So a while back I came across a few posts on the Cloudy Nights forums where people were discussing Gary Honis and his modification of the Microsoft Lifecam Cinema HD from a webcam into a snappy planetary camera.
There was a link posted to Mr. Honis’ website where he offered a detailed walk-through on how to preform brain surgery on the camera While in the basement sorting stuff in storage the other day I found a box of unused computer parts and cords. In it was this very camera, sitting unused for at least 2 years! I figured its cloudy, the kids are sleeping, why not operate? If I destroy it, we weren’t using it anyway so what have I got to lose?
I won’t bore you with an account of what I did and how I did it….Mr. Honis’ instructions were followed to the T and were so detailed, to see what I did, just click here and read along! It really was quite easy! The only thing that threw me a curve was when I had to de-solder a couple leads on the camera housing (Step 20) in order to remove that assembly and expose the ccd chip. I don’t have a soldering gun (call me crazy but I’ve never needed one before).
Instead, I MacGuyvered up my own solution. I lit a candle, grabbed a nail with a pair of pliers and heated it up to the point that I could touch the tip of the nail to the solder joint and it would partially melt. It didnt make a nice clean break, but a pocket knife popped the lead off with little effort. Not prety, but free, and it worked!
Mr. honis had a fancy eyepiece extender barrel for his camera, and I was fresh out. But I did have pvc pipe that fit the crayford focuser like a glove as if it were an eyepiece. So I wrapped the camera body in a piece of craft foam I had laying around (I got it from Michaels Arts and Crafts, it’s about 1\8″ thick). Turns out when super-glued in place, this foam makes the perfect size to fit in the Crayford focuser on the Yard Cannon.
But first I wanted to connect the camera to the computer and blot out the blue LED that lights up when you power up the camera. I ended up using acrylic black paint from another project (bought at Michael’s again) and used a toothpick to apply it to the LED. Over teh course of ten minutes, it finally covered the little blue bugger. No random light to ruin the astro-images now!
I went out with the netbook (Virtual Dub loaded up) and connected everything to the telescope. But I couldn’t get an image! Just a black or light screen depending on what was pointed at. I worried I had ruined the camera. Then I thought about the troubles I had with connecting my DSLR to the dob—in that case I couldn’t get enough inward travel with the camera to achieve focus. This time, I figured out that I wasn’t getting enough outward travel with the FrankenCam. So, I grabbed the aforementioned black PVC pipe and cut a length to fit. The piece of PVC pipe was exactly the same diameter, I used to black electrical tape (ha ha, nothin’ but class) and connected the two together.
When that was inserted into the focuser, I had an image of leaves appear on the screen almost immediately!
Those leaves are from a tree about 45 yards away through the garage window and across the yard. You may notice the coloring is a bit off—part of the trick to converting this camera to astrophotography use is to remove the infrared cut filter that is installed in just about everything to produce realistic results during day. When it’s removed, the camera picks up on the IR light as well. I think that’s how it works. Anyway, the instructions said to remove it, so I removed it! It’s what all the kids are doing these days…
Anyway, I just had to tweak it a little in PSE5 for grins: Pretty neat. Played with levels and the color variations—had to reduce red, then increase green and blue and lighten a little. Obviously, the IR cut filter being removed makes everything go all wonky in the daytime but that’s fine because I won’t be using the FrankenCam for daytime stuff. Just planets and the moon for now. Now that I know it works, I’m really excited to try this on Jupiter and see if I can beat the Casio! The focus I was able to achieve with the netbook set up felt like it was 1000% better than squinting at the little LCD screen on the back of the Casio. We shall see what turns out a better picture of Jupiter…
Now I just need some clear skies.