The camera and software is an amazing combination which augments the human eyeball and brain God created for us. There is truly nothing as wonderful as using a traditional eye to view the heavens. Same with viewing the sky with an eyepiece in a telescope. But there a limit to what we can see with this biological equipment.
With a camera and software, we can see faint and distant objects with clarity in full color from light-polluted skies. These same objects would be impossible to detect without electronic equipment.
In this lesson we will introduce you to the camera and it’s associated software: MallincamSky.
The cameras are manufactured by Mallincam (@ Mallincam.com). We have chosen this equipment because of their excellent price, full feature set and amazing support by the Mallincam company and the Mallincam User Group at Yahoo. Try them. Seriously. Amazing.
The cameras we use are:
- Mallincam SkyRaider AG 1.2 for nighttime viewing of DSOs (Deep Sky Objects), Planets and the Moon
- Mallincam SkyRaider SLP for daytime viewing of the Sun. FYI, SLP stands for, “Solar, Lunar, Planet”
These are true video cameras which also function as traditional “cameras” or “imagers”. That is, their primary function is to output high quality “live” (or at least nearly-live) video feeds from which you can also capture individual frames as single images. You can either enjoy the live show in real-time or process the video stack later for enhancing the stream to a single image.
When you log into the MallincamSky software you will see:
- SkyRaider AG 1.2 #1 which is attached to the 152mm refractor
- SkyRaider AG 1.2 #2 which is attached to the 80mm refractor guide scope
- SkyRaider SLP which is attached to a 100mm dedicated solar refractor
We will quickly cover the basics of producing an image with the SkyRaider software with these two cameras.
Essentially, everything in astrophotography, and indeed in all backyard astronomy, is a trade-off to get the best image you can that pleases YOU. For instance, you may choose one setting that enhances your ability to see a faint object but the trade-off is a grainy image. That may please your desire to explore space and conquer great distances, but you may not want to brag about how “pretty” the image is. Conversely, you may create a beautiful artistic image of your central target but to do so you had to create a light gray background around the object rather than have that nice inky blackness of deep space. Experiment. Learn. Have fun. Fail often only to get it right next time.
Use different combinations of features to see what works best. And remember that what works on one night might not work the same on another night. For instance, if there is no moon and you like a certain feature set to capture that galaxy, the next week when try again but the Moon is full you may find the image is horrendous.
1) SELECT YOUR FIELD OF VIEW (FOV)
Choose Camera & Scope t0 Select FOV
|PROS152mm: Higher magnification; narrower FOV |
PROS 80mm: Lower magnification; wider FOV
PROS SLP: This is for solar imaging only
SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS: To change from one camera to the next, double-click on the Preview Window Tab that has the current camera name on it. This closes the camera. Then select your new camera.
AG 1.2 #1 (152mm Refractor)
AG 1/2 #2 (80mm Guide Scope)
2) SELECT YOUR SENSITIVITY to LIGHT
|PROS: Increases sensitivity; shortens exposures |
CONS: Produces graininess
RECOMMENDATION: Moderate (15-20); Experiment to find the best combination of GAIN, EXPOSURE & GAMMA
|PROS: Shorter exposures make stars round and crisp |
CONS: Longer exposures make star images oblong
RECOMMENDATIONS: On this equipment exposures up to 45 seconds are solid. However, by using STACKING you can frequently shoot many objects at only 5-10 second exposures. Experiment to find the best combination of GAIN, EXPOSURE & GAMMA
|PROS: Dramatically increases the sensitivity of the camera thereby decreasing exposure times |
CONS: Dramatically decreases the size of your image and the graininess of your image
RECOMMENDATIONS: I rarely use 3×3 or 4×4 as the images become too small on the screen to see comfortably, however, if you REALLY want to see that super faint galaxy no matter how nasty the image looks, then go for it! Sometimes the conquest is more important than the artistry.
3) ADJUST YOUR COLORS
|COLOR BALANCE||PROS: Keeps colors in pleasing balance so they don’t look too Red, Green or Blue |
CONS: Poorly balanced colors, “look funny”
RECOMMENDATIONS: Use the “WHITE BALANCE” button; you can see the effect in the HISTOGRAM by how the Red/Green/Blue curves match up. If you like a particular setting make sure you save the settings using the PARAMETERs feature.
|PROS: Maximizes the artistry of the image in Deep Sky Object, Lunar, Planetary and Solar work. Change these settings looking at both what you see in the monitor and what you see in the HISTOGRAM feature. You want smooth curves in the HISTOGRAM that peak around 100. |
CONS: Be aware of setting CONTRAST or SATURATION or HUE too high or too out-of-balance with each other.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Once you find settings you like, save them using the PARAMETERs feature. I have pre-loaded both SOLAR and a DSO (Deep Sky Object) parameter I like based on my experience with the equipment. Experiment but don’t overwrite my files. 🙂
COLOR / GRAY
|PROS: COLOR is always a crowd-pleaser; GRAY may have more contrast making a dim object easier to see |
RECOMMENDATIONS: I like COLOR; Experiment
4) ADJUST YOUR DARKS & WHITES
|PROS: Makes the darks dark, the whites whiter and the colors more vibrant; |
CONS: Using “Auto” generally sets the right slider too far to the right
RECOMMENDATIONS: Set your other image settings (GAIN and/or EXPOSURE and/or GAMMA) such that the peak of the HISTOGRAM CURVES are around 100. Then slide the LEFT value to the base of the curve. I like the RIGHT slider all the way to the right or only slightly left from the right.
|PROS: Makes your blacks blacker giving you darker deep space skies |
CONS: Sliding the bar to the right produces more gray in your blacks
RECOMMENDATIONS: I have not found a reason yet to use any value other than maximum to the left (darkest darks)
|PROS: HCG makes the camera more sensitive to see dimmer objects; LCG makes the color spread wider (darker darks, whiter whites) which gives a pleasing image |
CONS: HCG makes the darks more gray and the colors not as vibrant; LCG makes the camera not as sensitive so dimmer objects are more difficult to see
RECOMMENDATIONS: Experiment on each object