A few nights under the stars with the Atik Titan camera
Thanks to Steve from First Light Optics and Jennifer at Atik, I got the chance to do a mini review of the new Atik Titan mono version.
Without getting into comparisons and technicalities (not my style), I decided to test out the camera with an eye to the fact, that it is stated to be a good camera for entry level CCD imaging with a bonus of fast frame capture for moon and planet work
with of course, the advantage of it being a guide camera as well.
A quote from the published information:
"The new Atik Titan is essentially a dual-purpose CCD camera that features a cooled Sony ICX 424 Sensor that can also operate at 15 frames per second in high-speed mode.
The high frame rate captures fleeting moments of clarity when the atmosphere is at its most stable. This combined with 16-bit digitisation and very low noise makes the Titan an ideal camera for lunar and planetary imaging.
In addition, the sensitive Sony 424 sensor with low (5e) read noise and -20 degrees C cooling makes the Titan capable of long exposure deep-sky photography.
The Titan would also make an excellent ultra-fast autoguider "
I have owned an Atik 16ic for a few months now and have had a lot of success with it so I had great expectations of the Titan…
OK, same case but blue, supplied with the usual Atik simple to understand user manual as well as software/drivers and all cables.
It's USB2 and the camera powers from your USB port, needing the external 12Volt supply for running the cooling system. Nice touch that as when doing lunar/planet imaging, it's one less cable and power supply.
The capture software is easy to use and is complete with all the necessary tools to do one shot to multi length/mode batch capturing.
Didn't want to get too fussy in using this so I decided to do the tests with the camera at prime focus on my excellent Skywatcher 150P DS 6" F5 Newtonian on an HEQ5 mount with a modified finder scope/Toucam webcam guiding set up.
I didn't take any darks or flats either, so the whole process was kept simple.
First off, was to see if it matched up to the 16ic in long exposure mode and it does with nice sensitivity and low noise. I used a Baader 7nm Ha filter to do the first set of captures as the moon was around and I needed to cut through the sky glow.
The exposure lengths were set at 5 minutes and each image consisted of 8 subs stacked. What I did notice was that the camera was sensitive enough to show a faint M27 on screen during the 10 second loops I used for positioning
the object properly in the field of view.
Focusing was set using the capture software's built in focusing tool
M27, M15, Crescent Nebula, Bubble Nebula and the Cocoon Nebula all came out very well and I also did an RGB of M27 and M57 using Baader colour filters in my home made filter drawer. I noticed that the capture software will control an Atik filter wheel in the batch
sequencing making life a lot easier for LRGB work. ……….where's my christmas list!
First test with the fast capture feature was to target the 20 day moon.
I must admit, It took a couple of goes at this to get the exposure correct. Not a problem though and only to be expected when first using an unfamiliar camera. Using the 15 frames per second mode, you can soon rattle off a few hundred frames
for stacking later. Nice to see the image size is the same in this mode and not compromised to get the speed up.
I took a series of 6 sets of 200 frames to form a mosaic of the moon's terminator. The subs were stacked in Registax and stitched using iMerge.
This really is an excellent lunar camera with lovely smooth but detailed results and nice level exposure across the grey scale. Much cleaner than the results from my mono Toucam webcam.
Onto planets and this is where I had a problem as I don't own a planet scope so even with using a 4x Barlow, you will have to excuse the small rendition of Jupiter shown below.
Again, using fast capture mode it's easy to collect a good stack of subs and since the lunar detail was so good, I have no doubts that through a proper planet scope, the results would equal that.
This Jupiter image is a combination of 100 of each red green and blue shots stacked in Registax and combined in Photoshop. At 15 frames per second, the three sets of frames plus time to push the filter drawer meant
a final set of images in just a minute or so. Good test of the camera but with more frames and a longer focal length scope, the results would be much better.
So, does the camera perform all the task it's supposed to… well, yes it does.
These small chip cameras have a small field of view and whilst you're not going to fit the whole of M42 or the North American Nebula on the sensor using a normal scope, there are huge numbers of interesting mid to smaller sized targets crying out to be imaged close up.
Very small file sizes mean less computer processing time when stacking dozens of subs compared to DSLRs or large sensor CCD cameras.
It's sensitive enough even for an unguided but tracked scope to produce some nice images.
The Atik cooling system works very well so you can often get away with not using darks. In my opinion, the addition of the fast capture mode lives up to the description of it being a camera with which a user can try out all modes of astro photography before moving on to what suits and interests them the most.
The small chip size requires more care in getting the target on the sensor and the .FITS file system takes a bit of getting used to for anybody coming straight from Jpegs and the like but all worth the little extra effort
I did need to run a few short test shots at the start of the Jupiter session to get my head around the exposure settings. With FITS images, the capture software stretches them to be visible on screen but what might look slightly over exposed turns out fine during post processing.
I found that with the 6" F5 scope, 0.04 second exposures were about right. Just a case of getting to know the camera and it's whims.
When pitched against the cost of a modified DSLR plus a modified webcam plus a guide camera, I reckon it's well priced, a credible "Jack of all trades", and a pleasure to use.
More images to follow if I get some sky time before returning the camera.
Edited by geppetto, 12 September 2010 - 11:41 AM.