Al­tair GP-CAM 290M USB3 Mono cam­era

Al­tair’s up­dated cam­era gets more size, more speed and more cool­ing

Sky at Night Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS: GARY PALMER

Al­tair Astro has com­pletely re­designed its GP-CAM 290M Mono cam­era. As well as USB3 com­pat­i­bil­ity this new model also has a larger body, partly to house the new elec­tron­ics in­side but also to ac­com­mo­date the deeper ex­ter­nal fins to help cool­ing. Also on the rear is an ST4 guide port.

The cam­era win­dow is clear glass but you can get an IR-coated win­dow as an op­tional ex­tra. Free soft­ware is in­cluded with the cam­era but has to be down­loaded from cam­eras.al­tairas­tro.com. Once it’s in­stalled and con­nected, a red LED flashes on the body of the cam­era to say it’s ac­tive.

Im­pres­sive de­tail

The 290M USB3 has a wide range of uses from high-speed plan­e­tary to deep-sky and elec­tron­i­cally as­sisted astronomy imag­ing. We ini­tially set the cam­era up for some so­lar imag­ing us­ing a 100mm Lunt tele­scope and the first thing we no­ticed is how close ob­jects ap­pear on the screen in re­la­tion to the aper­ture of the tele­scope. To get the best from the cam­era a lit­tle time and pa­tience is re­quired in order to cor­rectly ad­just its set­tings, in­clud­ing USB speed and bit depth.

The cam­era didn’t drop any frames on the videos we recorded with it run­ning at 125fps and there was some nice fine de­tail in the so­lar promi­nence we cap­tured. Us­ing the cam­era with SharpCap Pro soft­ware (from cam­eras.al­tairas­tro.com) opens up more op­tions for so­lar and lu­nar imag­ing, such as the abil­ity to subtract flat frames while you’re record­ing video and cap­tur­ing still frames.

Next we set the cam­era up for some lu­nar imag­ing us­ing a Ce­le­stron 11-inch Edge tele­scope and again, we were very pleased with the de­tail the cam­era was able to cap­ture. The view on screen was smooth with no no­tice­able loss on the dis­play. This makes the cam­era ideal for live view­ing at out­reach events and meet­ings.

De­tail in and around the lu­nar craters was crisp with a nice con­trast be­tween the dark and light ar­eas. With the his­togram set to 70 in SharpCap

Pro ev­ery video was con­sis­tent in qual­ity when pro­cessed. This will make lu­nar and so­lar mo­saics a breeze to con­struct. We also tried the cam­era with a Daystar Quark fil­ter and were re­warded with some stun­ning shots of groups of sunspots.

Imag­ing and guid­ing

Deep-sky imag­ing is easy but you have to make some changes to the set­tings for good re­sults. For cam­eras that aren’t ac­tively cooled, such as this one, it’s be­com­ing pop­u­lar to take lots of short ex­po­sures in­stead of a sin­gle long ex­po­sure. With the 290M USB3 you can choose to run 60 to 100x20-se­cond im­ages and do­ing so on some equip­ment would mean that you wouldn’t have to use au­to­gu­id­ing soft­ware.

Due to poor weather dur­ing the test pe­riod we didn’t get many clear nights to try the cam­era with nar­row­band fil­ters, but we did get a short amount of time to im­age in RGB with the cam­era set on a fil­ter wheel.

Fo­cus­ing is easy us­ing a Bahti­nov mask, as is ad­just­ing the gain up to brighten the im­age. For best re­sults the cam­era needs to be set to high bit mode in what­ever soft­ware you’re us­ing and the gain needs to be set low for im­age cap­ture. If the gain is set high, im­ages cap­tured will be noisy and hard to cal­i­brate. The 20-se­cond im­ages we pro­duced with it showed no amp­glow and the de­tail in the im­ages cap­tured was very good for such a short ex­po­sure time. With the chip be­ing so sen­si­tive it’s very easy to cap­ture faint ob­jects.

Us­ing the cam­era for au­to­gu­id­ing is sim­ple once you’ve con­nected it to a mount us­ing the built-in ST4 port and sup­plied ca­ble. Set­ting it up us­ing PHD2 guid­ing soft­ware is easy and the cam­era’s sen­si­tiv­ity makes guid­ing on faint ob­jects, such as comets, sim­ple to do. In short, this is an im­pres­sive cam­era: it’s well specced, highly ca­pa­ble and user friendly; all this com­bined with its price makes it a very tempt­ing piece of kit.

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