Happy New Year to everyone of my readers. I thought I would start the first post of the new year with some images I’m pretty happy with. Recently I was faced with the decision of which astrophotography image processing software to buy. I wanted something which had enough processing functions/modules to be able to process my astrophotos well, while not being too difficult to learn (or require me to watch tutorial videos every time I am processing a photo), and definitely not too costly. Hence after watching a few videos on how an astrophoto is processed with StarTools and factoring that it costs A$60 (under £30), I decided that it was definitely worth buying.

Now previously I had trialed Pixinsight and while it worked very well, it had 2 main negatives which prevented me from choosing it:

  1. It has so many different modules that you would need to put alot of time to learn it to get the most out of the program. Certainly I have had to rewatch the many tutorial videos each time I worked with a photo in Pixinsight, and it just did not feel like I managed to fully grasp this program to be able to get the most out of it.
  2. The biggest negative is by far the cost, and I could not justify spending that kind of money on this program, however good it is with astrophotography image processing.

What I like about StarTools:

  1. The price is definitely not too steep, and is in fact reasonably affordable considering what it can do.
  2. There is a great video on Youtube by the author Ivo Jager showing the workflow for working with StarTools – take notes as I did and it will become clear how to use this software correctly.
  3. It does have many different modules to do the processing and these seem easier to use and the workflow seems to be smoother and easier to master; although I still need to refer to my notes each time I worked on the two images below.
  4. It does process data well that is of reasonable quality.

But do note that this program does not stack images. This I’ve had to do with Deep Sky Stacker (DSS), saved as an .fts file and then opened with StarTools for image processing.

Now I’ve not had much opportunity to capture images for processing due to weather constraints here in England. But I did manage to capture quite a few frames of the Orion nebula and also of the Horsehead nebula in December. I used my Skywatcher ED80 with Astro-Physics CCDT67 telecompressor, Olympus E-PL5 full-spectrum camera with Astronomik CLS-CCD filter, and mounted on my iOptron ZEQ25. The Horsehead nebula was with 5 min subs with guiding via an off-axis guider with the Lacerta MGEN guider. The first image for each Deep Sky Object (DSO) was stretched with DSS as .tiff file and processed to .jpeg with Capture One Pro 8, and I was reasonably happy with the results. But the second image for each DSO was processed with StarTools to .tiff file and then processed to .jpeg with Capture One Pro 8.

Orion nebula - stretched with DSS
Orion nebula – stretched with DSS
Orion nebula - processed with StarTools
Orion nebula – processed with StarTools
Horsehead nebula - stretched with DSS
Horsehead nebula – stretched with DSS
Horsehead nebula - processed with StarTools
Horsehead nebula – processed with StarTools

Now I do have to say that the subs were taken when there was a half moon, so there was significant light pollution despite using the Astronomik CLS-CCD filter. I am hoping for opportunities with better sky conditions to capture subs of these subjects in January ’16 to hopefully get even better results.

I am still getting used to StarTools, but it does feel easier to use than Pixinsight while still having the necessary modules to allow me to improve on the images. The bit I find the most challenging, however, is the colour balancing – I’m sure I will get better with more practice.

Page 2 Workflow notes taken from Ivo Jager Youtube video