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Everybody has to start somewhere in a new hobby and Celestron would like you to start with them and their entry level planetary imager the Neximage. Exclusively a lunar/planetary camera, the Neximage is marketed at the beginner interested in shooting objects within the solar system. First, the facts...The neximage uses a 3.6mm x 2.7mm CCD colour chip with 640x480 resolution, with a pixel size of 5.6 microns giving a sensitivity of <1 lux. It's USB 2 and is capable of a maximum of 30fps (although we'll look at that in a bit more detail later). It comes with a CD Rom that's got processing software and camera control software on it. A Pc with a 333mhz pentium 2 and 128mb of ram is required as a minimum to run the camera. On the surface all that sounds great to the budding astrophotographer until we look at the pricetag, £116. Celestron are hoping that their potential customers will be sufficiently unconfident and uncertain enough in starting their new hobby that they'll pay over the odds for a "comprehensive and complete start up package". A little unfair perhaps to place the blame squarely on Celestron, all of us (this writer included) have been guilty of paying for convenience and for someone else to do the work for us but in this instance, significantly better cameras with better (and free) softwares can be found with only a minimal effort. The software found on the CD rom is outdated and basic with better image processing tools as well as camera operating softwares being easily obtained on the net, they are widely distributed, absolutely free (and legal). The cameras claim to 30fps is slightly misleading, while technically the camera can produce 30 frames per second you can only effectively use 10 before data compression dramatically reduces image quality. These days there are so many simple webcams out there that outperform the neximage, using the logitech fusion webcam that I started out with as an example. The Fusion has a max resolution of 1280x960 and will capture 20 fps at 640x480 with a pixel size of 3.5 microns. The most amazing part is, all that cost me just over a quarter of what Celestron is asking for the Neximage, £30. I cannot recommend the Neximage for the simple reason that it is overpriced by about 400%, it is a highly standard camera with a hugely inflated pricetag that is targeted at the newcomer who might be attracted by a certain style of advertising.
If you're an amateur astronomer or are considering taking it up as a hobby, you might have spent some time thinking about whether it's possible to take pictures of stars and planets using your telescope. This is known as astrophotography and while you might have spent time marvelling at some of the photos taken by the Hubble, you might not realise you can actually take your very own pictures from your back yard - even on a modest budget by using Celestron NexImage. NexImage is a compact camera which looks and feels quite similar to a webcam. It has a CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensor and can take pictures up to 640 x 480 pixels in resolution. It has a 1.25" fitting, so it will fit perfectly into any telescsope which takes 1.25" eyepieces. You can also use additional magnification such as Barlow lenses. The camera comes with an instruction manual and two software programs on CD: one for capturing video clips or still images and another for 'stacking' video frames into a still image. The camera will not run on its own, so you DO need to be able to attach NexImage to a computer. Therefore, it's best if you have access to a laptop. Getting started is simple - start with something easy like the moon and find it in your telescope as normal. Now, switch over your eyepiece for NexImage and open the software on your laptop. You'll need to re-adjust the focus and possibly adjust some settings in the software (the instructions explain all!) but within seconds you'll have a beautiful clear picture of the moon on your laptop screen. Then you can either take a still shot or record some video - 20 seconds or so. Using your 20 second video recording, you can fire up the stacking software to get an amazing final image. The stacking software works by looking for a common feature in all the video frames, lining the frames up, getting rid of the poor quality frames and 'stacking' all the others together to blend them into one fantastic picture. There are a range of settings to adjust to optimise your picture and bring out features such as craters. My very first recording & picture were of the moon at dusk (so still quite light outside) and through my living room window (not ideal!) but it still came out brilliantly! Since then, I've had some amazing pictures taken in better conditions and have even managed to capture Jupiter. If you have an interest in astrophotography and don't want to have to shell out for an expensive DSLR camera or high-tech telescope camera, NexImage is a perfect choice. The cost is affordable (around £120) and it's SO easy to use - you'll be taking amazing pictures in no time at all!