Cameras and Support Equipment

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Cameras are usually pretty easy to deal with. The best advice to give with photographic equipment is to keep all lens covers in place and the camera itself inside its protective case when it is not in use. Camera lenses do occasionally need to be cleaned and when you do so, you should give them the same level of detail as you do your telescope lenses. For loose dust, use compressed air to get the surfaces clean unless more forceful techniques are required. Pay attention to the camera's viewfinder mirror too. Since you will be frequently be removing the lens of the camera, you will be exposing the interior of the camera to dust and dirt far more frequently than the average user will. If the mirror becomes dirty or smeared, it will inhibit the ability of your telescope and eyes to sight faint objects through it. Faint nebulae may even disappear behind that smear. Take care to ensure that the interior workings of the camera also remain dust free. Similar advice must also apply to users of off-axis guiders. Also remember to make sure that your camera's battery is kept fresh. If you leave it for several weeks, then pull it out into freezing weather, that battery you forgot about is going to turn on you.

T-adapters, T-rings and tele-extenders do not require a great deal of care because they are simply empty tubes or rings. Still they can collect dust and once they are integrated with your camera or CCD, they can scatter that dust on eyepieces and camera innards. Not only must your lenses be clean, but also so must anything that potentially comes in contact or close proximity to them. You don't have to be as formal about cleaning such non-optical components. Instead of using your supply of compressed air, just blow in the tube to get the dust loose.

CCD cameras are very delicate pieces of equipment. The only optical component is a small piece of optically flat glass that covers the CCD chip, which is opaque to infrared light. Of course, this must be kept meticulously clean using the same techniques that apply to any optical component. Make certain that the camera body is always stored in a dust free environment or as close to one as is reasonably possible. This will ensure that the data ports for the camera are kept clean as well as the camera's innards. It is also important to ensure that the camera's internal software is kept updated. This software is written into a type of memory that is designed to be very secure. Many software professionals refer to this type of hardware as firmware. Your camera's firmware is much like the BIOS of your personal computer. It contains the instructions that tell the camera how to start, cool, operate, image and transmit. Occasionally CCD manufacturers will come up with an improvement in the operation of the camera that requires a firmware update. You should be familiar with how to update the camera's internal firmware. Usually this will involve downloading a small file to your computer, then uploading it to the camera via a cable connection. Your operating manual will explain how it works. If you can't make heads or tails of the manual, then call the company's technical support office. If they don't have a technical support office, then you should not have bought a camera from that company in the first place. When you are finished with your camera, always put it back in its storage box or case. I was not kidding when I said that these cameras are delicate pieces of complex equipment. The only place where the camera belongs when you are not using it is in a nice cozy foam-lined box in its own custom-fitted cutout. Then make sure the box lid is closed nice and tight and keep that dust where it belongs ... outside.

Many CCD cameras run from an outside power supply. This will not be through the telescope's battery because the camera consumes far too much amperage. Some cameras are powered through the computer's USB port. If so, then make sure whatever external power supply you are backing up the computer with has enough juice to support anything else attached to it.

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Reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information presented in this book isĀ  accurate. However, the reader should understand that the information provided does not constitute legal, medical or professional advice of any kind.

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