How to Use a Webcam on a Telescope

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Since the dawn of computers, scientists have been putting them to use. This is obvious in the art of so-called webcam astrophotography. With a $100 webcam, you can create professional-looking photos from your telescope. This will require a computer, telescope, motor-drive, and of course, a webcam. Although using a webcam on your telescope is fairly easy, you will need to do some camera "dissecting" and you will need an adapter available online. As long as you are comfortable taking apart your computer camera, you can get started in webcam astrophotography.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Webcam
  • Telescope
  • Telescope lenses
  • Computer
  • Motor drive
  • Webcam adapter
  • Photo editing software

Setting Up the Webcam

  • Take your webcam's basic lens off of it. This can be done on some models by simply unscrewing it from the camera, but on others, you must unscrew the camera body and take out the lens manually.

  • Place the webcam adapter onto the hole where the basic lens used to be. If you are on a budget, this adapter can be made using an old film canister. Simply cut out a circle in the bottom of the canister and glue the canister onto the webcam.

  • Plug in the webcam and place the camera and its adapter into your telescope's eyepiece holder. Your webcam is now ready for astrophotography.

Taking Photographs

  • Insert the lowest-power lens into your telescope and find the place in space that you are interested in photographing. After finding your point of interest, switch lenses and put in your highest-power magnification. Center your area of interest once again.

  • Carefully take out the lens and place your webcam into the telescope's eyepiece holder. Tighten any screws around the webcam to hold it in place.

  • Open up your webcam viewing program on your computer and see if your item is on the screen. If it isn't showing up in the viewing area, try turning up your gain setting on your webcam. This option can be found on your computer under the webcam's settings. Turn this setting up to 75 percent.

  • Set your webcam's shutter speed to 1/25 of a second. If you can, turn down your webcam's gain settings to 50 percent. It's important to have them moderately high, but this can also cause unwanted noise in your photograph.

  • Put your webcam's frame rate at 5 feet per second. If this rate is too slow (this can be the case when trying to shoot asteroids, fast-moving planets, etc.), switch it to 10 feet per second. It's important to note, however, that you will receive a better resolution photograph with a 5 f.p.s. shot.

  • Start recording video of the planet. Take about 3 minutes of video. This will leave you with hundreds of frames to look through; pick your best ones, which will usually be right at the beginning of the recording session.

Editing Your Photos

  • After you have taken the picture, it's time to edit them. Too often enough, your pictures will either be too exposed, underexposed, or otherwise not up to speed. These problems can be fixed using any type of photo editing software.

  • With your software, change the contrast of the photo. Unfortunately, webcams often overexpose their images, so by changing the contrast of your image, you can blacken space and lighten up the object of interest.

  • De-speckle your image, thereby getting rid of all excess "noise" that may be in your photograph. This is especially helpful for planets and nebula, which often can have unwanted speckles of light in the photo.

  • Save your image as a JPEG, instead of the AVI file that webcams save as. By doing this, you can now upload your image anywhere online and through email, too.

References

  • Photo Credit webcam image by Régis Verger from Fotolia.com spy camera image by dinostock from Fotolia.com venus image by FotoWorx from Fotolia.com
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