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Chris Owen 66

NEWBIE - getting Mallincam to use on my Skywatcher 10" Goto Dob, advice please!

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Hi all,

I'm a fairly experienced observer, but am new to video astronomy. I'm thinking of getting a Mallincam VSS or Jnr Pro to use on my Skywatcher f/5 10" goto Dob, as I love the idea of outputting the image to a laptop, and seeing better images than I'd get visually, outreach, etc. I also want to be able to capture still frames for processing in Resitrax or similar. Does the camera control software also double as the 'live' video viewer/still image grabber? Or do I need to get seperate software to view and grab the images on my laptop?

Also, could someone with more experience please advise if I will need a focal reducer? I realise the benefits of using one (wider field, etc), but is it entirely necessary? I see the Antares is only around £35, which seems reasonable.

The Dob is alt/az tracking of course, which I realise isn't ideal for video work, but from what I've read on forums, this should be okay as most exposures on the Mallincam are less than a minute (for moderate DSO's), with many only needing 20-30 seconds for good images of brighter nebula, etc. I'm assuming that for planet/moon/sun, this will be even less of an issue due to the much shorter exposure times?

Thanks for any help you can give.

Chris 

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Chris,

I don't want to hurt any business's sales but if you look at this thread http://www.cloudynights.com/topic/535488-are-astrovideo-cameras-going-to-become-an-endangered-species/, you see that analog video cameras, like the ones you are considering, are considered a technology of the past. Not only that but they are also fairly expensive compared to more powerful modern alternatives.

If you are planning to use your camera with a computer, then USB image head cameras are the mainstay these days. They connect to the computer with a single cable, are based on modern sensors and have very good and user friendly software. I have experience only with the USB CCD cameras and in this category the Lodestar x2, the SX Ultrastar and the Atik Infinity are the most popular choices for near-real-time observing. As you plan to use an f/5 Dobsonian, sensitivity is an important consideration. It allows for shorter exposures. With that in mind my personal #1 recommendation would be a Lodestar x2 color. It is the most sensitive from the above mentioned batch and it has a 1.25" eyepiece form factor. It can slide into the focuser tube as deep as necessary to reach focus. The free StarlightLive software that you would use with it has been designed for real-time astronomy and is very easy to use. It stacks your captures in real time, you see the image quality improving as you are observing. The Ultrastar has a somewhat higher resolution but a proportionally lower sensitivity. The Ultrastar requires approximately twice as long exposures than the Lodestar. Other than that, both cameras are made by the same manufacturer, have the same form factor and they use the same software. The Atik Infinity has the same sensor and hence the same resolution as the Ultrastar but is made by Atik and has a different form factor. It cannot slide deep into the focuser so I don't know, if it can reach focus with your reflector.

Please take a look at the threads about these cameras and check out the galleries of their users. I am sure others members of this forum will also chime in.

Clear Skies!  --Dom

Edited by Dom543
typo

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Many thanks for your response Dom, certainly food for thought. But from what I can see, the Loadstar x2 is just an autoguider, is that right? Or does it double as a camera AND autoguider in one body? I like the sound of that, but it doesn't seem as though Skywatcher's goto Dob mounts support any autoguiding. But then, if the Loadstar only needs short exposures, would I even need any autoguiding? Or would the Dob's tracking be accurate enough for 20 - 30 second exposures? I like the idea of a single USB cable, and the software seems ideal as it can control the cam, and do live stacking and live viewing. I've got the chance to but a used Mallincam VSS for £350 tomorrow, but am having second thoughts now! Many thanks.

Edited by Chris Owen 66

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Chris,

The Lodestar was indeed originally designed as a guide camera. But then our fellow forum member Nytecam discovered the potential of this very sensitive camera for near-real-time camera assisted observing. Inrigued by this, another fellow forum member Paul81 wrote software originally called LodestarLive, more recently renamed StarlightLive, expressly to help this real-time observational usage of this camera. As a result Lodestar x2 became one of the most popular and powerful instuments of electronically assisted astronomical observing.

You don't need autoguiding for what we are doing here. The Lodestar would be your real-time imaging camera a.k.a. "Astro-Video" camera. I cannot answer your question if your Dob's tracking will be accurate enough for 30 sec exposures. But the modern sensor of the Lodestar will require shorter exposures than the sensor of a 10 years old design. And if your tracking is not good enough, then StarlightLive software can still build up the equivalent of 30 sec exposures by adding up three 10 sec frames. It places stars on stars so that it corrects for tracking errors and you will not see star trails. Benefiting from the Lodestar's 1.25 eyepiece barrel form factor, you will probably be able to add an x0.7 focal reducer and achieve f/3.5 focal ratio. This will allow you to halve your exposure times.

The best way to assess what you will be able to see with the camera is to look at some recent threads by fellow forum members or their galleries. The bottom of the images made with StarlightLive always lists the exposure times used. 4x30s means that four 30sec exposures were live stacked. Here are a few random threads recently posted by Lodestar users.

https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/266692-galaxy-quest-and-sll-v30/

https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/267629-an-evenings-eaa-viewing-with-starlight-live-and-a-lodestar-c/

https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/268250-images-from-last-night-lodestar-xc-2/

Here are two of my own threads posted this past winter and spring

https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/265965-from-winter-towards-the-summer-along-the-milky-way/?page=1

https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/263856-starlightlive-multispectral-and-hdr-captures/

Or look at one of the Lodestar galleries of our prolific fellow member HiloDon

https://stargazerslounge.com/gallery/album/3323-lodestar-x2c-images/

Or the gallery documenting my first year with my Lodestar

https://stargazerslounge.com/gallery/album/3729-widefield-lodestar/

 

I encourage you to do some more research or listening to others before you make a purchase decision. As our Video Astronomy branch involves technology, it evolves very fast. Similarly to computers, cameras also are getting faster and more powerful at an exponential rate.

Clear Skies!  --Dom

P.s. You have to be careful to assure that your camera will be able to achieve focus with your Dob. The bulkier cameras may not be able to go in deep enough into the focuser.

Edited by Dom543
typo, P.s.

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Hi Chris,

No, that's not right.  The Lodestar was originally called a guider, but the sensor used makes it one of the best near real time viewing cameras available.  The top of the line Mallincam, the Xterminator, uses the same Sony 829 sensor.  Whether your mount is good enough to track 20-30 seconds is dependent on your equipment.  I can only tell you that you won't find a more sensitive camera that can provide those short exposures.  I second Dom's recommendation.

i don't want to wreck someone's sale, but the VSS would not be a wise choice over a Lodestar.

hope this helps.

Don

P.S.  I think Dom and I were typing at the same time, so I didn't see his last post, but it looks like we're saying the same thing.

Edited by HiloDon

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Hi chris.as the other members have said technology has progressed rapidly in video astronomy,cameras have moved on from analogue to usb,and the use of some imaging cameras and guide cameras have been moved towards video capture using drdicated software and third party software,so it's all good.

Depending on your budget,there are many routes you can take to capture video or images to a computer or a tv.

Your telescope has direct dslr fitting,so you have the option of using say a canon 450d with live viewing this can be attached via usb to your computer and canon eos software and using freeware..astrotoaster..you can get near real time video..or purchase backyard eos and this does more astromy features.

You can also go down the analogue route of the revolution imager,,same as the baby mallincam,,based on the ln300 camera,,new internals to previous model,but selling out fast..oc telescopes does a package deal,

Then as the guys have said..the lodestar and it's software,the guys on here are the most knowledgeable on these cameras and have great back up, and probably your best bet to go for.

The other contender is the new atik video camera,good reviews on this as well.

Zwo cameras are moving forward as well and have just introduced cooled versions and linked to sharpcap software,,they should perform well.

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Dom also made a very important point regarding the form factor of the Lodestar/Ultrastar for the intended use on a Newtonian originally designed for visual use.  You may need, depending on focuser height, to be able to move the sensor plane fairly far down towards the secondary to achieve focus.  The SX cameras are 1.25" cylinders, so provide complete flexibility re positioning in the focuser.  They really are the way to go.  I would suggest starting out with a used Lodestar as the cheapest way to get a taste.  Paul's great software solution for this application is free.

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Also have a look at Point Grey. They do all sorts of astro cameras. Not cheap but very good quality. They range from the black and white " Flea"  to Point Grey FLEA 3 GigE Camera (ICX618 Mono) 5.6µm and others. Have a look for Point Grey.

Derek

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Hi Chris

There are many ways into EAA/Video Astronomy and the Mallincam cameras have a good reputation - although you should bear in mind your back focus requirements, especially on a Newtonian if used with a reducer. I'd suggest checking that others have bee able to use your chosen camera with similar scopes.

The Lodestar is also a very capable EAA camera - if you've not seen my Video of it in action have a look here:

This is the older Lodestar-C  working at F3.3 with a C8 SCT and uses Starlight Live Software for Near Real Time viewing.

HTH

 

Paul

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I have the MallinCam Jr. PRO - and LOVE it! CN can claim this is old stuff - GO TO THE FUTURE, YOUNG MAN! all it wants. But these are fun!!

No focal-reducer needs be bought until you've plugged one into your setup and see what it can do. Then you can ride down the slippery-slope of other toys to play with and combinations thereof. Atik is Atik - and it all becomes a swirling money-maelstrom if you let it. The wonders of video-astrophotography are it's being malleable to so many niches of the greater AP-community. Even the "Elitists" who will tell you to pack it up and go away if you don't buy the NEW IMPROVED WHATZIT for Only 9-MILLION DOLLARS!

Here's some literature to assuage your concerns - from the Stone-Age of 2014 in one case -

JUNIOR PRO.pdf

Mallincam Jr. PRO review - Rod Mollise.pdf

I have buckets of info and articles. Don't be afraid to contact me via PM if you'd like more materials and or other data.

Dave

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Gents....your comments and advice are SO appreciated. One of the things I love about the astro community is everyone's willingness to assist others with *ahem* a smaller knowledge base (management speak for not knowing as much as you!!)

Dom, thank you for all of the guidance and links....some of those images you pointed me towards (well, most of them, if I'm honest) are quite breathtaking. It's hard to believe that when I started out in amateur astronomy in the early-mid 80's, that one day amateurs would be able to achieve results like this, almost instantly and in real-time. When added to things like goto scopes, planetarium software packages, using laptops and smart phones...it's a glorious time to be a back yard astronomer!

Having done even more web research, I really think the Lodestar x2 seems to tick all of the boxes, whereas the Mallincam, while still as astonishing piece of kit, 'only' ticked 90% of them! Just need to decide on colour or monchrome.

My budget was around £350 - £450, not a huge amount I realise. So at around £750 - £800, the SX Ultrastar is out of my price range. So I'm leaning heavily towards the Lodestar x2 at around £450. I keep seeing what I'm assuming is the mk1 version of this on some retailers websites, at about £100 less, although it dosn't seem to be available anymore. Apart from the price, there doesn't seem a huge amount of difference between this and the x2, although I'm sure there is! Bearing only the price in mind, would that be a better purchase if I can find one?

Unless I take my kit to a dark sky site, I have some interference from street lights in my back garden, so I use a UHC filter visuallly. Despite it's impressive sensitivity, am I right in assuming the Lodestar would still benefit from attaching the UHC (via a c-mount adaptor) to reduce/elliminate the street light glare? Then possibly add a focal reducer to reduce exposure time and add a wider FOV, and I think I'm sorted!!

Thanks again for help guys, so much appreciated.

Chris Owen

 

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Hi Chris

The X2 is more sensitive - there are a few people on SGL who have tested both versions, the exact level of increase seems to be debatable, but no one seems to deny that the X2 is better.

I have no first hand experience as I only have the original Lodestar-C which is considered to be the least sensitive of the Lodestars using the older CCD and being colour (loss in the bayer Matrix).

I've used various filters with my Lodestar-C - Baader Neodymium, 35nm Ha and UHC with some success but most nights do without, except for an IR block if I use my refractor to limit star bloat. If your light pollution is local and low level (i.e making dark adjustment difficult) but the sky glow is not too bad then you may not need any filters.

At F5 your Dob is pretty fast and a 1.25" reducer will make it even faster but focusing may be more difficult - a Bahtinov Mask is very useful! 

HTH

 

Paul

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My first "serious" EAA camera was a Lodestar x2 color and I believe that that was the right way for me to start. Color does add a new dimension to the observing experience and enjoyment. The x2 camera is more sensitive that the old Lodestar and consequently delivers brighter images with shorter exposures. Also widens the sphere of potential targets and reduces the danger of frustration due to inaccurate tracking.

In my opinion, when one starts out with something new, it is important to make things as easy, smooth and enjoyable as possible. With experience one is able to overcome difficulties. But during the startup period, while one doesn't have the experience yet, the best is to avoid any potential difficulties, less than perfectly enjoyable experiences and distractions. To me the $100 price difference between the x2 and the older Lodestar is well worth the comfort that I don't need to put up with images that are fainter than optimal or that I don't need to push exposures beyond the capabilities of my mount.

These are my 2 cents about someone else's $100 ...

Clear Skies!   --Dom

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4 hours ago, Dom543 said:

My first "serious" EAA camera was a Lodestar x2 color and I believe that that was the right way for me to start. Color does add a new dimension to the observing experience and enjoyment. The x2 camera is more sensitive that the old Lodestar and consequently delivers brighter images with shorter exposures. Also widens the sphere of potential targets and reduces the danger of frustration due to inaccurate tracking.

In my opinion, when one starts out with something new, it is important to make things as easy, smooth and enjoyable as possible. With experience one is able to overcome difficulties. But during the startup period, while one doesn't have the experience yet, the best is to avoid any potential difficulties, less than perfectly enjoyable experiences and distractions. To me the $100 price difference between the x2 and the older Lodestar is well worth the comfort that I don't need to put up with images that are fainter than optimal or that I don't need to push exposures beyond the capabilities of my mount.

These are my 2 cents about someone else's $100 ...

Clear Skies!   --Dom

Great common sense in those words !!!!!!

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The advice is sooo welcome guys....MUCH appreciated. I've decided to opt for the Lodestar x2 colour at around £450, and will buy when funds allow (soon, hopefully!!). The extra sensitivity, relativity short exposures, user-friendly intuitive software, single USB cable, simplicity of use, and the awesome results I've seen online have all convinced me! I'm assuming I'll need a c-mount adaptor in order to test my Skywatcher UHC fillter with it. In addition to viewing DSO "live on screen" with a new level of detail and colour, it'll be great to capture more transitory things like comets and meteors (using wide lens, or perhaps no lens???). And to think.....I recently had the chance to upgrade my 10" Dob to a 12" for about £300, and was briefly tempted....but for around £150 more I can get the Lodestar, and see tons more than a any 12"!!

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Hi Chris

Yes, a C to 1.25" adapter will be useful for filter mounting - FLO do one which will still allow the camera to be inserted into the focuser - watch out for those with a shoulder which will limit how far in the camera can go:

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/adapters/low-profile-125-nosepiece-c-threads.html

You'll always need some form of lens or telescope to get the camera to focus - people have had good results with SLR lenses and you can also have a look at CS mount video lenses for really wide field views.

Looking forward to seeing the results.

CS

Paul

 

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I have a 12" Skywatcher collapsible dob.  In-focus is not a problem with this scope.   I have both a ZWO ASI185MC and an Ultrastar-C.  Even without adjusting the struts,  I have no problem coming to focus  with the ZWO and a 0.5x focal reducer. The ZWO will  fit in both 1.25" and 2" holes.  The Skywatcher has a 2" to 2" and a 1.25" to 2" extension that are normally used for visual eyepieces.  Those can be removed if extra in-focus is needed (the focuser hole is 2" with no adapter in).  Plus, with it's struts, it can be collapsed down even further if needed.  There's a detent in the struts for binoviewer use.

Edited by Robrj

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I prefer not to use a pc, but use an Orion Starshoot DVR as it gives me the option of just seeing image onscreen or capturing it and the inside process on registax. As many times I just like viewing onscreen, but if something takes your interest than can record it to sd card for later use. It's a more compact system than using a tablet, computer or laptop. The Orion StarShoot LCD is a 2" screen with a dvr inbuilt. I find it easier than lugging out pc  gear.

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On Saturday, July 02, 2016 at 10:08, Robrj said:

I have a 12" Skywatcher collapsible dob.  In-focus is not a problem with this scope.   I have both a ZWO ASI185MC and an Ultrastar-C.  Even without adjusting the struts,  I have no problem coming to focus  with the ZWO and a 0.5x focal reducer. The ZWO will  fit in both 1.25" and 2" holes.  The Skywatcher has a 2" to 2" and a 1.25" to 2" extension that are normally used for visual eyepieces.  Those can be removed if extra in-focus is needed (the focuser hole is 2" with no adapter in).  Plus, with it's struts, it can be collapsed down even further if needed.  There's a detent in the struts for binoviewer use.

I have the 10" model and cannot get it to focus using the focal reducer. I see no marking on my struts for binoviewer use? Even when putting the video cam inside the 2" eyepiece adapter still could not come to a focus?

 

Works fine without the focal reducer though?

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24 minutes ago, denodan said:

I have the 10" model and cannot get it to focus using the focal reducer. I see no marking on my struts for binoviewer use? Even when putting the video cam inside the 2" eyepiece adapter still could not come to a focus?

 

Works fine without the focal reducer though?

A focal reducer requires more in-focus.  Try not using any eyepiece adapter at all.  Put it directly in the focuser hole without any adapter.  The focuser hole is a 2" hole as well so if your camera will sit in the 2" adapter hole, it will sit in the focuser without the adapter.  The 2" adapter is actually an extender so it just moves an eyepiece out so it can focus.    Since you want more infocus, don't use the extender.

Edited by Robrj

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