Thursday, May 19, 2016

Changing Camera Control Software

Switching from Maxim to The Sky X (TSX) Camera Add-On via CCDAutopilot

I've recently been frustrated with some inconsistent controls for Maxim when driven by CCDAutopilot.  Specifically, it would fail when trying to focus due to hot pixels and there were reconnection problems when the camera was not available by USB during startup or resume.  It works mostly reliably, but still, I've not been terribly happy with the guiding results and the poor way that it work hang at annoying times.

I decided to give TSX another shot since I had the plugin for it.  I've been using it for all-sky platesolves and this has been pretty fast and reliable.  I wanted to take advantage of the additional focus controls that were available in TSX.


Last night, I gave converting the imaging controls a try.


  1. I set up a new profile in CCDAP, saving the old one before converting it.  This makes switching back easier.  In the past, I made the mistake of leaving a configuration active as I started changing the details.  Thus, the known good configuration was no longer valid.
  2. Movement calibration of the guider with TSX was problematic, as finding a suitable star was annoying.  Without knowing the proper placement of the camera with regards to the guider field of view made it difficult to predict where the stars would fall.  On the otherhand, the setup dialog suggested that using the camera rotated off the cardinal directions would make the movement data better to analyze.  
  3. Image reduction for the guider was over-aggressive when using master files.  May go back and create a new set.
  4. I used the default settings on @Focus with regards to range, step size, exposures, and averages.  I had mixed results on these settings.  For using the IDAS LPR filter as Luminance, the range of focus fell only on one side of focus.  Thus, the focus script would fail with a divergence rather than racking back and forth through focus.  Interestingly, using a narrowband filter gave a full range of star images, helping to ensure that this would work.  This tripped up my understanding of the problem and I wasted the rest of the night trying to get the focus script to work.

In the light of day, I've learned a few more important steps that needed to happen.
I've bumped the range up to 2000 steps.  I've added a few more samples to the options in the effort to assist the software to find a proper curve.

What I miss about Maxim:
  1. Image-centric: Big window for viewing the FIT results.  Doing drift aligning with Maxim is pretty simple and I may still use it for that step.
  2. Information on screen is red-filter friendly: By comparison, TSX has some text and graphics in RED.
  3. Floating control windows: Camera control is undocked and can be moved around the screen, making use of small real estate.

What I don't miss about Maxim:
  1.  Poor platesolve ability
  2. Guiding graphs that crash the application
  3. Cumbersome go-to tool.

What I am still not happy about:
  1. Cryptic guiding settings that require a stop and start to take effect - CCDAP forces a pause before guiding can be modified.  Maxim sometimes required a stop and start.  Not sure about TSX.  PHD required nothing as it could be changed on the fly.
  2. Forcing all connections to hardware to be valid when using the application.  Using the laptop away from the shed requires either not using the astro software or switching to a planning profile.  This is a problem if I put the machine to sleep while connected and remove it later.