Getting your SAC10 Up and Going

Problems connecting to your SAC10?  Think the camera might not be working right? This page should help.  Much of this information can also be found in the SAC10 Quick Setup Guide (PDF).


Connecting the camera

Several users have had issues getting Nebulosity or Maxim to recognize the camera.  Attempts to connect result in an error.  Most of the time, it's not an issue with the camera itself, but one of three things.

1) Physical connection.  There is little to this, but if you've done it incorrectly, you're in for a world of trouble.  If you're camera's not connecting, try the following:

  1. Disconnect everything and power off your computer.  Yes, power it off.  No, don't just restart.
  2. Turn the computer on with the camera disconnected.  If you've just had a connection issue, let the camera sit for a bit - several minutes at least (the goal is to discharge chips inside that may be holding on to an error).
  3. Attach the beige DB-15 (D-shaped) connector to the camera head and the control box.  Screw it in.  Yes, all four screws.
  4. Have your computer's sound turned on.
  5. Attach the power and USB cables (you can go in any order here).  When the last connection is made, you should hear two USB chimes.
  6. Fire up Nebulosity and try connecting.

2) Camera Driver.  Windows seems to like getting the wrong low-level USB driver installed for the SAC10 quite often.  There is one built into Windows for the same "FTDI" chipset, but it's a low-speed generic driver and not the one to use.  To fix this, you will need the FTClean program (found in \Program Files\Nebulosity -- do not confuse this with FTDIUNIN).  You may also want to download the SAC10 Finder and look here for how to use it.

A clear indicator that this is the problem is if Windows thinks the SAC10 is a "generic serial" device.  You can see this by right-clicking on My Computer, and pulling down Properties.  Then select the Hardware tab and click on the Device Manager.  Expand the various USB entries until you find the "FTDI" device.  If it says "generic serial" in there, you've got the wrong driver loaded.  At this point, you can run through these steps or manually try an "Update Driver" and point it to \Program Files\Nebulosity\SAC10_Driver.

  1. Disconnect the USB cable from the computer to the control box
  2. Run the FTClean program.  This will clean out any existing FTDI drivers associated with the SAC10.  If this program fails to run, in your Control Panel, enter Add/Remove Programs and look for anything saying "FTDI Serial" and remove this.
  3. Disconnect your computer from the Internet.  Pull your ethernet cable, disconnect your modem, disable your network card - whatever it takes here.  You can try skipping this step, but several experienced users have report this was vital for them as despite all attempts otherwise, Windows connected to Windows Update and downloaded what it thought was a better driver.  Skip at your own risk.
  4. Connect the camera as described in Physical Connection.
  5. You should now get the "Found New Hardware" dialog
  6. Tell it not to connect to Windows Update.  On the next dialog, it should say it's found a "USB<->Serial" adapter and ask if it should install the software automatically.  Do so and it will fail.  Tell it "Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)".
  7. On the next dialog, it should come up by default and tell you to "Search for the best driver in these locations".  Often entering "C:\Program Files\Nebulosity" there works, but we're going manual here.  Click on "Don't search, I will choose the driver to install."  You should then get a dialog that looks like this:
  8. Click on Have Disk there.  We're going to tell it to only look for the driver in \Program Files\Nebulosity\SAC10_Driver.  Your screen should pop open a small window asking you where it is. Click on Browse and navigate to c:\program files\Nebulosity where you should have “FTD2XX.INF”. Click on OK to close that window and OK to close the other two windows. Continue on with the installation.
  9. Do not use ones you download from the FTDI site
  10. It should then tell you this driver is not digitally signed.  Click on "Continue Anyway"
  11. Fire up Nebulosity and try to connect.

3) USB computer port.  We have had a number of users report trouble with their USB ports.  This is particularly the case on laptops with VIA or Ali chipsets, although some others have had issues as well.  The problem stems from the port not being able to keep up with the large bulk transfers the SAC10 does.  Symptoms here include connection failures and hangs during capture.

  1. If you have a desktop machine - in particular one with a USB2 card, try everything on that machine and see if it works.  If it does, it's your laptop's built in USB port.
  2. Get a PCMCIA USB2 port for your laptop.  The $50 variant from CompUSA works just fine.  I've got a Belkin and a StarTech and both made connection with my nice Toshiba laptop rock solid.
  3. If this doesn't fix the issue, see SAC10 Finder below


SAC10 Finder

There is a diagnostic utility that can give a good bit of information as to what is going wrong.  It's called the the SAC10 Finder

  1. Download it and then right click on it and tell Windows to "Extract All" into some directory you can find easily such as your desktop.
  2. You should now have some folder with two things in it.  The SAC10Finder program and SAC10.dll.  Double-click on SAC10Finder.
  3. You should now have a screen with three buttons.  Click on the first one to check the FTDI Driver.  It should look like this.  If not, you've got the wrong driver installed.  Go to the Camera_Driver section of the document.
  4. Now click on the Find devices button.  This attempts to connect to the camera.  It should look like this.
  5. If not, you've got a connection issue that isn't driver-related (assuming it gave the right driver in the step above).  Check your Physical connection and your USB computer port.
  6. Finally, click on SAC10 Check button.  It will then attempt to collect an image from the camera.  You should see something like this:

    Hopefully, you see a bit more (I need to update this screencap) that lists a "CRC check completed OK", a "Firmware version", etc.
  7. If you get an error on the CRC check or a numbers in the "Full resolution" column that aren't 1064x780, go back to the Physical connection and your USB computer port sections and make sure that's OK.  If that's good but you still have this issue, you've likely gotten a corruption in your camera's firmware.  This requires sending the camera back.

Taking a diagnostic dark frame

If the camera connects just fine, but seems to have problems in the images, we can learn a lot about how the camera is behaving by taking a diagnostic dark frame.  We can do this indoors by doing the following:

  1. Get the camera up and going for a few minutes so that it's nice and cooled. 
  2. Don't bother attaching the camera to the scope, but cover the 1.25" nose with a piece of tin foil tightly (use a rubber band to hold it on there) and then just drape another piece of foil over the camera.  Together, this will ensure a nice dark setup.
  3. Start Nebulosity and connect to the camera. 
  4. Under Preferences, Color Acquisition Mode, set it to RAW if it's not already set as such.
  5. Set the offset of 120.  Leave the gain at the default (32).  Setup for a 30s exposure.
  6. Hit Preview, and then save the file in FITS format with your name.  So, something like craig_dark.fit - please do not save as JPG or anything else.  There is a lot of information in the FITS file that is nowhere else.
  7. First, look at this image.  Is it relatively smooth?  Move the mouse around - do the values Nebulosity reports in the Status Bar all equal zero?  Look at the histogram.  Is it mostly a spike that's away from the left side (good) or is it taking up > 25% of the histogram window (bad) or jammed on the left (bad, but try increasing the offset)?
  8. There are two options for getting it so that someone can look at the image.  One is to e-mail it here (attach the file -- if you use RAW FITS, it should be ~4M) and the other is to FTP it to the Stark Labs site.  I've got a special FTP area setup just for this.  If you use this, please e-mail me to let me know what you've uploaded and why.  To use it:
    1. In any Explorer window (e.g., My Computer), make sure you've got the
      Address bar avail (View, Toolbars) and enter an address of:
    2. At this point, it will ask you to log in.  You should see a screen that looks like this, but you'll need to change the username, etc. 

      The password is the Messier number for the Whirlpool galaxy with the first letter there in lowercase.  If you don't know what that is, you shouldn't have a SAC10 :).
    3. A window should now pop open that you can just drag files into as if it were a folder on your drive.

Taking a diagnostic light frame

A diagnostic light frame is much like a diagnostic dark frame.  This time, however, make a small pinhole in the foil that you placed on the nose.  Vary the light in the room so that you can take a 10s or longer image and not either white it out or show up as all dark (you'll actually see an image of your room - you just made a "pinhole camera").  Upload the image if you're seeing real problems.


This site was last updated 03/22/06