I have recently switched fully over to using PixInsight for image post-processing, and given the superior results, am busy going back over old data and reprocessing. PixInsight has a very steep learning curve, and I am by no means at a point where I can claim to be an expert. I strongly suspect that I never will be; learning PixInsight seems to be more a journey than a destination. Nonetheless, I thought I would post some explanation of my experiences so far.

Post-processing of captured image data is a major task that takes up more time than the image capture itself, and generally requires a significant amount of expertise to get right. Over the years I have used many different software packages for this purpose, including DeepSkyStacker, ImagesPlus, Maxim DL and PhotoShop. These packages have very different strategies and capabilities.

At one end of the spectrum is DeepSkyStacker. This is free software that focuses on simplicity of operation; initial processing is, as far as possible, a pushbutton operation. However, as a result the processing options are very limited, and as with many tools additional processing using something like PhotoShop will be required to get a final image.

Maxim DL and ImagesPlus sit somewhere in the middle; both include many image manipulation tools and provide a good deal of flexibility. It should also be mentioned that both are complete astro-imaging software systems and include capabilities for control and image capture in addition to post-processing (I currently use Maxim DL to control the mount and camera for image capture, and have previously used ImagesPlus). However, both still have their limitations in terms of the range of processing tools available, and for the most part some additional work in PhotoShop will still be required.

PixInsight is based on a rather different philosophy: there is no accommodation given to making the process in any way automated, and every parameter is exposed to allow infinite adjustability of the process. The system also has not only a very large array of tools for image manipulation, but has open interfaces to allow independent authors to write their own modules and scripts. The core development team are also writing and updating new modules at a rapid pace, and the result is an extremely comprehensive system. Definitely no post work in PhotoShop required.

The official documentation is somewhat lacking compared to other software packages (this is an almost inevitable side effect of the rapid pace of development) and learning the system requires reading some of the many tutorials written (and video recorded) by users. Even given the many excellent tutorials, the learning curve is still very steep and it has taken me the best part of a year, on and off, before I am proficient enough to drop the other software tools that I have previously been using.

The nature of the system, being a large collection of tools, makes operation somewhat free-form, and requires the development of a workflow. One of the big learnings for me was the need to develop your own workflow, starting with something simple and then gradually adding additional steps as you learn each new tool.

As I continue to develop my own workflow, I will be posting some explanations of what I have found to work (and not work!) starting with the basic version.