StarShoot IV: Review

Orion StarShoot Solar System Color Imaging Camera IV - review

By David Fuller, August 6, 2012

The Orion StarShoot IV comes in a fairly small box, and is well packaged for shipment.  It arrived with the camera imager, a USB cable, an instruction sheet and CD--ROM with software.  The software installed quickly on my rather old Windows XP Dell laptop, and setting up the camera per the instructions was not difficult.  I had read the reviews on this camera on Orion's site, and was fully prepared to focus slooooooowly, per the advice of several reviewers.  I actually found I could focus on the Moon much faster than I expected, and had an image on the screen of my laptop in less than 15 minutes after opening the box.

I was excited to get this camera because 1) astrophotography is usually quite expensive and 2) I'm not very good at it.  This camera seemed like a good way to be able to afford a camera that could step up my game a little bit from what I've been able to capture.  In the recent past I have done is some afocal astrophotography - which means I hold or clamp a camera up to an eyepiece in my telescope (already in focus), and snap a picture.  A bit crude, but it does work.  For example, here is a shot I took of the planet Saturn using just an HTC Inspire cellphone and a 6" f/5 Celestron CN-6 reflector:

Okay, is it a GREAT image?  No.  But given that it was taken with a cellphone through an eyepiece (handheld, mind you), it isn't all that terrible.  And planetary imaging IS difficult.  What usually helps with taking better planetary images is to use video, then process it through a program called "Registax" which takes the best images, stacks them, and in turn brings out more detail that you could get with a single image.  So that is why I was excited about the Starshoot IV; I could take video of the planets, and get even better images than the one above.  I took the camera out - same telescope and set up - and aimed it at the Moon.  I fired up the video capture software to grab some video and get familiar with focusing (more on that below), and then aimed it a Saturn.  

Thing is, I couldn't find it.  Not because the planet wasn't centered - it was.  DEAD on centered per both my finderscope AND the telescope itself when I swapped an eyepiece back in.  I thought maybe it was my focus, so I swung back over to the Moon, and sure enough - dead on focus.  Back to Saturn.  Checked again by swapped out eyepiece.  This is seriously the best picture I got of Saturn:

No, it is not your eyes if you can't see anything.  That's what I saw.  Black.  Nothing.  I even tried the "slow focus" thing that people on Orion's site indicated one should try (despite having already focused on the Moon twice).  Nothing.   

To say I was disappointed that I could not even get a pixelated "something" would be an understatement.  I had wanted this camera PRECISELY to take planetary pictures, and I couldn't even get an image?!?!  Ugh.

Not to be discouraged too easily, I went back to the Moon.  Here is an image of the crater Tycho and the large crater Bailly seen on the right hand side.  There is a crater slightly off of Bailly towards Tycho, which I have marked for comparison to another lunar image I took with another camera set up, below.  But let's look at this one.  Do you notice pixelization?  How is the contrast?  Sharpness?

Unfortunately, I did not think to get a picture of the same area with another camera at the time.  But for comparison's sake, check out this picture that I took of the Aristarchus crater region using the quite good Orion Steadypix camera clamp and a Panasonic Lumix 7.2 megapixel point and shoot camera through an Orion Expanse 6mm eyepiece.  How does the pixelization compare?  Contrast of features?  Sharpness?

Last but not least, I though I might at least try to get some sunspots.  The Sun has been quite active lately, so I though that getting some pictures of the darker, cooler sections of magnetic storms traversing the Sun's surface would be fun.  I have taken quite a few pictures of the Sun this way - usually using my HTC Inspire smartphone camera in an afocal setup.  Here is a screen grab of what I got with the Orion Starshoot IV imager:

And for comparison, an afocal shot of the same region of the Sun using my HTC Inspire smartphone and a 6mm Orion Expanse eyepiece (which I think are great eyepieces, by the way!).  The color is different in the HTC shot because it does alter the color when shooting during extreme contrast situations like solar photography, and I often retouch them in Photoshop, but none of the photos on this page have been retouched (except the first Saturn picture).  They are "what you see is what I got" picture.

Again, I don't think I am all that good of an astrophotographer, but I believe I can take some adequate shots with the right equipment.  I liked the idea of this camera because it was within my meager budget at around $100, and I was excited to do some additional planetary astrophotography by using the video functions to obtain clearer and sharper images.  But not even being able to get an image of Saturn at all in my Starshoot says either 1) I am really, REALLY bad at astrophotography or 2) this camera was a dud or 3) the Starshoot IV just isn't up to getting 1st magnitude images.  And since the lunar and solar images are, to my eye, more pixelated than the afocal ones I have taken, I don't see the benefit of this camera for me.  Given that I am getting acceptable images with an Orion Steadypix clamp and a consumer-grade point-and-shoot camera or my smartphone, I am not sure how the Starshoot "moves the needle" any for me.  If anything, it felt like taking a step backwards.

I believe that, for me, this camera is not a good option.  There are pictures on Orion's website that were taken with the imager, and clearly someone managed to take a fantastic image of Jupiter and a moon transit.  More power to them!  Perhaps I did not spend enough time with it, but given my limited time as it is, I am not sure that I want to fool around with a camera for which I can only take lunar or solar images, and since I already have options that take adequate of both for me already, I do not see the need to keep this camera.  

I should also point out that I do highly recommend the Steadypix clamp - just be sure that you have eyepieces that are not too large.  The clamps will not fit on eyepieces much larger than 1.25" diameter, so the Zhumell Z-Series or Astro-Tech LER eyepieces cannot be used with that clamp, as the eyepieces are too large.  I also really like using the Orion Expanse eyepieces for taking lunar, solar and planetary photos - the wide field allows for better shots, and the clarity has been quite good.  Plus, the Steadypix does readily clamp onto them.

But overall, the Starshoot is not for me.  I will have to keep looking for something else, I believe.

ADDITIONAL NOTE

I'm not one to bash companies.  I especially don't like to bash companies that I really like, and whose products I have been quite satisfied with for many years.  I do like Orion, and they have stellar customer service, and very good quality products.  But the one quibble I will make is this: The camera is called the "StarShoot."  Yet on Orion's own product page, they state the following, over and over:

  • The Orion StarShoot Solar System Color Imager IV is equipped with features that make it easy to take your own pictures of objects in our solar system. 
  • Get the StarShoot Solar System Color Imager IV and take your own shot of the Moon and planets

Got that?  It's called the StarShoot, but is designed to take pictures of the planets and Moon.  I did not major in marketing, but I tend to think that this was not the smartest name to call this camera, since it is not designed to take pictures of stars.  No doubt people should read the literature before buying.  But from the reviews on their site, it is clear some people thought they were getting something that could take pictures of, well... stars.  Enough said.