Using a smartphone with your telescope is an easy task requiring a smartphone adapter for the telescope and, in some cases, a dedicated camera app.
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- a smartphone of any brand
- smartphone adapter
- telescope with eyepiece
What Can You Expect?
Using a smartphone with the telescope is an inexpensive way to try astrophotography. This setup is mostly used to capture nice images and videos of the moon, planets, and even the sun.
Here is my short video capturing a sun where you can see the setup you need to use a smartphone. In this case, I’m also using a sun filter. Remember, never point your telescope at the sun without the proper sun filter in place!
Don’ expect to take pictures of the deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies. However, you can get some decent shots of Orion nebula because it is very bright, but it is not ideal. For real deep sky astrophotography, you need a dedicated astrophotography camera or a DSLR camera. I have written a great article that will help you to choose the best camera for astrophotography. I will also touch the deep sky astrophotography with the smartphone at the end of this article.
But let’s talk about what you can do with the smartphone and telescope.
How To Attach a Smartphone To a Telescope
Holding a smartphone with your hands in front of the eyepiece and trying to take a picture is almost impossible. The telescope wobbles, and it is hard to keep the smartphone camera exactly above the small eyepiece lens.
All you need to do is buy a cheap universal smartphone adapter where you can mount almost any smartphone. This adapter will fit your smartphone on the eyepiece holding it right above it.
After you successfully mount the smartphone into the adapter, you have to mount it on your eyepiece, so the camera is very close to the eyepiece, but not touching it. Then rotate the mount, so the camera lens of the smartphone is right above the exit pupil of the eyepiece.
It will take time and practice to put it in the right position. Try doing it during the day by pointing the telescope on some object like a building or a tower. Practice it, and it will be easier and faster to do at night.
There are also adapters for small digital cameras, and it works the same way- holding your camera in place in front of the eyepiece.
This method of capturing images through the telescope eyepiece is called the eyepiece projection. You are shooting exactly what you see with your eye through the eyepiece.
The real astrophotography is done without the eyepiece, and the light goes directly into the camera chip. It is called prime focus astrophotography. If you are interested in prime focus astrophotography, check my article Astrophotography with DSLR and Telescope to learn more.
Recommended Smartphone Adapters To Use With a Telescope
There are many types of adapters you can choose from. Also, some telescopes come with adapters for smartphones, but they are often cheap and even dangerous to use. I am talking about the ones where the mounting mechanism for the smartphone is only a pair of suction cups.
Try to avoid using or buying these adapters because I can guarantee that your expensive smartphone will fall off it. They look cool, but they are useless.
I would only use sturdy adapters made from metal where you can securely mount your smartphone. Here are some examples of great smartphone adapters to use with your telescope:
1. Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount
2. Vankey Cellphone Telescope Adapter Mount
3. Meade Instruments Smart Phone Adapter
Taking Pictures and Videos Through a Telescope With a Smartphone
After you successfully mount the smartphone on your telescope, taking pictures is a straight forward process. The only problem is that if you touch the smartphone to take a picture, the telescope will vibrate, destroying your image.
Because of that, you need to use a timer in your camera and set it up for at least 5 seconds. It will allow the telescope to settle after you touch the screen.
But the best way is to shoot a short video. The easiest object to shoot is the moon. It is big, and it looks gorgeous through the eyepiece so you can catch it on your smartphone and show it to your family or share it with your friends on social media. Here is my video to show you how the moon looks on the video made by smartphone and telescope:
Making a Video of The Planet With a Smartphone and Telescope
Filming a planet is more tricky than making a video of the moon. The moon is large, and you don’t need to use high magnification to film it. The reason behind this is that that if you use very high magnification and telescope on a manual mount, the object will leave the field of view very fast because of the earth’s rotation.
To see the planets, you need high magnification, so you have to use a Barlow lens or short focal length eyepiece. In this case, you need a motorized mount that will keep the planet in the field of view. A motorized mount will automatically track the planet.
There are only two planets worth looking at through a telescope. It is Jupiter and Saturn. They are big, and you can see a lot of details on them. You also need perfect seeing conditions to have a great experience looking at them.
Here, I recommend only take a video. You can create the image later in software like Registax by stacking all the frames of the video. This stacking technique is used to create stunning images of the planets. It is never a single shot; you need thousands of frames.
Here is a video of Saturn using the iPhone 5 and telescope. The seeing conditions were terrible, so you can expect much better results when you have the right seeing conditions:
The neat feature of the smartphone is that you can use build-in zoom to make the planet bigger on the screen. Without that, you are only using the magnification provided by the eyepiece.
Smartphone Astrophotography App
As I said in the beginning, it is almost impossible to take deep sky images with the smartphone. But it can be done to some degree, and you can try it if you want, but I suggest to do it only if you meet these requirements:
- dark skies without light pollution
- perfect seeing conditions
- a telescope with computerized mount
- smartphone app to control the camera
If you can check all the requirements above, you can try to do deep sky astrophotography with the smartphone. Some folks have got great results, and it is fun. You will also learn a lot of basics about astrophotography.
You are, of course, limited to bright objects only. The main requirement in deep-sky astrophotography is to be able to take long-exposure images. That’s why you need a dedicated app that will unlock more controls of the smartphone camera like ISO control and the ability to take long exposure shots.
There are plenty of apps to choose from, but I recommend the NightCap Camera app. Don’t expect stunning pictures like from Hubble telescope, but if you are a beginner, it will be fascinating for you.
Using a smartphone with the telescope is a perfect way to show or share views with others. It is cheap and easy to do. The key to getting great images and videos is to master the focus on your telescope, so play with it because it can differ between your eyes and the camera.
And if you get hooked up on this, then read more of my articles about astrophotography because it is a great and rewarding hobby. Clear skies!