A list of non-chargeable software and utilities I have found useful
What's the problem with using a guide ?
Many guides to astrophotography can be found on the web. The problem with almost all of them is that they are built around the authors 'choice' of some expensive proprietary software - or around the use of some specific manufacturers Hardware (Meade etc).
Worse, some 'guides' are simply (thinly) disguised advertisements for expensive proprietary Hardware / software (that the author has presumably obtained free 'for review' (and, no doubt, will receives a commission for 'pushing' onto the unwary reader) or for the authors own (sometimes useful, sometimes not so useful) software.
This is especially true of 'guides' written by Americans, who, because they have a might higher 'disposable income' than anyone else in the world can purchase packages such as Adobe Photoshop at $650 (CS5, Nov 2010) as opposed to us poor Brits who can't afford to fork out £650 (UK recommended retail price) for exactly the same thing.
My guide sticks to the use of Open Source software, plus some that have been made freely available by the authors ('freeware', or 'donation-ware' if the software invites you to make a donation) with the declaration that it will always be available 'free of charge' for private use.
When it comes to choosing 'intermediate' file formats, those with infinite funds (and infinite patience) can go the Adobe DNG route - those wishing to preserve their images (and sanity) beyond the next Adobe update should avoid all proprietary (and non-backward compatible) formats like the plague they are, and stick to 16bit TIFF (or FITS).
Windows RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for XP - free from Microsoft
Microsoft Windows XP add-on allowing directory browsing of RAW format files in native Windows Explorer 'View' > 'Thumbnails' mode. The Viewer also supports printing and 'save as' options, however you should only use this for browsing (and use something like RAWTherapee to save as 16bit TIFF).
RawTherapee - Open Source
Open Source from v3.0 ('donation ware' prior to this). Reading of RAW file formats is supported by the embedded 'dcraw' code (complied for Windows use). This software should only be used to convert your RAW image files into TIFF (16 bit), or, if you must, into some unspecified version of DNG (8 or 16 bit), although it defaults to JPEG. It has the ability to pass a processed image directly to GIMP.
The v2.4.1 GUI layout is NOT 'Windows Standard' = there is no pull-down menu bar across the top, rather it looks as if it's been taken directly from a Mac with 'buttons' and tiny window 'expansion' diamonds sprinkled liberally all over the main window = which can be EXTREMELY ANNOYING. It is believed that the v3.x GUI is a big improvement (but the code is not yet stable as of Nov 2010). Even the current 'stable' version (v2.4.1) has a habit of crashing with extreme rapidity if you start 'playing' with the conversion sliders (Saving before adjusting a slider is highly recommended).
Some of it's more annoying 'features' are :-
'Browsing' to a folder automatically creates thumbnails (it seems to have no 'list' or 'details' mode), so it's 'not a good idea' to let it 'see' thousands of RAW's in a single folder :-). In the 'Preferences' window (button, bottom right) you can see that, by default, it will 'open' the folder that was last open (but only if it was closed correctly - i.e. it didn't crash (some hope)). The Gamma function is called the 'Luminance Curve' and can be found as the Luminance Curve sub-menu of the Luminance Curve main menu :-). The curve can be 'dragged' around using your mouse (nice) but doing so typically results in a lock-up or crash (not so nice). 'Save As' is the tiny almost hidden button on the right of the big 'Save' bar button (this, no doubt, is designed to encourage you to overwrite your original source file).
Every time I use RawTherapee I realise how fortunate it was for the sanity of the world that Bill Gates beat Steve Jobs when it came to user interface design ...
DSLR Shutter - freeware
Software allowing computer remote-control of your digital camera (via it's manual 'bulb' shutter release socket) using a cable from your laptop's serial or parallel port (or USB<>Serial adapter)
PHD Guiding (Push Here Dummy) - freeware
The best auto-guiding software around. Connect your telescope mount, connect your camera, select a star, and start guiding !
Registax - freeware
The best 'stacking' software around. Used to 'stack' video frames (from a web-cam or similar) or multiple images for Planetary (including Moon) imaging. Really good at controlling 'distortion' by rejecting parts of an image that are 'out of focus'
A good tutorial on Planetary Imaging using Registax can be found here.
DeepSkyStacker - freeware
Best software to process 'deep sky' (DSO) images. Not suitable for processing movies of the planets (see Registax, above)
Hugin - Open Source
Panorama 'stitching' software that can be used to assemble a Moon 'mosaic'
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