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Philips Webcam - is it really the best we have for budget imaging?


Simms
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I just wondered if there are better webcams that run at a slightly higher resolution than the coveted Philips one? Surely technology has moved on to give us a better sensor than that to cover our budget planetary imaging needs? Whats so damn special about it? I like mine, but there MUST be something else about?

Edited by Simms
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Having just spent some time at work learning about a bunch of new digital cameras that have just come out there are some seriously impressive cheapish csc cameras and brdige cameras out now with stunning low light performance using cmos sensors. I have a couple of weeks off starting next week and I have aquired a number of web cams to test them out I'll try and get some decent snaps on them and post them.

UTR

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I think the problem we (astronomers) have is that there are no webcams designed for our use (apart from the expensive "real" astro cameras) as there is no real-world market for them. We just have to make do with the best of those available. There are probably some good ones out there but they may be impossible to convert easily or control properly if you can get them onto a scope. I have a MS cinema HD webcam which is potentially good but you can only control the exposure and basic brightness (no gain control for example) which makes using it rather awkward to say the least.

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I just wondered if there are better webcams that run at a slightly higher resolution than the coveted Philips one? Surely technology has moved on to give us a better sensor than that to cover our budget planetary imaging needs? Whats so damn special about it? I like mine, but there MUST be something else about?
It uses a CCD sensor. Modern webcams use a CMOS sensor. They are cheaper to make but lack the sensitivity of CCD.

Technology has moved on, but it's moved on to reduce the cost of the product, rather than to improve it's sensitivity and low-noise features. Having said that, CMOS sensors are a lot better now than they used to be.

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It's also moved on to make it "easier" for the "average user", which means simplifying the controls in a way that doesn't suit astro-imaging, and to increase component density by integrating functions into fewer pieces of silicon, leaving fewer opportunities to take control of the sensor as would be required for astro-imaging.

As the Lifecam has already been mentioned, there's another recent thread where modding this for long exposure is discussed. Turns out it's not possible, because the exposure length is written into a register on the sensor chip itself and has a maximum value of barely three seconds.

The Toucam and SPC900 were webcams that just happened to be relatively easily modded for astro-imaging, but development of webcams has continued down a path targeted at people who want to use them as such straight out of the box with minimum bother. There's not very much cross-over there with astro-imaging.

James

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Philips webcams are desirable because historically they were ccd sensors and way better than any cmos equivalent and were under £50 and gave you long exposure and an amp off with a hardware modification. If you want long exposure imaging and/or guiding on the cheap, that was the way to go, not so today as they are as rare as unicorns and as such prices have rocketed to the point where you might as well get yourself a qhy5 or one of the many clones.

If you can find proper documentation for the sensors and ICs on a more modern webcam then, in theory, we might be able to do something similar to the philips mods.

If however, all you want to do is planetary imaging, then there are undoubtedly better webcams on the market but you'll need some idea of how the particular sensors and controller chips work to see which are the better ones to go for.

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I think the problem we (astronomers) have is that there are no webcams designed for our use (apart from the expensive "real" astro cameras) as there is no real-world market for them. We just have to make do with the best of those available. There are probably some good ones out there but they may be impossible to convert easily or control properly if you can get them onto a scope. I have a MS cinema HD webcam which is potentially good but you can only control the exposure and basic brightness (no gain control for example) which makes using it rather awkward to say the least.

They is ps2/ also ps3 cam's that have gain control and from looking up ps3 cam on here forum someone took awesome image of nebula with cam 4 second subs

http://stargazerslounge.com/showthread.php?t=120092&highlight=ps3+cam

now if you check that thread i think thats awesome image took from webcam that costs around 3 pounds or cheaper from some game shops

they is also xbox cam which i seem to have started up that seems to be getting just as good as philips.

they is also wii cam if anyones use one them they are pretty awesome you try wii cam on moon see craters really nice details. wii cam is basically hercules webcam.

seems lot game console camera's using super technology in cams making.

they easy converted to astro use as lot game cams are infact ccd sensors.

they is also yes cmos cams like on some digital video camera's

which are pretty great for lunar and planetary.

and new found asda cam seems to be doing well at moment.

if philips spc 900 was cheap i would possibly buy one but at price they are now and rare to get i would get some them cams mentioned above! then again they getting rare to find also.

with game consoles going obsolete :(

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FWIW, there was a thread recently started by someone who'd just bought a DxK21 618 and seemed a bit irritated because the images weren't significantly better than their SPC900. Now I can see the advantages of being able to do high frame rates over USB, certainly, especially for planetary imaging, but if it's hard to tell the difference in terms of the images created and the cameras are functionally near identical other than the USB/frame rate available, I struggle to see how the £10/£300 image comparison really stands up.

James

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to be honest i think any cam can produce nice astro images it all depends on the telescope using some give more light than others for cams imaging sensor pick up what ever your viewing.

i'm no expert on cams like but have modded xbox cam, ps2 and ps3 cam, also wii cam and me mpeg video recorder digital camera Traveler DV-3010

i dont screw nothing to lens i just remove whole lens alltogether and any ir filters and simple simple make bit tubing same size of eye piece and attach that way to telescope and each cam gives different type viewing

bit like when you change eye pieces on telescope.

with the modded cam to telescope you can also attach that cam to any fancey eye piece adapters like the barlow's so on wide view adapter things.

basically with cam to telescope all ya making is like digital eye piece

which usually give around 4mm to 8mm viewings

depends on cams sensor size

some cams like xbox you can unscrew lens and screw in the specially made astro adapters similar you do with philips

then again some cams produce lot of heat so you need to mod them with some cooling fans.

sometimes before i mod a cam i allways remove cams ir filter from it's orginal lens and test cam with night sky see if picks up any stars not attached to no telescopes

and if that cam works good with stars i usually mod them.

worth testing what ever cam you have normally first.

point it to skies.

when removing ir filter does make cam very senstive to light

so cam doesnt work in day light. unless you add filters to lens to make it work back in day light.

worth testing out different cams and use one that suits you best.

then again they also the A-focal way of astro imaging using what ever cam you have lens to eye piece lens.

Edited by Stargazing_Cliff
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At 4 seconds exposure, the ps2/3 cam is very limited. although, as you've mentioned cliff, any camera will do with the moon/planets/sun. Again, this is another reason the philips are so popular, if you can keep the amp glow under control then you have a long exposure one shot camera. I also forgot to mention that you can swap out the colour CCD on a phlips webcam for a B&W ccd.

Quite simply, the philips webcams were much loved because of the entry level price, they could be modded for long exposure, amp-off, peltier modded, ccd sensor swapped out.

So they can do lunar,solar, planetary, one shot colour, B&W shots and all for under £50 (well, add some pennies for a B&W sensor but you get the picture).

At the prices they go for and the 4 second exposure, the console webcams look a reasonable bet for a guide/lunar/planetary, bright DSO but not much more.

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to be honest i think any cam can produce nice astro images it all depends on the telescope using some give more light than others for cams imaging sensor pick up what ever your viewing.

i'm no expert on cams like but have modded xbox cam, ps2 and ps3 cam, also wii cam and me mpeg video recorder digital camera Traveler DV-3010

i dont screw nothing to lens i just remove whole lens alltogether and any ir filters and simple simple make bit tubing same size of eye piece and attach that way to telescope and each cam gives different type viewing

bit like when you change eye pieces on telescope.

with the modded cam to telescope you can also attach that cam to any fancey eye piece adapters like the barlow's so on wide view adapter things.

basically with cam to telescope all ya making is like digital eye piece

which usually give around 4mm to 8mm viewings

depends on cams sensor size

some cams like xbox you can unscrew lens and screw in the specially made astro adapters similar you do with philips

then again some cams produce lot of heat so you need to mod them with some cooling fans.

sometimes before i mod a cam i allways remove cams ir filter from it's orginal lens and test cam with night sky see if picks up any stars not attached to no telescopes

and if that cam works good with stars i usually mod them.

worth testing what ever cam you have normally first.

point it to skies.

when removing ir filter does make cam very senstive to light

so cam doesnt work in day light. unless you add filters to lens to make it work back in day light.

worth testing out different cams and use one that suits you best.

then again they also the A-focal way of astro imaging using what ever cam you have lens to eye piece lens.

You should be using an IR filter for planetary images - IR rays hitting the sensor on a webcam degrade the image. Not sure about the impact on long exposure though on DSO's. I only use my webcam for planetary imaging so an IR filter - and the ability to screw it into something - is essential. I guess I could tape the filter to a piece of cardboard or better still a 35mm film cannister which happens to be the exact diameter as an eyepiece.

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You should be using an IR filter for planetary images - IR rays hitting the sensor on a webcam degrade the image. Not sure about the impact on long exposure though on DSO's. I only use my webcam for planetary imaging so an IR filter - and the ability to screw it into something - is essential. I guess I could tape the filter to a piece of cardboard or better still a 35mm film cannister which happens to be the exact diameter as an eyepiece.

Will have to try that add ir filter when ever i try image planet

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I've been playing around with the Logitech Pro 5000 CMOS, the chip got up to 48c after 10 mintues so put in a small fan and now runs at 28c, it also has a M12 thread to take the 1.25" nosepiece.

post-33000-133877781684_thumb.jpg

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That looks very interesting ! Be sure to ask which CCD chip it is . Easy to mod for a scope and probably waaay cheaper than an SPC :(

The data sheet (downloadable) says it is

1/4” Sony Ex-View® CCD

Does that mean anything to you? I know its different to the SPC900 chip.

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