The MallinCam takes great images in seconds

The MallinCam takes great images in seconds
Equipment review
The MallinCam takes
great images in seconds
Whether you photograph the sky or show live images to a group, this video camera delivers the goods.
by Gary W. Kronk
uring the past 4 decades, I have
taken more astronomical photographs than I can count. I started
in 1971 when I took an old box camera
and modified it to take time exposures. A
few years later, I moved into 35mm film
photography and stuck with it until I
graduated to a digital SLR in 2004. Then,
in 2006, I started using the MallinCam,
and my life would never be the same.
The MallinCam is a video camera
that provides great live views of whatever
you point your telescope toward. The
current product line is the MallinCam
Hyper Plus, and it comes in both color
and black-and-white models. I have had
the black-and-white camera since 2006
and began using the color camera in
2009. Each camera has a resolution of
811 by 508 pixels.
Be aware that U.S. and Canadian customers must order from different dealers.
The MallinCam
Hyper Plus video camera
delivers deep views of the cosmos
in mere seconds. All images by the author
60 Astronomy • July 2010
The warranty on a Canadian camera will
not be honored for purchasers in the
United States.
Several features make these cameras
shine. First, the custom-designed highgain circuitry amplifies the signal from
the CCD while still providing a good
image. Second, a high-quality Peltier
cooler slowly lowers the sensor’s temperature to diminish electronic noise and
increase sensitivity. Third, a customdesigned hyper circuit board allows light
to accumulate on the CCD for up to 56
seconds. And finally, the camera’s creator,
Rock Mallin, handcrafts and fully tests
each camera to ensure it performs up to
specs. In short, the camera electronically
soups up your telescope.
Images that will blow you away
I typically use these cameras on my 8inch Meade LX200 telescope, and I know
Contact information
United States and International:
Jack’s Astro Accessories LLC
[t] 985-863-2165
Khan Scope Center
3243 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario
Canada, M6A-2T2
[t] 800-580-7160
the visual performance of this instrument
like the back of my hand. Still, when I first
connected the black-and-white MallinCam to the LX200, the view amazed me.
My first target was the Crab Nebula (M1),
a supernova remnant in Taurus. The live
image revealed lots of nebular detail as
well as stars fainter than 16th magnitude.
After tweaking the camera settings, I began to acquire images
that far exceeded any I had
taken before. Using the 7- and
14-second hyper settings, I
pushed the limiting magnitude
of my images to about 18.5
— nearly 100,000 times
fainter than what naked
eyes can see. I can observe
great detail in deep-sky
objects and easily view
faint comets. I don’t have
any trouble picking out
several of the moons that
orbit Uranus and Neptune.
Gary W. Kronk is an avid amateur
astronomer who specializes in observing
comets and meteors.
The MallinCam features
two video outputs (SuperVHS and 75-ohm composite)
and an AC power adapter for
its 12-volt DC power supply.
Unfortunately, I do not get great
results with the 28- and 56-second hyper
settings. But the reason is obvious: The
camera greatly enhances the low lightpollution levels around my Illinois
­observatory. Even so, I have managed
to take some decent images with these
longer integration modes when using a
2x Barlow lens.
Great for groups
Although I use these cameras primarily
for imaging, they prove incredibly helpful
for public outreach. With the MallinCam,
you don’t need a giant telescope to show
people exceptional detail in galaxies and
nebulae. And, because the live image is
fed to a monitor, you can point out different features to a group of onlookers.
I have tried three software packages
that enhance the output of these cameras.
Because the MallinCam can capture AVI
movies, I use the free software package
Registax to align and stack the images.
This program allows my 8-inch scope to
reach a limiting magnitude of 19 when
using the 14-second integration mode.
The Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra is a planetary
nebula whose gaseous envelope glows as it
absorbs ultraviolet light from the central star
and re-emits it at visible wavelengths.
Comet C/2006 A1 (Pojmanski)
glowed at 5th magnitude and
sported a tail several degrees
long in early March 2006. The
author captured this six-image
mosaic March 4.
Handy AVI from AZcendant Software
is easy to use and costs just $39.95. It has
a nice preview window that allows you to
adjust the brightness and contrast of the
image coming from the MallinCam.
The program’s main window also
has settings for altering the number of
frames and how often to shoot. If I set
the camera to 7-second integration, I
change the numbers in Handy AVI so
that the camera shoots one frame every
7 seconds. And if I set the camera to
14-second integration, I change the
­numbers accordingly.
This works well for photographing
comets — I can play back the movie and
watch the comet slowly glide through
the star field. I often show these movies
in presentations, and they never fail to
impress the audience.
The only downside I’ve encountered
with the MallinCam is a glow in the
upper left corner caused by the amplifier.
It becomes particularly noticeable during
the longer integration modes. Although
the company offers instructions on how
to minimize this glow, I found an Adobe
PhotoShop plug-in called GradientXTerminator that solves the problem. This
$49.95 plug-in comes from Russell Croman Astrophotography. The plug-in is
a gradient removal tool that also works
great for vignetting problems. In just a
few quick and easy steps, the tool gives
Product specifications
MallinCam Video CCD Observational
TV system: NTSC (also available in PAL)
Image sensor: Sony ICX418AKL-A Class
1 CCD with Micro Lens Technology
(color); Sony ICX428ALL-A EXview
HAD Class 1 CCD with Micro Lens
Technology (black and white)
Total pixels: 811 (horizontal) by
508 (vertical)
Scanning system: 525 lines, 60
fields/sec (NTSC); 625 lines, 50
fields/sec (PAL)
Shutter: Standard and variable modes
from 1/60 to 1/12,000 second
Power supply: 12.1 volts DC at 390
Prices: MallinCam Color Hyper Plus,
$1,199.95; MallinCam B&W Hyper
Plus, $1,099.95
the image a nice even background that’s
ready to show off.
I have a lot of fun using these cameras.
They are a joy if you want to watch live
images through your telescope or show a
group the wonders of space. Slew through
galaxies in the Virgo cluster or across the
Sagittarius Milky Way for scenes you
(and they) won’t soon forget. And, of
course, if you want to do some imaging,
these cameras will perform beautifully.
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