My friends over at Ontario Telescope & Accessories have sent me a new Altair Astro GPCAM2 autoguiding camera and guide scope to use with my astrophotography setup. In this post, I’ll give you an early look at these products, and why I am excited to start using them.
Why Use an Autoguiding Camera?
Expensive, high-end astrophotography mounts are capable of ultra-precise tracking of the night sky. Connecting a DSLR to your telescope on one of these mounts can yield long exposure photographs of up to 5 minutes or longer, with razor sharp stars.
If you are lucky enough to own an astrophotography mount made by Paramount, or Astro-Physics, you probably don’t spend too much time worrying about autoguiding. However, if you own a more modest equatorial mount such as the SkyWatcher HEQ5, Celestron AVX or Orion Sirus EQ-G, you can take your images to the next level by utilizing the power of autoguiding.
For the last few years, I have been using a Meade DSI Pro II CCD camera through an Orion 50mm Guide Scope to autoguide. This system is connected to my SkyWatcher mount and controlled via my laptop computer using a free software called PHD2 guiding.
Recently, however, I have been presented with a new option for my autoguiding needs. My good friends at Ontario Telescope have sent me the Altair Astro GPCam2, and a Starwave 50mm Finder Scope.
This is an attractive combination for astrophotographers wishing to build an autoguiding system on a budget. One of the many advantages that this system has over my current setup is the built-in ST4 port on the camera. This means that only one cable is required between the computer and the camera.
This autoguiding camera is also much smaller, and a bit lighter than my current guide camera. Reducing the overall weight of your imaging rig has its advantages. I would often bump my headlamp on the Meade camera when looking through the telescope eyepiece!
Let’s take a look at the specs of these 2 items:
Sensor Size: 1/3″ (4.8×3.6mm)
Pixel size in microns: 3.75×3.75 um
Resolution in pixels: 1280×960
Cooling: Air-Cooled large surface area body
USB port: USB2.0 High-speed Port
This very capable little camera uses a CMOS sensor like you would find in a DSLR camera. You could use this camera for deep-sky astrophotography, not just for autoguiding.
Based on the ultra-smooth, low noise images I experienced first hand with this product, I am excited to experiment shooting some DSO’s with it.
For capturing Solar System objects and planetary photography, this device can be controlled via AltairCapture or SharpCap. I am interested in testing the planetary photography capabilities of the GPCAM2 this Spring.
I will likely be purchasing some 1.25″ CCD filters in the coming months, to use with this camera and future CCD adventures. First up will be a light pollution filter such as the Baader Moon and Skyglow Filter.
Focal Length: 206.6mm
Focal Ratio: F/4.1
Focuser: Non-rotating helical focuser
The Starwave 50mm Guide Scope is a straight through finder telescope with an indexed non-rotating, helical micro-focuser. Using this telescope for autoguiding was a pleasure. This small, lightweight 50mm scope fit into my existing tube rings that previously housed my Orion model.
The brass compression ring at the focusing end of this scope held the Altair GPCAM2 snug and securely. I had to use the included 1.25″ x 20mm threaded nosepiece to reach focus.
With this new autoguiding configuration, I didn’t need to use the GPUSB adapter with the ST4 cable into my laptop. The ST4 cable connects directly from the CCD camera to the mount.
Video: New Autoguiding Camera and Telescope
The images through PHD2 guiding were ultra smooth with no visible noise (depending on gamma setting). This was my first experience using a modern day cooled, dedicated astrophotography camera. I’ve incorrectly referred to the Altair AR0130 as a CCD camera when in actuality it uses a CMOS sensor. Needless to say, this experience has opened my eyes to the world of CCD astrophotography cameras.
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In the coming weeks, I will experiment using the new autoguiding camera and telescope combo even more, and share my results. As for my imaging session on the first night with this new equipment, I was able to add some more time to my Rosette Nebula project. The photo below is the Rosette Nebula in HaRGB.
Coming Soon: CCD
This is a whole new world for me, including new acquisition software and imaging techniques. The first piece of software I will be purchasing for this new venture is APT – Astro Photography Tool.
If you have any experience running your acquisition sessions using APT, please let me know what you think of it in the comments section. As always, clear skies.
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