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Help needed with Nebula EAA imaging & Sharpcap

Celestron CMOS collimation EAA reflector
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#1 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 12:50 PM

The two images below are of M16, the Eagle Nebula. One shows the Sharpcap screen while stacking and the other shows a final screenshot of the stack. The second image is cropped to reduce the size for posting. The camera used was the ASI 294 MC and the scope and mount are as listed in my signature. Skies were decent that night and I was subtracting darks.

 

As you see, the stars seem way too large and partially mask the ‘Eagle’ and generally detract from the screen capture. This has been a common issue with my beginning experience with EAA and Sharpcap and I can’t seem to figure my way out of this problem and hope some of you experts out there might help me learn what’s going on so I can solve this issue.

 

You can see the primary settings in the Sharpcap screenshot. The scope has decent collimation when I test it before the session but the Svbony helical focuser I use has internal ‘play’ and the camera is not solidly fixed in the focuser so some wiggle is possible when setting up and, getting the camera a bit off axis as a result, might be happening. I don’t want to presume that’s the issue though. 

 

Please offer any ideas or suggestions - they are much appreciated.

Gary

 

 

 

 

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#2 Alien Observatory

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 01:04 PM

Gary,  Your Black set point is too much, next time move it back (left) about 50% and the mid point can also be increased (left) about 50%. That will help bring out the Nebulosity...Pat Utah :)


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#3 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 01:33 PM

Gary,  Your Black set point is too much, next time move it back (left) about 50% and the mid point can also be increased (left) about 50%. That will help bring out the Nebulosity...Pat Utah smile.gif

Thank you Pat. When I moved just left of the peak at the time, I think the background overly brightened so I ended where you see it. Not sure if I move the midline left as well. I’ll do that next time. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the oversized stars.

Gary



#4 donstim

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 01:43 PM

Gary,

I'm no expert, but are you sure you are well focused?  What is your focusing technique?

 

Stars will tend to get bloated the more stretch you apply, but as Pat noted, it doesn't look like you are applying enough stretch as it is.  what does it look like before you start stretching?

 

Don


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#5 Gork

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 02:02 PM

I have the same camera on a 130mm APO.  It looks more like a focus issue with the stars and even the nebula.  A cass should produce uniform round small stars or just points.  I've been using a Bahtinov Mask because I can't seem to master the focus assistant on SharpCap.  Are you using any kind of light pollution filter?  8 seconds should be long enough exposure.


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#6 Alien Observatory

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 03:14 PM

Thank you Pat. When I moved just left of the peak at the time, I think the background overly brightened so I ended where you see it. Not sure if I move the midline left as well. I’ll do that next time. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the oversized stars.

Gary

Gary,  My personal observations using the 294 sensor was that stars seemed bloated when imaging almost any nebula (FL ~ 600 mm). I tried a 183 color sensor and the resulting decrease in sensitivity was just too much.   Then moved on to a 1600 color sensor which has given very good results (sensitivity and star bloat).

 

 I only used the 294 cam for a few months, so others may have a better perspective on what to do.  I know I used  couple of different filters and it seemed to help somewhat, but then had color balance issues, so I just decided to move on and try another cam.  Pat Utah smile.gif


Edited by Alien Observatory, 23 August 2019 - 03:18 PM.

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#7 descott12

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 03:47 PM

It looks to me like the stars are just way out of focus and also over-exposed. I do think that this camera is more than capable of good looking stars.  B33-small.png Here is an example using SharpCap - 10 second exposure, Total time 5 minutes. Gain 220 using my Evo 8 + Hyperstar and the 294 Pro. While the stars are not perfect points, they are definitely acceptable, at least in my opinion.  I am pretty sure I also had my IDAP LPS-P2 filter in for this shot.

 

I personally haven't had much luck with the SharpCap focus tools so I generally use my Bahtinov mask.

 


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#8 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 06:35 PM

Gary,

I'm no expert, but are you sure you are well focused?  What is your focusing technique?

 

Stars will tend to get bloated the more stretch you apply, but as Pat noted, it doesn't look like you are applying enough stretch as it is.  what does it look like before you start stretching?

 

Don

Hi Don

You could be right that the focus is not perfect. I use a Bahtinov mask but don’t always get bright and clear spikes to center up. Also, the wiggle in the Svbony focuser means that as I rotate focuser, the camera optic centerline may shift out of perfect alignment with the OTA optics. I’ve also been experiencing the enlarged stars on nights when I felt I had very good focus. There may be several factors messing with my star sizes. 

Gary



#9 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 06:47 PM

I have the same camera on a 130mm APO.  It looks more like a focus issue with the stars and even the nebula.  A cass should produce uniform round small stars or just points.  I've been using a Bahtinov Mask because I can't seem to master the focus assistant on SharpCap.  Are you using any kind of light pollution filter?  8 seconds should be long enough exposure.

Gork

As you and Don mentioned, it could be partly due to the focus but I feel there’s something else going on as well since I’ve had enlarged stars even when I felt the focus was pretty good. My scope is a 1986 Schmidt newtonian and others with the same scope and camera have achieved pinpoint stars and spikes.

 

Your question about filters....I did have a Lumicon UHC filter in but took it out part way through the session and I’m not sure if it was in for the M16 imaging. I expected the filter to help with contrast on the nebula but was pretty disappointed and I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong or if my expectations were just not realistic. With the filter in, the exposure needed to be increased from the 2-4 seconds I usually use for DSOs to 8 sec or I saw nothing. I also had the gain higher than usual. I don’t really know what I’m doing yet I guess.

Thank you for jumping in with your thoughts!

Gory



#10 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 07:09 PM

It looks to me like the stars are just way out of focus and also over-exposed. I do think that this camera is more than capable of good looking stars.  attachicon.gif B33-small.pngHere is an example using SharpCap - 10 second exposure, Total time 5 minutes. Gain 220 using my Evo 8 + Hyperstar and the 294 Pro. While the stars are not perfect points, they are definitely acceptable, at least in my opinion.  I am pretty sure I also had my IDAP LPS-P2 filter in for this shot.

 

I personally haven't had much luck with the SharpCap focus tools so I generally use my Bahtinov mask.

Nice Image of the Flame and Horse head Dave! Looks like you also caught a satellite passing through the image.

 

So, here’s where I get to demonstrate my inexperience....with less than 8 seconds and fairly high gain, the nebula wasn’t showing up without stacking. So when I set the exposure, color values and gain prior to capturing Darks, I needed those higher numbers just to see the image. Once I started stacking, I might have been ok with shorter exposure and lower gain but, by then, my Darks had already been made based on the higher numbers and would not have been subtracted if I fiddled with these setting while live stacking....

 

So Question: Should I figure out the gain, exposure, etc while live stacking....then shut down live stacking so I can capture  Darks with those values and then restart live stacking and subtract Darks? Or should I use my current process which sets those parameters while NOT live stacking and then captures Darks and apply the Darks once I restart live stacking ?

 

[BTW, I tried figuring out the exposure, gain, histo settings, etc while live stacking and then capture Darks from within the live stacking process... it found that I couldn’t capture Darks if I was in live stacking mode.]

 

Thank you Dave for your input and let me know if anything I’ve described above about the process is wrong. 

Best,

Gary



#11 Alien Observatory

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 09:18 PM

You could watch Don from PA using his 294 cam on NSN...He is on Now...Pat Utah :)

 

https://www.nightskiesnetwork.com



#12 RazvanUnderStars

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 09:30 PM

Hi Gary,

 

My take:

  • the image is severely underexposed. I'd suggest you review the docs at https://docs.sharpca...m#_Toc523950177 (you'll see that the example of an underexposed deep sky image matches yours). Also, the brightness is oddly low, only 3. If I recall correctly, the default is 50.
  • the focus is off. You wrote "I use a Bahtinov mask but don’t always get bright and clear spikes to center up.". That also suggests the images were very underexposed when focusing. A star + a Bahtinov mask + proper exposure should give you the spikes.
  • the black level is too high but the stars are overexposed (or the mid level is too high), part of the bloatness might be due to the histogram manipulation.
  • how is it without binning?


#13 descott12

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 09:42 PM

I mentioned in a previous post that I thought the stars looked over-exposed. That may not  be correct as I think it more likely that the histogram mid level is probably shifted to far to the left and is artificially blowing them out. 
I agree that the black level is way too high and you are probably clipping out most of your data.

 

Regarding darks - I have never used them. To me, they seem to be more useful for traditional AP. In EAA we aren't really looking for an award-winning image so amp glow and hot pixels doesn't really bother me. I do however use flats and they are very useful to reduce vignetting.


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#14 Rickster

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 09:46 PM

Best guess.  You adjusted the dark up to get a darker background and the nebula went away.  So you adjusted the gain up to see the nebula and the stars bloated.  You couldn't peak your focus because the stars were blown out.  Collimation and tilt look ok.  Alignment and tracking are excellent.   You were also working with darks, which was an unnecessary distraction.

 

So, the good news is that you have the telescope/mount working well.  That is the foundation.  And really, although the image has room for improvement, it is pretty decent for starters.  And you have plenty of company.  It seems that almost everyone starting out with an astro cam has bloated stars.  First, I would suggest that you forget about darks until you get everything else working right.  Second, if you are shooting under light polluted skies. you can't expect to get an inky black background without giving up a lot of faint signal.  I would suggest getting your gain, exposure and stretch set before trying to darken the background.  You probably also need a good LP filter.  Third, since your mount is working well, you might experiment with reducing gain and increasing exposure time.  That will improve your dynamic range and help reduce bloating.  Once you have those items under control, then go back and refocus.  It is hard to check focus when your stars are blown out.


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#15 descott12

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 09:49 PM

Best guess.  You adjusted the dark up to get a darker background and the nebula went away.  So you adjusted the gain up to see the nebula and the stars bloated.  You couldn't peak your focus because the stars were blown out.  Collimation and tilt look ok.  Alignment and tracking are excellent.   You were also working with darks, which was an unnecessary distraction.

 

So, the good news is that you have the telescope/mount working well.  That is the foundation.  And really, although the image has room for improvement, it is pretty decent for starters.  And you have plenty of company.  It seems that almost everyone starting out with an astro cam has bloated stars.  First, I would suggest that you forget about darks until you get everything else working right.  Second, if you are shooting under light polluted skies. you can't expect to get an inky black background without giving up a lot of faint signal.  I would suggest getting your gain, exposure and stretch set before trying to darken the background.  You probably also need a good LP filter.  Third, since your mount is working well, you might experiment with reducing gain and increasing exposure time.  That will improve your dynamic range and help reduce bloating.  Once you have those items under control, then go back and refocus.  It is hard to check focus when your stars are blown out.

This seems to be a very good diagnosis and advice


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#16 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 10:01 PM

 

Hi Gary,

 

My take:

  • the image is severely underexposed. I'd suggest you review the docs at https://docs.sharpca...m#_Toc523950177 (you'll see that the example of an underexposed deep sky image matches yours). Also, the brightness is oddly low, only 3. If I recall correctly, the default is 50.
  • the focus is off. You wrote "I use a Bahtinov mask but don’t always get bright and clear spikes to center up.". That also suggests the images were very underexposed when focusing. A star + a Bahtinov mask + proper exposure should give you the spikes.
  • the black level is too high but the stars are overexposed (or the mid level is too high), part of the bloatness might be due to the histogram manipulation.
  • how is it without binning?

 

Hi Razvan

Funny, I had been reviewing the histo pages you referenced just as you were commenting above so thanks for reinforcing the points. I’m hoping for clear skies tonight to give it all another go... skies here in WY look promising often in early evening and then deteriorate by the time it’s dark enough.

cheers,

Gary



#17 GaryShaw

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 10:06 PM

Best guess.  You adjusted the dark up to get a darker background and the nebula went away.  So you adjusted the gain up to see the nebula and the stars bloated.  You couldn't peak your focus because the stars were blown out.  Collimation and tilt look ok.  Alignment and tracking are excellent.   You were also working with darks, which was an unnecessary distraction.

 

So, the good news is that you have the telescope/mount working well.  That is the foundation.  And really, although the image has room for improvement, it is pretty decent for starters.  And you have plenty of company.  It seems that almost everyone starting out with an astro cam has bloated stars.  First, I would suggest that you forget about darks until you get everything else working right.  Second, if you are shooting under light polluted skies. you can't expect to get an inky black background without giving up a lot of faint signal.  I would suggest getting your gain, exposure and stretch set before trying to darken the background.  You probably also need a good LP filter.  Third, since your mount is working well, you might experiment with reducing gain and increasing exposure time.  That will improve your dynamic range and help reduce bloating.  Once you have those items under control, then go back and refocus.  It is hard to check focus when your stars are blown out.

Rick

Thank you! Your comment is clear and to the point and it all makes sense to me. Thanks also for the encouragement. It’s easy to get frustrated with so many things to learn and to balance. I take the point on Darks although they got rid of a lot of hot pixels I had during the warmer nights in Boston. Here in WY, it’s cooler and clearer.....so I plan to focus on fundamentals as you noted.

Thanks again...

Gary 


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#18 Alien Observatory

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Posted 23 August 2019 - 10:21 PM

I completely missed the Binning at 2...the pixel size is now very large (~9) and the arc sec/ pix is almost 4, while the resolution of the scope is 0.82...use Bin 1, Gain 300 and what ever exposure time is needed (15 to 30 seconds) and the results will be better....Pat Utah :)


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#19 goldtr8

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 07:40 AM

I use a ASI294MC uncooled camera with an 8 in SCT with .63 focal reducer on an AVX mount.     I also use sharpcap but I have upgraded to PRO which gives more knobs to turn.    So here are my observations using the same camera and software but with a different OTA.

 

Need to get better focus go to Highpoint Scientific and there is a white paper on their home page written by one of their tech guys and discusses his focus technique.   I use the  mask technique on a bright star and zoom when focusing to see the lines very clearly.     I also focus with a max of 2 sec exposures and crank up the gain so I get fast response time of the picture updating, you can not have long exposure time when focusing.

 

Stop binning with the CMOS camera.   Its software binning and it also increases your pixel size.

 

I use the pro version and it gives you more options on the histogram for adjustment.   Plus you can have darks and flats which really improves the live view and stacking experience.

 

Reset the color balance for your camera to the factory setting and don't mess with them anymore.    There is a section in the sharpcap forum that explains why and it does make a difference.   In my early uses of the camera I moved them around but I learned that is something I no longer touch.

 

I also would try and lower your gain if possible, I do go as high as 350 but that's the limit for me and I see you are at 359, not much of a difference. 

 

So keep working at it and you will get there I did.    

 

For reference here is my M16 taken a few weeks ago.

 

M 16 Eagle Nebula-Stack_77frames_616s also 8 second exposures no filters in the system.   

This is my as viewed save within SharpCap so you can see the camera is fully capable.   

 

M 16 Eagle Nebula-Stack_77frames_616s.jpg


Edited by goldtr8, 24 August 2019 - 07:45 AM.

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#20 Rickster

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 10:05 AM


Gary,

 

Wyoming!  waytogo.gif I missed that part.  Far from the city lights? 


Edited by Rickster, 24 August 2019 - 10:05 AM.


#21 chilldaddy

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 12:03 PM

Garry,

 

A few thoughts.

 

Levels - I agree with the advice of others regarding your black and mid levels.  Remember, the goal isn't to get the blackest background but to gather the most data on the subject, so be sure to stay left of the white peak and not lose any data.  Your mid level can then be adjusted to taste to bring out the subject while not making the background sky too bright.  Often times for me, the trick is to let it run longer and not expect too much too soon.  I also agree that a mid level too far to the left can contribute to blowing out the stars.

 

Focus - You mentioned having some trouble with use of the Bahtinov mask.  Are you using the Bahtinov Mask Focus Assistant tool in Sharpcap?  I find it much easier than using just the mask alone.

 

Darks - I agree that it is wise to set that aside and address focus and histogram issues first.  You can add darks later and when you do, I'd suggest you try something like a 1 sec exp. and maxed gain just for seeing and centering the object.  Then lower the gain to a reasonable level (on my ASI385 it's around 350 but I can't speak for the 294) and pick an exposure time.  Mine vary based on mount stability and how much patience I have that night, smile.gif  but are generally 4-8 seconds these days.  Once you have exposure and gain levels that are working well after a minute or so and want the best view possible, then stop and grab a dark with those settings if you like and restart the live stacking.  It's so easy and fast plus it's at the current temperature of the camera at that time of night that I do it every time I observe.  It helps with hot pixels as well as amp glow on my uncooled camera.

 

Your tracking seems good and you are close!  Make a few adjustments and note what works for the next time and you will get great views with an excellent camera.

 

Greg


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#22 GaryShaw

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 09:29 PM

Hi All

The skies here cooperated last night so I tried again on the Eagle to see if I could incorporate all of your great input - except for comments that came in today of course.

 

Anyway, I worked on the focus and histogram - this time using the log version of the histogram as the manual suggests. The results are shown on the attached 3 images which are cropped or resized to meet CN limitations:

 

1. Sharpcap screenshot (this post)

2. Captured image from stack (2nd post)

3. Capture image of Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 - just for fun and to continue testing focus and histogram adjustments. (3rd post)

 

It seems that the stars are a bit smaller and the nebulocity a bit better defined. I left off the Darks as some of you suggested so you'll notice some hot pixels arcing around near the center of the Nebula. Not a big deal for EAA though. I enjoyed watching the detail of M101 fill in as the images stacked but the nebula didn't seem to improve much so there's still a problem somewhere in my process. I was not using my Lumicon UHC filter since a few nights ago I found it was making things look worse. Since this cant be the case, I have something to learn about using filters correctly as well.

 

Anyway, I appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions so I'd appreciate anything further you'd care to add relative to the attached images from last night.

Cheers!

Gary

 

M16_Copy_EagleScreenshot (27).png



#23 GaryShaw

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 09:32 PM

Cropped, stacked image of M16 based on the settings shown in the above histogram:

 

Stars are big in this one largely due to having to significantly crop the image to meet CN limits

 

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • M16_Eagle_Copy_Stack_62frames_508s_WithDisplayStretch.png


#24 GaryShaw

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 09:36 PM

Here's the image of M101, Pinwheel Galaxy.

I used the same approach to focusing with the Bahtinov mask and the same approach on the histogram but with a lot of fiddling around to try to get some detail in the galaxy arms...partially successful but ultimately limited by the 142mm aperture and my own inexperience. I crave seeing more detail someday in this incredible structure...

 

M101_Pinwheel_Copy_Stack_255frames_1996s_WithDisplayStretch.png

M101 Pinwheel Galaxy
Raw16
Bin: 2
Exposure: 8 secs
Gain: 472
Frames: 255
Integration time: 1996s
Sharpcap 3.2 Pro



#25 GaryShaw

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Posted 24 August 2019 - 09:55 PM

I use a ASI294MC uncooled camera with an 8 in SCT with .63 focal reducer on an AVX mount.     I also use sharpcap but I have upgraded to PRO which gives more knobs to turn.    So here are my observations using the same camera and software but with a different OTA.

 

Need to get better focus go to Highpoint Scientific and there is a white paper on their home page written by one of their tech guys and discusses his focus technique.   I use the  mask technique on a bright star and zoom when focusing to see the lines very clearly.     I also focus with a max of 2 sec exposures and crank up the gain so I get fast response time of the picture updating, you can not have long exposure time when focusing.

 

Stop binning with the CMOS camera.   Its software binning and it also increases your pixel size.

 

I use the pro version and it gives you more options on the histogram for adjustment.   Plus you can have darks and flats which really improves the live view and stacking experience.

 

Reset the color balance for your camera to the factory setting and don't mess with them anymore.    There is a section in the sharpcap forum that explains why and it does make a difference.   In my early uses of the camera I moved them around but I learned that is something I no longer touch.

 

I also would try and lower your gain if possible, I do go as high as 350 but that's the limit for me and I see you are at 359, not much of a difference. 

 

So keep working at it and you will get there I did.    

 

For reference here is my M16 taken a few weeks ago.

 

M 16 Eagle Nebula-Stack_77frames_616s also 8 second exposures no filters in the system.   

This is my as viewed save within SharpCap so you can see the camera is fully capable.   

 

attachicon.gif M 16 Eagle Nebula-Stack_77frames_616s.jpg

Thanks for your insights Goldtr8.

I'm surprised by the suggestion to 'reset' the color balance since so much Sharpcap chatter relates to adjusting color settings. Also, when we adjust color in Sharpcap, I would not expect that we are resetting the color settings in the camera itself. I would expect that any color setting changes made in Sharpcap would be maintained only for that imaging session and that the camera would start up fresh next time with the factory settings. I would have no idea how to reset the colors in the camera.

 

If my observations above are incorrect, could you possibly provide a link to the SC forum where all this is discussed?

Many thanks!

Gary




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