Hardware:Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

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Hardware:Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:01 am

Folks, this isnt meant to be a review, but rather a few thoughts on my experience so far with this new camera---your mileage may vary...

First Thoughts on my new Pt Grey Grasshopper 3 USB 3 camera

GS3-U3-28S5M-C with the ICX674 Sony chip

When I was in NY speaking on solar imaging at NEAIC, Point Grey handed 30% off coupons to the attendees. They were just releasing their new Grasshopper 3 cameras and so I thought Id take a chance on one with 600 bucks savings from the coupon. I figured if it didn't work for me I could pass the savings onto someone else through Astromart (or other medium).

Im still learning with this camera and there are some definite advantages to it vs my trusty DMK 41, but also some disadvantages (which is why I dont plan giving up my DMK 41 anytime soon).

First the advantages of the Grasshopper 3:

Lower noise--really noticeable improvement when shooting prominences especially.

Bigger chip--I can image the full solar disk (just barely) with my Lunt 100 and not have to use a reducer. This gives me increased resolution over the "DMK41 plus reducer" setup for full disks. It also images more real estate on the surface with my powermate.

Faster frame rate---26fps vs 15fps on the DMK41.

The disadvantages of the grasshopper 3:

The mfg's Flycap software is really hard to use for solar imaging. Very awkward. So far Firecapture software does work with it but it gets finicky at times. No other capture software so far works with this camera (at least not on a Windows based platform). You either get Firecapture to work with it or you deal with Flycap.

It can capture in 16bit but I never use it except in 8 bit. 16 bit files are huge and when I processed them they didn't look any better than the 8bit files from the same camera. They turned out to be more of a waste of processing time and computer resources--this isnt nighttime imaging of faint fuzzies where you need to capture in 16 bit for the dynamic range---with solar imaging, there is less detail to tweak out in terms of stretching the image--- the sun gives us plenty of light, lol. You can capture the prominences easier in one avi with the 16 bit, but your capture settings will still be a compromise as you try to keep the full disk details good. I still recommend two separate avi's if you want to capture max detail in your disk and your prominences, but then thats your call...

USB3 is still new technology for these cameras and depending on your laptop or desktop you may need the optional power cord to pull enough juice for the camera to operate correctly (I sure did). That means you may need power in the field for your camera in addition to your computer (something the DMK 41 doesn't need).

Depending on your laptop/desktop speed you may need to upgrade. My current capture laptop and windows 7/8 wont mess with avi files bigger than 4 gigs so Im limited to abt 1525 total frames on each avi. Your mileage may vary, but something to consider.


Im still learning the best capture settings and feel the camera is capable of excellent imaging with the right settings and better, more stable capture software. I am very happy with the increased resolution on my full disks and the ability to capture larger surface areas with my Powermate.

I intend to keep working with it, but I wouldn't recommend it as a primary camera yet, esp for someone just starting out. A beginner definitely wants the camera to be easy to connect and use, and flycap makes this a bit tough. The lack of any other software that will "for sure" work with it makes it problematic except for more the advanced or adventurous imagers that are willing to "shake and bake" a bit to get things to work.

Jim
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by Montana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:27 am

Thanks Jim for the info, my DMK41 is about ready to break so I was hoping for a Grasshopper if I could pluck up the courage. When you say it's not for the beginner I am having second thoughts, I might put my savings towards that PST CaK instead ;)

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by Montana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:02 am

I can turn a computer on and plug a camera in and that is it for my knowledge, if it doesn't work then I will be clueless.

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by RobBower » Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:15 am

Totally agree Jim! Its only a matter of time before PGR will have no choice but to make software for OUR purpose....or sink in the deep end of the pool! After all.... You find these cameras listed in the "Astrophotography" listing on the site! Therefore...these are intended for us!

Packing a nice bottle of Advil with each purchase would be a nice bonus as well! :hamster:

But I still love the camera.... Faults n all!
If I can still buy a new one.....Im not afraid to rip this 1 apart!



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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Mon Aug 05, 2013 12:36 pm

Thanks folks--I dont want anyone to think its a bad camera 'cause it isnt--I think the camera is really capable for doing great images--its just getting it to work with the equipment most of us have (and that dang software, lol). Packing 16 gigs of ram, installing new chipsets or a SS drive may not be in the cards for some and I just wanted to keep everyone aware of what some of the challenges may be. Thaanks to Firecapture's creator Torsten or Id be stuck with only Flycap --- and even then there is no gurantee even that will work for everyone.

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by solarchat » Mon Aug 05, 2013 1:46 pm

oh boy...you know I cant leave this one alone. he he I apologize up front for any ruffled feathers but I am irrationally supportive of anyone who supports this outreach program like PGR...:)

Jim, there is no disputing the beauty and high level your images have reached in the community so this isnt an argument as much as just a statement from the other side of the coin. You know I luv ya man but the first thing that struck me from this post was your dismissal of the 16 bit mode with this camera in favor of the more comfortable 8 bit videos. I have to say that this single feature is THE defining reason why these cameras are superior in function to the DMKs. If your going to use the 8 bit mode on a Grasshopper, then you are indeed spending way too much for this camera and will see no benefit. The 16 bit mode will, on the other hand, completely change the way you image and the processing techniques used and also the quality of your end product once you fully investigate and learn its benefits. I have a little experience with the DMK's and the PGR's and in my opinion , as with almost everything in this hobby, the price difference between the DMK51 and the Grasshopper 3 is absolutely commensurate with the end result in image improvement.

When I first bought a PGR camera I too struggled to get it to work on a PC. There was no firecapture at the time so I was stuck with FlyCap and the powered PCMCIA card that I had to add to my laptop to get it to work. After researching how, at the time, the undisputed king of full disk imaging-Alan Friedman-was obtaining his images, I decided to just scrap the PC all together and buy a Mac to do my further imaging using ASTRO IIDC. This is what Alan was using so that is what I was gonna use.

The capture portion of ASTRO IIDC immediately hooked up with the PGR cameras (a Scorpion at the time) and opened up a whole new world of solar imaging to me that was unobtainable with the 8 bit stuff. I was using a fairly inexpensive older iMac with 2 gig ram and a 300g HDD. Nothing fancy but this program worked perfectly and quickly with no headaches.

The trick was abandoning the technique of trying to get a finished looking image in the preview before recording and instead going for a balanced histogram and max exposure without saturation approach. This produced a very washed out, low contrast looking preview image but it was the way to capture the maximum amount of data in the video so I could have immense flexibility in post processing. Prominences and surface features are easily recorded with this high gamma approach in a single pass. When I was trying to get a finished looking image in the preview I was actually removing over half of the usable data from the raw video.

Part II...you know my interest is in outreach and I have to say that NO camera company has come anywhere close to the interest and support of public solar outreach like Point Grey Research has. Has any other company offered 30%-50% off coupons to imagers at NEAF? Has any other camera company actually created an account on here or any other forum to take our questions directly?. PGR even donated 5 Scorpion cameras recently to CBSAP for Jon Wood awards. Im still waiting for any other camera company's box to arrive...lol. We don't generate enough sales to even get an email reply from most companies. Which brings me to the next comment...:)

Reality check... PGR and the Imaging Source sells cameras to industry to monitor machinery and do scientific research. For every 1000 cameras they sell I would venture a guess that they might sell 1 to astronomical imagers. The price is high yes, but what incentive does any company have to R&D a new product aimed at just us when the figures from this very forum show that almost no one will buy it? I offer the ASTRO IIDC story as an example. This software was written and put out by one person who had a passion for astro imaging. It sold for $99. With that price you got usually immediate 24 hour support FROM THE GUY WHO ACTUALLY WROTE IT! Hardly anyone would buy it for whatever reason and the guy went out of business. The best solar imaging capture and stacking program ever written, in my opinion, and the guy cant sell enough at $99 to even stay in business.

This forum is awesome no doubt because of the fervor of the people who love this hobby and I am always humbled at how many people come on here to post their passions. I have to say though that the general post in here is "how can I get world class solar images by spending the least amount of money possible and where can I get everything for free, or how can I modify the cheapest scope/camera on the planet to get results like the most expensive ones"?

While I can certainly understand the DIY urge, you have to admit that it doesn't make our demographic ripe for new investment and R&D of new products...:) There are those that purchase the high end stuff, apparently enough to keep Lunt and Meade in the solar business, but this demand for free software that runs perfectly or for a cheap and awesome H-ALpha scope or 16 bit camera that sells for under $500 is just unrealistic.

I applaud PGR for doing anything to up the appeal of their cameras to this tiny market and I would definitely love to see them or DMK write some code that would allow for simple raw video acquisition and recording from a Mac or a PC but come on man, are there really enough people in this hobby at this time who would purchase a $3000 solar imaging camera with a great software package or even purchase a stand alone capture program for $100? THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO DO SOLAR OUTREACH IN THE COMMUNITY! If we can get the hobby to the forefront of astronomy and out of the mold of being a "tiny branch of real astronomy" then we could attract the investment of companies like PGR and The Imaging Source to make a camera with just our interest in mind.

I applaud Jim Lafferty and others for taking the plunge and buying this product like I have and working to make it more appealing to the solar imager. Yes, its got some bugs, but the only way to get a better product is to make our demographic more appealing to manufacturers by losing some of the "cheap at any price" mentality.

Don , the only incentive I can give PGR to writing a new Mac/PC interface is the chance that they may open up a new market in solar imaging as this hobby takes off and spreads to the general public... How about whipping something up by the end of next week...lol
Stephen W. Ramsden
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by Montana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:06 pm

Yes I agree Stephen, however, I'm not after cheap etc. I do have the money (well I'm busy spending the hubby's first pay packet at the moment) but I am computer illiterate and having a broken DMK41 and getting a crappy image is infinitely more important to me that having an expensive camera and no image ;)

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by sullij1 » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:00 pm

Thanks for the information Jim.

Stephen thanks for the post on how to acquire images with the Scorpion. I been tusseling with it this weekend and resigned myself to the idea that I needed more info on how this one works before I comment on it. Is there a post you have somewhere on getting best results in HA or Cak close-up etc. with the PGR. It would be valuable to me right now.

Frame rates seem to bog at times. Somthing I am doing probably. Just don't know what it is yet. I will look to see if I am recording in 8 bit or 16 bit. That might make a difference. :)


Thanks,

Joe
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:07 pm

Stephen,
I agree on all your points (cause you are my solar sensei!)--I just know there are varying degrees of experience out there and anyone buying a USB 3 camera like this probably goes into it with the reasonable expectation that when they plug it in to their new laptop with a usb3 port it will work, just like it did with their usb 2 camera. I have no experience with Macs or their related software. The camera is great but the buyer (as of this date) needs to be aware of what they may be in for if they have anything less than the fastest/most state of the art laptop available. Its something to be considered, especially if someone is on a budget.
Alan can jump in here but I remember him making the same point abt 16 bit captures---I believe he said he captures in 8 bit as well (on his 16 bit camera) for some of the same reasons I mentioned above. Im not saying 16 bit is not "better", Im just saying that depending on how and what you want to capture, 16bit may not better for everyone. If you look at solar images today, there is as much variety in processing techniques and tastes that the finished product is often times as much art as science or reporting. Some like inverted solar images (I love them!) some may think thats just manipulation for art thats too far off the "real thing" (whatever that is lol). Some like the proms captured within the same avi, others think they can be captured "better" separately. I guess thats the best thing about our little corner of the asto-imaging hobby. I just want prospective buyers of these higher end ccd video cameras to have eyes wide open when they buy. The capture software is sooo important as well and the buyer also needs to know what their options are going to be when they step up to something new like this.
I will keep imaging with the grasshopper 3, even shooting t 8bit, the lower noise and chip size are still worth the cost to me, but I have gotten SO MANY emails from folks asking if they should get one, and after what seemed to be the hundreth email, lol, I thought I'd just put it out there. If you buy the camera be prepared to possibly having to buy a whole new computer, possibly having to power the camera in the field, and having to deal with the software such as it is. I think the future is likely to be 16 bit solar cameras, faster than lightning, plug and play, with awesome software, that works on readily available ultra-fast machines, but we arent all quite there yet :) I feel bad abt ASTRO II DC --I have no idea why it wasnt successful enough in the market other than it was for a Mac and like it or not, most of us use PC's.
I love that Pt Grey, Imaging Source, Celestron, et. al. are all starting to support our neck of the woods more and more. Thanks to Pt Grey for supporting this forum and Stephen's outreach!
Im not selling the Grasshopper 3, I just want everyone to be as informed as possible

--did I tell you I love you, man?.
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:44 pm

Regarding features alone, I still would have bought it if it were only 8 bit. The lower noise, frame rate, and chip size alone made the camera desirable.

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by Cschur » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:56 pm

Jim, this has been a VERY interesting thread to follow. My new computer has a USB3, which goes pretty much unused, and the thought of one these cameras has been on my mind a lot. I can see PGR is a very supportive company as far as helping Stephens outreach efforts, and that must receive the highest commendation. Like any state of the art camera, there will be a "break in period" in which it will be a challenge for the pioneers such as us to find the best way to use a new product. I must thank you Jim for taking the plunge and giving it a shot, that is a very expensive camera and most of us would not have jumped in like you did. Bravo on that! I think we give it a year and the price may come down, or the competition may deiced to try USB3 and we ALL benefit from that.

Thank you Jim for leading the pack. :)

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:46 pm

LOL-thanks Chris---Im not sure Im a pioneer as much as someone that tends to plunk down large sums on impulse :) Good thing my wife is there (most of the time) to ensure I dont end up in the poor house!

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by donatpointgrey » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:04 am

Jim et al., thanks for the feedback, we appreciate it.
Stephen, thanks for the vote of confidence.
(I have to run so gotta make this quick but as I said in Rob Bowers thread)...

I'm going to bring up the points in this discussion with product management and support/field applications people and see if we can't come up with some kind of plan to work through issues astrophotographers are having. I'll probably be soliciting more feedback but... yeah, gotta run, stay tuned. I hope to post some updates in a few days.

Thanks,
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:11 am

That's awful nice of you Don---we really appreciate having you here!
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by Montana » Wed Aug 07, 2013 9:18 am

That's excellent news Don, I want to buy a Grasshopper very soon and I would greatly appreciate some help :bow:

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by eroel » Wed Aug 07, 2013 3:43 pm

Jim:
I agree with you and Stephen, I have lived through the efforts made by some companies to introduce their products to the tiny market of astronomical imaging. Many years ago after the webcam boom, many amateur astronomers started to make their programs to control their cameras, one of this guys is Heiko Wilkens, a well known good imager. When I contacted him, I was fighting with the very complicated programs made for industrial use, so his approach to an amateurs view of how an imaging program should be grabbed my attention, so i started beta testing his superb program. Later on, I met Heiko personally and started introducing him to the persons that were representing cameras like the Lumeneras, TIS and later PG.
First came the Lumenera cameras as an add on to the program, then TIS cameras were quickly added to the Lucam-Recorder program, and probably some models of the PG cameras will be added hopefully soon.( at some NEAF forum, I introduced Heiko to a representative of PGR, unfortunately I don´t remember who he was.)
I have tried all the programs furnished for driving all these cameras, but non is par to the Lucam-Recorder. I own 2 Lumeneras, 4 TIS and 1 PGR, all except the Chameleon are supported by L-R, so I have to use Flycap or FireCapture.
Some cameras support 12bit recording, so with L-R one can use the SER format and get a broader dynamic range final image compared to an 8bit one.
Hope that Don knows about Heiko´s program, because I believe it is easiest and the more complete program for driving video cameras like the ones we use for solar imaging.
BTW, I got my Chameleon camera with a discount bonus some time ago, it sure was a pleasure to buy it and a very nice effort of PGR to introduce his cameras, hope it keeps up :thanx: .
My 2 cents on the subject.
Best regards,
Eric.

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:02 pm

Great comments Eric! I did try to buy Heiko's program a couple of years ago but never got a response from Heiko via his website. Then about a year later he contacted me and said the software was still available. By then I was comfortable with what I was using. Im not sure that he has continued to update his software to include pt grey usb 3 cameras. If someone has it and finds out it does, ill be the first to buy! Ive heard great things abt the software with earlier models.
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by astrodanco » Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:10 am

What bothers me about Lucam-Recorder is that it is software license hard locked to an individual camera identified by serial number, not to the user.

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:15 am

Yeah, we do tend to change cameras--I would hope he would update the licesnse for you, but if he suddenly went out of business, you'd be outta luck...
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by colmic » Fri Aug 09, 2013 3:00 pm

Hi all,

for myself i always shoot in 16 bits mode with my Grasshopper3 (ICX674 too), because i can show proms and surface at the same time. I made some tests on 8 bits mode, i made some tests with more gain and more exposure to show proms, but there's no more details.
In 8 bits mode, you have... 8 bits with one image
In 16 bits mode, you have 10 bits with one image with the ICX674
The rules are: you should take 4 more images to gain 1 bit in dynamic:
4 images to gain 1 bit
16 to gain 2 bits
64 to gain 3 bits
256 to gain 4 bits
etc...

So in 16 bits mode, you take 16x less images than in 8 mode mode to show the same amount of dynamic.

Let's see these images to compare:

30ms exposure, more gain, 8 bits mode:


8ms exposure, no gain, 16 bits mode:


If you look at the proms, there's no more details in the first one.
Michel Collart
http://astrosurf.com/colmic

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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by RobBower » Fri Aug 09, 2013 8:57 pm

:thumbsup: those are great shots! And a wonderful visual! But what capture program are you using? Ive done everything mentioned and searched the web for all ways to get the cams running, but its just not working out! Alas my flea3 is now in a plastic bag until further notice!
Firecapture is back on my laptop and my dmk51 is back as my main imaging camera! 1000 bucks would have bought my D-erf! Just not pleased!
If I can still buy a new one.....Im not afraid to rip this 1 apart!



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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by RobBower » Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:47 pm

No John. I actually bought a laptop with all the new usb3 and chipset for the sole purpose of running this camera!
It has everything it requires and more.

As I said before... It runs with flycapture but for what we need...that software is useless. Since the cameras are advertised as "astrophotography" cameras! They need to get them working with the software being used by the peopke!

I have sent emails to both the writers of firecapture, and to Point Grey! Not as a member of any club or otherwise.... But as a consumer that chucked $1000 dollars on a camera and expect some effort on their part to fix the issues at hand!

Im sure they will do what they can.... But as I told them.... They are losing huge sales by the troubles our kind are having!

After all. The dmk51 has run in every program I have used it with! Now thats customer satisfaction! As a customer.... I have a say! And a right to say!

Nuff said!
If I can still buy a new one.....Im not afraid to rip this 1 apart!



Island Grove Observatory on the south shores of Lake Simcoe

Ls60pt/Ls50DS, Lunt 2" HW, PGR Flea3-DMK51

Meade 127mmED Triplet NEQ6 Pro

127mm PST mod. 950mm Meade Series 5000 Triplet

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JimLafferty
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by JimLafferty » Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:10 am

I think really the best way to compare 16 bit vs 8 bit is to try to capture the full disk and the proms together in both images. The original point is that when imaging them both together you are having to adjust your capture settings with gamma pushed up pretty high--You will maximize your prom detail so as to pick up the fainter whispies but your disk will be fairly gamma-ed out--You can create a pleasing image but you wont be maximizing the contrast available ont he surface of the disk. I think there are times when the 16 bit can be beneficial and at other times when it won't. You have the same issue when trying to capture both in 8 bit in 1 avi. You will capture more of the proms in 16bit but you will still not be able to maximize the contrast and detail in the disk portion of your shot.

Jim
Jim Lafferty

Redlands, California

Author of "Imaging Our Sun"



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solarchat
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by solarchat » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:19 am

I don't agree, but who cares. we all put out pretty good images. I always 16 bit but everyone should do whatever they want.
Stephen W. Ramsden
Atlanta, GA USA
Founder/Director Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project
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RobBower
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Re: Thoughts on the Grasshopper 3

Post by RobBower » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:48 am

I think the frame rate just ups the odds of catching moments of good seeing. That on turn gives you a chance at a cleaner stack.... But thats just 1 Canucks opinion!

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