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As I remember it was painful for me at the beginning to find complex list of the software that needs to be installed on your PC to control your rig remotely so I have decided to tie all things together and share.
I will try to explain it simplest I can. As whole idea is quite complex I am not going to be too detailed. You can treat it as quick catch up for novices and beginners only. I have tested it all on Windows 10.
I am a beginner as well but true is that I have struggled a lot to find those information all together (what actually you need to install) so it could make some confusion for novices I think. That’s why I want to tight things a bit together and reveal the tip of the iceberg. But at least COMPLETE tip. It should be suitable for most of equatorial mounts with guider.
First why I am not using SynScan hand controller? Answer is simple. Controlling rig through PC is way more accurate and more convenient. So in general I have USB hub attached to one of tripod legs.
To this hub I have connected:
HEQ5 Pro mount through EQDIR USB cable (it is plugged on mount into hand controller port) ZWO ASI 120MM-S guide camera which is attached to my guide scope Canon 6D camera 2 x dew heater straps (for scope and guide scope). Those are attached to charging only ports on my USB HUB. Mentioned USB HUB is plugged to the laptop which is outside, close to my rig during sessions. Then I use RDP to connect to laptop from inside of my house as both, laptop and my desktop are connected to the same router.
Concept is simple as you can see but it needs whole bunch of software to be installed and configured to work properly. Again I will go through it quickly to do not mess too much and I will try to provide links for some tutorials which I have used at the beginning to understand whole concept.
ASCOM; You can understand it as a platform which will create environment for EQMOD driver (I will explain what EQMOD is in next paragraph). This, alongside with EQMOD, is core part which will communicate with your rig through USB and also will create a kind of link between all astrophotography software that you need. Please watch Dylan’s short vid who has explained it in convenient way: https://youtu.be/Se88i3Cs6M0. You can find and download ASCOM platform in here: https://ascom-standards.org/. EQMOD (EQASCOM) is a driver that provides the astronomical 'brains' of the mount control system as per: http://eq-mod.sourceforge.net/eqaindex.html. As you can see there a list of functionality is huge. You can download it from here: https://sourceforge.net/projects/eq-mod/files/EQASCOM/. FTDI Virtual COM Port Driver is another small piece of software that you need to install. In general it is driver for your EQDIR cable. To be honest I haven’t heard about it in ANY tutorial. Like everybody has forgot about it but without it nothing will work. So in general EQDIR USB cable needs to be emulated as standard COM/Serial device. You can find it in here: https://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm. It will install itself as COM1, 2 or 3 device. You will need to pick same port in EQMOD with same speed. Above three apps are core and needs to be installed. If you have doubts (I am sure you do, like I had a bit more than a month ago) please just lurk YouTube and watch more related tutorials.
You will need also to install drivers for your main and guide cameras. You can find it on your manufacturers website.
Now I will describe software of my choice (of course you can pick another, as there is a few alternatives for each of it). Those software will let you auto guide your object in more accurate way, perform polar alignment without looking through polar scope, will help you to plan your session on particular objects and check FOV, will control your main camera wit GoTo functionality and many others:
PHD2. Ok in here there are no alternatives. If you have decided to control remotely you rig you need an autoguiding software and PHD2 is probably only or at least best and simplest option. In general it will connect with your mount, guider, will “stick” on one or more stars close to your object, will look on it carefully through your guide scope/guide camera and will send information to your mount how and where it should move to stay on track. You can visit again Dylan for more info: https://youtu.be/Mt0luBLaHDw. You can download PHD2 from here: https://openphdguiding.org/. This is first example of software that will communicate and control your rig through 3 core software described above. SharpCap; This is actually software of my pick. Its main purpose is planetary astrophotography but it has one very useful for me functionality. A great and cheap tool for polar alignment. You don’t even need to look through your polar scope or spent fortune on dedicated polar cameras. It will use your guide scope camera! I have used this tutorial to learn it: https://youtu.be/ivlgbgNIeTU. It is really simple and straight forward. No more kneeling in the wet grass for just 10 quids: https://www.sharpcap.co.uk/. If you struggling with standard PA process you should definitely consider to check it out. I am super happy with it. Cheers @SharpCap. Stellarium. This is planetarium software of my pick. I use it to plan my session in time, plan FOV (at what angle should the main camera be attached to the focuser to cover object in best possible way) and before I used it as GoTo tool (now I use Plate Solving GoTo). You can find more info and download it in here: http://stellarium.org/ A lot of people use app called “Cartes du Ciel” but I have never tried it.. Astro Photography Tool – APT. Next software of my pick. I use it to control my main camera, plate solving and few other minor, but still very important things. Cost is less than 20 quids per year for further updates. I think I have decided for APT because I like interface, functionality and something silly- most of experienced astrophotographers which I have watched on YT have used it. And I absolutely do not regret it. You can check demo version or buy it in here: https://www.astrophotography.app/downloads.php. You can watch Trevor’s walkthrough as well: https://youtu.be/icd9Tlrb9Jg. Lots of astrophotohraphers uses NINA which is offering similar functionality and it’s free. I haven’t tried it for longer yet as I have already get used to APT but if you want and you will like it - it could save you 20 quids. Plate Solving – is one of very cool APT and NINA functionality (based on external free software). In general it works like this: You can for example take a blind shoot of night sky and ask plate solve software to tell you where exactly you are shooting with your scope and how FOV look like for you. So if your software knows it already it can take you to any other object on the sky just like that (like GoTo). I have learned how to install and use it from this video: https://youtu.be/dpYXoYEKFpA. It is 2 apps plus databases. You can also consider to buy (or at least check out) ZWO ASIAir. In general it is micro PC which has all software similar to above installed and tied together on one simple panel which you can control through WiFi on your tablet. A lot of astrophotographers use it. I didn’t have any occasion to try it yet but it looks so complex and simple in the same time. Definitely it looks very convenient and handy as well.
At the end just few words about post processing software of my choice:
AstroPixelProcessor; why I have decided to pay 60 quids to rent (or 200 to own) software to stack images if there is free Deep Sky Stacker? Because I live in Bortle class 7/8 area so my data is not the best quality. I have found that APP is handling it much better and it has important for me, and well working functionality to remove light pollution and perform initial photo stretch. You can find more info in here: https://www.astropixelprocessor.com/. I have learned it from Tim’s tutorial: https://youtu.be/9EAKNqZ201Q. It is very simple in use as you won’t need to change most of the default settings. Someday maybe I will switch to PixInsight which offers even more cool postprocessing functionalities but like for now I am happy with APP + PS 2021. PhotoShop. I am absolutely not PS magician but I just get used to it already. You can try free GIMP if you would like to. If you have read this to the end you see that actually to control your rig remotely and PP your photos you need to install… around 15 different applications and drivers. As I have mentioned at the beginning this makes a lot of confusion for beginners because you can find detailed instructions for particular programs or drivers but you will never find complex list from A to Z (at least I haven’t found) of software that you will need. I will highlight it once again that most of the described apps are my personal choice and you can find other options (I have tried to provide a few alternatives). Another problem is that most of this software needs to be configured properly so unfortunately you will need to dig more on your own but I think this is pretty good portion of information if you have just started.
Good luck and clear skies,
I have recently bought a Orion Starshoot Autoguider. I downloaded phd 2, eqmod and ascom stuff. After a small research I found out my mount (exos 2 gt) doesn't support computer acces without firmware upgrade and fancy cables but I have the st4 port so it shouldn't be a problem. In phd I choose camera as Starshoot Autoguider and mount On-Camera. Aux mount and AO are both none. My wiring is one cable to pc from camera and another to st4 port from camera. When I started looping I selected the star with no problem. I choosed the one star alignment option from my hand controller and after centering the Archturus in the middle of view I pressed ok and it was successfull. I started guiding and after a while I get the error: RA calibration failed star didn't move enough.
Well, its been a long time coming but finally managed to get something captured and processed of this season. I have captured a handful of nights in the past month but am struggling to get much out of them but I do need to spend more time on the raw data so there might be some more in there. Despite the altitude, I'm fairly happy with this result considering the size of the scope compared to other observers in the forum. I think the colour is a little off so will look to correct at some point but wanted to get something up in the gallery for now.
Clear skies and good luck imaging to you all, especially the UK based observers.
By Tyson M
Good day fellow SGL members!
I went out for a brief imaging session to capture this tiny moon phase. A personal lowest illumination capture to date- a mere 15%!
Best 20% of 6836 frames
FC, AS!3, Fitswork, Gimp
Anyways, cheers from Canada. Thanks for looking and clear skies!
By Tyson M
Good day fellow SGL members,
I was out last night imaging the moon. This imaging run turned out fairly good, which in turn, sort of makes up for the fact I ruined a brand new refractor by accidentally dropping it on concrete and shattering the objective of my contrasty Vixen 81S. Very disappointed as it was my favorite visual scope, but it was late and all I can do is learn from my mistake.
3 min vid with FC, AS!3, RS6, Gimp