Saturday, March 23, 2013

Test Driving Astro Photography Tool

This week, I have started testing the image capturing tool called Astro Photography Tool.  The product has been around for four years and continues to get regular feature updates and bug fixes.   A trial version can be downloaded for free and for less that $20, a full license can be purchased.

Application Design - As a software developer, I am impressed with the application design. The tool wisely focuses on supporting the tasks used to gather images (locating, framing, focusing, auto-guiding, capturing, previewing) and  is not encumbered with features used to process images (calibrating, stacking, stretching, and post-processing).  In addition to intuitive and easily accessible controls, this contributes to a very clean work-flow.  All of the needed operations are conveniently at hand in large buttons - no need to hunt through obscure menus.  The screen real-estate is well managed and the entire application can be minimized into a small panel with activity status information.  There is only one "screen" which is divided into several panels with distinct purpose. This eliminates the hassle of shuffling windows constantly.  The center frame is used to interact with a image preview, not to process the image but to adjust the imaging equipment with reference to this image.  There are two main control panels, one for camera control (how to image) and one for telescope and guider control (what to image).  The periphery of the application contains various status information such as camera activity, auto-guider status, time and temperature,  The layout feels more like an efficient "industrial control panel" for imaging rather than a document-editing application.

Feature Set -The feature set of this tool applies equally well to CCD and Canon EOS cameras as well as to both telescope and camera-lens optics. It even includes the basic functionality for planetary imaging using EOS LiveView or HD movie modes.  Of particular importance to me was the inclusion of focus control for both Canon EOS lens and ASCOM focusers.  One of my biggest hassles using camera lens is focusing.  This tool includes two essential capabilities:  (1) computer-driven focusing of the Canon lens and (2) LiveView enhancements which allow dimmer stars to be seen with a Bahtinov mask in place.

I am initially very enthusiastic about this tool and look forward to further testing and hope that it is robust as well as well thought-out.

Update 2013-03-24 - Have had good luck using EOS camera but, so far, no luck connecting my QSI-540ws as an ASCOM camera.  The author is now working on custom QSI support.

Update 2014-08-10 - I have upgraded to version 2.54. QSI and SBIG cameras are now supported through their native interfaces.  ASCOM interaction with my QSI still does not work but the native driver does handle both the camera and the filter wheel. ROI support is also provided at fixed sizes for the center of the image. This is necessary for quick repeated image downloads for focusing the camera. Would be better if the ROI frame could be moved to focus on a star in between image exposures without reframing.

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