Primaluce Lab makes a special Nikon D5500a cooled camera for astrophotography

The Italian company PrimaLuceLab is specializing in astronomy and astrophotography. They just launched a cooled version of the D5500 DSLR camera and they call it simply "D5500a Cooled". Here are the improvements for astrophotography over the base D5500 model:

  • cooling system that cools down the sensor temperature up to -27°C in respect of ambient temperature and stabilize the working temperature to the desired value
  • modified front filter that improve sensitivity especially in red part of the spectrum (similar to the one of Nikon D810a)
  • anti dewing system that allows to avoid dewing problems when the cooling system starts
  • integrated shutter control to perform sequence of long expositions without the need of an external controller
  • power without the Nikon battery (in long exposure astrophotography usually DSLR camera runs out of battery, also because of cold conditions)

The price of the D5500a Cooled is €2,190 (around $2,400). For comparison, a D5500 body costs $896.95 in the US. Here is the product description (product code PLLD5500AC):


The power of a cooled CCD camera combined with the ease of use of a DSLR one, all in a single product that allows you to record stunning images of deep sky (but also of the planets and the Moon!). Perfectly usable even without an external computer! Our D5500a Cooled, based on the Nikon D5500, is the perfect solution for those fan people who want to record great pictures without too many complications!

Cooling system with Peltier cell that dramatically reduces the camera noise during long exposure sessions; front sensor filter modified for astronomy for higher sensitivity especially in the wavelengths of the red and then the very important H-alpha line front filter; anti-dewing system and use without battery (power supplied with cable plugged to the cooling system). The large touchscreen display together with the cooling system control electronics that is directly operated by the touch keys located on the camera, make it easy to use and 100% functional even without using an external computer.

This entry was posted in Nikon D5500 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • doge

    Is this something that’s really a problem, or just a marketing ploy to sell a weird camera? How long of an exposure do you need before you overheat your sensor?

    I don’t know anything about astrophotos because I live in a city, but at this price, wouldn’t you just buy a real astro camera? Is that a thing?

    • ITN

      I suppose with “real” astro cameras you need a laptop, filters etc. This should be easier to use as it works without external devices.

    • markogts

      It looks like it’s definitely worth the money. The cooling is not because of overheating but of thermal noise, which translates in long exposure noise. The front filter modification os also necessary for emission nebulae (the red ones).

      The cheapest alternative for a dx-sized, cooled, dedicated sensor is the QHY-8, which sells for 1300-1800€ depending on model. But then you need to add a laptop, cabling, energy source etc. This solution is standalone, makes sense. Although I think the best would be to ditch the “reflex” part of the system, for a lighter and more compact solution.

      • doge

        Interesting. So it looks like what they call a “camera” is just a sensor in a box. and you still need to buy everything else to actually take a picture? Seems very complicated. I guess just buying this camera or a D800a is easier.

        • nwcs

          Easier but the best results are usually done with a CCD that is cooled and has no color filter layer. You usually take 3-4 passes with different filters on a filter wheel. Far more resolution than what a DSLR can offer. Plus the D800a is only helpful for Ha and some exposure times. Real stuff is controlled via computer and precisely controlled. In many ways true astrophotography (not landscape stuff) is the hardest technical photography out there.

          • poppduder

            do you think we’d see something like this for the D800a or is it just unnecessary?

            • nwcs

              No, it’d be too expensive. Although there is an informal research project on Cloudy Nights forum for devising some kind of cooling mechanism for DSLRs and mirrorless — the Sony A7S in particular.

        • Kaouthia

          “So it looks like what they call a “camera” is just a sensor in a box.”

          Film cameras, for years, were called “A box with a hole in it”. So, this is as much a camera as any other. 🙂

        • markogts

          It depends on various factors, like wether you plan to use normal photographic lenses or dedicated scopes, if you need to carry the whole rig away or if you have a permanent observatory, the quality of the final product, etc.

    • akkual

      It’s real deal and not an expensive solution. Cooling is needed because the exposures can be several hours long. Many cameras will shut down due to overheating and the heat will cause noise in the image (especially hot pixels and color noise).. and as you are photographing tiny light dots on the sky, you don’t want to use noise reduction. One additional benefit of this is compact and solid packet with builtin bajonet. Typically you need to construct the camera from many components, and it ends up being a large and not really mobile system. In addition, you need a motorized platform that eliminates the rotation of earth showing up in the exposure. Basically it rotates to other direction than earth to keep same alingment to sky over several hours.

    • nwcs

      Most real deep sky astrophotography is done with exposures as short as 5 minutes and as long as 30 minutes per frame. Stacked, usually, with days worth of data. So yes, this is a real thing and you don’t overheat the sensor but the noise generated can severely impact the quality of the image.

    • Thom Hogan

      Sensors generally have more visible thermal noise propagation every 5°C you increase the temperature. So, yes, it’s a real problem. Most dedicated astronomical cameras are cooled at the sensor because of this. Basically, you don’t want electrons to be moving around on their own inside the sensor.

  • Hillary for Prison 2016

    looks ghetto AF

  • Eno

    They shod release a similar cooling system for Sony mirrorless cameras, for avoiding the 4K overheating “feature”. 🙂

    • Aldo

      But then it won’t fit in your pocket… and you need it to fit in your pocket because that’s where it spends most of the day… as it always runs out of battery.

  • catfishb52

    When I first looked at the pictures I thought they had just bolted a PC power supply to the camera body.

  • Max

    the first thing I saw was a cartidge of film slides bolted to the back of a d5500. When you shoot in continuous mode it exposes to the film slides and they drop out below the camera, like shells from a machine gun.

    • TheInfinityPoint

      Feed me Jack!

  • Henri De Vreese

    Why choose a D5500? If you are already adding 1500$ to the price of the camera, why not take a more suited camera for astro? A D750 would suit well.

    • akkual

      D5500 has a display that swivels to side from factory. I would assume making similar of D750 or other that has not display swivel to side would be way more expensive due to the added difficulty to reposition the display.

    • ITN

      Most telescopes do not draw a large enough image to illuminate the FX sensor. DX makes more sense for tele or telescope use, whereas FX makes some sense for stars in a landscape wide field images.

      • Not sure how you draw that conclusion. I’ve used a 35mm camera on at least a half dozen telescopes from 8″ SCTs to 4″ refractors to 10″ Newts and they all covered the field just fine.

      • nwcs

        If you’re using a 1.25″ eyepiece hole then yes. Most real astrophotography is using 2″ which is more than enough.

    • iamlucky13

      I can think of a several reasons that probably factored into their decision to base this on the D5500.

      Going from a $2400 product to a $3400 product is non-trivial. Likewise, Nikon offers the D750 and D810 at similar price intervals, even though the D810 is arguably better.

      The advantages of the D750 aren’t as significant as you might think. Yes, larger photosites generally mean higher signal-to-noise ratio, but the D5500 also has a newer sensor design, and higher resolution.

      The D5500 may be easier to mount to a scope due to its lighter weight, smaller size, and simplified mount (it foregoes a few of the legacy compatibility features the D750 has).

      The D5500 was probably easier to integrate the cooler onto due to its plastic body – no need to cut through the metal frame of the D750.

      It looks like this company already has experience modding the D5500 – they offer other conversions of it on their website.

      As Akkual pointed out, the D5500’s display swings out in a more convenient manner than the D750’s for this application.

      • Captain Insane-O

        The d750 and d5500 have the same resolution, but the d750 has an aa filter. Despite the aa filter, my d750 is noticeably sharper at 1:1 compared to my d5500. I believe that to be a product of ff cameras being physically closer to their subjects using the same focal length.

        The d750 is can shoot at double the iso with the same noise.

        The d5500 is excellent at imaging, and it’s weaknesses are excessively high iso settings, lack of buffer, poor af, and poor fps. Pls a general lack of features such as mup and Brckt. Those don’t matter in astro so much.

        • preston

          “ff cameras are physically closer to their subjects using the same focal length”

          LOL. You’re not testing 1:1 sharpness correctly.

          • Captain Insane-O

            Taking the same photo requires physically moving the camera towards the subject, or selecting a different focal length.

            Either way, ff comes out sharper.

            I test 1:1 on light room in compare mode with as similar fov as possible.

            Those whom try and state that crop cameras don’t suffer from dof and fov differences are like climate deniers. Science has no effect on them.

            Fact is, glass can only resolve so much. The higher the mp per inch the lower the return you’ll get. It’s called declining marginal utility, or law of diminishing returns. Just ff, 24mp on the Nif2f, 24-120 pulls 15 or 16 mp of detail, while increasing to the non aa filter d810 36mp yields 16 or 17mp of detail.

            You really think that going to an even higher pixel density will yield better results? It won’t. That’s why crop sensors need very expensive glass to replicate ff performance. They need sharp glass and a full t stop advantage to overcome the noise.

            Even my very sharp tamron 70 200 f2.8 (newest version) bears this out with sharpness charts.

            Crop sensors advantage is when you would have to crop the picture anyways due to lack of focal length.

            • preston

              I didn’t even challenge your assertion that ff cameras have better per pixel sharpness. You haven’t proven that they do, but that is beside the point. I just pointed out that the quoted reason given is laughable. Nobody is forcing you to use the same focal length on a crop body as a full frame.

              Here’s a scientific test for you. Put a 24mm on a dx camera and point it at the north star. Then take the lens off and put it on an fx body pointed in same direction. I’m pretty sure the fx body won’t be “physically closer to the subject using the same focal length”.

            • Captain Insane-O

              Same lenses have different sharpnesses at different focal lengths and apertures.

              So controlling for variables and various degrees is actually called the scientific method.

              Choosing primes lenses, for instance, forces you to do this. I simply shoot more on my primes, due to low light necessities, and find that my d750 is easily sharper.

              You can test sharpness at the same focal length and distance, but there is little practicality to that knowledge. I don’t shoot to crop, and i try to get my framing as best as possible in frame.

            • preston

              You’re controlling one variable (lens quality) while introducing another (distance to subject). The scientific method gods frown upon you for that.

              Every example you give is about your specific shooting preferences and then you make broad sweeping claims that one sensor is sharper than another based on that. You still refuse to understand what’s wrong with that? If other people have other needs then the variables they try to control may be different than yours and the results may therefore be different. For my needs (mostly architecture and landscape) the position of the camera is critical, so I don’t have the ability to just move closer. I HAVE to change focal length to get the desired composition.

            • Captain Insane-O

              I actually have tested every variable, including distance on my zooms.

              But for me, again. I’m testing for practicality, so there is no reason to waste my time with different effective angles of view. I know that the crop camera with same resolution will pull more detail at the same exact distance, but they’re completely different subjects which renders that analysis frivolous.

            • Max

              but shallow dof is not always better. sometimes deeper is better (lol geez did i just say that?).
              Anyway, same goes for fov, it can be an advantage.

              Unless.. you are also implying that cropping a ff photo afterwards will give you the same result as the whole sensor image from a dx cam (when shooting the same thing from the same distance with the same lens)…

            • Captain Insane-O


              Cropped ff images will have the same noise and dof as crop sensors given the distance to subject, crop factor, aperture, and iso are the same.

              Why waste the benefits of ff by cropping in post?

              As for shallower dof, you don’t need to shoot at fastest aperture. I can shoot at f2.5 on my ff to get the same dof as f1.8 on my crop.

              Using my camera normally, my ff images come out cleaner and sharper. You can make crop sharper, but in my use it doesn’t come out naturally. If I shot bif then my opinion would change. 90% of my shots are within 20 feet.

            • Carleton Foxx

              TIL at Edmunds Optics that Distance, field of view, and focal length and performance are interrelated: “Due to the constraints of physics, attempting to look at fields of view that are too large relative to a lens’s working distance places excessive demands on the design of the optical component and can decrease system performance. It is recommended that a lens be chosen such that the working distance is roughly two to four times as long as the desired field of view is wide, in order to maximize performance while minimizing cost and complexity.”

        • Nikoniser

          My friend, you are confused about why FF cameras get sharper images from the same glass as DX cameras.

          It is due to the pixel pitch ( pixel pitch = size of pixel ), the FF camera generally has a larger pixel, therefore it requires less resolution from the lens.

          If you have two cameras with very similar pixel pitch, for example Canon 5DR 50mp and the 7DMk2 you will find they both produce an almost identical image ( when the 5DR is cropped down )

          This is one reason why even ancient medium format camera lenses appear so sharp, the pixel pitch is massive

    • nwcs

      You’re thinking mostly of astro-landscape. No one generally uses a large sensor for deep sky AP. APS is plenty big and a lot of the dedicated sensors out there are much.

    • Aldo

      Because they want to keep most of the profits… not give it to nikon.

  • decentrist

    I’m waiting for Yongnuo to offer one for $19.95

    • TwoStrayCats

      And it will be user serviceable at Jiffy Lube when you need freon.

  • CurtG

    Certainly no vibration from a rig and fan like that… How about a water-cooled version with tubes running off to a master unit contained in my back pack along with the car battery to operate it all.

    • Spy Black

      Good point, although a water cooled system would do the same. I think just a good-sized heatsink all by itself would do the trick.

      • Member

        With reasonable sized heatsink (read “practical size”) you need a fan. An extremely oversized heatsink with low ambient temperature might do the trick.
        To reduce vibration I suggest using a larger fan running at lower rpm.

        • Spy Black

          Any fan speed will induce vibration. Any good size heatsink will be better than none. Your results may vary relative to ambient temperature, but it will still be better.

          • Member

            I’m in the tropics so any decent size heatsink won’t help me much of course it’s always better than nothing.
            For me it comes to reducing the vibration rather than eliminating it. Lowering the rpm resulted in not only lower frequency of the vibration but also lower amplitude.
            If the amplitude of the vibration remains within 1 or few pixels nobody wil find out 🙂

            • Spy Black

              I guess the best solution is to have the fan mounted on a separate stand below the heatsink, gently blowing upwards. This would allow for active cooling without inducing vibration.

            • Member

              That would require an extra tripod or monopod to carry around. But I’ll keep it mind if my other options fail. I have been thinking about constructing something like a spider shock mount for micrphones. But I haven’t tried it yet. Thought maybe it would be better to have it working and in the process of finetuning I’ll address the vibration issue if any. Others got away with just mounting the fan on the heatsink (ref Herra Kuulapaa,

  • Spy Black

    They should just hack the firmware while they’re at it and make an astro-specific setup for it. I believe there was a firmware hack a while back for the D5100, although not for astro work.

    • Herra Kuulapaa

      That D5100 firmware hack is just for astrophotography 🙂

      • Spy Black

        Then there are two separate hacks then.

    • Sebastian

      It sounds like they did back the firmware, since they say the cooling element can be controlled via the touchscreen.

      • Spy Black

        I think they’re referring to the rear screen on the heatsink.

  • nwcs

    Now this is really cool. I might have to pick it up for this fall.

  • Member

    I’ve been busy with the same. Except for my project is nowhere near complete. One D5300 died in my hands the other is still in pieces. 100 Watt Peltier element, heatsink+fan, copperblock, tubing and small parts all from ebay for less than $50.
    I’m not sure if it all will be vibration free. I couldn’t measure any but that doesn’t mean it’s 100% vibration free.
    If I manage to put it back together, still there will be an issue with power consumption.

  • Glen

    I considered getting into Astro photography (beyond wide angle night landscapes) but even if you put in your best effort with the best equipment you can easily find far better images of what you are shooting for free on the internet.

    • vousplaisentezouquoi

      Yes, NASA images are free 😀

    • nwcs

      The photography/capture part is one thing. The real magic is in processing which is as much art as it is science. If you think you’re good at post processing regular daytime stills you’ll find you’re a bare novice at doing real AP post processing.

      • Glen

        I don’t doubt it, which is why I leave it to the experts.

    • Jaroslav Charvát

      “The trip itself can be the goal” – sorry, English is not my first language and I’m trying to translate one of our own sayings.

      I mean, it’s not about the outcome, but about the fun while doing it.

    • Captain Megaton

      Yep, no reason not to just leave it to the pros:

  • Captain Megaton

    Is this just cooling the surface of the rear case under the LCD or is the chassis hacked out to the circuit board and sensor underneath?

    The thing is, going by the D5100 teardown at ifixit ( [D5500 not available], the sensor is on the opposite side of the motherboard and there is a wide air gap between the backside of the motherboard and the rear of the chassis. So just sticking a heatsink onto the back of the chassis doesn’t seem like it would do much at all. Even drilling back through to the motherboard below doesn’t seem like it would be particularly effective. You’d just be cooling the (Expeed and memory) ICs on the back side.

    Maybe the D5500 is constructed differently however…

  • fanboy fagz

    $2400..for a dx camera..? you so crazy!

    • TwoStrayCats

      But it love you long time.

      • fanboy fagz

        im not so hony

    • nwcs

      You have no clue when it comes to dedicated astrophotography equipment.

  • A-Sign

    For what reason do you need the optical viewfinder and it’s pentaprism in this case?

    • MB

      Do you suggest they cut it off?

  • FountainHead

    Too many things could go wrong… buy the 810A.

    • nwcs

      The D810 is only suitable for certain things. A far better solution is something from

      • Adnan

        I agree shooting only Astro. for scientific purpose is whole other field but this altered D5500 is not the answer.

        • nwcs

          It’s an answer. Not the only answer.

  • Adnan

    I’d better take couple of rolls from freezer and dust of my FM3a and Yashica TLR 120 with cable and a sleeping bag and head off to desert.
    I’ll get enough to see for a 4 to 5 hr exposure.i can put on filters or use infrared film + filter will be a cool experiment ,always wanted to do that.
    If that is the point of all this.
    Cooling hot pixels on a sensor costs as much as a good DSLR (D610/750) with a reasonable medium zoom or 14mm Samyang or 20mm 2.8D

    • Spy Black

      Yes, but then you have to deal with reciprocity failure. Depending on the film, you may not get more than 2 hours.

      As far as I know, you can’t get IR film anymore.

      • Adnan

        I’ve used 4-6 hrs. exposure on normal color and b&W film from ISO 10-400 without filters in pitch black nights and the results were not spectacular neither bad ,just so so but was a nice experiment.
        Film doesn’t get “hot”.

        Although I have a near thorough idea of reciprocity failure but I can’t understand the razor sharp LEs taken from 4×5 LF at F32 to 45 for hrs. long exposures and still getting amazing sharp pictures!

        I have a few rolls of IR film from my Dad’s collection and Ilford ISO 200 (expensive) still makes them so does Rollei. Rollei is available at 400 ISO half the price of Ilford, For IR film if you stack a Red25 filter it goes near to 700nm and you can get nice results but the glass should be like new if you want to stack 2 or 3 filters for fun, e.g newer G series 24 to 85mm 1.4 and 1.8 of primes which can take up to 3 stacked filters at F 7.1 to F8, but in digital with custom WB and post in photoshop can be done anything by taking only one shot 🙂 (not real hardware photography IMO)
        I’m talking about the landscape photos here.

        I’m still keeping my D7000 for IR conversion though.
        In Oct. the skies are more clear and i’m going to take a shot at this.

        • Spy Black

          “…I can’t understand the razor sharp LEs taken from 4×5 LF at F32 to 45 for hrs. long exposures and still getting amazing sharp pictures!”

          Well, for one thing the film was a custom astro emulsion made for long exposures. I don’t recall anyone rigging 4x5s for astro work other than observatories, who had the camera’s rigged up to giant telescopes on precision tracking mounts. Makes it kinda easy to get sharp pics then. 🙂 Most of those long exposures were for recording specific bandwidths or distant, dim stars.

          • Adnan

            You didn’t read my whole comment. At the end I wrote ” I’m talking about the landscape photos here. ” it DID NOT mean astro.

            You can Google 4×5 landscape pictures taken from Fuji Velvia series especially and will surely find some.
            I had long discussions on LF pgy. from a hobbyist retrd. engineer from IL Mr. Tom Johnston a few yrs. back in ’12 (but then the D800 came out) at that time I was very much interested in LF photography. He has his own darkroom and knows a lot about LF pgy.
            I talked about diffraction ,he said it goes away in LEs as does most guys in 35mm shoot LEs at F22 in night.




            Sorry , can’t upload the pic, well basically it’s a giant telescope on a tripod 🙂

  • Member

    Yes true, but when ordering the pelted element I didn’t know what power was needed, so I chose to get an oversized one.
    Another reason why I chose this 100 Watt type is that this seller offered only this one in 40x40mm size. I thought larger surface is better for heat transfer to heatsink. Later I found out all power versions are available in several standard sizes.
    Finally there was almost no price difference so I ordered this one with the idea to run it at lower current for lower power.

    • Herra Kuulapaa

      Yep, it doesn’t hurt to have more reserve. I’m using 72w version and that too has plenty of extra cooling power.

      • Member

        May I ask you what you did to address the condensation problem.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Ha! Take that, Sony!!!

    • doge

      Wow. That’s incredible. Very cool.

      • nwcs

        And just a little extra. Most amateur planetary captures are done with small webcams capturing thousands of frames and stacked. Amazing results with what would ordinarily be called crappy sensors.

  • Abiatha Swelter

    Back in the early 1980s I was working with images taken with the 24″ Schmidt camera at Harvard’s Arizona observatory. That camera had a CCD sensor that was cooled by a liquid nitrogen bath and produced, if I remember correctly, a 256×256 image. It cost around $50,000. Even now, a really good lab-grade camera with integrated cooling can cost as much as 10 grand. So this really isn’t that bad for amateur use.

  • Bjørn T Johansen

    Be the first to make an adapter for Fony and get rich.

    • Member

      The overheating issue with fony is a relatively minor issue. With many easy work arounds. A relative had this issue while filming and to address this overheating issue he glued a heat sink from an old computer graphics card to the back of his a6300. Between the back of the camera body and the tilt screen that is. Drawback is that the screen is always flipped out and can’t be flipped back to the body.

  • R Leung

    Is this required if the night temperatures in the winter are -30C?

    • Adnan

      I guess not but you will need cover for dew .I killed D7000’s battery ’11 by taking many 800-900 sec. normal shots (a lesson to remember)

  • sickheadache

    This is a known fact, before Nikon replaced the D600 with the D610… Nikon was going to attach a tiny oil rig to every D600, to dry up the oily oil situation.

  • Spy Black

    Yeah, but considering you’re already rigged up for a shoot, I don’t see that as that big a deal. You can use a small light stand to hold the fan/fan power unit, or even a cheap small microphone boom to have the rig essentially out of the way.

    • Member

      Yes very true, like many photogs I also carry redundant gear, and a monopod or small tripod won’t add much bulk to the gear you’re already carrying.

  • I’d be all over this if it was a D750 body and only cost ~$500 extra from the (Grey) $750 price…

  • Adnan

    BTW, the price is for camera and attached cooling system,one has to buy extra power pack and lens of course 🙂

    • nwcs

      Usually for something like this you’d buy a T-adapter and connect it to your scope of choice. You can use camera lenses but they are usually a poor choice (overall) for most astrophotography.

      And good astrophotography isn’t cheap. The ballpark price for average acceptable results can easily be $5K-$10K. Many dedicated enthusiasts spend well over $20K.

  • Spy Black

    Right, my mistake. There used to be an operation out of San Francisco that would remove the IR filters from cameras, don’t know if they’re still around. I suppose there may be others.

  • Duncan Dimanche

    Out of context here but Admin do you have any news on the d750 replacement ?

    No one has said anything about it… and it’s getting pretty “old” now
    d750 (Announced Sep 12, 2014)
    D810 (Announced Jun 26, 2014)

    Unfortunately I need to get into the 4k game and I might have to go for a Sony very soon 🙁

    • No, nothing man – everything seems to be dead silent…

      • Duncan Dimanche

        🙁 that’s pretty unusual.

        Thanks for your quick answer 😉

  • Back to top