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Making the jump to guiding - advice on how far to leap!

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#1 tophermueller

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Posted 24 October 2021 - 06:33 PM

Hi Cloudy Nights, I've been a lurker up until now -- have been doing AP since February and you know the rest of how the story goes... 

 

I really enjoy being intentional in my learning, going slowly and really justifying the next piece of equipment. I really struggled with polar alignment for quite a while for example, and despite knowing guiding would fix things faster, I forced myself to nail it. So I did, and I'm up to 2-3 minute subs on my lighter lenses. 

 

But it's time for guiding now I think. Here's my plan and I'd love to hear feedback and know if there are other scenarios I should look at: 

 

What I have now: 

Sturdy tripod, iOptron Sky Guider Pro, external intervalometer, Nikon D610 and D850, Nikon 2.8 70-200, Sigma Art 150-600, Rokinon 135mm. I use Pixinsight, PS, and LR to process. I have a macbook pro that boots Win10, and a surface pro I could use as a tablet.

 

What I'd like to do: 

At least longer subs. I figure if I just get PHD2 and a good guiding cam and scope, is that sufficient? I'm aware that I'd be tethered; that's OK I'm usually in my backyard.

 

Or should I make that bigger leap...

I think it'd be fun to get Stellarmate OS and a RaspPi. I don't like the sound of buying asiair and be limited to only ZWO.

 

Regardless of your suggestion, what guide scope and cam would be easiest for my setup, yet flexible for eventual growth into APO refractors and future upgrades to mount and such?

 

I appreciate any suggestions and especially the gotchas that I'd rather know about earlier than later. Thanks for your patience with this beginner.

 

I'm attaching my recent capture of Triangulum; this is the sort of object I'd love to get longer subs and more data on.

 

 

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  • Screen Shot 2021-10-24 at 4.29.13 PM.jpg

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#2 Ibuprofen200mg

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Posted 24 October 2021 - 07:04 PM

Very nice image, especially unguided! How long you need to push your exposures depends on your gear and sky conditions. What is your local light pollution level? I think the biggest improvement you will see going to guiding at this point is throwing out fewer subs. Even with a really good polar alignment the star trackers need some help. I have a similar mount and went from 60% keepers to over 90% keepers which is a big deal with limited clear sky time. 

 

Since you have a Skyguider you'll need to keep it lightweight, so I'd suggest:

 

ASI120MM-Mini guide cam ~$150

Svbony SV165 guide scope ~$50

 

These are relatively cheap and won't add much weight to your rig. If you choose to move on from camera lenses in the future that guiding setup should be good up to about 600 mm FL with your DSLRs. I'm running the same combo on my Star Adventurer, no issues so far. 


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#3 Seaquel47

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Posted 24 October 2021 - 07:06 PM

The ASI Mini scope and their 120 camera make a nice combo for guiding.  I started out using it with a Nikon 5600 on the Sky Guider Pro and continue to use it with a number of my scopes.

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Edited by Seaquel47, 24 October 2021 - 07:07 PM.

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#4 coblr

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Posted 24 October 2021 - 07:37 PM

As far as the RasPi and Stellarmate, I highly recommend it for any kind of automation you're looking to accomplish.

 

The Pi with 8GB ram is able to run kStars, Ekos and an INDI server on it's own so I can just set it up and let it run. I connected a 2TB external drive to it and have it capture everything there. Much easier than transferring files later. kStars can be a bit basic, but it's sufficient and has everything you'll need.

 

I connect to it via it's wifi hot spot and use the VNC viewer from my mac to set everything up. While there can be some delay (especially if you're farther away from it) it works well enough to set things up for the night, or for the specific target/sequence, and then just go on doing something else. I like to use a direct connection to the camera for Lunar or Solar since the capture needs to be much faster, but still have the Pi running guiding for me. I currently use ASI cameras, filter wheel and focuser, but INDI seems to be pretty agnostic and the forum is pretty active.

 

Some people set up the Pi to just be the INDI server and run kStars/Ekos from their computer instead, however, I don't like that this method means I need to leave my laptop on/open so that it does what it should without interruption. Running everything on the Pi means I can just set it up, put the laptop away (saving battery) and just enjoy the evening. I only need to check in on it every so often for progress or whatever. Especially once you get a sequence list going. It'll slew, plate solve, focus, set filter, start guiding and start capturing automatically. Takes some time to learn, but SO worth it IMO.

 

I highly also recommend to get a real-time clock for the Pi. Setting the date manually in a terminal with `sudo date -s "YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss-0700"` (or whatever) isn't difficult, but an RTC would just allow it to keep time automatically saving you a step at start up (only like 10 seconds tho, but can forget sometimes).


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#5 daveco2

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Posted 24 October 2021 - 07:38 PM

I looked at Stellarmate, but was a bit put off by the many user group problem discussions.  Sounded a bit too computery to me, and after dealing with Sequence Generator Pro, I didn't want any more hassles.  Finally, after good experiences with the ZWO focuser and filter wheel controlled via SGP, I decided to get their guide camera and go with the  Air Pro.  The whole thing works flawlessly, a big step up from dealing with a balky laptop, Windows upgrades at the most inopportune times, drivers and connection issues, and a bunch of cables. 

 

There's nothing wrong with the ZWO equipment - good stuff at a good price.  You could start with it to have the option of Stellarmate or AsiAir Pro later, if for some reason you want to mix and match equipment.  One caveat, Air Pro can control Nikon and Canon cameras, both of which I use, but not Sony (which I have and would like to use).  I don't know about Stellarmate.


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#6 tophermueller

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 11:02 AM

Very nice image, especially unguided! How long you need to push your exposures depends on your gear and sky conditions. What is your local light pollution level? I think the biggest improvement you will see going to guiding at this point is throwing out fewer subs. Even with a really good polar alignment the star trackers need some help. I have a similar mount and went from 60% keepers to over 90% keepers which is a big deal with limited clear sky time. 

 

Since you have a Skyguider you'll need to keep it lightweight, so I'd suggest:

 

ASI120MM-Mini guide cam ~$150

Svbony SV165 guide scope ~$50

 

These are relatively cheap and won't add much weight to your rig. If you choose to move on from camera lenses in the future that guiding setup should be good up to about 600 mm FL with your DSLRs. I'm running the same combo on my Star Adventurer, no issues so far. 

Thanks, this is the one I keep going back to and seems the most popular. So after I get these, is it pretty simple to mount - and, how do I connect SGP / guiding to laptop or tablet running PHD2? Is there a good forum post on that? Thanks.

 

I'm in about a bortle 5. I haven't had to throw out too many subs - but then again haven't taken nearly as many as I should - and thus far have skipped calibration frames. This and guiding are my next steps to up the game smile.gif



#7 tophermueller

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 11:14 AM

As far as the RasPi and Stellarmate, I highly recommend it for any kind of automation you're looking to accomplish.

 

The Pi with 8GB ram is able to run kStars, Ekos and an INDI server on it's own so I can just set it up and let it run. I connected a 2TB external drive to it and have it capture everything there. Much easier than transferring files later. kStars can be a bit basic, but it's sufficient and has everything you'll need.

 

I connect to it via it's wifi hot spot and use the VNC viewer from my mac to set everything up. While there can be some delay (especially if you're farther away from it) it works well enough to set things up for the night, or for the specific target/sequence, and then just go on doing something else. I like to use a direct connection to the camera for Lunar or Solar since the capture needs to be much faster, but still have the Pi running guiding for me. I currently use ASI cameras, filter wheel and focuser, but INDI seems to be pretty agnostic and the forum is pretty active.

 

Some people set up the Pi to just be the INDI server and run kStars/Ekos from their computer instead, however, I don't like that this method means I need to leave my laptop on/open so that it does what it should without interruption. Running everything on the Pi means I can just set it up, put the laptop away (saving battery) and just enjoy the evening. I only need to check in on it every so often for progress or whatever. Especially once you get a sequence list going. It'll slew, plate solve, focus, set filter, start guiding and start capturing automatically. Takes some time to learn, but SO worth it IMO.

 

I highly also recommend to get a real-time clock for the Pi. Setting the date manually in a terminal with `sudo date -s "YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss-0700"` (or whatever) isn't difficult, but an RTC would just allow it to keep time automatically saving you a step at start up (only like 10 seconds tho, but can forget sometimes).

Very cool. Why did you go for SMOS instead of ASIAIR? I keep getting warnings about how SM is too hands-on when ASIAIR can do the same or more, but much more seamless. Other posts hint that SM offers more, because you can really manually dial things in. What's your perspective there?

 

I enjoy the idea of 3D printing my case, installing the RTC etc. No concerns there - coached a student putting together a raspberry shake and still have it running at our school.

 

Did you need to power your external drive separately? 

 

Does the SM do live stacking just like ASIAIR? 

 

I'm brand new to any of these tools, INDI, kStars, Ekos. Have a string of clear nights coming up, so guess I'll just read up while the camera is clicking away... Thanks for your help.



#8 matt_astro_tx

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 12:04 PM

I too use a tracker and just recently added a guidescope (the SV165) and guidecam (ASI120MM-Mini) and was able to take my sub length from 30" to 300" with pinpoint stars at a F/L of 287mm.  My pixel scale is 1.72". 

 

Guiding is a game changer.

 

I also use the ASIAir Pro and can't say enough good things about it.  But you indicated that's not the direction you want to go, so I won't wax on about it.

 

Clear skies!


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#9 eknock

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 12:19 PM

I'll be the devil's advocate here and say, even with a tracker like the SGP, a proper minipc is a superior solution than any of the single board computers discussed here. I'd even argue one gets a better bang for the buck (memory, processing power, non-usb storage, non-gimped programs) going it that route since the cost of a decently specc'd raspi is often north of $100. The AAP is much the same and at twice the cost - though many like how it seamlessly integrates the universe of ZWO products into one pleasant UI, it's ultimately a raspi running a non-standard version of PHD2. Staying within that price range, OP is better served picking up a minipc (there are many that work with 12V) that could run updated versions of PHD2 and even play with big-boy goodies such as NINA.


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#10 tophermueller

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:08 PM

I'll be the devil's advocate here and say, even with a tracker like the SGP, a proper minipc is a superior solution than any of the single board computers discussed here. I'd even argue one gets a better bang for the buck (memory, processing power, non-usb storage, non-gimped programs) going it that route since the cost of a decently specc'd raspi is often north of $100. The AAP is much the same and at twice the cost - though many like how it seamlessly integrates the universe of ZWO products into one pleasant UI, it's ultimately a raspi running a non-standard version of PHD2. Staying within that price range, OP is better served picking up a minipc (there are many that work with 12V) that could run updated versions of PHD2 and even play with big-boy goodies such as NINA.

I'd love to hear more about this. Can you share more, or point me to a resource? I've run across mini PCs here and there but all forums are saturated with asiair and SM. 



#11 StuartT

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:14 PM

Hi Cloudy Nights, I've been a lurker up until now -- have been doing AP since February and you know the rest of how the story goes... 

 

I really enjoy being intentional in my learning, going slowly and really justifying the next piece of equipment. I really struggled with polar alignment for quite a while for example, and despite knowing guiding would fix things faster, I forced myself to nail it. So I did, and I'm up to 2-3 minute subs on my lighter lenses. 

 

But it's time for guiding now I think. Here's my plan and I'd love to hear feedback and know if there are other scenarios I should look at: 

 

What I have now: 

Sturdy tripod, iOptron Sky Guider Pro, external intervalometer, Nikon D610 and D850, Nikon 2.8 70-200, Sigma Art 150-600, Rokinon 135mm. I use Pixinsight, PS, and LR to process. I have a macbook pro that boots Win10, and a surface pro I could use as a tablet.

 

What I'd like to do: 

At least longer subs. I figure if I just get PHD2 and a good guiding cam and scope, is that sufficient? I'm aware that I'd be tethered; that's OK I'm usually in my backyard.

 

Or should I make that bigger leap...

I think it'd be fun to get Stellarmate OS and a RaspPi. I don't like the sound of buying asiair and be limited to only ZWO.

 

Regardless of your suggestion, what guide scope and cam would be easiest for my setup, yet flexible for eventual growth into APO refractors and future upgrades to mount and such?

 

I appreciate any suggestions and especially the gotchas that I'd rather know about earlier than later. Thanks for your patience with this beginner.

 

I'm attaching my recent capture of Triangulum; this is the sort of object I'd love to get longer subs and more data on.

I'm going to get shot down in flames for saying this, but here goes...

 

Do you really need to make the move to guiding? I'm shooting unguided with a FL of 808mm. I use 35 sec subs and still get round stars. You just take more of them.

 

Here are some recent results doing it that way:

https://www.astrobin.../full/os02xg/0/

https://www.astrobin.com/ohcju5/0/



#12 tophermueller

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:27 PM

I'm going to get shot down in flames for saying this, but here goes...

 

Do you really need to make the move to guiding? I'm shooting unguided with a FL of 808mm. I use 35 sec subs and still get round stars. You just take more of them.

 

Here are some recent results doing it that way:

https://www.astrobin.../full/os02xg/0/

https://www.astrobin.com/ohcju5/0/

That's fair. Everything I read though - points to "longer subs is better than more subs." I'd love to be proven wrong and save some money and time. Could I really have caught that triangulum photo without reaching 2-3 minute subs?

 

Save it all for ... better mount, astro cam, APO lens ... But that won't happen for a while. And wouldn't I need to get a guide scope eventually? Doesn't it make sense to start learning it now?

 

Ahhh, astrophotog... always more questions and more money. :)


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#13 StuartT

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:35 PM

That's fair. Everything I read though - points to "longer subs is better than more subs." I'd love to be proven wrong and save some money and time. Could I really have caught that triangulum photo without reaching 2-3 minute subs?

 

Save it all for ... better mount, astro cam, APO lens ... But that won't happen for a while. And wouldn't I need to get a guide scope eventually? Doesn't it make sense to start learning it now?

 

Ahhh, astrophotog... always more questions and more money. smile.gif

Sorry.. I should have read your OP properly. I didn't realise you are using a DSLR. In that case, I think longer subs are a big advantage. I am using a cooled camera which produces very little noise.



#14 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:49 PM

Very cool. Why did you go for SMOS instead of ASIAIR? I keep getting warnings about how SM is too hands-on when ASIAIR can do the same or more, but much more seamless. Other posts hint that SM offers more, because you can really manually dial things in. What's your perspective there?

 

I enjoy the idea of 3D printing my case, installing the RTC etc. No concerns there - coached a student putting together a raspberry shake and still have it running at our school.

 

Did you need to power your external drive separately? 

 

Does the SM do live stacking just like ASIAIR? 

 

I'm brand new to any of these tools, INDI, kStars, Ekos. Have a string of clear nights coming up, so guess I'll just read up while the camera is clicking away... Thanks for your help.

ASIAir vs StellarMate vs Astroberry vs Windows / Mac forms a continuum from "appliance" to "bucket of parts you get to figure out and assemble".  The question is whether you want something that's all packaged up as an appliance (the Air), or something that has more flexibility (not focused so much on the ZWO products) but requires you go to a couple of separate applications to configure things.  In exchange for that one-stop user interface, the Air is more limited in what it can do.  Sounds like you've already decided not to go with the Air, and that's fine.  Lots of alternatives.

 

StellarMate has a user interface to bring a bunch of the utilities together, though not everything.  Astroberry has all the software you need pre-loaded, and much of the platform infrastructure pre-configured (e.g. WiFi hotspot, VNC services, web access to the desktop, etc.), but not the integrated UI.  It's the one I went with, as I am comfortable working with the Raspbian system already, and don't mind learning a few new tricks in configuring it along the way. 

 

Neither Windows nor Mac have the software preloaded, of course.  Easy (if not a bit tedious) to do, but you have to go out and choose, find, and install them, in addition to getting them all to work together. 

 

All this said, in your original posting you ask if you should make the bigger leap to StellarMate.  I think what you are really asking is, "What platform is best for me to begin the process of actively controlling and automating the operation of the telescope?".  Fundamentally, this means adding a computing platform to the mount, either physically at the mount, or through extension cables from a short distance away.  My own telescope is never used at home (too many trees here), so I valued having something self-contained that I can put on a 3-wheeled cart and moved across the street to where it can see the sky.  A Raspberry Pi-based solution with Astroberry was the eventual choice, as the Pi sits comfortably on the tripod's eyepiece tray, consumes very little power (all this has to run from batteries), and has all the necessary software pre-loaded.  If you are more comfortable with Windows and have a suitable laptop and power source that can be out with the telescope, that can work too.  Some use a small "NUC" format computer.  More assembly will be required, however.

 

As you, I started with a mount, telescope, and camera triggered with an intervalometer.  The first piece of automation was a Raspberry Pi 3B (already had one) with PHD2 running on it to add autoguiding.  This was pre-Astroberry, so I loaded it by hand.  Not a big deal, but it's a lot easier these days.  Next step was intended to be swapping out the intervalometer for a software solution, but I found my camera (a Nikon D3200) didn't support computer control very well, so the intervalometer stayed.  Instead, I added plate solving with ASTAP, using the guide scope and camera for the imaging part.  That helped precisely aim the telescope to the targets I wanted to image.  I also upgraded the Pi3B to a 4gb Pi4B, and O/S to Astroberry.  This provided the base to upgrade to a new camera (went with a cooled astro-oriented one), removing the intervalometer, and using the Pi take the pictures.  You get the idea - there's a sequence of enhancements and refinements you can / will do over time, to a large extent driven by what you have and what you need to improve on next.  I'm currently annoyed by temperature-induced focus changes, so next will be automating the focuser; parts are on order.

 

Besides the hardware platform (Pi or laptop), you need to choose your top level manager.  Lots of choices out there:  Windows-based ones such as NINA, SGP, Voyager; multi-platform ones such as KStars / EKOS and CCDciel.  I landed on CCDciel because I like its user interface, and it was compact enough to actually run on the Pi-3B that I started with.


Edited by TelescopeGreg, 25 October 2021 - 01:50 PM.


#15 fuadramsey

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 01:57 PM

I'll be the devil's advocate here and say, even with a tracker like the SGP, a proper minipc is a superior solution than any of the single board computers discussed here. I'd even argue one gets a better bang for the buck (memory, processing power, non-usb storage, non-gimped programs) going it that route since the cost of a decently specc'd raspi is often north of $100. The AAP is much the same and at twice the cost - though many like how it seamlessly integrates the universe of ZWO products into one pleasant UI, it's ultimately a raspi running a non-standard version of PHD2. Staying within that price range, OP is better served picking up a minipc (there are many that work with 12V) that could run updated versions of PHD2 and even play with big-boy goodies such as NINA.

I highly agree with this -go Windows 10 Pro! I'm always trying new stuff, and I did go full Linux on astro gear using a Pi 4b with 4GB of ram. I learned a lot but didn't get anything productive done for about 6 months. 

 

Long story short, I was finding bugs and other issues. They are good at updating, but that's the thing, there are lots of updates and you have to find the one that is working 100% for you and lock that down! Wifi was never that great with those units too. I was usually having some kind of wifi issue at one point or the other. 

 

Once I switched to a mini PC and ASCOM I was super productive again! When it comes down to it, the best Astro software is PC so . . . 

 

I run headless from a Windows 10 Pro mini PC. It's a BMAX 8GB ram and 128GB SSD drive with a Celeron J4125 and USB3. Beelink is good too, but more expensive. Windows 10 Pro is key too because you can use RDP to connect to it from an app or another computer. And Windows RDP is way better than any other "solution" in my experience: teamview/VNC . . . I tried most of them. RDP is super reliable and fast! When I'm at a remote site I use a mini wireless router that I connect to with my phone. I even polar align with SharpCap through the RDP app and it works great. I check on my session with the RDP app too. 

 

My computer will run all these at once: Stellarium, Voyager, PHD2 and SharpCap. I've also ran multiple instances of SharpCap doing planetary imaging and it was good. Here's the typical gear I have connected to it: CGEM II mount, ASI294MM, focuser, focus wheel, OAG with ASI290 guide cam, and a finder scope I use to plate solve with an ASI120MM. 

 

-Something to consider for "fun", I tried out the ZWO app ASICAP and it's pretty cool. I used it to focus my camera rig on the Star Adventurer Pro with a 224MC and a polar scope with a ASI120mm. It worked fine. In fact I could have imaged from my phone too with that app. Might consider running the app on a tablet connected to that. 

 

But yeah, the PI4 is cool, but too developer-y for me! 

 

-My home rig runs from the mini computer setup that sits on the eyepiece tray on the tripod. I connect to it wirelessly. I seriously spend about 5-10 total setup using Voyager. I HAVE to find things to do since it's so reliable. ha haa. I hardly interact with the setup since Voyager is so robust.

 

 desktop view

desktop

 

phone view

phone

 


Edited by fuadramsey, 25 October 2021 - 02:05 PM.


#16 Jared

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 02:11 PM

That's fair. Everything I read though - points to "longer subs is better than more subs." I'd love to be proven wrong and save some money and time. Could I really have caught that triangulum photo without reaching 2-3 minute subs?

 

Save it all for ... better mount, astro cam, APO lens ... But that won't happen for a while. And wouldn't I need to get a guide scope eventually? Doesn't it make sense to start learning it now?

 

Ahhh, astrophotog... always more questions and more money. smile.gif

Anything that improves data quality, well, improves data quality. Even if stars are reasonably round, a "tighter" result can likely be reached with guiding aside from very high-end mounts with sophisticated pointing models. Is it necessarily the best bang for the buck? Is it necessarily the next logical step for improving image quality? Maybe, or maybe the OP would be better served with a mount upgrade instead. However, decent guiding, even with a lowly SGP, will improve data quality regardless of sub exposure duration.



#17 Jared

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 02:19 PM

Hi Cloudy Nights, I've been a lurker up until now -- have been doing AP since February and you know the rest of how the story goes... 

 

I really enjoy being intentional in my learning, going slowly and really justifying the next piece of equipment. I really struggled with polar alignment for quite a while for example, and despite knowing guiding would fix things faster, I forced myself to nail it. So I did, and I'm up to 2-3 minute subs on my lighter lenses. 

 

But it's time for guiding now I think. Here's my plan and I'd love to hear feedback and know if there are other scenarios I should look at: 

 

What I have now: 

Sturdy tripod, iOptron Sky Guider Pro, external intervalometer, Nikon D610 and D850, Nikon 2.8 70-200, Sigma Art 150-600, Rokinon 135mm. I use Pixinsight, PS, and LR to process. I have a macbook pro that boots Win10, and a surface pro I could use as a tablet.

 

What I'd like to do: 

At least longer subs. I figure if I just get PHD2 and a good guiding cam and scope, is that sufficient? I'm aware that I'd be tethered; that's OK I'm usually in my backyard.

 

Or should I make that bigger leap...

I think it'd be fun to get Stellarmate OS and a RaspPi. I don't like the sound of buying asiair and be limited to only ZWO.

 

Regardless of your suggestion, what guide scope and cam would be easiest for my setup, yet flexible for eventual growth into APO refractors and future upgrades to mount and such?

 

I appreciate any suggestions and especially the gotchas that I'd rather know about earlier than later. Thanks for your patience with this beginner.

 

I'm attaching my recent capture of Triangulum; this is the sort of object I'd love to get longer subs and more data on.

Rather than a Raspberry Pi or equivalent, I would recommend you just move to a mini PC. It isn't that you can't make something else work--people have proven that you can. It's just that you'll get much more support with the inevitable problems if you are running a system that many, many others are already using. In my view, that is easily worth the additional cost of a PC.

 

I use a Beelink U57 running an i5 processor with 128GB of storage. Those can be had for about 350USD or so. There are other brands as well--no particular reason to stick with Beelink. The point is, a mini PC with Windows 10 Pro built-in can be had for a modest sum, at least its modest by astrophotography standards. That will get you high-speed (USB 3.0) connectivity to your camera, plenty of additional ports, WiFi, ethernet, and internal SSD for short term storage. You can Remote Desktop into it using whatever device you want in the field.

 

I think the surest path to success in astrophotography is to have the support of others who have already done what you are doing. By using a mini PC you will be able to take your pick of software products, you will have plenty of headroom in terms of performance, and you will easily be able to get support from a fairly large user community. That is easily worth the 350USD.


  • fuadramsey likes this

#18 fuadramsey

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 02:23 PM

Sorry I forgot to answer the ops questions:

 

For your setup I'd go with a William Optics Side base Uniguide 32mm and an ASI120mm guidecam. I've used that to guide my Z61 at 360mm FL and it works great on my CGEMII. 

 

If you want to guide your lens at 600mm I'd suggest something a little beefier, but I don't think you could do a whole lot better on a camera tracker. At that point I'd suggest getting a  regular mount. The Svbony guidescopes are a good deal, but for size and weight the 32mm is cool.

 

-I was getting good exposures lengths at 200mm with my Nikon lens on the tracker unguidded. More importantly you should get the best polar alignment you can with that rig. I've only recently tried fine tuning the polar alignment with SharpCap and a guidescope with the camera tracker. It worked pretty well, and did improve things, but I think if you've carefully centered your polarscope on the tracker and do a good polar align using the guides in the polar scope and an app to show you exactly where Polaris should be, you'll be pretty good at sub 200mm FL.



#19 fuadramsey

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 02:26 PM

Rather than a Raspberry Pi or equivalent, I would recommend you just move to a mini PC. It isn't that you can't make something else work--people have proven that you can. It's just that you'll get much more support with the inevitable problems if you are running a system that many, many others are already using. In my view, that is easily worth the additional cost of a PC.

 

I use a Beelink U57 running an i5 processor with 128GB of storage. Those can be had for about 350USD or so. There are other brands as well--no particular reason to stick with Beelink. The point is, a mini PC with Windows 10 Pro built-in can be had for a modest sum, at least its modest by astrophotography standards. That will get you high-speed (USB 3.0) connectivity to your camera, plenty of additional ports, WiFi, ethernet, and internal SSD for short term storage. You can Remote Desktop into it using whatever device you want in the field.

 

I think the surest path to success in astrophotography is to have the support of others who have already done what you are doing. By using a mini PC you will be able to take your pick of software products, you will have plenty of headroom in terms of performance, and you will easily be able to get support from a fairly large user community. That is easily worth the 350USD.

Support, totally agree!!!

 

With the Linux astro platforms (most of my machines are Linux including my allskycamera I built) there are a lot of assumptions that you know how to compile sources, understand nightly builds and know all about security permissions. 



#20 eknock

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 02:35 PM

I'd love to hear more about this. Can you share more, or point me to a resource? I've run across mini PCs here and there but all forums are saturated with asiair and SM. 

The recommended specs to run most, if not all, software (with the exception post-process) in AP are not too demanding. So a basic noname minipc like this little guy from Amazon would do just fine. If you're budget-constrained and don't mind the hunt, you could source a used but well-known brand like the NUC (I suggest sticking to the i3 models to ensure 12V compatability) from ebay for almost half that price. Since you also asked for resources, there have been many threads 1 2 here on CN that offer up a wealth of information regarding this topic.

 

Good luck.



#21 Ken Sturrock

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 11:05 PM

...I've run across mini PCs here and there but all forums are saturated with asiair and SM. 

The ASIAir is a great series of machines for many imagers, generally those who want plug & play in the ZWO ecosystem. They work well, seem easy to setup and are fairly inexpensive. If they do what you want, then great.

 

As you note, they also benefit from a tremendous amount of marketing, reviews & influencers. YouTube, for example, is full of them. Recently, ZWO also gave out rewards to those who joined up to be an "Experience Officer" which involves writing public posts. Not unexpectedly, Cloudy Nights has since seen an unusual number of ASIAir Pro reviews & threads.



#22 ngatel

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 11:37 PM

I really enjoy being intentional in my learning, going slowly and really justifying the next piece of equipment. I really struggled with polar alignment for quite a while for example, and despite knowing guiding would fix things faster, I forced myself to nail it. So I did, and I'm up to 2-3 minute subs on my lighter lenses. 
 
But it's time for guiding now I think. Here's my plan and I'd love to hear feedback and know if there are other scenarios I should look at:


I like to go slow too. I started with a go to mount, but was using a Sony A6000 mirrorless connected to a 61mm scope (worked better than my inexpensive camera lenses), which can’t be connected to any astro capture programs. So using Parallels Desktop on my MacBook Pro, I added a 30mm guide scope and an ASI120mm mini, guiding with PHD2, and polar aligning with SharpCap.

I continued to capture images on my camera’s SD card. This gave me time to think and plan for the future.

I’m fully automated now with auto focuser, mini PC, Windows 10 Pro (controlled by my Mac), NINA, ASTAP, SharpCap, and Stellarium.

#23 coblr

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Posted 27 October 2021 - 12:24 AM

 

Very cool. Why did you go for SMOS instead of ASIAIR? I keep getting warnings about how SM is too hands-on when ASIAIR can do the same or more, but much more seamless. Other posts hint that SM offers more, because you can really manually dial things in. What's your perspective there?

 

I enjoy the idea of 3D printing my case, installing the RTC etc. No concerns there - coached a student putting together a raspberry shake and still have it running at our school.

 

Did you need to power your external drive separately?

 

Does the SM do live stacking just like ASIAIR?

 

I'm brand new to any of these tools, INDI, kStars, Ekos. Have a string of clear nights coming up, so guess I'll just read up while the camera is clicking away... Thanks for your help.

I went with SMOS vs ASAIR because I didn't want to be tied to ASI products and I've always wanted to mess with a Pi. Even though all my stuff now is ASI, I like the idea of getting better stuff once I've saved up and learned what I'm doing. It works well with my Mach1 so I have no complaints and expect it'll work well with just about anything that's made well. Started with the mount and the camera, then added the filters, guider and focuser later on. Each one was plug and play, no hassle and minimal learning curve.

 

The external drive is just plugged into the Pi, no other cables necessary. I use the USB ports on the ASI1600 to connect to the guider and EFW. My full rig runs off my 104Ah deep cycle. Runs all night, use solar during the day to charge it.

 

I don't think that SM does live stacking, but never really looked into that. It does an auto stretch of the image so I usually take a couple long exposures (or higher gain) to make sure everything is composed ok and then put settings to optimal and start the sequence. Now that I can auto focus between filter changes, it's a game changer. Manually focusing was a huge time suck as I had to be holding my laptop and turning the knob out in the cold.

 

For me, I'm doing all the things I need to do... wirelessly, and that's a big plus for me. I like to keep things simple and I don't use Windows. I found this after I found kStars as a free planetarium thing for my Mac. I intended to be chained to the scope and was ok with that, but found out things had progressed since the last time I considered moving away from just a DSLR camera. Setup was virtually seamless and it just works every time without question (so far). There was some troubleshooting initially, but it was mostly me not reading enough or skipping ahead. The UI is pretty intuitive, lots of tooltips to explain things and now I have my little routine down so it's just a matter of gathering data. The external hard drive was a big help too, like a massive flash drive, fastest way to transfer files hands down.

 

So far, the only downsides I've experienced are:

1) The capture rate can be slow so lunar, planetary and solar have required me to use AstroImager on my mac with the camera directly connected. It's probably not as good as SharpCap, but it serves my purposes. The Pi still runs the rig minus the main camera.

2) The wireless can be a bit slow and if you're reasonably far away focusing manually while watching a video is a pain. That's why I got the EAF and now just "auto focus".

 

Outside of that, it just works.



#24 fewayne

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Posted 27 October 2021 - 10:16 AM

It's just that you'll get much more support with the inevitable problems if you are running a system that many, many others are already using. In my view, that is easily worth the additional cost of a PC.

Ain't necessarily so, at least in the case of StellarMate OS. There might well be more people on forums who will post answers to your questions if you're on Windows, although the INDI forums are active and feature experts, including people who write the software. Some of the forum answers may even be correct -- but you don't know which.

 

What you don't have is a vendor committed to personal support, to the extent of logging in remotely to work out driver problems and the like. Most people have no problems, SMOS is actually pretty turnkey and Just Works for most of us. But I've heard again and again people who have gotten this kind of attention from Jasem, StellarMate's principal. In my view, that's easily worth the additional $50 cost of the OS image :-).

There's absolutely nothing wrong with a Windows solution, and there is some very good software available for it. But IMO you won't be sorry if you go the Pi+SMOS route.

 



#25 fuadramsey

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Posted 27 October 2021 - 10:44 AM

Ain't necessarily so, at least in the case of StellarMate OS. There might well be more people on forums who will post answers to your questions if you're on Windows, although the INDI forums are active and feature experts, including people who write the software. Some of the forum answers may even be correct -- but you don't know which.

 

What you don't have is a vendor committed to personal support, to the extent of logging in remotely to work out driver problems and the like. Most people have no problems, SMOS is actually pretty turnkey and Just Works for most of us. But I've heard again and again people who have gotten this kind of attention from Jasem, StellarMate's principal. In my view, that's easily worth the additional $50 cost of the OS image :-).

There's absolutely nothing wrong with a Windows solution, and there is some very good software available for it. But IMO you won't be sorry if you go the Pi+SMOS route.

 

I did get decent support from the developer and others, but like I said, I was finding bugs in the software. Sometimes the driver wouldn't work right after an update, or a setting wouldn't take, and you'd have to compile an old driver that was known to work from another source, that or wait a month for the next release. And after that make sure to not update things, or at least do full backups of the system. Also there was a lot of assumed Linux knowledge with the replies.

 

My main issue was the Celestron driver. I got tired of messing with it and not being productive. I was using both Astroberry which has Kstars/Ekos and Stellarmate because I wanted to use the app and get better support. I had issues connecting to the unit with the app and had resolution issues with the app and my phone. Also had issues with the wifi connection. It was never really that good, and going headless you need that to be rock solid.

 

 

Don't get me wrong, it's super cool software and works for many, but not as reliable as an ASCOM release. I'd try it if you like to tinker and like beta release type software. Getting a Raspberry Pi got me into making an allskycam and I love. But I don't get the "it just works" thing though for Linux astronomy, glad it does for some though! I'm sure it'll get better and better though. I saw a lot of progress, but I got tired of tracking issues on github and the like.


Edited by fuadramsey, 27 October 2021 - 10:46 AM.



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