementations. 

 

Rgrds-Ross 


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#17 555aaa

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 02:19 AM

QHY showed a couple new scientific cameras at AIC that haven't been mentioned. What is the size of the imaging circle? That is critical. There are some other scientific imaging camera companies. QHY45GX has 24 micron pixels which will give you the best sensitivity at that focal length and won't be undersampled for your average seeing. I do scientific imaging at 4000mm focal length and I often bin 3x with 9 micron pixels. Princeton Instruments makes a number of cameras that should be in your price range also such as their EMCCD products. Those aren't going away because they are using a dedicated foundry.

Edited by 555aaa, 22 November 2019 - 02:40 AM.


#18 jhayes_tucson

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 03:52 AM

Given only those two choices and putting aside the wisdom of installing a 1 m scope in an area with average 2.5" seeing, I'd be inclined to go with the CCD camera.  Still, either camera should work well; but, they will operate with different sub-exposures.  I agree that FLI produces some of the best cameras on the market so that's also a consideration.  At F/4.25, your 1 m scope will produce focal plane irradiance roughly 6-times higher than my 14" F/10.8 system; but with the CCD camera under those seeing conditions, you won't show any more object detail--and maybe even a bit less.  The important thing to realize is that with the conditions that you are proposing, that scope is only going to allow going a lot deeper using the same exposures as a smaller, less expensive scope.  You aren't likely to get much more image detail.

 

Less to the point, here are some thoughts on your overall plan.  I've struggled with the idea of a bigger scope for some time myself and concluded that the only good way that I could justify a larger, more expensive system was to find a better location for it.  I've ultimately settled on two possible sites: one in Arizona and one in Chile.  Neither is cheap (or easy) but both sites have seeing conditions that regularly reach 1" and sometimes much better in the rage of 0.3" - 0.5".  I've got a 0.5 m, F/6.8 PW scope on order and I plan to put a FLI-ML16803 on it.  Interestingly the 0.5 m scope has almost the same EFL as my current 14" scope so it will produce almost exactly the same field of view.  With the same sampling rate, the faster optical system will produce signal at a rate of 2.5x that of my current system, which is a pretty good gain.  The better seeing conditions should also allow the 0.5 m scope to achieve noticeably better image detail.  Under really good conditions, the 9 micron pixels may be slightly under-sampled but I believe that's where drizzling may help a little.

 

You didn't ask, but I'll give you my advice anyway.  If money matters, I'd suggest considering a smaller system that is better matched to the seeing conditions that you've given.  I'm pretty sure that you aren't going to see a huge gain in image quality with the 1 m scope compared to a much smaller scope (say a 14" - 17" system.)  If money doesn't matter, then go for it and show us what you get.  I'd love to see how it works out!  It sounds like a cool project.

 

John


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#19 Topographic

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 04:59 AM

Give a large portion of it to homeless charities and then buy a decent setup with what is left. You can have good pictures and feel good about yourself.


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#20 prefetch

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 09:28 AM

Give a large portion of it to homeless charities and then buy a decent setup with what is left. You can have good pictures and feel good about yourself.

 

i appreciate the sentiment, but this forum is about astrophotography.  you don't know me, and have no idea how much i give to charity.  smile.gif


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#21 prefetch

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 09:55 AM

Given only those two choices and putting aside the wisdom of installing a 1 m scope in an area with average 2.5" seeing, I'd be inclined to go with the CCD camera.  Still, either camera should work well; but, they will operate with different sub-exposures.  I agree that FLI produces some of the best cameras on the market so that's also a consideration.  At F/4.25, your 1 m scope will produce focal plane irradiance roughly 6-times higher than my 14" F/10.8 system; but with the CCD camera under those seeing conditions, you won't show any more object detail--and maybe even a bit less.  The important thing to realize is that with the conditions that you are proposing, that scope is only going to allow going a lot deeper using the same exposures as a smaller, less expensive scope.  You aren't likely to get much more image detail.

 

You didn't ask, but I'll give you my advice anyway.  If money matters, I'd suggest considering a smaller system that is better matched to the seeing conditions that you've given.  I'm pretty sure that you aren't going to see a huge gain in image quality with the 1 m scope compared to a much smaller scope (say a 14" - 17" system.)  If money doesn't matter, then go for it and show us what you get.  I'd love to see how it works out!  It sounds like a cool project.

john, i'm glad you chimed in.  i always appreciate your thoughts.

 

so, i've actually had the telescope in place for a year now.  it's been a lot of fun.  and yes, if my top priority was the best images i would have installed it in chile, but my priority is balanced between the fun of building/maintaining an observatory, public/private outreach and taking pretty pictures - all within a 90 minute drive of home.

 

because of that i have had to make compromises.  the 2.5" average seeing is a bummer, but the SQM in the 21.5-21.9 range is nice, and occasionally i do get seeing below 2".

 

i have to admit that it has been a bit discouraging to see images on astrobin from systems 10x less than mine that look better than mine - but then i have to remind myself that seeing is everything and many people are much more skilled than i am at processing - but that the unique advantage of 1 meter is in using your eye through the eyepiece!

 

anyway, i'm curious what you think about the advantage of a 300k well depth vs. a 100k well depth vs. high frame rate.

 

over the next week i'll run some "lucky imaging" experiments w/ an inexpensive high QE cmos to see if i think there is any possibility to try and beat the seeing with that method.  if that works out, then the CMOS might be the way to go.

 

however, if i'm unable to see any advantage from that method, then perhaps the CCD with the deeper well depth, which would allow for longer exposures would be the way to go.

 

i'm interested in what you think about this line of thinking.  thanks again for sharing your expertise.



#22 prefetch

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 10:02 AM

QHY showed a couple new scientific cameras at AIC that haven't been mentioned. What is the size of the imaging circle? That is critical. There are some other scientific imaging camera companies. QHY45GX has 24 micron pixels which will give you the best sensitivity at that focal length and won't be undersampled for your average seeing. I do scientific imaging at 4000mm focal length and I often bin 3x with 9 micron pixels. Princeton Instruments makes a number of cameras that should be in your price range also such as their EMCCD products. Those aren't going away because they are using a dedicated foundry.

thanks for the suggestion to look into the QHY45GX.  with my system it would give me a similar FOV to the other two options, but the problem is that the resolution would be at 1.17 arcsec/pixel and the QE is in the 60-70% range - both of those metrics are significantly worse than the andor and the FLI camera.

 

i'll check princeton instruments and see if there is anything that might be applicable.  thanks for the pointer.



#23 CCD1024

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 11:15 AM

Hi

You should look to PRINCETON INSTRUMENTS, SOPHIA 4096B camera

https://www.princeto.../sophia-cameras

 

You have a better vacuum chamber than other companies and you have a great local technical support in USA and outside USA

 

Cheers

Philippe


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#24 WadeH237

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 11:36 AM

while i really appreciate all the feedback so far, no one has actually answered the original question of which camera you would buy and why would you buy it...   

Unless I was doing science or some commercial activity where I needed to buy a camera right now, I would consider it borderline insanity to spend $300K on a camera for recreational purposes right now.  If you are doing science, then I would think that the requirements of the activity would point more clearly to one or the other camera.

 

At this time,the technology is in a state of rapid change. With CCD phasing out, and CMOS improving rapidly, I would expect that any camera that you buy now will be depreciate very rapidly in the grand scheme.

 

But just for fun, if it were me, and I had to either spend the money on a camera or lose it, I would go with the CCD.  For pretty pictures, 0.79 arc seconds would be fine with your seeing, and I would prefer both the deeper full well and CCD technology.  I've been imaging with a CMOS camera for the last 3 years or so, after imaging with CCD for about 15 years prior to that (with cameras that are a tiny fraction of your budget).  I'm switching back to CCD.  At least at the low end, CCD is more consistent and easier to calibrate.  I recently went back and processed some older data from me CCD, and found that, even at 15 years old, the final images are better than what my CMOS camera produces, especially if all other things (like total integration time) are equal.

 

If we twist the scenario just a bit and say that the budget is $300K for making pretty pictures, starting from zero, then here's what I would do.  I'd buy a Planewave CDK, a suitable mount, an FLI 16803 based camera, property where the skies are much darker than where I live (actually, I already have the property), and build a vacation home observatory that I could use locally for part of the year and remotely for the rest of the time.



#25 StarmanDan

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Posted 22 November 2019 - 12:32 PM

I'll +1 for Princeton Instruments too. My club has a 24" f9 RC and we get 2.5 arc second seeing on average. We use a Pyxis 2048 camera and have been very pleased with the service and quality of the camera. Granted, we do mostly pohotometry but it works as a good pretty picture camera too. The 4096 mentioned above would be a good choice if you want a larger chip.
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