The Meade Lunar Planetary Imager (LPI) comes in a diminutive black case sporting a Meade logo, and has a 1.25-inch eyepiece adaptor on the front and a USB 1.1 port on the base.
There are more bits and pieces supplied with it though, including an auto-guiding cable, an install CD and a parfocal ring, which allows you to set a low- or medium-magnification eyepiece to the same focus position as the camera.
Installing the LPI was very straightforward.
The supplied software, Meade’s AutoStar Suite, includes a driver for the camera and enough bonus applications to keep even the most ardent tinkerer busy for weeks.
You’ll find a planetarium, an image processing application and the all-important camera control software, called AutoStar Envision.
Point and click
This camera operates in a different way to the others on test, but it’s still pretty simple.
A live-view window enables you to see what the camera sees, and you centre-up and focus your target here.
The view can be a bit jumpy, so it takes a little getting used to, but there’s a focus-assist function called Magic Eye included to help you get the perfect focus.
The next step is where things are a bit different.
With your mouse, you draw a box around your target to select it on screen, hit the start button and the camera control software does its stuff.
Each image that’s taken is analysed and its quality evaluated against a user-defined set of reference frames.
If it’s deemed to be good quality, it’s combined with a rolling end result displayed on screen.
To avoid image smearing, the software detects any motion due to your mount not being perfectly aligned before it combines the frames.
If you like, each sub-frame can be saved in an uncompressed format for later processing with an image processing application of your choice, such as Registax.
The software can also turn the LPI into an autoguider, but only with a Meade AutoStar-enabled mount.
The LPI’s ability to accurately capture weak lunar colour was very impressive.
It fared less well with our h-alpha test on the Sun though, and despite recording the colour correctly, the software was unable to lock on to the low-contrast surface detail of the Sun during our imaging run.
But our greatest concern with the LPI was its low frame rate: in the runs where we saved individual image frames, they showed a fair bit of noise.
Over the course of a couple of minutes imaging Jupiter, the software managed to combine 60 frames.
While the seeing wasn’t fantastic during this test, and many poor quality frames would have been rejected, 60 is still bordering on the low side.
Nevertheless, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of programs provided in the AutoStar Suite, which is even more remarkable when you consider the low cost of this product.
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This review appeared in the January 2010 issue of Sky at Night Magazine