Understanding Webcam Astrophotography
Webcam astrophotography is slowly becoming a very popular form of astrophotography. Those who use webcams for astrophotography are typically focusing on planetary shots. Webcams are good for planetary shots because they are capable of capturing thousands of frames at a very rapid pace. You can then use editing software to pick out the sharpest frames, which enables you to produce high quality astrophotography photos. Believe it or not, some of the best photos of planets that exist have been taken by webcams that cost only a couple of hundred dollars.
Of course, you will need a computer, but any computer will do as long as it meets the specifications of the webcam that you are using. To get the best astrophotography shots with a webcam, you should be using a webcam that is designed to be used in conjunction with a telescope. Philips, Celestron and Meade all make these types of webcams.
You will also need a telescope. Most people recommend using a SCT telescope for webcam astrophotography, but again the decision is yours. You can spend money on a program to edit the video that is taken by your webcam, but there is freeware programs that are just as good, such as Registax.
How Webcam Astrophotography Works
Contrary to what you might be thinking, you will not be taking photos with your webcam. You will be using your webcam to capture live footage of planets. You will then use an editing program, such as the previously mentioned Registax, to process the footage. Registax, or any similar webcam editing program, stacks hundreds of frames from the footage that you obtained via your webcam to form a photo. You want to end up with a good amount of frames in your webcam footage, so you should obtain at least 3 to 4 minutes of AVI footage before you try to process the footage.
Sometimes the final image that you end up with via a program like Registax is not up to par, but you can easily perform some fine tuning with a photo editing program, such as Adobe Photoshop.
Finding Planets via a Webcam
You will not actually be using the webcam itself to find the planets that you will be obtaining footage of. Instead, you will start off with a telescope that has an eyepiece inserted. Too much magnification is a bad thing, so you will want to set your telescope to a magnification of 300 to 400 times. Once you have located the planet(s) that you would like to obtain footage of, you will remove the eyepiece and connect your webcam to your telescope.
The planet should be centered in your telescope before switching to your webcam. Once you have connected your webcam to your telescope, open any webcam program and begin capturing your footage. If you are unable to set the planet on your computer screen, it is likely that the planet moved off center while you were connecting your telescope and webcam.