QHYCCD cameras for Beginners


The QHY533 M/C cooled CMOS Camera is a very good and reasonably priced entry-level camera. It has everything a modern CMOS camera can do. For amateur astronomers interested in all areas of astronomical photography, the QHY 533 C/M can cover a wide range of your images. With its BSI Sony sensor, the camera is extremely sensitive and low-noise in the deep sky range. Thanks to the good cooling performance, long exposure times can be realized with it. The pixel size of 3.76 x 3.76 µm is optimally adapted for shorter focal lengths of 500 to 750 mm.
QHY533

More details can be found on our product page: QHY 533 M/C CMOS Camera (various versions available)

The exceptionally low noise combined with high sensitivity of the simple and inexpensive QHY-CMOS cameras have made them the choice of many amateur astronomers for solar, lunar, and planetary photography, where stacking and processing a very high number of frames greatly improves the raw sum image ("Lucky Imaging"). With their low noise, the color cameras in particular are also suitable for EAA, i.e. Electronically Aided Astronomy, where the images are combined to a live image directly during the observation via LiveStacking. For this, the software Sharpcap is often used, which naturally supports the QHY cameras, too.

For a beginner, it can be confusing to choose the right camera to start with. We therefore advise you to proceed step by step, starting with the equipment that allows to track (guiding) a telescope mount in such a way that your first attempts will also show pinpoint star images.

Before deciding to buy a new camera, you should give some thought to the following points:

  • Which are the preferred observing objects?
  • Which sensor size do I need for this in combination with the telescope?
  • Which pixel size suits my focal length and "seeing"? There is a helpful calculator site: astronomy.tools
  • Should I work monochrome with filters or with a color camera (OSC - One Shot Color)?
  • Which computer capacity is available?
  • What is the budget?

QHYCCD Deep Sky Cameras for BeginnersQHYCCD Guiding- and Planetary Cameras

Our recommendation for getting started: Guiding and planetary cameras

Guiding cameras for long exposures

For astrophotography with longer exposures, the guiding precision of the telescope mount is crucial. All mounts have some tracking error during the exposure, whether due to mount setup errors or other mechanical causes. This tracking error causes the stars on each shot to become distorted into dashes, which ultimately ruins the image.

The guiding camera, after selecting a suitable guide star - together with appropriate software - ensures that tracking errors of the mount are automatically corrected during exposure and the guide star stays centered on the sensor with sub-pixel accuracy. The guiding module can be connected to an external guiding scope (e.g. Baader Multi-Purpose Vario Finder 10x60 (single or with MQR-IV finder holder) (various versions available) or the or directly to the imaging telescope via a so-called QHY Off-Axis Guider (OAG) (various versions available) .

QHYCCD has a long history of developing and producing guiding cameras, and was the first to introduce low-cost CMOS technology - including many of the company's own patents - to amateur astronomy. Also, many of the higher-end QHYCCD cameras have a guiding interface that is compatible with the SBIG ST4 standard.

The camera can then be connected directly to the mount via the ST4 interface; the guiding software still runs on the PC connected via USB. This is interesting if the mount is not controlled via the PC anyway. For example, if the mount is also controlled from the laptop via the ASCOM interface, the guiding signals can also be sent via this connection, and the ST4 cable is not needed. The most widely used guiding software is PHD2.

For beginners we would like to introduce two inexpensive modules at this point:

The QHY 5L-II-M is a 1.2 megapixel guiding camera with very high sensitivity (even faint stars can thus be used for tracking) and a USB 2.0 interface. They are ideal for use as lightweight autoguiders or planetary cameras where short exposures are typical.

The second is the QHY 5-III-178M (no longer available) with a faster USB3.0 interface, which in addition to its guiding function can be used even better as a planetary camera for "lucky imaging" (sun, moon and planets) successfully because of the higher data rate. Die QHY 5-III-678 M/C ist die neueste Entwicklung der Version 2 der QHY 5III-Serie von Planeten- und Guidingkameras. Die QHY 5 III 678 M/C kann als verbesserte Version ihres Vorgängers, der QHY 5-III-178M CMOS Kamera betrachtet werden.


The reason for recommending these two products is based on the basic requirements for a good guiding camera. It should have the following features:

  1. Small pixels. Smaller pixels result in higher resolution of the sensor, especially with short guide tube focal lengths and small apertures, which in turn relieve mechanical strain on the mount (size and weight of the guide tube). The QHY-5L-II-M and the QHY-5-III-178M have pixel sizes of 3.75 µm and 2.4 µm, respectively, quite small compared to many competitor cameras on the market.
  2. High sensitivity. Detecting and guiding to faint stars depends on the lens diameter of the guide scope (the larger, the fainter stars can be detected) and on the sensitivity of the sensor's pixels. The sensor of the QHY-5L-II-M has a quantum efficiency of 74%, and the QHY-5-III-178M uses a backside-illuminated sensor with a quantum efficiency of over 80%. With a suitable guide scope, both cameras can detect guide stars in the field of view, regardless of where the guide scope is pointed on the sky. Modern guiding software supports subpixel accuracy, so even a small guiding scope like the VarioFinder or the QHY MiniGuideScope is sufficient for large telescopes, the guiding accuracy is only limited by the air turbulence. An off-axis guider has the advantage that it sees the same image as the imaging camera and mechanical bending of the telescope during the night is not a problem, but it has a smaller field of view.
  3. Small and light weight. Both cameras have a diameter of only 25.4 mm and thus fit directly into any 1¼" eyepiece. The QHY-5L-II-M weighs only 51g, while the QHY-5-III-178M weighs 86 grams. The smaller the size and weight, the less mechanical stress is placed on the guide tube, focuser and mount.
  4. Both cameras are equipped with monochrome sensors, this is sufficient for a pure guiding function. The interface of the QHY-5L-II-M is USB 2.0, fast enough for guiding, while the QHY-5-III-178M has a faster USB 3.0 interface and can also be used as a monochrome solar, lunar and planetary camera due to the high frame rate.
  5. Cameras for "lucky imaging" of bright objects of the solar system. For beginners, photography of planets, the lunar surface and solar structures like sunspots is easier and more promising at the beginning, because the technical effort is much less complicated than in long exposures of deep sky objects. Since exposure times are very short in both guiding and lucky imaging, you can use one can for both applications. However, the module should then preferably have a fast USB 3.0 interface.

 

QHY 5-III Serie USB 3.0 Guiding and Planetary cameras:

The models of the are camera modules for solar, lunar and planetary photography (lucky imaging technique), as well as for guiding applications and partly work as cameras for deep sky photography for beginners with fast USB 3.0 data transfer.

We offer the following products of QHY 5-III series:

Model
QHY-5-III-174M/C 

Mono/
Color

QHY-5-III-178M 

Mono

(no longer available)

QHY-5-III-485C  

Color

QHY-5-III-585C  

Color

QHY-5-III-462 M/C  

Mono/
Color

QHY-5-III-200M 

Mono

QHY-5-III-678 M/C  

Mono/Color

QHY-5-III-715C  

Color

QHY-5-III-290M 

Mono

(no longer available)

Sensor IMX174 IMX178 IMX485 IMX585 IMX462 SC2210 IMX678 IMX715 IMX290
Technology FSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS
Format 1/1.2" 1/1.8" 1/1.2" 1/1.2" 1/2.8"
1/1.8"
1/1.8" 1/2.8" 1/2.8"
Sensor Size 11,3 x 7,1 mm 7,4 x 5 mm 11,2 x 6,3 mm 11,1 x 6,3 mm 5,6 x 3,2 mm 7,68 x 4,32 mm 7,7 x 3,2 mm 5,6 x 3,2 mm 5,6 x 3,2 mm
Effective Array 79 mm² 36 mm² 71 mm² 70 mm² 17 mm² 33 mm² 34 mm² 17 mm² 17 mm²
Ratio
16:10 3:2 16:9 16:9 16:9 16:9 16:9 16:9 16:9
Resolution 1920*1200 (2,3 MP) 3072*2048 (6,3 MP) 3840*2160 (8,4 MP) 3.856*2.180 (8,4 MP) 1920*1080 (2,1 MP) 1920*1080 (2 MP) 3856*2180 (2 MP) 3840*2192 (2 MP) 1920*1080 (2,1 MP)
Pixel Size 5,86 µm 2,4 µm 2,9 µm 2,9 µm 2,9 µm 4 µm 2 µm 1,45 µm 2,9 µm
Frame Rate
138 fps 50 fps 44 fps 41 fps 44 fps 96 fps 41 fps 42 fps 44 fps
ADC-Bit depth 12 bit 14 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit
Full-Well capacity 32 ke- 15 ke- 12 ke- 32 ke- 12 ke- 8 ke- 9 ke- 5,7 ke- 15,7 ke-
Pixel-Fov (@1000mm) 1,21" 0,5" 0,6" 0,6" 0,6" 0,83" 0,41" 0,3" 0,6"
 
Simulated field of view of the cameras in combination with a focal length of 1000mm

Simulated field of view of the cameras in combination with a focal length of 1000mm

The QHY-5-III series offer a choice of 7 models in total, counting mono and color versions. All offer variants of the Sony STARVIS™ or PREGIUS™ (QHY174) image sensors, designed for surveillance and industrial use.

Primarily, the models differ in sensor size, resulting in the field of view, as can be seen with the moon and an exemplary telescope. The models can be roughly divided into three size classes, whose physical dimensions are defined by their optical format:

  • 1/2.8“, ⌀6,4mm (5,6 x 3,1mm)
  • 1/1.8“, ⌀8,9mm (7,7 x 4,4mm)
  • 1/1.2“, ⌀12,8mm (11,2 x 6,3mm)

The majority of the installed detectors of the planetary cameras are constructed in an aspect ratio of 16:9. Between sensors in the 16:9 video format, the QHY 5-III-178 has a sensor in the classic 3:2 image format, the largest representative QHY 5-III-174 has a rarer 16:10 format. The format, in combination with the resolution, defines the digital output format: for example, the QHY 5-III-462 and QHY 5-III-200 shoots in 1080p HD format. An increasing number of cameras store 4K image & video files, including the QHY 5-III-715/678/485 & 585. You're very flexible in terms of shooting format choice with the QHY 5-III-178 (no longer available) and QHY 5-III-174 with digital crop offer the choice of several ratios, including 1:1, 6:5, 5:4, 4:3, 3:2, 16:10 and 2:1.

Sony STARVIS™ sensors stand for highly sensitive BSI sensors with rear integrated conductive tracks. These allow the area of the photodiode to be maximized in favor of the highest possible conversion rate (quantum efficiency). Sony PREGIUS™ sensors are characterized by a global shutter. Here, the sensor is read out completely, instead of the usual line-by-line readout in rolling shutter cameras. Motion artifacts can thus be excluded.

In the two STARVIS™ generations of Sony sensors, the substrate of the photodiodes is physically deeper than in previous ones, so that photons with longer wavelengths (NIR) can also penetrate deeper into the substrate and release an electron. In addition, the surface of the photodiodes is slightly rough at the microstructure level so that longer wavelength light is refracted and detected. These measures dramatically increase the sensitivity of the sensor to red and near-infrared light. The peak sensitivity (quantum efficiency) of the sensor in the NIR spectral range is almost as high as for light in the visible spectrum. Camera models in the latest generation of STARVIS 2 sensors include the QHY 5-III-678 and QHY 5-III-585, which feature sensitivity enhancement as well as higher dynamic range.

Sony PREGIUS™ sensors are characterized by a global shutter. Here, the sensor is read out completely, instead of the usual line-by-line readout in rolling shutter cameras. Motion artifacts can thus be excluded. The QHY 5-III-174 is the only planetary camera to offer a sensor from this product line.

A special technical feature distinguishes the QHY 5-III-462 and QHY 5-III-485: Their sensors of a new generation feature a "Super High Conversion Gain" mode. The sHCG function allows the generation of a strong output signal at low illuminance and very low readout noise of less than one electron.

The QHY 5-III-178 is the only one of the models to feature 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion on the hardware side and can thus natively discern 16384 brightness steps.

Which planetary cameras are particularly suitable for beginners?

In the color camera segment, we recommend two options:

The QHY 5-III-462 M/C CMOS Camera (various versions available)QHY 5-III-462 M/C CMOS Camera (various versions available) QHY 5-III-462 M/C CMOS Camera (various versions available) (various versions available) offers the highest frame rate with full HD resolution as a high-performance planetary camera and, as a special feature, outstanding sensitivity in the infrared spectrum. In addition, it has an excellent price-performance ratio.

It is two CMOS cameras in one. As usual, it can be used to take normal one-shot color images of the planets of the solar system (including the Sun and Moon). In addition, due to the extremely low readout noise, RGB images of brighter DeepSky objects can also be captured at shorter exposure times using the Lucky Imaging technique.

Based on the same Sony sensor technology, but with four times the area, the QHY485 expands the feature set quite significantly, with 4K resolution and the ability to expose a larger area of sky. The high-resolution 8.3MP camera offers 4K resolution and the ability to ecapture a wider field of view - even as an all-sky camera with the included fisheye lens.

The QHY 5-III-485C Planetary and All Sky Camera (#1931030 , € 395,-) does not have the sensitivity extended into the infrared part of spectrum, but with the sHCG mode it delivers raw images with exceptionally low readout noise (less than 1e-). The sensor and its electronics deliver frame rates of 18.5 frames (fps) and 16 bit data depth per second via USB 3.0 at full resolution, and even 44 frames per second at 8 bit data depth.

New in the portfolio of the manufacturer is the QHY 5-III-585C Planetary and Guiding CameraQHY 5-III-585C Planetary and Guiding Camera QHY 5-III-585C Planetary and Guiding Camera (#1931031, € 469,-) , which has the technical capabilities of the QHY-5-III-485C but extends it with the extended sensitivity in the infrared spectrum similar to the QHY-5-III-462C and the QHY 5-III-715C CMOS CameraQHY 5-III-715C CMOS Camera QHY 5-III-715C CMOS Camera (#1931038, € 210,-) , a low cost 2nd generation solar, lunar and planetary camera and at the same time a perfect guiding module for extremely short focal lengths. Similar to the QHY 5-III-462 M/C, the QHY 5-III-715C also features extended sensitivity in the near infrared spectral range.

For those interested in mono cameras or potential filter users, the QHY-5-III-178M is exciting. Its very fine resolution sensor positions itself between those of the QHY 5-III-462 and QHY 5-III-485 in terms of area and resolution, and allows the choice of multiple shooting ratios with only minimal reduction in resolution.

The QHY 5-III-178M CMOS CameraQHY 5-III-178M CMOS Camera QHY 5-III-178M CMOS Camera (#1931024, € 375,-) is the latest evolution of version 2 of the QHY 5III series of planetary and guiding cameras. The QHY 5-III-678 M/C can be considered an improved version of the QHY 5-III-178M camera. Like the Sony IMX 178, the new IMX 678 sensor from Sony is a back-illuminated (BSI) sensor in the 1/1.8 inch format. However, compared to the IMX 178, it has a higher resolution (smaller pixels) and a higher QE as well as an increased sensitivity in the near infrared spectral range (NIR).

If you have a need for a fast reading full HD camera, but without the limitations of a Bayer color filter, the QHY-5-III-200M Planetary- and Guiding cameraQHY-5-III-200M Planetary- and Guiding camera QHY-5-III-200M Planetary- and Guiding camera (#1931035, € 365,-) is an exciting mono alternative to the QHY-5-III-462C.