Digital imaging requires software for both controlling the camera and processing the images. Many CCD manufacturers include basic software for operating their cameras, which may be sufficient for acquiring your data. When you are ready to consider a more sophisticated and versatile program, check manufacturer Web sites for free trials to make sure that you will be satisfied with the investment. As of this writing, you can download trials of image processing programs like CCDstack or integrated camera control and processing programs like Maxim DL, Astroart, and Nebulosity. Sometimes these and other programs are discounted at astronomy shows.
After basic calibration and combining, many astrophotographers transfer their images into Photoshop or other similar programs for further processing. Unfortunately, the latest version of Adobe Photoshop can cost as much as a small apochromatic telescope. You can choose another less expensive program, including Adobe's own ImageReady or Photoshop Elements, but the full Photoshop program has the advantage of being the de facto standard for final processing of celestial images. Many astronomers (including me) have legally purchased discontinued versions of Photoshop that have never been opened or registered, from EBay or discount vendors, at a fraction of the cost of the latest version. Most of the images in this book were processed with Photoshop 5.5, which I have recently upgraded to version CS2. If you use Photoshop versions 6 or earlier, you will be limited to processing in 8-bit format, which reduces dynamic range. For these early versions of Photoshop, consider downloading either freeware FITS Liberator (http://www.spacetelescope.org/ projects/fits_liberator/) or shareware FITS Plugin (http://astroshed.com/ software.html) to allow Photoshop to apply curves and levels to 16-bit FITS images.
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