With the introduction of commercially-available scientific-grade cooled CCD cameras in the 1990’s, astrophotography gradually started to shift away from film emulsion to digital imaging. The performance of these one-shot color and monochrome/tri-color imaging CCD cameras now greatly exceeds that of film cameras; unfortunately the price of large format CCDs with imaging areas approaching that of a 35mm camera has kept them out of reach for many amateur astronomers.
With the new breed of Digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras, this is changing. While DSLRs are only a fraction as sensitive as high-end cooled 35mm-format CCD cameras, they are also only a fraction the price.
Modern DSLRs are more sensitive than the best film emulsions, and unlike film do not suffer from reciprocity failure. DSLRs are not able to take single long exposures like CCDs, but software can be used to extend the exposure time and to stack multiple images. The trick to getting great images with DSLRs as well as CCD cameras is to use the right software. And that software is MaxIm (Maximum Image) DL Pro Version 5.
MaxIm DL Pro V.5 provides imaging support for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and other popular DSLR cameras, webcams, and DSI-style cameras, as well as all conventional scientific-grade color/monochrome/tri-color imaging CCD cameras. In addition, you get focuser control, telescope control, adaptive optics control, filter wheel control, observatory dome control, scripting, mosaic capture, astrometry, photometry, and enhanced image processing. It even includes a built-in mini-planetarium program with an all-sky view, zoom view, and automatic star chart overlay so you don’t need a separate software program to keep track of the sky.
It reads DSLR RAW formats. It has built-in auto-center, autofocus, and FocusMax support focus tools and built-in autoguiding. You can do longer individual exposures via an add-on shutter control cable, set up automatic exposure sequences, do raw frame processing for optimum dark subtraction and high bit depth, and do automatic stacking with auto-alignment. It has advanced processing features such as Range Restricted Filters, color balance, and saturation adjustment.
High quality imaging with DSLRs requires proper focus, good guiding, capturing RAW frames, and stacking multiple long exposures. MaxIm DL Pro V.5 makes this easy. MaxIm DL Pro V.5 provides a complete set of focus tools, including a rapid image download mode, 3-D focus graph, and measurement of peak, FWHM, and Half Flux Diameter. In addition, with suitable digitally-controlled focuser, MaxIm DL Pro V.5 can provide full autofocus.
You can connect a webcam or DSI, LPI camera for use as an autoguider – or use it as the main camera for deep sky or planetary imaging. For optimum RAW frame capture, MaxIm DL Pro V.5 will directly download raw images from the camera, and save them in FITS format. Raw frames are best because they have higher bit depth, have not been compressed, and have not been debayered (converted to color). This is the optimum format for dark frame and flat field correction, and provides the highest dynamic range.
Sequencing allows you to take multiple frames at different exposures times and different ISO settings. This can be used to optimize detection of both bright and faint objects in the field. MaxIm DL Pro V.5 supports popular shutter control cables, to allow for longer single exposures. Stacking longer individual frames results in lower overall read noise, producing deeper images faster.
Taking your images is just half the fun. You can use MaxIm DL Pro V.5 to turn your camera’s RAW frames into a gorgeous celestial vista. Using RAW frames eliminates the artifacts caused by in-camera processing, including debayer and JPEG artifacts, and increases the available bit depth. First use MaxIm DL Pro’s calibration tools to quickly and easily remove bias, dark current, and fix flat-fielding errors. Then transform the raw “Bayer Matrix” image into a color frame. You can process dozens of images in one batch using the Command Sequence window. Next, you’ll want to stack dozens of images to produce a composite long exposure image. A single command will stack all of your images, with automatic pixel alignment to remove any drift. Now all that remains is to process your image to final form. Use Range Restricted Filters to sharpen bright areas of the image, and smooth the faint, noisy background detail. Then use the Curves command to fine-tune your image for optimum display. MaxIm DL Pro V.5 has kernel filters, an unsharp mask program, and many more image processing features, such as bad pixel and bloom removal. You can adjust the color balance and saturation, export to FITS, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, or BMP format. The program’s new buffering technology handles high bit depth, multi-megapixel images.
MaxIm DL Pro V.5 requires a PC using a Pentium or equivalent or higher PC, with a 1 GHz or faster processor speed recommended; 512 MB RAM minimum (2 GB recommended for processing large arrays including DSLR images and CCD images larger than 6 megapixel); 50MB of disk space is required for software installation.
MaxIm DL Pro V.5 will work with Windows 2000, XP 64-bit, or Vista 64-bit or higher. Apple Macintosh running Boot Camp and Windows is supported and is the equivalent to running Windows on a regular PC. Apple Macintosh running VMWare Fusion™ is not a supported configuration; however, correct operation for processing has been reported by customers using the latest version of VMWare Fusion™. Apple Macintosh running Parallels™ is not a supported configuration and is not recommended. WINE/Linux is not a supported configuration; customer reports indicate limited functionality. Windows 95, 98, ME, and NT are not supported configurations and will not install; these obsolete versions of Windows do not support functions required by this current Version 5 MaxIm DL release.
The display should be 1024 x 768, with 16-bit color or higher. 8-bit cards can only display monochrome images. You’ll also need a CD-ROM, a mouse, and Internet Explorer 5 or higher in order to display on-line help.