Using a webcam with your telescope is the first step toward Astrophotography and Video Astronomy, which is a huge topic.

Don’t try to skip this level because it will provide you with a lot of information and will prepare you for the following one. You can use almost any webcam, but you’ll need to modify it by removing specific components in order for it to operate with the telescope.

Only the moon and planets are visible through a telescope’s camera. You can make incredible videos of the moon’s craters, Saturn’s rings, or Jupiter’s moons. 

What is the best telescope to use with a webcam

You can utilize any telescope with a webcam from a technological standpoint. From a practical standpoint, though, it is not so straightforward. You can still use any telescope, however, the mount on which the telescope is mounted plays the most important role here. Allow me to explain why. 

When you connect the webcam to your telescope, you’ll notice that it has a very high magnification. The magnification is comparable to that of a 5-6mm eyepiece. The magnification will vary depending on the focal length of your telescope, but it will be high in general.

As a result, the magnification will be a concern. Because the field of view will be small, you will be able to utilize a basic telescope on a simple mount only for large objects. With high magnification, finding and keeping small objects in view is extremely difficult.

And, as you may know, the moon is the only large object visible in the sky. With a cheap, simple mount, this will be your restriction. You can use the telescope to observe the Moon. Because of the earth’s rotation, the Moon will gradually fade from view unless you change the mount knobs or move the telescope to maintain it in view. It all depends on the type of mount you have.

Using the camera to see planets demands a high level of skill or a better mount. In the sky, planets appear to be quite little. And, as I already stated, finding little items with high magnification is rather tough. Even if you locate it, it will vanish from your sight very fast. Because the webcam only has a small place where you can focus the thing, it’s much easier to do so with the eyepiece. 

Even though the object is in the center of the screen, if the camera is not in focus and you are seeking it, the object will be hazy and practically undetectable. As a result, you’ll need to master the focus with the help of a webcam. You may move the focuser in and out, and the thing will come into focus in a small area. It’s an excellent idea to practice it during the day on some tiny distant objects, such as trees or other plants. 

You’ll need a more advanced mount for planets. Either a sturdy mount with slow-motion adjustment knobs and your ability to identify and maintain the planet in view or a motorized GoTo mount that will find and track the planet for you. Without it, using a camera to look for planets will be a very frustrating experience. 

Webcam imaging

For video conferencing, a webcam is a small digital video camera. They weren’t built for astronomy, but they work surprisingly well for photographing brighter celestial objects like the moon and planets.

Webcams are quite inexpensive and commonly available. 

Taking photographs does not necessitate the use of film. The results are available immediately, and they are in a digital format that can be processed quickly. And, most importantly, it’s simple to use and produces high-quality photos! As a result, it’s an excellent place to start for anyone interested in trying their hand at astrophotography. 

Limitations

A standard webcam’s exposure period is limited to 1/25s, which means it can only be used to photograph brighter things like the moon and planets, as well as the sun with a suitable filter. The internet has a wealth of information on how to tweak a webcam’s electronic circuit for longer exposure time images.

With those changes, you can photograph those dimmer items. CCD, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of accumulating noise over time. The amount of noise is proportional to the CCD chip’s temperature; the greater the temperature, the more noise.

As a result, you’ll want to cool the webcam to reduce noise for longer exposure, which complicates things even more. In addition, the small size of the CCD chip inside webcams renders them unsuitable for photographing long objects. As a result, newbies should avoid attempting longer exposures with webcams.

How to modify a webcam for use with a telescope

You can’t just grab any old camera and start using it right away. You must first edit it. You should also be aware that following the adjustment, you will no longer be able to utilize the webcam with a computer. So, either repurpose an old webcam you no longer use or purchase one particular for this purpose.

You must now complete two tasks.

  • The first step is to take your camera’s lens out of the way. Considerable lenses are simple to remove, while others are more difficult, and you may need to exert some force. But try not to break it. To view without the lens, we’ll need a naked sensor. 
  • The next step is to remove the IR cut filter that comes standard with every camera. We’d also like to view infrared light, which will show more characteristics about the objects.

When you take the lens out, you’ll notice a thin piece of glass above the sensor that’s the IR cut filter. It is easy to remove on certain cameras, but not so much on others. But don’t worry, I’ll provide you with a list of webcams that I think you’ll enjoy. They’re simple to modify and mount on the telescope.

HP Webcam HD-2200 (BR384AA#ABA)
  • 720P video at up to 30 frames per second for smooth and natural body motion.
  • Integrated microphone and plug and play USBconnection for easy installation and ease of use.
  • Tilt and Pan: Webcam adjusts up and down or right to left to get the view you need

How to attach the webcam to a telescope

It can be difficult to connect a webcam to a telescope, but there are two options on how you can do it. 

The simple solution is to purchase a webcam adapter for a telescopic eyepiece holder that can be used with webcams, which I will list later. This adapter may be screwed onto the webcam and then placed into your focuser like any other eyepiece. Solomark Webcam Adaptor is the adapter I’m referring to. The advantage of this adapter is that, unlike the free second choice, it contains a threaded built-in portion to which you can attach any filter to improve the view of the Moon or planets. 

Solomark Webcam Adapter for Telescope 1.25inch Thread(with Good Paint)- Good for Taking Videos and...
  • Webcam Adapter For Telescope 1.25" Thread: male 12mm
  • Compatible list Philips SPC900NC,SPC890NC, ToUcam Pro II 840k,Philips ToUcam Pro 740K, Creative Webcam Pro EX,Creative Webcam Pro NX,
  • Wholly CNC Construction

The second, and completely free, the alternative is to do it yourself. You can use an old 35mm film case to mount the camera to your telescope if you can find one. These cases are precisely the right size to fit into a 1.25” eyepiece holder. Because each webcam is different, you’ll need to be inventive while connecting the case to it.

To accommodate the webcam, use duct tape or drill a precise hole in the bottom.

Capturing the images

Okay, everything appears to be in working order, and we can begin taking photographs. Normally, I’d say something like this:

  1. Start the computer with the webcam connected in
  2. Set up your telescope
  3. Adjust your scope
  4. With an eyepiece, aim your target, center it, and use the Barlow if necessary.
  5. Start your webcam video recording program and make the necessary adjustments.
  6. Take off the eyepiece and connect the webcam.
  7. By glancing at your computer’s monitor, you may focus using your webcam
  8. With the webcam, re-center your objective
  9. Sit back and fine-tune your focus when you have a better view
  10. When the sighting is favorable, capture it 

Some points to notice:

  1. Do not underexpose or overexpose your images.
  2. Use again setting that is as low as possible without underexposing your image: this will result in fewer noise.
  3. Slower frame rates will result in less noise: 10 frames per second is sufficient; it will also prevent dropped frames on slower PCs.
  4. Because the planets rotate, the features in your movie will vary over time. A video clip should not be too long to avoid stacking issues: for 4000mm, 100s is about the maximum time. Such a limit would also be useful for altazimuth monitoring, which causes field rotation, which is still another source of stacking issues. 
  5. Don’t take too much video: it will eat up your storage space and time when you have to process it later.

When the webcam is connected to your telescope, you can begin taking photographs with it in the same way that you would for video conferencing or recording.

When I’m focusing, I normally set the webcam to capture 20 frames per second (fps), and when I’m shooting video, I switch to 10 fps to eliminate noise.

Because the webcam’s CCD chip is so small, it functions as a very high-power eyepiece with a very small field of view. So, before plugging in your webcam, you’ll want to center your objective first, or else you’ll have trouble pointing your telescope with a webcam. Because the CCD chip is so small, you’ll have to direct it during image capture, dual-axis motor drives will come in handy.

If you’re using a tracking mount, you can start taking pictures right away. If you’re using a non-tracking mount, keep in mind that your target object will move quite a bit when you’re plugging your camera into your telescope. With a little practice, it’s not too tough. You can capture pictures while your target is drifting over the CCD chip. 

Patience is required here as you wait for moments with improved visibility. Because the webcam collects photographs quickly enough, you’ll find moments with enough light to produce excellent images throughout the majority of the night. It’s a good habit to name your record file after detail about your shot.

Processing the images

Although image processing will not add life to dead photographs, it is one of the most effective ways to bring out fine detail in raw images. Stacking frames from a video is common, and then further processing the stacked image to get the most out of it is common.

Raw images:

The raw image on the computer screen is not particularly appealing. Even if the exposure for planets is short, there is a lot of noise.

Even within the same video clip, some raws are better than others. Some raws are better for one portion of your target, while others are better for the other, so we can process them to get the most out of them.

Stacking:

Stacking is a technique for reducing noise. In our raw photos, noise is a collection of undesired signals. By merging the raw photos, we may improve the signal-to-noise ratio and so generate a cleaner image for future processing.

The AstroStack, the Skeye, and the Registax are just a few examples of free stacking software.

Each one is distinct, and you can experiment to see which one best meets your needs. I’m not going to replicate their tutorial because it’s on their website.

Unsharp masking, color balance, brightness, contrast, etc…:

Unsharp masking is a feature of several of the stacking software mentioned above. It’s included in Photoshop and a lot of other image editing tools, and it’s usually more powerful and adaptable. Wavelet processing is also supported by Registax and is worth investigating.

Excessive unsharp masking will bring out noise, so avoid it.

What is considered “extreme” is a matter of personal preference. Excessive unsharp masking can be remedied byusing Gaussian Blur. Noise can be removed using “Despeckle” and “Remove Moire.”

In some circumstances, color balancing is required. Your photograph may have been color altered as a result of changing atmospheric conditions. For example, air pollution from adjacent cities causes photographs in Hong Kong to become yellowish; you can adjust the color balance to improve the final image. Also, don’t rely on your webcam’s auto white balance or color balancing, as it won’t perform effectively in the conditions required for planet imaging.

What webcam is the best to use with a telescope

And now, as promised, the list of suggested webcams for usage with a telescope. All of the webcams on the list have been thoroughly tested and found to work flawlessly with the telescope.

Most significantly, they are simple to adapt, and they can be attached to any telescope using the Solomark Webcam Adapter.

Because they are so widely used, there are numerous guides on the internet on how to change them.

However, because these are vintage cameras, it may be difficult to find them on the internet.

How to capture a video with a webcam mounted on the telescope

You’ll need to install software on your computer to capture the video. You can make use of the software that comes with the webcam. The key here is to hae complete contro over the camera. That is to say, having real-time control over brightness, contrast, exposure, and color.

Because the moon and planets are so bright, if you point a webcam at them, you’ll only see very bright dot in the case of the planets and an overexposed moon in the case of the moon. We’ll have to fiddle with the exposure or other settings to see any details. If the program you’re using with your webcam doesn’t support these live settings, you’ll need to download and install something else. 

SharpCap is the most often used software among astronomers. This software is designed to work with a telescope. Everything is under your control from there. SharpCap is used for astrophotography as well as with the webcam. You may face a high learning curve, but there are numerous lessons on how to use it available on YouTube. You can use commercial webcam software like YouCam or BandiCam if you find it too hard. These are also working nicely for me. 

Using smartphone with the telescope

Using your smartphone to take photographs and films with the telescope is a different method. Because practically everyone nowadays owns a phone with an excellent camera, this is a convenient method. Another advantage of using your phone rather than the webcam is that you can take video and photographs without a computer. To connect your phone to your telescope, you’ll simple need a Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount

However, the eyepiece in the focuser is also required. This time, you’re capturing what your eye in the eyepiece can see. Although you may get nearly identical pictures, I still think the webcam is a preferable choice for capturing the Moon and planets.

Conclusion

The biggest benefit of using a webcam or smartphone on your telescope for astro photography is that it is a relatively inexpensive way to get started.

During the day, you can use it to capture a variety of objects that are far away from you. You can advance to the next level after learning how to use the telescope throughout the capture process and mastering image processing.

You’ll need to understand Video Astronomy and Astrophotography if you wish to photograph deep sky things like nebulas and galaxies. For the time being, I recommend using the webcam or your smartphone.

You’ll be surprised at how satisfied you feel after taking your first image of Saturn’s rings or a closeup of the moon craters.

Last update on 2021-12-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API