In the past, astrophotography was art that very few could make. It required heavy-duty telescopes and even more powerful cameras. Luckily, optical devices and imaging tools are more accessible than ever. One of the easiest ways to step into the world of astro is with the best webcam for astrophotography.
The best webcams can provide you with a clear color image. Plus, they allow you to compose your shot in real-time. Before you know it, you’ll have a trophy of your find that you can enjoy for years to come!
What is an Astrophotography Webcam?
Astrophotography webcams are much more than those simple cameras you use to video chat with friends! They’re expertly engineered pieces of optical equipment that are built to work with your telescope.
In the early days of digital photography, many astrophotography buffs had to make modifications to their equipment to take advantage of a webcam. Many still do that today. But, there are plenty of purpose-built webcams that are ready to go right out of the box.
Just attach the webcam onto your telescope, plug it into your computer, and start snapping away!
A webcam offers a slew of benefits that you don’t get with traditional cameras. For one, they’re much smaller. Most cameras dwarf standard DSLRs. So, you can easily pop it into your bag and hike up to your favorite stargazing spot. The camera won’t weigh you down, making it easier to get your telescope and other gear to your destination safely.
Another huge benefit is real-time imaging controls. Astrophotography webcams connect to your computer. With some easy-to-use software, you can get a real-time view of whatever your telescope is pointed at. Use that to your advantage to compose your shot! Adjust exposure settings, ISO, and more. Doing so before you snap your picture will save you a lot of time in editing. Plus, you can get raw color images from the jump.
Is The Best Astrophotography Webcam the Same as an Auto-Guider?
Webcams and auto-guiders look very similar. Heck, they even connect to a computer and operate in similar ways. It’s not hard to mistake the two. But, there is one key difference. It all comes down to purpose.
Astrophotography cameras are built for just that: taking beautiful images of the cosmos! Auto-guiders are engineered for tracking. When connected to the appropriate software, auto-guiders will track the stars above while making up for the Earth’s rotation. They make it possible for you to take long-exposure shots with less distortion and fewer light trails.
Auto-guiders are great devices in their own right. But, they’re more of a complementary gadget that assists you in your astrophotography endeavors. Webcams are going to be the device you use to actually capture your images.
The Best Astrophotography Webcam on the Market – Reviews
Your equipment can make or break your astrophotography endeavors. Telescopes are a big part of the equation. But, your webcam is what makes the biggest impact on your art.
Choosing a high-quality telescope webcam is paramount if you want to take crystal-clear images. Here are some of the best astrophotography webcams to help you take your art to the next level!
The SV105 camera from SVBONY is a compact little camera with a lot of power! It fits onto most telescopes without any issues. It has a 1.25-inch filter and thread, which is the same size as most eyepieces.
The great thing about this camera is that it’s compatible with a wide range of imaging software titles. It can work with Sharpcap Capture on Windows, AstroDMx on Linux, and oaCapture on Mac. Just connect a compatible USB cable to the USB-B interface and you’re ready to start snapping photos!
- CMOS sensor
- Dark light compensation
- Up to 2K video at 30FPS
- USB-B interface
- Compatible with several software titles
Also from SVBONY, the SV305 can tackle a lot of common astrophotography issues. If you’re working in low-light conditions, the sensor has you covered. It’s a back-illuminated CMOS sensor that’s capable of capturing distant objects in the night sky.
You can also pick up smaller regions of interest, or ROIs. The camera will region small parts of the night sky for focusing and image manipulation. However, it doesn’t affect image scale whatsoever. You can even take long-exposure shots. There are several output settings, allowing you to take exposures up to 30 minutes long.
- BSI CMOS sensor
- Integrated RAM buffer
- Long-exposure capabilities
- Works with C-Lens adapters
- Can capture small regions of interest
Whether you use it with a refractor telescope or a complex Schmidt-Cassegrain, this pocket-sized webcam can do it all. It’s a high-resolution camera that can capture still images as large as 1.2 megapixels. Video resolution and overall quality are good, too.
Despite its simple looks, the camera is quite advanced. It does double-duty as an auto-guider. Not only that, but it has some great processing abilities. You can output raw data or set it to correct distortion images automatically.
- CMOS sensor
- Can work as auto-guider
- 1.2 megapixels
- Up to 30FPS video
- Durable aluminum housing
- Raw data output
This webcam from Orion is very robust. The StarShooter is primary designed as an auto-guider. But, it’s fully capable of taking some stellar images. The 1.3-megapixel camera utilizes a CMOS chip with wider pixels. Individual pixels measure 5.3 microns, which helps the sensor pick up more photons.
The StarShooter comes with proprietary software from Orion, which is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. Within the software, you can automatically calibrate the system and set up auto-guiding with your telescope mount.
- CMOS sensor
- Auto-guiding capabilities
- 1.3 megapixels
- Relatively wide pixels
- Comes with software
- Can communicate with an equatorial mount
With the right adapter and Barlow lens, this webcam from Microsoft is great for astrophotography. It’s a feature-rich webcam with a lot to offer. Whether you’re taking high-resolution JPEGs or exporting a video as AVI, this camera will handle it all.
One feature we like is the TrueColor technology. This feature automatically adjusts the parameters of the image in real-time. It improves contrast and color vividness, resulting in a crystal-clear image you’ll want to show off!
- 1080p resolution
- Wide field of view
- TrueColor technology
- Integrated autofocus
- 8.0-megapixel stills
- 3X digital zoom
Here’s the second iteration of Orion’s iconic StarShoot camera. This one has many of the same great features as the first one. It’s a capable webcam that can produce clear and vivid images. Thanks to the 5.2-micron pixels, it does a fantastic job of collecting light.
Inside the camera is a high-quality CMOS sensor. It has an 8-bit output and 24-bit color resolution. For video, you can record high-resolution clips at up to 24 frames per second.
- CMOS sensor
- Up to 24FPS
- Fits any 1.25-inch focuser
- Relatively large pixel size
- Comes with Orion software
Planetary imaging is a cinch with the QuickCam Pro from Logitech. This unit is very easy to modify with an adapter. The simple plastic housing is compact and lightweight, which is great for astrophotography.
The camera has a wide field of view as well. Integrated into the camera is a powerful VGA sensor. The sensor automatically picks up on ambient lighting conditions and makes adjustments to improve clarity. It performs well with low-light targets.
- Wide field of view
- Compact housing
- VGA sensor
- Clear image quality
Check out this small USB camera. Designed as a simple box, it has the perfect design for astrophotography. The unit is lightweight and comes with a variable focus lens system. Small rings on the lens allow you to adjust brightness, focal distance, and clarity. You can do this all without even touching any computer software.
Inside, the camera is sporting a high-powered sensor from Sony. It can pick up 8.0-megapixel images. As for video resolution, the highest setting lets you record at 3264 x 2448.
- Sony IMX179 sensor
- 8.0 megapixels
- High-resolution video
- Variable focus lens
- Easy adjustment rings
- Highly adaptable design
Here’s another traditional webcam that has all the features you need for astrophotography. From a design standpoint, it’s top-notch. The housing is compact and easy to modify with an adapter. Plus, it’s sporting a manual focus ring so that you can make quick adjustments.
Inside, the webcam is just as robust. It uses a back-illuminated sensor to perform well in low-light conditions. Not only that, but there’s low-light compensation technology built right in. Pair that with the optical distortion corrector and you can get some great images of the stars above.
- Back-illuminated sensor
- Optical distortion prevention
- Low-light compensation
- Wide field of view
- Manual focus ring
If you’re looking for a small webcam that you can modify for astrophotography, this one is worth checking out. It’s only about 4.49 inches long, 3.58 inches tall, and 2.8 inches deep. As for weight, the camera tips the scales at a mere 8 ounces!
Powering the camera is a well-designed CMOS sensor. The sensor does well with low-light targets. Plus, it can record resolution. There are several adjustable performance parameters. You can even make adjustments to the picture quality using the variable focus lens.
- CMOS sensor
- Manual focus lens
- Very small footprint
- Focal distance up to 12mm
- Good low-light performance
- Up to 30FPS video
- Comes with a long USB cable
- 1.3 megapixels
If you’re serious about planetary imaging, this camera from Celestron has you covered. The NexImage camera is very powerful. It can pick up everything from distant planets to fine details on the surface of the moon. It works well with most telescopes thanks to its universal design. However, it’s best with Celestron units!
The webcam comes with two innovative software titles. The first is Celestron’s iCap, which makes capturing and exporting images or videos very easy. The second is RegiStax. RegiStax is a powerful imaging system that can stack multiple photos and automatically apply filters.
- CMOS sensor
- 10 megapixels
- Low-profile design
- Fast data transfer
- Includes two pieces of software
Best Webcam Adapter
The webcam adapter from Solomark is a must-have if you plan on using a traditional camera. It fits standard 1.25-inch focusers. There’s a built-in thread that you can use with most telescopes.
On the other end, you can attach your webcam. This particular adapter is built to work with many popular webcam models. It’s compatible with the Philips Toucam Pro lineup, the Creative Webcam Pro lineup, and more.
- Built-in filter thread
- Fits 1.25-inch focusers
- Compatible with a wide range of cameras
- Durable build quality
What Types of Astrophotography Webcams Are Available?
The art of astrophotography is quite flexible. You can use larger DSLR cameras for astrophotography from the likes of Nikon or Canon. Pair it with a sturdy T-Mount and you should be able to take photos without any issues. You can also use a simpler smartphone adapter to snap away. There are even some photographers out there still using film cameras!
All that said, webcams are considered to be one of the more efficient methods to capture star clusters, planets, and deep-sky objects. Even within the world of webcam astrophotography, you may see several types of equipment being used. Here are some of the most common.
Traditional Computer Webcams
Believe it or not, you can use traditional webcams on your telescope. In fact, many hobbyists choose to go this route instead of investing in a specialty webcam. It’s not hard to see why.
Webcams are readily available online and are more than capable of capturing some beautiful images. Not only that, but they’re small.
The only downside is that they do require modification. You will likely need to invest in a webcam adapter. A Barlow lens to increase focal length is also a must. Most traditional webcams aren’t able to take photos of deep-sky targets like nebulas or faraway planets. But if you want to see the moon and stars up close, they work very well.
These gadgets are sometimes referred to as ZWO cameras. They look like large eyepieces or endcaps. The main difference between a specialty webcam and a traditional one is that they are purpose-built with astrophotography in mind.
They have their own lenses and adapters and typically have more advanced sensors inside. Unlike normal webcams, they’re fully capable of probing deep into space. You can use them to take photos of planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, or Mars. Or, you can go even deeper to look at distant nebula or galaxies! All that capability is possible right outside of the box. There’s no need to modify anything!
Things to Look for in the Best Astrophotography Webcam
Whether you use a simple computer webcam or a specialty built one, there are a few things to consider. These devices are going to be snapping photos of celestial objects millions of miles or thousands of lightyears away!
The light conditions are rough, so you need a powerful device that’s capable of picking up on those finer details. Here are some things to consider.
Generally, there are two types of sensors available. These include CMOS sensors and CCD sensors. The sensor is a crucial part of a digital camera. It’s responsible for collecting light and turning the photons into an electronic signal for recording.
CMOS sensors are the more affordable of the two. CMOS stands for Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor. With a CMOS sensor, each individual pixel has its own circuitry. Despite the separate circuits, CMOS sensors are more efficient with power consumption. But, they are more prone to distortion.
CCD, or Charged-Coupled Device, sensors are quite expensive. They look similar to CMOS units, but the circuitry is a bit different. Instead of collecting electrical information at each pixel, the photons travel through the entire sensor. Photons funnel from one pixel to the next until all of the information accumulates at the corner for processing.
Many believe that CCD cameras are better. In some ways, they are. But, CMOS sensors are quickly catching up. You’d be hard-pressed to find any major differences between the too.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference and budget.
What good is an astrophotography camera if it can only take low-quality images! When you’re capturing targets with a lot of subtle detail, it pays to have an HD webcam.
Resolution refers to the number of pixels in the image or video. Generally, this is measured in megapixels for still images. A higher megapixel count is always better for taking photos of the cosmos.
Many astrophotographers like to take longer videos every once in a while. Don’t assume that a camera has good video capabilities. Not only do you have to pay attention to video resolution, but you also need to think about framerate.
The framerate is how many individual frames the camera can capture per second. High framerates are great if you want to take slow-motion clips. But generally, around 30 FPS or 60 FPS is just fine.
Wide Field of View
When it comes to astro-imaging, the field of view is something you will need to compromise on. It’s a fine balance between magnifying the image as much as possible while still seeing a wide-angle view.
High magnification levels will create a narrow view. While great for observing celestial objects with the naked eye, it’s not great for astrophotography. Get a camera with a wide field of view for the best results.
Planetary cameras and astro cameras must connect to a laptop. That’s what sets them apart from traditional cameras.
Usually, webcams will connect via USB. However, the exact communication protocol can vary. For the best results, get a unit that’s compatible with USB3. The protocol can transfer a lot of information quickly. When you’re working with real-time imaging, faster communication is a must.
Also, consider the type of USB port used. Some may use standard USB-A connectors, which is the one you’re probably most familiar with. But, others use USB-B connectors, which are square. Pay attention to the interface so that you know for sure it’s compatible with your computer.
What to Avoid?
The most important thing to remember when choosing a webcam for astrophotography is that quality matters. You’re not taking images of humans or nearby objects. Astrophotography is hard enough when you have premium equipment. Imagine what kinds of results you’d get if you used a low-resolution webcam!
Pay attention to the sensor, resolution, and overall capabilities. Avoid cheaper webcams that are built for standard video conferencing. You need a high-definition unit that can capture our solar system in all its glory!
How Do You Use The Best Astrophotography Webcam?
Setting up your photography station is pretty simple! But, it all depends on the gear you’re using.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to prepare your equipment. If you’re using a standard webcam, attach it to an adapter and appropriately sized Barlow lens. Depending on the design of the webcam, you might have to remove the existing lens before you do all of this.
Once that’s done, you’ll need to attach it to your telescope. For specialty cams, you can do this straight out of the box! Use any included adapters to attach the webcam onto the focuser. It’s like setting up an eyepiece!
Now, you must load up your software and connect the camera to your computer. Use the included cords. Be extra gentle here. You don’t want to accidentally pull on the cord and knock your entire setup over!
After your software is loaded up, you can start snapping pictures! View the live feed from the camera as it points through the telescope. Make any adjustments you need and save as many images as you can to share later!
A solid astrophotography webcam is all you need to start taking some out-of-this-world pictures. Capturing the magic of our solar system is no easy task. But a webcam makes it easy enough for even amateur astronomers or photographers to try out. Give one of these webcams a shot and see what kinds of awe-inspiring works of art you can create.