AP Software Experiences

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Ed217
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AP Software Experiences

#1

Post by Ed217 »

I’ve been doing AP for about a year now. During that time I have gone through a couple of telescopes, eyepieces, and cameras. It's been a learning experience to say the least.

A recurring process has been the task of looking for better AP image post processing software. The software packages for image capture have done well, been easy to use, and produced great results. These included ASICAP, PHD2, SharpCap, StellarMate, and a few others.

Good post processing software has been more or a challenge. I have tried many packages and options. Some were easy to use and others...well...not at all. So far the ones that have worked for me are:

1. PIPP. Works well to process recorded video into a format usable by other products.

2. Registax. Does a great job of stacking results from PIPP. The Wavelet process can be a bit of guesswork, but the results are always good.

3. AutoStakkert. Pretty much same as Registax.

4. Windows Paint. A very simple tool that can be handy for quick things like resizing an image, or a quick crop.

5. GIMP. An impressive tool with lots of options for both regular photo things as well as AP images. The range of things it can do is impressive.

6. Apple macOS Edit. Great tool for basic image enhancement. Work well for things like contrast, brightness, black point, levels, curves, rotation, sharpness, vignetting, etc. It is very easy to use, very fast, and can easily export to other sources.

7. FITS Liberator. A great tool for taking FITS image files, doing some very basic processing and then exporting to more common formats like JPG.

I have also tried a number of other packages with generally little or zero results. These include:

A. PixInsight. Never got anything out of it. My initial impression was that the User Interface was decades out of touch.

B. Startools. Nothing useful yet, but it may have promise. Processing for the most basic things is PAINFULLY SLOW.

X. APP. Nothing useful yet.

I see lots of references for these as requiring lots of learning curve. Having been professionally involved in software development for 50+ years, I don't really buy these arguments.

It reminds me of a telephone call conversation from about 45 years ago. The call was from an Air Force officer at a nuclear planning site that used software we developed. He had an error message on the screen/output that said “Wicked Voodoo Error”. He had no clue. I got out the detailed manuals and looked it up. The text read “This error can never occur”. His comment was along the lines of “You know, that really doesn't help me much…”. I told him I would check further and get back to him, which I did much later that day.

I learned a lot working with the Air Force folks over the years. They had very complex jobs to do and wanted software that was easier to use. I don't think that concept has changed much. Many good packages today have different modes based on user level and desires. That's generally a step in the right direction.

I know many AP types do use and like these products. Maybe a light bulb will come on for one or more of them, but so far...its just dark.

I welcome comments, suggestions or other ideas.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#2

Post by Star Dad »

I really like StarTools. I've been doing AP for 5 years now, but I'm still (re)learning. I guess my next AP purchase is going to be that L-enHance filter (https://optcorp.com/products/optolong-l ... gJJy_D_BwE) and that will surely change my post processing. I'm leery of spending too much for a tool. And as a software developer of the "old school" where human factors is important I commiserate with you on the state of current software - which in many cases is anything but human friendly. And why - if it works do they have to change the setup/interface. IE - Firefox used to have the "home" button on the right of the menu bar. Now it is on the left. It took me months to get used to that one stupid move... and for what reason did they move it?

I also definitely have to start using GIMP more for AP... I use for a lot of other graphics, I just never really think of it as an AP tool.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#3

Post by bobharmony »

+1 for StarTools as a product that produce a good result with minimal fuss. If you want to get into the weeds with it, the tweaks and tools are in there, but you can produce a solid result with a few simple steps as a starting point.

I hear what you are saying about the program running slowly sometimes. Before I upgraded to a beefier PC and later versions of the product, it could take a very long time for a process to run, which made playing with small tweaks somewhat painful at times. One thing you can do to help is to bin your image 50% (or more) as the first step in the process. Depending on your seeing, there is a good chance your images are oversampled (the smallest detail is spread over more than 1 pixel). If that is the case, binning 50% will not lose any resolution in the final image, and the processes will run much faster as the file is 1/4 the original size.

I strongly suggest submitting one of your stacked images to the StarTools forum https://forum.startools.org/ and asking Ivo to suggest a processing flow for it. He is very helpful and loves helping people learn the basics of the tool.

I started my AP journey with PhotoShop as my main tool and got some decent results. Since I switched my main processing to StarTools my results are much better to the point where I have felt good about printing some finished images and displaying them where people can actually see them :)

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Re: AP Software Experiences

#4

Post by Ed217 »

Star Dad wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 4:23 pm

I also definitely have to start using GIMP more for AP... I use for a lot of other graphics, I just never really think of it as an AP tool.
I’ve been a GIMP user for many years now, initially not AP related at all, but for regular photos. I do a lot of family things on trips where I need to add myself to an existing image of all else posed somewhere. GIMP has some very nice tools to make that fairly easy. I have 4 monitors, so dockable toolbars comes in handy when spreading things out.

It also makes the process of cropping regular photos to known sizes (8x10, 5x7, etc) much easier and exact.

Another unrelated product I use regularly is Wondershare Filmora, which is a video editing tool. I do a lot of drone video and processing that with Wondershare works great!
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#5

Post by STEVE333 »

Hi Ed -
There are several software programs used for post processing AP images. I haven't heard anyone say that learning to do post processing of AP images was easy no matter which program they chose.

When I was working as a Physicist/Engineer I got used to having to learn the new interface for each new software program I would use. I had to learn Mathcad, then two different lens design programs, then, ..., well you get the idea. When I retired and got into astrophotography I learned how to use Gimp, then Photoshop, and now Pixinsight. I wish all the interfaces were better, but, what can I do? I've now learned the PixInsight interface, and, find it a wonderful program for doing post processing of AP images. I'm not an expert, but, have been able to create some beautiful images by following many of the wonderful tutorials that are available. I've also seen beautiful images produced with StarTools and with just plain Photoshop.

I wouldn't say Pixinsight is better than StarTools or any of the other programs because I haven't tried the others. Because I've invested quite a bit of time learning Pixinsight it is unlikely that I will change to another processing program. I'm sure many individuals using one or another of the other processing programs are in the same situation.

I wish you the best in finding/choosing a post processing program. I hope you can find an interface that works for you.

Cheers,
Steve
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#6

Post by JayTee »

To me, learning the user interface and the "particulars" for each piece of post-processing software is more difficult and more of a PITA than was my differential calculus class in college! That's why to me, learning to use these complex titles is just like homework! I hated homework!

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Re: AP Software Experiences

#7

Post by Greenman »

JayTee wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 1:26 am
To me, learning the user interface and the "particulars" for each piece of post-processing software is more difficult and more of a PITA than was my differential calculus class in college! That's why to me, learning to use these complex titles is just like homework! I hated homework!

JT
When I was at College my maths lecturer used to go on and on about the beauty of an equation. After one particularly tiresome lecture I asked him could we not start by knowing the practical use of the equation, he clearly thought an alien had appeared in his class. That year taught me a valuable lesson, I passed with “unsatisfactory Mathematics “. I changed my course to Biology and kissed maths a fond farewell. :dance:

As for the programs I’m currently a bit bemused by StarTools, I seem to get different results on the same data using automatic development- that stopped me working on the reprocessing task 5 Graeme put up. :oops:

I run it on Windows 10, i3 with 16Gb of ram - just fine.
Cheers,

Tony.

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Re: AP Software Experiences

#8

Post by startoolsastro »

I’m currently a bit bemused by StarTools, I seem to get different results on the same data using automatic development
Then it sounds like it is doing its job! AutoDev is meant to be controlled and tweaked to your liking. But instead of offering an interface (e.g. levels & curves) that yields useless results for most inputs and settings, AutoDev should yield results that are almost always usable and specifically optimised for the detected detail in your image. Use it either for diagnostics, or for the final global stretch (to be used as a baseline for finer local enhancement).

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For example, confining the Region of Interest ("RoI") progressively to the core of this galaxy, the stretch becomes more and more optimised for the core and less and less for the outer regions. What exactly constitutes the Region of Interest (the whole image? the disc? the core? that one bright star?) is up to you!

Hope that helps and makes sense!
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#9

Post by Bearcatrp »

Just a question for you folks that have been doing this for awhile. Just got my 1st camera for my telescope. The laptop I will be using is and i5 processor with 16 GB of ram. When taking a picture with the software, should I use the laptop or should I transfer the image to my i7 desktop to process? Used to do do wedding videos and that required allot of ram. Haven’t done much with photos so not sure what process I should do. Thanks
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#10

Post by XCalRocketMan »

Ed217 wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 12:41 pm
I see lots of references for these as requiring lots of learning curve. Having been professionally involved in software development for 50+ years, I don't really buy these arguments.
As a fellow software developer of about the same +50, I agree generally with your statement. However, PI is meant to be a collection of tools wrapped in a minimalist GUI environment, not a application per se. As such, it does have a larger than normal learning curve as you need to know when to apply a given tool, where in the workflow to apply it, etc., etc. It is supplemented with some nice scripts (the WBPP for one) to make some of the tedium semi-automatic. I've been using PI for years and it is my 'go to' AP software for processing.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#11

Post by Ed217 »

XCalRocketMan wrote:
Fri Sep 04, 2020 3:13 am
Ed217 wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 12:41 pm
I see lots of references for these as requiring lots of learning curve. Having been professionally involved in software development for 50+ years, I don't really buy these arguments.
However, PI is meant to be a collection of tools wrapped in a minimalist GUI environment, not a application per se.
It's still just an app for AP processing. Those collections of tools are just like options for any other app. GIMP and PS are the same. minimalist GUI is not a term I would see as reasonable.

I know many like PI. I may give it another try at a different time, but my initial impression was way less than good. StarTools seems some better.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#12

Post by ram »

I've also tried almost all of the software you've tried. To do AP processing, I think PI is one of the best. The approach taken, regardless of how you feel about the UI*, is very mathematical/statistical. That said, I've not looked too much Startools' approach of processing (I have it installed and used it here and there but not delved into it) and it may be worth a go as well. But these are pieces of software with distinct philosophies on how to process AP (seemingly in Startools' case since my experience is limited).

For someone who dislikes graphical UIs, I found PI to be surprisingly useable. Comparing applies to oranges, I find TheSkyXPro and APT to have more clunky UIs at least in terms of look and feel. This includes KStars/EKOS as well which I appreciate but the placement of buttons and such I find non-intuitive but I do think PI is pretty decent. I also like the simplicity and elegancy of SharpCap's UI for instance (for a GUI) to give an example of software design - I'm a big fan of minimalist GUIs that are powerful under the hood for those who want it.

As far as UI, I'm a command line C programmer and one of my undergrad majors was CS but we now do computational biology, drug design in a computer, etc. The reason I say this is because my formal training emphasised writing really good software and being graded on stuff like writing good comments, names for variables, being very precise, even being off by a single space (since our programs would be checked by a computer), etc. etc. Yet in my field there are a lot of great scientists who are self taught programmers and who might come up with stuff that's a lot kludgy that resemble some criticisms here of PI and other software. As I've trained both types (to do science), I've learnt to live with those folks who believe in the philosophy "as long as it works and gets me the results, it's good enough."

PI is better than this, but there's probably a bit of that especially with all the scripts and other elements individual users add. But I highly recommend trying out the EZ Processing Suite scripts on an integrated image. I found it really powerful and working almost just the way I want it.

--Ram

* I just yesterday started looking into seeing if I can run PI at the Unix command line which would make my processing go a lot faster since I dislike graphical UIs and we can actually do a lot more via shell scripts and such. Might have to write a few scripts in Javascript but I think it should be eminently doable to have all the key processes fully automated at the push of a button (basically like WBPP but Unix command line and customised to MY tastes and my directory structure. This is possible with PI but not with other software unless PS gives us access to libraries and there's a API available, which would be great but I do agree with your basic point that good software design would make it easy for anyone without this kind of a background to use it properly. I think things like the EZ Processing Suite are a compromise for those who can't or don't want to learn to write PixelMath expressions.

As an aside, the precursor to GIMP in Linux was ImageMagick and that is a basically a huge of individual Unix commands which I use to automagically create things like my signature image, etc. These follow the modular Unix philosophy but then there's a UI on top of it. I think today in the case of both GIMP and PI the UI is pretty sophisticated. Things like being able to run processes via ImageContainer, etc. are fairly powerful ways of doing graphically what people do at the Unix command line which I think is rare in most software.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#13

Post by Ed217 »

ram wrote:
Fri Sep 04, 2020 9:49 am

As far as UI, I'm a command line C programmer and one of my undergrad majors was CS but we now do computational biology, drug design in a computer, etc. The reason I say this is because my formal training emphasised writing really good software and being graded on stuff like writing good comments, names for variables, being very precise, even being off by a single space (since our programs would be checked by a computer), etc. etc.
I think we have a lot of common background and ideas. I’ve been religious about code comments for at least 50 years. When you go back and look at something you did 20+ years ago, those are priceless...as the MasterCard saying goes.

Clearly many here like PI and produce spectacular results using it. I also expect that a big part of that was having a spectacular photo to begin with and PI helped in making it better.

I’ve been using computers and software in photography for many decades. I have dozens of packages I still use today for many different reasons and needs. That said, I’m still very new to the astrophotography part and learning day by day. Some packages are easy to use right away and others less so.

Right now I am looking at StarTools. It has a nice simple button bar at the top that starts with “Open”. The left side button bar is much longer and has some odd names. However given the COVID world we find ourselves in today, there is more time at home to devote to other things than normal. It’s a learning experience...
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#14

Post by ram »

Hi Ed, I've been computing for about 35 years, so in your case it's like my later mentors who whenever I'd start talking about cutting my programming teeth in x86 assembly and C, they'd go "I started with punch cards"... ...there's a thread on USENET archives which includes my participation about whether or it is okay to swear in code comments (I was agains - I can't find that post now but I have my post saved).

But back to the topic: you're right, PI started making sense and becoming worth investigating after I gotten past my EAA days (SharpCap livestacking) and even initial AP (Nebulosity) and then into better technique. PI is great for the usual tasks but a lot of it can be done with Nebulosity for instance but it's when you want to make the every photon count that PI comes into its own.

I want to get back to StarTools but I found it not easy to understand. But I made the mistake of starting with an integrated image which I think is a mistake with any software. It's best to start from the original fits/raw files and then process in a new software and see how similar it is to calibrate, register, integrate, etc.

Good luck!

--Ram
Tubes: Celestron 9.25" 235mm f/10 XLT EdgeHD SCT; Meade ETX 80mm f/5 achromat; Coronado SolarMax II 60mm f/6.6 Hα <0.7Å BF10 solar; Stellarvue 70mm f/6 triplet apochromat; Obsession UC18 457mm f/4.2 with Argo Navis & ServoCAT; Takahashi FS128 5" f/8.1 and FC100DF 4" f/7.4 fluorite doublet apochromats. Mounts: AVX; LXD75; Paramount MyT. Eyepieces: 2" Tele Vue Ethos 4.7/13/21mm, Paracorr, 2,4x Powermate; Stellarvue 0.8x, Takahashi 0.7x, 0.66x reducer/corrector. Cameras: ZWO ASI120MC-S; Lodestar X2c; X2m; Canon T7i; QHY163M; QHY247C. Filters: Astrodon 5nm Ha, 3nm O3 and S2.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#15

Post by Ed217 »

ram wrote:
Fri Sep 04, 2020 2:24 pm
Hi Ed, I've been computing for about 35 years, so in your case it's like my later mentors who whenever I'd start talking about cutting my programming teeth in x86 assembly and C, they'd go "I started with punch cards"... ...there's a thread on USENET archives which includes my participation about whether or it is okay to swear in code comments (I was agains - I can't find that post now but I have my post saved).
Yes, I spent a lot of years sitting in front of a 029 card punch machine. While in grad school part of my scholarship was working in the computer center. There I both ran jobs (like 2-3 boxes of 2000 cards each) as well as providing consulting at an info desk for folks that needed help. It was a learning experience there as well.

My activities this week have been doing time-lapse images of the removal of a 150 year old 100 foot tree leaning against the house. It's amazing how they do that!

Ed
Scopes: Meade Starnavigator NG 130mm, Celestron Nexstar 8SE, Celestron C6N .
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#16

Post by XCalRocketMan »

Wow. I can relate to both of you. Been a C/C++, FORTRAN, Ada (Yes, I was one of the first in the DoD to start using Ada - taught over 800 Navy personnel on it, and wrote a number of chapters in a few books on the subject), and even ULTRA-16 and CMS2 (you can look it up - interesting languages for use on a Sperry Univac AN/UYK 20 integer-only computer!). My current job is doing data and statistical analysis using R.

Based on the discussion of Star Tools here I think maybe I need to check it out. In reading the intro on the Star Tools webpage, the approach interests me.
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Star Dad
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#17

Post by Star Dad »

Wow! Lots of programmers here. I'm currently reviving a 30 year old program I wrote for the Commodore Amiga... using the "Forever Amiga" emulator. It astonishes me when I see the compiled code for the user interface topping out at 111K - using modern software development tools I'd be surprised if it came in under 2M. Bloat is everywhere and new students are not being taught to keep things minimalistic as computers are so much faster. Back in the day every byte and CPU cycle was precious. And so we learned to program using shorts, unsigned integers, and the like. Punch cards, paper tape (wasn't that a great improvement!?!), then cassette tapes, 8" floppies, 5-1/4, 3-1/2, CDs, DVDs, 4G thumb drives, 512G SDHC cards,8T hard drives. Who indeed would ever need more than 640K RAM? :)
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#18

Post by bobharmony »

I'll confess to FORTRAN and Assembler in the past, but no more information is needed. But back to the real topic :)

I gave PI a try last year I think and found that it was a powerful tool with a lot to learn to get to where you want to be. I worked through the manual registration, calibration and stacking during my trial period, then worked on some of the data I had previously run through StarTools. I was able to get similar results with both programs, but did not dig that deeply into PI to learn the details of processing. I was gainfully employed at the time and figured I didn't have the time to dig is as deeply as PI was asking for, so left it for that time, and stuck with StarTools.

Since them, ST has come out with new releases and modules that make the program even more proficient and I was able to rework some old data with vastly improved results. I admit to not having a good understanding of what ST does under the covers, but I like what I am able to get out of it a lot. Now that I am a retired guy I may revisit PI and do the deep dive it begs for to get the best results. IMO they are both marvelous tools for AP postprocessing and worth the time needed to get the most out of them.

Bob
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#19

Post by Ed217 »

I think my stuff started with BASIC on a WANG system, followed by BASIC on a HP time shared system. In later years that expanded to FORTRAN, COBOL, SPTRAN (in house structured version of FORTRAN), ADA, PL1, PASCAL, HTML, Java, 6502 assembler, C, C++, Objective C, Swift, M204, and a few dozen other lower level hardware based protocols.

Today I use mostly Visual C++ for WIndows and Objective C for iOS devices.
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Re: AP Software Experiences

#20

Post by startoolsastro »

If you're a coder, PI is definitely worth a look, as it allows you to create your own scripts with its core JS engine, while it also allows you to do cool stuff like perform pixel math by means of entering formulas.

However, if you are signal processing/fidelity purist (or DSP engineer?) and know a little more about the underlying physics and mathematics, you will prefer the signal flow in ST more. Its engine constantly looks at the signal in terms of how it evolved from the source throughout your processing flow. The ST engine does (and enables) things that just cannot be done with an input->modify->output chain (which general programmers may be more intuitively used to).

ST, essentially, works by creating and modifying terms at will in a complex, growing formula for every pixel. PI/PS/etc. are still of the traditional building-on-disconnected-sequential-steps variety; still extremely useful to learn the ropes with and seeing how many AP-oriented algorithms work in isolation or in simpler forms.

As both a pretty seasoned coder myself (started with BASIC and Z80, 6502 assembly) it's super exciting how the regular Joe has *massive* amounts of compute power sitting on a desk these days. It's so much fun finding new ways to take advantage of this and pushing the boundaries of what can be done in the image processing space. What used to be infeasible is no longer. Exciting times! :D
Ivo Jager - creator of StarTools
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