Sunday, March 8, 2015

iPhone Astrophotography - Background

I've begun dabbling in astrophotography using the iPhone.

Inspired by the work of Andrew Symes (@FailedProtostar on Twitter), who has achieved awesome results and whose work has been featured recently in The Atlantic, I have taken my old telescope out of storage and have started to play around.


My equipment consists of the following:

  • An iPhone 5. The only camera I own.
  • A Meade Telescopes DS-127, which I bought nearly 15 years ago and which has spent most of its life in storage. The telescope mount is wobbly and difficult to aim consistently, so I need lots of patience. There is no automatic tracking, so I have to point manually and hope for the best.

  • A Celestron FirstScope ($50) that I bought for my dautghters (but really for me). It is easily portable for travelling and use in Camping. Fits in a small shoulder bag.

  • A Vista Explorer Tripod ($35). I bought this and a "Charger City" smartphone adapter to allow for long exposures on the iPhone. This works well when shooting ISS passes or Iridium Flares. This is also how I'd take some steady pictures through the telescope eyepiece, but I'd have to adjust the tripod each time I adjusted the telescope.  Not an optimal solution.  Note: I also use a portable battery pack since the battery on my iPhone quickly discharges in cold weather. The battery pack minimizes that.

  •  Orion SteadyPix Pro. This adapter holds the iPhone (in the case) and aligns the camera with the telescope eyepiece. Unfortunately, it needs a long eyepiece to grab on to, so it only work with my lowest magnification lens.  Great for taking pictures of the moon, but not enough magnification for imaging Jupiter.
  • Celestron Astromaster Accessory Kit. ($46) This provided a moon filter and a Barlow Lens, among other things. The Barlow lens provides enough hardware for the SteadyPix to latch onto, so I should, theoretically, be able to get higher-magnification images of Jupiter.

Results so far:

I've had mixed results ... but I'm working on it!

To capture passes of the International Space Station and Iridium Flares, I use the Sputnik! app on the iPhone to tell me when and where to look.  Then I put the iPhone on the tripod and use the NightCapPro app with the night, light boost and light trails settings to get a long exposure.
Iridium Flare and Orion 2/15/15
International Space Station and Cassiopea over Williamsburg 2/22/15

Initially, I was capturing the moon by holding the iPhone up to the eyepiece of both telescopes. I've since begun using the SteadyPix to attach the iPhone and align the camera for more consistent results.

Taken 1/30/15 Handheld through Celestron FirstScope

Taken 1/24 Handheld through Celestron FirstScope
4:30 a.m. 2/11/15 using SteadyPix Pro and Meade DS-127
Capturing Jupiter is my next challenge.  I've found that taking video and capturing single images has given me my best results so far.  Interestingly, the bands of Jupiter's clouds are most pronounced right at the moment that the disc is about to pass out of the field of view of the telescope. When it is centered, it is generally over-exposed.  I'm working on getting the right exposure and magnification, using filters and different eyepieces.
Single frame from iPhone video 2/2/15. Jupiter just about to pass out of field of view

3/2/15 zoomed and cropped screengrab from video
So that's where I'm starting. I'll continue future posts in this blog with the results of continued viewing sessions.  If you want to get a first look at my latest sightings, follow me on Twitter at @BeckePhysics.

Clear skies!


  1. Awesome! There's not enough people interested in astronomy.

    I've been experimenting some myself with a webcam. Didn't get as good results as Andrew Symes, but I'm getting there.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. You're close to getting some cool stuff. I have very similar equipment (3" reflector, no tracking, & iPhone 5). Take your video of Jupiter and starting tinkering with free image "stacking" software. My 2nd video of Jupiter looked quite similar to yours. I used RegiStax and pulled out some even better resolution of the bands. I'm about to try Regim next for deep sky objects. AutoStakkert is good too.