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MartinB

Best autofocus software?

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I started autofocusing several years ago using FocusMax (the older, free version).  It has never been good with my Moonlight Crayford on my SCT which I have put down to possible slippage of the focuser.  My MN190 doesn't have a motorised focuser and I'm just not going to bother.  My Tak FSQ 106 has a robofocus powering the rack and pinion focuser which works ok if I properly compensate for backlash however, I have found FocusMax to be not particularly easy to use and can be very inconsistent, sometimes failing to achieve a focus.   I'm probably now out of date and wonder what others are using and would be interested to hear recommendations.

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Hi Martin, I don't recall whether or not you use MaxIm DL but if you do, the autofocus routine built into it works very well for me.

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As per Steve, I use the Maxim one, simpler than FM4 and works just as well.

Windows 10 had a problem with FM3 when I tried it, probably some security issue.

Dave

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SGP has a good autofocus routine built in (though it does struggle with Globular Clusters, but that's a whole different thread...!). Don't know what your current software suite consists of, but if looking for a complete imaging suite, SGP is a very efficient and cost effective solution.

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Great, I do use Maxim and have used it in the past to make adjustments between individual filters but never for initial calibration with V curves or focusing because I was led to believe (probably by the makers of FocusMax!) that FM was superior.  I will definitely give Maxim a go when I next give my FSQ an outing

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1 minute ago, PhotoGav said:

SGP has a good autofocus routine built in (though it does struggle with Globular Clusters, but that's a whole different thread...!). Don't know what your current software suite consists of, but if looking for a complete imaging suite, SGP is a very efficient and cost effective solution.

I have Maxim in the observatory and SGP for in the garden!   I'll have a look at the SGP routine as well.

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+1 for SGP

I have used Focusmax and Maxim DL5 in the past and I find SGP just as accurate, faster and easier to set up.

 

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- 1 for SGP. I, and many others have had issues with SGP's focus routine. There have been many requests for the developers to improve it, but these are routinely ignored. Just last week I lost several hours worth of images - during a routine refocusing during a sequence whilst I was napping, it screwed up the focus and then continued imaging, "refocusing" several times over a number of hours. Each time the "focus" was massively out. SGP is also inclined to crash (I am not the only one to experience this) randomly. I am currently looking at replacing it with CCDCiel (free):

https://www.ap-i.net/ccdciel/en/start 

by the author of Cartes di Ciel

and Voyager: (69 Euros)

https://software.starkeeper.it/index.php/voyager/

For a test of voyager inbuilt autofocus routines see this thread:

https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/641435-starkeeper-voyager-software/

Both of these have the most responsive customer support I've ever seen - I have had several queries on both.

FWIW

Gary

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Hi Martin

Well, I started with MaximDL autofocus routine and moved to FocusMax when I decided to automate my obsey with ACP. 

I find it very reliable and consistent, however, I always use it in the mode of finding a suitable focus star with the L filter near the zenith. The reason I do this to minimize atmospheric effects which impact the variability of the focus precision.  I also have it set in focus convergence mode where it attempts to overcome seeing effects.  For my other filters, I use filter offsets - again I found this very reliable.   Choosing a suitable focus start is very important since you need to be on the linear part of your cameras dynamic range, I always let ACP select this. 

Alan

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Thank you for all the helpful replies.  I will have a look at using Maxim first I think.  I have been fortunate in that the 1.25 Baader filters in my QSI are very close to par focal but unfortunately the unmounted ones in my new ZWO set up certainly aren't so I need to address the issue.

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+1 for SGP from me, after the initial set up of the parameters it's never let me down. I run it on both my Baby Tak at f/3.9 and my OO newt at f/4.8.

Bang on focus every time, refocusing every 1°C temp drop and on every filter change. I never bothered with setting up filter offsets, maybe I should, but with the 460EX I can focus narrowband filters at 8 second subs. 

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I had trouble with getting SGP to work reliably. The trick was to use a digital vernier and actually measure how far 1000 steps moves the focuser in and out which will give you a very good average of your step size and also show you your backlash if using a rack and pinion focuser. Then you can set your amount of steps very accurately. I am running a Sharp Sky Pro set up on a 3.5 inch Feather Touch with step size of .00729mm (1000steps = 7.29mm). I set and tested at 25 steps, 9 data points with a star size of 10. I have since refined that to 30 steps with the same data points, etc.

Also be aware that all autofocus routines will suffer in poor seeing and with fields lower in the sky. SGP has smart focus to try to help, I believe that Focus max has something compensatory as well.

My other thought is, and I know that many people are using them with great success and this is my opinion only based on my experience, is a crayford focuser is not really a reliable device for accuarte focusng. A good rack and pinion unit with backlash compensation is a better mechanical choice straight up as it provides positive drive with no slippage.

 

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Did you find out which way you wanted to go?

Below you can see how N.I.N.A. has been doing autofocus based on the whole starfield (bottom right side of image), notice the v-curves.

image.thumb.png.9cb12db30a3653aa3c3d2842f7b8b499.png

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On 18/12/2018 at 15:01, gazza said:

Voyager: (69 Euros)

https://software.starkeeper.it/index.php/voyager/

For a test of voyager inbuilt autofocus routines see this thread:

https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/641435-starkeeper-voyager-software/

Both of these have the most responsive customer support I've ever seen - I have had several queries on both.

FWIW

Gary

Hi Gary and the group --

I never heard of Voyager until December when there was a big "SGP Alternatives" thread on CN and someone mentioned it there.  I downloaded it and was very impressed - where has this software been hiding?

I think one of the barriers to Voyager's adoption has been lack of English documentation.  I've always wanted to build a Wiki so I started down that path and now have a complete English documentation of Voyager here:

https://voyager.tourstar.net

I have no financial interest in Voyager - just an interest in good astro-imaging software :-) !  I run ACP Expert on one setup, and recently added a second rig and wasn't up for buying another set of ACP, Maxim DL and FocusMax licenses.  I tried a lot of different programs (a LOT!) and Voyager was the first one to complete all night unattended imaging sessions without hangs or crashes, good focus, etc., keeping up with ACP.    Leo's (Voyager author) day job is a professional software developer writing real-time code for banking automation and I think his approach to software reliability comes through in Voyager. 

I would recommend giving Voyager a try if you like seeing "new" software (it's actually 7 years old) or are looking for some alternatives to what you're using now.

Cheers,
Rowland

 

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Hi Martin,

In twelve years of imaging I have used Hartman masks and eyeballs, good old Bahtinov Grabber (which has an autofocus capability but I still use manually), APTs two methods, BG (not auto!) and FWHM/HFM, never tried temperature compensation or filter change capabilities.

I have seen SGP autofocus used by friends and it seems OK but took a while to go through its routine, SGP has never tempted me.

Recently I have discovered N.I.N.A. which works really well and is very easy to use. I set up sequences to refocus every 5 or ten subs depending how long they are. It can refocus on filter change and temperature change as well. It does a really good job. Of course you can autofocus from the image capture window as well. The only thing that lets NINA down for me is it takes a long time to display an image, APT is much faster, but it's new software so it might improve. I have used NINA for all night mosaic runs (very easy to set up) and not had problems.

Hope that helps,

Duncan

 

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The biggest problem as some have identified is setting your step size and focus points and this applies to all autofocus programs, our very own @RayD created two videos, links below that if you follow carefully will allow you to make a no nonsense focus time after time.

Personally I think it is really easy to follow, but watch it through first before making the changes.

I autofocus every 1 degree change and every filter change and get near perfect V curves and focusing: -

 

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2 hours ago, RowlandA said:

I would recommend giving Voyager a try if you like seeing "new" software (it's actually 7 years old) or are looking for some alternatives to what you're using now.

Hi Rowland and welcome to SGL a rather calmer more laid back environment compared to CN :grin:

Thanks for the info, can't have too many choices in astro' imaging.

Dave

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Hi Dave,

Thanks for the welcome!  Calm is a good thing... I've run the website for the Allman Brothers Band since 1997 and people who are super nice in person can get... well... a bit of a "different" personality when engaged in a heated forum debate 🙂 !

We are fortunate to have as many choices as we do.  It's been an interesting process turning over rocks and finding a lot of imaging software to download and try out.  I know all these packages work for many people, so it comes down to personal needs, taste, and what you're comfortable using.   I probably should have put this info in a separate thread other than one about AutoFocus but noticed that someone had mentioned Voyager here so thought it might help to let folks know there is now English language doc available.

And since the thread topic is AutoFocus, Voyager has a couple of things I like in that department:

  • The easiest setup I've seen for AutoFocus yet.  I literally ran the First Light Wizard without telling it anything about my setup (step size, number of steps, etc) and it found good settings for the VCurve.   Everything else I've used needs you to give it a helping hand to get started.  Maybe I was just lucky but it worked.
  • Both "LocalField" (multiple star) and VCurve (single star) algorithms are provided.  LocalField is good when you want good average focus across the image, e.g. shooting large nebulae.  Single star is best for smaller objects where focus at the center of your field matters most
  • Speed - the AutoFocus routines run rather quickly and give good results, so focusing more often doesn't chew up a lot of imaging time 

If you want to use FocusMax or TheSkyX @Focus routines, they can be used by Voyager as an alternative.

Cheers,
Rowland

 

 

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7 minutes ago, RowlandA said:

If you want to use FocusMax or TheSkyX @Focus routines, they can be used by Voyager as an alternative.

My present problem is setting up a triple imaging rig, something forced upon me by the rubbish UK weather.

Tried Maxim but that can't even run 2 identical focusers with different ASCOM drivers let alone 3 so I've either got to buy 3 different make focusers or maybe use different software for each one, still don't know if that will work with ASCOM though.

ATM I focus each one manually but be nice to have it automated.

Dave

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Do they have different ascom drivers though?

One of the contributors for NINA just built a dual rig, so he is working on dither synchronization in phd2.. 🙂

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You might try contacting Leo, he has written custom extensions for these guys:  https://www.masterdarks.com/sc-observatory/   

They run a multi-scope wide field array with Voyager.  Looks from the picture to have four tubes and I would assume four focusers but I don't know the details.  Andy is one of the SC Observatory guys and his handle on the Voyager forum is macnmotion or you could use the contact form from the masterdarks.com site.   Andy offered to add documentation for the array management extensions to the Wiki, but they're not up yet.

Another option I'm aware of to run three scopes at once is Prism.  The advanced version claims to do this, but I don't know if the ASCOM driver limitation would keep that from working.  Sounds like a potential problem with any automation software unless it talks directly to the focuser and bypasses ASCOM.   

Good luck with it!!

Rowland

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3 hours ago, Davey-T said:

Tried Maxim but that can't even run 2 identical focusers with different ASCOM drivers

I've have Maxim controlling two Lakeside focusers independently. Fortunately Lakeside provide two versions of the driver to allow this. 

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15 minutes ago, fireballxl5 said:

I've have Maxim controlling two Lakeside focusers independently. Fortunately Lakeside provide two versions of the driver to allow this. 

Using the 2 Lakeside drivers but as soon as one starts the next one defaults to the same driver, entered different drivers in the settings but Maxim ignores this and tries to use the first driver for both.

Interested in how you made it work.

Dave

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