The Altair GPCAM3 178M Mono camera has the sought-after Sony IMX178 CMOS sensor, with EXMOR-R and STARVIS technology. This gives extremely low read noise, wide dynamic range, and 6.3mp resolution (higher than 4K TV!).
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Solar system imaging: The GPCAM3 178M is also capable of solar. lunar, or planetary imaging (video capture) allowing detailed images with refractors of less than 3 metres focal length, where small pixels (only 2.4x2.4um), high frame rates, and low read noise get the most detail. The ROI (Region of Interest) feature can be used for even higher frame rates when imaging the planets, sun or moon at high magnification.
EAA & Video Astronomy: The GPCAM3 178M is particularily attractive for Electronically Assisted Astronomy / Video Astronomy because of it's high 6.3 Megapixel resolution and high sensitivity thanks to Sony STARVIS back-side-illumination (BSI) and Exmor-R technology. Using the Live Stacking features in the free AltairCapture software or SharpCap. Time-lapse all-sky imaging and video is fully supported, and the camera can be used with a DSLR lens to image large areas of sky.
Deepsky astro-photography: Camera has amp glow suppression, and you can effectively remove any remaining amp glow by using the "Live" darkframe subtraction in AltairCapture or SharpCapor, or with with darkframes during processing as usual.
To get an idea of what this camera is capable of, click here to view a Hypercam 178 Colour lunar image by UK customer Neil Phillips (same sensor but colour version).(Opens new window, compressed .JPEG file)
To sum it up, the most desirable features of the IMX178 sensor are:
- Large 6mp sensor 7.37 x 4.92mm
- SONY STARVIS and Exmor R Technology with a sensitivity of 2000 mV or more per 1µm²
- Low read noise, approx. 0.9- 2.2e electrons (e-) or more.
- Saturation (full well) capacity approx. 15,000 electrons (e-)
- High Dynamic Range with 14 bit ADC for high image quality in both light and dark (high contrast) areas.
Speed and reliability in one camera: USB3.0 and on-board memory buffering give much faster transfer speeds than the GPCAM USB2.0 series, pushing the USB3.0 format to the limit, yet within a stable envelope. Memory buffering almost completely eliminates dropped frames and corrupted video files, a common problem with USB cameras, and enables faster more consistent frame rates, even with less powerful notebook computers. Consistency and stability is improved for video capture sequences - especially desirable for scientific applications.
QUALITY software and drivers included: Unlike cheaper cameras, Altair Astro has spent considerable time developing the extensively featured and intuitive AltairCapture software, which can be downloaded from www.altaircameras.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 14bit or 8bit mode. Furthermore, the popular PHD Guiding,SharpCap PRO, APT and NINA are also natively supported. ASCOM drivers are also available for download at www.altaircameras.com where you can also get regular driver updates. The installation process is easy, and unlike with cheaper cameras, you don't need to be a computer expert to make your camera work.
Wide compatibility: Although the GPCAM3 is a USB3.0 camera, it is also fully compatible with USB2.0 ports when a longer cable and less speed are required, for example in deepsky or video astronomy using the live stacking features in AltairCapture or Sharpcap. Windows 7 to Windows 10 software is widely supported by AltairCapture in 64bit mode (see technical info for details).
Autoguiding: The camera has an ST4 auto-guiding port, and can be used to auto-guide with mounts from all the major manufacturers supporting ST4 format, including iOptron, Celestron and Skywatcher. The sensor is more than sensitive enough for autoguiding.
Support & warranty: Altair delivers proper on-shore English-speaking UK/EU support with a 2 year manufacturer warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. Now just try that with a Chinese camera! New users should definitely visit the Altair Astro Google User Group where you can get answers to technical questions, as well as sharing 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 IMX178 Sensor supports 8bit or 14bit ADC output. The 14 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 sensor is extremely sensitive and a good candidate for video astronomy, especially with small refractors (final .FITS file is stretched to 16bit for post processing compatiblility). Find out more about bit depth here. Find out more about video & image file formats here.
Here's an example Hypercam* IMX178M image of the Orion Nebula with an Altair 10" Truss Newtonian Astrograph. 100x15 second exposures were stacked and processed by Nick (Altair Astro) and combined with darks, flats. No bias frames were used due to the Sony sensor's low read noise. Click the image to enlarge to full size (opens new window). As you can see, this camera can produce incredibly detailed images with good optics. *Hypercam 178M has similar performance, but with a cooling fan.
Solar Imaging examples: Being a black and white camera, the Hypercam IMX178 Mono is particularly desirable for solar imaging with filters. You can image the sun in white light (with an Altair Solar Wedge or other filter), Hydrogen Alpha (with a Daystar Quark and refractor or dedicated solar telescope), Calcium or Sodium (with the respective Quark filters). We can advise the best equipment combinations depending on your existing equipment.
To get an idea of what this camera is capable of, here's a solar image with Hypercam* IMX178 mono by Nick (of Altair Astro). Click to enlarge (opens new window). A "double stacked" Lunt 60/50mm dedicated solar telescope was used to capture about 100 frames. The IMX178 sensor covers the entire disc of the sun in one frame with this scope, so you don't have to mosaic several frames to capture a detailed image. Because the sun changes so fast, mosaics rarely "hold together" and it's very hard to blend frames, so being able to capture the entire disc simultaneously at high resolution really helps the image to "hang together". *Hypercam has similar performance with same sensor, but with a cooling fan.
Whats different about the GPCAM3 platform compared to the GPCAM1 and GPCAM2? GPCAM3 has additional electronics for USB3.0 support, and to make space for the FULL SIZE USB3.0 connector. (We feel USB micro connectors are not a good idea for imaging because they don't maintain a reliable connection and wear easily, so we used full-size dual port connectors on this camera).
Better control with Trigger Mode: Trigger Mode is fully supported to make long exposures of over 5 seconds easier to control. With most CMOS cameras, in normal video mode, the camera controls are "locked up" during a long exposure, so you have to wait for the exposure to complete before the camera will accept any commands. So you have to wait to abort a frame if a cloud covers the view, or make routine changes, say gain (ISO), exposure duration, re-aligning or refocusing on the object. However in "Trigger Mode", you can now stop the camera instantly (even if you are half way through a long 30 second exposure) change the settings, and re-start the camera looping again. For long exposures "Trigger Mode" is essential. Of course you can use normal video mode at up to 5 second exposures for video astronomy and solar system imaging. The GPCAM3 also has improved circuitry to improve data transfer stability at high frame rates (reducing dropped frames) and to increase compatibility with a wider range of PCs. This gives a more consistent data transfer rate over USB buses on laptops or desktop PCs.
Included in the box:
1.5m High-speed USB3.0 cable.
1.5m ST4 guide cable.
1.25 inch x nosepiece with female 1.25" filter thread on the front.
(Optional 2" OD Nosepiece with dual 2 and 1.25" filter threads is available, code GPCAM-2IN)
CS-Mount insert (12.5mm back-focus) is pre-installed on camera. (Optional 5mm extension adapter is available for C-Mount lenses requiring 17.5mm back-focus.)
Removable Clear blocking filter with AR anti-reflection coatings. (Removable for sensor cleaning).
Plastic dust cap 1.25".
Silicon dust cap for sensor.
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 www.altaircameras.com (opens new window)
Sensor & performance specifications:
ALTAIRH178M: SONY Exmor R BSI STARVIS IMX178 CMOS sensor
Sensor Size: 1/1.8" (7.37mm x 4.91mm)
Exposure duration shortest/longest: 0.244 ms (0.000244 secs) / 5 secs (Video Mode)
0.244 ms (0.000244 secs) / 1000 secs (16.66mins) (Trigger Mode)
Bit depth: 8bit & 14bit mode switchable
Pixel size microns: 2.4x2.4 um
Resolution in pixels: 3040x2048
Recording System: Still Picture and Video
Region of Interest (ROI) support: Available
Approx. Max frame rates* (assuming computer Bus operating at full bandwidth):
640x480 220FPS ROI
320x240 303FPS ROI
14bit mode: Approx 50% of above
* Based on average user reports. 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: TBC
Dynamic Range: 66db
SNR Maximum: 38db;
Readout: Progressive Scan
Shutter: Electronic Rolling Shutter
Cooling: High Performance CNC machined aluminium casing with external Heat-sink and internal cold-finger contacting rear of sensor.
Camera body length: 73 mm
Weight grams: 70 g (camera net weight)
Sensor cover-glass transmission:
Mono Camera: AR-coated clear coverglass 350-1050nm transmission wavelength
Colour Camera: AR-coated UV/IR blocking filter coverglass 400-700nm transmission wavelength
Back-focus & Adapter compatibility:
Cover glass is removable for cleaning and can be swapped with a clear or UV/IR blocking glass as required.
CS-mount lens compatibility: C-Mount male threaded lens with 12.5mm back-focus (or flange-distance) requirement.
C-mount lens adapter 5mm extension: Optional
C-mount lens compatibility: C-Mount male threaded lens with 17.5mm back-focus (or flange-distance) requirement.
Astro filter thread adapter: Included, 1.25" OD and 2 OD (optional), Female thread
Sensor surface distance from flat end of CS-mount adapter: 12.5 mm
Sensor surface distance from flat end of 1.25" / M42 Astro adapter: 37 mm
Operating environment conditions:
0.3 W (standby)
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 PC: Equal to Intel i3 4GB+ RAM Windows 10 OS with separate graphics card.
Recommended PC: ( 2013+ i5 4GB RAM Intel 1.0x USB Host Controller preferable with separate graphics)
USB port compatibility: USB2.0 High-speed Port or USB3.0 High-speed Port
(computers manufactured in 2013 or later give best USB speed).
Monitor Display: 17" or Larger recommended.
Software delivery: Downloaded online at www.altaircameras.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
2 inch x 22mm nosepiece with dual 1.25" and 2 filter thread, code GPCAM-2IN. See associated products.
C-Mount 5mm extension adapter for C-Mount lenses requiring 17.5mm back-focus.
Spare Clear AR coated or UVIR coated optical windows available as spares.
Altair Astro Premium 1.25" CLS-CCD Filter with UV/IR Block & AR Coating (Code: F125CLSCCD) for imaging emission nebulae in light polluted urban environments.
Altair Astro Premium 2" CLS-CCD Filter with UV/IR Block & AR Coating (Code: F200CLSCCD) for imaging emission nebulae in light polluted urban environments.
Software delivery: Downloaded online at www.altaircameras.com and saved to hard drive.
Quick Start & AltairCapture instructions: Downloaded online at www.altaircameras.com and saved to hard drive.
Warranty: 2 years manufacturer warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. Return to point of purchase.
Availability: If out of stock, click on the red "Notify when in stock" button above to receive an email when product is ready to ship.
Altair Astro and dealers reserve the right to change the product specification and/or price at any time without notice.
Software & OS support:
Drivers & AltairCapture software download (Windows only): www.altaircameras.com (opens new window).
Driver support: PHD2, AltairCapture, SharpCap
AltairCapture OS support: Win Vista/ 7/ 8/ 10 (32 & 64 bit)
NOTE: Windows 10 is recommended for best USB performance, with 2013 or later USB host controller v1.0 or later.
SharpCap (a 3rd party application) is also fully supported and tested with native drivers.
USB Port & Cable: 3.0 USB Cable, 1.5m cable (USB2.0 also supported at low frame rates).
ST4 Port & Cable: Standard ST4 Opto-Isolated, 1.5m cable, iOptron, Celestron, Skywatcher SynScan GOTO.
Delivery Weight Package