Last weekend saw the return of European Astrofest, and our yearly jaunt down to Kensington Town Hall. It was another great year, and fantastic to meet so many existing and aspiring astrophotographers.
One of the biggest and most obvious reasons for attending astronomy shows around the world is it gives us a real chance to talk to people about our cameras.
There’s undoubtedly a lot to consider when choosing a CCD camera for astrophotography. Spending time talking to people and finding their ideal match reminded us of a few top tips when it comes to finding the right astronomy camera for you. So, fresh from Astrofest, here are some of the key questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking about a new camera.
1. What are your goals?
Are you looking to take pictures that will rival Hubble, or just look a little further than your eyes can see? What you want to get out of imaging the night sky can have a big effect on the best camera for you. If you’re looking for a simple, easy way to make the most of a clear sky, at the scope and without the post-processing, then the Atik Infinity may be the ideal camera for you. But if you’re going for the next APOD, you might be better off looking at the higher end of our 4-series, like the Atik 460EX, or going large format with an Atik 16200.
2. What do you want to image?
It’s easy to assume that bigger is always better and look straight towards the extra real estate of the KAI/KAF based sensors. If your goal is widefield views, and sprawling emission nebula, then you may well be in the right place. But the extreme low noise characteristics of our Sony-based cameras can have a number of advantages, particularly if you’re main interest is in galaxies, and planetary nebulae.
3. Mono or colour?
We’ve covered this in much more depth in our Mono vs. Colour article, but this is such an important decision, we had to include it here. In summary, mono cameras give you much more flexibility and the possibility of working in narrowband, as well as being more suitable for scientific techniques such as spectroscopy and photometry. However, colour cameras are a convenient way to gather RGB data, and mean you don’t need additional filters and filter wheels. They’re also the most popular choice for video astronomy with the Atik Infinity.
4. What will work with your telescope?
If you’re looking for a camera to add to an existing telescope, then getting a good match between the two can really improve the results you’re able to achieve. There are plenty of great field of view calculators available, and other tools like the CCD Suitability Caluculator from Astronomy Tools. These allow you to test the compatibility of your telescope with a variety of cameras and give you a clear idea of what you might be able to expect from a given setup.
Obviously that’s a very brief introduction to the decisions involved, but I hope it provides a good place to start.
As well as all this camera chat, we put up a selection of entries to this year’s Astrophotography Competition, highlighting an image from each and every one of our entrants. It was an impressive display, and hard to believe the quality of the images being taken from amateur setups and observatories.
We also had a model of our soon-to-be-released Atik 16200 camera. Despite it’s imposing appearance compared to slim-fits like the 4-series, most people were surprised at just how light it’s 1.3kg actually feels.
At the other end of the scale, we had an Atik Infinity running on wifi using Atik Air. As anyone who’s attended Astrofest will probably know, internet access in the basement of Kensington Town Hall leaves a little to be desired. So we decided to give an outing to Jeff’s Atik Air installation that allows you to setup an adhoc network on the Raspberry Pi, and we used that to run the Infinity throughout the show. If you have any modifications or suggestions for Atik Air, or any of our software, feel free to add them over on our forum.