Returning to Astrophotography

Discussion in 'General' started by Steve Procter, Jul 15, 2019.

  1. Steve Procter

    Steve Procter Standard User

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    Jul 15, 2019
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    Hello

    I am returning to AP after a few years away from from it when my equipment was in storage.
    I am now returning to the hobby and considering Maxim DL as a means on integrating everything, including some of the basic processing. In the past I've used some of the Photoshop facilities (Levels, curves etc) for this. But I don't know whether all of my equipment is supported by Maxim or indeed how Maxim itself works. I've been introduced to Maxim in the past by a friend who used it frequently but my persoanl knowledge of it is minimal.

    My equipment comprises a Mountain Instruments MI250 mount controlled by Gemini 1.4; a Starlight Xpress SXVR H36 mono camera; a Starlight Xpress Lodestar guide camera; Apogee AW50-9R filter wheel with RBG and NB filters and a FLI Atlas focuser. I have used all of this in the past in conjunction with The Sky 6. I like to use plate solving as part of my AP and to use automatic focusing software such as FocusMax. I may also want to use Maxim in conjunction with a second Skywatcher EQ6 Pro mount controlled by EqDir.

    I don't want to invest inMaxim only to find out later that it's not suitable for some of my equipment and therefore the wrong thing to have done. Can anybody confirm that my set up would be suitable for Maxim and whether there are any shortcomings for my set-up without changing part of it?

    If it's appropriate for support etc, I am in the UK

    Many thanks
     
  2. William B

    William B Cyanogen Customer

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    Location:
    Christchurch, Dorset UK
    Hello Steve.

    I am in the UK too....

    While you wait for an official response from Diffraction Limited I can see that I have used most of the equipment in your list at one time or another in MaxIm DL versions 4 through 6, the only exception is the Apogee A(F?)W50-9R which is unusual to see as a standalone FW without the Apogee camera to go with it.

    You would need the MaxIm DL PRO version to control all the equipment in your list.

    I have written a detailed response below to cover most of your questions, before reading those there are a couple of general points.

    MaxIm DL is available as a fully functional free trial, I'm not sure if it is thirty days or sixty days, it no longer states this on the download page.
    I would suggest waiting just a few more weeks for the longer nights to return and then complete the demo license application form, download the demo and have a play. You can find the demo application form here, along with other helpful information and links to the manual etc:

    http://diffractionlimited.com/product/maxim-dl/

    The other thing to be aware of is that electronics, from ~ten years ago and longer, do not usually like long periods of inactivity. It was common to use capacitors in circuit design of a type that change chemically over time. It is not uncommon to find old equipment that is bought back to life will fail fairly soon after powering it up so while you wait for astro darkness to return I would suggest at least to install all the hardware drivers on your computer, connect all the equipment so that it is recognised by Windows and give all the equipment a good soak test. Around forty hours would be a reasonable time, if the equipment is still functioning and recognised by Windows after that time then begin looking at, and trialing, the software.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    MaxIm DL PRO ships with PinPointLE included which will handle plate solving, this can be upgraded if necessary with the full version of PinPoint if you require extra functionality.
    The full version of Pinpoint can be found on the DC3-Dreams web site here:

    http://pinpoint.dc3.com

    The Losmandy Gemini mount controller uses the Meade serial protocol so MaxIm would be set up to use that emulation which is built in as standard.

    EQDir is only a hardware interface for Skywatcher mounts, for MaxIm to control the mount this is done with EQASCOM. EQASCOM is installed as part of the EQMOD software pack, once EQASCOM is installed MaxIm can control the mount, it would be listed under mount setup in MaxIm as 'EQMOD ASCOM EQ5/6'.

    You can find the EQMOD/EQASCOM downloads here:

    https://sourceforge.net/projects/eq-mod/

    The Starlight cameras use the Starlight Xpress universal protocol in MaxIm, you would need to download the MaxIm DL 6.1x plugin from the Starlight Xpress downloads page:

    http://www.sxccd.com/drivers-downloads

    FocusMax can be used by MaxIm as the 'focuser' if desired, while FocusMax actually controls the Atlas hardware, alternatively, MaxIm can be used to control the Atlas directly with it's own built-in autofocus routine.

    The FLI Atlas uses the ASCOM protocol, the correct ASCOM driver is installed with the FLI software installation pack:

    http://www.flicamera.com/software/index.html

    MaxIm would use the Apogee ASCOM driver for the filter wheel, Apogee Ascom Driver v5.5.4, the driver for that is found here:

    http://www.andor.com/downloads?src=drivers

    For the Apogee filter wheel I believe you also need the Andor Driver Pack - 2.103.30031.0 (CCD,ICCD & EMCCD)

    and also:

    Windows Driver and SDK Installer.

    Both found on the Andor downloads page.
    Andor used to list an obsolete driver pack which 'I think' contained the filter wheel hardware drivers for the older filter wheels, if after installing the two driver packs listed above the FW is not recognised by Windows you may need to contact Andor for a copy of the Obsolete Drivers Pack.

    I think that covers most of your opening questions, the only thing I am unable to verify is the filter wheel, I'm sure the ASCOM driver will work with MaxIm but whether you can still get the hardware drivers for the latest Windows platform I do not know, it would be best to start with that and see if you can get Windows to see the filter wheel and if that is successful then the rest will be straight forward.

    If you run into any problems or have queries then post back here and the Diffraction Limited staff will take them up.

    HTH.

    William.
     
  3. Colin Haig

    Colin Haig Staff Member

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    Steve - William has put together a very comprehensive lit, and I don't see any obvious errors.

    Officially, MaxIm supports a very comprehensive list of hardware, either directly or via the ASCOM standard.
    Over the past few years, a lot has gone into MaxIm DL Pro. You would require the Pro version. The Suite also includes MaxPoint, a pointing model for the mount.

    Looking at all the hardware you have, you should be good.
    The Apogee filter wheel is listed. Andor's driver situation could be better, but native support for that wheel is in MaxIm, so you may not need their ASCOM driver.
    EQMOD EQASCOM will work with your EqDir cable and EQ6.
    The Losmandy Gemini 1 / MI-250 is really obsolete, but am betting it would work as a Meade Classic. Alternatively, you might have a look at the Sidereal Technology controller boxes.
    Starlight Xpress took over development of their camera plugin (we did it for them originally), and so you would need to download and install their drivers and plugin, or use ASCOM.

    You can find what is new in version 6 here:
    https://diffractionlimited.com/help/maximdl/What_s_New_.htm
    and you can find a lot of what has gone into 5.x and 6.x here:
    http://www.diffractionlimited.com/help/maximdl/Release_Notes.htm

    To test out the software, I suggest you go download and install ASCOM Platform 6.4 SP1, and then all low-level and ASCOM drivers for your equipment.
    After that is all in, it's time to move on to MaxIm.

    Go get the trial version (click the Demo tab) here:
    http://diffractionlimited.com/product/maxim-dl/
    The 30 day trial starts when you first install and run it. Contact us if you need any support.

    MaxIm supports "Configurations" so you can set everything up and save it, then if you change mount/cameras/equipment, you can create a new Configuration and then go back later.
    The software license allows it to be installed on 2 computers, as long as it is used only one at a time (eg Laptop at night for imaging; Desktop PC for processing your data during the data).
    If you have 2 computers running 2 mounts at the same time, you need 2 licenses.

    Let us know if you have any issues/questions/concerns.
     
  4. Steve Procter

    Steve Procter Standard User

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    Jul 15, 2019
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    Thanks to both William and Colin for such comprehensive responses to my original questions. Much seems to have changed since returning to AP!

    My old 'astro' laptop ran under XP and since much of the old software, drivers etc are still loaded on it, that might well be my starting point to check whether there are any fundamental problems with any of my current hardware. Once I've established that (hopefully), it looks as though the next step is to repeat everything on a Windows 10 laptop after installing the latest version of Ascom and identify where new drivers will have to be installed. And thanks again for the links to the driver downloads

    On a point of detail, Colin, I had thought that I may have to upgrade from my existing Gemini 1 controller (it is still working despite the long layoff) to the later Gemini 2 controller at some point. I assume that Gemini 2 is supported in Maxim DL Pro. Why do you suggest going down the Sidereal Technology route as an alternative?

    In reality, it will be a few months before the dark evenings arrive here and I can take advantage of the free trial offer. That should provide sufficient time to do the first two stages of preparation/testing before everything becomes real again!
     
  5. Colin Haig

    Colin Haig Staff Member

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    Hi Steve,
    It's been quite a while since I've played with an MI-250 and someone has a google group for it I think. A few days ago mi-250.com was up, but it is broken today.
    I expect the Gemini 2 would work, but if the old controller works, carry on. I am aware of some other folks that have retrofitted various mounts including Mountain Instruments with SiTech. It's not a requirement, just a suggestion.
     
  6. Steve Procter

    Steve Procter Standard User

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    Jul 15, 2019
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    Hi Colin. Yes, I've recently joined a MI250 group which seems to have taken over from the old and now defunct group on Yahoo. There seems to be a split on there between those operating their mount under both Gemini 1 and Gemini 2 with the latter group now growing. I had heard in the past of some swapping to a Sidereal Technology controller but that's as far as my knowledge of that option extends! I may look into that as an option.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2019

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