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SharpCap - free Astro Webcam Capture Software

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got it. I'll PM you the debug log

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I followed your advice and flashed the firmware to a SPC 900NC. It solved the issue and I was able to install supported Windows 7 drivers ;)

So all is good thanks to you :)

I created a thread with the steps to do this, maybe it will serve others in the future :)

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QHY5L-ii Colour

One of the many issues I am having with getting my QHY5L-ii Colour to work is understanding the behaviour of it in SharpCap.

I have 2 laptops. My main runs Win 8.1, my Obsy runs Windows 7.

Both have exactly the same versions of all the QHY drivers and software and the same (latest) version of SharpCap.

I've followed the same installation sequence on both machines, many times now.

The QHY works fine in QHY5LII mode - i.e. Not DirectShow or ASCOM - on the Windows 8.1 system.

I cannot get it to work in that mode on the Windows 7 system.

It will sort of work in the Native WDM mode on Win 7 but won't capture frames properly and then hangs.

I'm running out of ideas to try, and it is getting very frustrating as I waste imaging nights trying to fix it.

I just completed yet another set of controlled installs and tests in daylight, with the same result.

EXPlanetary works fine on both systems (now I worked out the bugs in working directory and pathname handling).

Does anyone have any ideas, please?

Of course I could just use my main in the Obsy, but the Win 7 laptop isn't shabby and everything else I try to do on it (that doesn't involve the QHY!) works fine.

And I would much rather use SharpCap than EZPlanetary!

Edited by dwc

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Hi Dave,

I must admit that I haven't used my QHY5LII with SharpCap recently - it's been pressed into service as a guide camera, so mainly gets used with PHD.

From experience however, these high speed USB planetery cameras are very sensitive to USB chipsets on different computers, they push the limits of the USB system to try to get ~30fps @1280x960. Some computers have USB chipsets that are fine with the tricks they pull, others don't like it at all. My laptop has a particular dislike to the ASI120MC, giving about 15-16fps maximum, while the same camera manages 25+fps on my desktop PC.

I'd certainly recommend trying to turn down the 'USB Traffic' control in SharpCap as far as possible as this takes the load of the USB system and can help if you are getting no frames. If that helps then you can turn it up again to get a balance between performance and reliability.

Once upon a time QHY used to have separate compatibility and performance drivers for the cameras (the performance one did something slightly illegal to the USB transfers that worked with most systems). To be honest I can't see the distinction in their latest downloads, but if you can find the compatibility driver that would be worth a go too.

Hope this helps a bit,

cheers,

Robin

PS. I'd thoroughly recommend buying a cheap PC to keep in the observatory as it saves plug/unplug time etc, except for the fact that the hard drive on mine has just died after less than 100 hours total life. Apparently hard drives don't like the cold, which I never knew before....

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Thanks Robin. I will give that a try.

I do keep my Win 7 laptop locked in the Obsy, but shut down when not in use. I don't have a warm room so I'm not keen to put a PC in there, but I guess you're suggesting one of the 12v type minis?

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I just have a standard mains PC in the observatory - I built a shelf at head level above all the electrical stuff which keeps the dew off very effectively.

cheers,

Robin

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Wow, I have exactly that shelf arrangement, never occurred to me it would be enough to protect a PC. Thanks.

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Well, it helps... Keeps the worst of the dew off the monitors and keyboard when the roof is open. The PC itself kicks out enough heat and air movement to be dew free when switched on.

cheers,

Robin

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Great piece of software! Very intuitive and easy to use, thank you very much!

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Robin, there are 2 fields available.

Speed, 0-1, default 1

USB Traffic, 0-30, default 0

On my working system I get best performance with both set to 0.

However on the other system, dropping Speed to 0 didn't help.

Frustratingly, the first time I connected today it previewed about 10 frames before hanging.

At that point the light on the QHY was still flashing but SharpCap had lost it and I needed to kill processes to recover.

Since then I haven't been able to get any preview at all.

So it looks like plan B and the older driver set.

Now I have a dilemma: do I stick with the working EZPlanetary and actually do some imaging, or do I reinstall and risk breaking everything!

I'm away for a week or so, think I'll probably hold off until I get back.

Thanks for the help again.

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Robin, I've found that Sharpcap is easier than Amcap and SSUEll for this disabled amateur astronomer to use. Although once I installed and added my other camera to it which uses Toupview , it listed every camera that the manufacturer makes which isn't a problem . The problem is when I use said camera Sharpcap glitches while I'm imaging giving me fits. Do you know anything about why this is happening with one CMOS and not the other? It's a very friendly grabber software. 

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Hi,

I can't quite work out what camera you are using from your post above, but I'm guessing you are using it with a WDM driver since you also mention AMCAP.

If you find that SharpCap is glitching but AMCAP doesn't then it might be worth going back to try SharpCap 1.5.314 and using the camera as listed under the 'Old DirectShow Code' heading in the cameras menu on that build. Doing that will use a version of the code that is much more similar to how Amcap works (but a lot of the clever features that I've added since will be missing). It just might be that the overhead of all the extra stuff the latest versions of SharpCap has added is causing the problem.

Beyond that, it's difficult to suggest much. For WDM cameras, SharpCap actually does very little work itself - most of it is handed off to Microsoft DirectShow code and the camera driver which do the hard work of displaying the preview and saving the AVI. General troubleshooting might help - ie update drivers, try a different USB port, try with/without a hub, try a different PC if possible, reduce frame rate to see if that helps, etc.

cheers,

Robin

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Robin, there are 2 fields available.

Speed, 0-1, default 1

USB Traffic, 0-30, default 0

On my working system I get best performance with both set to 0.

However on the other system, dropping Speed to 0 didn't help.

Frustratingly, the first time I connected today it previewed about 10 frames before hanging.

At that point the light on the QHY was still flashing but SharpCap had lost it and I needed to kill processes to recover.

Since then I haven't been able to get any preview at all.

So it looks like plan B and the older driver set.

Now I have a dilemma: do I stick with the working EZPlanetary and actually do some imaging, or do I reinstall and risk breaking everything!

I'm away for a week or so, think I'll probably hold off until I get back.

Thanks for the help again.

Hi Dave,

one more idea just occurred to me - try adding a USB (2) hub in if you are not already using one or taking it out if you are using one. Just might make a difference if it is a USB related issue. I will try to test out the latest build of SHarpCap on the QHY before the end of the week, just in case some horrible bug has crept in that I haven't noticed. Hopefully I will be releasing the first Sharpcap 2.5 beta really soon now :)

cheers,

Robin

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Thanks Robin.

When actually imaging it is connected to a powered hub.

When I'm "bench testing" it is direct connected.

I don't see much difference to be honest.

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Robin, I've found that Sharpcap is easier than Amcap and SSUEll for this disabled amateur astronomer to use. Although once I installed and added my other camera to it which uses Toupview , it listed every camera that the manufacturer makes which isn't a problem . The problem is when I use said camera Sharpcap glitches while I'm imaging giving me fits. Do you know anything about why this is happening with one CMOS and not the other? It's a very friendly grabber software. 

Ah, I know what a ToupCam is now. I may be able to get hold of one shortly and add proper support for these cameras in the next version of SharpCap - watch this space...

cheers,

Robin

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Ok, at long long last, SharpCap 2.5 is approaching. The first beta builds are now available from the http://www.sharpcap.co.uk website.

What's new in SharpCap 2.5?

Settings Dialog
I've moved a lot of the random menu options that controlled various parts of the program out of the menus and grouped them together in a new settings dialog - this can be found in the File menu. I had resisted having a settings dialog for some time both for design reasons (a settings dialog encourages more tweakable settings, which makes software more complex and harder to learn) and for pure laziness reasons. However, the improved options for output file naming really forced my hand, so now SharpCap has a settings dialog.

Capture File Organization
As I've just mentioned, much better control over where capture files are saved and what they are named. Previous version of SharpCap would save capture files to the Desktop by default (this was because in other capture programs the question of 'where did that file get saved?' often needed asking). This version of SharpCap changes that default to a new subfolder on the Desktop called 'SharpCap Captures'. If you have previously customized the folder your captures are saved to, it will not be changed in the upgrade. If you have left the default of 'Desktop', it will be changed to  the new default. It's now possible to get SharpCap to organize captures into either zero, one or two levels of subfolder by object name and date. This should make keeping track of captured files much easier.

Mount Control
if you have an ASCOM compatible mount (for example EQMOD), you can cofigure SharpCap to connect to it when a camera is opened so that you can tweak the mount pointing from within SharpCap. Currently control is fairly basic - left, right, up, down and a spiral search function. This may get further improvements based on feedback.

Improved Exposure Control
For cameras that give fine control over exposure (everything except webcams, basically), SharpCap now has a new, enhanced, exposure control in the UI. There are 2 modes of operation for this - normal and LX mode. Note that LX here has nothing to do with the LX modification for SPC900 webcams, it's just an indication of whether the sliders etc are optimized for exposures of many seconds or minutes (LX mode) or milliseconds (normal mode). In addition to a slider (which is now wider to give finer control and has tick marks), there is the familiar text box where you can type in an exposure in ms or s and a new 'Quick Picks' drop down which allows you to select common exposure values easily - 1/30s, 1/15s, 10s, 30s, 60s, etc.

Full Screen Support
Want to fit that bit more preview area on the screen - you can hide the menu and toolbar and go full screen from the options menu. Just move the mouse cursor back to the top of the screen to re-show the menu in this mode.

Improved FITS output
Far more FITS header fields are now filled in when writing to FITS files, so programs like DeepSkyStacker will be able to pull the right information straight out of the file. This is somewhat camera dependent at the moment with the best support in ZWO cameras, but will be moving on to all cameras capable of long exposures as time allows.

Improved ZWO camera support
SharpCap 2.5 uses the new ZWO SDK version 2, which provides better control over the cameras, particularly for newer cameras and easier control of long exposures.

Scripting Support
SharpCap now has a built in programming language - IronPython - which can be used to write scripts to automate SharpCaps features. It's even possible to add new buttons to the toolbar and have them run a script function when they are pressed. This is very much a geek-zone feature and is work-in-progress too. You should be able to do pretty much everything you can do by pressing buttons in the UI by using the IronPython scripting - please let me know about stuff that is impossible or just doesn't work!

Bug Fixes
Yes, as usual a whole range of bug fixes and minor improvements and performance tweaks. But, this is a beta release, so it's quite possible that I've introduced new bugs too. Do remember to do a quick test *before* going outside to observe, because I'd hate to be to blame for stuff going wrong for you on a rare clear night...

What's not in SharpCap 2.5?
I'd really hoped to do a complete UI refresh after 2.0 - remove the menus and toolbar and replace them with a ribbon (like Microsoft Office). While the ribbon hasn't been universally popular, I think it would be a good fit for the small number of menu/toolbar options that SharpCap has. This was going to go along with a change in the UI technology from Windows Forms to WPF. I even have a very basic application called 'SharpCap.New' that has the ribbon and can open and close camera previews, but it was just taking too long to make these changes. Instead I decided to add new UI in a more piecemeal manner (the new settings dialog, exposure control and mount control UI are WPF) and also concentrate on tidying up the code behind the scenes which will eventually allow for the big UI changeover to be made easier, as well as allowing the scripting feature to be added.

As usual, feedback on the new version is very welcome - please report bugs either using the builtin bug report form or by contacting me on the forums, looking forward to hearing from you :)

cheers,

Robin


 

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I have been using the 2.5 version. The last time out it froze up completely and I had to do a Ctr/Alt/Del to get out. It was when I tried to select the reticule.

Peter

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New user of SharpCap and I have been using it in a scientific study application.  I have been using it with a Logitech C920 at 1080p.  The version of the program I'm using is the latest non-beta version.  Initially, I had as many dropped frames as aquired during preview and capture, so I decided to uninstall the Logitech drivers and software.  No more trouble with that since, but I am left with one difficulty and also a couple of questions:

1)  Since SharpCap is working better without the Logitech drivers, I have also lost the ability to turn off the webcam LED.  Is there any way to turn off in SharpCap?  I can't just cover up the LED since using this in a non-scientific app and I need the LED initially for focus. 

2)  I seem limited in uncompressed 1080p mode to 5 fps.  This really isn't a problem, but just wondering if any higher uncompressed fps were possible?  

3)  Finally, is there any way to adjust shutter speed?  Again, not essential for what I'm using the webcam for, just curious. 

Thank you,

Alf

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New user of SharpCap and I have been using it in a scientific study application.  I have been using it with a Logitech C920 at 1080p.  The version of the program I'm using is the latest non-beta version.  Initially, I had as many dropped frames as aquired during preview and capture, so I decided to uninstall the Logitech drivers and software.  No more trouble with that since, but I am left with one difficulty and also a couple of questions:

1)  Since SharpCap is working better without the Logitech drivers, I have also lost the ability to turn off the webcam LED.  Is there any way to turn off in SharpCap?  I can't just cover up the LED since using this in a non-scientific app and I need the LED initially for focus. 

2)  I seem limited in uncompressed 1080p mode to 5 fps.  This really isn't a problem, but just wondering if any higher uncompressed fps were possible?  

3)  Finally, is there any way to adjust shutter speed?  Again, not essential for what I'm using the webcam for, just curious. 

Thank you,

Alf

Hi Alf,

SharpCap can only offer control over functions of the webcam that are supported by the webcam driver in use - With the logitech drivers, you obviously get all possible options. When you take those out, you end up using a Microsoft driver that supports what's called 'USB Video Class', which is a common standard for USB connected video cameras. That should get you a fair bit of functionality, but now it's all down to the actual camera reporting back to the PC what functions it has correctly. Basically the camera gets a message from the driver saying 'can you adjust gain' and the camera responds with 'yes' (or no) and then you get a gain control available (or you dont).

So, sadly the answer to your questions is that SharpCap can't give you any more controls than the ones you see already. They vary with the driver you have installed, but what you get to see comes from the driver, not from SharpCap.

Mind you, I'm surprised in your 3rd point that you seem to have no control over shutter speed - normally this would be an 'Exposure' control and I would have thought that pretty much all webcams would show it!

cheers,

Robin

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Thanks, Robin.  LED on/off function was available when the Logitech driver was installed but, as I indicated, I had to remove it.  Any idea why I was unable to capture correcly while trying to use SharpCap with the original Logitech driver?  Is there a workaround that would allow use of the driver?  The symptom was as many dropped frames as being acquired while using the Logitech driver.  Alf

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Dropped frames aren't always the end of the world - some cameras report them for odd reasons (like if you have selected 30fps but an exposure of 1/15s - you can't actually get 30 time 1/15s frames in a second - some cameras will report this as 15 dropped frames!).

Basically if the frame rate of received frames was sufficient for your purpose (and is smooth, rather than coming in bursts) then you might just want to ignore dropped frames. It sounds like you are only getting 5fps with the logitech drivers uninstalled anyway at maximum resolution, so if you were getting 5 or more fps with the logitech drivers then maybe they were actually better.

cheers,

Robin

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Thanks again for your fast reply, Robin.  I decided to try reinstalling the Logitech driver and try captures both in your program and VirtualDub.  I got a bit excited at first with VirtualDub as it appeared to be capturing at 30 fps uncompressed at 1080p, but upon reviewing the video I notice a lot of artifacts and the file size was very small, around 300 MB for a 2 min file, so I knew Virtual Dub must have compressed even though specified not to.  I then tried a capture in your program again, this time with the Logitech driver.  No matter the gain setting, nothing but 95% plus dropped frames at any resolution and fps.  Therefore, I deleted the driver and just used whatever Win 7 provides.  Once done, I get 1080p uncompressed at 5 fps in SharpCap.  I wonder if a better driver is available somewhere for this c920, something other than Win 7 native and Logitech?  I also wonder if I added a USB 3 card to the laptop would make a difference in fps with the C920?  

In any case, thanks for this program!  Since I'm using it non-astro, the absolute best feature to me is the ability to capture uncompressed at 1080p.  This has resulted in a huge, artifact free improvement in a resulting image after stacking.  Before the 920 came along, I had been using an Aiptek HD camera, but always ended up with artifacts at the edges of images, even after stacking, and if only mild unsharp masking was applied.  The artifacts were a mystery to me and I always blamed them on the image intensifier screen... that is unitl I replaced Aiptek with the 920 and did uncompressed captures with SharpCap.  Now, no more artifacts.  By the way, my non-astro application is as a live/post-life security system with a 2nd generation image intensifier so we have ideal night vision capability.  This system has been in place for 2 years and the existing Aiptek camera decided to quit working so it was replaced with the 920.  

Alf       

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Ah!

The high frame rate and small avi size, along with the artifacts, suggests that when you have the Logitech drivers installed you are getting your AVI with MJPG compression (basically, every frame is a highly compressed jpeg). This makes for very small AVI sizes and fast performance (actually, it's usually the camera that does this compression on board, so the data flow across USB is the compressed data). As you've noticed, this can lead to artifacts.

I'm still not sure why SharpCap would drop most of the frames when you are in this mode of operation - The closest camera I have is the Microsoft Lifecam Cinema, which will do 30fps at 1280x720 in MJPG with no dropped frames for me.

Anyway, it may be that you can change out of MJPG mode with the logitech drivers - look at the top of the control panel and you should see a 'colour space' control. See if you can change that to anything else - perhaps YUY2, I420 or RGB24.

cheers,

Robin

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Hello, I am very new to astrophotography and I recently purchased the "All -In-One Astronomy Camera" from Orion. The software Orion gave me doesn't work with my computer so I downloaded SharpCap but it wont find my camera. Its probably something simple but how do I connect my camera to the SharpCap software?

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