Articles & Reviews
Learn from Rajko how to take perfect flats using the Astrel Instruments flatbox controller connected to his AST8300B camera. The flatbox controller is included with the AST8300X!
Rajko Eichhorn, "AST8300 astrophotography" Facebook page, 2 Dec 2018
Sorry, no picture today!
But people keep contacting me asking for flat generation tips with the AST8300.
After having tried everything from sheets of papers under a light panel, the adjustable flat field box from LACERTA Austria I am now back to using the great Gerd Neumann 10" flat field panel on my 10" scope. The trick is to using the Astrel Flatbox controller!
Check it out here: www.astrel-instruments.com/flatbox-controller
It connects to the AST8300 camera and lets you use the internal Astrelflatfield app in the camera. Being able to choose just "flatbox" and setting it to 1/10 sec exposure, it really works totally satisfactorily, even with the CLS filter!
Attached you can find pictures of this setup in my observatory, the settings in the Astrel Software and a little linearity test of the camera in combination with the O3 filter to evaluate the best range for a flat. The result is than a statistic readout from Pixinsight. It is crucial to not overexpose a flat! If one aims to get into a good 25,000 ADU range, the AST8300 data can be nicely corrected in preprocessing!
And for all who have asked for it: here you can download the flat fits file I have used for this thread (original, unaltered *.fits of the O3 filter and my camera taken today):
I am not saying my way is the only right way to generate FLATs, but for me - it works 😉
Y'all have a great weekend, and hopefully clear skies (which I don't have tonight)!
An interesting review by Bernhard Mayr who tells us about his AST8300 camera since he got it in 2016.
Bernhard Mayr, 2016
"In the spring of 2016, I purchased my AST8300 A mono camera, chip diagonal of 22.2 mm, internal memory of 8 to 64 GB with integrated filter wheel with seven filters in L, R, G, B, H-Alpha, OIII, SII, on Teleskopservice Ransburg.
The big advantage of the camera is that it is equipped with a 4" screen so that you can take pictures independently from the PC. When I got the camera, I had the Astronomic filters LRGB, the 6nm H-alpha filter, the 12nm OIII and SII in the filter wheel as well. The supplied vacuum hand pump is very handy and it is easy to suck out the air to -5 bar from the sensor chamber, so the ccd sensor can’t ice and you need no more drying powder or exchange; at the same time you can use the cooling up to -42 ° and cool down in order to eliminate the noise.
In the included transport case, you can easily stow your camera and accessories. Another great advantage of the camera is that you can control all functions such as cooling, object focusing and recording as well as control via WiFi with your mobile phone or tablet. My first test with the camera capturing NGC 6888 was very positive. After switching on, I switched off the cooling to -20 degrees and I sought a medium-bright star and set it using my Batinovmaske sharp.
Then set the filter position to luminance and set to 300 seconds exposure. Started the MGEN as a guider and I made on my 200mm ASA the first recording, It was unusual for me after each shot, when saving the camera off briefly, to stand ready for new shots. At home, I connected the camera via Ethernet cable to my PC and uploaded the photos via WINSCP in my memory where I could process the photos. In the meantime, I have already made numerous images with all the filters and put them together using Pix Insight; since last year, Fa.
Astrel Instruments has been offering a new version of the camera, the Astrel 8300 B with larger 5" screen instead of DOS -LINUX control, a reinforced antenna for WLAN as well as convenient mini wireless keyboard for entering the data and a control box for flatfield recordings. But Astrel also offers the possibility to convert the A variant to the B variant, where a part of the housing is changed, the stronger WLAN antenna is installed and software is re-installed. I used the possibility to convert my A variant to the B variant two months ago.
Three weeks ago, I was able to test the converted camera and I am very happy with the wireless connection to the tablet or phone that I operated using VNC Viewer, which also worked after 25 meters distance, so I could take pictures inside our observatory building 15 meters away and it performed easily. In summary, a compact, sophisticated camera perfect for Deep Sky shots with longer exposure time. For any question, I’ll be happy to answer on email@example.com.
With star-friendly regards.
Bernhard Mayr Sternfreunde Steyr
Discover the AST8300B in this review by Hanns Selig
Hanns Selig, 2017
In November 2017 I purchased the AST8300B as my new working tool for deep sky astrophotography. I also ordered a set of 27 mm filters (RGB and narrowband) which fit into the integrated filterwheel. One really good and unique thing is that the camera is equipped with an integrated mini PC with a complete Linux OS and of course a number of specific software tools for camera operation and filterwheel control.
After a short period of learning all the procedures it is really very easy to work with the camera and to produce outstanding image results.
The CCD sensor is the well known KAF8300 sensor which delivers clean 16 bit images. Image noise is no problem with the standard workflow (bias, dark, flat) and corresponding processing. A very big advantage from my point of view is the complete stand alone solution. You really don't need a Laptop for the camera operation. Even guiding is provided with a special guiding software tool (lin-guider) which is already installed. The live view and focus app allow a very comfortable way to find and focus objects. Another smart innovation is the possibility to use your smartphone or tablet to do wireless camera control. You can also buy a separate touchscreen for camera control.
Another innovation is the way to prevent dew inside the camera. The idea is to evacuate the camera to a certain level of vacuum. This is done with a vacuum hand pump which is included in the package. This works perfect and you don't need any heaters or drying granulate. And this concept is not only perfect in theory but also in reality - very easy, very effective.
In principle the camera is as easy to control as a modern DSLR. The main difference is the much better sensor, the cooling, the wireless operation and all the additional features that are not provided by DSLRs and competing CCD cameras. If you take into account that an onboard PC is included, as well as a 7 filter filterwheel (the filters have to be paid additionally), you get a very attractive package for a good price.
I recommend the camera to anyone who has serious intentions in the area of astrophotography (especially deep sky) and who wants to use a very innovative product to get top level results in a very comfortable way.
A field review of the AST8300B by Achim Armbruster
Achim Armbruster, "Cloudy Nights" Forum, 30 Mar 2017
Let me start this review with a little introduction and some background to what I have been doing in the astrophotography space.
I am Achim, 42 and I am doing astro imaging since the end of 2015, starting with a DSLR (Nikon D5300) and some planetary imaging with an ASI224MC, using different optics ranging from a 10“ f5 newtonian to a widefield 90/600 f6.6 apo.
I am mainly dependent on a mobile setup, which is why I was looking for a camera that best supports my needs. I started to do some research and read several reviews on CCD chips, camera types, how to control and sequence them. My conclusion was that doing mobile imaging with a mono CCD can be leading to a complex setup with a lot of components.
By chance I got some information on the Astrel AST8300M camera and did some research into the camera as well. It is based on the rather „outdated“ KAF8300 sensor, comes with a built in 7 position filter wheel and an onboard Linux based PC system that lets you control all camera functions and some additional AP components. Comparing the features with my needs I was quickly pulling the trigger and got myself a shiny new toy.
At this point some may argue that there are better sensors then the KAF8300, especially when it comes to noise levels. Astrel Instruments has implemented the sensor readout in Software and is able, with multisampling, to reduce overall noise levels to roughly 6-7e.
When the camera arrived it was neatly packaged. As I ordered the entire package it included WIFI dongle, touchscreen, low vaccuum pump and power supply cabling. A camera test report was also included describing readout noise and overall system noise. It promised system noise of roughly 6e.
As I bought the camera from a german Astrel retailer I had to mount the filters into the camera myself, which can be a bit tricky and should have some preparation in order not to have too much dust enter the camera body. In addition you need to fine tune filterwheel calibration as the camera accepts 27mm filters that are very close to the sensor, so vignetting might be an issue if calibration is not correct, but this is well described in the user manual. Alternatively, if you buy it directly from Astrel, they are offering a free of charge filter mounting service.
Booting up the camera and using the apps is pretty self explaining and does not pose too many problems, even for non IT people 😉
One of the pretty smart concepts of the camera is the way how they are handling subzero cooling temperatures and possible frosting. The camera is evacuated and a low vacuum condition is achieved by using a vacuum pump before you start cooling the camera. Usually the vacuum will last for weeks so this procedure is nothing you need to do often.
Lets get to using the camera in the field. As said I am depending on a mobile setup, which consists of my optics, an AZ-EQ6, an MGEN autoguider, my Astrel camera and a small tablet. As always with mobile setups you need to bring enough battery power to keep everything going. The camera itself usually consumes 2A per hour depending on how you set the temperature delta.
As soon as everything is set up you can connect to the camera either by using a WiFi or LAN connection using a VNC client. Using the external touchscreen is something I only did once. The one supplied in version A is not really that useful. The screen that comes with version B of the camera is supposed to be a lot better, although I have not tried that myself, but either using a tablet or my phone to control it more then makes up for it 😉
One of the features I really came to like with the Astrel is the DSLR like preview function, which helps finding, focusing and framing your target a lot.
As soon as this is done you can move to planning your exposure series with the help of an app. You can chose time, number, binning and order of filters you want use. Being it sequential or interleaving. You can save your exposure settings if you like. The pictures that are taken are stored on the cameras internal storage or, if you like, can be saved to an USB stick that can be externally connected.
If you like you can use the integrated autoguiding that is based on the Lin_Guider software. It is a bit tricky finding all the right settings and UI performance in the A version of the camera is not optimal. Again, version B, as it features a more powerful CPU, is remediating this issue. Once you tackled settings and user experience the overall guiding performance is very good.
If, like me, you are using an MGEN you can connect it to the Astrel and have them communicate and control dithering, which is a very nice feature.
So everything set up, configured and ready to go you can hit the „shot“ button and the camera starts exposing while the MGEN is guiding. Usually this the moment when I am starting to watch the sky and relax. You can use the monitoring app to see how the camera and exposure series is doing. You can even check the images that the camera has taken with an app, although the resolution in the A version is not good, again solved in version B.
Rating the imaging performance of the Astrel is simple, it is very good, although I do not have a direct comparison in terms of a CCD, only a DSLR. Noise is very low as promised. I have attached some pictures that have been taken with my setup.
With so many good things usually comes some sort of caveat. This is why I am going to list some things that I not fully like or I think can have some improvement:
- Steep learning curve due to very basic user manual
- Downloading large amounts of images takes a lot of time (solved with external USB or using version B of the camera)
- Internal clock is not buffered, you need to set this every time or use an external GPS dongle offered by Astrel Instruments
- The mechanical shutter makes taking flats a bit tricky. You need to watch timing (at least 5 seconds), so you better bring a dimmable flat field box or something 😉
Let me close with a brief summary and a comment on the service and support.
All in all I found what I was looking for in the Astrel AST8300M. The camera performs very well, is easy to use (once you get it), fully supports my mobile requirements, is upgradeable (they are working on KAF16200 based version) and, as not mentioned before, very lightweight. It is as close to a DSLR experience as you can get with a full astro CCD.
Last but not least I want to mention the service and support provided by Astrel Instruments. As always things can break or you might have questions. So whatever issue I ever face with the camera (had to service it once) was quickly solved. Communication was very timely, advise excellent and to the point and we have an ongoing dialog of possible things to put into the next version of the firmware 😉
I can only recommend the camera and hope that my review has helped answer some questions. I am happy to answer any addtional questions you might have via PM oder my mail.
AST8300B at work user review
Learn how fast and easy it is to take images with the AST8300B CCD camera.
This complete and detailed review of the AST8300B from a very skilled user, shows how to use the AST8300B apps through all the steps of deep sky imaging.
See the complete review on the Astro Geeks
Stefano Conti, "The AstroGeeks", 17 Jan 2018
Laser guide star pointing camera for LGSF facilities
Domenico Bonaccini Calia, European Southern Observatory (Germany); Fernando Pedichini, Mauro Centrone, INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma (Italy); Andrea Ricciardi, Antonio Cerruto, Astrel Instruments June 2014
This article has been written for the presentation of ESO LPC project at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014, the most prestigious event for developers of ground- and space-based telescopes, the supporting technologies, and the latest instrumentation in Montreal (Canada).
Astrel Instruments is involved in this project providing the ASTREL-A01-X camera, a customized version of commercial AST8300-A.
AST8300 technical review by Sky at Night
BBC Sky at Night #135 August 2016
Excellent review on “Sky at Night” BBC magazine issue 135 August 2016. The camera has been deeply evaluated by "Sky at Night" experts in all techincal aspects: electronics, software, mechanics, optics, ...