The StarAid Revolution stand-alone camera

In July 2019 I took a trip to Tivoli Farm, Namibia to observe the southern sky. I had brought along a Star Adventurer tracker together with my faithful stand-alone camera, a Lacerta MGEN. Unfortunately, my MGEN acted up on me quite soon, putting my wide-field program at risk. I asked our host, Reinhold Schreiber, for help, and as usual he was very kind and helpful and had a trick up his sleeve: a stand-alone camera previously unknown to me, the StarAid Revolution.

Camera operation

The Revolution is a very compact autoguiding camera, about the size of a 1.25” (31.8 mm) eyepiece. The camera comes with a short user manual, a 220 V AC/12 V DC power supply, a USB cable for PC connection, an ST4 cable and splitter resembling a sort of a “soapbar” which acts as a “hub” between the camera head, the guiding cable and the power supply:

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StarAid Revolution - unboxing

StarAid Revolution - unboxing

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StarAid Revolution - user documentationmanual

StarAid Revolution - user documentationmanual

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StarAid Revolution - camera

StarAid Revolution - camera "hub"

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StarAid Revolution - camera head (side view)

StarAid Revolution - camera head (side view)

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StarAid Revolution - camera head (rear view)

StarAid Revolution - camera head (rear view)

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StarAid Revolution - power supply

StarAid Revolution - power supply

The power supply is required when operating the camera in stand-alone mode, otherwise it can also run off a USB cable or power bank.

This camera has two very interesting features: WiFi-based control via a smartphone, and plate solving to automate guiding and polar alignment.

The camera I used was an early production unit, so before using it I updated the firmware to the latest version available. The user’s manual is concise but easy to read and understand, and the connections are quite straightforward for anybody having some familiarity with this type of equipment.

The Revolution creates a local wifi network, to which one has to connect the device to be used for control  and monitoring. Once connected to the wifi, no native app  (e.g. Android or iPhone) is needed: the camera can be operated by connecting to the its local IP address with just any web browser (I used Chrome). The camera has an integrated web server providing all controls needed for operation: autoguiding, assisted polar alignment, live view and plate solving.

Getting the camera to autoguide is a matter of minutes:

  1. Hook up the camera and open the control web page by accessing the camera’s local IP address
  2. Open live view for focusing on a star
  3. Go back to the guiding menu and start autoguiding. The camera will automatically calibrate the mount. Once autoguiding is on, a web page can be opened showing the RA and DEC error plots.
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StarAid Revolution - Home page

StarAid Revolution - Home page

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StarAid Revolution - RA and DEC guiding error plot

StarAid Revolution - RA and DEC guiding error plot

Once imaging is started, one can use a mobile device (an Asus 7” tablet in my case) to monitor the camera’s behavior, making corrections only if needed. It is advisable to keep within the camera’s wifi range, because this can cause some problems upon reconnection, although the camera will continue autoguiding.  In my case, I had left my wide-field imaging rig (a Star Adventurer loaded up to its max capacity) just a few meters from the observatory housing the main telescope, so that I had everything under control:

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StarAid Revolution - operation

StarAid Revolution - operation

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Below are a couple shots guided with the StarAid Revolution:

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Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC)
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Antares, M4 and Rho Ophiuci

Conclusion

As far as autoguiding performance is concerned, I must say that the Revolution is easy to use and works really well, so it saved my wide-field imaging plans. The pros and cons of this product can be briefly summarized as follows.

Pros:

  • Compact, lightweight, easy to use
  • Very good autoguiding performance
  • Convenient live view mode
  • Wifi connection
  • Browser-based interface allows control with just about any device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop PC, you name it!)
  • Automated plate solving and assisted polar alignment (not tested)

Cons:

  • Lacks a couple of important features for an autoguiding camera: DSLR control and dithering (The MGEN has both)
  • Wifi connection means the device used for control cannot connect to the Internet unless another network interface is available
  • High price tag (around 1000 EUR)

All in all, the Revolution is a very compact and interesting product, although the lack of a couple of important features and its relatively high price tag could to some extent limit its success.

Finally, I would like to point out that the producer has rolled out several new firmware releases since the summer of 2019 with many improvements and bug fixes. For the sake of correctness, I must say I didn’t test any of these new improvements. Please check out the relevant webpage for details.

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