The APT astrophotgraphy tool is a free peice of software that contains many tools for astrophotography within it. I began using it at the end of 2021 when I switched to operation of my telescope setup via my laptop. I’m going to explain why this program is a great tool for your astrophotgraphy and how easy it is to setup and use. So stick around if you have been thinking of trying platesolving and want to know more about the many free features this software has to offer.
Astrophotography tool, also known as APT, is a free downloadable software containing many practical tools to help you in astrophotography. Some of the useful functions include plate-solving, imaging sessions, and focus aid tools.
I normally use the Astrophotgraphy tool together with Sharpcap Pro. The two software programs share some functions such as the ability to set up imaging sessions but Sharpcap Pro is my go to polar alignment software. Like Astrophotgraphy tool it is also free unless you want the full polar alignment and Pro features which is very reasonable and well worth getting.
How to Connect Astrophotography Tool
In order to use astrophotgraphy tool you need to connect your mount and your camera by USB cable to a PC or Laptop. I use my laptop. Just click on the Camera tab and then connect camera. Make sure to set the values you want for exposure time and ISO. I normally use 6 seconds and ISO 800 but you may need to adjust these to suit your equipment. Next, go to the gear section and click on connect scope. You will need the correct drivers for your telescope mount.
Once your telescope and camera is connected you are all set to go!
If you want to set up an imaging session, it is easy. Just enter the number of images and exposure time of each sub. I don’t tend to use this, I prefer to use an intervelometer as I can easily stop it and check from time to time that everything is running OK rather than finding out that something went wrong somewhere before the imaging session finished.
One thing I love in this program is the live view. I can see much larger than on the camera view screen and it is easier to check focus this way. I use a batinov mask which is much harder to use with only the camera view screen.
In Astrophotgraphy Tool, it is easy to find everything and I managed to learn how to use the software quite quickly as it is fairly intuitive.
The platesolving routine is absolutely amazing and was quite a game changer when I first tried it! I couldn’t manage to set this up in Nina but I found it easy to get this working in Astrophotgraphy Tool. Once it is set up I find I can locate a deep sky object within minutes where it used to take me some considerable time and effort to locate objects and center them in the FOV. This feature alone has saved me hours already!
The platesolving routine in APT moves your telescope to where it thinks the object you want to find should be and takes an image. It compares this image to its database and establishes exactly where your telescope is pointing and then moves again accordingly. The process repeats usually a couple of times until it give you the success message and makes a gong sound. You’re now right on your target and ready to start capturing images of it. I find this whole process takes no more than 5 minutes where I have wasted 1 hour or more on doing this before without platesolving.
I tried using the Focus Aid in Astrophotgraphy Tool but couldn’t really get the hang of it so I tend to just do this visually using my bahtinov mask. Perhaps you may find it useful.
My Conclusions on Astrophotography Tool
All in all, I think that Astrophotgraphy Tool is excellent and has certainly helped take my astrophotography to the next level. I tried for the platesolving but it offers so much more.
One last thing, it is not a new peice of software, but it has recently had an update so it is constantly improved. I have found that it works quickly and has not really crashed my computer yet so that’s also a good sign!
I advise you to try Astrophotography Tool if you haven’t yet and do switch to platesolving. It makes life so much simpler and saves on valuable imaging time.