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Processing Workflow - Software Recommendations

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#1 orlyandico

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Posted 03 March 2024 - 11:51 PM

Hello all,

 

I used to use Nebulosity for acquisition, PHD for guiding, DeepSkyStacker for stacking, and GIMP (or Photoshop) for post-processing.

 

Results were.. mediocre. But I lived in Bortle 9 light pollution so I never really looked into it because results would always be mediocre in those conditions.

 

Now that I live in Bortle 6 conditions, getting back into this after a 10-year hiatus. Cameras are better also, so I would expect better results. But the results are still mediocre.

 

A lot has changed software wise. For one, Nebulosity doesn't exist anymore / is open-source but cranky.

 

Anyway, I know that PixInsight is the canonical tool for this, but it seems overly complex. I briefly tried AstroPixel Plus and... it crashed (my flats had different gain from my lights). Not exactly an idiot-proof experience.

 

So.. is there an idiot-proof processing workflow? or do I have to bite the bullet and learn PI?

 

As an example (warning, 200MB file):

 

this is 31 x 2 minutes on M51 (no processing has been done aside from stacking and flat application - this file is the output from DeepSkyStacker) - https://web.andico.org/Autosave.tif

 

Granted that's not a lot of time, and there was an L-Enhance in place. I got much better results on IC434, but these results are terrible. They are not much better than what I was getting in Bortle 9 with an ancient ICX413-based camera 10 years ago.


Edited by orlyandico, 03 March 2024 - 11:59 PM.


#2 bignerdguy

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 12:07 AM

Pixinsight is good and i use it for processing but for an all in one i use MaximDL for capture, and processing.  It has telescope controls, dome controls, camera controls and processing functions built in.  Software controls are not that clunky but i admit might be a bit better however it works really well for quick processing for my needs. i live in a Bortle 9 area and get pretty good results from it too.  only drawback is it is a bit pricey and you have to buy a new license after a year if you want to get newer updates.  The software will not disable, you just can't get updates or support unless you buy a new license.  it does allow you to install it on more than one machine though with only the one license. And you do get a discount on a new license if you have purchased it before.  Up to you.  the others work well too and some are also multifunction as well though the ones i have tried are a bit clunky with their controls.


Edited by bignerdguy, 04 March 2024 - 12:08 AM.


#3 Ranger Tim

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 12:08 AM

There is a lot of hype about how difficult PI is to learn. The hardest thing about PI is busting out the wallet to pay for it. There are countless videos for beginners, not mention the ones that PI puts out themselves. Almost all of them are free on YouTube. Since buying it and spending about 20-30 hours with it I am now going back through all of my old data and reprocessing it. It makes that much of a difference.

 

I am a veteran user of Nebulosity, Deep Sky Stacker, Startools, Astro Pixel Processor, Photoshop and more. I have made more progress with my data in the last month than in all the time combined with the others. It’s that much of a difference. Yeah, it has a radical work flow in some ways, but makes sense after a while. If you can afford the RCAstro tools get them.

 

I used to argue with people about how PI was unnecessary. Now I would argue it’s virtually essential. And I just started with it! Just make sure your computer is up to the challenge…


Edited by Ranger Tim, 04 March 2024 - 12:10 AM.

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#4 vidrazor

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 12:37 AM

On Windows, NINA and Astro Photography Tool are the best tools I think for data capture, system calibration, plate solving for polar alignment and target acquisition. and so on. You will also need to install the ASCOM Platform, as well as ASCOM drivers for your particular hardware. There's a few other tools like PHD2, ASTAP, Stellarium/Carte du Ciel, etc. that are necessary. Fortunately overall they are mostly free or cost very little.

 

On Linux and Mac the free open source KStars/Ekos is a great program that has built-in modules to perform all image acquisition and hardware/observatory controls.

 

If you want to use PixInsight, you will have a long learning curve, but that decision is yours. I use the free open source app Siril, which I believe is a good tool for stacking and post processing your data. There's a fellow on YouTube that has a number of tutorials on it that go in-depth to it's tools, as well as a quick guide for newbies. Additional useful post processing tools, also free open source, are GraXpert AI and AstroSharp.

 

It's always good to have an image editor to finish off work, if you're competent with GIMP, you can stick with that, but I will also suggest looking into the $70 one time fee (no subscription) Affinity Photo program. I know most people don't like Adobe's subscription for programs like Photoshop, and Affinity Photo is very close to Photoshop in image processing power. GIMPs Achilles Heel is it's lack of layer transforms which forces you to copy pixel data to make various changes, making an image file "heavy", Affinity Photo has layer transforms, and also has built-in astrophotography tools, and one if it's programmers, James Ritson, has created an additional series of macros for it to perform various astrophotographic image data processing, so you may find Affinity Photo useful for you as well


Edited by vidrazor, 04 March 2024 - 01:11 AM.

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#5 DuncanM

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 01:56 AM

Hello all,

 

I used to use Nebulosity for acquisition, PHD for guiding, DeepSkyStacker for stacking, and GIMP (or Photoshop) for post-processing.

 

Results were.. mediocre. But I lived in Bortle 9 light pollution so I never really looked into it because results would always be mediocre in those conditions.

 

Now that I live in Bortle 6 conditions, getting back into this after a 10-year hiatus. Cameras are better also, so I would expect better results. But the results are still mediocre.

 

A lot has changed software wise. For one, Nebulosity doesn't exist anymore / is open-source but cranky.

 

Anyway, I know that PixInsight is the canonical tool for this, but it seems overly complex. I briefly tried AstroPixel Plus and... it crashed (my flats had different gain from my lights). Not exactly an idiot-proof experience.

 

So.. is there an idiot-proof processing workflow? or do I have to bite the bullet and learn PI?

 

As an example (warning, 200MB file):

 

this is 31 x 2 minutes on M51 (no processing has been done aside from stacking and flat application - this file is the output from DeepSkyStacker) - https://web.andico.org/Autosave.tif

 

Granted that's not a lot of time, and there was an L-Enhance in place. I got much better results on IC434, but these results are terrible. They are not much better than what I was getting in Bortle 9 with an ancient ICX413-based camera 10 years ago.

Astroart 8 can handle all aspects of image acquisition including full automation of the mount, cameras, and focusers with standalone platesolve assisted goto, multistar autoguiding, and multistar full frame autofocusing. There's also a very nice star chart included for image planning, that is integrated into the image acquisition engine It also includes an extremely powerful 64bit pre-processing and processing engine with an intuitive GUI. It has an extremely flexible license; one purchase for all your PCs.

 

check out the free demo:

 

https://www.msb-astroart.com/

 

I'm imaging right now and am taking advantage of it's automation to control two mounts remotely.

 

AA8

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by DuncanM, 04 March 2024 - 02:04 AM.


#6 orlyandico

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 03:18 AM

I need to clarify - I don't have any issues with capture, focusing, plate solving, etc.  I'm doing things manually right now (but I did use MaximDL back in the day.. also TheSky). Nebulosity aside, capture isn't an issue for me (and: I'm running unguided right now.. and also without GoTo... I use the setting circles plus plate-solving to point the mount properly).

 

My main issue is processing. Given the above response from Ranger Tim, it seems that I really do need to bite the bullet with PI (PC hardware is not an issue). Not the answer I wanted to hear, but there it is.  I have a Photoshop subscription for other things, so might as well use that.


Edited by orlyandico, 04 March 2024 - 03:21 AM.

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#7 DuncanM

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 11:20 AM

I need to clarify - I don't have any issues with capture, focusing, plate solving, etc.  I'm doing things manually right now (but I did use MaximDL back in the day.. also TheSky). Nebulosity aside, capture isn't an issue for me (and: I'm running unguided right now.. and also without GoTo... I use the setting circles plus plate-solving to point the mount properly).

 

My main issue is processing. Given the above response from Ranger Tim, it seems that I really do need to bite the bullet with PI (PC hardware is not an issue). Not the answer I wanted to hear, but there it is.  I have a Photoshop subscription for other things, so might as well use that.

The AA8 demo is free to use and experiment with and it's 64bit processing engine is extremely fast.



#8 mackiedlm

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 11:25 AM

There are lots of threads on here where people like myself roundly refute the idea that Pixinsight is some scary beast that is so difficult to learn that beginners should avoid it and "learn" processing on something else.

 

I my opinion, and especially since the advent of improved WBPP and other new tools, Pixinsight is no more difficult to learn and start producing good images than any other system. And it gives virtually unlimited room for continued growth and learning.

 

If you expect to eventually move to Pixinsight, just do it now. I wasted 2 years on other systems including DSS, APP, Photoshop.


Edited by mackiedlm, 04 March 2024 - 11:27 AM.

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#9 idclimber

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 11:40 AM

I need to clarify - I don't have any issues with capture, focusing, plate solving, etc.  I'm doing things manually right now (but I did use MaximDL back in the day.. also TheSky). Nebulosity aside, capture isn't an issue for me (and: I'm running unguided right now.. and also without GoTo... I use the setting circles plus plate-solving to point the mount properly).

 

My main issue is processing. Given the above response from Ranger Tim, it seems that I really do need to bite the bullet with PI (PC hardware is not an issue). Not the answer I wanted to hear, but there it is.  I have a Photoshop subscription for other things, so might as well use that.

Much of the information on PixInsight is simply out of date. When I stared (3 years ago) pre processing was a manual chore that required mastering multiple processes. Deconvolution was a lesson in masks and trial and error... mostly error. Noise reduction was equally tedious. Startnet was new and only worked on stretched images so had limited use compared to now. Even gradient removal was hard to learn. 

 

WBPP is a game changer for preprocessing. Multi filter and multi nights are a breeze. The XTerminator tools are nearly priceless. Stretching with GHS is far simpler. Learning with basics is as simple as watching a couple hours of Adam Blocks Fast Track Series. One 8 hour day following his guide and you will be further along than weeks with Siril or any other program.


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#10 bbasiaga

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 12:53 PM

I've settled in on Siril for stacking and stretch (starnett plugin as well). Then AstrodenoisePY, Graxpert and Affinity for the rest. Only affinity is paid.

I use an Asi air for acquisition. But did mess briefly with Nina when I was using an old laptop. I'll probably be back to it someday.

Brian

#11 fewayne

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 01:00 PM

Does "AstroPixel Plus" refer to Astro Pixel Processor? If so, you're giving pretty short shrift to good software whose failing was that it didn't produce results when used incorrectly.

Certainly APP has its faults and you're even more certainly free to prefer something else. But if you ask for an idiot-proof experience and the answer you get from us is "Oh, definitely PixInsight!"...forgive me, but that's *hilarious*.

No disrespect intended toward PI, but "simple one-button experience" is not its mission. And to your great credit, you recognize that there might not be a simple solution. That said, for me APP strikes an excellent balance between offering a simple "happy path" that's often good enough, and sporting enough levers and knobs to do a lot of customization.

Nowhere near as many as PI, to be clear. But that's part of the point.

Good luck finding something that works well for you.

#12 davidmalanick

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 04:23 PM

I need to clarify - I don't have any issues with capture, focusing, plate solving, etc.  I'm doing things manually right now (but I did use MaximDL back in the day.. also TheSky). Nebulosity aside, capture isn't an issue for me (and: I'm running unguided right now.. and also without GoTo... I use the setting circles plus plate-solving to point the mount properly).

 

My main issue is processing. Given the above response from Ranger Tim, it seems that I really do need to bite the bullet with PI (PC hardware is not an issue). Not the answer I wanted to hear, but there it is.  I have a Photoshop subscription for other things, so might as well use that.

+1 for Pixinsight. Then just learn it the right way. https://www.adambloc...ining-beginners . Best $60 I ever spent on astrophotography related stuff. Go through his course and you'll have Pixinsight set up to quickly do what needs to be done.

His instruction is so easy to follow, I ended up getting his Fundamentals courses also.  Check out his free videos on YouTube https://www.youtube....mBlock/featured . The best way to learn PixInsight is having a laptop next to your desktop screen and follow along, repeating the steps on your desktop. It's easy to pause the laptop and then just do what he does.



#13 Pgblack

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Posted 04 March 2024 - 05:50 PM

Pixinsight is definitely not a must, extremely good results can be obtained with free or cheaper alternatives. Siril, Starnet, GraXpert, Gimp, Startools etc are free or very cheap and can be used to help produce stunning images with the help of a few online tutorials. I have had a trial of Pixinsight early in my astrophotography endeavours but just found it so unintuitive to use that I gave up after a couple of weeks, I feel as if I should give it another try but also have this nagging feeling that some of the tools, particularly the "X" add-ons are almost cheating.....

#14 AstroVagabond

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Posted 05 March 2024 - 12:13 AM

PixInsight is producing their own videos now. Might want to take a look at them. They appear workflow based:

 

https://www.youtube.com/@PixInsight

 

I purchased some PixInsight training time from Astro Doc Ron Brecher. That did the trick for me and now I have a nice Icon driven workflow for both Broadband and Narrowband with enough knowledge that I know why I'm doing what I'm doing.

 

Many options out there these days including the PixInsight forum:

 

https://pixinsight.com/forum/index.php

 

~ Bill,



#15 JF1960

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Posted 05 March 2024 - 01:06 PM

Pixinsight is definitely not a must, extremely good results can be obtained with free or cheaper alternatives. Siril, Starnet, GraXpert, Gimp, Startools etc are free or very cheap and can be used to help produce stunning images with the help of a few online tutorials. I have had a trial of Pixinsight early in my astrophotography endeavours but just found it so unintuitive to use that I gave up after a couple of weeks, I feel as if I should give it another try but also have this nagging feeling that some of the tools, particularly the "X" add-ons are almost cheating.....

A lot of people get this impression.  It’s really not the case.  The problem is PixInsight hides how easy it is to use from you.  That’s why jumpstart training is so valuable.  I think it’s built to support highly experienced people that absolutely hate hand holding software. Instead, it is an experience you can completely customize to fit your needs.  That’s the step that is harder to understand when first starting out.



#16 Paul Wharton

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Posted 10 June 2024 - 04:15 AM

PixInsight is indeed a beast, but many find its power worth the steep learning curve. If it feels overwhelming, Siril might be a more accessible alternative; it's not as deep as PI but much friendlier for those getting back into the swing of things.



#17 Paul Wharton

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Posted 13 June 2024 - 09:54 AM

Software development often faces similar issues of complexity versus user-friendliness. That's where the concept of what is mvp in software development comes in handy. It refers to developing a product with enough features to satisfy early adopters while providing feedback for future product development.


Edited by Paul Wharton, 13 June 2024 - 09:58 AM.


#18 dmilone

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Posted 13 June 2024 - 07:08 PM

I was just talking about this in another thread. I compared learning Pixinsight for the first time with having to face a root canal. It can be intimidating, but you have to do it. 

For me, learning complex software on my own, without taking a class is difficult and daunting. But I'll just take my time.

Compared to Photoshop and other big name software packages, it really isn't that expensive. The cost of PI is very reasonable. 



#19 fewayne

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Posted 16 June 2024 - 04:46 PM

Also, software developers have to balance ease of learning (PixInsight rates "not so much") with ease of use (especially given what it can do, PixInsight is in a class by itself).

 

It's actually quite a knotty problem. Features which guide the initial user tend to get in the way of the advanced one, or complexity hidden from newbs has to be dug out by power users.

 

Since the software I've worked on for the past ten years or so is more or less mandatory for its users, we just fling everything in their faces and count on the roving training classes to get people over the hump. :-)



#20 Meies

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Posted 16 June 2024 - 04:58 PM

I tried both Siril and Pixinsight and found them roughly equal in difficulty for a novice. They go about things differently, but I wouldn't say that one is more difficult than the other. What is daunting about PI is that it has an enormous number of tools, but the secret is that you can get good results with only a few of them, and become familiar with new tools when you find a use for them.

 

My advice: give each platform a week and then choose the one you like best.



#21 fewayne

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Posted 16 June 2024 - 07:54 PM

Three weeks. Spend one on Astro Pixel Processor. Honest.



#22 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 17 June 2024 - 12:39 PM

Hello all,

 

I used to use Nebulosity for acquisition, PHD for guiding, DeepSkyStacker for stacking, and GIMP (or Photoshop) for post-processing.

 

Results were.. mediocre. But I lived in Bortle 9 light pollution so I never really looked into it because results would always be mediocre in those conditions.

 

Now that I live in Bortle 6 conditions, getting back into this after a 10-year hiatus. Cameras are better also, so I would expect better results. But the results are still mediocre.

 

A lot has changed software wise. For one, Nebulosity doesn't exist anymore / is open-source but cranky.

 

Anyway, I know that PixInsight is the canonical tool for this, but it seems overly complex. I briefly tried AstroPixel Plus and... it crashed (my flats had different gain from my lights). Not exactly an idiot-proof experience.

 

So.. is there an idiot-proof processing workflow? or do I have to bite the bullet and learn PI?

My experience was similar to yours.  Tried APP and it crashed on my camera's raw images.  Engaged the developer, who acknowledged the issue, but I never heard of a fix.  But even so, the user interface just left me bewildered.  Instead of making things simpler, each step along the way threw more options at me to the point that it left me dazed.  Pi was a non-starter; I fundamentally didn't have the interest or time to both learn all about the details of image processing and to put up with the obtuse science experiment in user interface design.  I settled on StarTools and have been happily processing ever since.

 

For stacking I use ASTAP.  I was using DSS for a while, but the 5.x versions don't play nice with Wine on my Linux PC.  Eventually there will be a native Linux version, but in the mean time (or perhaps forever), ASTAP is performing just fine.  DSS has an advantage if you're using a DSLR's raw file format.  ASTAP really wants FITS.

 

I guess the decision I would make in terms of processing tools really depends on how much you are interested in the details of image processing.  If that excites you, in the long term PI will be the right tool.  You might start with another (SIRIL perhaps, if APP isn't cooperating), or just bite the bullet and dive in.  But if you're more interested in getting a really good image without being forced to make a bazillion decisions on the workflow, I really recommend you give StarTools a try.  You still have a lot of creative control over the the final image, but a lot of the tedious stuff is both hidden from view and optimized using proper "signal processing" techniques.  The tool isn't free, but has a time-unlimited trial license (so you're not under the gun to decide) and the purchase price is very generous.




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