How To Use a WebCam With a Telescope

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Using a WebCam with your telescope is the first step to the big topic of Astrophotography and Video Astronomy. Even I have started with small 76/700 reflector and a standard webcam. Don’t try to skip this experience because it will give you a lot and you’ll be prepared for the next level. You can use pretty much any webcam, but you have to modify it by removing some parts of it to get it working with the telescope. A webcam in a telescope is used only for the moon and planets. You can make amazing videos of craters on the moon, Saturn rings or Jupiter with his moons.

Moon and Jupiter shoot with a webcam and telescope.

What Is The Best Telescope To Use With a Webcam

From a technical point of view, you can use any telescope with a webcam. From a practical point of view, it’s not as simple. You can still use any telescope, but the main role here plays the mount on which is the telescope attached. Let me explain why is that.


When you attach the webcam to your telescope, you will see that the magnification is very high. The magnification is similar to 5-6mm eyepiece. It also depends on the focal length of your telescope, but in general, the magnification will be high. If you don’t know how to calculate the magnification, read my Telescope Dictionary first. So, the magnification will be causing one problem. The field of view will be small which means that with a basic telescope on a simple mount you will be able to use it only for big objects. It is very hard to find and keep the small objects in the view with high magnification.


And as you already know, the only big object on the sky is the moon. This will be your limitation with a cheap, simple mount. You can point the telescope at the Moon and watch it. The Moon will slowly leave the field of view because of the earth’s rotation unless you keep it in the view by adjusting the mount knobs or by moving the telescope. It depends on the type of the mount you have.

To see planets with the webcam requires good skill or better mount. Planets appear very small in the sky. And as I said, it is quite difficult to find small objects with high magnification. Even if you manage to find it, it will be gone from your view very quickly. It is much easier to do it with the eyepiece because webcam has only a tiny spot where you can focus the object.

If you are looking for the object and camera is not in focus, the object will be blurred and almost invisible even if it’s in the center of the view. So, you have to master the focus with an attached webcam. You can move the focuser in and out, and there will be a little spot where the object will be in focus. It is a good practice to try it during the day on some small distant items or trees or something like that. But let’s get back to the point here.


For planets, you need a more advanced mount. Either sturdier with slow-motion adjusting knobs and your skill to find and keep the planet in the view or motorized GoTo mount that will automatically find the planet and track it for you. Without that, hunting for planets with a webcam will be a very frustrating experience.

How To Modify a Webcam For The Use With a Telescope

You can’t just take any webcam and use it straight away. You have to modify it first. Also, you have to realize that you won’t be able to use the webcam anymore with a computer after the modification. So, pick an old webcam you don’t use anymore or buy one specifically for this purpose.


Now, you need to do two things. The first step is to remove the lens that is on your camera. Some lenses are easy to remove and some not, and you might have to use some force. Try not to break it, though. We need a naked sensor to see without the lens.


The second step is to remove the IR cut filter that every camera has. We also want to see IR light because it will reveal more details on the objects. When you remove the lens, you will see small glass above the sensor, which is the IR cut filter. Again, on some cameras, it is easy to remove, on others not so much. But don’t worry, I will give you a list of webcams that I recommend. They are easy to modify and attach to the telescope. Here is a picture of my webcam modified for the telescope. It is an old HP Webcam HD-2200.

How To Attach The Webcam To a Telescope

Attaching a webcam to a telescope can be a tricky thing. There are two ways how to do it.


The easy one is to buy a webcam adapter to a telescope eyepiece holder that can be used with webcams of which I will give you a list later. You can screw this adapter on the webcam and just slide it inside your focuser like any eyepiece. The adapter I’m talking about is Solomark Webcam Adapter. The good thing about this adapter is that it has a threaded built-in part, so you can attach any filter to enhance the view of the Moon or the planets, unlike the free second option.

Solomark Webcam Adapter for Telescope

The second and free option is DIY. If you can find an old 35mm film case, you can use it to attach the camera to your telescope. These cases have the exact dimensions to fit in a 1.25″ eyepiece holder. You have to be creative with connecting the case to the webcam because it will be different with each camera. Use duct tape or make a precise hole on the bottom to fit the webcam. Here, you can see my solution, and I must say, it works perfectly. The black tape on the case is there because I broke it during the process.

What Webcam Is The Best To Use With a Telescope

And now, the list of recommended webcams to use with a telescope that I promised you. Many people tested all the webcams on the list, and they work perfectly with the telescope. But most importantly they are easy to modify, and you can use the Solomark Webcam Adapter to attach them to any telescope. Because many people commonly use them, you can find a lot of tutorials on the internet on how to modify them. However, it may be a challenge to buy some of these on the internet because they are old cameras.

  • Philips SPC900NC
  • Philips SPC890NC
  • Philips ToUcam Pro II 840k
  • Philips ToUcam Pro 740K
  • Creative Webcam Pro EX
  • Creative Webcam Pro NX

Orion StarShoot USB Eyepiece Camera II

Orion StarShoot USB Eyepiece Camera II

If you are lazy and you don’t have the time or the will to modify or search for the recommended cameras, there is one easy solution for you. You can actually buy webcams that are made for the use with the telescope. Something like this Orion StarShoot. It is basically standard webcam, but it’s already modified for you. It is a plug and play device where everything you need is a telescope and the computer.

Best Alternative To Webcam:

SVBONY SV205 Telescope Camera CMOS Telescope Camera 8MP

How To Capture a Video With a Webcam Mounted On The Telescope

To capture the video, you have to install software on your computer. You can use software that is included with the webcam. The important thing here is to have full control over the camera. What I mean by that is to have control over the brightness, contrast, exposure, and colors in real time. The moon and planets are very bright, so if you point the telescope with a webcam on the object, you will only see a very bright dot in case of the planets, and the moon will be overexposed. To see any details, we need to play with the exposure or other settings. So, if the software that you are using with your webcam doesn’t support these live settings, you have to install some other software.

The most commonly used software by astronomers is SharpCap. This software is made for the use with the telescope. You can control everything from there. The SharpCap is used not only with the webcam but also for astrophotography. It can be a steep learning curve for you, but there are plenty of tutorials on how to use it on youtube. Anyway, if you find it too complicated, you can use commercial webcam software like YouCam or BandiCam. These are working great for me as well.

How To Make Photos With a Webcam and Telescope

So, you saw pictures of the Moon and planets made with a webcam, but when you try to do a snapshot with your webcam it looks nothing close to that? It is because these pictures are made by stacking many frames from the video footage. It is called processing, and it is the way how the images are made with a telescope and any camera. You know how to make a video, and you can transfer it to a sharp image full of details.

But you need another software to achieve that. The software I’m using to create images from the video is called Registax. It is a straightforward process where you open the video in the program and in a few steps, it will create an amazing image by stacking hundreds or thousands of best frames from your video. That’s why the final image has much more details. One frame from the video is fuzzy and blurry, but if you stack them on top of each other, you can get impressive results. I recommend shooting all the videos in the .avi format because the Registax works best with it. I’m not going to explain the whole process here. It is for another article, or you can find it on youtube. The Registax requires a little bit of studying to master the process.

Using SmartPhone With The Telescope

A different approach to take images and videos with the telescope is to use your smartphone. This is a convenient way because almost everyone owns a phone with a good camera today. Another good thing about using your phone and not the webcam is that you don’t need any computer to capture video or images. The only thing you need is Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount to attach the phone to your telescope.

Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount

However, we also need the eyepiece in the focuser here. This time you are capturing what you can see with the eye in the eyepiece. You can get almost the same results, but I still find the webcam as a much better option for capturing the Moon and planets. Here is a short video that I captured with the iPhone 5 and Celestron Astromaster 130EQ.

Conclusion

The main advantage of the webcam or smartphone on your telescope is that it is a very cheap way to start with astro imaging. You can also use it during the day to capture plenty of different objects far away from you. After you learn how to work with the telescope during the capturing and you master image processing, you can move to the next level. If you want to capture deep sky objects like nebulas and galaxies, you have to master Video Astronomy and Astrophotography. I suggest you use the webcam or your smartphone, for now. You will be astonished how satisfying feeling you will experience after creating the first picture of the Saturn rings or closeup of the moon craters.

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