How did the Starfish Camera project get started?
The project started out with the goal of trying to leverage CMOS image sensors for the astrophotography market. All of the other manufacturers addressing this market are using CCD image sensors, which have great image quality but are also very expensive to produce. That is why all of the dedicated astro-cameras in the megapixel class size cost many thousands of dollars. However, there has been a lot of fine work done using DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon for deep sky astrophotography. These cameras use CMOS image sensors but they are not designed specifically for low light astrophotography work. So, there was an opportunity to innovate.
Our first product being developed is the Starfish camera which uses a 1/2" format CMOS image sensor. The camera is intended for use as an autoguider and has an integrated ST-4 style guide port.
What is the best way to keep up with the latest devlopments on the starfish camera project?
There are three ways to keep abreast of the project's status:
What software support do you have for the starfish camera?
Bundled with the Starfish are two programs from Stark Labs. the first is Nebulosity which provides basic camera control and image processing. The second is PHDGuiding which allows you to use the Starfish as an autoguider. Both programs are cross-platform running under either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X.
In addition, we have our own StarLink program program that runs under MacOS X. This software will provide image acquisition as well as auto-guiding capabilities. Basic image processing functions are also included.
We also make available camera plug-ins for popular PC based camera control programs such as MaximDL and CCDSoft. Other programs are being evaluated as well.
We also provide a software development kit for those people wishing to write their own software to control the camera. Send us an eMail at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Do you have plans for other cameras?
Yes. We always planned that we would offer other cameras based upon the core design of the Starfish camera. Leveraging the electronics and software design of this camera will allow us to more quickly bring other cameras to market. We currently have three other camera designs in progress. All are true 16-bit pixel format cameras that are intended to be used as a primary imaging camera for a wide range of imaging tasks (deep-sky to planetary). All will have larger format sensors than that currently in the Starfish camera.
We will continue to leverage CMOS image sensor technology in our designs since we think that is where the future of image sensor technology is going. We want to be the first to utilize the advances in CMOS sensor design as new chips become available.
In addition, we will be including features in the cameras that are only possible when using CMOS image sensors.
What is the current status of the Starfish Camera project?
Over a year ago we developed the electronics and enclosure for a prototype camera based upon the MT9M001 Image sensor. After a field testing with several beta testers, we undertook a redesign of the enclosure to make a more compact and lighter camera. A picture of the new camera design alongside the prototype camera can be seen here.
The camera design has now been finalised and the camera is in full production.
We are now accepting orders for the camera. Please see our ordering information page.
The Starfish camera was designed to be used as a guide camera for astronomical imaging applications. As such it has a built in auto-guider port compatible with ST-4 style guide ports included on most brands of telescope mounts. It also has LED status indicator lights that will show the progress of mount guide commands.
However, since it does have a mega-pixel class image sensor with integrated TEC cooling, many people may chose to use the camera as their primary imaging camera. There are limitations that the user will face however. First is the fact that the pixel data format from the image sensor chip is limited to 10 bits. Second, although the camera does have a built in TEC cooler, it can only cool to approximately -15C from ambient. This will limit the maximum exposure time to something under 5 minutes due to the dark current spec of the sensor. Please note that the Guider version of the camera does not have a TEC cooler and will therefore be limited in the length of exposures taken.
Neither of the limitations are significant for planetary imaging so it is expected that the camera will be very suitable for this kind of imaging.
Also, for applications in the microscopy and industrial machine vision fields, the camera should perform exceedingly well. We plan to offer a version of the camera, with the original MT9T001 image sensor to address these markets.
We will continue to post example images from the camera on our web site of both planetary and deep space objects for you to evaluate.
The table below compares the image sensor used in the starfish guide camera with the sensors used by competitor's guide camera offerings. Note the much larger FOV of the starfish guide camera.
How many versions of the Starfish camera do you sell?
We currently offer the following three versions of the Starfish camera:
Standard - This is the version of the camera which includes all of the capabilities listed in the camera specification sheet.
Guider - This is an un-cooled version of the standard Starfish camera. This will be the camera that people using the Starfish only for guiding will be most interested in. The camera does not have the integral TEC cooler, power supply nor cooling fan. These componnents were removed in the interest of offering a lower cost guider solution to our customers.
OEM - This version of the camera is a custom version offered to some of our industrial users. We can supply the camera without the TEC cooler capability, the ST-4 guide port and other options that are not used for stricly imaging applications. In addition, because of the hardware based image processing capability of the camera, we can offer specialized image processing functions tailored to your particular application. Please contact our offices for more information.