Meade Deep Space Imager
Back in the “early days” of DSIs in the field (Nov-Dec 2004) consumer anger began to build against Meade for it’s advertising claims, “Take pictures like these your first night out.” While showing striking galactic and nebular images from a “casually aligned Meade 8” LX200 GPS”. When user problems and complaints began to far outweigh satisfaction, I sought out the camera’s designer and invited him to address concerns to the user’s group. This seems to be the turning point in DSI history for shortly after the camera designer posted information, confidence in the camera began to grow.
The DSI comes in a small box containing the following;
-1.25” screw-on nosepiece
-USB 2.0 cable (it’s a short one, beware)
-RJ to DB9 adapter
-Autostar Suite Installation CD ROM (contains instruction manuals)
-2-sided “quickstart” instruction sheet
-6-wire and 4-wire RJ cables
-1.25” parfocal ring
The heart and soul of any CCD imager is the chip itself. The DSI boasts a “high sensitivity” Sony Super .HAD Color CCD array with 9.6x7.5 micron pixels. The array contains 510x492 pixels.
True to the advertisement, you’ll be able to start imaging your first night out. Well, this is true if you have the following;
-USB 2.0 on your computer
-focal reducer to get your scope down to a reasonable focal ratio or you’ll be imaging with the equivalent of about a 9mm eyepiece. My ETX-125 works nicely with a .5 focal reducer. On the USB 2.0 thing, don’t even try the camera unless you’re running 2.0. There are many reasons, but just go with 2.0. Tip #1 if you are upgrading your laptop through its PC card, please be sure you buy a “powered card” or you’ll be adding one more DC power source to your growing spaghetti-bowl. I recommend a card that has a power chord that takes power from the existing USB source. These can be found for around $50-$60 at the major electronics shops. Note in the photo above I included the CD and PC card for the USB 2.0 investment I had to make. This was an unpleasant element of the “DSI learning curve”.
Meade issued an autostar update for the DSI. This 2.66 MB update corrects the problem of the DSI driver not being recognized by the Autostar software interface. Actual patch installation is simple, however problems still occur on some operating systems.
One final gotcha is that Windows XP users must ensure they are running their OS with Service Pack 2 updates or the DSI software will not function properly due to persistent driver recognition errors.
Now you’re ready to actually get started.
The DSI manual recommends beginning with a terrestrial image. I don’t recommend this unless you normally do most observing in the daylight….wait, why did you buy a deep sky imager if you take daytime pictures? So start in your normal environment, the night sky classroom. Center up an image in your scope, remember that the DSI is like a 9mm eyepiece in its field of view, so center up is the key term here. Allow :15 minutes of outside time for the camera to cool to ambient temperature. Carefully place the nosepiece into the 1.25” ring and secure it. Beware the nosepiece has a lip and you may get a falsely secured camera the first few times.
Save the image in the format you desire. Next time take some dark frames and use them. Darks will significantly reduce electronic noise and allow you to improve image quality.
Once you’ve taken the image, the job is half-done. I recommend using Registax to stack if you save individual images and even if you let Autostar combine them, make several images and stack in Registax. Following this, do more work in Adobe photoshop and save a final image you can brag to your spouse about. Remember, usually spouses are not as impressed in our photos as we are.
My newly Supercharged Meade ETX-125 will hold a solid image for 8-second exposures. At f7/5 I’m turning in some very pleasant nebular and galactic images. From our astronomy club’s dark sky site in Oklahoma things are even better. For samples of my images go to www.geocities.com/astrodad32/Stellar_Images.html. The Yahoo Deep Sky Group is a great place to find up-to-the-minute information on the DSI http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DeepSkyImager/. And finally, Mike Weasner’s ETX site offers a good DSI resource http://www.weasner.com/etx/astrophotography/2004/dsi.html.
In summary, the DSI fills a unique niche in the astrophotography market. I will call this a crossover camera. The camera is simple enough for a beginner to “point and shoot” yet allows more complex operations that only a more experienced astro-imager might utilize. From Mike Weasner’s Mighty ETX user’s website one DSI user expressed it perfectly, I would say to anyone getting a DSI don't expect good images without some work! It is a bit more complicated than the LPI but with practice (and good conditions) it appears that the results can be excellent!!” Despite the travails during the early days, I’m quite pleased with the Meade Deep Space Imager.
Click here for more about the Meade DSI. -Ed.
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