Since starting in this hobby several months ago one of the things that have become evident to me is just how expensive it can be. Almost from the outset I started to want to photograph the things I was seeing to be able to share them with friends and family but the cost of the equipment put this beyond my reach, or so I thought.
Whilst looking into the basic techniques involved with astrophotography I stumbled across a well developed way of using everyday computer webcams to capture some pretty impressive images of the objects within our solar system and with modification can also be used to image objects much further away. Although there are lots of webcams on the market that can be used one standout model is the Philips SPC880NC which has had its software changed (flashed) to be the same as the older discontinued SPC900NC.
I purchased one of these cameras complete as a Kit which came pre-flashed with a 1.25” nose piece and an infra-red filter which is easily attached and there are numerous “how too” guides on the net to help. The camera is inserted directly into the telescopes focuser with no need for an eyepiece (prime focus photography). I use 2 pieces of free software to capture and process images although there are lots of different ones out there it’s a case of finding what you’re comfortable with.
Firstly SharpCap which I use to capture video footage from the webcam which is saved as an AVI file. The software has features that allow me to adjust the webcams setting in real time so the effects can be seen in the preview screen. There are also tools to help with focusing and the ability to convert the screen to night mode.
Once I have my recorded AVI footage I load it into RegiStax which again is free to download and is used to stack the video footage and process the final image. The software will firstly look at the quality and alignment of the individual frames from the video and remove any that don’t meet your pre-set benchmark. It will then take your remaining frames and stack them on top of one another to create a single image. Once the image stacking is finished you can then adjust the brightness, contrast and sharpness to further bring out detail.
I do then tend to use either paintshop or GIMP to further enhance or touch up the image.
There is a surprising amount of free to download software available on the internet to give anyone an introduction into astrophotography without having to spend hundreds of pounds.
Primers and tutorials are also easily found on the net for all of the processes I have mentioned. I think so far not including the telescope my entry into this side of the hobby has cost around £40.