The Lozano Observatory
The Lozano Observatory 

CCD Cameras - SBIG ST-8300M & ST-i Guider

 

This is one of the best times to be an amateur astronomer due the vast expansion of affordable equipment available to those interested in this hobby!  Just a few years ago ANY CCD camera worth using was well over $5,000; today, you can purchase a much higher quality imager with a color filter wheel for around $5,000! 

 

My camera of choice to match the capability of my TEC 140mm refractor is the SBIG ST-8300M.   The 8300 is no ordinary camera since it uses the telescope as the camera lens and it can only create color images by combining images taken through Red, Green and Blue filters.

       From the SBIG website: "The new ST-8300M (monochrome) is based on Kodak's KAF-8300, 8.3 megapixel, full frame CCD. This CCD array has 3326 x 2504 pixels at 5.4 microns making it ideal for both short fast optics in high resolution (unbinned) mode, and for longer focal lengths it can be binned binned 2x2 or 3x3. The CCD has both antiblooming and microlens technology to improve the effective Quantum Efficiency of the sensor. As a result it can be used in a wide variety of optical configurations.

 



     A couple of things I had to do to set my camera up: I added the optional OAG-8300 (off axis guider) that fits in front of the filters and eliminates the need for a second telescope to guide the telescope. Using the OAG-8300 requires the use of the ST-i guider and planetary camera which is the size of a 1.25” eyepiece and can be used as a

planetary camera.

 

     Lastly, the five position filter wheel that attaches to the ST-8300 accepts 36mm filters and allows me to create color images as well as capture the faint details of light given off from the Hydrogen Alpha spectrum of light. I chose Astrodon Generation II filters which came with a hefty price tag but are worth every penny! My Hydrogen Alpha filter is also an Astrodon product and is a 5 nanometer filter which ran about $10 per mm!

    My advice?  Yes, SBIG cameras and the accessories to create impressive images can be expensive, but not so much so that you should deprive yourself of the quality these cameras offer.  Consider this; SBIG cameras have electromechanical shutters, do not have column defects, frequently have self-guiding chips within the camera (no need for an additional camera to guide), very low thermal noise, wide field images, an electric cooling fan and the ability achieve -30ºC cooling resulting in a superior quality camera. 

Think about this: Take a look at Astronomy or Sky & Telescope magazines and notice that the images in the reader pictures section are frequently taken with SBIG cameras.  It's not popularity or prevalence that makes SBIG cameras number one for amateur photos in astronomy magazines, its quality of the cameras and images plain and simple.

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