The fan-cooled Hypercam 294C Colour camera is the preferred alternative to a DSLR camera when it comes to astro-imaging, due to it's higher sensitivity to Hydrogen Alpha light.
The 11.6mp Sony IMX294 is a 4/3rds sensor (23.2mm diagonal) capable of 14bit depth. It is Back Side Illuminated (BSI) with both Starvis and EXMOR-R ratings, making it ideal for low light imaging applications such as astronomy and microscopy. The Hypercam features fan cooling with 4GB DDR3 RAM, and amp glow reduction for easier image capture and processing.
Due to it's low read noise, the Hypercam 294C is suitable for both deepsky and solar system imaging with ROI, as well as "frame stacking and averaging" in microscopy applications.
The PRO Version has the following features:
4GB DDR3 RAM Memory Buffer for better performance.
Amp glow reduction - practically zero amp glow.
Temperature sensor, with data available in realtime, temperature written to .FITS files for easier processing.
ROI (Region of Interest) for cropped higher speed solar, lunar and planetary imaging.
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Easier than a DSLR and no "astro modding" required: Unlike a DSLR, there's no need to risk modifying your camera to capture detail in red hydrogen wavelengths, because it has no "red blocking filter" in the way. Hypercam is much easier to use and focus than a DSLR, thanks to the live preview mode which shows uncompressed video at full resolution. You can see a tiny star-point clearly in real-time, because there is no video compression like with a DSLR video stream. There are no clumsy power connectors which drop out easily, no firmware to fight with your software, no mirror to lock up, and a "true" uncompressed RAW mode output. You get exactly what this Sony sensor "sees" from without alterations.
Low read noise. The Sony IMX294 CMOS sensor has very low read noise at approx. 2e, wide dynamic range, and high sensitivity. The IMX294 ExmorR rated Back Illuminated Sensor has high-sensitivty, low dark current, no smear, and excellent anti-blooming charateristics. BSI technology moves the sensor circuitry behind the pixel, so unlike conventional sensors the light path is not blocked, resulting in higher quantum efficiency than a CCD sensor.
HGC mode: HGC is can be switched on in the AltairCapture software, allowing read noise to stay below 2e but preserving dynamic range of 13 stops. We recommend HGC is ALWAYS switched on at gain setting 4.5 in AltairCapture which is equivalent to 450 in SharpCap PRO. SharpCap PRO automatically switches the camera to HGC mode when Gain of 450 is selected.
Recommended Telescopes for the Hypercam 294C: With a pixel size of 4.63 microns, and an active imaging area of 17.47x12.86mm, the Hypercam 294C performs extremely well with telescopes of around 750mm imaging focal length or more. It will tend to undersample at shorter focal lengths (therefore the Hypercam 183C series cameras are suggested for shorter focal lengths). In particular the Hypercam 294C is recommended for Altair Wave Series 115mm, 130mm and 152mm refractors, 200mm and larger Newtonians, and Schmidt Cassagrains (SCTs) such as the Meade and Celestron ranges, Celestron Hyperstar and RASA scopes. Basically telescopes with a larger spot size are more suitable for the 294C sensor pixel size. For lunar and planetary imaging, at long focal lengths, the 294C is is quite a formiddable solar system camera.
4GB DDR3 RAM: The Hypercam PRO series also has an unprecedented 4GB on-board frame buffer to improve data transfer stability at high frame rates (to reduce dropped frames) and to increase compatibility with a wider range of PCs. The improved buffers give a more consistent data transfer rate over USB2.0 and USB3.0 allowing longer imaging sequences with small notebooks, stick PCs, or mini-PCs.
Low read noise BSI sensor. The Sony IMX294 CMOS sensor is ExmorR rated, and Back Illuminated (BSI). BSI technology moves the sensor circuitry behind the pixel, so unlike conventional sensors the light path is not blocked, resulting in higher quantum efficiency than a traditional CCD sensor. Read noise is low, and there is no smear or “blooming” on bright stars.
Try deep-sky "lucky" imaging. The low read noise let’s you stack shorter exposures to take advantage of the low read noise, reducing atmospheric aberration, mount tracking errors and wind vibration. The more frames you stack, the smoother the image becomes, and the higher the cumulative dynamic range. In this way, long cumulative exposure times of many hours can be achieved with modest equipment. The result is a smoother, sharper image with more detail.
Video Astronomy/EAA Friendly. The Hypercam 294C camera is not only desirable for Deepsky Imaging - it's also great for Video Astronomy or "EAA" Electronically Assisted Astronomy. The resolution, high sensitivity, and amp glow reduction technology are well suited to this task. What's more, you can use the Live Stacking features in the AltairCapture software or SharpCap PRO. All-sky time-lapse imaging or video is easy with a DSLR lens and optional Hypercam Lens Adapters (product code: CLA-EOS or CLA-NIKON).
To sum it up, the most desirable features of the Hypercam 294C camera are:
- 11.6mp resolution SONY Exmor R Back Side Illuminated IMX294 CMOS sensor
- 5440 x 3648 active pixels in a 13x9mm 16mm diagonal array (16.05mm x 12.61mm physical sensor size).
- Extremely low read noise enabling deepsky lucky imaging and very smooth image quality.
- Amp glow reduction technology onboard reduces amp glow, reduces noise, and increases contrast.
- High Dynamic Range with 14 bit ADC to 16bit output .FITS files in RAW mode, for beautiful deepsky images.
- Up to 17.5 Frames per second video in full 20mp resolution. (You will need a computer with high USB bandwidth to achieve these speeds, preferably with Intel or Via hardware USB controller on the motherboard).
More technical stuff:
Pure RAW video and stills mode and "digital" RGB output modes for better post processing: The Hypercam sensor ADC can deliver 12bit RAW files, which are stretched to 16 bit. In RAW mode analog (on-sensor) gain is used for ultra low read-noise images. Because the output is completely "RAW" in analog mode, there is no partial "downstream digital" processing like with a DSLR or other cheaper Chinese cameras of similar design, resulting in true RAW mode for the best deepsky performance. True RAW mode allows greater flexibility and consistency in processing large stacks of frames for deepsky "lucky" imaging, where the camera's low read noise can be taken advantage of. Either .FITS image or .SER video files are captured in their purest form for later processing in your software of choice. Of course for Video Astronomy / EAA use, you can select RGB Mode and capture .AVI files, or just view the screen with full access to white balance, gamma, contrast and histogram controls, just like any other camera.
USB3.0 speed and USB2.0 reliability: USB3.0 gives much faster transfer speeds than USB2.0 cameras, however, if like most imagers, you prefer to use longer and more flexible USB2.0 cables for better tracking and reliability with a USB2.0 hub, no problem! The Hypercam is completely compatible with USB2.0 or USB3.0. Just plug and go!
QUALITY software and drivers included:
AltairCapture: Unlike cheaper cameras, Altair Astro has spent considerable time improving the extensively featured and intuitive AltairCapture software, which can be downloaded from cameras.altairastro.com. AltairCapture is a stable 64 bit Windows application, which allows full control of the camera in high speed video or still mode. It includes extensive automation features, and supports all the major file formats useful for astro imaging and professional scientific imaging in 16bit, 12bit or 8bit mode. Furthermore, the popular PHD Guiding, SharpCap and Firecapture are also natively supported. ASCOM drivers are also available for download at cameras.altairastro.com where you can also get regular driver updates. The installation process is very simple, and unlike with cheaper cameras, there is no need to waste time tweaking .DLL files to make your camera perform as expected.
SharpCap PRO: Altair Astro have worked closely with SharpCap developer Robin Glover since 2015, to fully integrate Altair cameras with SharpCap at a basic level. Now, Sharpcap PRO enables even more features with this camera, such as software driven polar alignment (more accurate than any other method), live flat frame subtraction and live darkframe subtraction. The fast, accurate polar alignment feature in SharpCap PRO is a life-saver for imaging, minimising setup time.
Fan cooling: The Hypercam is cooled with an internal low vibration fan. The fan can be switched on or off via the imaging software. Cool air is drawn in through the vents at the side of the casing, over a large internal heat-sink. The heat-sink is connected directly with the sensor board just like a computer CPU. The free flow of air through the casing cools not only the sensor, but all the internal electronics boards. Cooling is especially desirable for long exposure imaging to reduce thermal noise where sensors can reach around 35C on long exposures. The result is visibly reduced noise per frame, easier processing, and less sub-frames required to attain a smooth noise-free image, compared to a non-cooled camera.
Support & warranty: Altair delivers proper on-shore English-speaking UK/EU support with a 2 year manufacturer warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. New users should visit Altair Camera Google User Group where you can get answers to technical questions. The group is also a great place to share tips and techniques, to get the best out of your camera. The AltairCapture software interface supports most European languages including English, German, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish.
File formats: The camera can be fully controlled in AltairCapture and SharpCap to output uncompressed .AVI and .SER video files for solar system imaging, as well as all common still image formats such as .JPEG .PNG .TIFF .BMP, and .FITS (for deepsky imaging) to mention just a few. The Hypercam supports 8bit or 12bit output. The 12 bit output mode can be used for deep sky imaging with less frames needing to be stacked and a wider pixel intensity range. The sensor is extremely sensitive and a good candidate for video astronomy, especially with small refractors. Find out more about bit depth here. Find out more about video & file formats here.
The Hypercam platform: The Hypercam platform supports “Trigger Mode” to make long exposures of over 5 seconds easier to control. With most cameras, in normal video mode, you have to wait for an exposure to complete before the camera will accept, say a command to abort the frame, for say clouds, aircraft, or an alignment issue, like kicking the tripod and so-on, changes in gain, exposure time, or re-aligning or refocusing. For long exposures, normal video mode is inconvenient, especially for video astronomy and deep-sky imaging, however in Trigger Mode, you can stop the camera instantly (even if you are half way through a long exposure) change the settings, and re-start the camera. The Hypercam also has an improved on-board frame buffer to improve data transfer stability at high frame rates (to reduce dropped frames) and to increase compatibility with a wider range of PCs. The improved buffers give a more consistent data transfer rate over USB2.0 and USB3.0 buses on laptops and desktop PCs.
Included in the box:
Camera body with internal cooling fan, heat-sink, and front female M42x0.75mm T-Thread interface (12.5mm backfocus).
1.8m High-speed USB3.0 cable.
2" OD Nosepiece with standard 2" M48x0.75mm filter thread on the front. (code ALTAIRH-2IN).
Built-in UV-IR Blocking Filter, AR coatings. (Removable for sensor cleaning).
Plastic screw-on dust cap.
Note: This camera does not come with software in the box. To operate the camera you will need to download the latest camera drivers at cameras.altairastro.com (opens new window)
Sensor & performance specifications:
AA294CPRO: SONY Exmor R BSI IMX294 Color CMOS sensor
Sensor Size: 4/3" diagonal (23.2mm)
Exposure duration shortest/longest: 0.1 ms (0.00014 secs) / 5 secs (Video Mode)
0.1 ms (0.0001 secs) / 1000 secs (Trigger Mode)
Bit depth: 8bit & 14bit mode switchable
Pixel size microns: 4.63 x 4.63 um
Resolution in pixels: 4128x2808 (11.6mp)
Recording System: Still Picture and Video
Region of Interest (ROI) support: Available
Approx. Max frame rates (assuming computer Bus operating at full bandwidth)*:
640x480 ROI 63FPS
320x240 ROI 63FPS
Approx. 50% of above FPS.*
* Based on average testing. May be revised as we get more data. The shorter the exposure duration, the faster the frame rate.
An expensive PC does not guarantee a fast frame rate because PC bus and main board architecture vary.
Sensor QE / Quantum Efficiency: Approx. 75%
Readout: Progressive Scan
Shutter: Electronic Rolling Shutter
Software & OS support:
Drivers & AltairCapture software download (Windows only): cameras.altairastro.com (opens new window).
Driver support: PHD2, AltairCapture, SharpCap
AltairCapture OS support: Win 8/ 10 (32 & 64 bit)
NOTE: Windows 10 is recommended for best performance, with 2013 or later machine with USB host controller v1.0 or later.
SharpCap and APT (3rd party applications) are also fully supported with native drivers for seamless camera control.
ASCOM fully supported with drivers downloadable at cameras.altairastro.com (opens new window).
USB Port & Cable: 3.0 USB Cable, 1.8m cable (USB2.0 also supported at low frame rates).
ST4 Port & Cable: Standard ST4 Opto-Isolated, 1.5m cable, iOptron, Celestron, Skywatcher SynScan GOTO.
Backfocus / Flange Distance: 12.5mm from front flange to sensor.
Cooling: High Performance Electronic Fan-cooling System with Heat-sink connected to sensor via cold-finger
Camera body length: 80mm
Camera body outer diameter: 65mm
Weight grams: 320g
Optical window: AR-coated UV/IR blocking filter 400-700nm wavelength Transmission
Back-focus & Adapter compatibility:
Optical Window is removable for cleaning.
Camera body thread: M42x0.75 T2 Thread.
C-mount lens compatibility: C-Mount male threaded lens with 12.5mm back-focus (or flange-distance) requirement.
Astro filter thread adapter: Included 2” OD with Female thread for standard 2" Astro-Filters.
Sensor surface distance from flat end of CS-mount adapter: 12.5 mm
Operating environment conditions:
Power consumption: 0.905 W (standby);
1.68 W (running with Fan off);
2.525 (running with Fan on);
Max operating temp: 50 °C
Lowest operating temp: -10 °C
Max operating humidity: 80 % RH
Power source in Volts: 5V DC (via USB cable)
Windows PC Hardware Requirements:
Minimum CPU: Equal to Intel Core2 2.8GHz or Higher
Minimum Memory: 4GB or More
USB port: USB2.0 High-speed Port or USB3.0 High-speed Port (best performance)
Software delivery: Downloaded online at cameras.altairastro.com and saved to hard drive.
Quick Start & AltairCapture instructions: Downloaded online at cameras.altairastro.com and saved to hard drive.
Protective silicon rubber end-cap for camera CS-thread.
Plastic end cap for 1.25" nosepiece.
Padded cardboard storage box with durable foam inserts
Clear AR coated optical window;
Warranty: 2 years manufacturer warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. Return to point of purchase.
Altair Astro Premium 2" CLS-CCD Filter w AR Coating (Code: F200CLSCCD) for imaging emission nebulae in light polluted urban environments.
Skytech LPRO-MAX 2" CCD Filter with AR Coating (Code: F200-LPROMAXCCD) for imaging all objects in moderate light pollution with better colour balance.
Altair Hypercam DSLR Lens Adapter for Canon EOS or Nikon lenses. (Codes: CLA-EOS and CLA-NIK).