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Questions and answers about the best way to get started with Prism including: est hardware to use, software settings, etc..
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RowlandA
Posts: 12
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:49 pm

Fri Jul 20, 2018 3:37 am

Hi Hamza,

Since you mostly hear from people with problems, I thought you'd enjoy an update on a successful night's automated acquisition. I woke up this morning and Prism had delivered 160 sixty-second exposures of M27 to my hard drive using my test setup, an Orion ED80 on a Sirius EQ mount with an ASI1600MC-Cool camera, a RigelSys nStep focuser, and an Orion SSAG/50mm guide scope for guiding.

This is a temporary setup put together for the purpose of evaluating Prism.

The issue that was hindering guiding calibration was, as I mentioned in that thread in my last post, related to scope balance. A second counterweight arrived by UPS yesterday and I was able to get the scope balanced properly. When it got dark I ran Guiding -> Calibration and got a nice parallelogram. I used the manual red cursors to indicate the guide star during calibration, but auto-select works as well because I was able to guide in the automated run I did later.

The next step was getting into focus. I put the main camera into a looped 4 second exposure and manually focused to near focus, just close, no Bhatinov mask or any other aid.

I then took a guess at starting and ending focuser positions for my RigelSys focuser. I guessed too wide a curve the first time - my center point was 54500, I guess 53000 for start and 56000 for end. Autofocus was unable to find a star at 53000, so I re-ran with a start point of 54000. This time autofocus completed, although the result was a front-half of the V-curve and no back-half, so I reset the step size and on my third try I got a decent V-curve and was in focus. This reminded me of another feature of SGP auto-focus that would be a good enhancement for you and Cyril to consider. SGP's "smart focus" feature will shift the starting and ending points if it doesn't get closer to a V-curve and try again. In other words, if it got the half-V curve (basically a diagonal line), it would extend the range of the focusing attempts until it got a full V.

With focusing working, I decided to try a simple automation run - M27 was up the rest of the night, so I set it up in Automatic Observations as a target, requesting 250 sixty second exposures, guided, autofocus every 60 minutes. I also set EQASCOM to do an automatic meridian flip - and that worked too! I requested sky flats to be run in the morning.

One quirk - when I started the automated run, the first image it took - for plate solving - had streaks instead of stars - tracking had been turned off. The local plate solve failed, but astrometry.net succeeded. I stopped the run and turned tracking on in EQASCOM and then started over, but got the same results. Since astrometry.net could solve this, it was not a show stopper, but I'd like to know how to fix this (get tracking from the first exposure).

I noticed that the Focusing panel of Automatic Observations also requires manual entry of a starting and stopping focuser position. This seems like another point where human error could be avoided. Enhancement suggestion: store the autofocus parameters in settings and use them by default.

I woke up at 445AM local time and the run was still going, but it had gotten to 159 exposures. By 162 exposures, the scope was starting to point below my local horizon (trees), which has been established in Prism and shows on the sky chart. Enhancement suggestion: Provide a setting to tell Prism to stop imaging when the target reaches the local horizon.

Since I noticed that Prism was going to keep trying to image M27 as it sank below the trees, I decided to stop the Automatic Observations run. This brought up another thought for an enhancement that I've seen in other acquisition software: Enhancement suggestion: Allow me to set a start and end time on a per-target basis. I should be able to set it by hour angle relative to the meridian to limit the air mass of the observation, or just by clock time. Without this feature, I have to be really good at guessing how many subframes I will be able to acquire in a given amount of time.

I wanted to see how sky flats worked so I told Prism to stop the automatic observation run at the current time and started the run again. It skipped M27 as I hoped it would, and waited for the Sun to reach -5 deg. It then took sky flats but the ADU was quite a bit brighter than I normally use - around 39000 instead of my typical 20000. Another poster submitted this request, but I will echo it: Enhancement suggestion: Allow me to specify a target ADU (with a tolerance) for flat acquisition.

So - on a very positive note, once I got my hardware working properly, I was able to do a full night's automatic run and get good data. Guiding worked, focusing worked, plate solving worked (via astrometry,net, still having hit or miss results with local plate solving), my target stayed centered, and automated flat acquisition worked.

Hamza, here's where I'm at in my evaluation:

Pros

- I'm very enamored with having all the functionality I need in a single software package for all the reasons you know - fewer issues with inter-program communication and compatibility, easier support (no finger-pointing), easier to set up and use.
- I'm fascinated with the plethora of science oriented functions and Prism's support for things like asteroid searches and spectroscopy.
- I want to try the image processing functions although in all honesty, I have a well-established process already for doing image processing with some other software so this is interesting but not really needed

Hesitation

- Prism has fully automated image acquisition capability, but it is not as well-developed as some other options. All of the enhancement suggestions above are things that are present in several other products. It feels to me like Prism has so many capabilities in other areas - probably driven by paying customers in a more professional astronomer capacity - that its amateur astrophotography capabilities are just bit less complete.

I'm on the fence. My primary use of acquisition software is to do all-night, unattended imaging of multiple targets. Prism can clearly do this, but it will require a bit more time and effort to set up - and my experience has been that the more things you have to get right manually for something to work, the more likely you are to make a mistake and lose the night's run. My ideal case is to be able to tell my software "go get X subs of target T with exposure E and filter F" and have it handle all the details - once I've configured it properly for my setup. The more things beyond this that I have to specify - like "tonight, you should start focusing at position P," the more likely I am to leave something out.

The good news is that the enhancements I've suggested are not huge - most of them are in this post, a few are in my other posts. If automated observations for amateur astrophotography is a focus market for Prism, I believe these would make your offering more competitive. But if that's not really your target market, I understand.

Software is never done - and Prism is an extremely impressive piece of software as it stands. I hope my input comes across as constructive, and perhaps helpful. That's my intention!

Cheers,
Rowland
Hamza Touhami
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Posts: 306
Joined: Sat May 20, 2017 6:05 pm
Location: Phoenix,AZ
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Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:54 am

Enhancement suggestion: store the autofocus parameters in settings and use them by default.
This is already available here:
focus parameters.JPG
I woke up at 445AM local time and the run was still going, but it had gotten to 159 exposures. By 162 exposures, the scope was starting to point below my local horizon (trees), which has been established in Prism and shows on the sky chart. Enhancement suggestion: Provide a setting to tell Prism to stop imaging when the target reaches the local horizon.
You can set the end of observation based on the elevation, I never image below 40 degrees. The image below shows the limit for slewing,tracking and target selection limit. You can also define the HA limits if you wish.
Limits.JPG
Enhancement suggestion: Allow me to specify a target ADU (with a tolerance) for flat acquisition.
This is on the to-do list
- Prism has fully automated image acquisition capability, but it is not as well-developed as some other options. All of the enhancement suggestions above are things that are present in several other products. It feels to me like Prism has so many capabilities in other areas - probably driven by paying customers in a more professional astronomer capacity - that its amateur astrophotography capabilities are just bit less complete.
You are right in thinking this way, PRISM has an unmatched value when you consider how much it costs VS how much it provides. With the included PGM scripting language, you can basically write your own functions that do basically anything you wish, I will post an automatic observation script later on today for your reference. You are also correct in away that professionals write their own scripts for far more advanced applications. This is no way saying that we will not address or upgrade things, to the contrary, the to-do list is quite healthy and we are excited to make PRISM more reachable for everyone.
Software is never done - and Prism is an extremely impressive piece of software as it stands. I hope my input comes across as constructive, and perhaps helpful. That's my intention!
Do not fret, I am absolutely loving your posts and welcome more from you. I think there are things that are already available that you have missed and I encourage your to skim the manual and watch my videos.

I personally run two observatories in both hemosphere using nothing but PRISM and each has a 16" newtonian with either an FLI16803 or an Atik11000. I log in mainly to check things and fill out the night's targets and log off. I am greeted with all my data in the morning including skyflats, a closed roof, warmed up CCD and turned off power. All this is done with zero coding and nothing but the built-in automatic observation.


There are things in PRISM that no other software does on the market today, none.
Hamza Touhami | Site Administrator
Hyperion-Astronomy.com

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RowlandA
Posts: 12
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:49 pm

Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:43 pm

Thank you Hamza, I appreciate your insights and replies. It's exciting to know that Prism still has a healthy roadmap of enhancements.

I am on travel for one week so you will get a welcome respite from my lengthy posts :) . It's supposed to rain here tonight and I'm packing so will get back to you in a week with answers to your questions in the other threads.

I will look forward to the script you will post later with an example of custom automation.

Cheers,
Rowland
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