Milkyway03I currently use a Long Exposure modified Webcam and a Starlight Express MX716. For DSLR Camera  a Canon  5D and to a lesser degree my 10D is used. I am also working Philips Vesta Pro webcam. Also used are filters and a complement of extensions, barlows, to obtain the desired Field of View on the camera CCDs.

There are several different types of software that you may need for astrophotography:

 

  • DSLR Camera Control
  • Software-Assisted Focusing
  • Image Acquisition Automation
  • Image Calibration, Aligning and Stacking
  • Image Correction and Enhancement
  • Autoguiding Software
  • Photo Utilities
  • Photoshop Filters and Actions
  • Tutorials on Image Processing of Astrophotos
  • Planetarium Programs and Atlases

DSLR Camera Control

With camera control software, you can use your computer to control all of the functions and settings of your camera, such as setting the ISO and opening the shutter.

Software by the camera manufacturer will control all functions of the camera. This is accomplished through a single USB-2 Cable and includes control of the bulb setting for exposures longer than 30 seconds. This software also allows viewing of the Live-view real-time image on the computer and focusing.

With previous camera generations of Canon DSLRs (10D) the camera manufacturer’s software could control all camera functions except one critical one for astrophotography: the ability to shoot exposures longer than 30 seconds with the bulb setting. This major drawback necessitated the use of third-party software  to control the camera and access bulb exposures longer than 30 seconds through the use of a serial to bulb port cable.
Software-Assisted Focusing

The latest generation DSLR cameras allow focusing through the camera manufacturer’s software. This can be done by manual focusing and visual inspection of the Live-view image on the computer.

For previous generation cameras without Live-View, an image had to be downloaded to the computer and then visually examined for focus accuracy. Programs such as Images Plus or DSLR Focus could also download an image and then examine a star and give a readout of the star’s diameter or brightness. This metric-assisted focusing was objective and did not rely on any visual interpretation to determine focus.

The latest camera manufacturer’s software can make focusing very easy with Live-view, however, this software does not provide any type of metric-assisted focusing.
Image Acquisition Automation

Serious deep-sky astrophotography requires shooting many short exposures. This can be done manually, but it is very tedious. For example, faint deep-sky objects may require several hours worth of 5 minute exposures that are later stacked or combined in subsequent image processing.

Software such as Images Plus or MaxDSLR can automate this process. But than you are with an laptop in the field. I use either  a simple timer, a good tripod or my SkyWatcher mount

The latest software provided by Nikon and Canon also provides the functionality for this type of automated image acquisition with the latest generation of DSLR cameras.
Image Calibration, Aligning and Stacking

Advanced astronomical imaging requires the “calibration” of the raw original images. Calibration means removing unwanted fixed signals (such as thermal current and bias), and correction for signal modifications (such as vignetting) so that the raw image accurately represents the intensity of light incident on the sensor during the exposure.

To calibrate your original raw astronomical images, you will require some type of special astronomical image processing software, such as Images Plus, MaxDSLR, AIP (Astronomical Image Processing), AstroArt, IRIS, Deepsky Stacker or Regim. Mostly I use AstroArt.

Whatever software you use for image calibration will almost certainly also do aligning and image stacking. It is possible to align and stack images in Photoshop, but for more than a couple of frames, the process is extremely tedious and not as accurate as with a dedicated astronomical image processing program. This can speed up by so-called Action, but I have only the recent Photoshop Elements.
Image Correction and Enhancement

Once your images are calibrated, aligned and stacked, you will want to correct for things such as color balance, and increase the contrast to make faint details more visible. You will probably also want to apply some type of noise reduction, and you may want to apply more sophisticated enhancement techniques.

However, at this stage of image processing, I prefer to switch to a general image processing program such as Photoshop.
Autoguiding Software

For long-exposure deep-sky astrophotography, guiding during the exposure can be very useful in producing higher quality images. By manually or automatically following a star by making corrections in right ascension and declination higher tracking accuracy is obtained.

Autoguiding involves using a separate CCD or Webcam to monitor a stars position and then send corrections to the telescope’s mounting to guide or follow the star with high accuracy to compensate for inaccuracies in the mount’s tracking.

CCD cameras and webcams can be also be used as autoguiders, but software, such as GuideDog and AstroArt, is required to run on a computer that interfaces between the autoguider and mount.
Photo Utilities

These programs perform useful functions like allowing you to open FITS format files, perform noise reduction, and create thumbnails for indexing and archiving.
Photoshop Filters and Actions

These filters and actions work inside of Photoshop and perform specialty functions for astronomy, such as gradient and noise reduction.
Tutorials on Image Processing of Astrophotos

Tutorials in book and video format teach you how to do astrophotography, and use programs such for image calibration and Photoshop for image correction and enhancement. I have a good one unfortunately I have to translate from Photoshop CS to PSE (Elements) which cannot record actions
Planetarium Programs and Atlases

Planetarium programs and atlases let you find out what is up in the sky, and plan your observing and astrophotography session.

 


Astronomical Software For the PC

  • DSLR Camera Control
    • IRIS $Free – DSLR control, image acquisition automation
    • Images Plus Camera Control – DSLR control, focusing, image acquisition automation
    • AstroArt – DSLR and CCD control and image processing
    • Maxim DL – DSLR control and image processing

     

  • Software-Assisted Focusing
    • Focus Max $Free – Focusing software that automates focusing if you have a motorized focuser that works with Maxim DL or CCD Soft
    • AstroArt $185 – DSLR and CCD control and image processing
    • Maxim DSLR  – DSLR control and image processing

     

  • Image Acquisition Automation
    • DSLR Shutter $Free – image acquisition automation
    • AstroArt  – DSLR and CCD control and image processing
    • Maxim DSLR  – DSLR control and image processing

     

  • Image Calibration, Aligning and Stacking
    • Deepsky Stacker $Free – Image calibration, alignment, stacking
    • Regim $Free – Image calibration, alignment, stacking
    • IRIS $Free – DSLR control, image acquisition automation
    • RegiStax $Free – for stacking planetary images shot with webcams
    • AstroArt – DSLR and CCD control and image processing
    • Maxim DSLR– DSLR control and image processing

     

  • Image Correction and Enhancement

     

  • Autoguiding Software

     

  • Photo Utilities
    • Dark Library$Free – Sort Dark frames by EXIF temperature data
    • EXIF Reader $Free – Reads EXIF data, such as shutter speed, ISO, aperture, date and time of photo that is stored in the image file. Also a thumbnail and image viewer
    • FITS Liberator $Free – FITS file format image handling software
    • Noiseware Community Edition $Free – Noise Reduction software
    • Background Subtraction Toolkit $Free – Remove gradients and vignetting
    • IrfanView $Free – Image viewer
    • Picassa $Free – Thumbnail and Image Viewer and database
    • StarTrails – $Free – Stack individual frames to creat a star-trail image
    • StarStax $Free – Stack individual frames to creat a star-trail image
    • StarMax$Free – Stack individual frames to creat a star-trail image

     

  • Photoshop Filters and Actions

 

 

Low Budget Software

  • IRIS $Free – Iris pretty much does it all. It is very powerful but involves the use of command lines.
  • Deepsky Stacker $Free – Image calibration, alignment, stacking
  • PHD (Push Here Dummy) $Free – Autoguiding software
  • Noiseware Community Edition $Free – Noise Reduction software
  • Background Subtraction Toolkit $Free – Remove gradients and vignetting
  • GIMPshop $Free – GIMPshop is the GIMP (GNU Image Processing), an open-source software program for Windows, Mac and Linux. GIMPshop has its windows, menus, and tools reorganized so that they resemble the look and location of Photoshop’s menu structure and naming conventions

Hopefully some of these links will be useful for those of us who get involved in the (often) complex task of DSO image processing. There are bound to be other very useful resources out there on the web which I’ve not included in this post.

CLEAR SKIES!!