ads-medium

A Free and Easy App for Astrophotography with Your Smartphone

Astrophotography is a rewarding hobby. But beginners may be overwhelmed by the multitude of options for equipment and, even worse, the associated price tags!

Luckily, you can get started with just your smart phone and the free astrophotography app, Deep Sky Camera. We will take a quick look at the app and several ways you can capture the night sky with your phone.

Widefield image of the Milkyway. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Introduction to Astrophotography

Astrophotography is the science and art of imaging celestial objects of the night sky in a number of different ways. Widefield panoramas capture the beauty of the Milky Way. Deep-sky photography captures objects invisible to the naked eye, like majestic galaxies and the colorful gas clouds of nebulae. Planetary astrophotography captures Solar System objects like the Moon and planets.

Astrophotography usually entails taking many images (dozens or hundreds) over time and “stacking” them using software. This process increases the quality (signal) of the target and reduces the noise (grainy dots in the image).

Deep Sky Camera App

Deep Sky Camera app offers a host of useful features that allow various types of sky imaging and timelapse videos using a smartphone.

Users can control the settings on their phones manually with the app, or take multiple images automatically with the phone on a tripod, sky tracker, or the eyepiece of a telescope.

Deep Sky Camera, by Michael Seeboerger-Weichselbaum, is available for Android phones on Google Play, Huawei App Gallery, and in the Galaxy Store. There are currently 572 smartphones supported by the app, and it is updated regularly.

Michael is very supportive, and there are active social media pages and YouTube instructional videos available for additional support.

Main Features

Deep Sky Camera has a lot of features, but you don’t need to master them all to get started. The app is very easy to use, with the excellent 62-page manual helping out where needed.

Main screen and a selection of features. Credit: Deep Sky Camera

The first step is to set up the camera for taking a sequence of images. I found the preview viewfinder very useful, allowing me to find the target and focus the phone’s camera using these features:

  • Preview exposure time: Slider on the left to brighten the viewfinder image
  • Preview ISO: Increase the sensitivity and brightness of the viewfinder
  • Viewfinder zoom: Pinch zoom the screen to get a closer view of the target for better focusing
  • Focus slider: Slider on the right to focus the camera’s lens manually
The preview viewfinder used to find the target and focus. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

With the camera focused on the target, the focus lock prevents accidental changes while you set the main imaging parameters with these features from the control bar:

The control bar used to set the exposures (more available by sliding left). Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

 Image exposure time: How long the shutter stays open. The dimmer the target, the longer the shutter needs to stay open to record its light.

  • ISO: Changes the light sensitivity of the sensor.
  • Format: Save files as JPG, RAW, or both. RAW requires software such as Deep Sky Stacker to open the files.
  • Number and interval of images: Set the total number of frames to take and the interval to pause between each.

Endless possibilities

Once you are familiar with the Deep Sky Camera there are many ways to use your phone to image the sky, from widefield captures using a tripod to lunar and deep-sky objects using a telescope.

Apps like Sky Safari simulate the sky to help you find targets. Stellarium is great free desktop sky simulation (planetarium) software.

Widefield Imaging of the Night Sky

The easiest way to get started is to set your phone on a stationary tripod and aim at a patch of clear sky. The darker your site, the better.

You don’t need to track the sky when taking many short exposures. The short frames are combined later using free astronomy image-stacking software like Deep Sky Stacker (DSS; link below). This method also improves the quality of your result.

Widefield image of the night sky and the Milky Way taken with the Deep Sky Camera app. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Timelapse Videos

Using nothing but the phone and a simple tripod, you can make time lapse videos by setting up the phone to take many frames with an interval in between each image. There are many apps and software that can then make movie clips out of still frames. PIPP (link at the end of the article) is a great free desktop-based software for doing that.

Star Trails

A simple tripod is all that’s needed to make star trail images, too. A long exposure with the camera pointed at the sky’s north pole shows the stars’ trails around Polaris, the North Star, as the Earth rotates.

Star trails showing the rotation of the Earth around the North Celestial Pole: Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Sky Tracker

Using a small sky tracker, such as the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini ($335), your phone can follow the stars while taking multiple frames to combine later using DSS or other software listed in the manual.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini shown with a camera. This sky tracker can also carry a smartphone. Credit: Sky-Watcher

 Using a Telescope

If you own a telescope, you can image through the eyepiece using a simple device like the Celestron NexYZ ($75) that attaches the phone to an eyepiece.

The Celestron NexYZ and other adapters can attach your phone to a telescope eyepiece. Credit: Celestron

If you have a tracking telescope mount, eyepiece projection photography can be used for objects with noticeable motion during longer exposures, like planets and deep-sky objects.

Preview of the Moon ready to be imaged using Deep Sky Camera and a telescope. Credit: Deep Sky Camera

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was impressed with the Deep Sky Camera app. It allows anyone with an Android smartphone to get into astrophotography with nothing more than a smartphone and tripod. There is a wealth of knowledge in the manual, and a website guides users with the app and free software used to process sky images.

If you have an iPhone, you’re out of luck for now. For Android users, a pro version with even more features is in the works.

Deep Sky Camera is free with no ads or in-app purchases. It’s definitely worth downloading it and giving it a try. You may be surprised by the beautiful images of the night sky you can capture with that little device in your pocket!

Deep Sky Camera: https://www.deepskycamera.de/

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/745867855869000/
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHIUeFGXThOF0GJ5aijnr8w/

PIPP: https://sites.google.com/site/astropipp/

Deep Sky Stacker: http://deepskystacker.free.fr/english/

Stellarium: http://stellarium.org/

 

About Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Rouzbeh Bidshahri is a mechanical engineer with a lifelong passion for astrophotography. He has tested dozens of telescopes ranging from 3 to 20 inches in aperture and has spent several years optimizing systems for very high-resolution planetary imaging in the sub 0.1 arcsecond/pixel range. He has contributed to several institutions such as ALPO (The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers). His main area of interest has been designing and operating larger setups, and he is currently focusing on high resolution, long exposure photography for both broadband and narrowband deep sky imaging.

Related posts