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Hello everyone in here.  

Presently I am mainly visual but recently I have been getting interested in video astronomy again. Initially looking at simple ish things such as Moon, Sun (I have herchal wedge and lunt scope) and brighter DSO's with the option to go deeper later on.

Any camera will be mainly attached to a F7.5 80MM frac on a SW  goto GTI mount.

I have two things to consider. 

  1. I am looking to keep the setup simple from the get go. I don't want a spiders web of cables going everywhere. With that in mind I was looking at USB camera's that I can operate from a dedicated laptop. <(specs: intel i3 processor, 8GB memory, 1000gb HD, USB 3 compliant).
  2. Simple(ish) software operation which preferably does live stacking. I have read a lot that sharpcap pro is the best for this but I am unsure as there are others mentioned too. 

Anyway based on the above I have looked at 2 camera's based on what is mentioned in these forums, both ZWO. The  ASI 224MC  & the ASI 290MC . 

The specs are 1.2Mega Pixels 1304 x 976 for the 224 camera with pixel size 3.75µm or  2.1Mega Pixels 1936×1096 and pixel size of 2.9µm for the 290.  However I am not sure how all this translates when it comes to what you see at the business end. The rest of the specs might as well be written in chinese.

I have an idea as you can see what I am aiming to do but I want other peoples experience to help me make the right choice. Oh I am not set on the ZWO's, but they just seem highly thought of.

TIA all for any advice, please keep it relatively simple. 

Steve.

 

Edited by bomberbaz
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Hi Steve,

I am going to start rather  unconventionally with your computer, and not with camera....

You have an i3 with 8Gb RAM. Unfortunately,  you don't say which generation of i3. But as it has a HD rather than SSD that probably suggests it is of an older vintage. I guess that given the two cameras mentioned, budget might also be a consideration.

My experience is that if you want a near live observing experience using short stacked exposures the ratio between available computer power and a camera's data processing demands is critical. I have a 16 megapixel resolution camera and below an eighth generation i7 with 16Gb RAM it will huff and puff. So, don't expect to run a double digit megapixel CMOS camera on an i3 with 8Gb RAM. It might work if using longer exposures, but so slow!

That makes your selection of the ASI224MC  or ASI290 MC that have modest resolutions a very good one. Unless viewing on a 4K UHD monitor (as I do) and/or using Hyperstar or RASA (where more zoom is desirable), you don't need extremely high resolutions. Indeed, even with a high resolution camera, most of us apply binning (combining pixels) to improve sensitivity and lower read noise. 

The cameras suggested are hence a good fit (in my opinion) with your computing power. Even so, at their highest frame rates your modest laptop might chug along. I have just purchased an ASI224MC for planetary/lunar use. It was recommended as "the best" for that purpose by Ian King, and his advice is good enough for me!  But notice how I have one camera for DSO's (original Atik Horizon) and another for  planetary (ASi224MC). There probably isn't any ideal  "one size fits all" until you get into the far more expensive realms of Atik Horizon II or ZWO ASI294. However, I have seen enough samples from both ASI224MC and ASI290 to suggest they are good compromises, and exceptional for planetary/lunar.

Sorry, I don't have experience of your mount. The length of exposure possible depends entirely on its ability to be polar aligned and accurately track. However, your chosen cameras offer a fast frame rate desirable for planetary/lunar but also can handle slightly  longer exposures for dimmer DSOs. Which camera is best for you is hard to ascertain. The ASI224MC is £219 and the ASI290MC £248.  On most comparison charts, the ASI224MC gets a five-star rating for planetary and four stars for DSOs. The ASI290MC gets a similar five stars for planetary, but merely three stars for DSOs, which is rather odd given it is £20 more! I would email Ian King at FLO and get his advice which is best. 

You mention cable management. With what you propose that is not a concern because cable management from camera to laptop is minimal. But this assumes you are sat outside like a visual observer. The challenges of cable management only soar when you wish to (say) observe from indoors, hence perhaps then requiring motorised focuser, remote control of scope, WiFi etc. If using extreme short exposures (under 20 seconds), you don't need an autoguider (hence no cables for that).

In summary, my view is go for the ASI224MC and enjoy what you have for three months. But expect to invest many £££££'s more if you get the urge to sit indoors (which I love about the potential of EEVA). 

Hope this helps!

 

 

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I agree with @noah4x4 about the computer, it will definitely struggle.

I was having problems with my MacAir 1.8Ghz Dual Core i5 4GB Ram but I do have more kit to cope with so got a MacBook Pro and it works so much better.

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Thanks guys. You have actually confirmed what I feared, the i3 processor which is from around 5 years since will be pushing itself to the limit. However there is little else on the laptop, so all it's limited resources would be able to push towards the camera.

I will have a ponder over the two camera's and email Ian King at flo for his take before I push the button. 

Also maybe some others will empart their wisdom on here too in the meantime.

PS. Budget was a consideration but not over riding the simplicity.

Oh and if I had a long enough cable, I should be able to operate from indoors. The mount can be controlled wireless from my main PC or Iphone, that would actually work well as its very high spec but for now I am happy to play in the back garden.

Steve.

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For me the first thing I'd mention is the bad news...

I think the most frustrating thing for EEVA will be your f7.5 refractor - certainly in terms of the experience. It’s not the end of the world, but when looking at near live viewing you want the shortest exposures as possible while getting as much light as possible. At f7.5 you’re letting in much less light into your camera than if you were at f5 or, ideally f4 or less. That makes everything slower and basically less fun since EEVA (certainly for me) is about instant gratification... as close to looking through the eyepiece as possible.

On the upside… your 127 f/11 Mak on the AZGIT with a ASI224 will be a planet killer, and it’ll be great on the moon too. You’ll get really nice results with that. Those things are bright so  light in the scope isn’t your problem. DSO’s will be slower to show up at F7.5 and f11 but they will eventually.

It does mean your stacking and exposure times will be long. For instance I have an f4 scope and stacking 8 second exposures on my ASI290 would not be unusual to see galaxies. With an f/7.1 scope to get the same amount of light you’d need a 25 second exposure. Typically I feel I get a decent view of things after about 3 minutes. That means (if I have the maths right…) you’d be waiting about 10 minutes for a similar image. It's OK but not really instant either.

Also, I use the AZGTI myself and 25 second exposures are at the edge of where I use it. You’ll have to be careful about your setup and being as accurate with your levelling and alignment as possible.

A focal reducer will help, but good ones are expensive and very few are amazing. I have a decent but cheap TS Optics one. This one at FLO is also cheap (https://www.firstlightoptics.com/astro-essentials-eyepieces/astro-essentials-05x-1-25-focal-reducer.html, I have this one https://www.teleskop-express.de/shop/product_info.php/language/en/info/p676_TS-Optics-Optics-TSRED051-Focal-reducer-0-5x---1-25-inch-filter-thread.html) If you’re on a budget, then I’d look at one of those. That would take your system to under f/4. It’ll make your experience more EEVA speed and less astrophoto speed. It will reduce the quality of your views (they’ll be a bit more blurry) and it will make your FOV wider. On the upside, you can also use it on both your 127 Mak and your refractor. It may actually make your Mak a better EEVA scope than your refractor. However, the nice thing is, it gives you the option to use whichever you like best.

Ironically the optics of your 10” Dob are perfect for EEVA - but you’d need some sort of tracking system. One upgrade that may be worth be looking into if you can cheaply get the goto addition for your dob. Or maybe some other form of simple tracking. It doesn't need to be too perfect since you’re interested in EEVA you don’t need an astrophotography level mount. You'll only really need something that will track for up to 15 second exposures. Rarely do I ever do exposures over 15 seconds and I’d say 2-8s are my normal lengths. That said, I do live in a very light polluted area, so that limits how useful longer exposures are for me. But that's a hard limit from pollution, if you are in better conditions even my short exposures will give you better views than I get.

I have also seen people on cloudy nights post stuff from hand tracking their dob - but I’m sure that’s even less fun than it sounds. Another crazy thought though… you could put the focal reducer on the dob and you might be fast enough to not even need to track. At f/2 your exposures could be very fast and SharpCap will do the tracking with the stacking. You won't get much before you have to move the scope but it might be doable. Anyway things to play with and try once you have a camera. 

Another thing you might find fun once you’ve got your camera is if you have any fast photography lenses lying around (f/2.8 or less is when it gets good…), you can put the lens directly onto the ASI camera (you do need an adaptor but they’re not expensive) then use your GTI mount (or even a tripod). It’s wide field look relative to a telescope but the faster f/ratio gives you the really live viewing experience - you may not even need to stack to see things. I have a cheap old 50mm f/1.8 which works quite well. It's very wide of course, but it's fast - like watching video.

If you’re looking at the ASI224 or the ASI290 I assume your budget is under £300 or so. The ASI224MC is for my money still the best colour camera in that price range. There are better colour cameras but you need to jump in price a little.

The ASI290MC that you mention isn’t as good in colour. If you want colour in this price bracket definitely go for the ASI224MC. On the other hand… the ASI290MM — the mono version — is the camera I’d pick over any cameras in this price bracket and even well beyond. So long as your okay with mono.

There are a few reasons for this. First, the ASI290MM is a far more sensitive camera. It’ll see in the dark in a way that the ASI224 doesn’t. This will help with your slower focal ratio. Because it’s a more sensitive camera you can use shorter exposures and see things faster. You'll need longer exposure times on the ASI224.

I’ve got the ASI224MC, the ASI290MM and the ASI290Pro and the truth is… I use the ASI290MM most. It’s smaller, faster and goes deeper. When I first bought it I missed colour, and after about six months I bought the ASI294Pro trying to up the excitement. But I realised slowly for what I’m interested in (galaxies) colour is less interesting than exploring detail and depth. If I were really into nebula I might think differently. But the mono ASI290MM is a really versatile camera. There are better cameras for sure, but its just fun and easy to get images and detail out of it. It just works.

Brand wise from my experience the ZWO cameras have been reliable, well made and the staff are very accessible. There are well maintained forums and Facebook pages. The company owner Sam can be found around Cloudy Nights and on other forums - especially his own ZWO one. I’d give ZWO a strong recommendation. Do note that I’ve not used other manufacturers cameras - I liked the first camera so much I've been brand loyal!

Similarly, with SharpCap Robin who codes the program himself is available and answers things personally. I strongly recommend supporting him with a Pro license, and if you have any issues you can email him directly.

SharpCap and the ZWO ASI range give you a great package for EEVA. I’d also give a shout out to Martin Merediths Jocular (to be found elsewhere in this forum) which is fantastic but that is not a professionally supported program, it’s mono only, still in development and requires more technical knowledge to get set up and running. Once you’re up and running comfortably with your EEVA set up, you should check it out.

Personally with the ASI290 or the ASI224 I'd be surprised if you have too many performance any issues on your i3. The place where you might see sluggishness is if you are stacking large frames and changing the histogram in LiveStack. I’ve run both cameras on less powerful machines than an i3 and not had any problems. Plenty of people ran the 224 and the 290 on Atoms compute sticks when they first came out.

I currently run the ASI290 and the ASI294Pro (which is a 11.7 Megapixels - basically a bit better than 4k at 4144×2822 since 4k is 3840x2160 or 4096x216) on an Core m3-6Y30, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB eMMC, Intel HD Graphics 515 and it’s fine. The ASI294Pro is the most resource intensive because it has big files. So is not ultra-snappy, but it’s is perfect happy live stacking and manipulating. With the ASI224 and the ASI290 it runs great.

You should upgrade your laptop if you want a new laptop... But if you're looking to get bang for your buck in your EEVA experience I'd be looking at finding a way to get your system f/ratio faster before anything else.  For instance, a 100 newtonian that you could happily stick on the AZGTI will run you about £100 (https://www.firstlightoptics.com/heritage/skywatcher-heritage-100p-tabletop-dobsonian.html or even https://www.firstlightoptics.com/heritage/skywatcher-heritage-130p-flextube.html). That will do much more for your EEVA experience than a new computer for £1000 or more. 

In terms of cable management, it does only become complicated when you want to move indoors rather than sit at the scope. The basic version is you need a USB cable from your computer to your scope mounted camera and that’s it. Everything else is optional.

So… your final question — how do the camera specs translate on the business end…

The simple answer is don't worry about it too much. Go to http://astronomy.tools/calculators/field_of_view/ or use the same tool embedded in the FLO page you linked to and put in the gear you’re looking at using. This will give you an idea of what you’re going to see on screen and that's by far the most important thing. Unless you’re interested in the details I wound’t get too deep into the pixel size and resolution -- it's not really make or break unless you have specific interests. And if you have those specific interests then you know what you want and don't need any explanations!  If you really want detailed explanations you can also get into the weeds and play with this tool here, but don't let it scare you, the cameras you suggest are good: http://astronomy.tools/calculators/ccd_suitability

In terms of the other specs the quick and easy way to compare them is to look for Higher QE (80%+) and lower read noise (less than 1.5e is good, 0.7e is excellent at the moment). 

If the QE is high, your sensor will capture all the photos hitting the sensor, and if the read noise is low, then you can stack those images without noise getting in the way.

Quantum Efficiency is a measure of performance, ideally you want QE at 100% because that is a perfect sensor: every photon that hits that sensor is registered by the sensor. If a camera has QE of 80%, only 80% of the light from a star that hit the sensor are registered by the sensor. 

Read noise is an indication of how accurate the sensor is. Every time the sensor takes a reading (ie. snaps a picture) how many electrons in the reading are a result of accidental noise rather than actual signal created by the light. The closer to zero the read noise is, the better. If it was zero, every time the sensor said there is a photon, it would be absolutely correct.

You can pretty much ignore most of the other specs unless as before, you’re into details, at which point you know what your looking for and why.

Anyway... the short of all of this version is:

I’d use SharpCap Pro on your existing PC. Then if you want a colour camera I’d buy the ASI224. If you want detail and depth I’d buy the ASI290MM, but it’s black and white.

Don't worry about it too much and have fun!

Edited by London_David
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Thank you all for your thoughts. I think I will be going with the ASI224 and use the sharpcap software. 

TBH I was already sold on sharpcap after reading these forums. The fact it is one of the easier software package made this very attractive to me.

Anyway, great replies, very helpful and answered all my queries very well. 👍👏

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I've just read ".....from indoors" and "use long cable" and sighed "oh no".......another down the rabbit hole.....

USB3.0 has a cable limit of about 3 metres. USB2.0 about 5 metres. With a low powered, low resolution camera you might succeed longer with 'active cables" and powered hubs, but do be prepared for bucketloads of frustration.

You must also consider remote control over scope and (motorised) focusser, else you will be in and out tweaking stuff every few minutes. But that begs the question, if screen/laptop is now indoors how do you  focus outdoors? 

What I am leading up to is some advice that you need a holistic solution if you want to observe from indoors. The biggest (and costly) mistake is to tackle each device individually then discover on adding your next device a different route (such as WiFi) would be better.. You might employ an expensive device like ASIAir, or go DIY with twin-computers and remote desktop control. But do pause for careful thought.

I suggest take one step at a time. Enjoy your (probably) ASI224MC with outdoor laptop for three months. See how you go with your scope. If you are like most if us, you might end up with different camera, different telescope; different computer in a very short space of time when you realise the limitations of a tight budget. 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I use an old Lenovo ThinkPad laptop. I paid £60 for a few years ago. I did upgrade the drive to SSD as I got one for free. I also upgraded the RAM but it's only 8gb i think. Processor wise I'm sure it's not even an i3. Think it might be a core 2 duo. It only has usb2. 

I have been using it with my 72mm refractor and also had a go with my 90mm Mak. Both with my ZWO 178mc all mounted on my AZGTI

I have been generally live stacking 15s exposures. 

I have found it great fun and hugely satisfying. Ok the images are not as good as "proper" astrophotography. But as my eyes are getting worse as I get older. I find the combination of observation via the laptop screen and capturing image extremely good. 

Don't forget you can use a cheap focal reducer on your camera to essentially speed up your system. 

 

I did these a few nights ago:-

F2F07C5C93B74E13AB8D374A2CDAC8C4.jpg.e707d4adb9d7ea142569006f990aa592.jpg1979627537A94799A1F7ACC0F66C4D8C.jpg.ccdf6e71918bccf1d971a46be0b8727e.jpg3C6162B624F643CCB323F074CFF6C3E3.jpg.ed7407a0603e65c493330f4229c96881.jpg

All with my 72mm scope. 

 

I did this with my 90mm Mak with a focal reducer:-

8A423424C6EB4A56B71309E976AE0171.jpg.cde3b4b62490afa9f32f557d3133b8d5.jpg

 

I am very happy with all of these. 

Hope this maybe helps in some small way. 🙂

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On 10/04/2020 at 15:59, noah4x4 said:

I've just read ".....from indoors" and "use long cable" and sighed "oh no".......another down the rabbit hole.....

USB3.0 has a cable limit of about 3 metres. USB2.0 about 5 metres. With a low powered, low resolution camera you might succeed longer with 'active cables" and powered hubs, but do be prepared for bucketloads of frustration.

You must also consider remote control over scope and (motorised) focusser, else you will be in and out tweaking stuff every few minutes. But that begs the question, if screen/laptop is now indoors how do you  focus outdoors? 

 

Hi Noah, just a quick heads up. I had already purchased a USB3 repeater cable online and turns uot it does actually work quite well.

At first the camera kept freezing so I tried a different port and left it running for a considerable period of time without it once freezing or any other issue. Ok I wasn't actually recording, it was simply set on live view. I will see how I get on.  Oh this was operating from my main base PC, possibly able to offer a little more power and reliability than the older laptop. Installed with a lot of the newest hardware including the ryzen processor. 

Re: remote control, the mount is operated via iphone app, so thats covered too.  I do realise I would be sticking my head out of the door to watch for cable tangles etc, but once on target i can sit back down and  hopefully use the more powerfull and functional PC.

 

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Good luck Steve.  You might find USB generally  temperamental.

Mind you, I have had a nightmare tonight with WiFi remote control. After months of stability, suddenly freezes galore. I think it might be something to do with lockdown and BT getting overloaded as my Android TV lost connection a few times this evening. 

 

 

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22 hours ago, noah4x4 said:

Good luck Steve.  You might find USB generally  temperamental.

Mind you, I have had a nightmare tonight with WiFi remote control. After months of stability, suddenly freezes galore. I think it might be something to do with lockdown and BT getting overloaded as my Android TV lost connection a few times this evening. 

 

 

You may be onto something Re: lockdown overload. I have also experienced an increased number of tech failures of recent for no apparent reason. 

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I'm waiting on cable coming from FLO for the azgti,, I will be fitting it to the lattepanda,, I'm using the basic starter one 32bit, 32gb hard drive, 2gb of ram. 

It will be set up for eqmod and controlled via cdc,,, the set it will be done via remote desktop by tight vnc. 

I use my phone hot spot to network the lattepanda to my laptop,, but I can't have both my WiFi and hot spot running at same time,, hence the azgti cable, 

I have tested the project on my heq5, ed80 with hitecastro dc focuser, backyard eos, sharpcap Pro, CdC, asi studio,, unfortunately clouds so can't try stacking,,  but everything else tested out OK,, file transfer from Canon 600d to byeos viewer has lag,, but not horrendous,, this is the basic panda,, and there are big brothers to this baby panda,, its the test piece to see if it was viable cheaply,, panda with case and pre installed window 10 cost me £150,, 

, you could go for the zwo asiair Pro at £333,  if you went for the delta panda,,  it would certainly do the job,, beauty of the panda is its windows based 

Edited by shirva
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