Edition number thirteen appears to have passed without bringing any bad luck, so here is the fourteenth Atik newsletter. Our first main article is a report on this year’s Advanced Imaging Conference in San José, California, but before that here are a few snippets of news.
The new 4-Series cameras have now entered production. A large number of these cameras have already been pre-ordered, and the first batch has now been shipped to our dealers.
We’ve had lots of positive comments about the new website; please let us know if you think it could be improved even further: we’d like it to be both a pleasure to use and a very convenient source of product and support information.
Have you ever wondered how an Atik EFW2 filterwheel is made? Well, Rui is working on a short movie that documents the process, which starts with the casing and carousel being machined out of a solid piece of aluminium. Keep an eye on the videos
channel on our website, where it will be appearing soon.
Thank you to everyone who has entered the Atik 2011/2012 imaging competition; it’s early days still, but we’re hoping to beat the 224 entries we had last time round so please keep the pictures coming in. Remember to send entries in jpeg format, please, to Competition@atik-cameras.com, and include details of camera type, telescope, object and your name. For further details please see the Atik imaging competition page. We know we are being a little slow in getting the entries on the website, but expect a sudden burst of activity in a few days.
Have you ever wondered how Atik Cameras came into being? See later in the newsletter for a very interesting article in which Rui describes the origins of the company and how they were bound up with the emergence of CCDs into the amateur astronomy market.
Advanced Imaging Conference 2011
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit San José and the Advanced Imaging Conference again this year. It’s an annual get-together aimed at the high end of our hobby. Speakers included Ron Wodaski, who described his current project making a professional-class telescope available to students, Ron Goldman talking about narrow band imaging, and Alex Filippenko speaking on black holes, to name but three. This year’s presentations are not online yet but those from 2004 to 2010 are available. If you ever have a spare hour or so this archive is well worth dipping into.
On the Atik trade stand we displayed the new Series-4 cameras, which drew a lot of attention along with the Atik 383L+ plus EFW2 filterwheel package. Many thanks to everyone who came and chatted to us, and to our new Atik owners.
I also managed to squeeze in a few hours’ sightseeing in the area – well it’s a long way to travel and not visit some of the attractions. I must say that the Lick Observatory was very well worth the visit. The drive up is fantastic and the friendly welcome and tour were great.
Atik Origins (Part I)
A long time ago, there was a change in technology that revolutionized astroimaging: the birth of the Charge Coupled Device, or CCD. This allowed the creation of new devices, not only having higher sensitivity than film, but also having the ability to do very long exposures without losing any of it (the old Reciprocity Failure problem). But there was a problem. Until late in the 20th century, CCD-based astronomy cameras were extremely expensive, even low-end models, making them inaccessible to the vast
majority of the amateur community. The technology was there, but there wasn’t a market big enough to make mass production a reality, which could bring the prices down: a Catch 22 situation.
But something was changing. A few experiments were done by some people late in the nineties around a popular webcam at the time, the Connectix QuickCam, which was the first astrophotography-capable webcam on the market (actually, the first mass
marketed webcam). This led to the formation of some of the most prolific newsgroups in the world, like QCUIAG, where ideas were exchanged by very bright people at a very fast pace. The foundation was laid.
But the real revolution was about to start. Around 2002, when the Philips TouCam Pro was being sold, another bright guy named Stephen Chambers (someone you may know), got one of these cameras and discovered a way to modify it to allow for the long
exposures needed for deep-sky imaging. This camera image sensor was the excellent Sony ICX098AQ VGA-sized sensor, and did have lower noise characteristics that planetary imagers already were enjoying, making it just about perfect for the job. Since the modification involved some electronics knowledge, yet another bright guy named Rui Tripa (that you may also know) thought about the possibility of selling the cameras already modified through his infant astro gear retail store, Perseu. With the help of Pedro Mota (another bright guy you may also know), modified TouCams were being delivered to astro imagers throughout Europe for the incredible price of 180 Euros (about 165 USD at the time). Never before was astrophotography so affordable! The original camera was being sold in the TouCam “egg” shaped case, with a lateral switch that controlled the long exposure mode and a second cable to control exposure triggering (Parallel Port). But there were limitations to this approach, as the heat buildup inside the plastic “egg” generated a lot of noise in the images, eventually limiting the exposure duration to less than a minute, especially on hot nights. Although people were extremely happy with the modded TouCams, we thought that we could do better.
By mid-late 2003, some experiments were being done with a new case that included an air cooling method, with a fan forcing air through the electronics of the TouCam. This simple system led to much improved noise characteristics, permitting exposures of a few minutes. Additionally, the inconvenience of the dual cable approach was replaced by a single thicker still basically a TouCam, but the improvements were so substantial that we decided to rebrand it differently.
By the end of 2003, and after much discussion, “Atik Instruments” was born! The rest is history that will make for another story. 😉
Just a quick note on the software. We have made some improvements which are intended to make our software as simple as possible to install and maintain: there is now a single master CD which is common to all of our products, and a new core
software installer which installs all the application software, including ASCOM drivers, manuals and Dawn. This is available on the downloads page of our website.
Development is currently concentrating on adding some new object-acquisition features to Capture, including a planetarium-style object-finder. The eventual goal is to provide enough facilities to control a basic observing session, including control of both an imager and a guide camera, within the one program.
Finally, I don’t want to give too much away, but another piece of work currently in the pipeline is aimed at supporting a new Atik camera model.
Here’s an image of the Pleiades taken by Vince using the Atik remote observatory. It comprises 2 hours’ luminance and 45 minutes in each of RGB, all in 5-minute subs, and was taken with an Atik 383L+ camera on a Tak 106FSQ. This and other images can be viewed online on Vince’s website.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the newsletter. If you wish to receive future copies by email, or if you have any comments, please send me an email.
With best wishes from all of us at Atik Cameras.