A closer look at PixInsight

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Eagle Nebula (M16) in Sagittarius contains the feature known as the Pillars of Creation. // All images: Ron Brecher
Image contributor Ron Brecher, whose great shots have appeared on this website as well as in Astronomy magazine, has sent in a guest blog that’s a review of a product he’s quite fond of. We don’t publish software reviews in the magazine, so this virtual space is the perfect forum for such an article. Brecher’s review (with some of his images) follows:

PixInsight (PI) is a powerful tool for deep-sky image processing, but it can be tough to learn. Documentation is incomplete, and what’s available can be hard for a newbie to understand. Fortunately, there are excellent free resources online: video tutorials, the PixInsight Forum, and written tutorials like mine. These resources taught me enough to know that I was just barely scratching the surface of PI’s capabilities. It was about that time that I considered buying the IP4AP tutorial series (Image Processing for Astrophotography) created by Warren Keller and Rogelio Bernal Andreo, both accomplished astroimagers in their own right.

The Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405) is a combination emission and reflection nebula in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer.
I’m a try-before-you-buy person, so I was pleased that the first six tutorials in Part 1 are free and available at the click of a mouse. Excluding the introduction to the series, the free tutorials include more than 30 minutes of information about PixInsight. You’ll find them here. I learned things about the user interface that I hadn’t figured out for myself in more than four years of using PI. At this point, I decided to buy the first series. After devouring the information in it, I purchased the second series, and then the third. I still regularly consult the tutorials for fine details about complex topics like deconvolution, multi-scale processing, and noise reduction.

Each tutorial in the three-part series is four to eight minutes long and focuses on one or two PI processing tools. There are a total of more than 60 tutorials. A narrator provides the information in a clear, slow voice with high-quality images onscreen, including callout boxes, zooming, and other tools for emphasis. One of the things I really like is that the tutorials recommend specific settings, or ways to determine them, for various PI tools (called processes or scripts). The authors don’t shy away from advanced topics like stitching mosaics, blending narrowband data, and multi-scale processing. These are covered in miniseries of consecutive tutorials.

The three parts come as an online subscription or on DVD. In addition to 22 to 27 tutorials, each part includes images and Web links referenced in the tutorials. One thing I found helpful was the sets of processing icons that Keller uses, which can be imported directly into PI and be used in your workflow. Part 2 also includes a sample PI project that you can download so you can learn PI even if you don’t have your own data to work with.

The Cocoon Nebula (IC 5146) is a gorgeous object in a gorgeous star field within the boundaries of the constellation Cygnus the Swan.
Every new user of PI — and probably most experienced users — would benefit from the Image Processing for Astrophotography tutorials available from IP4AP.com and several retailers worldwide. For a modest cost, they helped me build my PI repertoire and improve my images. In the context of paying thousands of dollars for equipment, computers, and software, IP4AP’s tutorials provide outstanding value for the money. I would recommend it to anyone who is serious about harnessing PixInsight’s vast capabilities to make beautiful space photos.

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