What’s New in SharpCap 2.5 Beta

Here’s a bit of a write up of the new features in SharpCap 2.5. You can find the latest beta builds on the downloads page.

Settings Dialog
I’ve moved a lot of the random menu options that controlled various parts of the program out of the menus and grouped them together in a new settings dialog – this can be found in the File menu. I had resisted having a settings dialog for some time both for design reasons (a settings dialog encourages more tweakable settings, which makes software more complex and harder to learn) and for pure laziness reasons. However, the improved options for output file naming really forced my hand, so now SharpCap has a settings dialog.

Capture File Organization
As I’ve just mentioned, much better control over where capture files are saved and what they are named. Previous version of SharpCap would save capture files to the Desktop by default (this was because in other capture programs the question of ‘where did that file get saved?’ often needed asking). This version of SharpCap changes that default to a new subfolder on the Desktop called ‘SharpCap Captures’. If you have previously customized the folder your captures are saved to, it will not be changed in the upgrade. If you have left the default of ‘Desktop’, it will be changed to  the new default. It’s now possible to get SharpCap to organize captures into either zero, one or two levels of subfolder by object name and date. This should make keeping track of captured files much easier.

Mount Control
if you have an ASCOM compatible mount (for example EQMOD), you can cofigure SharpCap to connect to it when a camera is opened so that you can tweak the mount pointing from within SharpCap. Currently control is fairly basic – left, right, up, down and a spiral search function. This may get further improvements based on feedback.

Improved Exposure Control
For cameras that give fine control over exposure (everything except webcams, basically), SharpCap now has a new, enhanced, exposure control in the UI. There are 2 modes of operation for this – normal and LX mode. Note that LX here has nothing to do with the LX modification for SPC900 webcams, it’s just an indication of whether the sliders etc are optimized for exposures of many seconds or minutes (LX mode) or milliseconds (normal mode). In addition to a slider (which is now wider to give finer control and has tick marks), there is the familiar text box where you can type in an exposure in ms or s and a new ‘Quick Picks’ drop down which allows you to select common exposure values easily – 1/30s, 1/15s, 10s, 30s, 60s, etc.

Full Screen Support
Want to fit that bit more preview area on the screen – you can hide the menu and toolbar and go full screen from the options menu. Just move the mouse cursor back to the top of the screen to re-show the menu in this mode.

Improved FITS output
Far more FITS header fields are now filled in when writing to FITS files, so programs like DeepSkyStacker will be able to pull the right information straight out of the file. This is somewhat camera dependent at the moment with the best support in ZWO cameras, but will be moving on to all cameras capable of long exposures as time allows.

Improved ZWO camera support
SharpCap 2.5 uses the new ZWO SDK version 2, which provides better control over the cameras, particularly for newer cameras and easier control of long exposures.

Scripting Support
SharpCap now has a built in programming language – IronPython – which can be used to write scripts to automate SharpCaps features. It’s even possible to add new buttons to the toolbar and have them run a script function when they are pressed. This is very much a geek-zone feature and is work-in-progress too. You should be able to do pretty much everything you can do by pressing buttons in the UI by using the IronPython scripting – please let me know about stuff that is impossible or just doesn’t work!

Bug Fixes
Yes, as usual a whole range of bug fixes and minor improvements and performance tweaks. But, this is a beta release, so it’s quite possible that I’ve introduced new bugs too. Do remember to do a quick test *before* going outside to observe, because I’d hate to be to blame for stuff going wrong for you on a rare clear night…

What’s not in SharpCap 2.5?
I’d really hoped to do a complete UI refresh after 2.0 – remove the menus and toolbar and replace them with a ribbon (like Microsoft Office). While the ribbon hasn’t been universally popular, I think it would be a good fit for the small number of menu/toolbar options that SharpCap has. This was going to go along with a change in the UI technology from Windows Forms to WPF. I even have a very basic application called ‘SharpCap.New’ that has the ribbon and can open and close camera previews, but it was just taking too long to make these changes. Instead I decided to add new UI in a more piecemeal manner (the new settings dialog, exposure control and mount control UI are WPF) and also concentrate on tidying up the code behind the scenes which will eventually allow for the big UI changeover to be made easier, as well as allowing the scripting feature to be added.

As usual, feedback on the new version is very welcome – please report bugs either using the builtin bug report form or by contacting me on the forums, looking forward to hearing from you 🙂