PL-131C COOLAIR high speed video camera


  • Sensor: 1/2" CMOS 10-bit Colour
  • Sensor Resolution: 1280(H) x 1024(V)
  • Frame Rate:
    • 22 FPS @ 1280x1024
    • 80 FPS @ 640x480 (ROI)
    • 220 FPS @ 320x240 (ROI)
  • USB 2.0 Powered
  • Hardware Binning: 1x1, 2x2, 4x4
  • Hardware Region of Interest (ROI)
  • Hardware Gain
  • Robust aluminium alloy body
  • Air-Cooled with internal fan
  • No Infra Red filter
  • Suitable for Planetary imaging or Auto-Guiding
  • Bundled Software:
    • etAMACAP (DirectShow/WDM)
    • Craterlet (DirectShow/WDM)
    • Nebulosity Lite
    • PHD Guiding
    • Plug-in for MaxIm DL
    • Plug-in for AstroArt
  • Computer Requirements:
    • Microsoft Windows 32-bit XP/Vista/7
    • 64-bit drivers available Q2 2010
    • USB 2.0 port
Opticstar PL-131 Setup Guide
(Oct 2009, PDF)
Opticstar PL-131C COOLAIR
Flyer (PDF)

The PL-131C CoolAir fan-cooled camera offers exceptional performance and versatility easily outperforming cameras costing considerably more. The camera excels as a planetary (Solar and Lunar) camera with frame rates of up to 220fps. It is also ideal as a guider or for industrial inspection and microscopy applications. Gain, Region of Interest (ROI) and binning are all features implemented in the hardware to deliver exceptional performance.

The PL-131C camera has been designed to deliver high image quality at unusually high frame rates. The camera is capable of capturing an image even at a minimum 1ms exposure (10secs max in single shot mode) at all supported resolutions and with frame rates of up to 220fps.

The PL-131C camera requires a fully featured, full speed USB2.0 port to take advantage of all the camera’s advanced features. Please refer to Hardware Requirements lower in the page for more information and advice.

Region of Interest – ROI
ROI has been implemented in hardware and offers fast frame rates at the expense of field of view. Frame rates of up to 220 frames per second are possible. In addition the position of the ROI window can be set by the user via the supplied software and repositioned as required.

Region Of Interest modes.
The above example shows the ROI in action. The user can resize (1280x1024, 640x480, 320x240) and reposition the ROI over the planet in this example so as to dramatically increase frame rates from 22fps to 80fps and to 220fps respectively without reducing the actual size of the planet, this remains the same in all three images i.e. 306x204 pixels approximately. In practice the ROI reveals and sends to the computer only a portion of the total sensor area.

As such considerable amounts of detail can captured at these extreme speeds. The size of single frames and video files are also greatly reduced resulting in singe frames and AVI video files of 1/4 and 1/16 in size without compromising image quality.

R.O.I. Size
(in pixels)
R.O.I. Position Frame Rate * Frame Size
1000 frames
AVI File Size
Total Time for
1000 Frames*
1280x1024 whole sensor area 22fps 1.3mp 1300 MB 46 seconds
640x480 user definable x, y 80fps 0.325mp 325 MB 12.5 seconds
320x240 user definable x, y 220fps 0.081mp 81 MB 4.6 seconds
* maximum (depends on computer hardware & assumes 1ms exposure time).

Binning Modes
Binning is implemented in the camera hardware for improved performance and is useful when you need to increase the camera’s light sensitivity. Binning increases light sensitivity at the expense of resolution, the field of view remains the same in all binning modes. The camera uses the whole of the sensor surface to collect photons and outputs the image at different resolutions depending on the binning mode selected. The diagram below is for illustration purposes and shows the effect of binning as light sensitivity increases and resolution/image size decreases, exposure time remains the same.

Binning modes.
Binning Mode Resolution Sensitivity Binning Frame Rate
1x1 1280x1024 x1 not applicable 22fps
2x2 640x480 x4 hardware 80fps
4x4 320x240 x16* hardware/software 80fps
* maximum

Hardware Gain
Gain is implemented in the camera hardware and is useful in amplifying the incoming signal. This feature is particularly useful when minimum exposure times and/or maximum signal levels are required.

Planetary, Lunar and Solar Imaging
When imaging the Sun, Moon and planets atmospheric turbulence will have an adverse effect on the quality of the image. As such the best way to capture a high quality image of say a planet is by capturing hundreds or thousands of frames in succession and in the minimum amount of time possible. The resultant AVI video file can then be imported in say AstroArt or the freely available Registax where the image frames can be stacked by the software in a single final image of superior quality.

At a maximum frame rate of 220fps the PL-131C CoolAir is the ideal planetary and Lunar camera offering high quality video streams while dramatically reducing hard disk space requirements and the size of captured video AVI files.

For planetary imaging we recommend running the camera at 1280x1024 with the ROI set at 320x240. This ensures the highest image quality at the highest speeds possible, i.e. 220fps. When long focal lengths are used (i.e. over 6 meters for the larger planets) the camera ROI can be set to 640x480 (80fps) to comfortably fit the planetary disk inside the ROI window.

The 1/2" format sensor will accommodate focal lengths of around 12 meters for the largest planets so that the projected planetary disk remains smaller than the size of sensor. If the focal length used is around 12 meters you would use the camera at full resolution (22fps, ROI set to OFF).

For Lunar imaging setting the camera at 1280x1024 and the ROI at 320x240 will suit smaller Lunar features and/or when you want to draw out that extra detail. Otherwise for medium sized Lunar features running the camera at 1280x1024 with the ROI set at 640x480 will offer the best option. If you are interested in capturing as much of the area of the Moon as possible in a single shot you will need to run the camera at its full 1280x1024 resolution at 22fps (ROI set to OFF). What applies to the Moon also applies to the Sun (full aperture Solar filter required).

Finally the camera’s high speed makes it ideal for imaging (and viewing) in real time ‘fast moving’ targets like the International Space Station.

The PL-131C CoolAir camera can be used as a guide camera and offers a number of features useful in auto-guiding sometimes not found in dedicated guiding cameras.

Hardware binning allows your guide camera to reveal and guide on fainter stars. Its ability to bin makes it ideal for guide scopes with shorter and longer focal lengths as you can better match the guider scope’s focal length to the size of the pixels. An on-board camera frame store ensures the highest image quality and S/N ratios.

The camera needs an auto-guide controller like the Shoestring GPUSB unit to be able to auto-guide with any ST-4 compatible mount. The Opticstar AG-131C CoolAir is the auto-guiding version of the PL-131C CoolAir and includes the PL-131C CoolAir camera as well as the Shoestring GPUSB unit.

Other Applications
The PL-131C CoolAir is very well suited to microscopy and machine inspection in particular due to its high frame rates combined with high image quality. The camera will perform well even under not ideal lighting conditions.

Hardware Requirements
The PL-131C CoolAir camera requires a fully featured, full speed USB2.0 port to take advantage of all the camera’s advanced features. Fully featured USB2.0 ports are rare in older laptops and not always present in entry level laptops. PCMCIA/CardBus USB2.0 cards typically do not deliver full USB2.0 speeds and will not work with USB2.0 high resolution video cameras including the PL-131C CoolAir.

To resolve such issues an ExpressCard (with a USB2.0 port) could be used instead of a PCMCIA/CardBus card due to the ExpressCard's superior speed of 2.5Gbit/s (480 Mbit/s through USB 2.0) per slot.

Express type cards use a 34mm slot where PCMCIA/CardBus cards use 54mm slots. An ExpressCard should be connected directly to the computer and not via a PCMCIA/CardBus card.

Please note the ExpressCards will resolve USB related issues assuming that the laptop data bus can support full ExpressCard speeds and is fully implemented.
Cooling mechanism.
The cooling mechanism.
Computers with slower USB2.0 ports may still be able to capture at full resolution but may be able to only transfer a user selectable area (ROI 640x480 or 320x240) to the computer while sustaining image resolution and high frame rates. This does not have a real effect when imaging planets where video capture should ideally take place at the smallest ROI size possible, typically 320x240 @ 220fps for focal lengths to around 6 meters for planets like Jupiter or Saturn.

Always download and install the latest Windows and Direct X service packs.

This does not have a real affect when imaging planets where video capture should ideally take place at the smallest ROI size possible, typically 320x240 @ 220fps for focal lengths to around 6 meters for planets like Jupiter or Saturn.

Optionally, the PL-131C COOLAIR incorporates a removable x0.5 focal reducer nosepiece that can double the field of view if required. An extension 5 metre USB lead with a USB repeater (amplifier) is also available in cases where the camera will be used further away from the computer.

The camera comes with a C/CS ring and a 1.25" telescope adaptor threaded for filters. A C/CS to T-thread adaptor is available as an optional extra. The camera will accept standard C and CS mount lenses as well as T-thread lenses (with the optional adapter). The PL-131C COOLAIR can also be mounted on standard photographic tripods as it incorporates a 1/4" photographic female thread.

Camera nosepieces.
Nosepieces from left to right: 1.25" adapter (supplied), t-thread adapter (optional), C ring (supplied).

Bundled Software
In addition to EMAMCAP, the camera is bundled with a number of software applications including Craterlet, Nebulosity Lite, PHD Guiding and Guidemaster. Also there are software plug-ins for third party applications such as AstroArt and MaxIm DL. The most appropriate software to use depends on the particular application.

If maximum frame rates are required then the camera should be configured as a Windows DirectShow/WDM device. Alternatively, if maximum light sensitivity is desired then it should be used in native mode.

The PL-131C COOLAIR is supported natively in Nebulosity, PHD Guiding, AstroArt and MaxIm DL. The camera can also be used as DirectShow/WDM video camera in Craterlet, PHD Guiding, Guidemaster, EMAMCAP, AstroArt and MaxIm DL.

Craterlet Software
Craterlet is a capture application for video cameras compatible with Windows DirectX (DirectShow) and WDM. It provides streaming to AVI, still capture and a simple but clean interface. Streams to AVI format at ~30 FPS, ready for processing in other software such as Nebulosity. It can quickly cycle among the camera's modes and allows the user to specify frame rate and capture duration. It is able to capture individual still frames in BMP format. Craterlet is ideal when high frame rates are desirable. Craterlet.

Nebulosity Lite Software
Nebulosity is a fully featured, but simple to use capture and processing application. Astronomy images from just about anything can be processed (support for many FITS formats, PNG, TIFF, JPEG, CR2/CRW, etc). Nebulosity Lite is bundled with the camera and it supports lapse photography, 1x1 and 2x2 binning modes, StarView real-time video preview mode, region of interest, frame stacking, support for all popular file formats and more. This should be the application of choice over etAMCAP or Craterlet when high sensitivity is required rather than high frame rates. Nebulosity.

PHD Guiding Software
PHD Guiding is designed to be simple, yet provide powerful, intelligent auto-guiding of your telescope. Connect your mount, your camera, select a star, and start guiding. That's it! In PHD Guiding, all calibration is taken care of automatically. The camera can be used with PHD Guiding in Windows DirectShow/WDM mode when exposures of under half a second are required, or in native PL-131 mode for exposures of over 500 milliseconds. Longer exposures increase the camera’s sensitivity. PHD Guiding.

Guidemaster Software
Guidemaster can be used as an alternative to PHD Guiding. Please note that there is no support for longer exposures for the PL-131 in Guidemaster. Therefore PHD Guiding (or AstroArt or MaxIm DL) will perform better because of the longer exposure times. Guidemaster.

Image Quality
The ability of the camera to capture and store high quality video to disk in real-time provides the data required for stacking any number of frames to create a single greatly enhanced quality image using image stacking software, these include Nebulosity (bundled with the camera), the excellent AstroArt, the freely available Registax and others.

Model Opticstar PL-131C COOLAIR
Sensor Micron MT9C001
Optical Format 1/2" CMOS colour sensor (no IR filter)
Resolution 1280(W) x 1024(H)
Pixel Size 5.2µm x 5.2µm
Maximum Frame Rate 22fps @ 1280x1024 maximum; 80fps @ 640x480; 220fps @ 320x240
ADC 8-bit
Shutter Electronic Rolling
Exposure Time Minimum 1ms; Maximum 10 seconds in native long exposure mode.
Computer Interface USB 2.0 with 1.8 metre (6 feet) of USB cable
Power Requirement USB Bus Power
Cooling Air-cooled from internal fan (USB powered)
Dimensions 65mm (W) x 40mm (D) x 85mm (H)
Sensor Distance to Camera Front 10.5mm (requires removal of internal spacers), 12.5mm & 17.5mm
Weight 175 grams (6.25 oz)
Operating System Microsoft Windows 32-bit XP/Vista/7; 64-bit drivers available Q2 2010

PL-130 COOLAIR Sample Images
Please click on the images below to expand to their full size.

A 9.4 megapixel mosaic of the Moon 
 captured by Herwig Sulzbacher.
A 9.4 megapixel mosaic of the Moon captured by Herwig Sulzbacher in Austria.
PL-130M, C11, (Image aquisition time: 20 minutes, stacking with avistack, Fitswork 2 Minutes / image).
Click to expand to: 2354 x 4010 pixels.

Sample image. Sample image.
The Moon.
Image by Herwig Sulzbacher, Austria
PL-130M, C11, (Registax & Photoshop Elements)
Click to expand to: 1216 x 974 pixels.

The Moon.
Image by Herwig Sulzbacher, Austria
PL-130M, C11, (Registax & Photoshop Elements)
Click to expand to: 1280 x 1024 pixels.

Sample image. Sample image.
The Moon.
Image by Richard Kinsey, United Kingdom
300 Mewlon at f11.9. Stacked 70 frames in Registax.
Click to expand to: 1260 x 1021 pixels.

The Sun.
Image by Dr. S.J. Wainwright, United Kingdom
F/4.8 10" Newtonian w/ solar filter and CaK-line filter
Click to expand to: 1000 x 820 pixels.
Sample image. Sample image.
The Sun.
Image by Dr. S.J. Wainwright, United Kingdom
H-alpha PST, eyepiece projection & green filter.
Click to expand to: 359 x 204 pixels.

The Sun.
Image by Dr. S.J. Wainwright, United Kingdom
H-alpha PST, eyepiece projection & green filter.
Click to expand to: 359 x 200 pixels.
Sample image. Sample image.
Solar prominence.
Image by Dr. S.J. Wainwright, United Kingdom
Click to expand to: 407 x 257 pixels.

Saturn. 8" Helios reflector.
Image by Robert Slack, United Kingdom
Click to expand to: 1280 x 1024 pixels.

We are constantly checking the accuracy of the technical data. We are prepared to provide more detailed information on request. Technical data is subject to change without notice.
  • Model: PL131C
  • Shipping Weight: 3lbs
  • 0 Units in Stock
  • Manufactured by: Opticstar

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This product was added to our catalog on Friday 18 December, 2009.

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