My friends over at Ontario Telescope & Accessories have sent me a new Altair GPCAM2 AR0130 Mono autoguiding camera and 50mm Starwave guide scope to use with my astrophotography setup. In this post, I’ll give you an early look at this practical autoguiding solution for deep sky astrophotography.
If you are doing some research into a new auto guiding setup to take longer exposures with your DSLR astrophotography camera, this review should show you what to expect when using this Mono sensor camera from Altair Astro.
Autoguiding for Deep Sky Astrophotography
If you are lucky enough to own a high-end 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.
Autoguiding provides longer exposures with more detail and sharp stars.
Whether you are connecting a DSLR camera body, or a dedicated astronomy camera to your telescope, your equatorial mount is capable of long exposure images of up to 5 minutes or more with autoguiding. The good news is, adding this powerful feature to your existing rig can be affordable, and that’s where the Altair GPCAM2 comes in.
An Overdue Upgrade
For the last few years, I have been using a Meade DSI Pro II CCD camera through an Orion Mini 50mm Guide Scope to auto guide my telescope mount. This was connected to the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 with a GPUSB cable from Shoestring Astronomy, and controlled via my laptop computer using a free software called PHD2 guiding.
The biggest headache with this system was the lack of sensitivity of the camera sensor. This lead to long and drawn-out calibration periods in PHD2 guiding that would often result in a calibration error. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for your autoguiding system to kick-in as a clear night sky advances overhead.
Thankfully, I have been presented with a new option for my autoguiding needs. My good friends at Ontario Telescope have sent me the Altair GPCAM2, and a Starwave 50mm Guide Scope.
Altair GPCAM2 Review
This is an attractive combination for astrophotographers wishing to build an effective, yet affordable autoguiding system for their deep sky imaging rig. 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 means that I no longer need to use the GPUSB adapter cable (which frees up a USB slot), and only one cable is required between the computer and the camera. The less cables to trip on around my portable setup, the better!
The GPCAM2 autoguiding camera is smaller and more lightweight than my previous Orion guide camera. Reducing the overall weight of your imaging rig has its advantages. The rather bulky proportions of the Meade DSI camera often caused me to bump my headlamp against it while looking through the telescope eyepiece.
Video: GPCAM2 Autoguiding Camera and Telescope
The images through PHD2 guiding are ultra smooth with no visible noise (depending on the gamma setting used). It is amazing to see deep-sky objects appear in live-view using a 1-2 second refresh rate.
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 dedicated astronomy cameras.
Altair GPCAM2 AR0130 Mono Specs
- Sensor Size: 1/3″ (4.8×3.6mm)
- Pixel size in microns: 3.75×3.75 um
- Resolution in pixels: 1280 x 960
- Cooling: Air-Cooled large surface area body
- USB port: USB2.0 High-speed Port
This very capable little camera uses a small 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 CCD filters in the coming months, to use with this camera and future narrowband astrophotography adventures. The first filter will likely be a light pollution filter such as the Baader Moon and Skyglow Filter.
Now that you’ve got an idea what this camera is all about, we can take a look at the guide scope that is part of this complete Autoguiding Solution from Altair Astro.
Starwave 50mm Guide Scope
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 sturdy mini refractor telescope for autoguiding is a pleasure. This small, lightweight 50mm scope fit into my existing tube rings that previously housed my Orion model.
If your telescope already includes finder scope rings for a 50-60mm finder scope, you will not need to purchase any additional mounting gear! Have a look at the configuration on my astrophotography setup in the backyard.
The brass compression ring at the focusing end of this scope held the Altair GPCAM2 snug and securely. The CS-mount adapter with the built-in clear optical window remains thread to the GPCAM2 at all times. I used the included 1.25″ x 20mm threaded nosepiece to reach focus with the Starwave telescope.
I keep the camera attached to the Starwave 50mm Guide Scope at all times, and the focus remains razor sharp every single time I power up the GPCAM2 in PHD2 Guiding for a new imaging session. I rarely make any adjustments to the focus using the helical focuser, and when I do they are small, rigid movements that lock into place.
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.
I hope that this Altair GPCAM2 review has given you an idea of what to expect when using this autoguiding setup. Since acquiring this setup earlier this year, I have successfully used to it to photograph many new deep-sky objects. I have saved countless hours of frustration due to the simplicity and reliability of this autoguiding combo.
The Altair GPCAM2 allows you to spend more time capturing quality images, and less time worrying about graphs and lengthy calibration cycles.
Coming Soon: ASI071MC-Cool
My recent partnership with OTA means getting an opportunity to try out different imaging products. The most exciting product I will be reviewing is a ZWO ASI071 One-shot-color astrophotography camera.
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 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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