Free Astrophotography Software N.I.N.A. Review

There are a number of free astronomy software products. NINA (Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy) is free, open-source astrophotography software designed to help amateur astronomers and astrophotographers capture and analyze astronomical images. Most every aspect of capturing astronomical images can be controlled and even automated by N.I.N.A.

N.I.N.A software
Nighttime Imaging ‘N Astronomy Software

Currently N.I.N.A is only available for Windows operating system. The software is comprised of several modules, including:

Equipment Control: This module allows you to control your telescope, camera, and other equipment needed for astrophotography. Virtually any equipment that responds to ASCOM standard commands can be controlled.

Imaging: This module provides tools for capturing complex imaging sequences, including autofocus, framing, and controlling filter wheels.

Guiding: This module offers guiding tools for precise tracking of objects during long exposures.

Plate Solving: This module enables you to identify and locate objects in the sky using image analysis algorithms. The module has a framing assistant that can pull images from internet sources to allow the perfect image composition. It will even skew the telescope to the precise chosen spot if the image does not exactly match the desired framing.

N.I.N.A also offers a user-friendly interface that allows users to customize their workflow and automate repetitive tasks. Additionally, the software includes support for several popular astrophotography hardware devices and protocols, such as ASCOM and the most popular guiding software PHD2. From the N.I.N.A website, the software has the following features:

Full equipment control

  • Cameras
  • Telescopes
  • Filter Wheels
  • Focusers
  • Rotators
  • Switches
  • Weather Devices

Image Recognition

  • Statistics calculation for each frame
  • Automatic stretch for a good preview of data
  • Star Detection with Half Flux Radius calculation
  • Exposure time recommendations

Sequencing

  • Set up sequences for multiple targets
  • Specify various exposure times, number of exposures, filters and more
  • Automatic target framing using plate solving
  • Automatic focus after a set of conditions
  • Save image files by dynamic names using various macros
  • Saved FITS and XISF files contain a broad variety of available header keywords

Advanced Sequencer

  • Take full control over your equipment
  • A wide array of instructions to program a sequence
  • Group instructions by instruction sets
  • Loop for various conditions
  • Trigger specific actions when certain events occur
  • Schedule and plan ahead of time with reusable templates

Sky Atlas

  • Detailed Atlas for over 10000 Deep Sky Objects
  • Advanced filtering to get just the Deep Sky Objects that are relevant for you
  • Altitude charts for each object based on your location

Framing Assistant

  • Various Sky Surveys to pull data from for framing
  • Get a preview of your Field of View
  • Drag the preview for a precise position for framing
  • Offline Sky Map containing all Sky Atlas DSOs, Constellations and Coordinate Gridlines
  • to quickly choose a target and frame it properly

Plugins

  • A rich plugin framework to enhance existing features or add completely new capabilities
  • Have specialized tools for specific sets of equipment
  • Take advantage of the ever growing list of plugins adding tons of amazing features to the core application

Open Source

  • N.I.N.A. is an open-source software
  • All its source code is available on bitbucket in its repository and can be found here

Fully customizable UI

  • Imaging tab can be fully customized to display all that you need to see at once
  • All UI colors can be customized
  • Choose one of many preset themes

And much more

  • Weather data
  • List of bright focus stars to quickly slew to
  • Flat wizard to automatically take best flat panel exposures
  • Horizon definitions to quickly see obstructions in the altitude charts
  • Session history panel containing various image statistics like HFR (half flux radius, which is a measure of star sharpness), # of stars and others over the course of the night

Conclusion

I have been using N.I.N.A for several years now, and it just keeps getting better and better. With the addition of advanced sequencing, customization of a night’s worth of imaging makes it possible to image the entire night with little or no intervention. The learning curve is a bit steep, but there are plenty of helpful instructional videos available on YouTube. Once you get comfortable with the interface, N.I.N.A. is simply excellent.

Overall, N.I.N.A is a powerful and versatile tool for amateur astrophotographers and astronomers, providing them with all the necessary tools for capturing and analyzing astronomical images to achieve a nearly total automation process.

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