The Altair GPCAM3 290M Mono camera has the sought after Sony Exmor IMX290 CMOS sensor, with high sensitivity, and extremely low read noise.
It can be used for solar, planetary, lunar “lucky” imaging as well as long exposure deepsky imaging, and of course video astronomy. Time-lapse all-sky imaging (with optional meteor lens) is fully supported in the software. Amp glow is very well suppressed making this sensor a particularly good choice for deepsky imaging or video astronomy.
The SONY Exmor IMX290 CMOS sensor has very low read noise, with 2.9 micron pixels and a large 1920x1080 array giving 2.07 megapixels. It is also BSI, or backside illuminated and carries the STARVIS rating.
The casing has an external heatsink surface, which dissipates heat generated by the electronics, reducing thermal noise.
The USB3.0 connector is the high strength type - the highest quality component of it's type on the market. This is much more reliable than the micro-USB connectors found on smartphones (we all know how those loosen up over a short time!).
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Solar system imaging: The GPCAM3 290M 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 290M is recommended for Full HD Electronically Assisted Astronomy / Video Astronomy because of it's high sensitivity thanks to Sony STARVIS back-side-illumination (BSI) and Exmor-R technology.
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 lunar image by UK customer Neil Phillips.(Opens new window, compressed .JPEG file)
To sum it up, the most desirable features of the IMX290 sensor are:
- IMX290 Sensor Size: 1/2.8" (5.60x3.10mm)
- Mono is Approx. 4x more sensitive therefore ideal for guiding or narrowband deepsky imaging with filters
- SONY STARVIS and Exmor R Technology with a sensitivity of 2000 mV or more per 1µm²
- Low read noise, approx. 0.77-1.66e electrons (e-) or less. (See read noise vs. gain graph).
- Saturation (full well) capacity approx. 15Ke- electrons (e-)
- High Dynamic Range with 12 bit ADC for high image quality in both light and dark (high contrast) areas
- Digital binning
Video astronomy and long exposure deepsky imaging: GPCAM3 290M delivers great results for for both deepsky imaging and video astronomy (or EAA) 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.
Solar and lunar/planetary imaging: The GPCAM3 290M is a superb choice for solar system imaging. The Mono version is not only 4x more sensitive than the colour version, but is has also 4x the effective resolution due to the lack of a Debayering layer. For white light solar imaging with a refractor and the Altair Imaging-Ready Solar Wedge, the high speed and small 2.9 micron pixel pitch of the GPCAM3 290M are well matched. High sensitivity to red Hydrogen Alpha light makes this camera a good call for imaging the sun with dedicated solar telescopes and the Daystar Quark.
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 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 14bit or 8bit mode. Furthermore, the popular PHD Guiding, and 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 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 IMX290 Sensor supports 8bit or 12bit ADC 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 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 & file formats here.
What’s 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 UVIR blocking filter with anti-reflection coatings. (Removable for sensor cleaning).
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 cameras.altairastro.com (opens new window)
Sensor & performance specifications:
ALTAIRH290M: SONY Exmor R BSI IMX290 Mono CMOS sensor
Sensor Size: 1/2.8" (5.60x3.10mm)
Video exposure duration shortest/longest (Video Mode): 0.244 ms (0.000244 secs) - 5 secs
Deepsky exposure duration (Trigger Mode): 0.244 ms (0.000244 secs) - 1000 secs (16.66mins)
Bit depth: 8bit & 12bit mode switchable
Pixel size microns: 2.9x2.9 um
Resolution in pixels: 2.1MP 1920 x 1080 Full HD
Recording System: Still Picture and Video
Region of Interest (ROI) support: Available
Approx. Max frame rates* (assuming computer Bus operating at full bandwidth):
1920x1080 127 FPS
640x480 273 FPS ROI mode
320x240 507 FPS ROI mode
Approx 50% of above
* Realistic frame rates 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
Gain Sensitivity: Mono 1300mv Colour 2449mv
Dynamic Range: 66db
SNR Maximum: 38db
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 XP 32bit / 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.
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:
Clear coverglass: AR-coated 350-1050nm transmission wavelength
UV/IR blocking filter AR-coated 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).
(computers manufactured in 2013 or later give best USB speed).
Monitor Display: 17" or Larger recommended.
Software delivery: 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