SharpCap supports a wide range of cameras. These can be divided into 3 basic categories:
1. Cameras supported directly by SharpCap – these include many brands of dedicated astronomy cameras including models by Altair, Basler, Celestron, Imaging Source, iNova, QHY and ZWO.
2. Cameras supported via a Windows Webcam driver – includes most webcams (modified and unmodified), USB frame grabbers and is also an option for many specialised cameras where the manufacturer provides a webcam driver (sometimes called a WDM or DirectShow driver).
3. Cameras supported via an ASCOM driver – many astronomy camera manufacturers provide ASCOM drivers for their products and SharpCap can use these to communicate with the camera.
Sometimes a camera can be accessed by two (or even all three) of the options above. If that happens, it is usually best to prefer to use the direct support for the camera as this will give the most control over the camera’s functionality.
A UK based supplier of a wide range of CMOS cameras for guiding, solar, planetary, lunar and deep sky imaging. Altair cameras can also be purchased from a range of dealers in the UK and other countries. Altair’s website can be found at https://www.altairastro.com/ .
A German manufacturer of a wide range of industrial cameras, some of which are suitable for astro imaging. SharpCap supports Basler cameras, including those with Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. On some models of Basler cameras, SharpCap is capable of supporting exposures longer than the camera's normal maximum limit by clever software control of the camera's manual exposure triggers. Basler’s website can be found at http://www.baslerweb.com/en .
The Imaging Source provide a wide range of industrial cameras which have been used for astro imaging for some time. Imaging Source manufactured cameras are now sold under the Celestron brand. SharpCap should be able to control the full range of The Imaging Source and Celestron cameras, although testing has covered the more common USB cameras only. The Imaging Source’s website can be found at https://www.theimagingsource.com/ .
iNova sell a range of small sensor CMOS/CCD cameras aimed primarily at the astro imaging market, primarily suitable for solar/lunar/planetary imaging and auto-guiding. iNova’s website can be found at http://inovaccdusa.com/ .
QHY sell a wide range of CCD and CMOS cameras with sensor sizes ranging from webcam size to full frame SLR and beyond. These cameras are primarily designed for the astro imaging and Scientific markets. SharpCap supports the full range of QHY cameras and includes support for advanced features such as built-in filter wheels, GPS timing modules and Peltier cooler control. QHY’s website can be found at http://www.qhyccd.com/ .
ZWO sell a range of CMOS cameras with low noise, high sensitivity sensors, ranging from webcam size to full frame SLR. Their cameras are primarily designed for the astro imaging market, including useful features such as built in USB hubs on some models. SharpCap supports the full range of ZWO cameras including control of advanced features such as Peltier cooler control and USB bandwidth adjustment. ZWO’s website can be found at https://astronomy-imaging-camera.com/ .
Many astro cameras have ASCOM drivers and SharpCap can use these drivers to control such cameras. This can be a good fall back option when SharpCap does not have direct support for a camera. The ASCOM Standards website can be found at
Microsoft DirectShow is an architecture for streaming media on the Microsoft Windows platform. There are a vast number of webcams and frame grabbers on the market. The controls available in SharpCap are determined by the driver – SharpCap just shows the controls the driver makes available.
If a camera appears as ASCOM and DirectShow – which should be chosen?
If a camera not directly supported by SharpCap is to be used, there are two options when connecting to it – ASCOM drivers or DirectShow drivers. Each have their pros and cons.
· Direct control of exposure (continuously variable) in the SharpCap panel.
· Binning may be available.
· ROI may be available (2.10 and up).
· Bit depths of >8 and RAW modes may be available.
· Long exposures likely to be available.
· Few other controls in the SharpCap panel as ASCOM doesn't allow for many except exposure and gain.
· ASCOM is relatively slow, so frame rates will be slower.
· ASCOM can be unreliable because each manufacturer interprets the standard in their own way, which can lead to some ASCOM drivers being incompatible with SharpCap.
· A better selection of camera controls available in the panel (gamma, brightness, contrast, etc.).
· Long exposures may be available (i.e. 1s, 2s, 4s, 8s, 16s, etc.).
· Region of Interest (ROI) may be available.
· Extra controls may be available in the camera's DirectShow config dialog.
· High frame rates possible.
· Less likely to have compatibility issues than ASCOM.
· Exposure only changeable in multiples of 2.
· Bit depths limited to 8 bits and RAW modes unlikely to be available.
· Can only save videos to AVI and images to PNG (2.9 only, this restriction removed in 2.10).
· Using an astro camera via DirectShow isn't as good as using it directly (less controls, less control over exposure), but it is better than nothing.
SharpCap runs on Microsoft Windows. The minimum version requirement is:
· SharpCap 2.9 (or older versions) – Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10
· SharpCap 2.10 (or newer versions) – Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10
SharpCap is a 32-bit application and will install and run on both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.
Multiple major versions can co-exist, for example 2.8, 2.9 and 2.10 can be installed together on the same machine. Only one minor version can be installed, for example only one of 2.9.3055 and 2.9.3011 can be installed at any one time.
Windows XP, although now out of Microsoft support, will work with older cameras. The problem with this version of the operating system is manufacturer driver support for XP will dwindle, therefore newer cameras will be unable to run on the platform.
Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 are well supported by manufacturers. Windows 7 will go end of life in 2020 and at this point, Microsoft support will cease.
The minimum hardware requirement is dependent on the type of camera being used. When purchasing a camera, look closely at the manufacturer/vendor recommended minimum PC specification.
The following areas need to be considered to achieve the best frame rates:
· Processor, i5 or i7 is better.
· Memory, 3Gb maximum for 32-bit Windows, 64-bit needs at least 4Gb.
· Disk, SSD is faster than conventional drive.
· USB, USB3 (5Gb/s) is 10x faster than USB2 (480Mb/s).
· Windows 32/64-bit, 64-bit supports > 3Gb memory.
SharpCap is designed to take advantage of the multiple CPU cores available on most modern computers and will perform better for fast cameras if more than one CPU core is available.
Consider the hardware demands when purchasing high frame rate cameras.
A 640x480 resolution webcam will work well on a low specification PC. A ThinkPad X61 (used to produce the examples in this manual) satisfies this requirement. The following specification can achieve 30fps at 640 x 480 with a USB2 webcam.
· Core 2Duo 1.86Ghz processor
· 4Gb (3Gb usable with 32-bit Windows)
· 120Gb SATA2 drive
· Windows 10 32-bit
A dedicated astronomy camera capable of 3000x2000 pixels at 50fps will require a fast processor, more memory, an SSD and a USB3 port to achieve maximum performance.
If intending to use high resolution cameras (10 Megapixels or more), ensure the capture PC/laptop has:
· A minimum of i5 processor.
· A large capacity hard drive (500Gb or more) with SSD preferred.
· At least 4Gb (preferably 8Gb or more) of memory.
· A 64-bit version of the Windows operating system.
This configuration allows SharpCap to access more memory, thus reducing the likelihood of memory exhaustion while capturing. This applies when working in RGB mode or at bit depths of 12 or 16 bits per pixel.