Wanting to do some astrophotography, but not wanting to mess around with trying to line up and focus a camera pointed straight up in the air, I’ve decided to build up an old laptop to control my camera over USB. Before I get into the gory details of how I am going to build this laptop up for astrophotography, I want to document a few things first. My idea is to use what I have available to me already for this, so my first requirement is that I not spend any money, not even on software. So, with that in mind, let’s get down to what hardware I’ll need:

The Parts List:

This is the bare minimum hardware I’ll need for controlling my camera from a computer:

  1. Camera
  2. Laptop
  3. Tripod
  4. USB Cable
  5. Power for the laptop
  6. Something to put it all on

Realistically, I have everything on that list already. The only things I need to think about are how I’m going to power the laptop, and where I’ll put it while I’m using it. I’ll use an extension lead to run power out to the laptop, so that’s easy enough. Obviously I can’t just put the laptop on the ground, so I’ll need a table of some sort. Fortunately I have a folding camp table that will do perfectly. Looks like I have all the hardware sorted.

The Software:

I’m going to need to use some sort of software package to control the camera, but exactly what will be determined by the OS I install on the laptop. Given the laptop itself is 12 years old, and well past its normal useful lifespan, I want something that doesn’t use up too many resources. That pretty much gives me Linux (well, I mean I could use Mac OS X, except I lost the install CD for this machine, woopsy). Looking around at software for controlling Canon cameras on Linux gives me a few options.

In no particular order, the options I found were:

  1. Darktable
  2. Entangle
  3. Gphoto2

Gphoto2 is a command line utility, and probably won’t give me the functionality I need (live view for focusing most notably). Darktable is a raw photo editor that also has the ability to control a camera, so is worth investigating. I’ve actually tried using it in the past, most notably as a replacement for Adobe Lightroom, but I really didn’t like it, and honestly, I don’t want to edit photos on this laptop, just capture them. Entangle is pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered. Its sole purpose is to control a connected camera

Now that I know what software I can use to control the camera, all I need to do is decide on an appropriate Linux distribution to install. I’ve used Lubuntu quite regularly in VMs, as it seems to give quite good performance compared to other distros, so I plan on using it for this project. I see from the Entangle page that the Debian/Ubuntu repositories should have Entangle, so I have all the things I need to make a start.