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Hypercam 183C

Altair Hypercam 183C Review

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Thanks to my friends at OTA, a brand new Altair Hypercam 183C arrived at my door last week.  The striking purple exterior color of this one shot color CMOS camera makes a bold statement, but it’s the deep sky imaging capabilities of the cooled sensor that have captured my attention.

There are many options available for deep sky astrophotography these days, and traditional DSLR images such as myself are left with some tough decisions.  One look at the data captured using a cooled CMOS sensor, and you will notice the astonishing difference this can make.

Altair Hypercam 183C review

In this post, I will share 2 deep-sky photo examples using this camera with my ED102 telescope. Please keep in mind that these images were captured in heavy city light-pollution. Under darker skies, the Hypercam will perform even better.

A cooled color CMOS camera for deep-sky

The ExmorR rated back-illuminated sensor is touted as being one of the most important factors when comparing this camera to a DSLR.  The internal fan keeps this camera cool, and the low read noise qualities mean that the Hypercam 183C should blow my Canon 600D out of the water in terms of noise.

In my early test with this camera, I was astonished at just how cool this sensor was during an imaging session.  There is no temperature readout on this chip, but the difference is obvious when reviewing the images I’ve captured.

color CMOS camera for astrophotography

The Altair Hypercam 183C attached to my ED102 telescope

The CMOS sensor size in this camera is 16.05 x 12.61mm, which Altair Astro says is well suited for my F7 refractor telescope. This camera is a new breed of astronomy imaging cameras designed to tap into the image quality benefits only previously experienced when using a CCD sensor.

Related: What’s the difference between a CCD and CMOS sensor?

The Hypercam is worth a look for those looking to upgrade from a DSLR or start their journey into astrophotography on the right foot.  My testing will specifically focus on the deep sky imaging aspect of this camera.

Altair Hypercam 183C Features:

  • ST4 autoguiding port

  • Internal Fan Cooling

  • 12Bit RAW mode

  • Built-in UV/IR filter

  • Built-in Amp Glow Reduction

Fans of DeepSkyStacker will be happy to know that you can, in fact, register and stack the .FIT files produced by this camera in DSS.  Using the 12bit RAW color space means ultra high-resolution 16-bit full-color RGB image to dive into when image processing.  More on this below.

 



 

Video: Let’s Photograph the Dummbell Nebula

In this video, I get nostalgic about one of the first deep sky objects I ever photographed, the dumbbell nebula.  You’ll see the Altair Hypercam 183C in action as I use it to capture exposures on M27 from the backyard.


 

Below, I’ll share my thoughts on the image quality of my Dumbbell Nebula image used in the video. This experience should provide you with a good idea of what to expect when using the Altair Hypercam 183C.

Update (July 13) – New Example Image using the Hypercam183C

 

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Deep Sky with No Autoguiding?

Short-exposure “lucky imaging” is an attractive choice for beginners. Early on, one of the toughest aspects of astrophotography a capturing a long exposure image with steady tracking. Obtaining sharp stars on an image longer than 2 minutes may seem impossible.

Orion Sirius EQ-G MountShort exposure imaging on mounts that are not using autoguiding is an attractive option.  The Hypercam 183C is a new breed of imaging camera that aims to produce incredible images by stacking many (really) short exposures to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

Most modest entry-level astrophotography mounts (My Sky-watcher HEQ5 included!) such as the Celestron AVX and Orion Sirius are capable of exposures up to 1 minute without autoguiding. So, with a highly sensitive camera like the 183C, it may be possible to obtain impressive results my stacking many short exposures.

This is something that just isn’t possible with a standard DSLR camera. When the ISO is pushed too far, the thermal noise in the images begins to take over. With no cooling option, a DSLR sensor can reach scorching temperatures that make image processing a nightmare. (trust me on this one)

Here is an example of short-exposure deep-sky imaging using 10-second exposures on a very bright deep-sky object from Nick at Altair. The Orion Nebula using the Hypercam 183C.

 

Imaging and Guiding with Altair Astro

Altair Astro camera

The Hypercam 183C threaded nicely into my 2″ Altair 08.X Flattener/Reducer.  The camera is compact and lightweight, meaning my overall astrophotography imaging train continues to put very little stress on the mount.

I did not need any additional adapters to connect the camera to my telescope focuser.  I used an Allen key to remove the threaded ring with a 1.25″ opening above the sensor.  Once that ring was removed, I was able to screw my field flattener into the 183C directly.

An extension tube was needed to reach focus with the new Altair camera.  So, although the imaging configuration is lighter and less obtrusive than my Canon DSLR, it is longer overall. This is something to watch during un-monitored imaging sessions where a crash into the mount may occur.

From a visual gear perspective (Something I have never put too much attention on), the matching purple Hypercam 183 and GPCAM2 look rather attractive.  My deep sky imaging rig gets used too much to stay clean and polished.  My rusty counter-weight on the HEQ5 is proof!

My current deep-sky imaging setup (Video)

Camera Control Software

One of the major factors involved with purchasing a new astrophotography camera is the considering the new software and drivers required to run the unit.  In the case of the Hypercam 183C, I had three options for camera control out of the box:

CMOS camera software

I haven’t spent too much time with AltairCapture yet, so I decided on SharpCap Pro to control my imaging session. Up until now, I used SharpCap for framing and focusing using the ASI071MC-Cool and to aid with my Polar Alignment process.  I had never controlled a full deep sky imaging session from start to finish until recently.

Sharpcap

As I am sure many of you have experienced, my first night using a new software for deep-sky imaging was full of “ah-ha” moments that eventually resulted in a better understanding of the software.

I believe that SharpCap has the potential to be a solid choice for long exposure deep sky imaging sessions, even if it feels tailored for the planetary and EAA crowd.  The always-refreshing image preview that starts as soon as your camera is selected can be off-putting and confusing for DSLR imagers.

Perhaps I have just become too accustomed to applications like Sequence Generator Pro and Astro Photography Tool for controlling a sequence of images.

I was able to overcome most of my issues after some quick investigating online.  Unfortunately, one issue that remains is an unexplained “frame dropping” that causes my images to not be recorded onto the computer.  The team at SharpCap is aware of the issue and offered some great troubleshooting options to help me out.

Update – The issue had to do with the USB port I was using on my aging laptop.  Switching ports corrected the issue!

Deep Sky Image Example

Limited to short exposures using SharpCap, I managed to capture 37 image frames at 60 seconds each on the Crescent Nebula.  The imaging conditions and limited exposure time resulted in a poor rendition of NGC6888, but the image quality of the Hypercam 183C is evident.

Here is a close-up of an area in the image that shows the smooth details captured by the Hypercam.  The star color is rich and beautiful using this CMOS One-shot-color sensor.

color CMOS sensor image

A zoomed-in look at NGC 6888 to illustrate image quality

In this review, I really wanted to produce an image using several long exposure image frames (of 3 minute or more) to portray the true potential of this camera.  Unfortunately, software bugs and weather did not coordinate.  The image below is less than 1 hour’s worth of data using short 1-minute exposures.

To make matters worse, I accidentally used an external UV/IR luminance filter while imaging.  I guess I forgot to read the full specification sheet for the Hypercam 183C and discover that it has a UV/IR filter built-in!

Test Image – Hypercam 183C (37 Minutes)

I have attempted to keep this data mostly raw, and have applied very little image processing at this stage. A basic curves adjustment, levels, and gradient removal were used to show off the image quality when using the Altair Hypercam.

Click the image for a larger version.

NGC 6888

Deep sky image example using the Hypercam 183C

Image Details:

Total Exposure: 37 Minutes (37 x 60″)

Again, I can’t stress enough that this image is an example of the low noise qualities the image frames.  I could pull out much more nebulosity in the DSO using Photoshop, but that would not illustrate the aspect of the data I am referring to in this post.

This image includes much less exposure time than I would normally shoot.  In retrospect, it was not a great test subject as the NGC 6888 requires OIII and Ha data for a complete structure. Regardless, this image represents overcoming the challenges involved with a new camera and imaging software early on.

Long Exposure DSLR version (6 hours)

We’re not comparing apples to apples at this point.  I have only been able to test the individual image quality and noise characteristics of the 183C thus far.  For comparison purposes, here is the Crescent nebula in HaRGB using my modified DSLR and almost 6 hours worth of data.

The Crescent Nebula using my DSLR

NGC 6888 in HaRGB using a DSLR

Image Details:

RGB Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 45 Minutes (55 x 180″)
Ha Total Exposure: 3 Hours, 4 Minutes (37 x 300″)

The difference is that the overall image quality is actually much better in the images shot using the 20MP Hypercam 183C. With enough exposure time, I could produce a much higher-resolution version of the Crescent Nebula.  I would have to include data in h-alpha with the Altair camera as well, of course.

Overall, I am extremely impressed with the Hypercams deep sky image quality.  The background sky was smooth and free of virtually any noise. Processing the image in Photoshop was a pleasure thanks to the smooth, detailed image produced in a relatively short integration period.

For my second test, I pushed the IMX183C sensor to its limits…

M27: The Dumbbell Nebula

The deep sky object of my first APT test was the ever so bright and satisfying dumbbell nebula. I often recommend trying M27 early on in your astrophotography ventures as this planetary nebula comes in at a whopping magnitude 8.1.

On July 5th, the 91% illuminated moon was bright, and the air was hot.  These conditions do not bode well for long exposure astrophotography using a DSLR camera.  My hope was that this would be a great time to test the low noise qualities of the Hypercam.

Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula captured with a Hypercam 183C

Image Details:

Total Exposure: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes (40 x 120″)

Why is it so noisy?

There are several reasons why this image of M27 is rather noisy and “crunchy” compared to my other images.

Gain set too high

I believe the biggest contributing factor was the dangerously high gain setting used throughout the session.  I wanted to push the limits of the Sony IMX183C sensor, and I think I pushed it a little too far.  On a cold imaging session during the winter this may have worked, but not in the middle of summer!

Imaging under a full Moon

Secondly, imaging under a full moon without the use of filters means a general lack of contrast and surface detail when capturing a deep sky object like a nebula.  Pulling the details of M27 forward while taming the background sky glow drastically increases the overall image noise.

Exposure time / light pollution

1 hours worth of data under these conditions is hardly enough to compensate for a bright city sky.  Deep-sky imaging in the city without a light pollution filter means collecting a lot of unwanted light in your images.  This translates to a difficult image processing situation afterward where much of your time is spent balancing the colors of a red/green night sky.

Turn left at Orion

Hypercam 183C Settings and Tips

Here are some helpful pointers for getting up and running your first night out with the Hypercam 183C. I would recommend using SharpCap to control this camera, as it is much more stable. However, so of you may prefer to use APT, and this advice may save you some frustrations.

CMOS sensor camera

Using the Hypercam 183C with Astro Photography Tool

These tips will come in handy only after you have installed the required drivers and Astro Photography Tool has successfully discovered the Hypercam 183C via the ASCOM properties.

  1. Connect your guide camera first, and make sure it is functioning properly. In my case that was the Altair GPCAM2 in PHD2.
  2. Use SharpCap 3.0 to frame and focus your imaging target. The highly sensitive imx183 CMOS sensor makes focusing with a Bahtinov mask ultra responsive and accurate. The same goes for framing your object. Crank to gain up and, and you’ll often spot your DSO in a 4-8 second exposure.
  3. Start your imaging plan with a”fresh connection”. Disconnect the camera on start up, and shift click the connect button. Choose the Hypercam in the camera selector, and confirm your gain setting, and that the fan is turned on!

Without re-applying this step before each imaging sequence, sometimes the sequence would get stuck on the first frame (“busy”).

Debayering in Deep Sky Stacker

The image frames were shot in .FITS format, using the RAW12 color space in SharpCap.  It is worth noting that Deep Sky Stacker will only debayer 16-bit FITS files.  I shot 8-bit files in a previous session and was unable to get color in my stacked image.

The Hypercam 183C uses an RGGB Bayer pattern, which is useful to know when getting ready to register and stack your images.

Whether you are using APT or SharpCap to control the camera, it is imperative to select the full RAW12 color profile mode to ensure you are recording the highest quality image data.

DeepSKyStacker RAW data

Using Astro Photography Tool

After some minor software issues, I am happy to report that the Hypercam183C works well with Astro Photography Tool. This is big news if you are accustomed to applications like BYE or SGP for camera control.

Astro Photography Tool has proven to be a capable and reliable tool when used with a color CMOS camera such as the ASI071MC or Altair Hypercam 183C.

The team at Altair was quick to provide support when I ran into trouble. Once the issue was addressed, an update to the Altair ASCOM driver was made and the 183C responded positively in APT.

Final Thoughts

The Altair Hypercam 183C shows the potential to outperform a modified DSLR camera for deep sky imaging.  The sensor cooling fan is the single biggest advantage, along with a slew of other astronomy-specific qualities.

Astronomy camera

The added conveniences such as better focusing and complete chip sensitivity control are aspects that are only appreciated after several imaging sessions. With an understanding of the SharpCap camera control software, you are well on your way towards countless beautiful deep-sky images with the Hypercam.

It is a shame that much of my time with the 183C was spent tackling early software bugs and not capturing deep-sky images.  This resulted in an example image of the Dumbbell Nebula that does not show the true potential of this color CMOS camera.

Please continue to follow AstroBackyard on YouTube and Facebook for new and improved images using the Altair Hypercam 183C this summer.

Related Articles:

The Rise of CMOS: CMOS Sensors winning the Camera Sensor Battle (TechHive)

CMOS Fundamentals: What exactly is a CMOS Image Sensor? (Siliconimaging.com)

 

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The Altair Hypercam 183C – Color CMOS Sensor Camera

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I am extremely excited to review a new astronomy camera from Altair Astro, the Hypercam 183C.  This is a CMOS color deep sky imaging camera and boasts some impressive astrophotography features out of the box.

Altair Hypercam 183C

I should be receiving the Hypercam as early as next week, and I will be providing a video review of its deep sky imaging capabilities. At under $1000 (CDN), this astronomy camera is a solid contender for those looking for an upgrade to their stock DSLR.

This is an affordable Color CMOS digital camera with impressive astrophotography features.

Thanks to my friends at Ontario Telescope & Accessories, I have been given the opportunity to take some deep sky images using the Hypercam 183C. This Color CMOS CCD Camera will be attached to my Explore Scientific ED102 Telescope for the next month or so.

An Affordable DSLR Alternative

Like many of you, I started my astrophotography journey using a DSLR camera.  My Canon Rebel was very user-friendly.  It was easy enough to start taking photos of the night sky using a DSLR once I had the basics down.

Using a DSLR for astrophotography has its shortcomings, but they are more than capable of producing stunning deep sky photos. The variations of lenses and types of imaging possible mean that I will always shoot with a DSLR, in some way or another.

However, dedicated astronomy cameras such as the Hypercam make the deep sky imaging experience even easier.  The precision control of the CMOS sensor is designed for capturing starlight.

DSLR vs. CCD camera




After my experience using the ZWO ASI071 one shot color camera, my eyes have been opened to a new world of astrophotography cameras.  The abilities of a cooled CCD style camera can completely change the way you approach a night of astrophotography.

The seemingly endless sea of astronomy cameras available now are worth investigating if you are looking to upgrade or shift towards CCD imaging.  And that’s where this new color camera from Altair Astro comes in.

Meet the Altair Hypercam 183C

If you follow Altair Astro on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that their team is continuously adding new products and providing new astrophotography solutions for backyard imagers.  So far, I have only seen the Hypercam 183C in use by the talented Gary Palmer on his Facebook Page.

The images Gary has been able to produce using this CMOS camera are promising. He was nice enough to give me a few pointers on using the Hypercam 183C, and I can’t wait to put them into action.

Here are some example photos captured using the Altair Hypercam 183C:

Hypercam 183C

Deep Sky Astrophotography with the Hypercam 183C by Gary Palmer

Messier 27

This photo is 20 x 180-second subs using the Hypercam 183C with matching dark frames subtracted.  Captured in SharpCap using a TMB 130mm telescope.

Messier 81

This photo is 6 x 180-second subs using the Hypercam 183C.  Captured in SharpCap using a TMB 130mm telescope.

Follow Gary Palmer’s Astrophotography Facebook Page.

A Color CMOS Camera from Altair

The Hypercam 183C uses a 20MP Sony IMX183 sensor.  This sensor is used a number of astronomy cameras such as the QHY183C.  The advantage Altair has against its competitors is the fantastic customer support and dedication to their customers.

With the built in ST4 port, the Hypercam 183C can also be used an autoguiding camera through a guide scope. I currently use the Altair GPCAM2 Mono AR130 for this purpose, so I will not be testing the Hypercam for autoguiding.

Altair Hypercam

Software such as AltairCapture and SharpCap continue to deliver amazing results and are constantly updated and fine-tuned to enhance your imaging experience.

I have gotten to know the team at Altair over the past few months and they are the real deal.  They stand behind their products and are true amateur astrophotographers at heart.

I already use the Altair GPCAM AR0130 / Starwave 50mm Autoguiding package and am very satisfied with the results I have been getting.

IMX183 Camera

M13 using the IMX183 by Gary Palmer

Impressive Features / Affordable Price

Altair Hypercam 183C CMOS Camera

In a nutshell, the Altair Hypercam 183C is a 20 Megapixel astronomy camera with built in amp glow reduction and low read noise.  This spec sheet for this camera states that it is capable of producing extremely smooth, detailed images.

Unlike the more expensive ASI071MC-Cool, the IMX183 CMOS camera does not include 2-stage TEC cooling. The difference this will make to my long exposure deep sky images is yet to be seen.

Over the next few weeks, I will put these claims to the test as I shoot a number of deep sky objects. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons DSLR astrophotographers should give this camera a good look:

Modified for astrophotography

Unlike a stock DSLR camera, the Hypercam does not have an IR cut filter that blocks red hydrogen wavelengths.  This means that the images produced are similar to a DSLR camera that has been astro-modded.

Low Read Noise

The highly sensitive IMX183 CMOS sensor housed in the Hypercam boasts a wide dynamic range with a low dark current.  I am very interested to see the noise levels from this camera when shooting on a hot summer night in the backyard.

Pixel Size for Refractors

The Hypercam was built for telescopes like mine.  With a pixel size of 2.4um, and a sensor size of 16.5 x 12.61mm, this camera will perform best on F/7 refractors or faster.  My ED102 is F/7 with a 0.8X reducer, making the Hypercam 183C a perfect match.





Hypercam 183C Specs

This information is directly from the manufacturer.  For a good look at this Color CMOS camera in action, stay tuned to the AstroBackyard YouTube Channel.

  • 1″ diagonal (15.86mm) SONY Exmor R Back Side Illuminated IMX183 Color CMOS sensor
  • 20mp resolution with 5440 x 3648 active pixels in a 16.05mm x 12.61mm array
  • Extremely low read noise
  • Amp glow reduction technology onboard reduces amp glow, reduces noise, and increases contrast.
  • High Dynamic Range with 12 bit ADC to 16bit output .FITS files in RAW mode
  • Up to 17.5 Frames per second video in full 20mp resolution

IMX183 CMOS Sensor

Electronic Assisted Astronomy

Whether you are into visual observing or short exposure “lucky-imaging”, EAA (Electronic Assisted Astronomy) is becoming more popular each year.  Products such as the Hypercam 183C or the Mallincam have changed the way we observe the night sky.

This camera is EAA friendly, meaning that video astronomy is well within its reach when using the Live Stacking feature in AltairCapture or SharpCap PRO.

This camera was primarily designed for multiple exposure deep sky imaging, rather than planetary astrophotography.  This camera is outperformed by more inexpensive models for lunar and planet imaging.

New Astrophotography Images Coming…

Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Hypercam and to start capturing images in the backyard.  With the New Moon phase approaching, the timing is perfect to start photographing some Spring Milky Way targets.

Astrophotography Telescope

The plan is to shoot long exposures in the range of about 2-3 minutes using the new camera.  I will attempt to control the camera using Astro Photography Tool and document my results.  If you are looking to purchase a new imaging camera soon, my upcoming review of the Hypercam 183C may affect your decision!

To stay up to date with my experiences using the Altair Hypercam 183C please follow AstroBackyard on Facebook, and subscribe to my YouTube Channel to get notified when I release the video.  Until next time, clear skies!

Ontario Telescope and Accessories

Looking to upgrade your astrophotography equipment?  Be sure to check out the selection from my partner, Ontario Telescope and Accessories.

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