Handbook for the Trius-H814
Issue 2 April 2014
The TRIUS-H814 mono CCD camera
The TRIUS-H814 is an advanced, high-resolution one-shot colour, cooled CCD
camera, especially designed for astronomical imaging. It uses a third generation
version of the very popular Sony ‘EXview’ CCDs that offer very high QE and
extremely low thermal noise. It is a substantial upgrade on the SXVR camera range
and incorporates several new features, such as an internal USB hub with 3 external
ports and a dry argon CCD chamber fill. The USB hub permits several other devices
to share the single USB connection and greatly reduces the number of cables required
in a typical set-up. For example, a Lodestar or Superstar guide camera and an SX
filter wheel could use two of the USB ports and the third might connect to an electric
focuser, or similar peripheral. The argon fill, along with other improvements to the
cooler stack, has improved the delta T to about -42 degrees C.
As per the SXVR range, this camera also includes a CCD temperature monitoring
circuit that provides regulated set-point cooling of the chip, adjustable chip alignment
and a very compact overall size.
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The TRIUS-H814 uses a Sony ICX814AL ‘EXview’ progressive scan CCD, with
3388 x 2712 x 3.69uM pixels in a 12.48 x 9.98mm active area. This EXview device
has an excellent quantum efficiency, with a broad spectral response peaking at around
77% in yellow light, and an extremely low dark current, well below that of any
comparable CCD currently available. While this device also has an excellent blue
light sensitivity, it has a strong infra-red response, which makes it ideal for all aspects
of both planetary and deep-sky imaging, especially with an H-alpha filter. The Halpha QE is about 65%, considerably better than other interline chips and even greater
than the popular KAF8300 CCD.
The full-frame download time is approximately 4 seconds and a binned 4x4 download
takes only 0.5 seconds, so finding and centring are very quick and easy in this mode.
Here is a diagram of the connectors to be found on the rear panel of the camera:
Please take a few minutes to study the contents of this manual, which will help you to
get the camera into operation quickly and without problems. I am sure that you want
to see some results as soon as possible, so please move on to the ‘Quick Start’ section,
which follows. A more detailed description of imaging techniques will be found in a
later part of this manual.
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‘Quick Starting’ your TRIUS-H814 system
In the shipping container you will find the following items:
1)
2)
3)
4)
5)
6)
7)
8)
The TRIUS-H814 camera head.
A universal AC power supply module.
A USB camera cable.
An adaptor for 2” drawtubes and M42 Pentax thread lenses.
A guider output to guider port RJ12 lead.
Three short USB leads for connecting to the hub ports.
A 'Y' power lead for connecting the cooling fan.
A disk with the TRIUS-H814C control software and this manual.
You will also need a PC computer with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 installed.
This machine must have at least one USB 2.0 port available and at least 256 Mbytes
of memory. If you intend to view the finished images on its screen, then you will also
need a graphics card capable of displaying an image with a minimum of 1024 x 768
pixels and 24 bit colour. A medium specification Pentium with between 1GHz and
4GHz processor speed is ideal, but I recommend avoiding some of the lower
specification ‘Netbook’ computers, as they can’t really handle the fast data stream
from the camera. Please note that USB 2.0 operates at a very high speed and cannot
operate over very long cables. Five metres of good quality cable is the maximum
normally possible without boosters or extra powered hubs, although you can
sometimes get good results at longer distances with very high quality cables.
Installing the USB system:
First, find a free USB socket on your PC and plug in the USB cable (do not connect
the camera at this time). If you do not have a USB2 capable computer, it is normally
possible to install a USB 2 card into an expansion slot.
The next operation is to run the software installer from the CD ROM provided. Insert
the CD into the computer and wait for Windows Explorer to open with the list of
folders on the ROM. Now run the SETUP.EXE file that it contains – this will initiate
the self-install software which will guide you through the process of installing the SX
camera software onto your computer.
Now connect the USB cable to the socket on the camera rear panel.
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Windows will report ‘Found new hardware’ and will ask for the location of the
drivers. Point the installer at the appropriate driver folder on your CD ROM (32 bit or
64 bit) - note that the ‘Windows 8 signed drivers’ are OK for Windows 8, Windows 7
and Vista, but not for Windows XP. Use the older 32 or 64 bit drivers for XP
machines. Once you select the correct driver package, the driver installation should
proceed smoothly. (Ignore any warnings about the older drivers having not been
tested by Microsoft).
At the end of this process, the USB interface will be installed. The XP drivers will
show up as a ‘BlockIOClass device’ and the camera software will be able to access it.
You can confirm that the installation is complete by checking the status of the USB
devices in the Windows ‘Device Manager’ (see above). Start up the Windows
‘Control Panel’ and select ‘System’. Now click on the tab labelled ‘Device Manager’,
‘Hardware’, and all of the system devices will be displayed in a list (see above). If the
installation is successful, there will be a diamond shaped symbol labelled
‘BlockIOClass’ and clicking on the ‘+’ sign will reveal it to be a ‘Starlight Xpress
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USB 2.0 SXV-H814 BlockIO camera driver’. If this device shows as faulty, try
clicking on it and selecting ‘properties’ and then ‘update driver’. Following the on
screen instructions will allow you to re-select the correct inf file from the CD
(SXVIO_H814_194.inf) and driver files (SXVIO.sys and generic.sys), which should
fix the problem.
The newer ‘Signed’ drivers create a device in the ‘USB’ section of the devices list and
this will be found at the bottom of the device manager window.
Now connect up the power supply and switch it on. The supply is a very efficient
‘switch mode’ unit, which can operate from either 110v or 220v AC via an
appropriate mains power cable (supplied). You can now start the software by double
clicking on the icon, when you should see the main menu and image panel appear. If
this is the first time that it has been run, you will receive a warning about the lack of
an ‘ini’ file – just click on ‘OK’ and then open ‘Set program defaults’ from the ‘File’
menu. In the bottom right hand corner of this box, select SXV-H814. Now click on
‘Save’ and the ini file will be created and the software set for your camera.
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Now click on the camera icon at the top of the screen. If the USB connection is OK, a
message box will inform you of the ‘Handle’ number for the SXVIO interface and
various other version details etc. Click ‘OK’ and the main camera control panel will
now be seen.
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As can be seen above, there is a CCD temperature monitoring window at the right
hand side of the panel. At switch-on, this will default to full power cooling with an
end point of -40C (actual chip temperature) and, needless to say, this is rather
extreme. I recommend changing the set point to about -10C for normal use, but you
can go much colder if you are imaging during the winter months. Under indoor
conditions, the low airflow will limit the cooling capability, and you should use a set
point of no lower than -5C for stable cooling. You can determine the optimum
settings for your camera and ambient conditions when you have some experience of
using the system, but do not try to operate at extreme cooling when the air
temperature is high. Connecting and using the external fan unit will improve the
cooling by at least -5C and can give as much as -10C extra delta T. It is connected by
using the 'Y' lead provided in the camera component set, as below:
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Recording your first image:
We now have the camera and computer set up to take pictures, but an optical system
is needed to project an image onto the CCD surface. You could use your telescope,
but this introduces additional complications, which are best avoided at this early
stage. There are two simple options, one of which is available to everyone with a
sheet of aluminium baking foil:
1) Attach a standard ‘M42’ SLR camera lens to the TRIUS-H814, using the 26mm
spacer to achieve the correct focal distance.
Or
2) Create a ‘Pin hole’ lens by sticking a sheet of aluminium baking foil over the end
of the adaptor and pricking its centre with a small pin.
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If you use a normal lens, then stop it down to the smallest aperture number possible,
(usually F22), as this will minimise focus problems and keep the light level
reasonable for daytime testing. The pin hole needs no such adjustments and will work
immediately, although somewhat fuzzily!
Point the camera + lens or pinhole towards a well-lit and clearly defined object some
distance away. Now enter the ‘File’ menu in the H814 software and click on ‘SX
camera interface’. Select an exposure time of 0.1 seconds and press ‘Take Photo’.
After the exposure and download have completed (about 4 seconds) an image of some
kind will appear on the computer monitor. It will probably be poorly focused and
incorrectly exposed, but any sort of image is better than none! In the case of the
pinhole, all that you can experiment with is the exposure time, but a camera lens can
be adjusted for good focus and so you might want to try this to judge the high image
quality that it is possible to achieve.
Various other exposure options are available, as can be seen in the picture above. For
example, you can ‘Bin’ the download 2x2, or more, to achieve greater sensitivity and
faster download, or enable ‘Continuous mode’ to see a steady stream of images.
‘Focus mode’ downloads a 128 x 128 segment of the image at high speed. The initial
position of the segment is central to the frame, but can be moved by selecting ‘Focus
frame centre’ in the ‘File’ menu and clicking the desired point with the mouse. The
focus window has an adjustable ‘contrast stretch’, controlled by the 12-16 bit slider.
The image will be ‘normal’ if 16 bits is selected, while setting lower values will
increase the image brightness in inverse proportion.
If you cannot record any kind of image, please check the following points:
1) Ensure that the power indicator lamp is on and that the cables are properly home
in their sockets.
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2) If the screen is completely white, the camera may be greatly overexposed. Try a
shorter exposure time, or stop down your lens. See if covering the lens causes the
image to darken.
3) If the USB did not initialise properly, the camera start-up screen will tell you that
the connection is defective. Try switching off the power supply and unplugging the
USB cable. Now turn the power supply on and plug in the USB cable. This will reload the USB software and may fix the problem after restarting the SXV_hmf_usb
program. Otherwise, check the device driver status, as previously described, and
re-install any drivers which appear to be defective.
4) If you cannot find any way of making the camera work, please try using it with
another computer. This will confirm that the camera is OK, or faulty, and you can
then decide how to proceed. Our guarantee ensures that any electrical faults are
corrected quickly and at no cost to the customer.
Image enhancements:
Your first image may be satisfactory, but it is unlikely to be as clear and sharp as it
could be. Improved focusing and exposure selection may correct these shortcomings,
and you may like to try them before applying any image enhancement with the
software. However, there will come a point when you say, “That’s the best that I can
get” and you will want to experiment with the effects of image processing. In the case
of daylight images, the processing options are many, but there are few that will
improve the picture in a useful way. The most useful of these are the ‘Normal
Contrast Stretch’ and the ‘High Pass Low Power’ filter. The high pass filter gives a
moderate improvement in the image sharpness, and this can be very effective on
daylight images.
Too much high pass filtering results in dark borders around well-defined features and
will increase the noise in an image to unacceptable levels, but the Low Power filter is
close to optimum and gives a nicely sharpened picture.
The ‘Contrast’ routines are used to brighten (or dull) the image highlights and
shadows. A ‘Normal’ stretch is a simple linear operation, where two pointers (the
‘black’ and ‘white’ limits) can be set at either side of the image histogram and used to
define new start and end points. The image data is then mathematically modified so
that any pixels that are to the left of the ‘black’ pointer are set to black and any pixels
to the right of the ‘white’ pointer are set to white. The pixels with values between the
pointers are modified to fit the new brightness distribution. Try experimenting with
the pointer positions until the image has a pleasing brightness and ‘crispness’.
At this point, you will have a working knowledge of how to take and process an
TRIUS-H814 image. It is time to move on to astronomical imaging, which has its
own, unique, set of problems!
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*********************************************************************
Astronomical Imaging with the TRIUS-H814
1) Getting the image onto the CCD:
It is fairly easy to find the correct focus setting for the camera when using a standard
SLR lens, but quite a different matter when the TRIUS-H814 is attached to a
telescope! The problem is that most telescopes have a large range of focus adjustment
and the CCD needs to be quite close to the correct position before you can discern
details well enough to optimise the focus setting. An additional complication is the
need to add various accessories between the camera and telescope in order that the
image scale is suitable for the subject being imaged and (sometimes) to include a ‘flip
mirror’ finder unit for visual object location.
A simple, but invaluable device, is the ‘par-focal eyepiece’. This is an eyepiece in
which the field stop is located at the same distance from the barrel end, as the CCD is
from the camera barrel end.
When the par-focal eyepiece is fitted into the telescope drawtube, you can adjust the
focus until the view is sharply defined and the object of interest is close to the field
centre. On removing the eyepiece and fitting the CCD camera, the CCD will be very
close to the focal plane of the telescope and should record the stars etc. well enough
for the focus to be trimmed to its optimum setting
Several astronomical stores sell adjustable par-focal eyepieces, but you can also make
your own with a minimum of materials and an unwanted Kellner or Plossl ocular.
Just measure a distance of 22mm from the field stop of the eyepiece (equivalent to the
CCD to adaptor flange distance of the camera) and make an extension tube to set the
field stop at this distance from the drawtube end. Cut-down 35mm film cassette
containers are a convenient diameter for making the spacer tube and may be split to
adjust their diameter to fit the drawtube.
It is necessary to set up a good optical match between your camera and the telescope.
Most SCTs have a focal ratio of around F10, which is too high for most deep sky
objects and too low for the planets! This problem is quite easy to overcome if you
have access to a focal reducer (for deep sky) and a Barlow lens for planetary work.
The Meade F6.3 focal reducer is very useful for CCD imaging and I can recommend
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it from personal experience. It does not require a yellow filter for aberration
correction, unlike some other designs, so it can also be used for tri-colour imaging. If
you use a focal reducer, using it at maximum reduction may cause the relatively large
chip of the TRIUS-H814 to suffer from considerable ‘vignetting’ (dimming towards
the corners) and this will be difficult to remove from your images. Experiment with
the distance between the reducer and the camera to optimise the results. The longer
the extension tube used, the greater the focal reduction will be. As a guide, most CCD
astronomers try to maintain an image scale of about 2 arc seconds per pixel for deep
sky images. This matches the telescope resolution to the CCD resolution and avoids
‘undersampling’ the image, which can result in square stars and other unwanted
effects. To calculate the focal length required for this condition to exist, you can use
the following simple equation:
F = Pixel size * 205920 / Resolution (in arc seconds)
In the case of the TRIUS-H814 and a 2 arc seconds per pixel resolution, we get
F = 0.00454 * 205920 / 2
= 467mm
For a 200mm SCT, this is an F ratio of 467 / 200 = F2.34, which is much less than can
be achieved with the Meade converter and appropriate extension tube. However,
moderate deviations from this focal length will not have a drastic effect and so any F
ratio from about F4.5 to F6.3 will give good results. It is clear from this result that the
‘Starizona Hyperstar’ adaptor is very well suited to use with the H814, as it operates
at around F1.95, so you might be interested in getting one of these.
The same equation can be used to calculate the amplification required for good
planetary images. However, in this case, the shorter exposures allow us to assume a
much better telescope resolution and 0.25 arc seconds per pixel is a good value to use.
The calculation now gives the following result:
F = 0.00545 * 205920 / 0.25 = 4489mm
This is approximately F22 when used with a 200mm SCT and so we will need a 2 or
3x Barlow lens. Barlow lenses are less critical than focal reducers and most types can
be used with good results. However, if you are buying one especially for CCD
imaging, I recommend getting a 3x or even 5x amplifier, or the planets will still be
rather small in your images.
Achieving a good focus:
Your starting point will depend on the focus aids, if any, which you are using. With
the par-focal eyepiece, you should slip the eyepiece into the drawtube and focus
visually on a moderately bright star (about 3rd magnitude). Now withdraw the
eyepiece and carefully insert the camera nosepiece, until it is bottomed against the
drawtube end, and then lock it in place.
SXV_hmf_usb.exe has a focus routine that will repeatedly download and display a
128 x 128 pixel segment of the image at relatively high speed. This focus window
may be positioned anywhere in the camera field and can be displayed with an
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adjustable degree of automatic contrast stretching (for focusing on faint stars). To use
this mode, start up the software and select the SXV camera interface (File menu). Set
the camera mode to Binned 1x1 and select an exposure time of 1 second. Press ‘Take
Picture’ and wait for the image to download. There is a good chance that your
selected star will appear somewhere within the image frame and it should be close to
a sharp focus. If the focus is still poor, then it may appear as a pale disk of light, often
with a dark centre (the secondary mirror shadow in an SCT, or Newtonian). Now
select the ‘File’ menu again and click on ‘Focus frame centre’; you can now use the
mouse pointer to click on the star image and the new focus frame co-ordinates will be
displayed. Now return to the camera interface window and click on ‘Start’ in the
Focus frame. The computer will now display a continuous series of 128 x 128 pixel
images in the focus window and you should see your selected star appear somewhere
close to the centre. A ‘peak value’ (the value of the brightest pixel) will also be shown
in the adjacent text box and this can be used as an indication of the focus accuracy.
Although the peak value is sensitive to vibration and seeing, it tends towards a
maximum as the focus is optimised. Carefully adjust the focus control on your
telescope until the image is as sharp as possible and the peak value reaches a
maximum. Wait for any vibration to die down before accepting the reading as reliable
and watch out for bursts of bad seeing, which reduce the apparent focus quality. Quite
often, the peak value will increase to the point where it is ‘off scale’ at 4095 and in
this case you must halt the focus sequence and select a shorter exposure if you wish to
use the peak value as an indicator. Once you are happy with the focus quality
achieved, you might like to trim the settings of your par-focal or flip mirror eyepiece
to match the current camera position.
Although you can reach a good focus by the above method, many observers prefer to
use additional aids, such as Hartmann or Bahnitov masks (an objective cover with
several spaced holes) or diffraction bars (narrow parallel rods across the telescope
aperture). These make the point of precise focus easier to determine by creating
‘double images’ or bright diffraction spikes around stars, which merge at the setting
of exact focus. The 12-16 bit slider control allows you to adjust the contrast of the
focus frame for best visibility of the star image. It defaults to maximum stretch (12
bits), which is generally ideal for stars, but a lower stretch value is better for focusing
on planets.
Taking your first astronomical image:
I will assume that you are now set up with a focused camera attached to a telescope
with an operating sidereal drive. If so, you are now in a position to take a moderately
long exposure of some interesting deep-sky astronomical object (I will deal with
planets later). As most drives are not very accurate beyond a minute or two of
exposure time, I suggest that you find a fairly bright object to image, such as M42,
M13, M27 or M57. There are many others to choose from, but these are good
examples.
Use the finder to align on your chosen object and then centre accurately by using the
focus frame and a short exposure of between 1 and 5 seconds. The ’12-16 bit’ slider
in the focus frame allows you to adjust the image contrast if you find that the object is
too faint with a short exposure. Once properly centred and focused, take an exposure
of about 60 seconds, and observe the result. Initially, the image may appear rather
barren and show only a few stars, however, there is a great deal of data hidden from
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view. You can get to see a lot of this, without affecting the image data, if you go to
the ‘View’ menu and select ‘Auto Contrast Stretch Image’. The faint image data will
then appear in considerable detail and I think that you will be impressed by the result!
If you are happy with the image, go to the ‘File’ menu and save it in a convenient
directory.
Most competitive brands of CCD camera require a ‘dark frame’ to be subtracted from
your images to achieve the best results. A dark frame is simply a picture which was
taken with the same exposure as your ‘light frame’, but with the telescope objective
covered, so that no light can enter. It records only the ‘hot pixels’ and thermal
gradients of your CCD, so that these defects are largely removed when the dark frame
is subtracted from the light frame. The TRIUS-H814 CCD is quite different from
those used in other brands of camera and generates an extremely low level of dark
noise. Indeed, it is so low that subtracting a dark frame can actually INCREASE the
noise in your images! This is because the statistical noise of the dark frame can
exceed the ‘pattern noise’ from warm pixels and hence add to that of the subtracted
result. If your test pictures have an exposure time of less than about 10 minutes (as
above), then don’t bother with a dark frame, just ‘kill’ any hot pixels with your
processing software. In TRIUS-H814, the ‘Median filter’ can do this, but other
software (e.g. Maxim DL) will provide a ‘hot pixel killer’ that can be mapped to
specific locations in the image, or methods such as ‘Sigma combine’ may be used.
In the unlikely event that you feel that dark frame really is necessary, please proceed
as follows:
To take a dark frame, just cover the telescope objective with the lens cap and take
another exposure with the same length as that of the light frame. This image will be a
picture of the dark signal generated during your exposure and it should be saved with
your image for use in processing the picture. If many such darks are recorded and
averaged together, the statistical noise will be reduced, but the gains to be had are
rather small compared with the effort involved.
As variations in ambient temperature will affect the dark signal, it is best to take the
dark frames within a few minutes of capturing your images. For the same reason, it is
not wise to use ‘old’ dark frames if you want the best possible results, however, some
software allows you to scale library dark frames to match the image (e.g. AstroArt)
and this can be useful as a time saver.
‘Bias frames’ are somewhat more useful than dark frames when using the TRIUSH814. A bias frame is essentially a zero exposure dark frame and records any minor
readout defects that the CCD may possess, so a ‘bias frame subtraction’ can clean up
any ‘warm columns’ or shadings that are created during readout. To record a bias
frame, cover the camera aperture and take a 1000th of a second exposure. If you take
at least 10 such frames and average them together, the resulting ‘master bias’ can be
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used to clean up readout defects for many months before CCD ageing changes require
another set to be recorded.
‘Flat fields’ are often recommended for optimising the results from your CCD camera,
but these are generally less important than dark frames, especially if you make sure
that the optical window of the camera is kept dust-free. The purpose of a flat field is
to compensate for uneven illumination and sensitivity of the CCD and it is better to
avoid the need for one by keeping the optics clean and unvignetted. I will ignore flat
fielding for current purposes and describe the process in detail at a later stage.
Processing a deep-sky image:
1) Make sure the ‘Auto Contrast Stretch’ is switched off and load your image into
SXV_hmf_usb. If you intend to subtract a dark frame, select ‘Merge’ and then
‘Subtract Dark Frame’. Pick the appropriate dark frame and the software will then
remove the dark signal from your image, leaving it somewhat darker and slightly
smoother than before.
M42 – 30 seconds exposure at F2 with a C8 Hyperstar
2) Once you have subtracted any dark frame, you can convert the raw image to
colour.
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3) The resulting image will probably look faint and dull, possibly with a pale
yellowish background, due to light pollution so it is now time to process the
‘luminance’ (brightness and contrast) of the image to get the best visual appearance.
First, use the ‘Normal’ contrast stretch to darken the background by setting the
‘Black’ slider just below the main peak of the histogram. Alternatively, you can use
the ‘Remove Background’ option to let the software decide on the best setting. This
will greatly reduce the background brightness and the image will begin to look rather
more attractive, although dark. You can now try brightening the highlights with
another ‘Normal’ stretch, in which you bring down the ‘White’ slider to just above the
main image peak. The best setting for this is rather more difficult to guess and you
may need several attempts before the result is ideal. Just use the ‘Undo last filter’
function, if necessary, to correct a mistake. Normal (linear) stretches can give a nice
result on many objects, but you may find that bright areas ‘burn-out’ badly with this
function. It is often much better to use a ‘Non-linear’ stretch to compress the brighter
regions, while expanding the faint data. Here is the result of a non-linear stretch on
the M42 image:
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The image now looks quite impressive and I hope that you like this result from this
simple processing.
Further small refinements are usually possible and you will become expert at judging
the best way to achieve these as your experience increases. As a rough guide, the
‘Filters’ menu can be used to sharpen, soften or noise reduce the image. Strong ‘High
Pass’ filters are usually not a good idea with deep sky images, as the noise will be
strongly increased and dark rings will appear around the stars, but a ‘Median’ filter
can remove odd speckles and a mild ‘Unsharp Mask’ (Radius 3, Power 1) will
sharpen without too much increase in noise.
Other things to try, include summing several images for a better signal to noise ratio.
Summing can be done in the ‘Merge’ menu and involves loading the first processed
image, selecting a reference point (a star) then loading the second image and finding
the same star with the mouse. Once the reference is selected, you can either add
directly, or average the images together. Averaging is generally better, as you are less
likely to saturate the highlights of the picture. The signal-to-noise ratio will improve
at a rate proportional to the square root of the number of summations (summing 4
images will double the signal-to-noise), but different exposures must be used.
Summing an image with itself will not improve the S/N ratio. Also note that you
cannot sum images before colour conversion, or the colour data will be destroyed!
Although I have concentrated on the use of a telescope for deep-sky imaging, do not
forget that you have the option of using an ordinary camera lens for impressive wide17
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field shots! A good quality 200mm F3.5 lens with an infrared blocking filter will yield
very nice images of large objects, such as M31, M42, M45 etc. If you cannot obtain a
large IR blocker for the front of the lens, it is quite acceptable to place a small one
behind the lens, inside the adaptor tube. You can even try using a hydrogen-alpha
filter to bring out nebulae, reduce light pollution and sharpen the star images to pinpoints.
Taking pictures of the planets:
Planetary imaging is in many ways quite different from deep sky imaging. Most deep
sky objects are faint and relatively large, so a short focal length and a long exposure
are needed, while planets are bright and very small, needing long focal lengths and
short exposures. High resolution is critical to achieving good results and I have
already shown how a suitable focal length can be calculated and produced, using a
Barlow lens.
Many camera users comment on the difficulty of finding the correct focus when
taking pictures of Jupiter etc. This is usually due to poor seeing conditions, which are
only too common, but may also be due in part to poor collimation of your telescope.
Please ensure that the optics are properly aligned as shown by star testing, or by using
one of the patent collimation aids that are widely available. It is also better to use a
star for initial focusing, as planetary detail is difficult to judge in bad seeing.
Although the star will also suffer from blurring, the eye can more easily gauge when
the most compact blur has been achieved!
You could begin by imaging lunar craters, or the planets, Jupiter, Saturn or Mars. The
rapid variations of seeing which accompany planetary imaging, will ruin the
definition of about 95% of your images and so I recommend setting the camera to run
in ‘Autosave’ mode. This will automatically take a sequence of images and save them
with sequential file names in your ‘Autosave’ directory. Dozens of images will be
saved, but only one or two will be satisfactory for further processing. The ‘Subframe’
mode of the SXV may be found useful for limiting the wasted area and reducing the
download time of small planetary images.
To start the Autosave process, call up the SXV Camera Interface and select the
‘Continuous Mode’ check box at the top (make sure the rest are unchecked). Now
check the ‘Autosave Image’ checkbox near the bottom of the window. If you now
click on ‘Take Picture’ the automatic sequence will begin and will not stop until you
press a computer key. The images will be saved in FITs format with sequential names
such as ‘Img23, Img24….’ and will be found in the ‘Autosave’ directory (or a subdirectory of Autosave, set up in the program defaults menu).
The exposure time needed for good planetary images is such that the image histogram
has a peak value at around 200 and does not extend much above 220 (Ignore the
major peak near zero, due to the dark background). If you use too short an exposure
time, the image noise level will be increased, and if too long a time is used you will
saturate the highlights and cause white patches on the image. With the recommended
focal length, Jupiter and Mars will both need an exposure time of between 0.1 and 1
seconds and Saturn will need between 0.5 and 2 seconds.
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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Processing a planetary image:
Planetary images have one major advantage over deep sky images, when you come to
process them – they are MUCH brighter, with a correspondingly better signal to noise
ratio. This means that aggressive sharpening filters may be used without making the
result look very noisy and so some of the effects of poor seeing can be neutralised.
A raw image
Try applying an ‘Unsharp Mask’ filter with a radius of 5 and a power of 5. This will
greatly increase the visibility of any detail on the planet, but the optimum radius and
power will have to be determined by experiment.
After conversion and the application of an ‘Unsharp mask’
In general terms, the larger the image and the worse the seeing, then the wider the
radius for best results. My Jupiter shots are usually about one third the height of the
CCD frame and I find that the ‘radius 5, power 5’ values are good for most average
seeing conditions. If you have exceptionally good conditions, then a reduction to R=3,
P=3 will probably give a more natural look to the image, as too large a radius and
power tends to outline edges with dark or bright borders.
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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As a finishing touch, the application of a Median filter or a Weighted Mean Low Pass
filter can be useful to smooth out the high frequency noise after a strong Unsharp
Mask.
As with deep-sky images, it is advantageous to sum planetary images together to
improve the signal to noise ratio. In this case, the ‘averaging’ option should always be
used, or the result is likely to exceed the dynamic range of the software and saturate
the highlights. Aligning the images is always something of a problem, as there are
rarely any stars to use when imaging the planets, but Jupiter’s satellites can be useful
reference points. Otherwise, you will have to find a well-defined feature on the planet,
or estimate where the centre of the disk is located. Some more sophisticated software
can automatically align planetary images and you may find these programs (e.g.
‘Registax’) to be very useful.
*********************************************************************
Other features of the TRIUS-H814 hardware and software
‘Slew & Sum’ imaging:
The TRIUS-H814 can be used in an automatic image-stacking mode, called ‘Slew &
Sum’. The camera is set to take several sequential exposures, which are automatically
‘slewed’ into alignment and then summed together by the software. This mode can
help to overcome a poor RA drive by summing images that have exposure times
shorter than the drive error period. The resulting image has more noise than a single
exposure of the same total length, but this method of imaging is still an effective way
of making long exposures without a guider.
To take an S&S image, go to the camera interface window and select an exposure
time for one image of the sequence. Do not use a very short exposure time, as the
read-out noise will become dominant. About 30 seconds is a reasonable minimum.
Now go to the ‘Multiple Exposure Options’ and select a number of exposures to take.
You can also select to average the images, rather than adding them, and there is a
‘Alternative Slew Mode’ available, which uses the correlation of image areas, rather
than a single star. This mode can be better in dense star fields.
Another option is ‘Auto remove dark frame’. This is advisable with S&S images, as
the slewing will mis-register the images with a single dark frame that is applied to the
finished sequence. To use this option, you will need a dark frame, taken with the same
exposure time as a single image from the sequence. This is stored on drive C with the
name ‘dark.def’
Now click on ‘Take Picture’ and the sequence will begin.
Using the ‘Binned’ modes:
Up to this point, I have assumed that the full resolution, imaging mode is being used.
This is fine for most purposes, but it will often provide more resolution than the
optical system, or the seeing, allows. ‘Binned 2x2’ mode sums groups of 4 pixels into
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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one output pixel, thus creating a pixel image with 4 times the effective sensitivity.
Using 2x2 binning, you can considerably improve the sensitivity of the TRIUS-H814
without losing a great deal of resolving power, so you may like to use this mode for
many faint deep-sky objects. Other binning modes (3x3 and 4x4) are available and
will further increase the image brightness and reduce its resolution. However,
generally, these are more useful for finding faint objects, than for imaging.
Taking and using a flat field:
Flat fields are images, which display only the variations of illumination and
sensitivity of the CCD and are used to mathematically modify a wanted image in such
a way that the errors are removed. Common flat field errors are due to dust motes on
the camera window and vignetting effects in the optical system of the telescope. Dust
motes act as ‘inverse pinholes’ and cast out-of-focus images of the telescope aperture
onto the CCD chip, where they appear as shadow ‘do-nuts’. Most optical systems
show some vignetting at the edges of the field, especially when focal reducers are
used. This causes a brighter centre to show in images, especially when there is a lot of
sky light to illuminate the field.
If dust motes are your main problem, it is best to clean the camera window, rather
than to rely on a flat field to remove the do-nuts. Flat fields always increase the noise
in an image and so physical dust removal is the best option. If you have serious
vignetting, first check whether the optical system can be improved. The most likely
cause of this problem is trying to use too powerful a degree of optical compression
with a focal reducer and you might want to try moving the camera closer to the
reducer lens.
If you really do need to use a flat field for image correction, then it must be taken with
care. It is most important that the optical system MUST NOT be disturbed between
taking your original images and taking the flat field. Any relative changes of focus
and rotation etc. will upset the match between flat field and image and the result will
be poor correction of the errors. The other necessity for recording a good flat field is a
source of very even illumination of the telescope field. This is surprisingly difficult to
achieve and many designs of light source have appeared in the literature and on the
Web. These usually consist of a large wooden box, containing several lamps and an
internal coating of matt white paint, which is placed over the objective of the
telescope to provide an evenly illuminated surface. These can work well, but I prefer
a simpler method, as follows:
Most imaging sessions begin or end in twilight and so the dusk or dawn sky can
provide a distributed source of light for a flat field. However, using the sky directly is
likely to result in recording many unwanted stars, or patches of cloud etc., so a
diffuser needs to be added to the telescope. An ideal material is Mylar plastic drafting
film, obtained from an office supplies warehouse. It is strong and water resistant and
can be easily replaced if damaged. Stretch a piece of the film loosely across the
aperture of your telescope and point the instrument high in the sky, to avoid any
gradient in the light near the horizon. Now take several images with exposure times
adjusted to give a bright, but not overloaded, picture. A histogram peaking at around
128 is ideal. Averaging flat fields together is a good way to reduce their noise
contribution and so recording 4, or more, images is a good idea.
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To use your flat fields, they must first have a dark frame subtracted. Although this
may appear to be unimportant with such brightly lit and short exposures, there is the
‘bias offset’ of the camera in each image and this can produce an error in the final
correction. As we are mainly interested in the bias, any very short exposure dark
frame will give a good result. The dark subtracted images should then be averaged
together before use.
After the above procedures have been executed, the flat field will be ready for use.
Load up your image for processing, subtract the dark frame and then select ‘Apply
flat field’ in the ‘Merge’ menu. The result should be an image with very few signs of
the original artefacts and you can then process it in the normal way.
*********************************************************************
The TRIUS-H814 guider port
The TRIUS-H814 is provided with a guide port for use with ST4 compatible mounts.
The Autoguider output port is a 6 way RJ11 socket, which is compatible with the
standard autoguider input of most telescope mounts. It provides 4 active-low optoisolator outputs and a common return line, capable of sinking a minimum of 5mA per
output. This socket may be used for telescope control if the TRIUS-H814 is employed
as an autoguider.
*********************************************************************
Camera maintenance:
Very little maintenance is needed to keep the TRIUS-H814 in excellent operating
order, however two problems, which are common to all CCD equipment, might show
up on occasion. These are dust and condensation.
Removing Dust:
1) Dust can be deposited on either the optical window (not a big problem to cure), or
on the CCD faceplate (very difficult to eliminate entirely). When small particles
collect on the window they may not be noticed at all on deep sky (small F ratio)
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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images, as they will be very much out of focus. However, if a powerful contrast boost
of the image is carried out, they may well begin to show as the shadow ‘Do-nuts’
mentioned earlier. Images taken with a large F ratio optical system are more likely to
be affected by such dirt, owing to the smaller and sharper shadows that they cast. A
light polluted sky will also make these marks much more obvious. There is no great
difficulty in removing such particles on the outside surface by the careful use of a lens
cleaning cloth, ‘lens pen’, or ‘air duster’ and so you should have little trouble with
this aspect of maintenance. Dust on the CCD faceplate is a much greater nuisance, as
it casts very sharply defined and dark shadows and it entails dismantling the camera
to get rid of it! To clean the CCD you will need a good quality lens cloth (no silicone)
or tissues and some high-grade acetone or isopropyl alcohol. A very suitable cloth is
the ‘Micro-Fibre’ type marketed by PENTAX etc., and suitable alcohol is available
from Maplin or Radio Shack etc. as tape head cleaning fluid. Most pharmacist shops
will have small bottles of pure acetone. A bright light and a strong watchmakers
eyeglass will also be found to be essential.
Procedure:
1) Disconnect the lead from the camera head and remove it from the telescope. Place
it on a table with the optical window facing downward.
2) Remove the two M3 screws and the M8 nut from the camera back plate and ease
the plate out of the camera body. Unplug the fan lead from the camera PCB.
3) Withdraw the body cylinder and unscrew the two top spacer pillars from the PCB.
Now gently lift the PCB off the 20 way connector NOTING THE ORIENTATION
OF THE BOARD for correct replacement later. Now remove the lower two spacers
from the heat sink plate assembly.
4) The camera heat sink assembly can now be lifted away from the camera front
barrel and the CCD will be exposed. Note that a layer of white heat-sink compound is
applied to the periphery of the heat sink disc and this should be left undisturbed by
subsequent operations.
5) You can now closely examine the CCD faceplate under the spotlight using the
watchmaker's glass when any dust motes will show clearly. If there is only an odd
particle or two and the CCD is otherwise clean, carefully brush away the dust with a
corner of your lens cloth. A smeared or very dusty CCD will need a few drops of
alcohol to clean thoroughly and you may have to make several attempts before the
surface is free of contamination. One gentle wipe from one end to the other, with no
return stroke, will be found to be the most effective action. DO NOT rub vigorously
and be very careful to avoid scratching the window.
6) Before re-assembly, make certain that the inside surface of the front window is also
clean, and then carefully replace the camera front barrel and screw it into place. (If
the heat sink seal is disturbed, renew it with fresh compound before reassembling).
7) Replace all the camera parts in reverse order and the job is done.
Dealing with condensation:
The TRIUS-H814 is designed to avoid condensation by minimising the volume of gas
trapped within the CCD cavity and by preventing moisture ingress. This normally
works very well, but storage of the camera in a humid location can lead to the trapped
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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argon becoming moist by diffusion through the optical window mounting thread etc.
and can result in condensation on the CCD window. If this becomes a problem, try
storing the camera in a warm, dry place, or in a plastic lunch box containing a sachet
of silica gel desiccant. If this is not effective, it is possible to flush the CCD chamber
with dry argon from a small welding gas cylinder. Such argon gas cylinders, valves
and suitable plastic tubing, are readily available from many car spares suppliers, such
as Halfords, in the UK.Two ports are provided in the sides of the CCD cavity and
these may be accessed by unscrewing the rear plate of the camera and then sliding off
the main barrel.
The ports are sealed by M4 stainless set-screws and soft plugs, which may be
removed to provide access to the chamber gas fill. You will need to make some kind
of nozzle to fit the gas ports, but simply tapering the end of the standard 4 mm plastic
gas tubing that is used with small welding bottles, will probably be sufficient. To
recharge the chamber, first remove both gas plugs and then insert the tapered end of
the argon cylinder tube into one port. Gently turn on the argon supply for about 10
seconds and then refit the plug into the output port. The filling tube may then be
extracted and the second port re-sealed.
N.B. DO NOT leave the camera switched on for long periods between uses. The
cold CCD will collect ice by slow diffusion through any small leaks and this will
become corrosive water on the cooler and CCD pins when the power is removed. If
substantial amounts of moisture are seen, dismantle the camera and dry it
thoroughly.
*********************************************************************
Alternative Software
Although we hope that you will be satisfied with our ‘SXV_hmf_usb’ software, other
companies are offering alternative programs with more powerful processing
functions. One of these is programs is ‘AstroArt’ by MSB software. You can purchase
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
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AstroArt from many dealers Worldwide and more information may be obtained from
their web site at http://www.msb-astroart.com
‘Maxim DL’ is another popular choice and you can find out more by visiting
http://www.cyanogen.com
‘Nebulosity 3’ also works very well with the H814.
http://www.stark-labs.com/nebulosity.html
*********************************************************************
Some details of the camera and CCD characteristics
The TRIUS-H814 uses a Sony ICX814ALG ‘EXview’ progressive scan CCD, with
2750 x 2200 x 4.54uM pixels in a 12.48 x 9.98mm active area. This EXview device
CCD type:
Sony ICX814ALG EXview interline imager.
CCD size:
Active area 12.48mm x 9.98mm
CCD pixels: 3388 x 2712 pixel array. Each pixel is 3.69 x 3.69uM square
Well depth: Full res. mode 18,000e. Binned 2x2 mode approx. 22,000e
Mean visual QE: 70%, 77% at peak (580nM)
Useful spectral response: 360nM – 1100nM
Readout noise: Approx. 4e RMS typical, 8e max.
Back focal distance: The CCD is approximately 17.5mm from the barrel front.
Camera size: 75mm diameter x 70mm long
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Handbook for the Trius-H814
Issue 2 April 2014
Dear Observer,
Thank you for purchasing a Starlight Xpress CCD Imaging System. We are confident that you will gain
much satisfaction from this equipment, but please read carefully the accompanying instruction manual
to ensure that you achieve the best performance that is capable of providing.
As with most sophisticated equipment a certain amount of routine maintenance is necessary to keep the
equipment operating at its optimum performance. The maintenance has been kept to a minimum, and is
fully described in the manual.
In the unfortunate instance when the equipment does not perform as expected might we recommend
that you first study the fault finding information supplied. If this does not remedy the problem, then
contact Starlight Xpress for further advice. Our message board service on the Starlight Xpress web site
will often provide solutions to any problems.
The equipment is covered by a 12-month guarantee covering faulty design, material or workmanship in
addition to any statutory Consumer Rights of Purchasers.
CONDITIONS OF GUARANTEE
1) The equipment shall only be used for normal purposes described in the standard operating
instructions, and within the relevant safety standards of the country where the equipment is used.
2) Repairs under guarantee will be free of charge providing proof of purchase is produced, and that the
equipment is returned to the Service Agent at the Purchaser’s expense and risk, and that the equipment
proves to be defective.
3) The guarantee shall not apply to equipment damaged by fire, accident, wear an tear, misuse,
unauthorised repairs, or modified in any way whatsoever, or damage suffered in transit to or from the
Purchaser.
4) The Purchaser’s sole and exclusive rights under this guarantee is for repair, or at our discretion the
replacement of the equipment or any part thereof, and no remedy to consequential loss or damage
whatsoever.
5) This guarantee shall not apply to components that have a naturally limited life.
6) Starlight Xpress’s decision in all matters is final, and any faulty component which has been replaced
will become the property of Starlight Xpress Ltd.
For further info. or advice, please call:
Mr Michael Hattey,
Starlight Xpress Ltd.,
Unit 3, Brooklands Business Park,
Bottle Lane,
Binfield
Berkshire,
England. RG42 5QX
Tel: 01184026898
Email: michael.hattey@starlight-xpress.co.uk
Web site: http://www.sxccd.com
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