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Switching to a Cooled Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

5 Things we wish we knew when switching from a DSLR camera to a CCD or CMOS Astrophotography cooled camera
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In January of 2019, we upgraded our primary imaging camera from our trusty, easy to use Canon 7D Mark II to the popular and well rated ZWO ASI 1600MM-Pro CMOS camera. If you watched our video about the upgrade, you probably know that this switch was a little unexpected.

Eager to try this new hardware out, we left our DSLR camera at home and ventured into the outskirts of Las Vegas to capture our first narrowband photons. We captured Thor's Helmet, and for a first try, were very happy with it!

NGC 2359 Thor's Helmet nebula in narrowband with the ZWO ASI 1600MM-Pro Astrophotography cooled camera Las Vegas Nevada

Over the next few weeks, we learned a lot about our new camera and some of you, through your YouTube or Facebook comments, gave us some great advice which we decided to share with the rest of the community here. This post is mostly aimed for people who are about to get a cooled Astrophotography camera, or just got one!

Astrophotography has a steep learning curve. Hopefully with this tutorial, we can help others learn a little faster and not recreate the same mistakes we did.

If you'd like to take a look at our entire setup, we have a full post about our equipment HERE.


I - Gain and Binning: 2 New Settings

Switching to a Cooled CCD/CMOS Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew - ASI Air binning and gain

We had no idea what to pick for those before imaging Thor's Helmet.

Thankfully we didn't go to our usual desert spot but instead stayed within Las Vegas so we had service. We looked it up on some forums online and decided to go the safe route with Binning 1x1 and "Medium Gain" at 139 (which is good for the 1600MM).

We are still not familiar with the Binning settings and always pick 1x1 which is the default option.

As for the gain, we now know a little more as we image new types of targets.

In short, it's a bit similar to ISO but also not really. It also depends on what filter you use that night.

Today, we have learned that a Medium gain (139) is great for Narrowband imaging, while a lower gain (between 0 and 75) is good for LRGB data. We'll continue to become more and more familiar with it, and once we master these 2 settings, maybe we'll make a more in-depth tutorial video about how to choose them.


II - Filters, and How to Choose Them

Switching to a Cooled CCD/CMOS Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew - Filters and how to choose them

Our camera came with a filter wheel and 7 filters: L, R, G, B, and the narrowband filters Ha, SII and OIII.

It's tricky because we've been shooting with a DSLR camera for so long, and although we could use filters (like the Ha filter we used in Episode 8 to get a fantastic image of Barnard's Loop), we don't have to.

Now, when we look back to our DSLR days, it was like: "just point, shoot, and BAM! beautiful image", but now we have to pick what filter to use for each target and how many of them we need to combine together. It sure takes some practice.

For now, this is what we learned:

For Galaxies and Clusters, we use L, R, G, B and take more Luminence filter frames than the others. If a galaxy has a lot of Hydrogen Alpha (like M106) then we also spend some time imaging with the Hydrogen alpha filter on.

For Nebulae, it depends on the type but we've mostly been shooting emission nebulae so far and so we use our Narrowband filters: Ha, SII and OIII. Some nebulae, like the planetary nebula Messier 97 (the Owl Nebula) are great in LRGB.

We know some nebulae can be done with only 2 filters, which is called "bicolor" imaging, but we haven't messed with that yet.


III - Needs Its Own Power, Not Just from the Laptop

Switching to a Cooled CCD/CMOS Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew - Needs its own power supply

For some reason, we thought that plugging the camera to our Laptop would be more than enough to power it through the night. WRONG!

A cooled Astrophotography CMOS or CCD camera needs its own power source to be able to turn on its fan. We didn't do much research and learned this at the last minute a few days before planning to try it out. This is why we bought the Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox to power up our entire setup. You can check out our full review of the Powerbox HERE.


IV - Let It Cool Down All the Way

Switching to a Cooled CCD/CMOS Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew - Let it cool down all the way

Talking about the fan, it takes a while for the camera to fully cool down, especially in a hot place like Nevada. Make sure to first of all activate the cool down option and then wait until it reaches the temperature you want before imaging. If you don't, your images will have different temperatures and your dark frames won't vary much when you stack everything together.


V - Better if Attached Directly to the Filter Wheel

Switching to a Cooled CCD/CMOS Astrophotography Camera - 5 things we wish we knew - attach close to the filter wheel

And here is our last piece of advice. First off, a big thanks to you guys! This was explained to us through the YouTube comment section and our Facebook page that we should not attach our adapter in between our filter wheel and our camera.

Some of you noticed that in our first couple of videos with the ASI 1600MM and told us that we should attach the camera as close as possible to the filters to avoid unnecessary vignetting in our images.

We now attach everything the right way, and wanted to thank you and pass on your advice to the other amateur astrophotographers following our channel.


Final Thoughts

We hope this post will allow you to master your new camera faster, and not repeat the same mistakes we did. We wasted some important time and sacrificed some great shots while learning to use our cooled Astrophotography camera and would be glad if you didn't have to struggle like we did.

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Until next time,

Clear Skies!

Galactic Hunter



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