Features of FireCapture 2.2

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FireCapture is in active development and new versions bring new interesting features. At the moment beta versions of FireCapture 2.2 are available. Latest releases of this application for planetary imaging can handle electric filter wheels, motofocusers or even do self-guiding on a planet. In this article I'll show what FireCapture has to offer.

Latest release brings support for IDS Imaging cameras as well some improvements, like better support for ASI cameras (zwoptics). When the application starts we will see the usual FireCapture interface. There are however new features that we can use.

Main screen

Main screen FireCapture
Starting from the top left corner we have some boxes:
  • Camera: the "preview" option gives the live preview we see in the application. "Night mode" will dim the interface to a dark, "night" color scheme (so that it won't blind you when imaging at night). "Binning 2" is available for some cameras and allows recording with binned pixels (2x2 pixels are merged into one, giving 50% resolution, but 4x increase in signal). Binning is handy for recording very dim channels like methane band or UV.
  • Image: here we can choose a full frame or a subframe from the camera sensor. When we use a subframe the frame is smaller and takes less space on the disk. Also some cameras give faster framerate when a smaller subframe is used (ROI - region of interest).
  • Control: we can set exposure time and gain for our recording. Gamma in most cases shouldn't be changed at all.
  • Capture: in this box we have all the recording options. "Profile" - we can choose an object that we are actually imaging. "Filter" - the filter we are using (for mono cameras). Both fields are very handy as they save last used camera settings - you set exposure time and gain for a filter and later when you select it back - you will get the settings back. That saves time when imaging with multiple filters. If we have an electric filter wheel FireCapture will also change filters position as we change filters in this box. The folder icon with a plus sign is for choosing capture folder (in that folder all recordings will be placed). We will be able also to choose capture format (like AVI or SER), and limit recording to a number of frames or capture time (recording will stop when the limit is reached). We can also pause recording (like to fix the position of the planet in the camera field of view).
  • Data: here we will see the capture progress - like amount of captured frames or the framerate.
  • Options: here we can turn on and off some of FireCapture additional features. "Histogram" is very handy. Basing on its values it's easy to set good exposure time (not over-burning or not under-exposing). It also has a noise indicator. On very low noise it will turn red indicating that recording in more than 8-bits may better (happens sometimes for solar imaging, nearly never for planetary imaging).
  • Zoom: Using this box we can scale the preview image (won't affect captured data). It's very handy for cameras with bigger frames that won't fit on the screen. Just zoom out and you can see the whole camera field of view.
  • Settings: Access to all the application settings.
Using FireCapture is easy. You don't have to configure or use all available features. At first start you can just set the capture folder and start imaging.

FireCapture Settings

General settings

FireCapture General settings
Basic, generic settings. Most interesting may be the night mode color selector.

Capture settings

FireCapture capture settings
Here we can configure how FireCapture will name AVI, SER files (captured data). On the left we can choose which data should be in the filename (I choose object, filter and date). The rest will be in the text file saved alongside the captured data file. In the right column we can set the date format and check few additional options.
  • WinJUPOS file naming: will enforce file naming compatible with WinJUPOS application. If such named stack opened in WinJUPOS (measurements) the app will read the date and time from the file name (saves time).
  • Save first AVI/SER frame as JPG preview: this will give you first frame as JPG in the capture folder. When doing mosaics you can use those files in the mosaic making application (like MS ICE) to check if you captured all the areas for the mosaic.

AutoAlign settings

FireCapture AutoAlign settings
Settings for AutoAlign feature usually doesn't require any changes. This feature if enabled will work on planetary imaging. Before saving each frame the planet will be centered in the frame. This will make work easier for stacking applications (similar to Castrator center and crop feature).

Profiles settings

FireCapture profiles settings
Here we manage profiles - the list of objects we can choose for recording. You can add more if you need them.

Performance settings

FireCapture performance settings
In this tab we have some advanced settings that affect capture performance. If you have some problems with recording at camera high framerates it's good to go in here and try optimizing those settings. "Test optimal disk buffer" will start a series of tests after which it will tell you what are the best settings for disk buffer.

HPC settings

FireCapture HPC settings
HPC - Hot pixel correction may be handy for recording at longer exposures (either basic DS imaging or imaging with dark filters). If you have annoying hot pixels you can try using this feature to remove them without using a dark frame.

Telescope settings

FireCapture telescope settings
Here we can set some informations about used equipment and location. Those data can be used for creating signed images for publication.

AutoRun settings

FireCapture AutoRun settings
You can set runs amount and optionally delay between runs - the app will record give amount of clips automatically. For this feature to work you must limit the recording on the main screen (either by time or frame amount). It is also possible to configure runs consisting of clips for multiple filters (check filters settings) if you have an electric filter wheel configured.

Filters settings

FireCapture filters settings
In this tab you can set few things. First is the list of available filters that you can select on the main screen. Second is the abbility to configure a multi-filter sequence recording ("RGB sequence"). Third option is electric (USB) filter wheel support (those that have ASCOM drivers). Choose your filter from in the dialog screen:
Choosing filter wheel
And then assign filters to filters position in the wheel:
Assigning filters to filter wheel positions
When you do that changing a filter on the main screen will also change the current filter in the filter wheel.

Focuser settings

FireCapture focuser settings
If you have a motofocus that can be connected to the computer and controlled via ASCOM driver then you can use FireCapture to controll it. For example you can use a SkyWatcher (or other similar) motofocus and connect it to the PC via HitecAstro (or similar) adapter. Then just choose it ASCOM driver:
Choosing motofocus
When it's enabled you will see a new box on the main screen - it will allow focusing with the motofocus. Also you can set focus position for every filter used. If the scope holds focus (doesn't have a moving primary mirror etc.) then one focusing could be used through the whole imaging session. Note that if the planet altitude changes a lot - focus will also change due to big change in atmospheric dispersion.

AutoGuide settings

FireCapture AutoGuide settings

AutoGuide is one of hot and quite new features. FireCapture may try keep the planet withing the camera field of view by sending corrections to the mount. Something like guiding, but simpler and it uses the frames from the primary camera (there is no second guide camera etc.).

To use this feature you need to connect your mount to the PC via one of available methods - for example by RS232/USB cables or EQDir/EQMod for SkyWatcher Syntrek mounts. Then with an ASCOM driver FireCapture will be able to control the mount and send corrections. For example for a SkyWatcher SynScan I use a RS232/USB cables and ASCOM Celestron/Skywatcher driver:

Choosing mount driver
You can read more about connecting mount the PC in my PHD guiding article.

Astronomy and Astrophotography, 15 October 2012

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