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Old 30-10-2007, 12:11 PM
steveduncan
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Teacher in need of advice

Hi there.

I teach at a small high school. We have purchased a 10" dobson telescope and I have had a great year with a small group of enthusiastic students observing through it. I would like to get into imaging and have had one attempt at handheld afocal imaging with a digital camera (avi file and then used registax) with reasonably pleasing, if a little blurry, results.

I love the idea of a webcam/CCD set up and have been considering getting a Meade LPI, as it is fairly cheap and comes with software that I hope will be reasonably easy for the students to use. I don't think I'm at a level where I can modify a Toucam - or would this be better? (Not even sure where to get one)

Would an LPI be a good choice? Would I be better with a Celestron Neximage or should I splash out on an Imaging Source camera? (Which is quite a bit more expensive and would require a bit more fundraising.)

Bear in mind that I'm not after the world's best images, just ones that would impress my students, other teachers and me, and with software that is fairly easy to use (not too many steps). Also am really only thinking of lunar and planetary stuff as I can't guide the telescope.

Am I mad for trying to do this with a Dobson? (I have read the excellent article in this site though and like I said I had a reasonable effort with my earlier attempt with a digital camera).

Thanks in advance for your help/advice.

Stephen
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Old 30-10-2007, 01:01 PM
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ballaratdragons (Ken)
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Hi Stephen,

If you are only going to be imaging Planetary/Lunar, then you don't have to modify the Toucam.

It is only when you want to do Long Exposure Deep Sky imaging that the modification is necessary.

Go ahead and buy a Toucam. It works fantastic on Lunar/Planetary. It is also the cheapest option.
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Old 30-10-2007, 01:18 PM
Dennis
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Hi Stephen

I used the Meade LPI to launch me into the fascinating, rewarding and challenging past time of Lunar & Planetary imaging and spent over 12 months using it before I moved up to the ToUcam 840K, where I dallied for a further 12 months or so, before finally taking the plunge and upgrading to a DMK21AF04.AS cdd camera.

This staged approach allowed me to confirm that I wanted to pursue high resolution Lunar and Planetary imaging and build up my knowledge and techniques gradually, without the major investment of jumping in with the DMK from day 1.

However, if you know that you and your pupils are going to “get into” Lunar and Planetary imaging, there is a strong case for starting off with the DMK, although it is a Black & White camera only. This is okay for the Moon, but for the Planets, requires colour filters and more advanced image processing to produce the excellent results posted by the imagers here on IIS.

Here is my quick take on each camera:

Meade LPI.
  • Low/Medium cost.
  • Software relatively easy to use. Comes with star charts, processing software, etc.
  • Colour images.
  • Instant results.
  • Images are relatively small in terms of file size.
  • USB.
  • Out-of-the-box set up, operation and instant results.
ToUcam.
  • Medium cost.
  • Capture software e.g. K3CCDTools requires more of a learning curve.
  • Colour images.
  • Need to master additional processing software such as Registax.
  • No instant results – image files (AVI’s) need to be processed in Registax, usually the morning after you have had time to grab some sleep.
  • Image files (AVI’s) are typically 1 GB in size requiring large capacity hard discs.
  • USB.
  • Requires an adapter to connect the ToUcam to the focuser.
DMK21AF04.
  • High cost.
  • Capture software IC Capture requires more of a learning curve.
  • Black & White images (okay for the Moon).
  • Requires the use of colour filters for colour images of the Planets.
  • Need to master additional processing software such as Registax.
  • No instant results – image files (AVI’s) need to be processed in Registax, usually the morning after you have had time to grab some sleep.
  • Image files (AVI’s) are typically 1 GB in size requiring large capacity hard discs.
  • USB.
  • Requires an adapter to connect the DMK to the focuser.
  • Requires a Firewire connection, although I understand a USB2 model has been launched recently.
  • The colour equivalent of the DMK is the DBK21AF04.AS.
General notes:
  • I really liked the instant results from the LPI – I suspect this is more important that obtaining the best image quality based on processing the AVI’s from the ToUcam and DMK some time after having acquired them?
  • All 3 cameras have relatively small chips and this makes it quite challenging to find objects such as the Planets, frame them and keep them on the chip – be prepared for some level of frustration.
  • The Meade LPI offers the combination of ease of use, colour and instant results at the time of image capture.
  • Finding and framing the Planets on the CCD chip can be quite challenging for all 3 cameras. Their chips are relatively small.
  • Focusing the image is a challenging task too, and in my experience, required the same effort for each camera.
  • The learning curve for operating the LPI, ToUcam (K3CCDTools) and DMK (IC Capture) are probably quite similar? Start off with the Moon – an easy and instantly rewarding target.
  • I think there is a mis-match between the DMK and an undriven DOB. It’s a bit like using a Ferrari to haul hay on the farm?
  • I have only ever used a German Equatorial Mount that has motor drives, making my personal experience as easy as it can get. Using an undriven DOB will require a lot of effort and patience – I suspect it will not be easy and results will be quite varied.
As always, these are the experience of one person and as we are all so very different, my findings may not match those of others. All 3 cameras will show you stunning, live images on the computer screen. The DMK will be B&W. The Meade LPI is the only one that can stack, process and finish the image in real time and display the finished results. This might be a key factor for pupils, teachers and parents who may become involved in the project?

Cheers

Dennis

PS - Whoops – forgot to say Welcome to Ice In Space!
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Old 30-10-2007, 01:26 PM
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ballaratdragons (Ken)
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Here come the debates

I have to reverse Dennis's comments.

I get instant images from the Toucam (using the supplied software) and ease of use. Also the cheapest camera.

The Meade DSI is not and out of the box simple camera to use. It takes some learning. And costs more than the Toucam.

I know nothing about the DMK, so I can't comment. The dearest option.
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  #5  
Old 30-10-2007, 01:30 PM
Dennis
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ballaratdragons View Post
The Meade DSI is not and out of the box simple camera to use. It takes some learning. And costs more than the Toucam.
Is DSI a typo, that is, did you mean to write LPI as I was describing the LPI?

Cheers

Dennis
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Old 30-10-2007, 03:56 PM
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A couple of other points of interest.
  • Both the DMK and the LPI (to a lesser degree) can be used to image deepsky objects if you have tracking and can make use of the longer exposures available (60 min for the DMK and 15 or 16 sec for the LPI).
  • The DBK comes in colour as well so you can get the best of both world of fast frame rate and colour so you don't have to muck around with filters (which bring additional cost in filters and filter wheel.
  • I belive the new DBK style cameras now come in USB 2.0. I doubt if the frame rates will ever match the firewire version, but at least it is plug and play if you don't already have 6 pin firewire on you laptop.

From a purely personal perspective, I couldn't wait to get away from the LPI, I found the ToUcam far easier to use and produced a more pleasing result...but I will admit I didn't persevere with the LPI for very long.

btw I'm wrapped in my mono firewire DMK. It is a great little camera. Very versatile
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Old 30-10-2007, 04:28 PM
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I started out with the Celestron NexImage camera. I then moved on to the ToUcam. Now, I'm spending an increasing amount of time with the DMK.

All I'll say about the NexImage is it's a nice, easy way to start out. Everything you need is right there in the box...and it's just a case of installing the software on your laptop...plugging in the camera and away you go.

Having said that, the results are not as good as the ToUcam (IMO), which really isn't that much harder to operate...if indeed it is harder to operate.

The DMK??? Well that's another beast entirely and another step up from the ToUcam in terms of quality, which is a step up from the NexImage.

DMK = Great camera, great capture software, but (as the guys have pointed out) there's a lot more processing involved if you buy the mono (black and white) version and intend to create colour images (of the planets).

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for...and the results are usually directly proportional to the time and effort you are willing to invest.

To cut to the chase, I'd highly recommend you get yourself a ToUcam, 1.25" adapter, IR/UV filter and download K3CCDTools and Registax (capture and processing software).

Good luck with your decision.
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Old 30-10-2007, 04:34 PM
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ballaratdragons (Ken)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis View Post
Is DSI a typo, that is, did you mean to write LPI as I was describing the LPI?

Cheers

Dennis
Oops!!!!

Sorry Dennis, you are correct. I misread the LPI as DSI! All I really saw was 'Meade' with some letters after it

In thay case you are certainly correct but I still think the Toucam is better.

I'll go hide in the corner now
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Old 30-10-2007, 05:13 PM
Dennis
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No worries Ken, I figured as much - I'm just glad that I didn't go down the DSI path now! LOL.

Dennis
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Old 30-10-2007, 06:56 PM
steveduncan
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Thanks for the replies and advice (and the welcome, Dennis!)

I think this community is great - full of helpful people and very useful resources. I am constantly amazed (and a bit jealous) at the amount of gear some people won. Still I am thankful that our PTA provided the money for our 10" dob. I (and our club members) are still continuing to see new and amazing sights. Now I just have to convince my wife that we need to get a 10" SCT (and that we don't need another car/trip/house extension/food etc )

While the physicist in me would love to get the DMK + filters and do imaging properly, I guess the Toucam or the LPI are the way I'll go. On one hand I like the idea of the LPI being more instant and perhaps more accessible to a 14-15yr old, but on the other I like the idea of collecting the images during one observation evening and then spending some lunchtimes processing the results etc.. So maybe the Toucam + Registax.

Where can I get the Toucam? (We don't have it in NZ to my knowledge)
How easy is it to attach to a telescope?
Can the LPI be used with Registax (And would it be worth it?)
Has anyone done this with a 14-15yr old? (Any school pupils reading this?)

Thanks again

Stephen
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Old 30-10-2007, 07:39 PM
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You can get ToUcam off ebay, but here in Australia most people I believe get them from Telescope-Astronomy.com. Scroll down the page and click the link. Matthew also supplies the 1.25" adapters required to insert the ToUcam into the eyepiece holder of the telescope.

Yes you can use the LPI images with Registax. You just need to save all images and uncheck the "Combine" option.

Oh btw while you can autoguide using an LPI with the Meade software, the ToUcam is much more versatile with other freeware autoguiding programs if at some point you decide to go down that pathway.

You will also notice on the Astronomy-Telescope site they supply the DMK as well.

I do some volunteer work at the Mapleton School and Community Observatory and have had a number of young people involved in planetary and Luna imaging. Some of these school children are still only in primary school. I am also involved with the Science teachers from Beerwah High School who have just purchased equipment for planetary and deep sky imaging. They are aiming primarily for the year 11 and 12 physics classes.

Plus do a search in the Solar System section of the forum (advanced search for Chrissyo> Threads started by> Solar System) for Chrissyo and see the images being put out there over the past couple of years. Chrissyo has only just started Uni this year.

Also be sure to check out the How To of iceman's Astrophotography with a Dob

Good luck and have fun. Keep the questions flowing.
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Old 30-10-2007, 11:15 PM
Dennis
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Hi Stephen

Not too sure how tight funds are, or how important other astro things are such as planetarium programs, but when I purchased my Meade LPI (2-3 years ago?) it came with bundled Meade astro software called “AutostarSuite” which included a Planetarium program. I believe that “AutostarSuite” has now been superseded by “Envisage”?

I never used the Planetarium part of “AutostarSuite” so I cannot comment on how useful it is, or whether you should really consider this as part of your key selection criteria in your decision making process.

Registax if a free program. K3CCDTools comes free in a basic release and costs a nominal amount for a more functional full release.

Cheers

Dennis
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Old 31-10-2007, 12:23 PM
steveduncan
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I am thinking about the Toucam a bit more now but I'm not sure about adding the adapter. Also it is costing more for the toucam+adapter. (about $145+32 compared with $149 for the LPI)

I am familiar with Registax (a little anyway). I have also got KC3CCD and have tried using it with a sanyo security camera but couldn't get a decent image (the camera i think was the problem. I did see moon features but quite washed out and blurry and I couldn't seem to improve it)

Is the Neximage a CMOS chip like the LPI? Does it's software include Registax? (did I read that somewhere?). Which version of the Toucam should I get? (there seem to be a couple)

I'm waiting for an OK money-wise from my HOD. I think under $200 nz dollars (I suppose about $180 australian) should be ok. (Fingers crossed)

(If these can be used in microscopes it will be an easier sell as he is a Biology teacher. I think we need a good microscope imager as the Sanyo camera above is a little complicated and needs to plug into another box to get the signal to the pc. Also the software is not very good.)


Stephen
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Old 31-10-2007, 12:33 PM
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I bought my SPC900NC from JPL Displays and it was around the $120 mark delivered to Sydney (link below). Super fast service and I can highly recommend them. Then all you need is the adaptor and you are up and running.

http://www.jpldisplays.com.au/catalo...oducts_id=3284

Good luck and clear skies.
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Old 31-10-2007, 12:57 PM
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iceman (Mike)
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THe ToUcam is far better than the LPI - you really need to start with the ToUcam. The extra cost is minimal and the results are superior.

You can get the adapter from Mogg Adapters.

Welcome to IIS!
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Old 31-10-2007, 02:21 PM
steveduncan
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I think I've decided I'll probably get the SPC900NC (Thanks for the link Wayne) and an adapter from Mogg adapters. That seems the best way to go.

Thanks to everyone for the advice (and the welcome Mike. Thanks for the helpful articles too. I've read and re-read them several times over the last few months I as I've been working out what I can do with imaging from our Dob.)

One last question. Is an IR filter important for planetary/lunar imaging. (For that matter is any other filter useful - even for visual observing)?
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Old 31-10-2007, 05:13 PM
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If you want to use it with a microscope, you can, either by removing the eyepiece and getting an adapter to fit into the eyepiece holder (Steve Mogg could probably make you one) or by leaving the lens on the ToUcam and doing it afocally. Now that would be an exercise in frustration.
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