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The 1996 SBIG CCD Imaging Conference


On July 11 and 12, 1996 SBIG sponsored their first CCD users conference at the Cabrillo Pavilion Art Center at Santa Barbara, California. The goal was to inform users and potential users about electronic imaging, image processing techniques, tricolor imaging procedures, photometric and astrometric measurement, and CCD autoguiding.

The attendees came from as far away as Germany and Japan; they rated the conference an outstanding success offering much positive feedback, and requests for more events at the same site. The location of the center meeting hall on the east beach at beautiful Santa Barbara, and the good food and California wine no doubt contributed to this opinion. All of the presenters were competent, succinct, and charismatic. Those astrophotos presented by Tony Hallas in particular were described as incredible by many on hand; and even under close inspection the images remained so.

The first day included technical presentations on each of these following subjects, with time set aside for individual questions and for open discussion. The introduction was by Richard Schwartz of SBIG and Steve Bisque of "Software Bisque". This was followed by detailed discussions of SBIG camera control and image processing software, and their astrometric and photometric capabilities by Matt Longmire of SBIG. Then Steve and Tom Bisque introduced the "SkyPro" for Windows software with detailed discussions about the camera control, image processing functions, astrometric and photometric capabilities, and about how the "SkyPro" software interface to "The Sky" planetarium and telescope remote control software. Alan Holmes of SBIG continued with technical overviews of how to find and focus objects to be imaged with CCD cameras (including the Model ST-4), and how to use the dual CCD self guiding functions.

The second day featured invited speakers who presented technical papers on new, advanced applications for CCD imaging. While these applications are primarily geared for astronomy, there are obvious technology transfer applications to many other industrial areas. The day began with a presentation by Glen Gombert of Miami Valley Astronomical Society titled "Beyond the Visible Spectrum; Imaging in the Near-Infrared"; this included discussions of "Drift-Scan" techniques. This was followed by a discussion of CCD imaging employing an adaptive optics product using the self guiding capability of the ST-7 camera by Benoit Schillings and Brad Wallis. Other subjects included "Searching for Asteroids with CCD Imaging Cameras" by Dennis Di Cicco of Sky Publishing Corp., and "ST-6 Observations of Cataclysmic Binaries" which included photometric measurement of binary star light curves by John Stull of Alfred University. The final discussion and presentation of photographs was made by Tony Hallas of AstroPhoto in Ventura, California regarding "Autoguiding with the ST-4 on an Astro-Physics Refractor".

SBIG, Software Bisque, and Celestron International introduced several new products which are described in some detail below. And an award was made of an SBIG Model ST-7; SBIG could have sold the ST-7 with prompt availability being the gift (grin) due to its popularity and short supply!

II. SBIG & SOFTWARE BISQUE "Paramount GT-1100 Mount"

The Bisque brothers introduced and then demonstrated the new observatory caliber "Paramount GT-1100" German Equatorial mount with a Celestron C-14 telescope indoors. This mount has a very unusual external appearance; it would be quite at home on the set of some high tech fantasy movie such as "Terminator". The demonstration showed the flawless moving and slewing capabilities controlled by Matt Bisque from a PC, while Tom Bisque described it to the audience. The applications of this technology go well beyond astronomical applications, and we do look forward to seeing it or its derivatives in production.

The mount has a payload rating of up to 75 lbs. and it allows all sky single-step 2 arc minute pointing, with tracking fine enough to perform high resolution film astrophotography or CCD imaging. There is a variable speed slewing capability of up to 2 degrees per second. The high torque 60 oz-in stepper motors drive an 11 inch diameter precision gear set in Right Ascension, and a 7 inch precision gear set in Declination. The mount includes features that are demanded of a modern transportable mount including fine altitude and azimuth polar alignment adjustments devices. Also included is the "TCE-1" control system built by S.B.I.G.

Matt and Tom also demonstrated "TPoint" their new, highly capable and integrated astronomical computer program (the very same modeling software as is employed on the "Keck" and Anglo-Australian telescopes). This included Periodic Error Correction, and "TheSky" Level IV Remote Astronomy/Planetarium program.


Atmospheric turbulence cells degrade the resolution of fine details during astronomical imaging. The ST-7 demonstrated at the conference employs a new technology to correct the errors at a very rapid rate thereby dramatically improving the resolution of images. This is a technology than can be used on any telescope.

The Adaptive Optics system employs the second detector in the Model ST-7 and Model ST-8 CCD imaging cameras as the input signal to control the Adaptive Optics system. The software and hardware optically correct the telescopic image at a 20 to 30 Hz rate. When an image is corrected at this fast a rate, then almost all perceptible errors are eliminated thereby dramatically improving the detail that can be observed at the focal plane. It is difficult to explain the excitement at the conference when this was demonstrated; two ST-7 imaged guide stars were simultaneously displayed on a large screen done through a computer projector to show the before and after effects of using this technology. While one star was constantly scintillating from the atmospheric turbulence, the other star was observed to remain relatively steady due to the effect of the Adaptive Optics system it passed through. This is a very major advance by a pioneering firm that remains without peer in the astronomical community.

The developmental phase is now complete, and so SBIG is starting work on a production design to be marketed in early 1997. The only cameras capable of supporting this new technology will be the ST-7 and ST-8. With demand at all time high, we suggest customers who wish to take advantage of this innovation place their orders now for the ST-7 or ST-8 cameras for delivery by January 1997.


Over the prior year SBIG has collaborated with Celestron International (a telescope manufacturing company) of Torrance, California in the development of a new telescope and CCD imaging system: the "ST-5C" or "Pixcel 255".

The CCD system consists of a small CCD imaging camera with an internal color filter wheel (filter magazine optional) capable of accepting as fast as an f1.8 light cone, the camera is similar in design to the original (and now discontinued) SBIG Model ST-5. This system is unique in that it is the first CCD system designed in the consumer market that is specifically designed to be integrated with a telescope for extraordinary ease of use, and good success. The camera and a new and unique "FASTAR" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope are designed to insure ease of use for the novice or experienced astrophtographer. It will be advertised that a novice with this camera could be up and imaging in less than 30 minutes!

This small profile (3.25" O.D. x 2.50" length) imaging camera can be mounted at the internal prime focus of the new multi-focus FASTAR; this telescope permits imaging at f 1.95, f6.3, f10, or f20. The CCD employed is the Texas Instruments Model TC255 (240 x 320 array) which assures high resolution and a wide and relatively even spectral response with good quantum efficiency. The wide field images already provided by the prototype 8" FASTAR at f1.95 are outstanding. These are made possible because of the small 10 micron square pixels in the CCD array, combined with Celestrons quality of optical fabrication.

This CCD camera and its CPU include a 16 bit A/D converter for low signal to noise ratio, and good color and greyscale reproduction. A fast Parallel interface permits fast image downloading in under four seconds. The thin CCD housing features on-off switch, cooling fins, a selectable thermo-electric cooling system with a vibration less fan. The CCD firmware features the SBIG developed "Track and Accumulate" mode to permit guiding and tracking through the main instrument (or a "piggybacked" camera lens) with no need of a guide telescope, or an off-axis guiders. The TI chip permits a selectable antiblooming gate, and an internal rotary shutter wheel in incorporated to simplify dark frame recording. Another interesting aspect of the CPU is that it includes a direct printer output to a laser or dye sublimation color printer! The camera head and CPU will fit into a furnished compact carrying case, and includes instructions manual. And while the system will operate from 12 v.d.c. , an AC power adapter is also provided.

While the ST-5C and Pixcel 255 are identical devices, the rights to distribute the Pixcel 255 CCD System for telescopic and astronomical applications are reserved by Celestron International; they will offer the product through its distributors (including Company Seven Astro-Optics Division). While the SBIG Model ST-5C camera will be marketed by SBIG and through its distributors (including Company Seven Astro-Optics Division) for other industrial applications such as color microscopy.

The minimum suggested selling price for the Pixcel 255 CCD Camera will be $1549.00, and $400.00 for the optional Color Filter Wheel Magazine. this does not include shipping costs or taxes (if applicable). We estimate shipping in the U.S. lower 48 will not exceed $20.00 even with shipping by 2 Day Air service. Availability is estimated as September 1996.

We expect the FASTAR telescopes to be available shortly after New Year 1997 (based on Celestrons estimate of late 1996 delivery), and we will look closely at these new systems.


A video set has been professionally produced which will be made available by SBIG and Company Seven. This series (approximately seven volumes to be sold as one set, with each volume being about 2 hours in length) on high grade VHS format tape will be sold for $99.00 plus shipping and packing. Each volume of the set will have an opening and closing title and credits, including an introduction of each speaker and their topic, the question and answer sessions are also included. This is destined to be a valuable reference not only for individual users of CCD systems, but it will greatly facilitate the training of high school or college students (and teachers) who may have field or lab work with CCD systems as these.

Company Seven will accept orders, with delivery scheduled to begin in mid November 1996.

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