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SharpCap 2.10 Beta

posted Jan 16, 2017, 12:10 PM by Robin G   [ updated Jan 16, 2017, 2:14 PM ]

The first beta build of SharpCap 2.10 is now available on the Beta Downloads Page. Once again 2.10 is a very big release and there are a lot of new features and an awful lot of bug fixes and improvements.

Hardware

On the hardware front, the big changes in 2.10 are the addition of support for Point Grey cameras and a revamp of how SharpCap handles Webcam and Frame Grabber input to bring those sources closer to the level of the dedicated astro cameras in terms of the functionality SharpCap can offer.

Point Grey Cameras

A big thank you to Astrograph for providing a sample Point Grey camera to work and develop with. Having a sample camera to develop against is pretty much the starting point for getting any new brand of cameras supported in SharpCap - without one it's almost impossible to get things working in a reasonable amount of time. Currently SharpCap supports FlyCapture based cameras (not Spinnaker Cameras) and it should be fine with GigE, USB and Firewire models. As always, bug reports are welcome with as much detail as possible as it's likely that different camera models might need a few more tweaks to the code throughout the beta process.

Point Grey camera support requires you to install some extra Microsoft components on your PC. To avoid making the SharpCap installer a lot bigger for everyone, these have been packaged separately in the 'SharpCap PreRequisites Installer'. You can find this on the SharpCap Beta Downloads Page and you only need to install it once (not every time you upgrade SharpCap 2.10).

Webcam Improvements

The change to the processing of Webcam/Frame Grabber video is the other major change in SharpCap 2.10. Right from the first versions of SharpCap up until version 2.9, SharpCap has let DirectShow (the Microsoft Video components) take charge of showing webcam images on the screen and saving them to AVI file. As SharpCap has added more and more features for Astro cameras, Webcam users have been a bit left behind, since adding those features for them was either impossible or would have meant writing the code twice - once for Astro cams and once for Webcams. Now in SharpCap 2.10, SharpCap takes full control of displaying and saving the images from Webcams - DirectShow is only used for grabbing the image data in the first place. This means that features that couldn't previously be supported for webcams are now available - these include
  • Dark frame subtraction and flat frame correction
  • Saving in SER or FITS format
  • Display adjustments of Gamma, Contrast and Brightness that affect the screen only

There is one drawback - if you have a camera that captures in a compressed format (primarily MJPG, possibly I420, YUV, YUY2 etc), then the new approach will lead to bigger capture files as the output files are always saved as RGB (three bytes per pixel). In this age of cheap SSD storage and even cheaper hard disk storage, it's unlikely that the increase in file size is going to cause a problem, but if it does you can switch back to the old way of doing things in the settings dialog.

Camera SDK Updates

SharpCap 2.10 contains new versions of the camera SDKs from the major Astro camera vendors (Altair, QHY, ZWO) which fix bugs, add support for new models and add new features. If you have a new model camera from any of these vendors you may well find that it will work better with SharpCap 2.10 than it does with SharpCap 2.9

Other Hardware

SharpCap 2.10 adds direct support for ZWO EFW filter wheels without needing to have ASCOM installed. There is also now an option on each type of supplementary hardware (Focuser, Filter Wheel, Mount) to allow the hardware to be temporarily disconnected then reconnected while the camera is running.

Image Processing

Flat Frame Correction

Flat frame correction is a brand new feature in SharpCap 2.10 - it allows flat fields to be captured in the same way that previous versions of SharpCap assisted in capturing dark frames and then the flat field can be applied to correct each image captured, correcting both the image viewed on screen and the data saved to file.

SharpCap uses the special high speed CPU instructions that are usually for games and multimedia to allow flat frame correction to be carried out at very high speed. With a modern high power processor you should be able to apply flat frame correction to the video stream from a USB3 camera (like a ZWO ASI174MC) at full speed.

Thanks to Gary Palmer for his suggestions and discussion that led to the creation of this feature.

Dark Frame Subtraction Enhancements

SharpCap 2.10 adds the ability to create and apply high bit depth (16 bit) dark frames when using 8 bit cameras (or 8 bit modes). This is important when using live stacking with low gain (low noise) as otherwise the repeated use of an 8 bit dark frame negates the improvement in signal that would be expected as the number of stacked frames increases and the SNR of the stack increases.

Thanks to Matt from Astro Video Systems for suggestions that lead to the introduction of this features.

Live Stacking Improvements

This version of SharpCap adds a filter option for for frame brightness which can be used to reject frames that are dimmer than the average - this should allow detection of incoming or patchy clouds. Additinally there is a new tab showing history graphs of the rotation and offset of each frame in the stack to allow a better understanding of how well the mount is tracking.

Lots of other improvements have been made to live stacking to improve both performance and user experience, including

  • Ability to soften the black point of the histogram stretch to give better image tones around the black point
  • More options to tweak the parameters used for star detection
  • Improvements to file naming so that the total stack duration is included in the file name
Finally, SharpCap no longer re-detects stars in the stack so far every time a new frame is added, meaning that the time taken to stack each frame is approximately halved!

Focus Assistance

SharpCap 2.10 adds focus assistance if you are using an ASCOM focuser. This appears in the 'Graph' tab of any of the focus measurements if you have a focuser connected. Rather than having to adjust the focuser through several positions one at a time to find the best position you can use the 'Scan Out' and 'Scan In' buttons to perform a series of measurements of the focus score. Once a scan has been performed and has a maximum (or minimum) score in it, you can use the 'Goto Best Positon' or 'Goto Best Score' buttons to put the focuser back to either the position where the best score was measured or to seek the best score value.

The 'Goto Best' buttons both take the focuser back to the beginninng of the scan so that the best score is approached in the same direction to avoid backlash problems.

You can use the 'Options' button to adjust the size and number of steps used when scanning.

Plate Solving

SharpCap now supports plate solving using AstroTortilla if you already have it installed on your computer. You'll need to have AstroTortilla itself installed (including the Star Index files).

You can kick off plate solving using the locate button (GPS Symbol) in the mount control (you have to have selected an ASCOM mount to access the plate solving). When you press the locate button, the current frame will be plate solved with AstroTortilla, the mount will be synced to the solution and then will perform a re-GOTO to the position it was originally supposed to be pointing to.

Other Improvements

SharpCap scripting is improved by the inclusion of a full python standard library so that it's no longer necessary to use the .NET API for basic tasks like file I/O in scripting. It's now possible to run an RPC server like Pyro inside SharpCap to allow SharpCap to be controlled by other applications. Unfortunately due to limitations in Pyro it's not possible to directly exposre the SharpCap object model, but it's possible to write Python objects to wrap the SharpCap object model and expose those objects.

Finally, SharpCap 2.10 adds the - long requested - ability to manage capture profiles, which includes the ability to delete unwanted profiles and to set/clear the default profile for each camera.

Downloads

Beta builds can be downloaded here.

SharpCap 2.9 Now Available

posted Jul 12, 2016, 2:44 PM by Robin G   [ updated Jul 13, 2016, 1:45 AM ]

SharpCap 2.9 has perhaps had more work go into it than any previous version of SharpCap - certainly I've changed the code more times (409) than ever before for a new version. As well as the addition of the completely new Polar Alignment functionality, there have been big improvements to Live Stacking, Focus Score measurement, Dark Subtraction and many other areas of the product. In a little more detail...

Download Links
New Feature:
  • Polar Alignment - select Tools -> Polar Align and read the on-screen instructions
Live Stacking:
  • Save to 16 bit fits by default (32 bit option in drop down)
  • Many options now persisted
  • Pause button added to temporarily stop adding new frames
  • Better file naming
  • Add digital gain and other new star detection tweaks.
  • Stretching changed to a simple gamma stretch with white/black levels
  • Histogram stretch settings automatically saved/restored
  • Negative pixel values supported in the stack which improves dark frame subtraction effectiveness
  • Fix dark subtraction in live stacking when using RAW capture mode
Focus Score:
  • History Chart completely re-written - more detail, more interactive, can now pan & zoom
  • Add new focus score measurement based on image contrast range
  • Add new focus score measurement based multi star FWHM
  • Add new Fourier Transform Focus Score
  • Add smoothed trace to bar chart
  • Add mean value to bar chart when using an ASCOM focuser
  • Add new graph of score vs position when using an ASCOM focuser
  • Remember size/position of selection area
  • Bahtinov mask focus score now has standard history chart like other score methods
Cameras & Hardware:
  • QHY Cameras - Updated SDK - Support QHY5III cameras
  • ZWO Cameras - Updated SDK - Fix bugs and support new models
  • Altair Cameras - Updated SDK - Fix bugs and support new models
  • Celestron Cameras - Updated SDK - Fix bugs and support new models
  • Test Cameras - Improved planetary test camera
  • RAW Mode - Option to force debayer pattern in raw modes for cameras that lie about their pattern
  • Hardware - Mount control via ST4 support added on ZWO, QHY, Altair cameras (Experimental)
  • Hardware - Focuser Control - You can type a value in the focuser position box
UI:
  • Fix remembering size of docked controls and other UI bugs
  • Add hot keys for Quick Capture (Alt-Q), Live Stack (Alt-L), Snapshot (Alt-A)
  • Control Panel - Groups can be re-ordered with drag and drop. Order saved per camera, can be reset from Options menu
  • Old style UI controls and the options to enable them removed
  • Auto option added to the Zoom drop down that will fit the frame in the available space
  • Reticules - add more outer rings on the circular reticule - helpful for collimation
  • Show countdown of frames being written to disk at end of capture
  • Histogram - do not show jagged histograms in 10/12 bit modes
  • Histogram - option to choose between Logarithmic and Linear vertical scale
  • Histogram - Exclude the value for the blackest level to avoid a big spike at that point in linear mode
  • Histogram - Fix vanishing histogram bug
Misc:
  • Scripting - many improvements and bug fixes to enable more use of Python scripting
  • File Naming - creates sequentially numbered files instead of multiple files called 0001 in different directories
  • File Naming - more informative name for single frame captures.
  • Dark Subtraction - Fixes to dark subtraction applied incorrectly in RAW mode
  • Dark Subtraction - Fix colour order wrong in dark stacks on colour cameras
  • Dark Subtraction - Fix dark creation in 16 bit mode (was half intensity)
Bug Fixes:
  • Bug fix - polar alignment with non-English numeric settings
  • Bug fix - incorrect bayer pattern saved to SER file when using horiz/vert flip on ZWO cameras
  • Bug fix - ensure only a single frame is captured when taking a snapshot on high speed cameras
  • Bug fix - focuser in/out buttons were not working
  • Bug fix - fix issue where memory could become exhausted if the UI became bogged down
  • Bug fix - changing colour space could sometimes cause a crash
  • Bug fix - capture time limit display incorrect
  • Bug fix - number of frames captured during dark capture and other limited frame captures was incorrect
  • Many other minor bug fixes

2.8.2260 Bug Fixes

posted Mar 5, 2016, 2:21 PM by Robin G

Build 2260 is largely just bug fixes for problems in the initial 2.8 build

  • Dark capture - fix for DirectShow cameras and ignore first frame in case it's not really dark
  • DirectShow cameras now show correct exposure time in ms/s rather than raw value
  • AVI output from astro cameras - fix orientation
  • Fix bug which caused crash if capture profile has invalid value
  • DirectShow cameras - start in highest resolution rather than lowest
  • QHY - add support for built in filter wheel (don't use ASCOM driver).
  • Live Stacking - write capture settings file for each capture
  • Live Stacking - improved alignment code
  • Fix bug with sequence of single frame captures locking up
  • Fix bug which could cause crashes in Bahtinov detection and other issues

SharpCap 2.8 Available

posted Feb 26, 2016, 2:31 PM by Robin G   [ updated Feb 26, 2016, 2:36 PM ]

I'm going to call 2.8 a preview release for a couple of days - just in case there are a few bugs lurking. As always with a new version, test in daylight before risking valuable clear skies time!

What's new in 2.8?

  • Notification Bar - replaces many message boxes and the capture sequence wait dialog.
  • Quick Capture - new Quick Capture toolbar button with various frame and time options.
  • Performance - Improved performance with high speed USB3 cameras, especially capture speed
  • Performance - Frame write speed test on the filename settings page for testing.
  • Histogram - improved look, range bars below histogram and now scaled in percent on the horizontal axis
  • RAW Mode - Debayer On/Off is now a separate control, no longer part of Colour Space selection.
  • File Naming - added option for WinJUPOS compatible file names. Uses mid point time in the capture for the WinJUPOS name
  • Dark Capture - new tool to help capture dark files in the Capture menu.
  • Dark Library - Darks automatically get saved into a folder structure based on camera name and parameters.
  • Dark Library - When you browse for a dark file it will start in the correct part of the dark library.
  • Focus Score - switch between recording average and best values.
  • Focus Score - Now always requires a selection rectangle to avoid hang on large frame sizes
  • Live Stacking - improved file naming including number of stacked frames
  • Live Stacking - Stop accidental double dark subtraction - Astro cameras can only subtract darks from the camera controls now.
  • Live Stacking - Switch between raw/stack immediately even for long exposures.
  • Live Stacking - fix FWHM filter not working unless the limit value was changed.
  • Live Stacking - Save as Dark removed from Live Stacking - use the 'Dark Capture' option in the Capture menu.
  • Many bug fixes from bug reports.

Note that this version will still work with Windows XP, but this will be the last major version of SharpCap to support XP.

Download Links

SharpCap 2.7 is now released

posted Jan 30, 2016, 12:32 PM by Robin G   [ updated Jan 30, 2016, 12:35 PM ]


SharpCap 2.7 adds a number of new features, particularly to the live stacking feature that was already in 2.6. Improvements to Live Stacking include:
  • Alignment and derotation added - note: must be able to at least 3 stars in each frame for this to work
  • FWHM measurement and filtering on FWHM score
  • Flexible levels adjustment on the histogram tab
  • Log of stacking info/events
  • Make Test Camera available in released code for experimentation with these features
  • Much improved handling of reading dark frames - will convert bit depth and 3/4 colour planes as required
  • Add options to save stack as a dark or as viewed (ie including histogram adjustments)
  • Now supports alignment in 16 bit modes
In addition to the live stacking improvements, there are a couple of other significant new features:
  • Dark subtraction available for all Astro cameras - look in preprocessing controls. Note that this doesn't include webcams (but you can use dark subtraction for webcams within live stacking). Also, don't select dark subtraction both at the camera level and within live stacking. It won't end well...
  • Focuser position line drawn on focus score graphs if you have an ASCOM focuser selected. This helps you spot the focuser position where you achieved the best focus. Maybe this will form the basis of an autofocus feature in a future version.

Finally, there are the usual improvements to camera support. This time the big news is the addition of support for Celestron/Imaging Source cameras. Once again a big thank you to F1 Telescopes who were kind enough to arrange various sample Celestron cameras for me to work with - without which this would have been impossible.

Additionally, there are improvements to the support for the following cameras

  • QHY cameras - new SDK integrated which will work with a much wider range of QHY cameras. Support for upcoming QHY5III cameras added. Support for QHY ColdMOS cameras coming soon. Thanks to QHY for help and sample cameras to improve SharpCap.
  • Altair cameras - new SDK, updates to support upcoming new camera models and bug fixes. Thanks to Altair Astro for providing access to production cameras and development models.
  • ZWO cameras - again, new SDK, bug fixes and changes to support new and upcoming models including ASI***COOL cameras. Thanks to ZWO for providing help, feedback and access to cameras to test and develop with.
  • Basler cameras - updated to a new version of the Pylon SDK (5.0) and fixed a number of issues arising from some Basler cameras having slightly different names for controls like Gain and Exposure (sigh...). Also there is a new experimental option for Basler cameras, which updates a lot of the Basler code to be in line with the more recently supported cameras. I hope to add LX support to this experimental option in SharpCap 2.8 and then withdraw the old Basler camera code.

One more thing worth noting is that SharpCap 2.7 is going to be the last version of SharpCap that will work on WindowsXP. SharpCap 2.8 will require Windows 7 (well, it might run on Vista, but I'm making no promises and nobody uses Vista anyway...)

Finally, a bit thank you to everyone who uses and enjoys SharpCap, particularly those who take the time to report a bug, get in touch, like SharpCap on facebook or otherwise contribute. I've fixed dozens of bugs while developing 2.7 as a direct result of bug reports, so keep those coming!

This installer can be found on the downloads page.

SharpCap supports Altair Astro GP Cameras

posted Aug 6, 2015, 2:07 PM by Robin G   [ updated Aug 6, 2015, 11:22 PM ]

I'm delighted to announce that SharpCap is now supports the new GP (Guiding and Planetary) cameras from Altair Astro - that is the GPCAM MT9M034M and the GPCAM AR0130C. A big thanks to Altair for providing me with samples of the cameras to get SharpCap up and running with them.

Full support is in SharpCap build 2.6.1671 (which you can find, as ever, on the download page). Earlier builds have had preliminary support, but please update to the latest build to avoid possible issues.

You can find drivers and other information about the cameras here.

What's New in SharpCap 2.5 Beta

posted Feb 10, 2015, 3:06 PM by Robin G

Here's a bit of a write up of the new features in SharpCap 2.5. You can find the latest beta builds on the downloads page.

Settings Dialog
I've moved a lot of the random menu options that controlled various parts of the program out of the menus and grouped them together in a new settings dialog - this can be found in the File menu. I had resisted having a settings dialog for some time both for design reasons (a settings dialog encourages more tweakable settings, which makes software more complex and harder to learn) and for pure laziness reasons. However, the improved options for output file naming really forced my hand, so now SharpCap has a settings dialog.

Capture File Organization
As I've just mentioned, much better control over where capture files are saved and what they are named. Previous version of SharpCap would save capture files to the Desktop by default (this was because in other capture programs the question of 'where did that file get saved?' often needed asking). This version of SharpCap changes that default to a new subfolder on the Desktop called 'SharpCap Captures'. If you have previously customized the folder your captures are saved to, it will not be changed in the upgrade. If you have left the default of 'Desktop', it will be changed to  the new default. It's now possible to get SharpCap to organize captures into either zero, one or two levels of subfolder by object name and date. This should make keeping track of captured files much easier.

Mount Control
if you have an ASCOM compatible mount (for example EQMOD), you can cofigure SharpCap to connect to it when a camera is opened so that you can tweak the mount pointing from within SharpCap. Currently control is fairly basic - left, right, up, down and a spiral search function. This may get further improvements based on feedback.

Improved Exposure Control
For cameras that give fine control over exposure (everything except webcams, basically), SharpCap now has a new, enhanced, exposure control in the UI. There are 2 modes of operation for this - normal and LX mode. Note that LX here has nothing to do with the LX modification for SPC900 webcams, it's just an indication of whether the sliders etc are optimized for exposures of many seconds or minutes (LX mode) or milliseconds (normal mode). In addition to a slider (which is now wider to give finer control and has tick marks), there is the familiar text box where you can type in an exposure in ms or s and a new 'Quick Picks' drop down which allows you to select common exposure values easily - 1/30s, 1/15s, 10s, 30s, 60s, etc.

Full Screen Support
Want to fit that bit more preview area on the screen - you can hide the menu and toolbar and go full screen from the options menu. Just move the mouse cursor back to the top of the screen to re-show the menu in this mode.

Improved FITS output
Far more FITS header fields are now filled in when writing to FITS files, so programs like DeepSkyStacker will be able to pull the right information straight out of the file. This is somewhat camera dependent at the moment with the best support in ZWO cameras, but will be moving on to all cameras capable of long exposures as time allows.

Improved ZWO camera support
SharpCap 2.5 uses the new ZWO SDK version 2, which provides better control over the cameras, particularly for newer cameras and easier control of long exposures.

Scripting Support
SharpCap now has a built in programming language - IronPython - which can be used to write scripts to automate SharpCaps features. It's even possible to add new buttons to the toolbar and have them run a script function when they are pressed. This is very much a geek-zone feature and is work-in-progress too. You should be able to do pretty much everything you can do by pressing buttons in the UI by using the IronPython scripting - please let me know about stuff that is impossible or just doesn't work!

Bug Fixes
Yes, as usual a whole range of bug fixes and minor improvements and performance tweaks. But, this is a beta release, so it's quite possible that I've introduced new bugs too. Do remember to do a quick test *before* going outside to observe, because I'd hate to be to blame for stuff going wrong for you on a rare clear night...

What's not in SharpCap 2.5?
I'd really hoped to do a complete UI refresh after 2.0 - remove the menus and toolbar and replace them with a ribbon (like Microsoft Office). While the ribbon hasn't been universally popular, I think it would be a good fit for the small number of menu/toolbar options that SharpCap has. This was going to go along with a change in the UI technology from Windows Forms to WPF. I even have a very basic application called 'SharpCap.New' that has the ribbon and can open and close camera previews, but it was just taking too long to make these changes. Instead I decided to add new UI in a more piecemeal manner (the new settings dialog, exposure control and mount control UI are WPF) and also concentrate on tidying up the code behind the scenes which will eventually allow for the big UI changeover to be made easier, as well as allowing the scripting feature to be added.

As usual, feedback on the new version is very welcome - please report bugs either using the builtin bug report form or by contacting me on the forums, looking forward to hearing from you :)

cheers,

Robin

SharpCap 2.0 is released!

posted Sep 19, 2013, 1:11 PM by Robin G

Well, it's finally happened - SharpCap 2.0 is finished, or at least finished enough :) One of the big features I have added is an auto-update facility, so it's going to be much easier to make sure that everyone gets new versions with features and bug fixes in future.

In no particular order, the new features in 2.0 (compared to 1.5) include

  • Support for QHY Cameras
  • Improved support for ASCOM, ASI, Ximea and Basler Cameras
  • Filter wheel support
  • Improved focus score calculation
  • Enhancements to the reticule - including the option of a circular one
  • Automatic updates and bug reporting
  • Dozens of bug fixes

The installer for SharpCap 2.0 can be found here


Yet more SharpCap Beta versions

posted Jul 17, 2013, 2:27 PM by Robin G

Getting SharpCap 2.0 out of the door is taking longer than I'd hoped. Right now there are only a couple of things left that I want to fix before release - these are

  • QHY camera support - it's working for a lot of cameras now, but needs some tweaking either in SharpCap or the QHY SDK for a few - feedback welcome!
  • Auto update notification - nothing too intrusive, just a way for the program to check for a newer version online and give you the option of downloading it.

Hopefully I'll get onto those fairly soon now (especially if the weather cools down a bit!)

Anyway, I've just finished working my way through a bunch of bug reports that have been uploaded and have managed to fix about three quarters of the reported problems, which I'm quite pleased with. The new (almost bug free?) beta build (1.99.744) is available from the downloads page.

New Beta Version Available

posted Jun 26, 2013, 3:53 AM by Robin G

Sharpcap 2 beta (build 1.99.710) is now available.

Lots of improvements in this build

  • Many small bugs fixed from crash reports received (thanks to all those who submit their crash reports!)
  • Improved ASI camera support (you should be able to use the WDM drivers if you want now, as long as you choose the WDM driver as the first camera you open after starting SharpCap - If you want to switch between the Native and WDM drivers, close and re-open SharpCap)
  • Improved QHY camera support - includes updates to the QHY SDK that fix a number of issues and support for the WDM drivers as for ASI cameras above.
  • Updated Ximea SDK - may give some support for newer Ximea cameras (I don't have a Ximea camera to test with, so can't be sure...)
  • Sensor temperature reported on devices where this feature is available (some QHY, ASI cameras)

Download from here.


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