Andor Zyla Camera Connector Modification

After losing the AC adaptor and USB cable of my Andor Zyla 5.5 camera, I was forced to make them. While both components were readily available on the market and adequate to deploy with some simple modifications, I was presented with a problem that was quite annoying. In this short tutorial, I will outline the procedure to modify a couple of connector screws from M3 to M2. The modification is reversible and non-destructive.

The hexagonal shafts next to the USB connector was M3, the USB cable I ordered which was made with the correct spacing considered came with M2 thumbscrews. While this does not impede the functionality of the camera, I found it to be both unfortunate and irritating.

USB cables with good qualities are not cheap, this cable is 3 metres long, made from soft silicone wrapped high-quality wires cost me around $60. My options were to either modify the cable or replace the screws. I chose the latter option, I was not prepared to perform an irreversible modification on the USB cable.

Scouting online, I found one store that offered hexagonal connection rods with M2 internal threads and M2.5 or M3 external threads, they were only offered in one length. I purchased a couple of bags of anti-loosening nuts to go with them.

The tools necessary to open the camera safely will be enlisted below, from left to right:

  1. ESD Safe Tweezers
  2. T10 Security Screw Allen key
  3. 1/16 hex wrench
  4. 5/64 hex wrench
  5. Pliers
  6. Antistatic wristband

It is recommended to work on a bench covered with an antistatic mat, with a physical connection made between the wristband and the mat. A rubber bracelet will not help you.

First, use the pliers to remove the large bolt at the AC adaptor port. Then, remove all four visible excruciatingly annoying security screws. Be patient, it took me over 10 minutes to remove all eight of them. Flip the camera and remove the top two security screws on the front. Removing the bottom two is not necessary.

With those demonic security screws removed, the top shell of the camera will come off. Pull it off slowly and carefully. This reveals the internal circuit boards and demonstrates the complex construction of such high-end scientific instruments.

Using the 1/16 hex wrench, remove the screw that the red arrow points to. When it is loose enough, fish it out with the tweezers. Letting it fall into the shell is a bad idea.

With that screw removed, the backplate now comes off. Remove the two nuts with the pliers. There were signs of corrosion here, I cleaned it off.

Now, the hexagonal pillars can be replaced with new ones. Tightened with the nuts, it looks quite comfortable. Unfortunately, the new hexagonal pillars were not long enough, but adequately long to allow tightening.

The use of such connectors is a double-edged sword. On one hand, if the USB comes loose during data acquisition, the process is halted and time is wasted. Conversely, if the system is not stable and the USB is locked tightly in place, yanking the cord could lead to the camera crashing onto the optical bench.

For the sake of it, I decided to take a peek into the camera to satisfy my curiosity. The camera has 1GB on-board memory to act as a data buffer, I speculated the use of an off-the-shelf RAM module. Potentially, a replacement could be made to offer a larger buffer.

With the 5/64 hex wrench, two screws can be removed. These two screws fix the top PCB onto the sensor enclosure. This enclosure is back-filled with inert gas, such as argon or nitrogen. This seal is not permanent, the chamber will become leaky and get filled with moisture-laden air. This will cause condensation on the camera’s window, taking away the ability to use sensor cooling properly. An example of condensation is illustrated below.

Higher-end cameras, such as the Andor iXon Ultra and Hamamatsu ImagEM X2 EMCCD cameras offer a permanent Hermetic vacuum-sealed chamber that enables deep cooling to insane temperatures of up to -100°C.

Okay, enough about sensor boxes. Back to lifting the hood. With the two screws removed, the top plate can be carefully lifted. This reveals the internals. The bottom PCB appears to be the motherboard where all the FPGA magic happens. Something is sitting in a familiar-looking socket!

Indeed, there is a 1GB RAM module that can be found for very cheap prices on the market. The fan is suspended on soft rubber rods which dampen the vibrations. You can observe that aside from a fan, there exist no significant processing circuitry behind the chamber. A construction like this ensures the minimisation of dark current, which is an afterthought for consumer cameras with that IBIS whatever birds flapping behind the sensor.

Alright, the above steps can be reversed to reassemble the camera. Hopefully someone, somewhere finds this tutorial useful.

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