Over the years, I’ve been following the software offerings of Italian astrophotographer Angele Perrone. He aggressively updates his Photoshop extensions, and he adds a lot of very simple functions that would be difficult to accomplish in Photoshop without a lot of time and trouble. So, here’s a look at Astro Panel Pro 6 for Photoshop.
Astro Panel Pro 6 is not a plug-in, but rather an extension. Photoshop extensions are basically a collection of macros, where complex edits can take place with a click of a button. Extensions can also add functionality to Photoshop. They can seem similar to plug-ins, but they are installed differently.
For Mac users, there are some caveats with extensions. They don’t run natively on M1 or M2 Macs at this time, but if you launch Photoshop in the Rosetta compatibility mode, they will run fine. That’s the case with Astro Panel Pro. However, an M1- (or M2-) friendly version will be available by the end of this year.
So, what does Astro Panel Pro do exactly? First off, Astro Panel Pro 6 is an extension that is found under the Photoshop windows menu. Adobe now refers to these extensions as legacy extensions, and they are not guaranteed to work on future hardware and future versions of Photoshop. On the Mac side, Astro Panel won’t work at all on Apple Silicon computers unless you launch Photoshop running Rosetta for compatibility.
At any rate, once running, Astro Panel Pro works pretty much like a normal Photoshop plug-in, and it automates and speeds up editing. While mainly designed for astronomical images, it can also color correct, de-noise, and remove gradients from landscape images.
Still, I think the plugin will be primarily of interest to astrophotographers. I’m using it on Milky Way photos, but it’s really useful on deep sky images like nebulae and galaxies. There are also tools to stack and align star trail images. It also supports HDR creation, which can be stunning with night sky photos.
Trying it out
I used Astro Panel on some Milky Way images I’ve recently taken with my Sony a7 III and a Sony 20mm f/1.8 lens. Before heading for Photoshop and Astro Panel, I used Deep Sky stacker to combine 65 17-second exposures I took in the Arizona desert north of Tucson.
Once in Photoshop, I adjusted exposure a bit in the Camera Raw editor.
Then, I jumped into the Astro Panel and color corrected. It took just one click, instead of juggling controls in Photoshop, where it would have taken some time.
As you can see, the image isn’t perfect yet, so I enhanced the sharpness of the Milky Way. Astro Panel will create a mask, and you can select the sharpness control to paint on where you want to enhance the image.
This made a really visible improvement in my image, but I still had a pretty obvious gradient from some nearby city lights.
Two clicks and it was mainly fixed. Sky colors were evened out, but there was still some light pollution at the bottom of the image. Still, for a quick and dirty couple of clicks and a swipe of the brush tool, Astro Panel Pro did a good job on this image. You can compare it to my unprocessed image above. I’d probably fix the remaining light pollution at the bottom with a linear gradient back in Photoshop.
Astro Panel Pro 6 is a solid enhancement of the previous Astro Panel software. There’s an improved “remove green cast tool” to get rid of the green light that results from artificial lighting. There’s some added Orton effects, best suited to landscape work, and for deep sky photographers, there is an H-Alpha simulation to provide the red tone nebulas get when taken through an H-Alpha filter. This version also improves noise reduction and offers a more powerful clarity control.
Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons
Astro Panel Pro is a quality piece of software. Much of what it does can be done manually, but it’s time-consuming. With unlimited undo, it’s pretty easy to experiment and revert.
Perrone also offers an excellent e-book called “How to Photograph the Night Sky.” It’s a rather complete guide for photographers getting started in this hobby, and it has loads of good tips and specific equipment recommendations.
The only real drawback I see is that Mac users don’t have a native Apple Silicon version to use. The program author, Angelo Perrone, says to expect it at the end of the year. Apple users with the latest hardware likely won’t want to lose the technical and speed benefits of the new Macs and run Photoshop in compatibility mode.
Also, there is no upgrade price for version 5 or earlier users, which I think is burdensome. There should be some incentive for current customers.
Astro Panel Pro 6 sells for $55 or in a bundle with the e-book for $66. You can get it here.