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View from a Scope | October 20, 2017

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Webcam Astrophotography

Webcam Astrophotography

What is Webcam Astrophotography?

Webcam astrophotography is a method to use relatively cheap webcams to take photos of the planets and the moon. A few years ago this would have had to be done with expensive CCD cameras, now with some freely available programs on the web and a proper webcam, amateurs can get some very good results. Although a good CCD camera will still produce better images, using a webcam is a nice easy way to get introduced to astrophotography.

What we do with the webcam is essentially capture a video of the target i.e. Moon / Jupiter etc. We then import that video into a stacking program which allows us to split it into individual frames, remove the bad ones and combine the good ones to get our image.

The great thing about using this method is that you don’t really need a very expensive telescope or mount to get some very good image, you also dont have to worry about advanced imaging techniques like accurate polar alignment. Over the next few posts I will detail my experiences and setup for capturing images, some of which can be seen here

Getting Started

What do I Need?

  1.  A Telescope that you can exchange eyepieces.
  2.  A webcam
  3.  Eyepiece Adaptor (this will house the webcam and allow it to fit into the eyepiece holder on the telescope)
  4.  A computer / laptop

Traditionally the webcam of choice for astrophotography was the Philips SPC900NC, Unfortunately this webcam is very hard to come by so I am using a Microsoft Lifecam Cinema, I believe these are available for around £50. Be warned however the process of converting the webcam for use in astrophotography will render it useless as a normal webcam.

The conversion process is relatively straight forward, I followed this tutorial and had very little bother stripping the webcam down.

A Few things to note.1. When I stripped the webcam the first time i did not remove the sqaure lens, if you leave this on and try to use it in the telescope you will only see a reflection of the primary mirror, this needs to be removed. The tutorial mentioned above tells you to unsolder the connection between the lens and the main board. I didn’t have a soldering iron and i was to impatient to wait so I just twisted it off. It seems to have worked ok for me.2. The webcam i had also had a very bright blue led near the sensor, this needs to be blackened out otherwise it will ruin any footage you get. I just broke the led with a pen again not ideal but got the job done. I would however recommend blackening it out with a marker.

I purchased my adaptor of ebay, but something like this would do the job nicely.

Once you have your webcam stripped and in the adaptor you need to install it on your computer.

I initially was doing this on a windows 8 laptop but wasn’t convinced I was getting all the settings I needed, I then tried it on a windows 7 laptop and it connected to the internet and downloaded the correct drivers for the webcam.

What Now?

Now that you have your webcam sitting nicely in its adaptor and you have the drivers installed for it you need to install some software to capture video. The program of choice seems to be Sharpcap, which can be freely downloaded here.

Installing this software is very straight forward, just double click on the setup and keep clicking Next.

The final bit of software required is the stacking program. Again the most popular one seems to be Registax, another free program so that is great. Installation couldn’t be easier just keep clicking next.

So these are the key components to get started with webcam astrophotography. In my next post I will go through the settings I use with Sharpcap for capturing footage of the Moon and Jupiter.

 

 

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