Smart Phone Astrophotography (Is It Worth It) - Celestron NEXYZ
So you have a telescope and are looking at the planets and think to yourself “wow, I really wish I could photograph this!” You think about what you have available to take a photo with and your mind jumps to your smartphone. Then you try to put the phone camera against the eyepiece to take a photo and after 20 minutes of frustrating attempts you sigh, give up and end up with a bunch of images looking like the one below.
Not a great photo huh.
That, however, is not how it has to be. When I first began astrophotography there were a lot of options to consider (all of which were extremely pricey). Considering I had just spent a lot of money on a telescope (check out our beginners guide to your first telescope HERE), I did not feel inclined to spend thousands of dollars more on a complicated astrophotography setup (if you are interested in beginning astrophotography with a dedicated camera you can check out my super simple guide HERE). What I decided to do instead was purchase a cheap, phone mount and take some images using that.
The cheap phone mount arrived (I purchased it from amazon from memory), and I excitedly attached it to my telescope only to be rather disappointed with the outcome. It did not fit in the eyepiece well, was fiddly and to be honest, a complete waste of money!
I sighed, disappointed and annoyed at the results and packed up the idea of astrophotography for a while and got into it once I had enough money to buy the proper equipment.
A of couple years ago, however, Celestron released a new smartphone mount and it was one which caught my eye. Unlike most the phone mounts this one appeared different. It seemed to have a solid and well thought out design and good adaptability. I thought it might be the answer for getting a quick snapshot of what you are seeing through a telescope without the hassle of setting up a whole photography rig. So I purchased one and here is what I thought about it.
To begin with, I want to discuss the setup. The unit itself is quite bulky (10 oz or 283 grams and it takes up a fair bit of room), however, the features it comes with makes it 100% worth it. The mount clamps directly onto your eyepiece using a push to release type clamp with a screw which can be used to tighten it. This actually makes it really easy to use as I would just find the object I want to photograph through my telescope, focus it, attach the mount and the setup was done! The mount is adaptable with its ability to clamp onto any eyepiece with a diameter between 35 - 60mm which means it will fit most 1.25 and 2-inch eyepieces.
Your phone itself is attached via a quick release clamp very similar to the one which attaches the mount to the eyepiece. This clamp allows for a secure hold on many different sized phones. Personally I have an iPhone 10 which has a slim protective case over it and the mount holds it in place just fine.
Phones these days can be rather expensive which is why the build quality and its ability to hold a phone in place is a really important aspect of phone mounts. I was very interested to see how the build quality of the mount was as in the photos it looked fantastic and I am very pleased to say that this mount is actually very sturdy and I feel completely comfortable leaving my phone in it!
Once your phone is attached to the mount which is attached to the eyepiece, you can use the fine-tuning knobs which control the camera's position in the x, y and z-axis. This 3 axis control is what makes this setup so valuable and sets it apart from the rest of the mounts on the market. The fine adjustment knobs work in the exact same manner that a focus knob for a telescope works. The x and y-axis translate the phone back and forth across the eyepiece and the z-axis allows you to translate towards and away from the lens. These knobs also all have a different feel which allows you to easily identify which knob controls what axis at night.
There are, however, three downsides to this mount which I have found. The first one is the cost. It is on the more pricey side of a phone mount coming in at around $50 USD. I do feel that the cost is justified considering the quality and ease of use of this mount in comparison to other cheaper competitors.
The next issue I have found is that if there is sunlight or artificial light present while you are using the mount, depending on its position it can get in the gap between the eyepiece and camera lens causing a halo (sun flare), type effect. For me, this is a very minor problem as to correct it all you have to do is put a small piece of cloth over the gap to block out any additional light. This cuts out the halo effect. It should also be taken into account that this is a problem associated with many phone mounts as they almost always have an exposed gap between the camera and lens.
The last issue I have found seems to be more a design issue in that occasionally the mounting clamp is not strong enough to remain upright when attached to the eyepiece and can rotate/sip so the heaviest part of the phone ends up at the lowest point of the assembly if that makes sense. This is somewhat common on eyepieces which have no grip surfaces. To fix this issue I wrapped the portion of the eyepiece which comes into contact with the clamp in a bit of fabric. This gave the clamp a surface it could attach to a little easier and stopped the rotation issue. Overall it is not a big deal but is something you should be aware of!
One other quick point I want to mention is that shooting through an eyepiece you will obviously have a circle vignette around your images as shown below as it is through an eyepiece.
So would I recommend this mount overall? The answer is absolutely! If you are looking to get into astrophotography or maybe you followed our guide to buying your first telescope HERE, and just want to take some photos this is the perfect way to get started. It is easy, hassle-free and gives you memories which can last forever. For someone who is already familiar with astrophotography maybe you just want an option to take a quick photograph without all the hassle of setting up a whole photography rig. I know that's definitely how I feel some nights and if that is you I am sure you will also have a blast with this mount! Click HERE to see the mount on amazon. Until next time, clear skies!