As with the shots of Saturn, I started with single frames of Jupiter. Settings were f/1.8 (set by iPhone hardware), ISO 24 to avoid blowing out the planet’s details, and a simple 1/10th of a second duration:
Cropped, you can see some details:
I doubled the ISO to 50, same duration:
And cropped again:
There seems to be a bit more detail in the top half, but less detail in the bottom. Then again, on a 4″ scope with my iPhone, I’ll take it! 🙂
For the second part of my processing, I worked with a 3-minute video, ~1900 frames:
Initially, I tried working with PIPP and then Autostakkert but it is REALLY hard to process the image when it wants you to place little place markers on the image — in fact, it tells you NOT to try it for planetary items. I told it to find its own, the auto option, but it only found 7 (it wants a minimum of 24):
I manually added another 14 to get to 21. In the end, not sure it was worth it:
I tried again, this time with some quality control built-in, and with only keeping the best 40% of images, and again with 7 place markers:
Cropped, still not sure there’s much else there:
I tried it again with 40% of the best images plus 29 separate place markers, and got this:
Cropped, I get this:
More work, but it seems fainter to me, less detailed.
Finally, I tried processing it in Nebulosity, which is almost a sucker’s game for planets. First, it won’t take videos, so I processed it in PIPP first (noise filter, stabilized for planetary images, object detection, centred the object, rotated it 90 degrees counterclockwise, quality estimation and reordering by quality, output as individual TIFF files) and then opened them in Nebulosity. Second, Nebulosity is NOT designed for planetary stuff at this resolution as it wants me to identify and click on features that are all blurred most of the time. Plus, I’d have to manually process EVERY frame of the ~1900+ frames. I tried that in auto mode but it just blurred everything out. I tried a second time, focusing on the best 50 or so images of the first 400 based on a quality estimate by PIPP, then let it stack them, cropped it down to something usable, and finally ended up with this:
While they’re all interesting, I feel like I barely improved in a couple of them beyond what I had in the single frame shot! But I’m learning at least…I think.
An online friend took a stab at processing my videos and got this:
My son recently acquired a Celestron NexStar 4SE in June, and on July 12th, the night was looking a bit clear. He was heading to bed but gave me permission to play with his scope. Alignment worked perfectly, I tried for a few things to see, etc. And that was my intent — solely to test the alignment and take a peek at the moon and planets.
Except I was curious how it would fare with my iPhone for simple astrophotography. I captured the images and video, but then I let them sit in my folders for a bit. So much so that when I finally did start playing with them, I totally forgot they were taken on the 4SE, not my standard 8SE. I was a bit disappointed with my processing, but when I realized earlier today they were all on the 4SE, my expectations changed!
So the equipment was a Celestron NexStar 4SE, with stock alt-az mount and tripod not set in wedge mode, iPhone XS Max, 25mm Plossl, and the Celestron NexYZ phone adapter. By the time I started imaging, the moon had set behind the neighbour’s house, so I was focused on planets.
First up is the first single image. Camera settings were f/1.8 (hard set in the phone), ISO24 so it isn’t overblown, and duration of 1/9s. I took a series of them with a remote shutter release to prevent shaking. The result is a little faint, but something there that is clearly Saturn.
Cropping it makes the image a little clearer:
The best one of the set of 55 images is this one:
Cropped and flipped, it looks like this:
I tried stacking the photos using Affinity, with noise reduction, keeping 75% of the images, and this is what I got:
I took a video file as well:
If I take that video, and run it through the astro programs PIPP and Autostakkert, with stacking, cropping, brightening, etc., I end up with this:
A different set of settings, without the brightening, game me this:
If I push that through Registax and play with basic wavelets and brightening, I get this:
The video file has 1200 images/frames, so it should be showing me way more data, but I’m not that great at processing yet.
I wanted to go back and try a stack in Nebulosity 4 (which an online friend uses with great success for DSOs), even though it is not able to handle videos plus it isn’t necessarily the best option for processing planets. Nevertheless, I force-fed it the 55 images, normalized them, culled for quality, and then stacked the final 45 images. This is the result:
Which an online friend took, downloaded, and re-colourized to be a bit more “normal” for Saturn, to give me this:
And another friend did this off the original video:
The stacking options of PIPP/Autostakkert with 1200 frames gave me almost the same outcome as Nebulosity with 45 images. Overall, I’ll settle for either one for an early effort, whether it was with a 4SE or the 8SE. Auspicious progress.
As I mentioned in the last post, I am a fair-weather astronomer. So even though I want to do “more” this year for astronomy, back in January, I debated whether I could allow myself to skip the lunar eclipse, seriously considering avoiding setting up because it was just TOO DAMN COLD to be working with a metal tube for very long, not to mention freezing my hands, nose and feet. Or having my glasses continually fogging up. Meh. But in the end, I decided I would set up…I mean, I have to, if I want to consider myself an astronomer, right? But then it clouded over and I could pretend to be miffed while secretly being relieved. But if last year was any indication, I need to make a much greater effort to get out there and observe other than waiting just for our monthly Star Parties.
This year I have no real excuses not to be rocking my astro hobby, including some basic AP.
I have a big enough aperture on my Optical Tube Assembly (OTA) to gather some decent light.
I have a mount that I have figured out, even if it isn’t designed for serious AP.
I have the Cadillac of smartphone adapters.
I have the latest in iPhones.
And I have Night Cap, the crème de la crème of astrophotography apps for iOS, with instructions from a master user.
Plus, not for nothing, I splurged on a small bonus setup for myself…since you have to focus on objects, get them centred, etc., and then put the phone and stuff on it, I figured why not put a 25mm lens in (for example), get it all lined up, and THEN, dramatic pause, use the adapter and phone already set up on a second 25mm lens to just swap them in and out. The master user online just leaves his setup with the same EP all night, viewing through the camera just as easily, but I am not sure that will work for me out of the gate. Plus, I want to be able to image what I first have already “seen” through the scope — the photos are meant to be souvenirs of my visual observing.
But using the OTA + mount + adapter + iPhone + software + EP all together seems a bit like a mathematical formula that says:
1 working OTA 1 working mount 1 good adapter 1 right smartphone 1 good software app 1 appropriate eyepiece = 1 good photo.
However, for me, the learning curve is still there, and I would say it is more like the co-efficients come out as:
OTA = .6 to .7 simply because I’m not in very dark skies in my backyard;
Mount = .4 as I still have gremlins if I don’t set it up perfectly;
Adapter = .1 at present, which I will explain below;
iPhone = .8 to .9 as I figure out the setup and features (even as basic as turning off the “auto screen off”);
Night Cap software = .3 at present, although I updated my settings the other night based on expert help online, so it should make a huge difference; and,
EP = .5 at present, just as I’m not sure which EPs are the best to use with the camera on the phone.
If you put those coefficients into the formula, you would get say .6 x .4 x .1 x .8 x .3 x .5 = .00288. Or about 2/5 of a percent quality of that 1 good photo.
Yeah, I know, the math doesn’t really work that way, I’m exaggerating. But based on my outcomes for my first outing, that estimate isn’t far off my first result. Sort of my own personal version of Drake’s Equation.
My first outing of the year — Sunday, April 28th
I wanted to get a bit warmed up with the hope there will be a lot of viewing this year with some capacity building to take some photos. I SHOULD be able to do this. I just have to get it all to work together.
For my first setup of the year, it was a bit rough. Not everything was in the right boxes, one of my brackets that goes under the mount wasn’t in the right place, and while I can sometimes do it all in about five minutes behind the car, this took me closer to 20 to just get set up, let alone aligned. And that was doing it in the full light of day! Sheesh. Definitely rusty. And as I was doing it, I realized part of the problem was that back in October, my last viewing was not meant to be my last viewing, I was going to go out again and sort everything back into place before hanging it up for the year, but the last outing was cancelled. And I never adjusted the storage. Oops.
But I did manage to get set up.
Since it was still daylight, my first attempt was to see if there was anything worth seeing on the sun. I have a Kendrick Baader solar filter that works fine for my scope, a bit basic, but lets me see the sun without frying my eyeballs. I don’t have a great case for it, so I keep it in the original box and foam packaging inside a larger small tub, and I had thought it would keep it completely safe. Particularly as I never put anything on top of it. Apparently not. I did the “hold it up to the wall to see if there are any pinholes” showing on the shadow and sure enough, there was one. Not sure how, but it has a minor puncture mark. These things take a fair amount of pressure to do that to, so not sure what happened. Anyway, I cheated with a piece of thick tape to cover it, rest of the filter is fine. And I rarely use it so although the viewing is a bit blocked, the danger is mitigated, and I’ll think about replacing it at some point with something sturdier if I can. Sigh.
So I set up on the sun, and the little filter that covers the front end of the tube has a little sun finder — a little pinhole that reflects on a small shade — so when the sun shines through the pinhole and onto the disc on the shade, you should be dead on for the sun. I don’t know what the deal is for other people, but it usually is near the disc, but not dead on. I have to move the tube around a bit to find it. So I moved the OTA around. And moved it around. And moved it around some more. And yet no sun was showing up in the EP. WTF? How am I not getting a bright bright bright sun? How the F*** can I miss the SUN???? The tape isn’t blocking enough to do that, is it? I was sure I understood the physics better than that, but maybe not. Not critical, I don’t do much solar, but not sure what I was doing wrong. I slewed the scope around to take the filter off and I noticed it was on partly crooked. The top was right against the flush of the opening, the other 2/3 were out about half a centimetre. Ohhhhhh. Readjusted, tried again, hey, look, the sun!
Nice simple disk. Hmm…it doesn’t look like anything worth seeing. Hmm…hey, I have lots of new apps and my phone handy, why don’t I just check to see if there is anything to see today?
Let’s see…”There are no sunspot regions on the Earth-facing solar disc today.” Well, pooh. Not even a simple sunspot? Oh well.
I aligned my TelRad, got it set up, seemed okay. Mind you, I’m in my backyard, and I can only look down about five houses to line up, so not exactly the best of distances to be sure, but hey, close enough.
Attempt #2 – Alignment
Okay, I have another confession to make. I was feeling REALLY lazy tonight. I just wanted to shake the cobwebs out of my viewing. So I did a basic setup, didn’t check my levelling, put it on the wooden deck in the backyard rather than the ground, blah blah blah. And I did a simple 3-star alignment process rather than choosing the best two like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would be good enough. And it was. I don’t know which two of Procyon, Spica and Arcturus it was using, but it worked.
I started doing a simple Star Tour later. A bunch of my first objects to the north are hidden behind a few houses. Eventually I started seeing a few stars. An array of things like M35, 36, 37, 38. Ghost of Jupiter at one point. A few faint fuzzies as I went. A couple of double stars. I wasn’t spending much time on them, mostly working my way through looking for a reasonably bright globular cluster.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking I would go for another faint fuzzy like I had last year with my wife’s iPhone 6, one of the things I couldn’t get with my old Samsung. Her phone showed me this:
[iPhone 6 Plus, Night Cap, 10s, f/2.2 4.15mm, ISO7303, a 25mm Celestron Plossl, Celestron NexStar 8SE, Meade smartphone adapter] I didn’t realize what that was but my online guru tells me it is Messier 3. Yay, I’ve imaged a Messier object. Tick that box.
At New Year’s, I ditched my old Samsung and got a top of the line iPhone XS Max. And I’ve been DYING to try it out. I set it up with NightCap in kind of default settings. Used my 25mm Plossl again on the 8SE. And switched to the NexYZ adapter. I snapped a picture and waited. I got a 1s shot, f/1.8, ISO9216. And it looked like this:
That was not an intentional dark for processing. Umm…I reset and tried again. And somewhere in the middle of resetting, I got this:
Cute, but not what I’m trying to do. Unless those are a series of stars coming towards me. I tried again, and for a moment I actually thought I got a globular cluster. Before realizing I wasn’t looking at a cluster. And that’s just some sort of haze on the glass somewhere, with a smudged Arcturus over to the left.
Then, with 1s duration, ISO2300, Auto white balance, I ended up with a bit more pointy star:
Then I made an incredible discovery — space has some sort of green butterfly up there:
Sigh. Try again…ooh, a bit pointy again.
I played with the settings, it stayed at a 1s duration, but bumped my ISO up to 9K, still auto WB, and umm, well, again, not what I was expecting:
I then somehow changed my settings to ISO 4K, still 1s, but manual exposure and manual white balancing. And got this:
I don’t know if that blue-ish artifact is something on the lens or what. I just know this is not what I was going for overall. Sigh. Fortunately, the online guru has given me better settings for my next attempt.
I packed up for the night and will try again. Part of the challenge in setting up for me at the moment is that when I get looking at an object, and then put on the camera + adapter, two things happen. First, I am not really seeing a very good “live view” through the phone, which makes it hard to see what I’m actually going to snap. Second, the weight seems to tilt the scope a bit, which means what WAS centred, is now low in the scope (high in the EP), and I have to readjust to get it into the camera’s FoV. More trial and error to figure that out. It would be great to do this with the moon, much easier to work out some kinks, but for now, this is what I have to work with. Stay tuned…
One of my goals this year is to take some astro pics of various things – moon, planets, stars, DSOs. And since I have seen people do some amazing things with the same scope as me (NexStar 8SE) and a smartphone, I wanted to try it too. In a previous post, I described it as beginner / entry-level astrophotography (Smartphone astrophotography part 1 – Meade smartphone adapter). I have a Meade adapter to hold the smartphone and some okay eyepieces to use, but getting set up is probably the least of the challenge…while I have managed to get a couple of good shots, I haven’t been very consistent.
I outlined seven steps in my previous post and after fiddling with setups, I managed to mount the phone, adjust the phone to the eyepiece ring, mount the eyepiece, find an object, and adjust the scope’s focus. Five steps down, somewhat mechanical and there’s always likely room for improvement, but it’s good enough for amateur work. Which leaves adjusting the camera settings and snapping the photo or video. If I’m really specific about it, these two actually break into three pieces:
Set the general camera settings
Set the individual image settings
Record the image or video
For iOS phones, you use Night Cap(ture); there are other apps but anyone having any really serious luck with their iPhones and a scope is generally using this app. For Android, the popular choice is Camera FV-5; as with iOS, there are other choices, but most people are defaulting to this app. Both are popular because you can change camera and image settings out the wazoo, which you need in order to get beyond basic settings and into astro-photography configs for low-light.
However, when I looked at the camera settings, I hit a wall. In Camera FV-5, there are *23* settings that could directly impact my type of astrophotos. TWENTY-THREE of them. While the general advice is a bit of trial and error, and making a checklist to run through all the different types of options, 23 is way too many. With all the sub-options, etc., it would be hundreds of permutations. So I needed to triage the list to a more manageable size. I reached out to Lokifish and FlyingSnow on Cloudy Nights, Loren on Cloudy Nights and on FaceBook, and Andrew through Twitter. Most of them are using iPhones, not Android, and different software, but my initial camera questions were a bit more generic than that, not specifically limited to iPhones or Android i.e. not really limited to smartphones. To be honest, I think they are more about astrophotography in general, and in addition to consulting the four people mentioned above, I did a LOT of online searching to find people talking about the same issues. I tried the even tried the RASCAG group too but no nibbles. But with the various avenues, I managed to weed the initial list of 23 down to just 3 to keep for a checklist experiment. If you’re thinking of trying the software, click on the settings icon, and here’s what you will find:
A. Under Basic Settings tab:
Irrelevant: Storage location, custom storage folder, and geotagging are more about your own personal interests, not the outputs, and you might as well turn the composition grid off too.
Mostly irrelevant: I initially set maximize screen brightness to OFF, mainly as a question around preserving my night vision (there’s a lot of white on the screen and no app-based night mode to turn everything red). However, for some darker sky options, I wanted the screen as bright as possible to show any stray photons. It doesn’t affect the photos, just your viewer, so it’s more personal preference.
Relevant: But you SHOULD set Image Resolution to the maximum size you have available as you want as much light and information in the photos as possible. You should also note the maximum size shown as it will be relevant in another section in a minute.
B. Under the General Camera Settings tab:
Irrelevant: Set review last photo, review time, sound (3 sub-options), hardware controls (2 sub-options), use double back key press, and prefer external applications to whatever you want to for personal style, as none of them affect the photos. Anti-banding sounds impressive until you actually see the sub-settings — it is basically about Hz ranges, which might sound relevant until you see that there is a setting for Europe and USA. What is it? It’s so you don’t take a pic of a TV screen and see bands on it. I hit disable.
Mostly irrelevant: Under “compatibility”, you will see six sub-options that are highly technical and their “grouping” doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. “Keep AE-L/AWB-L after focus and shoots” doesn’t affect photos but it DOES allow you to set them once and keep it set, rather than any resets after each shot. The next three work together — if you use a bracketing procedure (we’ll come to this later but basically it takes three to seven photos at a time, sequentially like a burst, with slightly different exposure compensation), then these three options will affect how well that tool works (i.e. pausing between exposures or not, how long the pause should be, and whether you want it to refocus between shots — generally not for the last one because you’re going to be setting it to infinity later anyway for every shot). You can also set the metadata mode (1,2,3) and while metadata is important when you’re comparing photos, I couldn’t find ANY explanation of what the difference was. “2” seemed to have more info in the file than “1”, but that might have just been coincidence. I set mine to 2. The last sub-option is called “Force usage of legacy camera driver”. I can’t imagine a practical normal reason you would ever want to do that — in almost all cases, older camera drivers are going to have less features and produce worse photos than the current driver. I would make sure it is turned off unless you know a specific reason for your phone’s model in particular that makes you want to switch it. Meanwhile, back under the main settings, there is one called “focus before capturing” but since you’re going to set it later to infinity, it can be switched off. The next option also asks if you can take a photo without focus, which is kind of stupid as it just asked the same question. If I can turn it off, why do I want to ask it again? I switched it on (first one says yes you can take photo, second one says actually take the photo?).
Relevant: The first sub-option under main heading is the only real one that is relevant, and not for the reason that first appears. It is called “Long Exposure Resolution”. Like with Basic Settings / Image Resolution, this is asking you what resolution you should use. Again, for astro photos, you generally want the biggest one you can get with the most detail. So while that seems like a no-brainer, I’m flagging it for another reason. On my phone, my Max Image Resolution is 12MP (chosen in the section above), but my max Long Exposure Resolution is…wait for it…2MP. Why? Because my phone’s camera sucks. I’m using a Galaxy Note 3 that works great for just about everything else but the sensor is so old, it’s going to drastically limit me for certain types of astro photos. It also means that although the software may SAY it’s doing a long 20s exposure, it looks like that is more of a “simulated” long exposure (taking smaller shorter exposures and stacking them together). I’ll cover this in more detail with my actual image reviews, but you should know right up front, if this says you’re limited to a much smaller size, it means your expectations for pics of anything outside our solar system should be limited.
C. Under the Photo Encoding Settings tab:
Irrelevant: Photo storage and numbering (four options) are irrelevant to the image, just personal preference.
Mostly irrelevant: Choosing to embed the thumbnail in the JPG doesn’t affect your image quality, but you may want it when reviewing and sorting photos later. I switched it off, but my consultative advisors recommended leaving it on. And you might as well have best quality (100) for the thumbnail. Similarly, picture orientation (2 options, both of which I leave off) and MetaData (I include EXIF +XMP) are just personal preference.
Relevant: There are four relevant ones left, but two of them are intertwined and obvious. The first one is the file format — on almost all Android phones, this is going to be JPG or PNG. I prefer JPG, doesn’t really matter. What matters is if you have a third option to do RAW. If you do, I am highly jealous. The RAW format is your gold standard and what most hard-core astro-photographers use for imaging. Just like most any other serious photographer for other subjects. But you likely won’t have the option, so choices after that are pretty obvious. If you choose JPG, you will want the highest quality level (again, why not?). The setting, “SET IMAGE PARAMETERS” (for contrast, saturation and sharpness), is actually highly-relevant, and while you only set it once generally, I’m going to cover it in the next post with the image checklist options. Finally, the setting for “COLOR CHANNELS” isn’t as exciting as some astrophotographers might hope. Often, APers, will take shots with Reds, Greens, and Blues separately (no, I don’t know hardly anything about it) to capture different light spectrums and then merge them later. It gives them more granularity of control in the final combined photos. However, this one only has two options — RGB i.e. in colour or Luminance i.e. B/W. While B/W might be tempting, people tend to get more realistic photos in colour.
D. Under the Viewfinder Settings tab:
Irrelevant: This whole section is relatively irrelevant for the images, just your own preferences in working the screen. Widescreen is preferred by some, I tend to leave it off; I check the “DO NOT TURN SCREEN OFF” because it’s annoying in the middle of setting up and checking some info in a book or something to have the phone turn off, reenter the pass code, get it back to where you were. Of course, leaving it on sucks battery life. Since I don’t do image rotation either, I leave the viewfinder in landscape mode on mine.
Mostly irrelevant: Under Viewfinder Overlaps, there are two options that are useful — SHOW STOPS DISPLAY (i.e. exposure compensation) and SHOW CAMERA PARAMETERS (i.e. show your settings on the screen before you snap). Focus Assist sounds like it could be relevant, except you’re not manually focusing with the camera, you’re doing it with the scope. Your phone is set to Infinity.
Relevant: The Histogram settings could be useful, I have no idea how to use them though, so I don’t bother. If you can get a good image of something on your screen, reviewing the histogram would let you tweak it even more, but that is beyond my ken.
And that’s it. All the main options eliminated or set, twenty relevant ones addressed, and only three that carry forward to my next post of testing different things with a checklist approach.
One of my goals this year is to take some astronomy pics of various things – moon, planets, stars, DSOs. While some people take shots of the sky with just their cameras, in my limited experience, there are four ways to capture images through a telescope.
1. DSLR mounted on the back of the scope (for my setup anyway), looking through the scope;
2. Webcam in the eye-piece;
3. Point-and-shoot camera mounted on the back of the scope and looking through the eyepiece; or,
4. Smartphone mounted at the eyepiece.
When people talk about astrophotography (AP), they normally mean option 1 or 2.
Option 1 is considered the best option by most amateurs, not because you get the best visuals, but just a combination of cost and quality. DSLRs are awesome machines with proven technology to capture photons. You can even get ones that have modified sensors explicitly to improve capturing night skies with limited light.
Option 2, the webcam, is great if you can afford the high-end cameras but even the lowest end requires another piece of equipment — a laptop to capture what the webcam is seeing. Lots of people debate Option 1 and 2, and while you might get an agreement that “technologically” the high-end webcams will produce better output, you’ll likely never get agreement on what is better or easier to work with for a given individual or at a given price-point.
Option 3 for a point-and-shoot camera was created by people who wanted to take some photos but didn’t have a webcam/laptop or a DSLR. There are little adapters that you mount the camera on, hold it in place over the eyepiece, and bam, you can take a photo. It is, however, highly finicky to adjust everything and get in place to take a shot. I never had much luck with it myself, but I gave it a try, just as I tried the other two above as well. Some people found it just as easy to hold it steady above the EP as anything else.
Option 4 — the smartphone — was basically a simple modification of Option 3 and has grown out of the desire of many people to do exactly what they are doing for regular photography instead of using DSLRs … take shots with the camera they already have on them rather than lugging something else.
Early adopters simply held the smartphone up to the eyepiece and snapped shots. I’ve done this myself, and got a couple of okay early shots of the moon, but anything else was beyond me. I just can’t hold it steady enough. I also don’t have the patience.
Moderate adopters bought simple adapters that came out from various manufacturers and basically gives a series of little clamps to lock on to your phone in one part and an eye-piece in another. It sounds simple enough, but it’s misleading. For one thing, all phones are different sizes so the phone clamps have to be adjustable i.e. not exactly perfectly sized or lined up. Particularly because some phones put the camera in the corner of the back, others put it in the centre, others in the opposite corner, etc. So after you mount the phone to the adapter, you have to centre a mounting ring over your eyepiece to get it lined up (most newbies make the same mistakes I have done which is to try and centre the camera over the eyepiece rather than first centring the eyepiece ring over the phone’s camera port and then adding the EP last).
Current adopters are excited by seeing some of the great work that is out there (like Andrew Symes’ on Twitter — @FailedProtostar) and seeing just what is possible. For these adopters, and to some extent the others, you quickly divide into two camps: iOS users and Android users.
iOS — Those with recent iPhones are blessed with two things. First, the iPhone cameras are good, solid cameras. Are some of the new Google Pixel, or Samsung cameras better? Doesn’t matter, really, the point is that the iPhone cameras are good and have decent abilities to alter the options/settings since night-time photography at a telescope eyepiece is not your “default” setting for any common camera. However, they get a second benefit. There’s an app called Night Cap(ture). It exploits the benefits of the iPhone’s abilities to the max, and just about everyone who uses the iPhone for night shots doesn’t even bother to try anything else. It’s the default go-to app and produces awesome results.
Android — Within the Android world, all the cameras are different: some support API1, some API2; some have great cameras, some have good; some let you play with settings, some don’t; some will save in RAW, most won’t. But even without the variations in the hardware, there is no clear winner in the app world on the scale of Night Cap. If you go by popularity, probably Camera FV-5 comes the closest, and it has lots of power. Although it doesn’t include a video mode, that’s a separate app. Sigh. Anyway, the point is, it’s just not as robust or streamlined as the iOS option. Just about everyone out there who is doing AWESOME stuff out of the gate is using an iPhone. Despite the larger Android market share, I would say “awesome smartphone AP” is about 90% iOS and 10% Android.
Enough context, what am I doing?
I tried webcam stuff, but it was something I pushed to the back-burner after a few tries, with the intent to focus on visual observing until I felt that I had that well-covered. Five years later, I don’t have it nailed, although the alignment process is fixed. I tried DSLR and have all the parts, just haven’t quite nailed the process and set up yet, but again, put it to the back-burner. The point-and-shoot option is still on my list once I nail smartphones as I would like at some point to take four images of the same thing(s) with all four just to show what I can get with a bit of practice and minimal skill.
This leaves me in the beginner’s AP world of snapping photos at the eyepiece with my Android phone running Camera FV-5. I tried a bunch of other apps, none were even close to giving me what I want on my Samsung Note 4. I can’t save in RAW, but I’m fine with JPGs. I’m aiming more for souvenir web photos than printing enlargements or giant murals. I’m getting a few shots, but nothing spectacular, and it’s hard to figure out where I need to make my improvements. There are x steps in the process.
Mount the phone in the bracket.
Adjust the phone to the right height and angle of the eyepiece ring.
Find an object in the scope.
Mount the eyepiece ring over the eyepiece, thus mounting the camera.
Adjust the focus of the scope.
Adjust settings for the camera.
Snap the photo or record the video.
Step one: Mount the phone in the bracket
That sounds like it should be easy enough, right? Except here’s the deal. I have a Meade smartphone adapter and it basically consists of a “U-shaped” holder, you lie the phone flat in it, and then squeeze the U thinner to pinch the sides of the phone. A small screw knob (1) underneath tightens to hold it perfectly in place. Except there’s a small variance with the next step.
Step two: Adjust the phone to the right height and angle of the eyepiece ring.
So here’s the deal…the eyepiece ring has an inner bracket that clamps on to the eyepiece and an outer bracket that connects to the phone bracket. A screw knob (2) holds them together.
To align the phone at the right height above where the eyepiece will be, you use screw knob 2 which allows the phone bracket to move up and down in height about half a centimetre. Screw knob 1, which holds the U together, also allows the horizontal phone to move forward / back and left / right in the bracket to allow it to centre itself over the eyepiece ring.
In other words, you have to keep both knob 1 and knob 2 loose enough to allow movement but tight enough that everything stays together. Grr…
(from Amazon JP)
Step three: Find an object in the scope *
I confess, this is NOT the next step in my process, but I’ll talk about that later.
Usually, this is the normal next step. Pretty straightforward. Locate something in the scope that you want to image, put it in focus, get it tracking if you have a tracking scope.
Step four: Mount the eyepiece ring over the eyepiece, thus mounting the camera *
Again, this is not my usual order, but the standard one. With EP in the scope, and the camera phone mounted on the adapter, you then place the adapter on the eye-piece, tighten it up, and it’s installed. You hope.
Step five: Adjust the focus of the scope
When you did your initial focus, it was to see the object in the EP. Now that you’ve got a camera a bit above the EP lens, you need to tweak your focus a bit. A friend uses a magnifying glass to make sure his stars are pinpoint sharp. Others eyeball it on the screen as they adjust the focus knob.
Step six: Adjust settings for the camera
If the camera isn’t already set for the right settings — infinity focus, duration and ISO — then you can set them now.
Step seven: Snap the photo or record the video
With everything looking perfect on the screen, time to record the video or snap the photo. Since most phones will shake a bit when you touch them, lots of people use a 2-second timer delay for the shaking to stop or a remote trigger or even voice controls.
* My modified steps
I essentially swap steps three and four. Normally you use the EP to find an object and then mount the camera on top. In my case, I have an extra EP, so I first mount the EP I intend to use to the camera and THEN find an object with the other EP. When I am ready, I swap the EP+camera for the spotting EP. It saves a few steps on the fly and increases the likelihood that my EP will stay attached.
How am I doing?
Not that well. Way back when I started using the adapter last summer, I could get an image like this:
This month, I was lucky to get this:
I tried for Jupiter. Last July, I got this:
This May, I was lucky to get this:
I fiddled, I adjusted, I tried again:
Some people have been doing video and converting, so I did two 10s videos, ran them through an astroimaging software to process them for stacking and then through an actual stacking program, plus converted to JPG. This is the best I have so far:
I moved on to DSOs and got nothing. Totally black images. I checked the sensor to see if it was even registering stars, and I managed to capture Castor:
But it is hardly pinpoint and there is nothing showing around it? Seems odd to me.
So I’m messing up somewhere in the seven steps to get from A to Z. Just not sure where yet. I’ll keep trying.