N.I.N.A Review: Your Complete Imaging Solution

There comes a point in every astrophotographer’s journey when being outside in the cold at night, manually operating their telescope and camera, is not as fun as it once was. “How nice would it be to automate some of this process so I can sleep at night.” There are several choices of sequencing software available – applications that control your astronomy gear and shoot multiple targets in a night. But one truly rises above the rest: N.I.N.A., or Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy. In addition to its many incredible features, it is free and open source, making it a very attractive option.



N.I.N.A. is your one-stop shop for completely automating your telescope all night long. It controls your mount, camera, focuser, filter wheel, auto-guiding software, flat panels, weather inputs, and even your dome (should you be lucky enough to have one). You can run multiple targets in a single night, and its ability to invoke a variety of plate solvers, including the free PlateSolve2 (and 3) and ASTAP, puts the telescope squarely on target every time. Thanks to plate solving and centering the target, I do not star align my mounts anymore – I simply polar align and go, saving a lot of time, especially at star parties and after a power loss during the night. N.I.N.A. has an autofocus routine with filter offsets, backlash compensation, and temperature compensation; a flat wizard to automatically calculate the correct exposure time for taking flat frames; a target framing tool that provides the coordinates of exactly where the image should be centered, including multiple sets of coordinates for mosaics; and much more. Several plug-ins exist as well to bring additional capability such as a non-Polaris polar alignment, multi-camera syncing, exoplanet target lists, and more.


N.I.N.A.’s framing wizard can plan mosaics and output sequence templates with the center coordinates pre-loaded. Image credit: AstronoMolly


The Advanced Sequencer

N.I.N.A.’s Advanced Sequencer, released in June 2022, is a game-changer. Before switching to N.I.N.A. I used Sequence Generator Pro, which could have multiple targets but had a specific order of operations (autofocus first, then slew & center, for example) that I could not be changed. N.I.N.A., however, gives you complete control over the sequence of events. For example, some of my imaging locations do not have a view of the sky from the starting home position for my mount at the beginning of the night, so I would need to slew the telescope somewhere manually, run autofocus, and then start my sequence. But with the Advanced Sequencer, I can set my own order of automated commands. I set the order to Slew, then Autofocus (now with stars at the scope’s location), and then Slew and Center (with the camera now in focus for plate solving). In the target sequence loop for each imaging target, I can have it start and stop based on the object’s angle above the horizon rather than calculating the time myself; this is helpful for moving to the next target before the current one sets behind my roof. I set the camera to begin cooling 15 minutes before astronomical darkness, before the sequence begins. All of the rise/set times and dawn/dusk times are recalculated each time the sequencer is opened, so no more adjusting times every night. In fact, if you do set a specific target end time, it will automatically set that time four minutes earlier each night to keep up with the sky’s nightly movement. The Advanced Sequencer can look intimidating at first, but I have found it intuitive after some practice.


An example sequence for one target in N.I.N.A.’s Advanced Sequencer. Image credit: AstronoMolly


The sequence shown here starts by switching to a wide-band filter to make focusing and plate solving easier, slews to the target, runs autofocus, centers the target using plate solving (using the coordinates at the top), and then starts the autoguider (PHD2 in my case). In the imaging section, it loops through each of three filters back-to-back, changing the filter wheel and moving the focuser to the offset I have set each time, dithering every eight frames until astronomical dawn. Several conditions are checked during the exposures. Center After Drift checks to see if the target has drifted (for example, a cloud came through and disrupted guiding). Loop Until Altitude Below exits the loop when the target goes below 35 degrees (overridden by astronomical dawn if it happens first). At the very top of the sequence (not shown here), autofocus is run once every hour; it can also be set to run if the HFR, or half-flux radius, increases by an amount you’ve set and/or by temperature change. A meridian flip is executed at the appropriate time for the active target (the user can select how far past the meridian to allow tracking before flipping). When the whole sequence is done, it executes a final set of parallel commands that I have set at the bottom (not shown here): it stops guiding, warms the camera, and parks the mount. In the morning when I wake up, I have images from several targets waiting for me and a parked telescope safely facing north and ready to be covered.

The Interface

I consider myself to be good with learning both software and hardware; I tend to pick things up quickly. Despite this, it took me several months to understand Sequence Generator Pro. This was not the case at all with N.I.N.A. with its intuitive interface, but with practice and tweaking, the Advanced Sequencer can be a powerful and simple control using its drag-and-drop commands and template target loops that you can save. Some users may find the Advanced Sequencer confusing at first, but by starting with suggested settings from online tutorials and adding additional complexity and commands you can make sequences that perfectly fit your telescope rig’s needs and fix problems that occur throughout the night.

The Imaging tab is the command center for keeping an eye on the sequence’s progress.


The Imaging tab command center. Image credit: AstronoMolly


It includes a number of tools itself, such as plate solving the current image (handy if you’re using a mount you point manually, like a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer), manual focusing tools (including a Bahtinov mask spike overlay), an aberration inspector, statistics for the current image such as average HFR of the stars, minimum and maximum brightness values, etc., and more. The layout is fully customizable and more windows are available than are shown here.


It only took me one night of using N.I.N.A. to become hooked, abandoning my other sequencing software options. It is a brilliantly designed piece of software that is still under active development by both the creators and community contributors. There is a Discord server where you can ask questions, get help, and suggest features. There are a few features that it still lacks, such as a scheduler, but some scheduling can be achieved with the available trigger conditions, and I don’t think a scheduler is too far away. There are many more great features than can fit in this review but suffice it to say that N.I.N.A. is incredible automation and sequencing software that I heartily recommend. And, best of all, it’s free.


MSRP: Free



About AstronoMolly

I got into astrophotography in July 2015 after receiving my first telescope as a gift. Much trial and error later, I now have four astrophotography rigs set up in my backyard in Dayton, OH, including one dedicated to variable star and exoplanet transit observations, and I am now also a Contributing Editor at Astronomy Magazine. I love doing STEM and astronomy outreach both in-person at public stargazes and virtually on YouTube and at astronomy club meetings and classrooms across the country. I am an AAVSO Ambassador (American Association of Variable Star Observers), an Explore Alliance Ambassador, and a panelist and broadcaster for The Astro Imaging Channel weekly YouTube show. I have a B.S. in Physics from Washington State University, and am currently pursuing my PhD in Nuclear Engineering while snuggling with my two cats, Orion and Apollo.

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