1 DslrStar Documentation Overview 1.0 Introduction This overview will provide an introduction to the features and capabilities of the DslrStar Controller package, which includes the controller hardware and Windows control software. 1.1 Purpose DslrStar is a tool for the acquisition of astronomical photographs and associated image reduction frames using DSLR cameras. The DslrStar Controller and software are designed to simplify and make more convenient astrophotography of the night sky using DSLR cameras. The features of DslrStar bring many of the benefits of CCD cameras costing many times more, to the users of DSLR cameras. DslrStar gives you the flexibility to work in a standalone mode without the use of a computer, or to have the enhanced capabilities - such as focus assist, with remote computer control of your DSLR camera. It gives you the ability to automatically take dark exposures to match the exact temperature of your original images - all on a cloudy night while you sleep. With compatible software, the controller can be used to send auto guiding signals to your telescope. 1.2 Features DslrStar Controller: 1. Store up to 32 exposure sequences, including exposure type, duration, delay between exposures and mirror lockup use. 2. Add/Edit or delete sequences from the keypad. 3. Record exposure log of each exposure including type, duration, time, date, temperature, set temperature. Up to 400 records can be stored. 4. AutoDark feature, create AutoDark sequences specifying a temperature, temperature tolerance and exposure time. Place the controller outside in a protected location, no need for a computer. Start the AutoDark sequence, the controller will monitor the temperature and take dark exposures when it is within
2 you specified tolerance. In the morning your dark exposures are done, ready for automatic retrieval using the exposure log information. 5. Clear the exposure log or reset the controller from the keypad. 6. Opto-isolated BULB output for safe connection to your DSLR camera. 7. IR-Remote LED output for future support of wireless remote cameras. 8. On board temperature sensor or optional accurate thermistor-based temperature sensor input for measuring the exact temperature of each exposure. 9. Four-digit red LED display of menus and status. 10. TTL level auto guider port, for guiding your telescope with compatible software. 11. Built in real time clock with battery backup. And non-volatile storage of sequences and logs. 12. USB computer interface, convenient reliable computer communications, no need for USB-to-serial converters or PCMCIA parallel cards. 13. Standard 12V car battery power requirements, with protective fuse. 14. Sturdy all metal enclosure. DslrStar Controller Window Software: 1. Remote Control of camera settings including: Tv, Av, ISO, mode, quality and white balance. 2. Control of exposure save location, with auto file naming and indexing. 3. Expose single exposures, series of exposures, or full programmable exposure sequences with individual control of camera settings for each set in a sequence. 4. Ability to create, save and load sequences from the hard disk. 5. Focus assist with zoom view, focus diagnostics including 2D and 3D star plot, FWHM and max. Intensity star metrics, and metric trend plots. Automated focus exposure auto repeat and auto adjust to prevent image saturation as focus improves. 6. Full control of the DslrStar Controller settings from the computer. 7. Load/Save/Edit controller sequences from the computer. 8. Load/Save/Edit/Create AutoDark controller sequences including automated creation from scan of previously saved images' temperature information. 9. Auto Synchronize downloaded images with controller exposure log for easy temperature recording. 10. Image viewer window allows viewing images as they are downloaded or from image files with image info viewing and editing. 11. Batch convert dialog for converting multiple image files to any supported format. 12. Window Common Object Model (COM) interface allows third party software to control the DslrStar Controller BULB and temperature functions and Auto guider port.
3 Release Notes DslrStar Documentation 1.0 Versions This documentation is for the following model, hardware, firmware and Software versions. Model Number: 400 Hardware Version: 1.40 Firmware Version: 1.01 Software Version Release Notes Version Initial release. Version Various bug fixes, improved error handling/reporting. Version Improved error handling/reporting in focus dialog. Version Fixed a bug where Canon EOS 20Da driver was sometimes not recognized. Version Fixed a bug where remote sequence displayed incorrect numbers for loaded controller data. -Fixed a bug where the remote sequence number was incorrect. -Increased the remote sequence count and delay numeric range to 0-999, same as controller capability. Version Fixed sequence dialog spin control bug introduces in Version Improved error checking and user feedback in DslrStar setup dialog.
4 Version Added connection diagrams and guider port specifications to help documentation.
5 DslrStar Documentation Installation 1.0 Introduction This topic describes the process of installing and uninstalling the DslrStar Windows software and controller USB drivers on your computer and activating the DslrStar Windows software The installation is a three-step process. First, make sure the camera manufacturer software and drivers are correctly installed. Second, install the DslrStar windows application. Third, install the DslrStar USB drivers. 1.1 Camera Manufacturer software Before installing the DslrStar software and drivers, you must install the camera software and drivers supplied by the camera manufacturer. Follow the instructions supplied by the camera manufacturer to install their software and camera drivers. We recommend you use the camera manufacturer supplied software to test the correct remote control functioning of the camera before installing the DslrStar software. The DslrStar software will not work without properly functioning camera drivers. 1.2 DslrStar Windows software If you have downloaded the DslrStar software demo from our website, execute the setup.exe program to begin the installation. To install the software from the product CD, insert the CD into your CD drive - the installation should begin automatically. If it does not, use Windows Explorer to navigate to the install CD path and double click the file setup.exe to start the installation. The demo program is the same software as supplied on the CD; therefore you do not need to re-install from the CD after purchasing the product, simply activate the demo. However, you will need to install the USB drivers as described below. To obtain the latest release version of the software, simply download the demo and install it in the same location as the original software. When re-installing for any reason be sure to install to the original location to avoid having to activate the software again.
6 When the installation dialog appears follow the instructions to install the software. You will be asked to choose an install path, and if you want a desktop and quick start icon installed. 1.3 DslrStar USB drivers To install the USB drivers, turn on the DslrStar controller by plugging in the power cord. Connect the supplied USB cable to the controller USB port and then to a USB port on the computer. For Windows 98 and ME: The Windows Add New Hardware Wizard should start, click Next. When prompted, select Search for the best driver for your device.(recommended). Then click Next.
7 Check the box next to "Specify a location" and uncheck all others as shown below. Click "Browse" and locate the driver files. The driver files are located in the install path of the DslrStar software in the USB folder (for example C:\Program Files\Cercis Astro\DslrStar\USB ) or on the installation CD in the folder USB (for example D:\USB ). Once the files have been located, click "Next" to proceed with the installation. The wizard may request a driver disk to attempt to find files. Click "OK" on the "Insert Disk" message box.
8 If Windows displays a dialog indicating it cannot find the file ftdibus.cat, click on Skip File to proceed. Windows may display a message reading "Building driver database" at this point which may take a few minutes to pass. Once Windows has found the required files, click "Next" to install the device. Windows should then display a message indicating that the installation was successful. Click "Finish" to complete the installation. The device is now ready for use.
9 For Windows XP: The Windows Found New Hardware Wizard should start. When prompted, select No, not this time, when asked to connect to Windows Update; then click Next.
10 If installing from the demo, select "Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)" as shown below; or if installing from the installation CD, select Install the software automatically (Recommended), and then click "Next".
11 For a demo install, select "Search for the best driver in these locations" and enter the file path in the combo-box (for example "c:\program Files\Cercis Astro\DslrStar\USB ) or browse to it by clicking the browse button. Once the file path has been entered in the box, click Next to proceed.
12 If Windows XP is configured to warn when unsigned (non-whql certified) drivers are about to be installed, the following screen will be displayed. Click on "Continue Anyway" to continue with the installation. If Windows XP is configured to ignore file signature warnings, no message will appear.
13 The following screen will be displayed as Windows XP copies the required driver files. Windows should then display a message indicating that the installation was successful. Click "Finish" to complete the installation. The device is now ready for use.
15 If you choose to activate by . the following dialog box will appear. Fill in the information requested using the name of the person who purchased the product, your e- mail address, the name of the account to use for sending the activation request, the CD-Key found on the product installation CD cover, the activation cannot be completed without the CD-Key. Click Get Key to generate an activation key to be sent to Cercis Astro, then press Send. If the should fail to be sent automatically for any reason, please manually copy the information in the Message edit box to your program and send to the e- mail address Your activation code will usually be ed to you within one business day.
16 If you choose to activate by phone/fax, the following dialog box will appear. Fill in the information requested using the name of the person who purchased the product, your e- mail address, the reply fax number, and the CD-Key found on the product installation CD cover. The activation cannot be completed without the CD-Key. Click Get Key to generate an activation key, which will be sent to Cercis Astro. Call Cercis Astro or fax the information in the Message edit box to the number provided in the dialog or on our web site. We will supply an activation code while you wait or call/fax back the activation code
17 After receiving your activation code from us choose Enter activation code in the startup dialog. Enter the code in the field provided by the Enter Code dialog and click OK to complete the activation. 1.5 Uninstalling DslrStar Software and USB drivers To uninstall the DslrStar Windows software, navigate to the Control Panel and select Add/Remove Programs. Search the list of programs for DslrStar , select the program and click Remove. Follow the instructions in the uninstaller to remove the software from you computer. The DslrStar USB drivers are removed in the same way. NOTE: if you have any other product or device, which requires FTDI USB device drivers to operate, DO NOT UNINSTALL THE USB DRIVERS. To uninstall the DslrStar USB drivers, navigate to the Control Panel and select Add/Remove Programs. Search the list of programs for FTDI FTD2XX USB Drivers,select the program and click Remove. Follow the instructions in the uninstaller to remove the drivers from you computer.
18 File Formats DslrStar Documentation 1.0 Introduction The DslrStar software supports various file formats from different cameras as well as other standard image file types. The native or preferred image file format for working within DslrStar is the FITS format. Many of the features of the software only work when using FITS file formats. Therefore it is desirable to convert your images to the FITS format as soon as possible after downloading and keeping them in FITS format until ready to publish or print. 1.1 DslrStar Native File Format The native image file format for DslrStar is the FITS format. FITS stands for Flexible Image Transfer System and is the standard file format used with astronomical images and data in scientific research and amateur CCD astrophotography. The normal extension for FITS images is *.fit but also *.fts and *.fits are sometimes used. The FITS image file format supports many image pixel data formats such as grayscale or RGB, 8-bit, 16-bit or floating point data formats. Currently DslrStar Software only supports FITS grayscale 16-bit/pixel and RGB 48-bit/pixel data formats. The FITS file format is ideal because it is extremely flexible, it allows storing additional information along with the image data, for example camera or telescope properties, exposure information like time/temperature and image modification histories can be easily included with the file. 1.2 Supported File Formats In addition to the FITS format DslrStar can download camera JPG and RAW images. Camera RAW images must be converted to another format for display. For example you can save camera RAW files in FITS RAW format, which is a grayscale 16-bit/pixel-image file, this is the preferred format if you will be applying reduction frames to you images. Or, you can convert camera RAW files to FITS RGB format, which is a RGB color 48-bit/pixel image file, FITS RGB converted RAW file are bayer interpolated and optionally white balanced. Currently, DslrStar also supports file conversion to/from JPG, FITS B/W, FITS RGB, TIFF RGB 24-bpp and TIFF RGB 48-bpp.
19 Supported Cameras DslrStar Documentation 1.0 Introduction The DslrStar Controller is designed to simplify the use of Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras commonly used in digital astrophotography. We are committed to provide support for all major cameras appropriate for this use. Listed below are the cameras supported by this version of DslrStar. Please visit our web site for the latest information on supported cameras. 1.1 Cameras supported by this version of DslrStar Canon 300D, Digital Rebel, Kiss Canon 10D Canon 350D, Digital Rebel, Kiss Canon 20D Canon 20Da
20 Customer Feedback DslrStar Documentation 1.0 Feedback We want to hear from you. Cercis Astro is committed to provide the best products possible; we welcome any feedback you may have concerning our products. Let us know what you like or dislike, how we can make things better, what features we should add. your comments to Please include the product model number in your message.
21 DslrStar Documentation Astrophotography Basics 1.0 Introduction Astrophotography of the night sky is a multifaceted hobby offering challenges in many areas. There are optical, mechanical, and software issues as well as artistic challenges. We cannot hope to cover all these diverse areas here. Therefore we will cover only the various image types which you can shoot with your DslrStar controller. The Internet is a very good resource for obtaining detailed information on any aspect of astrophotography. We suggest an Internet search on any topic you wish, this will usually produce hundreds of links to websites. Internet user discussion groups are also very good sources of information where you can have your questions answered by knowledgeable enthusiasts all over the world. There are also many fine books on the subject of astrophotography. 1.1 Photographing the night sky The main challenge in photographing celestial objects is the fact that they are very faint. To overcome this, the exposure times must be increased from fractions of a second for normal photography to many minutes for astrophotography. Unfortunately increasing the exposure time introduces unwanted sources of noise in the image. As well, the optical system used often introduces fixed pattern lighting artifacts such as vignetting, which should be removed. To minimize the various noise and artifacts in the final image, astrophotographers expose several different types of additional images, which are applied to the images of the celestial object in such a way to cancel out the noise and artifacts. Dedicated application programs are available to perform the various Image Reduction steps. The major sources of noise and artifacts are listed below. 1. Image sensor thermal noise, this is dependent on the exposure duration and the temperature of the exposure. 2. Camera read noise, related to the electronics in the camera, which read the image off the sensor. 3. Image bias noise, a fixed signal level noise present in all images taken with the camera regardless of exposure duration. 4. Optical imaging train vignetting and dust in the optical path, uneven image illumination and dust donuts. 5. Poor signal to noise ratio, for faint objects where the object signal is close to the same level as the image background the image becomes very grainy in appearance. 1.2 Image reduction Image reduction is the process of applying reduction frames described below to the image for the purpose reducing noise and image artifacts. The DslrStar controller can be used to obtain the various reduction frames described below.
22 1.3 Luminance frames These are images of the celestial object being photographed, often referred to as light frames. In order to improve the signal to noise level of the final image many exposures of the object are taken then stacked together (averaged) using software to obtain the final image. The reduction frames described below are typically applied to each image before stacking. 1.4 Dark frames A dark frame is an exposure of the same duration and at the same temperature as the luminance frame taken in the dark. Dark frames are subtracted from the luminance frame to cancel out thermal noise. Often a series of dark frames are averaged to obtain a master dark frame for image reduction. 1.5 Flat frames Flat frames are images, typically much shorter than light frames, of an evenly illuminated screen or the sky at dusk or dawn. Dividing the luminance frame by the flat frame it is possible to practically eliminate image vignetting and dust donuts from the final image. Depending on the flat frame exposure duration it may be necessary to expose dark frames for the flat frames as well. Flat frames may also be averaged to create master flat frames. Flat frames are only valid if the imaging optical train including camera orientation etc. has not changed. If the optical train changes new flat frames are required. 1.6 Bias frames Bias frames are very short exposures in the dark. They are subtracted from light frames to remove any camera image offsets. Bias frames are only needed when using advanced reduction techniques such as using scaled dark frames. If you are using dark frames of the same duration and at the same temperature as your light frames, bias frames are not needed as they are applied automatically by the dark frames.
23 Standalone Operation DslrStar Documentation 1.0 Introduction To illustrate the procedures for using the DslrStar controller in standalone mode without a computer, we will go through the process of a typical astrophotography imaging session with DslrStar. The weather forecast is for clear skies the next few nights. So you decide to make a trip to your favorite dark sky location to do some early season imaging of M42 in Orion. It s a long trip so you decide not to take your computer along. 1.1 Setting up the Controller Before you go, turn on the controller and camera and connect them to your computer via the USB cable connections. Start the DslrStar software, select your camera and Connect. Go to the DslrStar setup dialog and press Clear to clear all exposure log records from the controller memory, then press Sync to synchronize the controller clock to the camera clock. 1.2 Setting up Remote Sequences You decide to expose M42 at two exposure lengths, 15 exposures of 60 sec. each to capture the highlights without burning out the core, and 30 exposures of 300 sec. to capture the faint details. You will also be taking dusk sky flat field frames, 15 exposures of 1 sec. each (see the astrophotography primer for descriptions of various image types). The controller needs to be setup with the exposures sequences you will be taking. The easiest way to do this is with the computer. Go to the remote dialog, press Load to get the sequences currently on the controller. Press, Add to insert a new sequence, lets say it is #03 on the list. Double click the Type field and choose Light. Enter 15 in the Count field, 30 in the Delay field, select YES for MLU and enter 60 for the Exposure time. Add the next sequence in the same way, entering Light, 30, 30, YES and 300 for the sequence fields, this is sequence #04. Lastly add the flat sequence by adding a new sequence with fields; Flat, 15, 5, NO, 1, that is 15 flat exposures with a 5 sec. delay between, no mirror lockup and 1 sec. exposure time, it is sequence #05. Now press Save to store your new sequences in the controller memory. Off you go to your dark sky sight for some serious astrophotography. 1.3 Editing Remote Sequences from Keypad Once at your imaging site the weather is much colder than you expected, this is good news since you will be able to take longer exposures without noise buildup. You decide to increase the 300 sec. light exposure to 420 sec. So, turn on the controller, use the menus to go to the Edit selection, scroll to the #04 sequence, select it and navigate to the exposure time field. Change the exposure time to 420 sec., cycle to go to accept the edit. Sequences may be entered or edited from the computer or keypad. Do not forget to setup the mount and scope before dark, connect the controller to the camera Bulb and the temperature
24 sensor to the controller. Set the camera to save images in RAW format. 1.4 Run Remote Sequences At dusk you begin to take Flat frames. Point the telescope with camera attached to a good spot in the sky. Select Strt from the DslrStar Controller menu. Scroll to the sequence #05 and go The sequence will start, status information such as exposures left, delay and exposure countdowns are displayed while the sequence is in progress. When the sequence is done the ready prompt will appear. You Go-to M42 in Orion, focus the telescope using your favorite method and begin exposing the Light sequences the same way as the flats. At the end of the sequences you do some visual observing then pack up and head for home. 1.5 Image Sync Exposures Back home the next step is to download all the RAW images from you session from the camera to a directory on your computer and do an image sync with the exposure log records on the controller. Run the DslrStar software, go to the image sync dialog, connect to the controller. The bottom list should contain all the image log records information from your imaging session. At the top list, press Browse to navigate to the RAW images you downloaded from the camera and select all of them, they will appear on the list. At the bottom of the dialog choose to save images as RAW Fits, choose a save path, file name M42 and starting index of 1. Press Auto Sync, the software will automatically match the image list to the corresponding log records, moving the records to the image list. Press Apply to have the software generate FITS files from all of your images, including the information from the log records in the fits header of each file, the file name will have a suffix added to indicate the type of image. At this point all your images will have been converted to FITS format with all image information stored in the file. 1.6 Create Auto Dark Sequences The next step is to create dark frames for your images. For the one-second flat frames you decide the exposure is short enough not to need dark frames. The DslrStar controller and software have the ability to automatically create Auto Dark sequences and take the darks for you with very little effort. Go to the auto darks dialog and press from images to go to the from images dialog. Use the Browse button to navigate to the FITS images for M42 created with the previous image sync, select all the 60 and 420 sec. Light image files. Set the temperature tolerance to 2C and check Apply temp. to Image SetPoint then press Find Dark Temperatures. After processing is done you will see a list of auto dark sequences the software has determined should be taken for the images you supplied. Press OK to exit the dialog, create and add the auto dark sequences to the sequences list, enter the number of exposures you wish to take for each sequence in the count fields. Press Save to store the new auto dark sequences in the controller memory. 1.7 Run Auto Dark Sequences On the next night when the outside temperature is expected to go below the temperature of your astrophotography session, place the controller with camera Bulb connected and temperature sensor attached, outside in a safe protected place. Turn the controller on and use the menus to go to the Auto function. Press Enter to start the auto dark command. The controller will display the current outside temperature. The DslrStar controller will now monitor the temperature. When it reaches the temperature of the stored auto darks
25 sequences, the controller will begin to take dark images. It will continue as long as the temperature is within the tolerance you specified. You are free to do other things while your dark frames are taken for you. The next day, reload the auto dark sequences from the controller using the software. If any of the Completed fields are not equal to the Count fields, not all darks were taken. In that case press Update Counts resave the sequences by pressing Save and repeat the run again on another night. At this point you have a complete set of light images and dark/flat frames in the standard FITS format ready for image reduction and processing using your favorite image processing application.
26 DslrStar Documentation Computer Controlled Operation 1.0 Introduction Computer controlled operation has the added flexibility to have software assisted focusing, complex image sequencing and real time image downloading and viewing. To illustrate the procedures for using the DslrStar controller in computer controlled operation we will go through the process of a typical astrophotography imaging session using DslrStar and a computer. You are a very lucky person, your home is at a dark sky location and you have built a fancy observatory to permanently house all your astro gear and computer. Its time for some early season imaging of M42 in Orion, so you roll off the observatory roof, flip the power switch and get ready for an imaging session. You decide to expose M42 at two exposure lengths, 15 exposures of 60 sec. each to capture the highlights without burning out the core, and 30 exposures of 300 sec. to capture the faint details. You will also be taking white screen flat field frames, 15 exposures of 1/30 sec. each (see the astrophotography primer for descriptions of various image types). 1.1 Exposing Series of Images First you will take your flat field frames. Turn the camera and controller on, connect to the DslrStar software. Go to the settings dialog change the camera settings as desired, choose RAW image quality, and set the camera Tv to 1/30 sec.. Edit the exposure options and file path/name/index as you wish, choose Capture to PC and uncheck convert images to FITS RGB. The camera, controller and software are now ready to take images, check Show Images in Preview Window to see each exposure as it is downloaded. Go back to the main program dialog, enter 15 in the Series Of edit box, check Use Camera Tv, and select Flat for exposure type. Point the telescope at your flat fields white screen and press Expose. The software will expose you flat frames automatically saving them as FITS RAW files in your selected location and displaying them in the image viewer window. 1.2 Setting up Sequences Press Sequence at the main program dialog to go to the sequences dialog. Press new to create a new sequence file. Fill in the sequence fields in turn, for the first sequence set the type to Light, count to 15, exposure to 60, Tv to BULB, type M42_60 for Save As and L for the Suffix. Press Add to add a second sequence definition. Fill in the sequence fields, set the type to Light, count to 30, exposure to 300, Tv to BULB, type M42_300 for Save As and L for the Suffix. Enter the save path in the options area and set the processing and indexing options. The sequence is now set up you can save the sequence to a file on the computer for later use by pressing Save and selecting a file name and path. 1.3 Focusing the Camera This feature assists in obtaining the best focus with your camera attached to the telescope. The focusing process is as follows: