Altair Capture Tutorial 1
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
Ok, In this tutorial we are going to use this software to capture a deep sky object. Now, one thing you will need upfront is obviously an Altair Astro CMOS camera, such as the one that we will be using for this tutorial, which is the Altair Hypercam 183C PRO. This tutorial will work for any Altair Astro CMOS camera. The only other thing you need is a equatorial GO-TO mount and you must be completely conversant with how to use it. In other words, how to do the initial alignment procedure which must be done before attempting this tutorial. This is the best kind of mount to use for this sort of deep sky work.
There seems to be a lot of confusion as to how this software can be used for taking exposures above 5 seconds. Obviously, using CMOS cameras is very different than using DSLRs and you can capture quite a lot using 5 second exposures or less for hundreds of frames and then stacking them altogether. This works especially well on bright targets such as star clusters, the brightest globular clusters and even some planetary nebula etc.. However, the time may come when you will want to go for longer exposures for capturing fainter galaxies and emission nebula. These exposures will bring out much more detail. I will explain how to take both kinds of exposures using Altair Capture.
A lot of experienced users tend to use Astrophotography Tool, SharpCap, and Sequence Generator etc for capturing. Personally, I do not think that these programs are very beginner friendly and some of them are quite expensive. However, Altair Capture is very easy to use for beginners and once you know how, you can get great results with this and it costs nothing as it's a free download! Now, I am going to assume that you are a complete beginner in this tutorial and that you need every bit of help you can get. Hopefully, this will get you going.
Ok, lets get started. The first thing to do is install the software located here. Or download from my post if this link does not work. Downloading this software is a must anyway as it also contains the drivers needed for your laptop/desktop to actually run your camera. Installing the Ascom drivers is also a good idea for later use. Once installed you can now open Altair Capture and you will be greeted by the main screen.
You will now need to attach the camera physically to your telescope and this means taking out the eyepiece and using the attachments to fit the camera in your telescope. Obviously, this means some fiddling about by you as it's different with every scope. Once your camera is attached to your telescope you can now connect your camera to your laptop/desktop with the USB cable. In the top right under Camera List you should now see your cameras name. Click on this and now the screen will change to show what you can see through the telescope via the camera. You may actually not see anything at this point! Very disturbing I know, but do not panic. Below the Camera List you can see the Capture & Resolution menu. If you are using the Hypercam 183C the resolution box will show 4 different resolutions. Different cameras will show different resolutions, but for now just choose the lowest resolution. Under Format choose RAW. Using the grey scroll bar which turns blue when selected, pull it right down to reveal the other menus. Under Bit depth select 12 bit. This is used for deep sky targets. 8 bit is fine for planets. Under Colour/Grey make sure Colour is selected if you are using a so called one shot camera which is what we are using for this tutorial. Leave all other settings as they are.
Make sure that the Video Mode button is selected. In the Capture & Resolution menu pull the Gain slider all the way to the right so it reads 50.00 and pull the Exposure Time slider again all the way to the right so it reads 5 seconds. You will now need to focus your camera. If you have not already done so, slew to a bright star. Now check in your finderscope. Once you have the star in the centre of your finder, you may see it on your screen focused or unfocused or very large or very small. All you need do is rack the telescope focuser up or down until the star appears very small on the screen. You may now see other stars. At this point I would now place my Bahtinov mask on the front of the telescope and then use the focuser again until the star lines up perfect with the mask (strong central line in the middle completely) and on the screen as you will be able to see. If you do not have a mask and I strongly recommend getting one, you will just have to trust to luck. So, if all looks well on the screen we can assume focus is done. Now you will want to slew to your object of choice for imaging. This of course is entirely up to you! But if you are a total beginner, it would be better to try for an object that is fairly bright and will be easy to practice on. This will generally be a Messier object, as most of them are quite bright. Some suggestions for you seasonally would be Spring – M13 a superb globular cluster in the constellation Hercules, Summer – M27 a huge planetary nebula in the constellation Vulpecula, Autumn – M31 the incredible spiral galaxy in the constellation Andromeda, Winter – M42 the awesome nebula in Orion. Another superb target if visible is M57 the beautiful planetary nebula in the constellation Lyra. I personally think this is the best beginners target to image as its easily visible and in a lovely field of stars and the colours are superb. Of course the choice is yours, there are thousands of targets, but like I say, the Messier objects are in general the brightest. However, if you have now slewed to your target then it should now be visible on your screen. You will now make slight adjustments with your hand controller until you have the target centred on your screen. Ok, once that's done, we can move on...