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Best astrophotography software in 2022

Best astrophotography software
(Image credit: Digital Camera World/Jason Parnell-Brookes)

Using the best astrophotography software can make a huge difference to your night sky photos. Photographing the night sky is a hugely rewarding process. With long exposures come a huge range of celestial objects that we can never hope to see with the naked eye. Even with the simplest, entry-level kit, it’s possible to photograph galaxies, comets, planets, stars, and more. 

But getting started can be a little challenging, luckily though, there’s a bunch of astrophotography related softwares available to help you from planning your shoot, taking the images themselves, right through to editing said photos on the computer later.

Planning your astro shoot has never been easier, with so many apps and online software available now we can hold our smartphones to the night sky and figure out what that shiny, distant object is. Though there are hundreds of apps filled with in-app ads which ruin the experience. There’s even software that helps control kit such as telescopes for the ultimate in night sky imaging. Image editing is another stage in the astro-capture process which can make the process difficult, with some software dedicated to professionals (or serious enthusiasts) which are just way too technical for the average photographer.

The tough part when looking for astrophotography software is in finding a program that’s reliable, has a good database of information, and has a feature-rich interface. There’s a good swathe of astro software out there that was created in the early 2000s and hasn’t been updated for years causing all sorts of bugs and compatibility issues. 

Fortunately, our roundup of the best astrophotography software in 2022 contains just that. We’ve been sure to include a list of minimum specs and compatibility with specific operating systems, too, to help you make the decision of which software is right for you. Want to get the right kit to start taking astrophotographs? Check out our guide to the best cameras, tools, and lenses for astrophotography.

The best astrophotography software in 2022

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
The best virtual planetarium software for tracking the night sky

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
PC: Windows 7 and up, 1GB RAM, OpenGL 3.3 support
Mac: macOS X 10.12.0 and above
Hard drive space: 1.5GB
Minimum screen resolution: Not quoted
Price: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Sublime user interface
+
Easy to search for any number of objects
+
Future and past events

Reasons to avoid

-
 No negatives!

Stellarium is a virtual 3D planetarium software that shows a realistic depiction of the night sky no matter where you are in the world and at what time. You can scan through space and time using the simple fast-forward and rewind controls at the bottom of the screen, and toggle viewing options like light pollution, the horizon, red light night mode, and constellation names.

Use the search function to easily find and track all kinds of celestial subjects. This software is absolutely free, available on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, there’s mobile apps for both Android and iOS devices, and even a web version. Simply put, it’s almost completely faultless and one of our favorite pieces of software for astrophotography.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

2. SkySafari 7 Pro

This software has a comprehensive database of celestial objects and telescope control

Specifications

Platform: iOS 14 or later
PC: N/A
Mac: Coming soon
Hard drive space: 2.2GB
Minimum screen resolution: N/A
Price: $49.99

Reasons to buy

+
Simple “tonight at a glance” feature
+
Can control telescopes

Reasons to avoid

-
Only available on iOS for now
-
Very expensive for an iOS app

This night sky tracking software has one of the most comprehensive databases of celestial objects you can get. It has over 100 million stars, 3 million galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 750,000 solar system objects and tracks every single comet and asteroid that’s ever been discovered. 

But it also has a few unique tricks up its sleeve in terms of its ability to control telescopes via the SkyFi 3 wireless telescope control and it promotes skywatching as a community with integrated sharing features that can be sent to others via text, email, or other instant messaging service to share specific night sky objects with others.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

3. Astro Pixel Processor

Comprehensive deep-sky image processing software

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
PC: 64-bit required
Mac: 64-bit required
Hard drive space: 100GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1280 x 768
Price: $165 owners license ($60 1-year renters license)

Reasons to buy

+
Light pollution removal tool
+
Create a bad pixel map using dark frames

Reasons to avoid

-
Takes up a lot of storage space
-
Expensive purchase to own software

Deep-sky photography – photographing celestial objects outside of our solar system such as nebulae and other galaxies – is notoriously technical and complex. A steep learning curve often puts budding astrophotographers off, but Astro Pixel Processor was designed to simplify that process.

Users are able to calibrate images with bias, flat, and dark frames, and map bad pixels for removal. Able to counteract distortion, this software knits together multiple images of the night sky in a bid to remove noise and increase astro detail in photos. Available on any 64-bit machine that can run Oracle Java Runtime it’s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux OS. There’s even a 30 day free trial if you don’t want to commit straight away, albeit with a backwards sign-up process.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

4. StarStaX

Simple, free image stacking software for star trails

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
PC: Windows 7 or higher
Mac: macOS 10.7 or higher and 64-bit capable Intel or Apple M1 processor
Hard drive space: 120MB
Minimum screen resolution: 1024 x 768
Price: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Simple to use, great for beginners
+
Processes run quickly without issue

Reasons to avoid

-
Image editing software can do this
-
User interface is a little dated

This free star stacking software is designed to make night sky imaging composites look like a single, long exposure. Take a series of astrophotographs (preferably wide field) into the software and it will automatically align and blend the images together to give the effect of one huge exposure with star trails visible.

The benefit of using this software (and this technique) is to produce star trails with much lower image noise and optical distortion than one long exposure could create alone due to pixel warm-up and long exposure noise that creeps in over time.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

5. Topaz Labs DeNoise AI

Unreal image noise removal software, perfect for astro

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
PC: Windows 7 and up (64-bit only)
Mac: macOS 10.14 and up
Hard drive space: 4GB recommended
Minimum screen resolution: 1024 x 768
Price: $79.99

Reasons to buy

+
Class-leading image noise removal
+
Fast, artificial intelligence processing
+
Detail retention is second to none

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive as a standalone software

Deep-learning profiles packed into this artificially intelligent software work by analyzing photos and reducing image noise around important subjects and details. Because of this intelligence it can achieve noise reduction that other editing software can only dream of. 

Outstanding noise reduction results can either reduce or completely remove noise from photos depending on the severity, which makes it ideal for astrophotography where noise is an issue. It can be operated as a standalone software or as a plugin to integrate with other popular image editing softwares complementing existing workflows.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

6. Affinity Photo

A specialized astro mode sets this general image editor apart from the competition

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
PC: Windows 7 (SP1) and up
Mac: macOS 10.9 and up
Hard drive space: 2.8GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1024 x 768

Reasons to buy

+
Extensive tools for astro-specific editing
+
One-time purchase is good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as in-depth as specialized software

Unlike other industry-standard image editing software which focuses on more commercial features, Affinity Photo actually has a dedicated astro mode called the Astrophotography Stack Persona. Tools such as star reduction, star glow, sharpening, and structural enhancements make a big difference to editing astrophotography due to their unique nature of consisting of dark subjects and high image noise.

It’s a straightforward option for those who want to dabble in stacking shots or get started in astro image editing that provides powerful results and enough manual input to optimize images effectively. That it also comes with a suite of other image editing and manipulation tools is great, and at such an affordable price that almost everyone can afford, and without subscription costs.

Read more:

Best lenses for astrophotography
Best telescopes for astrophotography
Best cameras for astrophotography
Best star tracker camera mounts
Astrophotography tips

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer,  writer, and former Technique Editor of N-Photo magazine. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients.