Review of Observatory in Sky & Telescope

S&T Test Report

It’s always truly exciting when one of your products is reviewed, and especially if it is in a major astronomy publication like Sky & Telescope. If you have not done so, please check out the S&T Test Report section on pages 60–63 of the March 2018 Sky & Telescope.

After reading the review, there’s a few items I wanted to point out:

  • Explicitly adding a source folder is only necessary if you want to selectively import images of that folder. The reason for this two-step process is that Observatory is sandboxed, i.e., macOS prevents it from accessing any file or folder unless explicitly permitted by the user.

  • We have received a few reports of problems with the plate solver and image registration. These issues will be addressed in the next maintenance update (1.2.1). Please make sure to always report any such issues.

Thank you Sky & Telescope and Richard S. Wright, Jr. for the review!

Observatory 1.2 arrives with enhanced image processing

Today we released an update to Observatory that enhances its nondestructive preprocessing workflow. It adds eight new adjustments:

  • Cosmetic Correction – Identify or correct hot and cold pixels in your image.

  • Flatten Background – Reduce or eliminate gradients caused by instrumental vignetting or light pollution.

  • Chromatic Align – Counter the effects of atmospheric dispersion by aligning the channels of an RGB image.

  • Background Neutralization – Equalize the red, green and blue components of an RGB image to yield a neutral gray rendition of the sky background.

  • Color Balance – Adjust the white balance of an RGB image.

  • Debayer – Convert a Bayer-encoded grayscale image to an RGB image.

  • Grayscale – Convert an RGB image into a grayscale image.

  • RGB – Convert a grayscale image into an RGB image.

The effects of a few of these adjustments is shown below. All of these adjustments work without the hassle of intermediate files.

Other improvements and changes

There’s a new “Copy Pick Adjustments…” command to help you apply adjustments in a stack more quickly, Virtual Observatory adds support for the SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey archive, and the Quick Look plugin now automatically debayers images when needed.

We have also combined the three FITS, SBIG and XISF Acorn plugins into a single plugin. If you have the previous three Acorn plugins installed in Acorn’s App Support Folder, then you should remove them and replace them by the new one. It now also automatically debayers images when needed. You will notice that the “Observatory ▸ Install Extras…” command was removed. Apple requested us to do so because including the Acorn plugins in the application violated the Mac App Store Review Guidelines. It is once again a separate download from our website, as was the case before 1.1.

Full release notes here.

Observatory is available from the Mac App Store.

Cosmetic Correction

Flatten Background

Chromatic Align

Background Neutralization

Observatory 1.1.1

Updated Documentation

In case you didn’t look at Observatory’s documentation lately, you may want to choose Help ▸ Observatory Help or go straight to our website.

It is now much easier to navigate. It is Safari Reader friendly and you can add it to Safari’s Reading List for offline reading, or export it as a single PDF file.

We’ve also updated it with the enhancements that were introduced in Observatory 1.1 and 1.1.1.

Today we released Observatory 1.1.1. It modernizes the sidebar, allows you to edit an image version’s name directly in the image browser, tweaks things here and there and fixes several bugs. Read more about it in the release notes.

New Observatory 1.1.1 Sidebar

Ready for macOS High Sierra, but…

macOS High Sierra

Next week on September 25, Apple will release macOS High Sierra. Whereas macOS Sierra initially had many regressions, and we had to work hard to have Observatory ready in time for its public release, Observatory has always worked great on macOS High Sierra.

One thing to be aware of is that even on the latest 10.13 GM candidate (17A362a), Apple still has not fixed a regression in Quick Look. For Quick Look generators that are included in third-party applications, High Sierra’s Finder fails to display a full preview when requested, but defaults to a large thumbnail instead. This broken behavior happens for every such application we tested, including Observatory.

We have reported this issue to Apple many 10.13 betas ago, but as of today this regression in macOS High Sierra has not yet been fixed. For this reason, if you are using Observatory for previewing FITS, XISF and SBIG images in Finder, we recommend not to upgrade to macOS High Sierra just yet.

Update 2017-11-09: Apple just notified us that they have resolved the issue in macOS 10.13.2 beta 2 (build 17C67b). We have confirmed that this is indeed the case. So, if you’re considering upgrading to macOS High Sierra, we recommend to wait until 10.13.2 is released (typically mid-December).

Observatory 1.1 is here, and it is great

We quietly have been working on it for months, but today we finally can take the wraps off our latest and greatest update. Observatory 1.1 is a major update, focusing on improving the user experience, the ability to handle larger stacks and additional plugins.

Background Processing

Whenever you select an image or stack, or change layer adjustments in one of the previous versions of Observatory, it will block the application from accepting any user input while it loads and processes the images. This isn’t a big deal on fast systems when selecting a single image, or when processing a small stack, but on slower systems, those equipped with hard disks instead of SSDs, or when processing a large stack, the spinning beachball isn’t exactly a pleasant sight, and neither is the inability to stop the processing.

This all has changed in Observatory 1.1. It now remains responsive while loading, processing and stacking images. You can even edit an image version’s notes and other metadata during these tasks. Changing adjustments or stack settings will restart the processing. Selecting a different version may automatically stop it, depending on the selection.

There is a new “Stop Tasks” toolbar button and “File ▸ Stop Tasks…” menu item to gracefully stop image loading, processing and stacking. It also temporarily stops automatic library maintenance tasks.

The inspectors now display progress indicators when they cannot display the requested information just yet, and the one in the editor even provides a clue of how far the loading and processing has proceeded.

Larger Stacks

Observatory now uses less memory. Stacks can be larger, especially those without layer adjustments. As before, the system’s memory size will affect the maximum stack size and stacking performance.

When the system is running low on memory, Observatory will now issue a warning. Most of the time the system will be able to handle the tasks just fine and you can ignore it. If it is running critically low on memory, it will issue another warning with the option to automatically stop tasks when this happens. It is fairly conservative with these warnings, and systems equipped with SSDs may be pushed well beyond it.

Another enhancement we made is that you don’t need to focus on a stack anymore just to see the number of images it is made of. This is now shown on the stack’s browser thumbnail itself.

Acorn Plugins

Our FITS, XISF and SBIG plugins for Acorn that let you import these images at full bit depth straight into this powerful image editor are now included in Observatory itself. Choose the new “Observatory ▸ Install Extras…” menu item to install them.

Observatory Demo

It has been requested since we released Observatory 1.0, and today it has finally arrived, the Observatory Demo. You can download it from our website.

It is a demo, not a full trial, and does not include our Quick Look, Spotlight and Acorn plugins. These are all major features of Observatory, but we cannot effectively let these plugins “expire”, so they are not included. The demo will allow you to evaluate the many other features of Observatory though before purchasing.

Fixes, and more

We’ve made many more improvements throughout the application of course. See the release notes for the complete list.

We’ve also added new videos. One that demonstrates how calibration, stacking and plate solving works in Observatory, and another one that shows the Acorn plugins in action.