Thursday, February 26, 2015

Venus and Mars February 23, 2015

I got clouded out for the great triple conjunction of Venus, Mars, and the Moon on February 20 - but a few days later, our neighbor planets were still fairly close together in the sky. I caught them setting to the west over my neighbor's house.

I tried some different exposure settings, including high f-stop number to create a spiked lens flare around bright Venus. Chris wasn't too happy that I stepped outside to take photos right when dinner was ready, so after a few shots I came back inside for Taco Night.  :)

mars and venus over a house
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 105mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
mars and venus low horizon
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 135mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
mars and venus over house
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 135mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
venus and mars 300mm
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/7.1, 1.3 sec, this one has my favorite lens flare around Venus
venus and mars 300mm
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/11, 1.3 sec

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Compare and Review iPhone Telescope Adapters

I'm writing this post to try to keep up with an emerging family of products offered to attach the iPhone to telescopes, microscopes, spotting scopes, and the like. Over the past 2 years I've been sort of watching these products at arms length, considering and hesitating to buy one. The problem is that these products seem to come and go within a matter of months, and it's difficult to keep track of which ones are still around, which ones are any good, and which ones people have actually tried using for iPhone astronomy and astrophotography.

It started in 2012 when the Magnifi adapter had a successful Kickstarter campaign, (although I think Orion had their first model quietly available in 2012 as well) and since then the field has exploded with a series of short lived adapters that come and go with different versions of phones. From there, universal adapters became popular just within the last year or so, in what we could call the 2.0 era of smartphone telescope adapters.

Now, I don't claim to have personal experience with all of these adapters, so this post is more of a knowledge base or a list of products that I've found out there. I also want to link to other amatuer astrophotography websites from enthusiasts who have actually used these products, or example astronomy shots that were actually taken using them.

Some things to keep in mind with digiscoping (using a camera through an eyepiece), the quality of the image is probably not due to the adapter itself - because things like technique, post-processing, and telescope quality will all likely trump the adapter's contribution. Unless the adapter is just plain bad. 

In alphabetical order:

Carson - HookUpz™ Universal

Carson - HookUpz™ Universal
Photo by Eric Teske
Similar to other optical adapter stories, Carson started out with adapter cases for specific versions of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. As the trend is going, the demand for a universal adapter for any smartphone resulted in the Carson Universal adapter. I personally own this adapter, and it also comes highly recommended by Matt at
Tutorials and Reviews using this product:

iScope - iSpotter

iScope - iSpotter
Photo from

The iSpotter from ​iScope, LLC is another smartphone optics adapter that works with binoculars, telescopes, and spotting scopes. It seems like the company originally started with a rifle scope adapter with the idea that people could film their hunt or see through the scope using the iPhone as a display. They branched into the iSpotter, a version that works with spotting scopes and therefore things that are more similar to telescopes. It's an odd combination of being universal on one end, but requiring a "backplate" specific to your phone model. Nevertheless, it seems to do the trick!
Tutorials and Reviews using this product:

Orion - SteadyPix 

Orion - SteadyPix
Photo from

Orion has been in the smartphone telescope adapter game for a while, and had some iPhone only versions out for a while. It seems like every few months a new version would come out and the old versions would linger on Amazon. They started around $90 if I recall. The trend seems to be shifting toward universal smartphone solutions, and thankfully the price is coming down. They now have a universal smartphone adapter under $50. Andrew Symes, the preeminent iPhone astrophotographer of our day (in my opinion), uses an Orion SteadyPix for his shots.
Tutorials and Reviews using this product:

Phone Skope

Phone Skope
Photo from

Phone Skope has a wide range of scope adapters for digiscoping and already has a big following in the hunting and outdoor sports community. Check out their Instagram page for some great examples (and the occasional moon photo). They do offer a universal option, but it's lost among the zoo of other adapters, and even the option to order custom dimensions. My prediction is that the trend toward universal adapters will take hold and we'll see a shift away from ordering based on your phone model.
Tutorials and Reviews using this product:


Photo from

Snapzoom was smart to get in with a universal adapter (also a Kickstarter baby) for any smartphone - hopefully that means it has some staying power instead of trying to re-design a new case for every possible phone. In my opinion, they are right on the money with the idea that you need to be able to shift the phone easily along the X and Y Axis to line it up to various scopes. The flexibility is good, but I've read reviews that say the tiny screws are a pain - otherwise they are right on track!
Tutorials and Reviews using this product:

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mars and Venus Dating in February

I've heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so it seemed fitting that the two planets seemed to chase each other into the sunset on Valentine's Day. The bright evening star Venus shone bright high above the horizon, but it wasn't until I got the photos onto my computer that I noticed fainter Mars to the upper left.

venus mars conjunction february
Single frame, Canon T5i, f/8, 0.8 sec, ISO 400, 50mm

venus mars february 2015

venus mars february 2015
Single frame, Canon T5i, f/8, 1.3 sec, ISO 400, 30mm

Keep an eye on the two over the next few days, as the couple will get closer together. I guess you could say the pair got together on Valentine's Day, got closer over time - finally, on February 20, the planets will have a kinky 3-way with the slim crescent moon after sunset. I doubt the 50 Shades of Grey movie includes planetary conjunctions haha!

february mars venus moon
Mars, Venus and the Moon within 2° on February 20th, screenshot from Stellarium

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Crescent Moon Rising with Saturn and Scorpio

I was up letting the dog out at 3am the other night and saw an orange crescent moon rising over the neighbor's house. Next to it, I saw two brighter stars - but when I went to take a picture of the scene I thought I was getting some crazy double lens flare or something. What were these two extra stars below it? I seriously thought it was some kind of lens anomaly.

crescent moon with scorpio
Single frame, Canon T5i, f/6.3, 2 sec, ISO 1600, 110mm

saturn in scorpio

saturn in scorpio

Then I hopped on Stellarium and saw that this group of stars was actually Saturn in the head of Scorpio. Like a little sideways big dipper with Saturn, β1 Sco (Acrab), ν Sco, ω1 Sco, ω2 Sco, and δ Sco (Dschubba).

saturn moon scorpio with labels

Friday, February 13, 2015

iPhone 6 on Carson Universal Telescope Adapter

universal iphone telescope adapter mount
iPhone 6 on Carson Universal adapter mounted onto Meade 285 refracting telescope.

It came! The Carson Universal adapter is a clever optical adapter that lets you mount almost any smartphone onto almost any optics. The iPhone 6 is a big phone, will it work? Let's see... first things first, let's savor the unboxing experience...

dog and brown packagecarson universal package front

carson universal package front

carson universal package back

carson universal unboxing
The inner white box reminds me of an Apple product

carson universal unboxing

carson carrying case
carson carrying casecarson carrying case

The case is very nice quality, and the clip on the side is handy. The adapter fits snug and has a custom foam cutout to store it securely. When I first opened the carrying case clam shell, the first thing I noticed was that the adapter was cold to the touch. The back plate is hard and sturdy, I can't tell if it's metal or not - which is weird - but it's very light yet sturdy.

carson lens spacertutorial reminder

It comes with a lens spacer in case you have optics that need to have the camera back a little further. I have an eyepiece that has a larger light cone because I can look through it without removing my glasses, so this seems perfect. There is a little piece of tape reminding you to look at the tutorial videos before you mess with it, so let's look at one now...

Ok, this is all fine and well - but how well does an iPhone 6 fit into this adapter? Let's take a look. The case on my phone is a clunky Ballistic brand case. For convenience, I first tried my phone in the Carson Universal with the case on. It technically fits, but the corners on my case are irregular shapes, not a clean square case, so it makes it more of a hassle. I think I'll just take my case off and give it a better fit.

iphone 6 volume buttons

iphone headphone jackiphone telescope adapter mount

The buttons are all un-obscured when the phone is in the adapter. Whew! Best of all, the headphone jack is exposed so I can use a volume button shutter remote.

iphone telescope adapter mountcarson universal back

iphone 6 camera and telescope mount
Hi there! The iPhone 6 camera lines up through the adapter, even though the camera for the iPhone 6 is waaaay up in the top corner of the phone. 

Now, the iPhone 6 is a huge phone - it's both long and kinda heavy, and both of these variables play into an important issue with any adapter. I'm talking about the tendency for the clamps to slip and the phone to slowly pivot out of alignment. This adapter does it better than others I've seen, but the design of the phone makes it as hard as it possibly can be to keep it aligned.

carson universal grip
A nice firm grip is important, and these 4 rubbery nubs are very tacky and grip onto the sides of the eyepiece. 
perfect alignment iphone to telescope
The Carson Universal adapter does an amazing job hanging on and keeping the camera centered over the eyepiece. But it can't stop gravity, so if you move it around too much it will eventually droop. No big deal!

iphone adapter droop on eyepiece

If you have the telescope near horizontal or 45 degrees, and then move it around too much, the weight of the phone can overcome the coefficient of friction between the nubs and the eyepiece - which causes the adapter to droop. Let me tell you, this adapter is so much better than trying to wrap paper around the eyepiece to hold things on.

It's less of an issue the closer to vertical you are, because the moment arm is smaller. That's the perpendicular distance between the force vector and the axis. In this case the force vector is pointing straight down (gravity) and the axis is the attachment point. The length of the phone doesn't change, and the weight of the phone doesn't change, so moving further away from horizontal decreases the torque at the moment arm.

torque of iphone adapter around eyepiece

carson universal adapter with iphone

Ok, thanks for checking out my unboxing post that got WAY OUT OF HAND and way too long! Next up, I just need a clear night to test this bad boy out. Check it out on Amazon.
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