Custom Zynq/CMOS Camera Unlocks Astrophotography

Custom Zynq/CMOS Camera Unlocks Astrophotography


Around here we love technology for its own sake. But we have to admit, most people are interested in applications–what can the technology do? Those people often have the best projects. After all, there’s only so many blinking LED projects you can look at before you want something more.

[Landingfield] is interested in astrophotography. He was dismayed at the cost of commercial camera sensors suitable for work like this, so he decided he would create his own. Although he started thinking about it a few years ago, he started earnestly in early 2016.

The project uses a Nikon sensor and a Xilinx Zynq CPU/FPGA. The idea is the set up and control the CMOS sensor with the CPU side of the Zynq chip, then receive and process the data from the sensor using the FPGA side before dumping it into memory and letting the CPU take over again. The project stalled for a bit due to a bug in the vendor’s tools. The posts describe the problem which might be handy if you are doing something similar. There’s still work to go, but the device has taken images that should appear on the same blog soon.

Along the way, the project shows you a lot about the interfaces between both the sensor and the FPGA, and the FPGA and the onboard ARM CPU. The writeups are way beyond a blink the light tutorial, but that’s a good thing if you have the will to dig through them. One interesting hack is that the build uses a 754 CPU socket to hold the image sensor.

We’ve looked at hacking film cameras to digital lately. If you prefer your telescopes in the cloud, there’s always the unfortunately named Skynet.