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ASIAir Plus- Is it for you?


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I was lucky enough to get an early ASIAir Plus as part of ZWO’s experience officer program. For transparency, I did get a discount on the unit for taking part (wiped out by import taxes though 😩). Having a look around I notice there are quite a number of ‘experience officers’. I think it’s an interesting strategy ZWO are employing. I guess the hope is by offering this incentive to the common astrophotographer they can spread the word further than they might do with the usual YouTube suspects. 

 

I decided to post this in the Getting Started with Imaging forum as I think this product is primarily aimed at the beginner to intermediate astrophotographer. I also believe that’s who will get the most benefit from it. I plan to add my experience with the ASIAir Plus here. Comparing it where I can to the ASIAir Pro and other relevant hardware and software I have used in the past. I hope it helps anyone considering the product and even better if other users chime in with their experience as well. 

 

I’ll update this again in the next day or two but in the meantime here’s the gear I’ll be using it with. 

 

Chris

 

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From the many ASIAir GuideLogs I've seen posted on SGL and Cloudy Nights, it can work very well.

But when it doesn't, fault-finding is difficult because of the PHD2 settings that ZWO have stripped out.

Michael

Your second image - I would remove the Anglepoise from your setup....... 😆

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Posted (edited)

I suppose I should have covered this already. For anyone that’s not familiar with the product, the ASIAir Plus is a wireless astrophotography acquisition solution based on the Rasberry Pi platform. It aims to simplify data acquisition by integrating the process that might otherwise require various pieces of independent hardware and software, e.g. laptop, power router/ cable management, polar alignment solution, acquisition software, guiding software etc. 

 

Before I get into the specifics of the ASIAir Plus I wanted to touch upon my background in astrophotography. I’d imagine it’s a similar one to many here so I hope you can relate to it if you face the same frustrations I did. I started out with a 90mm Mak observing the moon and planets and quite quickly got sucked into the world of astrophotography by seeing the unbelievable images people on here were producing.

This sent me headlong down the equipment money pit. Mounts, scopes, lenses, cameras, laptops and mini pc’s. Software packages I’ve used include SGP, Nina, APT, PHD2, Polemaster, iPolar, Stellarium and Carte Du Ciel amongst others. None of this got me consistent results. If it wasn’t one piece of software not communicating with another, then it was a camera not connecting or me not being able to locate Polaris before I had to pack up again for the night. All the gear no idea! I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming any of the equipment or software for my woes, it was almost always completely on me. There are plenty of people that have all of the above working flawlessly. Actually, as stand alone packages I would prefer some to ASIAir, however getting them all work to work together at the same time was as frequent as clear skies on the west coast of Norway for me 😆 

 

All of this led me to the ASIAir and without sounding too much of a ZWO fanboy it was a game changer for me. Things just worked! Cameras connected, Polaris was found, mounts tracked, photons actually began to hit my sensor. I’m sure I would have got there in the end had I persevered with the other equipment but I don’t believe I would have got there as quickly or as easily. It’s worth mentioning up front for anyone that didn’t already know, but the ASIAir Plus and it’s previous generations are only compatible with ZWO products and select Nikon and Canon cameras. It’s certainly something to weigh up when considering this product. I have read ZWO compared to Apple with negative connotations in that you are locked into their eco system. To an extent I can understand that view. This a niche hobby that in large part has been built on the commitment and dedication of much more intelligent and generous people than me to offer free open source packages that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Now ZWO have come along and in the eyes of some are trying to corner the market even using some of those packages in the background.  However, I also see a different perspective. Our hobby is complex enough and ZWO are putting together a package to try and make things work with minimal hassle. At the moment the ASIAir Plus does that for me and at a very reasonable cost IMHO. It looks like it’s also generating competition in the form of Stellarmate Pro and this can only be good for the community as a whole.

 

Of course all of this is based on my personal experience and like anything else in this hobby YMMV. There’s no denying the ASIAir has drawbacks beyond being tied to ZWO products and I’ll try to cover these later, but overall it’s the package that works for me. I guess I’ve rambled enough now though. Next post will be specific to the product I promise!

Edited by Icesheet
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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, michael8554 said:

From the many ASIAir GuideLogs I've seen posted on SGL and Cloudy Nights, it can work very well.

But when it doesn't, fault-finding is difficult because of the PHD2 settings that ZWO have stripped out.

Michael

Your second image - I would remove the Anglepoise from your setup....... 😆

Yes, it’s something I will touch on later. I’ve not had any issues guiding using the ASIAir but I’ve read posts about it too and there’s not much the PHD2 forums can do to offer support. The option of more advanced settings would be definitely be on my wish list. I do wonder how the licensing works with ZWO using it. Not sure if anyone knows?

 

On the flip side I had issues guiding pre ASIAir and despite the massive amount of help I got from members of their Google group I could never solve them. Then it just worked on the ASIAir. Maybe sometimes for dummies like me less is more. 
 

The little arm has been great for me 😆 Have to be careful with placement but it solved a problem for me when I was using a small guide scope with the set up. If the OAG works I’ll probably put the Plus on the mounting ring where the guidescope was. 

Edited by Icesheet
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18 hours ago, Icesheet said:

 Having a look around I notice there are quite a number of ‘experience officers’. I think it’s an interesting strategy ZWO are employing. I guess the hope is by offering this incentive to the common astrophotographer they can spread the word further than they might do with the usual YouTube suspects. 

Its basically cheap advertising for them, why spend big £££ on an advertising budget when they can sell some units with slightly less profit and let those people spread the word. Its a win win for ZWO.

Anyway, I have the ASIairPro and love it but won't be changing to the Plus, will still read you're review with interest though. 🙂

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55 minutes ago, Mike73 said:

Its basically cheap advertising for them, why spend big £££ on an advertising budget when they can sell some units with slightly less profit and let those people spread the word. Its a win win for ZWO.

Agreed!

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I don't receive anything from Zwo (although am open to it! haha) but can agree with what's been said here. I struggled to get everything working together and setting it all up. The original AsiAir solved all that, let me get rid of the laptop too. Working on a tablet over wifi is a joy, yes WiFi can be limited but I find it easier than running a cable over that distance. 

Anyone starting out who is struggling I would suggest buying the Air (original or otherwise) and things will fall into place.

I've bought Polemaster, Starsense, APT & SharpCap and yes they're good at what they do but for simplicity do it all with the Air, for £100 nowadays an original version and a guide cam (£130 ish) and you've got plate solving, polar alignment, goto & guiding. 

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I've been happy with everything I've owned from ZWO. However, I have lots of kit that isn't ZWO and I'm comfortable with Linux, so I'll probably continue to use Astroberry for the forseeable. I am acutely aware it's not for everyone and may have a steep learning curve if that's not your thing, but I find it works very well, and allows full flexibility on hardware.

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Posted (edited)
On 07/10/2021 at 21:59, rnobleeddy said:

I've been happy with everything I've owned from ZWO. However, I have lots of kit that isn't ZWO and I'm comfortable with Linux, so I'll probably continue to use Astroberry for the forseeable. I am acutely aware it's not for everyone and may have a steep learning curve if that's not your thing, but I find it works very well, and allows full flexibility on hardware.

Can’t argue with that. If I had the patience and know how I would probably have done the same. As it was I did have other kit but made the decision to sell up and switch to ZWO. I don’t regret that but in an ideal world they would open up to 3rd party manufacturers. From a business perspective I understand why they’re reluctant to do that though. 

Edited by Icesheet
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Is the ASIAIR plus for me?? Well no. I have the ASIAIR pro and see no reason really to upgrade to the plus. If you are new to the asiair then yes get the plus.

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39 minutes ago, Chefgage said:

Is the ASIAIR plus for me?? Well no. I have the ASIAIR pro and see no reason really to upgrade to the plus. If you are new to the asiair then yes get the plus.

Yeah, I agree unless you are really struggling with WiFi or something that you need the eMMC for. It’s definitely more evolution than revolution. From ASIAir v1 to Plus would make sense to me.  

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8 minutes ago, Icesheet said:

Yeah, I agree unless you are really struggling with WiFi or something that you need the eMMC for. It’s definitely more evolution than revolution. From ASIAir v1 to Plus would make sense to me.  

I do definitely recommend the asiair pro (or the plus, I have not used the plus). The big bonus for me using the asiair is the plate solving. No more using the bulky hand controller (not that I ever did, it's never been used on my Heq5). Just a quick polar align and then tell the asiair to go to the target. What is more simple than that :)

Edited by Chefgage
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4 minutes ago, Chefgage said:

I do definitely recommend the asiair pro (or the plus, I have not used the plus). The big bonus for me using the asiair is the plate solving. No more using the bulky hand controller (not that I ever did, it's never been used on my Heq5). Just a quick polar align and then tell the asiair to go to the target. What is more simple than that :)

I did use the hand controller in the beginning! Was nothing worse than polar aligning then a star alignment only to find the target still didn't centre when you slewed to it 😆

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59 minutes ago, Icesheet said:

I did use the hand controller in the beginning! Was nothing worse than polar aligning then a star alignment only to find the target still didn't centre when you slewed to it 😆

I agree! I mean we are spoiled now aren't we. I really do like the way it takes a test image to see if it's centred and then if not moves a bit to re-align itself. 

I have not used my star adventurer pro for a while. To go back to manual framing is going to be a bit weird.

Edited by Chefgage
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So to the product itself. Let me preface this by saying I’m no technical expert. You’ve probably guessed that already! Where I can I’ll link to info from people who seem to know more than me. Also, some images used here have been taken directly from ZWO’s website for reference.

 

First Impressions
My first impressions of the ASIAir Plus are similar to that of the Pro version. It’s a well built and thought out product. The outer shell is composed of CNC machined aluminium which has been anodised and sports the classic ZWO red. It’s light, compact and has a multitude of mounting options and has ample data ports.  It looks and feels a quality product. 


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Plus vs. Pro
Aside from negligible differences in size the main changes are that the Plus model uses eMMC and a dedicated WiFi antenna to increase useable range. For those who don’t know (and I didn’t), eMMC is an onboard storage chip that allows faster I/O giving much faster read/write times for downloading and transferring data. Given image files we are downloading are getting bigger and bigger this seems a wise move. For my part I didn’t notice any significant increase in download times but that is just subjective and I used a new camera which has larger files than usual. I found a nice review online that’s suggests that the onboard eMMC does indeed significantly improve read/ write times compared to a standard microSD (https://joeytroy.com/asiair-pro-vs-asiair-plus/ ). The eMMC now also stores the OS so no need worry about backing up your OS. It also frees up the microSD slot purely for storage and there’s now also USB C port for data transfer directly to your PC. 
 

Initial Setup

Setup is a breeze. Download the Android or IOS app, plug your devices in, turn the unit on and connect. No worrying about searching for new ASCOM compliant drivers etc. It just works. You will be prompted to input some information e.g imaging camera and guide camera focal length but nothing too taxing. I use it on my phone and it also seems to use the phone’s GPS to determine my location. The user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate and is even comfortable to use on a phone which is particularly useful if you will be mobile. One downside is if you want to connect via PC as there is no native Windows or Mac software. You can use an Android emulator for PC but the experience is not quite as good as the native app on a Pad or phone in my opinion.

 

The following is just a summary of my first light with the Plus. I hope to cover specific aspects of the device in more detail as I use it more and I’m happy to answer any specific questions anyone might has as best I can. This was also first light with a new ASI2600MC, OAG and EAF autofocuser. In the past this would have spelled disaster for me. I was expecting issues so I was pleasantly surprised when I ended the night with 3hrs worth of data. It wasn’t all plain sailing but none of that was to do with the Plus.

 

Polar Alignment 

I mentioned before that Polar alignment is not a favourite of mine. I have done it manually with a polar scope, I’ve used PoleMaster, iPolar and the ASIAIR routine. The ASIAir routine is my go to. It’s not only more convenient given it’s built into the software but it’s also the easiest to use. It first takes an image and plate solves your location. It then rotates the mount in RA, takes another image and displays how far away you are from the pole in hours and minutes and using a simple target display with concentric rings to show which direction you need to move. From here you use your Alt/ Azi bolts to refine your alignment refreshing the image after each adjustment until you have an alignment you’re happy with. Generally I’m polar aligned within minutes these days. 
 

B2716D3C-0A3C-499F-995B-0792E99600F7.jpeg.4a1624ef97db13494018c567f2f0e419.jpeg


 

Target Selection

Next you’re ready to image! If you’re like me and haven’t planned ahead with an imaging target, the software has a pretty nice search functionality which includes a ‘tonight’s best’ based on your location. For first light I decided to slew to a classic and familiar target in M31. Click the button and off the mount goes. The plate solving functionality in my experience has been spot on and generally needs no more than a few secs and a couple plate solves. I’ve never not had the target in the centre of my FOV. It was no different with M31 here. You can also manually input your own RA and DEC coordinates here to slew to a predefined location if you wish. Surprisingly,the search function does not work with named targets e.g you have to search M31 not Andromeda. I have no idea why and also can’t see why this wouldn’t be anything other than a quick fix. 
 

C98F4F3C-B532-420C-B42C-BF2C2730CEDD.thumb.png.a4ff6363dde4c8ce8df2ade2f57b9c40.png

 

 

Focusing
Next it was time to focus. In the past this has always been a source of frustration and cold fingers for me! The ASIAir has a focusing aid for manual focusing which I have found very helpful but it still involves a lot of trial and error and I’ve never been completely satisfied. It was for this reason I made the plunge for the EAF. I honestly didn’t have high expectations given this was the first run. The EAF section in the software gives you the option to input any backlash you may have and the focusing step size. I had no clue what to put in here so I just left the defaults and hit start and let the software do it’s thing. It started to construct a V curve based on the EAF position and calculated star size (fwhm). I could see that I clearly had some backlash as the motor was working but the focuser did not move at certain points. Despite this the software was able to create a satisfactory curve and seemingly find the best focus. I have no idea if it was the very best focus but star sizes were ~1.7 fwhm and that’s up there with the best I normally see. Of course this will vary based on your set up and seeing conditions. Clearly, I have to refine things with regards to backlash and step size but considering I just hit the button (and hoped) I was delighted with the outcome. I can only assume the software must be compensating somehow. 

 

Guiding

If there’s anything I’ve felt was a weak point with the ASIAir it was with the guiding. It has always worked and was always satisfactory but it wasn’t always straight forward. I know many say this is because the stripped down version of PHD2 ZWO employ doesn’t offer enough control. I have a slightly different take on that. I actually think we should have less control! For instance I never know what value I should use for the Calibration step or the max RA and Dec duration. These determine the steps taken during calibration and again I never know what the optimal amount of steps it should take W-E and N-S. This has led to some frustration and multiple attempts at calibration and guiding before I finally settle on something. I have also had issues with guiding failing after a meridian flip. It didn’t happen every session but it happened often enough that it became a frustration. I would much rather ZWO introduced something along the lines of PHD2’s guiding assistant and use the suggested settings from that as initial default inputs for guiding. I’m not saying there’s not a place for advanced controls somewhere but ASIAir’s selling point is the simplicity and I think they could perhaps improve here. Having said that this was my first outing with multistar guiding and wow! Guiding was on average from 0.5-0.6”RMS error and at times it was even as low as 0.35”. Typically I’m in the 0.7-0.8” range. 

 

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Autorun sequence

The Autorun function is pretty straight forward. You decide how many subframes and how long each subframe should be. You have the option of picking filters if you’re shooting mono and you can set up an autorun for calibration frames too. I know it can be used to image multiple targets in one night too but I haven’t tried that. I set mine up for 60x180s images and let it run. 

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WiFi Range

One of the main reasons I ended up buying the Plus was for the extended WiFi. The range on the Pro was disappointing to say the least. When imaging I am sitting less than 3m away in the living room and I can’t get a signal either directly to the Pro or via my home network. My only work around was taking a satellite router outside and using that to connect to my home network. However, I wasn’t keen leaving that out all night and just as I was going going to bite the bullet and but then WiFi extender the Plus was announced. I can happily report that with the Plus I get a stable connection throughout my whole house now. Max distance from unit is probably ~5m. I briefly tested it outside and on 2.4Ghz I was still connected >10m away. So undoubtedly a big improvement. 

 

I’ll come back again later with a conclusion and some final thoughts but the ASIAir Plus done what I bought it to do. Collected the data I wanted with minimum fuss. Overall, I think the Plus is more revolution than evolution but that’s no bad thing in IMO. It’s shows ZWO are listening and are willing to make these incremental improvements the community are craving. Here’s the final image of M31. This is 60x180sec with the ASI2600MC on an Esprit100ED. I’m delighted with it, it’s not perfect and a critical eye would certainly have some comments but that’s a different discussion. 
 

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In the meantime if you want a more thorough go through of the device I highly recommend Cuiv the Lazy Geek on YouTube. I’ve always thought he gives a balanced and honest opinion on the products he reviews and his ones on the ASIAir Plus are no different.
 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Icesheet
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That's a lovely M31 😍

I've been ASIair curious for quite a while and have been contemplating ditching the laptop and trying it out. I currently don't have any means to power a laptop, mount, cameras, dew heaters etc in the field and I'm thinking not having to run a laptop would simplify my power requirements. I do have a few things I'd like to clarify before deciding whether I should hit the buy button:

1. Manual focusing - Not having an electronic focuser, could I just run live view on the imaging camera (294MC Pro) and manually focus with a bahtinov mask as I'm currently doing?

2. Can you run the ASIair without a wifi network?

3. Dew heaters - Does ASIair have dew control? Or could I just run my Pegasus Pocket power box from the 12v output of the asiair and leave the dew control to that?

 

Thanks,

Stu

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40 minutes ago, Stuf1978 said:

That's a lovely M31 😍

I've been ASIair curious for quite a while and have been contemplating ditching the laptop and trying it out. I currently don't have any means to power a laptop, mount, cameras, dew heaters etc in the field and I'm thinking not having to run a laptop would simplify my power requirements. I do have a few things I'd like to clarify before deciding whether I should hit the buy button:

1. Manual focusing - Not having an electronic focuser, could I just run live view on the imaging camera (294MC Pro) and manually focus with a bahtinov mask as I'm currently doing?

2. Can you run the ASIair without a wifi network?

3. Dew heaters - Does ASIair have dew control? Or could I just run my Pegasus Pocket power box from the 12v output of the asiair and leave the dew control to that?

 

Thanks,

Stu

I'll jump in here with my limited knowledge. 

 

1 - Yes, exactly that. Auto focus is clever but not essential. 

2 - Home network do you mean? If so yes, I used mine out in the field. Just WiFi to phone/tablet and jobs a good un. 

3 - The Pro (and expect plus) has power outputs that with using an adapter can be adjusted to power dew heaters. I think it's 5% or 10% steps but only seems to be manual (unless I'm missing something) unlike the pocket powerbox set to auto. My old original air (which is for sale! ) ran alongside my pocket powerbox perfectly, as pictured. 

20201009_153942.jpg

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1 hour ago, Rich1980 said:

I'll jump in here with my limited knowledge. 

 

1 - Yes, exactly that. Auto focus is clever but not essential. 

2 - Home network do you mean? If so yes, I used mine out in the field. Just WiFi to phone/tablet and jobs a good un. 

3 - The Pro (and expect plus) has power outputs that with using an adapter can be adjusted to power dew heaters. I think it's 5% or 10% steps but only seems to be manual (unless I'm missing something) unlike the pocket powerbox set to auto. My old original air (which is for sale! ) ran alongside my pocket powerbox perfectly, as pictured. 

20201009_153942.jpg

Brilliant, thank you. Yes I meant without home network.

Were you powering the pocket powerbox from the asiair or using a different power source altogether? 

Edited by Stuf1978
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On 09/10/2021 at 16:12, Chefgage said:

I agree! I mean we are spoiled now aren't we. I really do like the way it takes a test image to see if it's centred and then if not moves a bit to re-align itself. 

I have not used my star adventurer pro for a while. To go back to manual framing is going to be a bit weird.

I totally agree. I've just got the V1 and it's been a game changer for me. I'm just beginning in astrophotography and the V1 does everything I need at this stage. In 1 box,  I get accurate PA, catalogue based target selection with plate solved centring and guiding. I just set up, point and shoot. Most of my observing time is capturing data,  not pfaffing around trying to correct the handset goto. 

Maybe, when I grow up and get a proper astro camera, I might upgrade. But for now, even a V1 meets my needs

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47 minutes ago, Stuf1978 said:

Brilliant, thank you. Yes I meant without home network.

Were you powering the pocket powerbox from the asiair or using a different power source altogether? 

Powering the asiair from the powerbox. A cable to that from my power tank and a cable to my mount, only two outputs from the battery running everything 👍

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3 hours ago, Stuf1978 said:

That's a lovely M31 😍

Thank you!

3 hours ago, Stuf1978 said:

I've been ASIair curious for quite a while and have been contemplating ditching the laptop and trying it out. I currently don't have any means to power a laptop, mount, cameras, dew heaters etc in the field and I'm thinking not having to run a laptop would simplify my power requirements. I do have a few things I'd like to clarify before deciding whether I should hit the buy button:

1. Manual focusing - Not having an electronic focuser, could I just run live view on the imaging camera (294MC Pro) and manually focus with a bahtinov mask as I'm currently doing?

2. Can you run the ASIair without a wifi network?

3. Dew heaters - Does ASIair have dew control? Or could I just run my Pegasus Pocket power box from the 12v output of the asiair and leave the dew control to that?

 

Thanks,

Stu

As @Rich1980 has already said. 1. Yes you can focus manually with Bahtinov mask as normal and 2. Connect directly to the ASIAir network.

 

With regards to the dew heater it looks like you can now control the power without an adapter (see picture taken from ZWO website below) but not in 'auto' mode as with the Pegasus. I have no experience with that though. I can power the Pro/Plus via my Hitec Dew controller though haven't done it often.

 

ASIAIR-Plus-review-012.jpg

 

 

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3 hours ago, Rich1980 said:

3 - The Pro (and expect plus) has power outputs that with using an adapter can be adjusted to power dew heaters. I think it's 5% or 10% steps but only seems to be manual (unless I'm missing something) unlike the pocket powerbox set to auto. My old original air (which is for sale! ) ran alongside my pocket powerbox perfectly, as pictured. 

 

Ah sorry. I think I misunderstood. Yes you would likely need an adapter to attach the dew heater still. So nothing I can add that Rich hasn't already covered.

Edited by Icesheet
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