PD Colour Astrovideo Camera — www.astrophoto.co.uk
Phil Dyer — £99 (camera) £169 (full kit)
Written: Spring 2013

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Ten years have elapsed since the Intergrating Video Camera (IVC) revolution was ignited by the venerable Mintron and Watec instruments in addition to their rebadged equivalents. For some IVC background, please download and read my December 2003 Sky & Telescope article (372KB PDF), or my December 2007 Astronomy Now article (513KB PDF).

Specification & features
The majority of astro IVCs used variants of Sony’s ICX248AL EXview HAD monochromatic (B&W) CCD sensor, but what makes this camera particularly interesting is that it's based on a colour 1/3-inch Sony ICX639BKA SuperHAD CCD II, sporting a 752-H x 582-V pixel matrix (cell size 0.0065mm-H x 0.00625mm-V).


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I've written an interactve JavaScript-based Web App that shows you the field of view delivered by the PD Colour Camera for various lens and telescope configurations. Access it by clicking here or on the graphic left.

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Just like the Mintron cameras, you control the PD Colour's myriad functions via an easy to use hierarchical onscreen menu configured by buttons on the back of the camera. It can automatically integrate (internally stack) anything from two to 1024 video frames, each ranging from 1/100,000 to 1/50th sec. duration. The PD Colour is suitable for imaging deep sky objects or the Moon and bright planets.

The Huviron-made camera body measures 50mm x 50mm in cross-section and 90mm long, weighing 240g. It may be powered by a regulated 12V DC or 24V AC supply. Manual or auto iris CS-mount lenses can be threaded in directly, plus an adaptor for C-mount lenses is provided (Phil Dyer sells lenses separately). A 1/4"-20 mounting block underneath means you can attach the camera to a standard photographic tripod if you so wish. If you opt for the full camera kit, you'll receive a 5-metre combined power and video cable, BNC to phono connector for the back of the camera and a suitable power supply.

You may view the camera's output directly on any TV or monitor accepting composite video input (yellow phono connector) or through a suitable SCART adaptor. Alternatively, you can use a USB video capture device to save images or movies to your computer for later processing (see the bottom of the page for more information). Phil Dyer can supply these and just about any telescope adaptor you may require directly from his website.

Performance
Former integrating video camera users will find this instrument easy and intuitive to configure, but even novices will be up and running in no time thanks to Phil's ten-page quick setup guide. In tests conducted during late March, April and early May 2013 under relatively dark skies (3 miles from a mid-sized town), the PD Astro Video camera turned in an excellent performance for a budget IVC on a variety of lunar and deep sky subjects.

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The Orion Nebula's Heart: a stack of four images, each a 20 second integration, 10-inch f/5 Sky-Watcher AutoTrack Dobsonian, 30th March 2013. Note: no colour processing applied.
Video output is smooth and continuous (the image refreshes every 20 seconds at the highest sensitivity setting) with good suppression of internal noise and amp glow given that it was not particularly cold. The camera is supplied without an IR cut filter to ensure maximum sensitivity and hot or sticky pixels are reassuringly hard to detect. Some stars exhibit dark haloes owing to the camera's internal image processing algorithms (something that cannot be turned off), but this is a minor detraction for most deep-sky subjects. Using freeware stacking software to combine multiple images and remove instrument noise can produce dramatic results.

Results
I'm primarily a visual observer and don't consider myself an imager, so my simple pictures will be easy to replicate or improve upon by any experienced user with a modest driven telescope and basic computer.

In the accompanying gallery, all of the lunar images were captured using an alt-az mounted Celestron 150mm f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain with a 2x Barlow before the PD Colour Video camera. Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS and the following deep sky images were obtained by an alt-az mounted Celestron NexStar 8 GPS with a 0.5x focal reducer before the camera. The latter are quick stacks of approximately 20 frames; all images acquired with a USB video capture device on an Apple Mac laptop. (For larger versions of each image and a description, please click here.)

Conclusions
At £99 for the camera body (£169 full kit), the PD Colour Video represents excellent value for money — easy to setup, great fun to use and extremely versatile. For the price of a good eyepiece you can own a device that will show you virtual realtime colour deep sky objects in the comfort of your living room in far more detail than visually with an eyepiece. Or you can display the Moon and planets in crisp detail on a screen to groups of people simultaneously — a boon to astronomical societies or educators. Alternatively, you can add a short focal length CS-mount lens for capturing wide-field views of the sky. The PD Colour Video camera has multiple uses bounded only by your imagination and is heartily recommended.