For so long the primary way to capture the night sky was via a standard print/film camera, then along came digital with DSLRs as well as webcams and their later successors. But today smartphones and tablets carry sophisticated cameras of their own and can now capture many if not all aspects of astrophotography.
For the iPhone and iPad the NightCap camera app brings astrophotography to the fingertips of the many, not the few.
Simple to download and install from the app store, there are plenty of online tutorials available to help get the best out of NightCap.
With the latest iPhone/iPad models you can now capture constellations, make star trails, image the Northern Lights and the Moon and even basic deep-sky targets.
Two things help with the smartphone: an adapter for setting up on a tripod to take nightscapes or wide field images, and a smartphone adapter for your telescope, bringing a whole new level of possibilities.
On-screen controls provide an amazing array of features depending upon what you want to achieve, and we were pleased that they didn’t take up too much on-screen space to clutter the view.
With inbuilt AI it can even do some of the settings for you such as control the focus, set ISO, white balance and exposure.
In some instances it does a good job, but the real power lies in digging deeper and using the manual settings so you have full control.
With a swipe of the finger or a brief tap you can control the aforementioned settings and choose various pre-sets such as star trails, stars (good for constellations and taking deep-sky astrophotos), a meteors setting and even a setting to capture bright satellites such as the ISS as it passes over.
Noise reduction and the build-up of a deeper image by inbuilt stacking all help bring the night sky to life.
With our iPhone 7+ we used a cheap tripod adapter and took a wide-field image of Jupiter and Saturn (see below) with a little foreground for interest and some of the stars of Scorpius visible including Antares.
Aiming higher we also took a wide view of the Summer Triangle consisting of Deneb, Vega and Altair and picked up a trace of the Milky Way in the resulting image.
Using the ISS setting we also captured the end of an ISS pass with a fainter satellite too.
A conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter was not to be missed and we used the zoom function to frame and enlarge the Moon whilst manually setting the exposure to record the Moon’s surface whilst keeping Jupiter visible.
Although we have not yet had a display of the Northern Lights, we did capture a good display of noctilucent clouds with very satisfying results.
Using an adapter we tried out the phone/app with several telescopes targeting the Moon as a crescent at normal magnification then using the zoom function to hone in on Mare Crisium.
Turning to deep-sky we captured the Eskimo Nebula, Globular Cluster M13, the Mizar and Alcor multiple star system and many others including the Quasar 3C 273 with a range of telescopes.
This is the must have app if you want to use your iPhone/iPad for astrophotography and it is highly recommended. It may well be the future of astrophotography!
See more of Paul’s NightCap astrophotos
NightCap: vital stats
Supported equipment: iPhone/iPad with iOS 11 or later
Developer: Realtime Dreams Limited