Review of CCDSPEC spectroscope/spectrograph I posted on Stargazers Lounge 28/7/2018

I posted this review on Stargazers Lounge today https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/318409-ccdspec-spectrometer-review/?tab=comments#comment-3482357

Wow! Incredible! Amazing! I wish I had got one of these earlier.

I have seen this advertised at Astrofest over the last two Februaries in Kensington, London, and felt tempted but did not purchase one. Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a flyer I had bought home from Astrofest this year. I contacted Peak2Valley Instruments to find that there was one only left. Faced with the prospect of never owning one, I bought it….and I don’t have any regrets – quite the opposite! I wish I had bought this earlier. I have a Daystar Hydrogen Alpha Quark & a Calcium-H Quark. Nothing beats the H-Alpha scope/filter as an upgrade to your standard night time scope but if I had a choice between one of these CCDSPEC’s and the Calcium-H Quark, I would definitely go for the spectrometer. Don’t get me wrong = the Calcium Quark is a great bit of kit – it is just that the spectrometer gives a real sense of immediate satisfaction and opens up a new world of observation to its users. So if you own a hydrogen-alpha scope and now want something more, consider getting one of these if you can.

However – one step at a time. The spectroscope/spectrograph arrived neatly packed in an aluminium case. Dr Elliott had aligned and calibrated the QHY6 camera that came with it so this job was not needed. Good – because I would not have known where to start. This is quite different to other manufacturers.

It is housed in a beautiful yellow CNC-machined housing – nice enough to impressive my Takahashi-owning observing buddy Damian. Guiding is part of the design so does not need to be added separately. There is a place to connect an eyepiece separate form the camera. This differs from the ALPY-600 spectrograph which costs around £2000 by the time you purchase the guiding module as well as the spectrometer and connectors. This one was only a fraction of that cost.

After care from Dr Elliott has been nothing short of incredible. The poor soul has been bombarded with my e-mails and always promptly and politely responds with clear instructions and explanations. I wish every astronomer vendor was like this! He clearly knows his stuff and is happy to share his experience and skills with others.

In use – during the day it is incredibly easy to take a spectrum of any light – just point it at it. For the sun you point out the window at any part of the sky (just avoid the sun) and a lovely solar spectrum appears of your computer. At night, my first try disobeyed all the instructions in the manual -I used my Sky Watcher Pro 80mm scope on Manfrotto alt-az mount and hand guided for 30 second exposures of Vega and a couple of other stars. I also took a spectrum of the Moon and Mars – shorter exposures and equally as easy. It does not matter if the star slips on and off the slit – all you need is enough light collected and a spectrum appears as if by magic! I am sure it will work a lot better on my EQ6 tracking or guided and with my Sky Watcher Pro 120mm which is a proper match of F7.5 for the spectrometer but even with the wrong kit spectrums just kept appearing and lines matched up with those on sample spectrums off the internet – amazing! I am not used to stuff working first time when I use it – and straight out of the box. Dr Elliott needs to be thanked for achieving this, as some other spectrographs are not like this.

A word on hand guiding – a spectrum appears when the star is on the slit, so you know it has dropped off the slit in the eyepiece when the spectrum turns into a round star, so I just moved the star back on to the slit then.

The spectrometer can use any combination of cameras and a range of software. However, it comes with propriety software called PCSpectra which works well and is covered extensively in the manual. If you buy the QHY6 camera at the same time as I did then Dr Elliott will calibrate it for you – and even (as I have proven) help sort out the mess you make when you don’t realise the camera should not be taken off again and take it off to take a peak inside! We’ve had calibration files going back and fore like yoyos and all I can say is he has been a marvel putting up with the mess I’ve created…But then my history with astronomy equipment is a bit of a legend in our astro club.

Dr Elliott recommends using Nebulosity 4 to capture the FITS images – certainly they integrate well with the QHY6 and PCSpectra and purchasing Nebulosity helps to keep the system working “out of the box” so I would recommend it to any purchaser.

I have posted images of spectra and my experiences of using the spectrograph at https://roslistonastronomy.uk/category/spectroscopy/ccdspec-spectroscope

This is such a great piece of kit – and British made – that it is a shame that this is the last one available. I hope that there will be so many folks wanting to buy it that either Dr Elliott will make some more or someone will take up the mantle and continue to provide a UK-built spectrograph for UK astronomers – one that works just as intended and works for novices but is also a serious instrument capable of serious spectrometry work for advanced astronomers.

I don’t have any personal relationship to Dr Elliott or anything to gain from this review – I think I met him once at Astrofest……

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