How to Image Jupiter Cheaply With An Iphone

How to Image Jupiter Cheaply With An Iphone


I'm no expert at astrophotography but I do enjoy trying to take pictures of the night sky and it's many treasures using the cheapest methods I can find. In this post I would like to give you a step-by-step guide to imaging Jupiter using an iphone to hopefully get a result like the one I recently took above. This guide will take you through the equipment used, the set-up and how to take a video of Jupiter for later stacking and processing.

The Cheap Set-up 

I didn't fancy paying out for a specific iphone holder that attaches to a telescope. I found these were pretty expensive. I opted for a breffo spider. 

This gadget is for holding your iphone to car dashboards or bicycle handlebars. Now, I have to admit using this gadget to attach the iphone to the telescope is a bit fiddly, but for only £11 and the extra uses as a tripod and a car handsfree kit the extra hassle was worth it in my opinion. I found the best way to attach the Breffo was by twisting the ends of the arms around each other to "screw" it into place. This holds the phone tight to the telescope. Don't over tighten or you may break your Breffo.

Breffo spider set-up.jpg

Image showing how to attach the Breffo to a telescope. Note the ends twisted around each other to really secure it in place.

For the image of Jupiter I attached the iphone 4 using the breffo spider to a 5 inch aperture telescope. The telescope was fitted with a 12mm eyepiece and a moon filter. The moon filter is important as it allows the iphone's camera to see the detail on Jupiter by removing the glare. The moon filter I used here cost £7 from Amazon.

The Iphone App

The main problem with taking pictures and video of the planets is that they are too bright. The iphone's camera doesn't expose the video correctly for the planet. I guess this is because most of the video image is black sky. You cannot control the exposure on the iphone. Some apps allow you to lock the exposure but this can be tricky to get right outside at night. 

Bright Jupiter.jpg

Jupiter too bright to see surface detail.

The best app I found for taking video that allows some control is CinePro. This app is £1.49. The main advantage is that it allows control over the ISO setting and has some zoom abilities. The zoom is quite limited ranging from 35mm to 65mm. Here is a screen grab of the interface in CinePro. You can see the ISO control button.

CinePro app.jpg

CinePro - £1.49

I took this video of Jupiter using the set-up outlined above and CinePro. The ISO was set to 100 and the zoom 65mm. 

Image Stacking and Processing

To create the final image from the video you'll need stacking software. This software takes the video and breaks it up into the individual frames. Each frame is then aligned with the others. The software can then analyse the best frames and stack only those. The advantage of stacking is that it reduces the effect of noise (the grainy appearance) and increases the signal (the image you want). There are many different stacking softwares available. So, keeping in mind the importance of cheap to this guide the stacking software recommended would be Registax for PCs and Lynkeos for Mac. Both of these are free downloads.

Once you have your stacked image of the best frames available, the image can be loaded up into GIMP. This is a free image manipulation software that is similar to Photoshop. The downside to using GIMP is that it can only work with 8-bit images unlike Photoshop that works with 16-bit images. If you have Photoshop available it is better to use this software for this reason.

Image processing with GIMP will be covered soon.

Cheap Enough?

So there you have it. For the sum total of £11 for the iphone holder, £1.49 for the app and £7 for a moon filter (unless you already have one of course) makes for some cheap planetary astrophotography.

I am sure many of you can do much better than my effort here. Please leave a comment and share your images of planets taken with smartphones. I would love to see what images others are able to get.

Related Posts: Astrophotography

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