Image Processing Notes for CMOS Using Flat Darks

I thought I ought to document this so that I remember this is now the new normal for making a flat master for my CMOS camera, the ZWO ASI1600MM. The problem I found again after not processing images for some time, was that the normal way of processing without Flat Darks produces a master flat with embossed, so raised doughnuts across the image.

Batchpreprocessing – > Darks tab -> Optimization Threshold -> move from 3 to 10 – > this removes the dark entirely and also removes the amp glow but introduces loads of noise so clearly not right at all. So I contacted my friend Dave Boddington who is a bit of an expert on this topic and he gave me some good advice that has of course worked.

So first let’s detail what I am calibrating. On the 20th April 2020 I took a set go Ha frames of M84, these were 300s exposure and with a Gain of 193 and I believe an Offset of 21, however we had some changes over the previous week so driver the Offset is no longer stored in the FITS header. It was when we were using the ZWO native driver. The temperature of the cooler was set to -26℃. I have 8 of these frames.

M94 300s light

I also have a set of 10 darks at the same settings. However when using the Statistics tool Dave noticed the Mean of the image was 800 and the Mean of the Ha frame was 353. This is in a 16 bit notation. The camera however is a 12 bit camera and this means the Mean for the dark is 50 and the Mean for the Ha is 22, so a difference of 28 in 12 bit and 447 in 16 bit. I will come back to this later.

Mean of Ha 300s light
Mean of Dark 300s

First I created a Master Dark for the Ha frames using the normal ImageIntegration settings. I did not calibrate darks with Bias as you do not need bias with a CMOS cooled camera. Next I created a Master Flat Dark for the Flat frames using the same ImageIntegration settings.

Single 300s Dark with hot pixels and amp glow

Then I found the Ha images did not need to have the flats applied so I skipped that step for the narrowband images. Next I Calibrated the Ha lights with ImageCalibration and because of that discrepancy above which looks like it was induced by having the Offset for the darks set to 12 and the Offset for the lights set to 21 I added 600 as suggested by Dave Boddington to the Output Pedestal in the Output files section of ImageCalibration. I made sure Evaluate Noise was ticked and that both Calibrate and Optimise were unticked in the Master Dark section. Master Bias was unticked and so was Master Flat for the narrow band images as mentioned.

Calibrating Ha lights with Master Dark

This created a clean set of calibrated Ha lights that did not require flats to be applied.

Calibrated 300s Ha light with Master Dark

Next I had some issues in Star Aligning the frames. The error I received was ‘Unable to find an initial set of putative star pair matches’, due to the frames being very sparsely filled with stars and the background being quite light compared to the stars. A quick look on the PI forum showed increasing the Noise Reduction in the Star Detection section from 0 to 4 sorted the issue, with all but 1 frame being aligned. I was then down to 7 x 300s Ha lights. The final frame was very light due to cloud.

7 x 300s Ha Calibrated with Darks, Aligned and stacked

I then integrated these 7 frames together. I had a challenge with trying to get the hot pixels in a few areas to disappear using Cosmetic Correction and pixel rejection during stacking so I will remove these after by hand before combining into the larger set

hot pixels not removed

So in essence what I have learnt is that I need to have really clean filters and camera glass. That all the doughnuts are on the those surfaces and not anywhere else. That the flats must be between 22k and 26k for the CMOS cameras, although this has some tolerance either way. That I need to set the camera to the right Gain, Offset and Temp as the lights and that I need the right flats for the right lights!