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Mastering PixInsight - and the art of Astroimage processing


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8 minutes ago, johnturley said:

I understand that you can get a free download version of Pixinsight, would this offer significant advantages over Adobe Lightroom, which I already have.

I should stress that I'm not interested in spending hours stacking, and processing images, just want spend a few minutes to improve brightness, contrast etc., of short exposure deep sky, lunar, and planetary images taken with a digital SLR. 

John 

Given you caveat then Lightroom should offer you most of what you need. However, it is not very good at taking linear astro-data and stretching it as it's really designed for normal photography and does not give fine controls over applying non-linear stretches to an image's "exposure". Personally, I would only use Lightroom once that initial stretch has been done.

If you may want more control over the various functions (contrast, tones, etc) which would probably mean using a more dedicated photography package like Photoshop (not cheap), Affinity Photo (much cheaper) or GIMP (free) which will give you finer controls and they can all do non-linear stretching using iterations of either levels or curves.

But you shouldn't consider image calibration and stacking as a time consuming process. It can be if you want to do a really good job and PixInsight as well as many other packages can do very good jobs. But you can do simple and quick calibrations and integrations in Deep Sky Stacker and then take the resulting TIFF into Lightroom for finishing touches.

You can run a trial version of PixInsight for free for a limited period but it sounds like it wouldn't be right for you at this stage in your astro-imaging journey.

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Today, my digital copy of Rogelio Bernal Andreo's book arrived. This version of his book has 407 pages (excluding the reference guide) packed with information from this famous astrophotographer.

I have asked Grant at FLO if they will stock this book to save on the crazy postage cost/import duty etc. He has emailed the publisher so fingers crossed.

I did email the author and suggest he try to get somebody to import them in bulk, I think I suggested FLO as well, I can't quite remember what was said but I think it was that individual books could b

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PI does everything for me and I love it.  Very well pleased with the purchase!  It does have a steep learning curve and I think you need to give it longer than the trial period but I could see it's potential and thought it good value for money.  I have never looked back!  I also highly recommend Warren Keller's book "Inside PixInsight" (now in Second Edition) and looking forward to the new book.

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20 hours ago, johnturley said:

I understand that you can get a free download version of Pixinsight, would this offer significant advantages over Adobe Lightroom, which I already have.

I should stress that I'm not interested in spending hours stacking, and processing images, just want spend a few minutes to improve brightness, contrast etc., of short exposure deep sky, lunar, and planetary images taken with a digital SLR. 

John 

You can get a free download that lasts for a month to trial the software, they are actually pretty good also at extending the trial if you sound genuine and so you may get 2 months out of it.

I would give it a trial but to be honest from what you say in your post it may be a bit OTT for what you require and it would require.

Steve

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I find it better to grow out of an app than to try to grow into one. Use dss for stacking and gimp/lightroom for postprocessing. (cost: 0) Then when you see you need more, you are in a better position to specify requirements, and spend your money wisely. 

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Today, my hard copy of the book arrived. Of course Mastering PixInsight will be compared to Inside PixInsight, by Warren Keller. To start with, here's the physical comparison.

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Andreo's book is a two volume edition, which comes in a box. One volume is the main book, Mastering PixInsight, while the other is RBA's PixInsight Process Reference Guide.

Other (physical) differences: Inside PixInsight is a paperback, published by Springer as part of the Patrick Moore series. Mastering PixInsight is a soft cover bound book, published by Andreo himself.

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The content:

As I wrote before, Mastering PixInsight comes as a two volume set, the main book and a reference guide. To start with the latter, the reference guide contains a description of all the processes in PixInsight in alphabetical order. These descriptions are divided into three sections: an introduction, "When to use ..." and "Parameters". Some descriptions are short (how much can you write about "Invert"?), while others go as long as 10 pages (MultiscaleLinearTransformation, StarAlignment, SubframeSelector).

While the reference guide is thorough, it is best used together with the main book. Andreo's decision to publish the reference guide as a separate volume, makes it easier for us to read the specifics of any process when we use that process in a workflow.

The main volume is what Mastering PixInsight is all about. Rogelio Bernal Andreo presents PixInsight in two passes. After a first quick glance of the program and the user interface in chapter 1, he presents a complete workflow in chapter 2. These two chapters are mainly for the novice user. They develop a basic understanding of how PixInsight works and how it differs from other image processing software. Chapter 2 presents a basic workflow which a beginner can apply to his/her images and get a pleasing result. The most common processes are introduced, from sub frame calibration all the way to final sharpening and noise reduction of the post processed image. This first pass takes up only 90 pages of the book, enough not to be too overwhelming for the first time user.

The second pass takes the remaining 300 pages of the book. The author revisits the user interface in more detail, and presents some of the lesser known features of PixInsight, such as Process icons, and Image and Process containers. He then uses two long chapters to lay out a detailed workflow with more advanced use of previously covered processes, as well as new processes. Chapter 4 covers pre-processing, which is defined as the calibration, registration and stacking of sub frames into master images, as well as the processing of these master images up to non linear transformation (stretching). Chapter 5 describes various ways to stretch images. It also describes more advanced processes such as HDR composition, narrow band image processing and LRGB processing. Here the workflow is not as clear as in the first part of the book, and it becomes clear that this part is aimed at the more advanced user of the program.

Chapter 6 comes as a bit of a surprise. So far, image processing in PixInsight has followed a sequential workflow, with one process being applied after another. In chapter 6, Andreo presents a parallell workflow, involving PhotoShop or GIMP. The idea here is to import different versions of images that were processed to optimise a specific feature (eg, noise reduction in the weak parts, hdr compression or sharpening in the stronger parts), and combine these images as layers in GIMP or PS. Andreo presents details on how to implement such a parallell workflow.

Finally, chapter 7 rounds up the book. Various ways to save and/or print images are described. Depending on how you want to present your final image, you will have to make decisions about sample format, colour profile, and image format. This chapter is all about that.

 

What I like about this book:

Andreo's decision to make this a two volume book, where the reference guide is separate from the main volume, makes it easier to read about a specific process while you read how to use it in the main book. You don't have to flip back and forth to look up details of a process. Also, when you work independently from the main book, it's nice not to have one tome to handle. (Together, the volumes are almost 650 pages.)

I also like that he presents PixInsight in two passes. The beginner is not overwhelmed by a vast amount of information, while the more advanced user can skip the basic stuff at will. This makes for easier reading for both.

In the second pass of image processing, Andreo brings us to the next level: combining process steps to achieve a desired result, rather than just applying one process to get something "good enough". This is where other books and tutorials are lacking, imo.

What I missed:

I would have liked to see more of multiscale image processing. Andreo wrote a chapter in "Lessons from the Masters" about enhancing weak signal without pushing the noise with the help of multiscale processing. Multiscale processing is a key feature of PixInsight, and I guess a whole book could be written about the subject. In Mastering PixInsight, he uses it on occasion (sharpening, noise reduction). Still, I wouldn't mind if he had explored this technique in more detail.

Another aspect of PixInsight that would cover a whole book is PixelMath. This is a very powerfull tool that allows exactly what it says: to manipulate an image on the pixel level. Andreo shows in an appendix, various expressions to mimic layer combination of GIMP and PS. PixelMath is also very good at creating or combining masks. Besides a section in the reference guide, and one in the main volume, the use of PixelMath is spread across the book. Here, an index would have helped the reader, imo.

 

Edited by wimvb
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My set of books arrived about 10-days ago and as a learner, I can say the book's very helpful - as ever, used with other online tutorials such as the excellent Light Vortex (would love to see this in book form, though very good it's tricky to use online) and Harry's Astro Shed.  In addition, it is easy to use and unlike Keller's book very well produced - printing and proper binding - unlike Keller's book which for me started falling apart the day I opened it up.

PixInsight still remains a tricky piece of software to learn but I'm sure these volumes will quickly become an essential part of the process and a very useful reference for all using PI.

Graham  

 

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Oh Brilliant.. didn't know about this.. thanks for the heads up. I'm just getting back into processing again having been fighting with life's "distraction techniques" for the last couple of years or so.. :(. I updated to the latest Pixinsight the other day and stared blankly at it trying to remember the name of the STF tool 🙄... so you can see how much I've forgotten!! Last physical book I got was Lessons from the Masters and while I do love the smell & feel of a good book I simply have no more room to pile them up.. as my Wife reminds me every time she knocks into one of the piles as she navigates her way into my study.. so digital version ordered & multiple large screens it has to be. :) 

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On 03/06/2020 at 19:21, Astrobug said:

How many pages and chapters you get in the book?

Do you get extra tricks you don't find in "inside pixinsight"?

As I wrote earlier today: 650 pages divided over 2 volumes. And you definitely get more than you’ll find in Inside PixInsight.

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3 hours ago, groberts said:

PixInsight still remains a tricky piece of software to learn

I tried GIMP a while back, but I gave up. The learning curve is waaay too steep for me.

All kidding aside, PS and GIMP use a different philosophy than PI. But once you get used to the object oriented approach and the use of detail layers (as opposed to layered images), it’s not more difficult than any other software.

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I take it from earlier comments that this book can’t be ordered through mainstream channels. Pity. I like as much as possible to order through my local bookshop who get books as quickly if not quicker than Amazon.  

I found with Warren Keller’s book Inside Pixinsight that it’s very clear through the initial calibration chapters but becomes increasingly less easy to follow the processing chapters - particularly in the later ones.   So I’d hope that Mastering Pixinsight might help my weak comprehension of the later processing stages. 

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Good write up @wimvb I recently moved from having the PDF only to ordering the printed versions too (prompted by @groberts, thanks).  I was finding it a little frustrating working with PDF versions while in the middle of a PI workflow myself.

Some interesting comments around InsidePixinsight, especially above from @Ouroboros.  I enjoyed this book and used it for reference for a good while, but I found as it got deeper through it, Keller seemed to run out steam as he realised the task ahead of trying to continue to show "inside Pixinsight" and what that actually entailed if he explained most of the processes in detail with examples... so it gets a bit... high level. 

Mastering PIxInsight, so far, provides that additional information (in both it's PDFs/volumes) I was looking for.

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...the one area I struggle in with PI is LRGB combination.  It is so much easier to do it with the layering and opacity method in Photoshop since it gives immediate visual feedback.  Infact once I have my RGB, L and NB masters, I am finding PS more intuitive than PI.

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4 minutes ago, kirkster501 said:

...the one area I struggle in with PI is LRGB combination.  It is so much easier to do it with the layering and opacity method in Photoshop since it gives immediate visual feedback.  Infact once I have my RGB, L and NB masters, I am finding PS more intuitive than PI.

...exactly why I like Photoshop.

Olly

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4 minutes ago, ollypenrice said:

...exactly why I like Photoshop.

Olly

I know....  The more you find out about Photoshop, not just for astro but all other types of digital image manipulation, you see it is an immense/vast piece of software.

I know that can do similar with PixelMath, it's just, well, a bit of a faff when in PS you can split into separate channels, fiddle and blend each one visually to your taste and then put them all back into an RGB image again.  In Pixelmath you have to create multiple expressions to do this.

Takes nothing away from how brilliant PI is though.

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22 minutes ago, kirkster501 said:

I know....  The more you find out about Photoshop, not just for astro but all other types of digital image manipulation, you see it is an immense/vast piece of software.

I know that can do similar with PixelMath, it's just, well, a bit of a faff when in PS you can split into separate channels, fiddle and blend each one visually to your taste and then put them all back into an RGB image again.  In Pixelmath you have to create multiple expressions to do this.

Takes nothing away from how brilliant PI is though.

I agree with this. The key difference between the two is that Photoshop is a work of genius in communication. Nobody could accuse PI of that!  Ps, from its inception, set out to provide a visual interface between new-generation mathematical digital types and old-school printers, graphic artists and photographers used to working in analogue environments. Beneath the surface both are purely mathematical but Ps has an interface which creates what are, in effect, metaphors which will communicate with visual people.

We are making pictures, so a pictorial interface makes a lot of sense to me!

Olly

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I'd been swithering about buying this book after reading the thread but couldn't decide.  I downloaded a few videos about processing to get me started and the first one showed someone using several of the PI tools, saying what he was doing and seemed to be getting results.  The second video had the guy using the same tool but he took 30-45 seconds to explain what the tool was changing and what the settings meant.  That's when I decided I needed the book!

Having started working through the book I'm amazed at how much detail there is and how well everything is explained.  In the reference guide each process has a short description, When to use... and details of the parameters and what they do.
It might take a while but I think that knowing exactly what changes to expect from each process will be key to getting the best out of each image.

All the best

Michael

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 27/10/2020 at 00:57, nfotis said:

I am intrigued by both PI books, but the cost of postage for the physical books is quite high.

Maybe @FLO could try importing both titles?

N.F.

I've been informed by Andreo a while back, that he's looking into finding a suitable retailer, but this may not happen. Mastering PixInsight is published privately, not by a publishing company. This may complicate matters? There's always the pdf version if the physical version is too expensive.

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On 26/10/2020 at 23:57, nfotis said:

I am intrigued by both PI books, but the cost of postage for the physical books is quite high.

Maybe @FLO could try importing both titles?

N.F.

Agreed.  However, think of it this way.....  You've spent money, and many of us have spent big, on telescopes, mounts, cameras, filters and all manner of other ancillary gear and paraphernalia.  If you want the books you just have to swallow hard and pay for the delivery.  It is only £20 or so, not much in the great scheme of things.  Studying these books have corrected several important mistakes I was making in my preprocessing.

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I did email the author and suggest he try to get somebody to import them in bulk, I think I suggested FLO as well, I can't quite remember what was said but I think it was that individual books could be imported without duty but a shop importing several would have to pay duty and the final cost would not be that much less. If I can find the email he sent I will add it to the thread.

@kirkster501 is absolutely right and I always find many of us think very similar when it comes to things like books and especially software. We are quite happy (or fairly okay with it anyway) to spend £1,000'S on gear such as scopes, filters, mounts etc but hate spending over say £40 for a book or say £100 for software. And I include myself in that to an extent. But both these are essential I think for AP and to be fair the work that goes into producing these is also no mean task and deserving of a fair return. 

As I say I to have the same sort of feelings, I am not made of money, but have bought this book and also paid out for the PixInsight software so no small outlay but now I have them I really feel the cost was justified and very happy to own them

Steve

Edited by teoria_del_big_bang
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