Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) (Updated 5/17/18)



The Star Adventurer Mini- is it “quite possibly the most compact and versatile camera tracking platform in the known universe.


Star Adventurer Mini(SAM) on the left and Star Adventurer on the right.  Cameras are both Canon 60Da with a Samyang 135mm lens.



Close up of Star Adventurer above



Close up of the SAM above

Dave was the first to tell me about the new SAM from Sky Watcher.  “Sam?” I queried.  “Star Adventurer Mini”, he replied.  Sure enough, Alan Dyer for Sky and Telescope ran a review of the product in their December 2017 issue, and we read through his wonderful article with anticipation.  The unit seemed complicated to me, and brought one big question to mind.  Since Dave already has the Star Adventurer (which I’ve used extensively), do we really need to get the Star Adventurer Mini?  Doesn’t it do the same thing but in a smaller package?  We were undecided.  Little did Dave know at the time, but I ordered him one for Christmas after our conversation.  It was popular and backordered, but it arrived before the 25th.  He thanked me for the wonderful gift, and then laughingly said, “It only cost me $150!” (Because David had to order the accessories to make it all work๐Ÿ˜€)

PRICE
So let’s start with price.   The unit itself retails for $300, and includes the mount a ball head adapter, and a polar alignment telescope.  However the optional accessories are important and make using it so much easier.  You’ll want the latitude base ($65), and the declination bracket ($40), and maybe the counterweight ($30).   However, the unit is useless without the DSLR control cable.  And the price of that will vary with your camera but typically anywhere from $15-$30. Also a power cord would be nice although not critical if you go with the battery option (2- AA).  Dave plans on using it on his deck which has power, and had a power cable ($10) that would work so that wasn’t an issue.  Now if you own the Star Adventurer already, then you have all of those accessories and they will all fit the SAM unit- except for the power cord, it is slightly different.  Dave wanted a set of accessories for both mounts because he may want to use both of them at the same time.  So if you get the works it will cost you around $460-$475


SAM and Star Adventurer on their Pro-Am tripods.(Highly recommend these tripods.)


 GETTING STARTED

A few things to understand before we go any further.  SAM will not put together a time lapse for you on your camera.  It will take the images, but you will need to put the images together later using a program such as Cyberlink Power Director or Time-Lapse Tool.  You need a smartphone with the SAM app which was easy to install.  You will also need wifi, however SAM has its own system, and you connect through the app.  As per the manual let’s go through this step by step.  We ran into problems getting the unit to operate (and even emailed Star Adventurer for advice) so let’s save you some time.  Here’s the procedure to get you up and running quickly.

A few things you need to do first.  You need a smartphone with the SAM app which was easy to install.  You will also need wifi, however SAM has its own system, and you connect through the app.  As per the manual let’s go through this step by step.  We ran into problems getting the unit to operate (and even emailed Star Adventurer for advice) so let’s save you some time.  Here’s the procedure to get you up and running quickly.
1)      Turn the power on the unit (small black button).  The light will be red, and then start blinking green signaling it’s ready for the wifi setup.
2)      On the Smartphone app, go to the “Settings > WiFi Network” and click “Find Devices”.   Search  for “SynScanWiFi_xxxxxx”.  A small box in the lower left will tell you that you are connected.  The power light should now be a steady green.
3)      Start simple and click on “Regular Exposure Time-lapse” on the app.
4)      According to the manual you need to put a value in for the “Video Time Span (Hr)”, and “Video Length (sec)” then click Run”.  Except “Run” wasn’t an option.  It was grayed out so you couldn’t select it. Then I saw the answer looking at a screen shot later in the manual.
5)      Click on “Swing Range (deg)”.  We didn’t want it to swing for the initial test so we didn’t enable it.  It must be enabled for the time-lapse to work.  If you don’t want it to swing then enable it and put in a value of “0”.
6)      Click “RUN”.

Link: Static time lapse using SAM

REGULAR EXPOSURE TIME-LAPSE


The camera smoothly did its magic as it took its first time lapse.   One of the things I didn’t like about the Star Adventurer is that when you did a time-lapse it would automatically move to one side and then back to the middle and then the other side and repeat.  The amount of swing range was preset.  I found this process annoying.  I didn’t like moving past my object of interest back and forth.   The SAM has a huge advantage in that you can have it go in one direction to a set number of degrees.  This gives you a lot of freedom and creativity to set up the shot you really want.  Dave made some wonderful time-lapse videos that were smooth and impressive.

Link: Panorama done with Sam and a Canon T6i

 Long exposure time-lapse, Astro time lapse and astrophotography are next, but we need some clear nights in this cloudy and soggy winter we’re having.  Stay tuned.  When the weather gets better we’ll have more to share!


Update  3/13/18

Long Exposure Time Lapse

The next step in the manual was to try a long exposure time lapse.  The SAM app for this part of the article was basically the same as the regular time lapse above.  The difference was in length of exposure.  In the case of the links you will see below I used a 25 second exposure with a 1 second space between exposures.  The swing range used was 150 degrees in the first link to 170 degrees in the second and the time picked was 9 hours in the first one and 10 hours for the second one.  The swing rate was 1 which means the SAM module will move through the # of degrees picked and then will stop.  If I had picked a swing rate of 2 the SAM would have moved through the # of degrees and then would have come back the other way to the starting point to finish.  You can also pick whether you want it to go clockwise or counterclockwise as you will see in the links below.  When you import those values the SAM app determines the number of photos taken and the # of degrees per hour.  Once this is done you turn on the SAM, which creates it's own wifi, and change the wifi setting on your mobile device to access the SAM and connect.  Once connected you push "Run" and SAM does the rest.  The results can be seen in the links below.

Link: SAM Long Exposure Time Lapse 9 hours


Link: SAM Long Exposure 10 hours/170 degree panning

Update 3/18/18

Before going to the astrophotography part of the manual I decided to do one more long exposure of 11 hours and a 180 degree panning.  Also, I decided to try my Astronomik CLS light pollution filter in the Canon T6i.  

I have been remiss in showing the phone app screens and have included them for the video in the link below.  They show that the exposure was 25 secs with a 1 sec delay between.  The pan was 180 degrees with a 1 swing rate which means SAM will rotate in one direction from start to finish.  The length of time chosen was 11 hours. Also, I chose SAM to move counterclockwise. SAM will then figure out the rest of the values based on what you imput.










Status can be checked at any time.


Red screen is the night mode screen.  White will show in daylight.


Update 5/17/18


ASTRO TIME-LAPSE

The first thing you will be scratching your head about is what is the difference between the Astro Time-lapse and Astrophotography modes?  Answer: The Astro Time-lapse allows you to keep the same foreground image while the stars move, so you want to use a wide field lens.  In Astrophotography mode you are tracking the object of interest so you want a narrow field lens.  Both need to be polar aligned.  We’ll deal with astrophotography in the next section.  The better question is why do you need the Astro Time-lapse mode at all?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just set up the tripod without polar aligning it?  The traditional method is simply setting up the tripod and framing your horizon, and then set the intervalometer on your camera to about 30-40 seconds or whatever your camera/ lens combination can take without trailing, and you’re done.   You could do this, but the Astro Time-lapse is SO much better.  The idea here is to be able to take a longer exposure without trailing so it needs to be polar aligned.  So instead of a 30 second exposure how about 60 or 90 seconds?  Think about how much brighter the foreground objects will be and the depth of the star field or Milky Way.   The problem here is that the horizon objects will move slightly with each image.  SAM counteracts this by automatically returning back to its point of origin for each picture thereby leaving the horizon image in sharp focus.  The results are beautiful, so let’s get started.



Polar Alignment



 On the top of the unit, next to the power button, are two small peep sites for a visual view of Polaris.  It’s called the polar viewfinder (page 20 in the manual).   On the Star Adventure Mini Console App under POLAR CLOCK UTILITY you will find at the bottom of the screen a button to select for LIGHT ON and OFF.  This puts a red light on each peephole site.   Simply center Polaris in the two peep sites and you have a coarse alignment.    


The manual says that the peep hole site is fine for applications for up to 30 seconds with a short focal length lens; for longer exposures you want to use the polar finder scope and illuminator.  This comes standard with SAM.   To set it up, screw off the back cover and you’ll see the hole where the polar scope slides into.  



  It’s a bit of a tight fit, but it should be snug.  Be certain to turn the polar finder so that the orientation matches that on the POLAR CLOCK UTILITY, namely with the number 6 facing straight down.  



The illuminator is attached to an adapter that fits snugly in the slot on the "declination bracket."  It should be in line with the polar scope as seen in the photo.  



The problem I had is that it wasn’t snug.  If this happens to you put some tape over the adapter “feet” to make a better fit.  Dave purchased a white adapter for this purpose for his Star Adventurer, and that works well so I used that.  When ready, turn the illuminator on and align Polaris carefully to match the app by turning the altitude and azimuth screws.    Turn off the illuminator, and you are ready to go.  The polar finder can be left in the unit.

SAM Console and Camera Setup

The camera I used was a Canon 60Da with a light pollution filter.  It was set to an ISO of 800.  The lens was a Rokinon 14mm at f/2.8.  You want to be certain that you are shooting jpegs only and not jpegs+RAW images.  This will make life much easier when you make the time lapse.  Also be certain the long exposure noise reduction (dark frame) is turned off.  If desired shoot 10 dark frames (leave the lens cap on) at the same exposure as the light frame.  You can then create a master dark and subtract those from the light frames during processing.

On the Star Adventure Mini Console App turn on the wifi under SETTINGS and then choose ASTRO TIME-LAPSE.  The settings I used are shown in the image.  I set an exposure time of 60 seconds and 400 photos.  This would take 7.24 hours, but I wanted a dusk to dawn scenario.


Make certain that the battery is fully charged on SAM or that you have it plugged into an external power source.  You might also want to use Dave's Dew System if this will be an issue during the night.  See his blog for details on this simple, but very effective dew prevention system.  Click RUN on the app and watch the first image come in.  Press STOP.  It's critical that you check your first image for focus, landscape setup, and brightness.  Zoom in to look for any signs of star trailing- there should be none.  You may want to experiment with a different exposure time or ISO setting.  Repeat this process until you're satisfied with your image.  Erase all of these"test images" and start with a clean card. It's time.  Hit RUN and let it go.  You can always check the status on the app or even have the wifi turned off.  the unit will still continue to run until all of the images have been taken.

Results

Remember that it doesn't take a finished time-lapse for you; it merely collects the data.  You have to assemble the time-lapse in a different computer program.  The finished product here was taken in Pennsylvania in a rural/suburban setting.   



Link below:  If you have a smart TV and can cast from your phone or laptop to the YouTube app on the TV it's much better a view of any of these links in this article.


Night at the Observatory







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