Recommendations for your start in imaging on the Mac
Most of my experience with this software has been on a Windows 10 PC, stacking Canon RAW files from a DSLR. To run Deep Sky Stacker on a Mac computer, a workaround such as using a virtual machine is necessary. Let’s take a look at the main features of this software: Registration of picture sets; Creation and use of offsets, flats and dark frames. Apr 15, 2020 Best Focus Stacking Software for Mac? Jul 31, 2012 Looking for opinions on focus stacking software that works well on the Mac platform. Aug 01, 2018 Recommended starting software for planetary imaging: OACapture - for taking pictures or videos: free. SiriL - for stacking planetary images: free. PixInsight - for processing your planetary images to get the most detail out of them: $230 EUR. Unfortunately planetary processing software is a gap right now on the Mac.
There's a few things that need to be covered here as a starting point. I make some assumptions that you’re familiar with Astronomy, possibly already have a first telescope, and are ready to start taking some images. First you have to make a decision as to whether you want to take photos of the planets and Moon, or if you want to take photos of nebula, star clusters, or galaxies. Basically, the decision between planetary, or deep space objects. These things are not exclusive to each other, and can be done with the same telescope but the results might not be optimal for each choice. Your telescope is probably suited to one or the other. (Edit: If you’re just getting into the hobby, have a look at this article on 5 things to consider if you’re interested in astrophotography.)
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Planetary imaging on the Mac
Planetary is fairly straight forward. Large aperture scopes like 6' and above are great for this, and you don't need to have an equatorial mount. Any Alt/Az (Altitude Azimuth) mount will work. A high speed web cam or astro camera and Mac laptop are the only additional entry level hardware requirements. Since most planets are relatively small, the larger the scope, the closer/larger they will look, and the more detail you can get out of your images.
Recommended starting software for planetary imaging:
OACapture - for taking pictures or videos: free
SiriL - for stacking planetary images: free
PixInsight - for processing your planetary images to get the most detail out of them: $230 EUR
Unfortunately planetary processing software is a gap right now on the Mac. You need wavelet processing to get the most detail out of your images, and currently PixInsight is the only real option. There are two other apps that might run on older hardware and operating systems (Lynkeos and Keiths Image stacker), but they're not developed any longer, and crash often on modern hardware. They are however, free applications.
For more advanced options, you might switch out Planetary Imager for FireCapture.
Deep sky object imaging on the Mac
DSO imaging requires a little more effort. Because this type of imaging focuses on long exposure shots, where tracking your object across the sky accurately is a requirement, you'll need a German Equatorial Mount (GEM). These deep sky objects can vary greatly in size, with a large number of them being bigger than earth's moon in the night sky. Because of this, a large scope isn't a requirement to get started. In fact, it's preferable to start with a smaller scope, like an 80mm refractor. The reason for this is that the larger your scope, the more accurate your tracking needs to be, the better your mount needs to be to handle the weight and accuracy. The difficulty (and cost) goes up exponentially with larger telescopes. So start small. All of the telescopes I use are relatively small (under 6' in size), and all fit on my entry level GEM mount, the Advanced VX by Celestron.
Additional requirements are going to be a guiding camera and guide scope. This is essentially a small telescope mounted on top of your main scope, with a guide camera. This camera's job is to watch the star movement, and send corrections to your GEM mount when the mount isn't moving accurately. For entry level equipment, this is a necessity, as these mounts are far from accurate for long exposure imaging.
You'll also need a main imaging camera, and your options vary widely here. You have the option of using a DSLR (maybe you have one already in your possession), or a dedicated astrophotography camera that can do color or mono. Mono is a black and white camera, that when combined with color filters, can achieve a higher fidelity color image than a regular color camera can but with more effort and expense.
Recommended starting software for deep sky imaging:
Cloudmakers Astro Imager - for taking pictures with an astronomy camera: $21.99
Cloudmakers AstroDSLR - for taking pictures with a DSLR camera: $21.99
PHD2 - Guiding software for your guide scope and camera: Free
Astro Pixel Processor - Processing software for your images. $50/year, or $125 to purchase outright.
For more advanced options you might switch out Astro Imager for EKOS. And Astro Pixel Processor for PixInsight, or Star Tools.
It's been a good three years now since I swapped my HP laptop for a Macbook Pro. In the mean time, I've started doing a bit more astrophotography and of course the change of operating system has affected the tools I use to obtain and process photos.
Amateur astronomers have traditionally mostly used Windows, so there are a lot of Windows tools, both freeware and payware, to help. I used to run the freeware ones in Wine on Ubuntu with varying levels of success.
When I first got the Mac, I had a lot of trouble getting Wine to run reliably and eventually ended up doing my alignment and processing manually in The Gimp. However, that's time consuming and rather fiddly and limited to stacking static exposures.
However, I've recently started finding quite a bit of Mac OS based astrophotography software. I don't know if that means it's all fairly new or whether my Google skills failed me over the past years :-)
I thought I'd document what I use, in the hope that I can save others who want to use their Macs some searching.
Some are Windows software, but run OK on Mac OS X. You can turn them into normal double click applications using a utility called WineSkin Winery.
Obtaining data from video camera:
- oaCapture (MacOS X, free)
- AstroImager (Mac OS X, payware, free trial)
Format-converting video data:
- Handbrake (Mac OS X, free, open source)
Processing video data:
- AutoStakkert! (Windows + Wine, free for non-commercial use, donationware)
Obtaining data from DSLR:
- AstroDSLR (Mac OS X, payware, free trial)
Processing and stacking DSLR files and post-processing video stacks:
- RegiStax (Windows + Wine, free)
- Nebulosity (Mac OS X, payware, free trial)
- The Gimp (Max OS X, free, open source)
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- AstroGuider (Mac OS X, payware, free trial)
- PHD2 (Mac OS X, free, open source)
A few weeks ago I bought a ZWO ASI120MC-S astro camera, as that was on sale and listed by Nebulosity as supported by OSX. Until then I'd messed around with a hacked up Logitech webcam, which seemed to only be supported by the Photo Booth app.
I've not done any guiding yet (I need a way to mount the guide scope on the main scope - d'oh) but the camera works well with Nebulosity 4 and oaCapture. I'm looking forward to being able to grab Jupiter with it in a month or so and Saturn and Mars later this year.
The image to the right is a stack of 24x5 second unguided exposures of the trapezium in M42. Not too bad for a quick test on a half-moon night.
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I've been fiddling with Nebulosity abit, to try and get it to stack the RAW images from my Nikon D750 as colour. I found a conversion matrix that was supposed to be decent, but as it turns out that made all images far too blue.
The current matrix I use is listed below. If you find a better one, please let me know.