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Best starting software for newb

Astrophotography Beginner Software
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#76 bobzeq25

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Posted 20 January 2022 - 04:48 PM

I used the term generically.  After all, unless you're taking very short exposures then tracking of some sort is required.  Whether you use the mount itself or a guide camera it's still tracking and one piece of the puzzle.

 

Until my guide camera gets here (and assuming the skies clear and it warms up a bit), I was planning to use my DSLR, my Goto EQ6R mount, and my intervalometer.  Build up from there.

 

Generally, I agree with the concept of learning the pieces first, and then integrate them, but I also hate learning something twice.  If I have to learn how to manually do a polar and 3-star alignment, I don't see that as a bad fall back position if the laptop dies on a trip.  

 

I'm a reasonably intelligent person and comfortable around computers...my personal expectations were to automate this as much as possible. 

With platresolving star alignments serve no purpose.  They're to tweak GOTO performance, and you're not relying on that to precisely locate your target.

 

I'll risk seeming pedantic here, I think this is important.

 

It's not a question of learning things twice.  It's a question of how best to progress in the hobby.  Starting at a basic level and building can make the process go better/faster/cheaper.  I'd like to emphasize better there.  This is a hobby that is built on knowledge, it's often _extremely_ unintuitive.

 

Analogy.  Do you take an advanced graduate course in something, before learning the basics?

 

I happen to think that this is an extremely deep pool, and you're better off starting in the shallow end, instead of diving off the board in the deep end.  It's the most serious intellectual challenge I've had since my PhD program in science at a top school.  Nothing I did in my professional career comes close.

 

The bad news is that this is extremely complicated, and often unintuitive.  The good news is that you will never, ever, run out of new things to learn.

 

I'm not smarter than you, but my astrophotography bookshelf can beat up yours.  <smile>

 

Here's a good start (many think the best).

 

https://www.amazon.c...d/dp/0999470906

 

Here's the followup.  It starts to bring out the complexity.

 

https://www.amazon.c.../dp/1138055360/

 

One example.  You'll be told (elsewhere) that you want to select a guidestar in a certain region of the sky to calibrate PhD2, use ASCOM guiding instead of ST-4, and let PhD2 compensate for the fact that the coordinate system looks different nearer the celestial poles (the lines get closer together).   The author of the book discusses some tricky things about autoguiding that mean you may want to turn that compensation off.  I don't know that I've seen that anywhere else.

 

 I'm pretty comfortable around computers myself.  <smile>  Designed and built one optimized for using Pixinsight with a C8 RASA.

 

But this is more about knowledge and expertise than hardware, which beginners frequently overestimate the importance of.  Embroider this, frame it, and hang it on your wall.

 

Dustin Johnson's clubs will not put you on the PGA tour.  <smile>

 

Read the second book start to finish (432 pages), and this post will make a lot more sense.


Edited by bobzeq25, 20 January 2022 - 04:54 PM.


#77 fuadramsey

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Posted 20 January 2022 - 05:13 PM

I'd also like to suggest SharpCap!

 

You'll probably eventually use it anyways. It's very simple and easy to use, but there are also a ton of great tools in it. And yes get the pro version so you can polar align with it. 

 

I use Voyager to do all my acquisition and love it. I just run a script and it does everything for me, but that's automation, and takes more setup. Totaly worth it once you get things dialed in. I pretty much just hit play and Voyager will handle the whole night.

 

But to get your feet wet, try out SharpCap. It's still the best tool for polar alignment. You can use most camera's to polar align too. In fact you might be  able to use your main rig without a guide camera to polar align. I use my 294mm with the Z61 and it will polar align with the tool. The focal length for this setup is 360mm so I don't even need a guidescope. I always fall back on SharpCap to diagnose or troubleshoot issues. It's also great for planetary capture as well. The latest version of SharpCap also has sequencing. -It's also very stable and takes little resources. I've ran multiple instances of it and it worked great.

 

I'd also suggest installing and trying out the ZWO software suite called ASI Studio. In fact, ZWO recommends you troubleshoot with this first if you have any issues.



#78 Ron359

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Posted 20 January 2022 - 05:30 PM

I used the term generically.  After all, unless you're taking very short exposures then tracking of some sort is required.  Whether you use the mount itself or a guide camera it's still tracking and one piece of the puzzle.

 

Until my guide camera gets here (and assuming the skies clear and it warms up a bit), I was planning to use my DSLR, my Goto EQ6R mount, and my intervalometer.  Build up from there.

 

Generally, I agree with the concept of learning the pieces first, and then integrate them, but I also hate learning something twice.  If I have to learn how to manually do a polar and 3-star alignment, I don't see that as a bad fall back position if the laptop dies on a trip.  

 

I'm a reasonably intelligent person and comfortable around computers...my personal expectations were to automate this as much as possible. 

Thanks, thats clear.    Then assuming you're using the EQ-6 with Synscan hand  controller, you do the set up and polar alignment and whatever 2 or 3 star alignment first with the hand controller.  You can use a planetarium program (almost any one will work -Stellarium is free, Sky Safari is inexpensive.) for the alignment and goto.  If you want  you can  run from laptop or smart phone and using the Synscan wifi dongle or a USB cable through the Hand control.  ( I never got the synscan dongle app  to work well on my mount with my iPhone though) But imaging requiring PHD autoguiding will need a laptop anyway.  

 

 For imaging the only software you really need are PHD2 for autoguiding and any camera ops imaging program to run the camera to take a series of exposures.   But for PHD2 you'll need a laptop, Mac or PC. All that doesn't take much 'processing power' so any 'old' laptop will do. The mount will track and guide with the PHD2 signals.  PHD2 also has a polar alignment feature that works ok, so you don't even need to use the HC or separate app for that.  You can focus with the cam screen and even shoot with an intervalometer, but its best if the cam ops program can send previews either live or shots to a laptop so you can really magnify the star images for focusing.  Some programs will graph and show live view of the width of the stars and you just have to get the minimum radius of a or diameter of a small star your equipment and seeing allow. I've used Nebulosity (Mac native & PC)  for camera ops for about 12 or 15 yrs.  It also does processing from stacking to stretching etc.   Last 2,  I'm mostly using Kstars now for all the ops. and Affinity Photo for processing. Neb is still good though.  

 

Its best to learn the planetarium program connection and star alignment routines and figure out the basic PHD2 settings before you go out on some dark and cold night for imaging.  PHD2 default settings work pretty well 'out of the box' so you mainly need to choose certain settings and input your hardware parameters to set things up. Same goes for whatever camera ops program or app you want to use.  Get a high quality USB3 hub to run all cables on the OTA or mount into and then just one USB cable into your laptop.

 

while watching preview images on the screen, you can use the Synscan hand control or laptop planetarium program whatever  get objects centered centered up and focused on the cam.   Start PHD2 when your at least pointing in the same part of the sky the object is.  Run the PHD2  mount calibration routine. Once PHD is calibrated and guiding graph looks good, you start your exposures.  

 

Then look up at the sky and realize the clouds have moved in while your were staring at the screen,  because you just started imaging.   ; )    Stop the exposure sequence.   If it starts raining or snowing, cover or pack everything up and go home.   If you have beginners' luck and sky is still clear, then sit down and keep an eye on the PHD guiding graph, while enjoying the night sky however you wish.  Look at your preview images as they get displayed and make sure all is in focus, there is no trailing or some other indications of things not right.  Tweak whatever settings seem to be neede if  star images are not quite good. This is where you might need to tweak the PHD settings.  Or maybe focus has changed or shifted slightly.   Make sure images are saved to hard drive and/or cam card.  before you shut down and pack up.  

 

p.s..  forgot to mention that I had a lot of trouble with Sky Safari Mac OS version, not wanting to connect to my Synscan HC.  And as mentioned the iPhone synscan app never worked when connected.    But having given up using the HC or iPhone for 99% of my scope ops its not a problem anymore.  The problems might have been corrected, but somehow i doubt it.  I much prefer Celestrons' Nexstar HC system.   Not quite as 'obtuse' and no connection problems.  

 

p.s.s.    Back at 'step- 1,  Setting up; be sure your scope and cam are well balanced in both axes of your mount.  Some mounts do better being balanced very slightly heavy to the east which keeps RA gear teeth engaged tracking to the west.  Being out of balance can really screw up autoguiding corrections and maybe the goto functions.   Try and get any backlash out of drives.  They always seem to have a little, mostly in DEC with a GEM, so turn on the backlash comp. button in PHD settings.   If you get large or weird guiding errors w/ PHD,  the first thing to check is the scope balance and if any cables  are hanging up on the mount or something else.  


Edited by Ron359, 21 January 2022 - 01:35 PM.


#79 ngatel

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Posted 20 January 2022 - 05:45 PM

Roscoe,

 

This is my progression . . .

 

I had a refractor for 30 years and a manual GEM.

 

Then I bought a reflector and another manual GEM.

 

Five years later I bought a NexStar 8SE. Alt-Az mount and 8" SCT. This was at the end of 2005.

 

In Oct 2020 I bought a Celestron CGX mount and a William Optics Zenithstar 61ii with field flattener, a William Optics 30mm guide scope, and a ZWO AS!120MM Mini guide camera. I wanted a EQ6-R Pro, but none were to be had. I think I bought the last CGX in the US at the time. Took me a week to find it. I planned on using my Sony A6000 APS-C mirrorless camera with it.

 

Since I was familiar with Celestron hand controls, it was easy for me to update the firmware and operate the new mount. The CGX does not come with a polar scope. So using a military lensatic compass, I aligned the mount to true north. I set the latitude with an inclinometer. Each morning I would remove the telescope and mount, but leave the tripod out so I wouldn't have to polar align every night.

 

Since my Sony camera cannot be controlled with a computer for astrophotography, I used an intervalometer. I had two challenges:

  • I'm in my early '70s and it was difficult to see objects in the small screen of the camera
  • Tracking wasn't very good with PHD2.

So I bought an external screen for the camera, and SharpCap Pro to do better polar alignments using the guide scope.

 

gallery_20979_17797_276663.jpg

 

Focusing was easy because the Z61 comes with a Bahtinov mask, and a small 61mm doesn't change focus much with temperature changes. I almost never have to focus after the initial setting.

 

Each night I had to take dark frames and if the temperature changed more than 5F, I would tadditional ones. I had to keep a log of temperatures, and then stack the appropriate subs with the matching temperature dark frames. This became quite a task with DSS, and I bought Astro Pixel Processor, which worked much better for me.

 

After a couple of months, I started imaging with my C8, which wasn't aa difficult as I had been told it would be. But the results weren't stellar either. I bought a Celestron field flattener/focal reducer that helped a lot.

 

Framing some targets with the C8 over several nights was challenging. Some targets almost completely took up the image space and over several nights the targets wasn't centered in the exact same spot. So a lot of cropping and sometimes losing parts of the image I wanted to keep was a difficult pill to swallow. I was still using the CGX hand controller to do a star alignment each night, then the GoTo to get my target, but the target was never in the same exact spot each night. Some targets were pretty dim to see in the 7" monitor.

 

At the end of Jan 2021, I decided to get an Astro camera (ZWO ASI183MC Pro) and  a mini PC. I downloaded all the software required. Before this I was using my MacBook Pro running Windows 8.1.1 using Parallels Desktop.

 

The ZWO camera has a cooler, so I now only needed one set of dark frames for each exposure time, which I could use over and over. Also the new to me plate solving would center my targets consistently.

 

I downloaded ASTAP for plate solving and Stellarium for transferring coordinates to NINA. These two programs were new to me also.

 

The first go with all the software and new camera went fine, with one exception. PHD2 would not work with NINA, or so I thought. Then I figured out I had to click a Button in NINA to connect NINA to PHD2. I was off and running. I had found astrophotography Nirvana!!

 

About a month later, I spent some time imaging with my C8 and the ASI183. Not a good combination since the resolution is .39 arc seconds per pixel. Given that, I took this with the combo.

 

gallery_20979_17102_550022.jpg

 

 

I had installed a Celestron focus motor on the C8 before I bought the CGX mount and used it with a Bahtinov mask to focus before I started using NINA. With NINA, I set up the Auto Focus routine to focus at start up, every 60 minutes, or a HFR increase of 10%. This was fairly simple.

 

In May of 2021 I bought an Esprit 100ED and a ZWO EAF. Took 5 minutes to install the EAF, and was quick to set it up and get it to work with NINA, especially since I had experience doing this with the Celestron unit.

 

I later bought another ZWO EAF for my Zenithstar 61.

 

I already outlined how each imaging session goes nowadays in an earlier post.

 

Starting at the end of June last year, about 8 months after I bought the CGX, I spent three months camping at dark sky locations, camping in our travel trailer. No glitches with my equipment or software on the mini PC. Even at a campsite, I control the mini PC remotely with my Mac. Should I have a problem occur with the mini PC, I can use the Mac running Windows to control my equipment.


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