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Guiding - equipment list?


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I'm feeling like the route I'd like to take getting started in AP is to use my laptop, PHD2 and APT. Looking a lot into it, it seems the Evoguide 50ED and ASI120mini will be a suitable combination for my 80ED, and a nice thought that I'll effectively have a second wide field scope should I fancy that sort of image in the future. I'm not sure I'd like to start with the ASIair at this point.

I'd like a bit of clarification on the process. The mount will be the EQ6-R, the main scope the Evostar 80ED. What cabling am I going to need to get the guide camera talking to PHD2? What cables to connect the mount to APT? I think I'm good with the guide scope and camera, just need a little guidance for the more sundry items really. I have been reading and watching videos but not seeing much about cabling and the setting up process. Say I have the scope and guide scope on the mount, polar aligned and balanced... What's next? 

Cheers 👍

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11 minutes ago, newbie alert said:

Seems like a decent plan

Are you familiar with eqmod?

Only heard of EQMOD once or twice, would like to know more. I thought it was a cable to control the mount via laptop software like APT  or NINA or something? 

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Basically, EQMOD allows your laptop, mount, APT/NINA & PHD2 to talk to each other. Here's the link for more reading: http://eq-mod.sourceforge.net/

To be honest, if I were just starting out with astrophotography again then I would want to use the ASIAir because it's an all-in-one setup. It's straight forward to use and has everything you need from polar alignment, plate solving, imaging and guiding. You only need to power it with one feed and it will power & connect to your camera, guide camera & mount (although, with the EQ6-R Pro you may need to power it separately due to it power draw). And I'm saying this as someone who started with a laptop, got the ASIAir and still use the laptop as my main form of running my main rig. ;)

It makes things easier to get yourself the EQDIR cable to connect the mount to the ASIAir or laptop, you won't be using the hand controller whether you go for the ASIAir, APT or NINA as they will all (including PHD2) communicate direct with the mount.

If you go the laptop route then a USB hub of some kind will be needed on the mount to connect the guide camera, main camera and mount too, meaning you only have one USB lead going from the mount to the laptop. This means less chance of snagging. You don't mention what you plan to use as your main imaging camera but a USB3 hub would be the best thing to go for, although this may limit how far away from the mount your laptop is situated, unless you use an active USB3 extension. ;)

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You could also connect your laptop to your mount with a USB -B printer style cable.

You can plug it into the mount or to the bottom of your hand controller. Should you use the USB to hand controller route, you dont need EQMOD or the proprietary cable and you can also initiate go-to from either the HC or your laptop and both are aware of where the mount is pointing.

Most prefer EQMOD (i dont), but just saying there is a way with just USB.

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Seems like a great plan.

I use a similar guiding equipment and software. It works very well.

You will need a bit of cable management though.

You will have to connect your 120mini to your main camera using a USB cable (data transfer and power). The 120mini is sufficient for your setup.

You will also have a USB cable from your mount to the laptop and the USB cable from your main camera also to the laptop. No need to use an ST4 cable from the guide camera to the mount.

As said above EQMOD will be needed to control your EQ6r-pro mount from the laptop through the APT interface as well as the guiding via PHD2.

Good luck and clear skies!

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Like most things in life there are more than one way to get the results you seek (why did Yoda pop into my brain when I typed that!)

You will need a way of controlling the mount via a computer.  If you read through similar posts this computer can be anything from a Raspberry Pi through to a dedicated astro PC.  For simplicity a lot of people use a normal windows PC or Laptop as that is what they already have, and it's this method that I'll focus on.

Firstly you will need to install ASCOM on the computer.  This platform is used to link all the applications together so they can all communicate using the one standard.  Next you need software to handle the control of the mount.  EQMOD has been the default application for well over a decade.  It's robust and does the job, but is now somewhat dated, and in recent years Green Swamp Server has become a modern alternative.  Both look for a serial communications port for the physical connection.  An EQDIR cable has been the standard method for years, providing a USB to mount connectivity using safe TTL serial levels.  But there are alternatives such as Blue tooth and wi-fi adaptors, but for ease of use and reliability a hard wired cable is what I would stick with.  When installed windows will give the connection a new com port which is selected in EQMOD / GSS.

Both your guide camera and imaging camera should connect direct to a USB port, ideally direct, or via a powered USB hub.  Some manufactures allow  daisy chaining so one camera plugs into another, providing one cable to the PC.  You may need to experiment with this to see which works best for you.   PHD2 has been the preferred guiding software, and as the cameras will have ASCOM compliant drivers will be selectable from within PHD2.   You also need a planetarium application.   Cartes du Ciel has been a firm favourite for years, but others are available and most are free.

The final part of the puzzle is the software to control the imaging camera and automate the process of gathering images.  Again there are several packages.  APT has evolved to become one of the well established applications for the purpose, but in recent years NINA is now becoming very popular.  Again these all integrate through the ASCOM platform and these days its possible to use one app to control everything where as in years passed each application had a distinct purpose.

The process for a session would be to polar align the mount, and from a start point (normally the default home position) perform an alignment routine through EQMOD / GSS and the planetarium software.  Then select a target, launch PHD2 select a guide star.  You then run a calibration routine in PHD2 and when it starts guiding you can then start running a plan within the imaging software.  A plan is where you set up how many images to take, at what duration, and ISO etc.  Then you sit back and let it do its thing.  Through the software and hardware the process is fully automated. 

As I said there are loads of alternatives.  Linux based systems do essentially the same, but use a different platform and software, but the end result is the same, in that the mount is controlled via the guide camera tracking a star and the camera takes the images through software.  I've generalised the process and software / hardware used, and there will be recommendations from others, which may be worth trying... so long as you get the same results that's what counts. 

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Thank you so much guys for the advice - it's helped make a lot more sense of the process. Without cheating I'll try to summarise what I've read, so let's see if I understand... Assuming good cable management:

I'll plug the guide cam (120MM) into the laptop via USB (2? 3?). The feed from this camera will be used by PHD2 so guiding can be carried out. The EQ6-R will be plugged into the laptop via (cable?) so that PHD2 can issue corrections to the tracking. With EQMOD installed, PHD2 and APT can communicate with each other. I'll plug the imaging cam (533MC pro or 294MC Pro) into the laptop (USB3?) so that APT can carry out the imaging tasks. I'll power up the mount and turn everything on. I believe APT can be used to polar align and select and slew to targets? 

If I've got this somewhat right, great! If not, please correct me 😅

I'm off to watch more tutorials, how to get these two bits of software talking to each other 🤔

 

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The asiairs easy to use, why wouldn't you want to other than the added cost of it? Completely transformed my image acquisition.

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A bit of everything really. I already have a laptop so makes sense to use it, budget, and for me 'feeling' like I'm nicely involved in the process. After prices went up recently, the mount and camera will be taking up a significant fraction of my budget, and that's without any filters, reducers etc. 

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Fair enough, I didn't particularly like having to use a computer with the rig (also my rig can be used anywhere as it was designed to be portable), using an astroberry with a computer I feel is also a faff (the computer screen is bigger and better for the astroberry interface, I use it for planetary and solar imaging), asiair can be used easily with a mobile phone screen. It's not an essential bit of kit if you've already got the bases covered.

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If you're going to get either the ASI533MC Pro or ASI294MC Pro then both of these have a built-in USB hub on the back with two USB2 ports. So you can utilise these by connecting your guide camera and mount connection into them. Then you only need the one USB3 cable from the ASI533/294 to the laptop. 

This makes cable management on the mount easier and doesn't fill up all the USB ports on your laptop. If you have a USB3 port on the laptop then definitely use it for the ASI533/294 because the image download speed from the camera to the laptop is so much faster. ;) 

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8 hours ago, Elp said:

The asiairs easy to use, why wouldn't you want to other than the added cost of it? Completely transformed my image acquisition.

The air isn't the be all and end of.. it doesn't use the full potential of phd2.. some parts are missing, it's data it throws out doesn't correspond the same as PhD... Unless you're using and plan to use only zwo products in the future then the air won't work with other manufacturers ( I don't personally own any zwo products)  essentially it's a Raspberry pi4

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, OK Apricot said:

Thank you so much guys for the advice - it's helped make a lot more sense of the process. Without cheating I'll try to summarise what I've read, so let's see if I understand... Assuming good cable management:

I'll plug the guide cam (120MM) into the laptop via USB (2? 3?). The feed from this camera will be used by PHD2 so guiding can be carried out. The EQ6-R will be plugged into the laptop via (cable?) so that PHD2 can issue corrections to the tracking. With EQMOD installed, PHD2 and APT can communicate with each other. I'll plug the imaging cam (533MC pro or 294MC Pro) into the laptop (USB3?) so that APT can carry out the imaging tasks. I'll power up the mount and turn everything on. I believe APT can be used to polar align and select and slew to targets? 

If I've got this somewhat right, great! If not, please correct me 😅

I'm off to watch more tutorials, how to get these two bits of software talking to each other 🤔

 

The guide cam ( 120mm) can plug into usb2 as it's not using rapid data transfer

The cable from the mount to the handset.. if using eqmod will require a special cable( Flo sell them)  but as I've never used eqmod or a Skywatcher mount I'm not the best to ask... Celestron and ioptron use a Rs232 cable

I think Apt can do polar alignment with the latest version, but on the  Skywatcher handset you should have like a ASPA ( all sky polar alignment) which uses the same star type alignment method ( I'm not confident with this, don't think it's accurate enough) 

You can also drift align in PhD, highly accurate but takes far longer than any other method, great for people with fixed mounts... Or if I were you I'd buy sharpcap ( £10 ish last time I bought it, older versions were free) and polar align with that... Pretty decent and very fast

One thing to consider.. it's isn't plug and play, you need to calibrate PhD which a good few people struggle with as they don't read the instructions and do their own thing, then ask for help when it doesn't work .. 

Regarding APT,  it's a fantastic software but needs setting up,platesolvers etc, it's not hard but I recommend watch astroquest 1 on u tube and on here in the software tab there's a decent setup  instruction..

 


     
 


     
 

 

 
https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/334568-setting-up-platesolving-in-astrophotography-tool-apt/?do=findComment&comment=3642006

Edited by newbie alert
Only wanted to share the link, not all of the text
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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, OK Apricot said:

I'll plug the guide cam (120MM) into the laptop via USB (2? 3?). The feed from this camera will be used by PHD2 so guiding can be carried out. The EQ6-R will be plugged into the laptop via (cable?) so that PHD2 can issue corrections to the tracking. With EQMOD installed, PHD2 and APT can communicate with each other. I'll plug the imaging cam (533MC pro or 294MC Pro) into the laptop (USB3?) so that APT can carry out the imaging tasks. I'll power up the mount and turn everything on.

Spot on 🙂

Install the relevant software on your laptop (ASCOM, EQMOD, PHD2) prior to doing these. Get the right EQDIR cable for the mount as that will allow you to connect the mount directly to laptop (without synscan controller in the middle). If you find that your laptop doesnt have enough USB ports you will have to invest in a USB hub.

The advantage with ASIAir / Raspberry Pi/ NUC is that you can have the luxury of sitting with your laptop inside your home while these smaller devices are sitting out in the cold with the mount. Some folk leave a laptop outside on a small table beside the mount and establish a remote connection to laptop via ipad/phone. That is also do-able.

Here is a suggestion - get the laptop to mount connectivity working first and learn to control the mount using EQMOD, Stellarium etc. Then you can add the cameras, guiding etc. To be fair you DONT need guiding to start with as a mount like EQ6-R can give you very good tracking without noticeable star tails upto a minute and possibly more. I can get between 30 to 60s with my HEQ5 Pro.

Good luck.

Edited by AstroMuni
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See I said you'll get lots of other suggestions  :)

I have a feeling the long detailed post from "newbie alert" should have screen captures, which for me other than the first are not showing up, which is sad as they have gone to a lot of trouble.

There are many ways to do anything in the hobby, and no single way is the ONLY way.  I only use APT to manage the Canon D400 attached to the scope and run the imaging plans, and it's far more capable that that (even my old version !).  For polar alignment I purchased a licence for Sharp cap (£13) and used their PA tool.  It's quick and works really well.  As for an EQDIR cable, this is what you need - £35 from FLO.  It works with most of Skywatchers goto mount including the EQ6-R you mentioned above.  Given it's FTDI based it should be plug and play.

As for camera's as others have said you can daisy chain the connections from the guide camera to the main imaging camera, and then use a USB3 cable to make the connection to the laptop, ideally via a USB3 port if the imaging camera has one.  The guide camera and mount do not require fast data speeds, but the main imaging camera will be sending the bulk of data, so USB 3 would help.

As for software, yes APT has a database of targets, and you can control the mount through APT, which will intern use EQMOD to handle the actual instructions to the mount.  Now as mentioned I use APT just for one function, so can't really comment on the practical aspect of this process, but I find using CDC, easy as you just right click on a target, select slew to target, and away it goes (again via EQMOD).  Other planetarium applications are available, and most are free, but if you are happy selecting a target form a list in APT then there is no need for a planetarium application.

The advice above about getting to grips with the hardware and software bit by bit is a good suggestion, and you don't need to wait until its dark to do that.  Using each application could take up a complete new thread in itself, but most of the common issues are covered in forum posts (such as guide settings etc).  It's also worth reading the wiki and any manuals provided.  Or start a new thread if you are having a specific issue with an item or hardware or software.

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A number of folk have said you need a special EQDIR cable.  This is no longer the case.  You've said you have the EQ6-R. That means that if it's a more recent one there's a USB-2  type B socket on the mount below the ST4 port.  You can use a standard USB 2 printer cable from this to your laptop and connect to EQMOD without needing the EQDIR cable.  I found the EQMOD set up to be fairly straightforward but the com port needs to be set at 115000 baud rate in EQMOD.

Graeme

 

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Again, thank you so much! Your advice is so thorough and I really appreciate the time taken to explain it - I feel very much more at ease now and settled on a route. This thread will be very valuable to me to get started. In the mean time I'm going to install some software and get prepared. I have an Evoguide 50ED and 120MM being delivered tomorrow 😁

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Just remember to consume a large volume of patience. 
Guiding is a wonderful thing and wonderful when it it all comes together.

Be prepared for lost nights, but do not give up. Getting everything working just right is a challenge that could be called a right of passage.

As you can see from the replies on here you are in good hands.

Marv

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A good idea is to put aside a night of so dedicated at getting the guiding together, those clear nights of full moon when imaging isn't really worth it, especially with no real darkness

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I'm sure a lot of the sessions initially will be learning to set up, I've no trouble with that thought. It will be nice to get to know my kit. That said, the Evoguide 50ED came Thursday and I couldn't resist but to start playing around with it! Alright, I've only got the AZ GTI to mount it on, but it felt amazing to be making a start in doing what I've wanted to do since I was single digits 😁. Being able to see dim DSOs through a tiny 50mm scope on the laptop screen is just awesome! It is interesting to see the effects of changing exposure time and gain, even the simple things like seeing the data being stored in folders on my laptop. 

Anyway, I've downloaded PHD2 and EQMOD ready for when I buy the EQ6-R Pro in early August. I've also downloaded APT demo for now but can't get it to boot? Not too fussed about imaging software at this point as the ASI533MCp will come last in early September, so will get round to that when the time comes. I'm not sure where to download ASCOM - I've done a few searches but nothing looking that familiar to me - Please could someone show me the link? Am I missing anything else? I guess I'll need to wait until the mount comes to see whether or not I need the EQDIR cable or just a USB 3.0?

Thanks for the support guys, much appreciated 🤗

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