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HOW TO SELECT CCD DIGITAL CAMERAS
- GUIDE TO ASTRO IMAGING CAMERAS

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Webcams

Webcams display a real-time image on a video camera, TV screen, etc. These stream images at 30-60 frames per second. Most work only on the brightest objects, like the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn. Some are sensitive enough for the very brightest DSOs. Can be impressive and cheap.

Fast integration video cameras

These can have internal integration of images, can shoot up to 60 frames per second or as slow as several seconds per shot. The images can be fed to a screen device or laptop. Many times more sensitive to light than webcams, and usually with larger chips. This is the “almost real-time” revolution occurring in astronomy right now. Examples: Imaging Source cameras, StellaCam, etc. They can be cooled for lower noise. Color or monochrome.

Lunar-planetary imagers

These are low sensitivity but often high resolution cameras for planetary imaging. Images have to be “integrated” or “stacked” in a computer to see the best image before processing. Opticstar Lumenera cameras can provide those “flyby” images you see on the web.

Deep Sky Imagers / CCD astro cameras

These have the highest sensitivities and can take the longest images. Images have to be stacked in a computer to build composite shots. They can be color, or monochrome. Monochrome versions are typically higher sensitivity and are often used with LRGB or UVBRI filters depending on object and camera. They are often/usually cooled for lower noise. It is in these cameras that the chips can get really large and quite expensive. Examples: Meade DSIs(all grades/levels), SBIG cameras, Apogee cameras, Opticstar and FLI. The higher grades of these (SBIG up) can have “regulated” cooling so they can be used for research. Large objects do not require the smallest pixels. Smaller pixels yield higher resolution, but more computer power is required to process the images if the images themselves are larger.

DSLRs

Digital SLR cameras are often used by beginners to capture sky images. Most can capture long images if some form of device is used to keep the shutter open, but even then a lot of them limit maximum exposure times to prevent damage to the chip. They are not capable of the highest resolution because they shoot through a screen, but the on-board memories can usually store several shots so the images can be downloaded and stacked later. Taking shots this way usually requires “faith” that the image is well-centered, since most DSOs are too faint to be seen on a screen.

Photography

  • ALT-AZ photography has to be limited to one minute or less to avoid field rotation for stacked images. However, webcam and Fast integration cameras aren’t limited that way because of the way they form images. They can be used with any scope that can support the weight. More sensitive cameras can also be used Alt-Az if many short images are stacked.

  • Equatorial photography avoids field rotation and allows long timed exposures of deep-sky objects that are quite faint. This includes fork-mounted scopes on wedges as well as equatorial mounts.

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