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Live Stacking with the ASIAIR Pro

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#1 davidparks

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 03:28 PM

Live Stacking with the ASIAR Pro

 

The vixen dovetail that comes with the ASIAIR Pro can be mounted on the side, or either horizontally or vertically on the bottom.  With power input on one end, managed power outputs on the adjacent side, and USB ports on the opposite end, you have several orientations to choose from to accommodate your cable approach angles.  Yes, I said “managed output”, to my surprise you can turn the 4 power outputs on/off individually in the ASIAIR App.  I used 2 of the power outputs to power the cooler on my imaging camera, and directly power the dew strap on the C5, no controller needed.

 

I secured the ASIAir Pro onto a dual dovetail along with a ZWO Mini Guide Scope (30mm/f4), attached to a Celestron C5 SCT (127mm/f10), mounted on a Skywatcher AZ-GTi.  Although you can easily connect the ASIAIR Pro and AZ-GTi wirelessly, I used a Lynx Astro FTDI EQDIR USB cable to connect directly to one of the two USB2 ports on the ASIAIR Pro.  The two USB3 ports of the ASIAIR Pro were connected to a ZWO ASI224MC and ZWO ASI294MC Pro.  I use an Apple iPad Pro to run the ASIAIR App and connect wirelessly to the ASIAIR Pro with the 5Ghz band.

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I use the AZ-GTi on an iOptron EQ Base in EQ Mode, so the first order of business was to achieve Polar Alignment using the PA Mode in the ASIAIR App.  Once the mount and scope are set in the conventional “EQ Home” position, ASIAIR makes Polar Alignment as “easy as 1, 2, 3” by platesolving, rotating the mount 60 degrees, and platesolving again.  ASIAIR’s platesolving is lightning fast, and provides continuous updates guiding your alignment knob adjustments.  ASIAIR states that an alignment error up to 2’ is reasonable, and even though the EQ base I was using leaves A LOT to be desired for fine adjustments, I was able to secure alignment with a 13” error in about 5 minutes.  I feel that ASIAIR’s claim that a 2’ error is reasonable is not only acceptable, but with my experience with guiding out a 6’ error with the original ASIAIR (on this same mount), completely justifiable.

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The next step for me was to achieve good focus.  ASIAIR’s Named Stars database allows you to choose a star, for which ASIAIR will automatically GoTo, platesolve, and center.  With ASIAIR’s built in object databases and lightning fast platesolving (consistently less than 2 seconds), Star Alignments and planetarium programs are not needed.  The ASIAIR Pro had Arcturus centered, the mount tracking and auto-guiding in moments.  The Focus Aid of ASIAIR provides live HFD and other measurements to inform your focusing, however, I simply used a Bahtinov Mask and the zoom window of the Focus Aid to achieve focus.  ASIAIR Pro supports ZWO’s EAF providing a very useable interface, but tonight I was just manually focusing with the standard rubber SCT focus knob.  It became apparent that my C5 is in need of collimating, but that didn’t bother me too much, as my purpose was to evaluate the ASIAIR Pro, not to acquire my best images.

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With a 97% illuminated Moon and Bortle 6 skies, I decided to just try the ASIAIR Pro’s Live Stacking, and forego any testing of the Sequencing usually associated with AP, which I’ve used before with the original ASIAIR.  ASIAIR allows the calibration of your Live Stack with Flat, Dark, and BIAS masters.  ASIAIR creates and saves these calibration masters by acquiring and stacking individual frames.  Using the Preview Mode and a small LED Light Panel, I found a suitable exposure for my Flats.  The Live Stacking dialog allows you to configure, acquire, and stack a number of exposures into calibration masters.  Using the LED Panel and objective cap, I captured the flats, darks, and bias frames that stacked into their respective masters.  Each master is saved as a single FITs file, which can then be selected and applied to your Live Stacking.  While ‘on-the-fly’, or ‘as-needed’ flats and bias are generally not time consuming,  I would encourage you to build a Dark Library on the ASIAIR Pro, as to save that precious time for Live Stacking.  Since this was my first use, I only took the time needed to produce 5 two minute dark exposures to use with the 20 flat and 30 bias masters.

 

An additional word about the ASIAIR Pro and Calibration frames:  The ‘Autorun’ or Sequencing Mode of ASIAIR allows for the capture and saving of all the individual calibration frames, for later post-processing.  The Live Stacking Mode of ASIAIR captures and stacks calibration frames into a single saved Master, per type.  Live Stacking Mode does not save the individual frames, only the masters. It can, however, save the individual Lights, during Live Stacking.

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I chose M101 (The Pinwheel Galaxy) as my target thinking it would nicely fill the frame of the C5’s 1250mm focal length, while also be somewhat removed from the Moon and nearby offensive street lamp.  As you will see in the images, this street lamp causes an unpleasant gradient unless I take further mitigating steps, which I did not for this simple evaluation.  After choosing my target in the object database, ASIAIR quickly centered M101 and had the mount guiding.  The ASIAIR Guiding Interface might best be described as a kind of ‘PHD2 Lite’.  It’s very quick, easy, and effective.  It can automatically or manually choose a guide star, automatically calibrate if needed, and begin guiding with or without dithering.  You can also tweak some settings like DEC Mode and Aggressiveness, although I found this to be unnecessary and just allowed ASIAIR to automatically do it’s thing without any input from me.

Note: For those thinking they will get an ASI224 as an entry level planetary and small DSO camera, and later use it for a guide cam when they upgrade to a larger imager, I assure that the ASI224 performs just fine when coupled with a suitable guide scope. 

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With calibration masters applied, target centered, and mount guiding, I began to Stack 2 minute exposures.   The ASIAIR provides an Auto-Stretch, but I quickly found the manual stretch controls on the Histogram Display and was better able to compensate for Bortle 6, street lamp, and Moon.

In all, the ASIAIR Pro provides a very comfortable experience, and effective data acquisition, somewhere in-between being ‘totally manual’ and ‘totally automated’.  A very nice balance between fiddle/tweak and fire-and-forget.  The ASIAIR Pro easily lends itself to the needs of the backyard, dark field, or out-reach experience yielding quality data for long integrations, or immediate live stack viewing.

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#2 Cometeer

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 04:44 PM

Great information David! I’m putting together a very similar AP/EAA setup. I just missing an ASIAIR. 

 

I’m trying to decide between the original and the Pro. Live stacking capability has me leaning toward the Pro, but it’s more than double the price than a secondhand V1. Do you notice any speed differences between the two during AP? 


Edited by Cometeer, 06 April 2020 - 04:55 PM.


#3 wrnchhead

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 05:22 PM

Now I’m even more excited to get my Air Pro, should ship this week!
Cometeer, obviously I don’t have my pro yet but I can say the version one works just fine, but the new one (by the specifications) should definitely be faster and it comes with a bigger card. Every time I go with the less expensive option in this hobby I wind up getting the more expensive one anyway and just wishing I had bought what I really wanted originally.

Edited by wrnchhead, 06 April 2020 - 05:22 PM.

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#4 wrnchhead

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 05:24 PM

I think I may actually keep my version one and use it with my C8 as an electronic finder for the plate solving and goto abilities. I am so spoiled by that ability now that I have had it I would not want to go back

#5 ccs_hello

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 05:31 PM

David,

 

Very nice write-up.

Couple of questions:

1. Do all of the mount-side tasks including the heavy-lifting live-stacking happen on the ASI Air Pro end?

2. Is the client side app just performing the basic display and UI functions?

3. How does the live-stacking performance on ASI294 look to you?

E.g., if you use the full resolution of the 294, what does the screen display look to you?  E.g., any noticeable delay on image transfer, and after transfer, the stacking delay?

 

Thanks and Clear Skies!

 

ccs_hello



#6 davidparks

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 05:53 PM

 

I’m trying to decide between the original and the Pro. Live stacking capability has me leaning toward the Pro, but it’s more than double the price than a secondhand V1. Do you notice any speed differences between the two during AP? 

The only real speed difference in my experience was during focus, which uses relatively short exposure and fast screen refresh.  This coupled with the difference between USB2 and USB3 for a camera like the ASI294 is a noticeable improvement for the Pro version.  During AP, and even Live Stacking, I typically use 1 or 2 minutes exposures, so data transfer times between the camera and the ASIAIR aren’t really noticeable, even on the V1 USB2.  Image transfer between the ASIAIR Pro and the iPad over 5Ghz wireless for the full frame 294 was around 1 second.. it felt very nice!.


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#7 davidparks

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 06:14 PM

David,

 

Very nice write-up.

Couple of questions:

1. Do all of the mount-side tasks including the heavy-lifting live-stacking happen on the ASI Air Pro end?

2. Is the client side app just performing the basic display and UI functions?

3. How does the live-stacking performance on ASI294 look to you?

E.g., if you use the full resolution of the 294, what does the screen display look to you?  E.g., any noticeable delay on image transfer, and after transfer, the stacking delay?

 

Thanks and Clear Skies!

 

ccs_hello

1 & 2.  Yes

3. Looks Great!  At full resolution of the 294 image transfer takes about 1 second on 5Ghz wireless.  It appears the ASIAIR Pro will acquire the next sub from the camera, add it to the stack, and then transfer the updated stacked image to the iPad, again in about 1 second.  The image is saved on the ASIAIR Pro as a FITS file, I have no idea what format or compression is used for the transfer to the iPad, but the resolution is full, in the case of the 294 it is 4144 x 2822.  The stacking process is very fast, much like the platesolving.


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#8 Hilbily

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 08:59 PM

Very nice report!

Looks like Zwo has hit a home run!

Does Synscan app need to be running in background or on 2nd device?



#9 davidparks

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 09:51 PM

Does Synscan app need to be running in background or on 2nd device?

No Synscan required.  ASIAIR Pro is a proprietary INDI server, controlling the AZ-GTi and other INDI compatible mounts directly.

 

One device, One App, ASIAIR does it all.


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#10 PowerM3

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 10:20 PM

Wow, thats pretty awsome! does the Pro have auto-focus as well?



#11 Hilbily

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 10:20 PM

That's great, just how I was hoping it would be!



#12 Cometeer

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Posted 06 April 2020 - 10:51 PM

No Synscan required.  ASIAIR Pro is a proprietary INDI server, controlling the AZ-GTi and other INDI compatible mounts directly.

 

One device, One App, ASIAIR does it all.

Doesn’t the SyncScan app need to be connected to the mount in order to setup station mode? Or does the setting for Station Mode stick with the mount after the first time it’s set up?


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#13 davidparks

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 06:44 AM

Wow, thats pretty awsome! does the Pro have auto-focus as well?

No Auto-Focus.  Not like N.I.N.A., or SGP.

 

It controls the ZWO EAF via large step and small step directional buttons.  Working with the Focus Aid screen you can “dial” focus right in.   You get a live HFD (Half Flux Diameter) measurement, and visual graph of your focus star so you can get it as small and tight as possible.



#14 davidparks

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 06:54 AM

Doesn’t the SyncScan app need to be connected to the mount in order to setup station mode? Or does the setting for Station Mode stick with the mount after the first time it’s set up?

Yes you do need to use the Synscan App if you want to configure the AZ-GTi for Station Mode.  The setting is persistent, so it sticks and doesn’t have to be set again.  Incidentally you can run the AZ-GTi in both Station and Access Point mode at the same time.

 

You can also connect the ASIAIR to the AZ-GTi Access Point... essentially running the ASAIR in ‘Station Mode’...  either way works fine.

 

Also, concerning the AZ-GTi, to connect to the mount wirelessly to the ASIAIR you need to use the 2.4GHz band, which will slow down the data transfer between ASIAIR and iOS/Android App.  Using an FTDI USB cable with the AZ-GTi allows you to use the faster 5Ghz band which greatly helps with the Image transfer of larger sensor cameras.

 

I believe there are instructions somewhere in that long AZ-GTi thread over in the Mounts Forum for making a DIY USB Cable.  I have a Lynx Astro FTDI EQDIR Cable from FLO that I reduced to 6 inches long.


Edited by davidparks, 07 April 2020 - 07:04 AM.

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#15 SpaceOddities

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:03 AM

Very interesting setup David!

 

I'm interested in mounting a C5 as well on the AZ-GTi for galaxy hunting. How was your experience, in terms of weight / balance? Are you using a 2kg counterweight? Did the AZ-GTi struggle?

 

Thank you!



#16 wrnchhead

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:16 AM

I really wish it did have autofocus. It's the only thing that keeps me up all night during a run currently. 


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#17 SpaceOddities

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:23 AM

I really wish it did have autofocus. It's the only thing that keeps me up all night during a run currently. 

It's very high on ZWO's most wanted feature list, indeed! I believe they are working on it, which is in their interest, since they're also selling an autofocuser...


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#18 dtripz

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 10:40 AM

Hi David great write up, will have to try this soon! What counterweight are you using for that c5?

#19 davidparks

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 07:51 PM

The C5 balances very nicely on the AZ-GTi.  It really is a sweet little SCT.  The C6 I feel is too big, too heavy, but the C5 is perfect for this little wonder of a mount.  I use the 5lb. counterweight from an old Min-EQ mount.  The shaft is another pound.  Even though 6lbs total counter doesn’t balance the payload, it offsets it enough that the mount is very stable with the C5, guide scope, cameras and ASIAIR.


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#20 wenjha

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 08:05 AM

very nice review, hope you don't mind we share your review to our website

BTW: auto focus is on the way


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#21 davidparks

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 08:55 AM

You are very welcome to share the review.  I am very happy and impressed with the ASIAIR Pro, thank you.


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#22 DevilJack

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 09:29 AM

Great write up! Thanks!   I’m interested in simplifying my setup by using the Lynx cable.  Can you provide a part number for the cable and possibly a source?

 

Thanks - JG



#23 davidparks

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 05:00 PM

Great write up! Thanks!   I’m interested in simplifying my setup by using the Lynx cable.  Can you provide a part number for the cable and possibly a source?

 

 

I got mine from First Light Optics, when they first became available... you may find them elsewhere, but FLO shipped as soon as they were available and I've never had issue with it.  https://www.firstlig...gti-mounts.html



#24 wrnchhead

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Posted 18 April 2020 - 09:12 PM

Just got my Pro yesterday and had first light. Really cool. I think if I were to use the live stacking feature too much, I would stick my DSLR in there for the OSC. I don't believe there is a way to do color output from mono/filters (if there is, please enlighten!) 

 

One real gripe, that product needs a current, dedicated and thorough users manual.  Their site (from the Pro listing) takes you to a manual for the Gen 1 put out in Sep. 2018. Annoying! 


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#25 PowerM3

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Posted 19 April 2020 - 10:21 AM

Yeah once you go autofocus there is really no going back. I used the original ASIAir and loved it. The lack of AF is what made me get rid of it. I now use a laptop with NINA. Once setup I just go to sleep for the night and the automation does the rest!




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