Do you need an expensive DSLR or mirrorless camera to capture the night sky? No, you do not; your smartphone is capable of much more than you think, and we've picked some of the best gadgets that will help you get the most from the emerging hobby of astro-phoneography.

Advertisement

The items below will help you capture phenomena from the wider genre of night sky photographs: from sunrises and sunsets to the Moon, planetary conjunctions, constellations, star trails, the International Space Station crossing the sky, the northern lights and, if you have the latest phones, even the Milky Way (but, it's important to emphasise, not a close-up of the Orion Nebula or other deep-sky objects).

Photographing the Moon through a telescope with a smartphone. Credit: m-gucci / Getty Images
Credit: m-gucci / Getty Images

For more advice, read our guide to smartphone astrophotography and stargazing with a smartphone. For more high-end imaging equipment, find out which are the best cameras for astrophotography.

Or if you're on the hunt for presents for astronomers and space fans, read our guide to the best space gifts.

For more detailed astro imaging advice, discover our pick of the best telescopes for astrophotography.

Smartphone astrophotography gadgets

Smartphone tripods

To take any kind of image of the night sky means a long exposure, which means stability. So you first need a tripod, and then a bracket that holds a smartphone.

We’ve gone for relatively small and portable tripods here (if you don’t care about portability, get a DSLR!), but it’s the bracket that’s arguably the most important bit.

Joby GripTight ONE GP Stand

Joby GripTight ONE GP Stand

This malleable smartphone tripod is a good model to kick off our gadget list. The tripod has an adjustable grip that will fit most phones, while its rubber feet are designed to grip on to smooth surfaces, ensuring your setup doesn’t slip and ruin a long exposure image or timelapse.

While for most situations you'll likely need to mount the tripod on a flat surface, as a bonus the Joby GripTight's can wrap around a handrail or tree, meaning you may be able to get that height without having to take a large tripod with you on your photography travels.

Manfrotto PIXI with Universal Smartphone Clamp

Manfrotto PIXI with Universal Smartphone Clamp

You’ll need a hard surface to put it on, but if you want a small and portable all-in-one tripod look no further than the PIXI Mini. Very solid and compact, it has a well-made ball head for attaching compact or DSLR cameras that can be locked in place using a simple push-button locking mechanism. This version comes with a smartphone clamp that grips any phone in any phone case

More like this

ZETONG Phone Tripod

Zetong smartphone tripod

The ZETONG Phone Tripod is good option for beginners. It's lightweight, simple to setup and has a good smartphone clamp that can be adjusted side-to-side, up and down. It has a Bluetooth handheld shutter control enabling capture without accidentally nudging your phone.

Benro 3XS Lite smartphone gimbal

Benro 3XS Lite smartphone gimbal

If you want something really posh to support a phone, consider this: a three-axis gimbal for smartphones that’s really designed for amateur filmmakers. However, as well as enabling you to zoom using a button on its column, and take manual photos via its app, the entire thing has a 1/4 inch tripod thread on it so can be mounted on a full-size tripod.

Astrophotography apps

Whether or not your smartphone has a sensitive enough sensor to take good quality long-exposure images of the night sky will depend on what model you have.

Below are just a few of the long exposure apps available that will give you full manual control. Some even have special astro modes.

Camera+2 for iOS

Camera+2 for iOS

The latest version of one of the most famous and well-loved manual phone camera apps, Camera+ 2 allows you to set shutter speed, ISO and white balance, and there’s a slow shutter mode for exposures of up to 30 seconds. It also lets you capture in raw formats for post-processing.

More info: https://camera.plus

Camera FV-5 for Android

Camera FV-5 for Android

If you’ve got an older Android phone, consider Camera FV-5, which also gives you full manual control over your phone’s camera in a DSLR-like viewfinder. That includes exposure bracketing and a built-in intervalometer as well as manual exposure times up to 30 seconds, ISO and white balance. It records photos in a raw format called DNG.

More info: https://www.camerafv5.com

NightCap Camera for iPhone and iPad

NightCap Camera for iPhone and iPad

A well thought of app for low light and night photos, NightCap Camera is one of the few focused on astrophotography. There are presets for Stars, Meteors, the International Space Station and even a Star-trails mode. As well as manual control of a phone (and an ISO booster) it provides built-in noise reduction and an intervalometer for night-sky time-lapses, recording everything as a TIFF file for post-processing.

More info: https://www.nightcapcamera.com/nightcap-camera

Zoom lenses for smartphones

Once widely available, zoom lenses are on the wane now that flagship smartphones now have decent digital zooms.

However, there are a few that can help you get an excellent image of the Moon if used with a tripod and smartphone bracket.

CamKix Lens Kit

CamKix Lens Kit

This entry-level kit comprises an 8x zoom telephoto lens with manual focus ring (among others) that’s great for photographing the Moon. It also comes with a tiny tripod, a phone bracket and a case for attaching the zoom lens. However, it’s only available for specific models of phones. It’s great for beginners.

Olivon 8-24x40 Zoom Monocular

Olivon 8-24x40 Zoom Monocular

If you want to get a little more serious with your Moon shots but don’t want to increase the size of your astro rig, consider digiscoping. This monocular, which has a magnification range of 8x to 24x, can be used with one of the telescope eyepiece adaptors below.

Sony DSC-QX10 Smart Lens

Sony DSC-QX10 Smart Lens

An unusual option is this standalone 10x 28-100mm zoom lens. Packed with Zeiss optics, it fixes to a phone via a cable, or can be used separately and connected via WiFi. It’s got an 18.2 megapixel sensor.

Xenvo Pro Lens Kit

Xenvo Pro Lens kit

The Xenvo Pro is a lens for iPhone and Android that clips onto the device and is fitted with rubber pads to help avoid scratching during use. It can capture macro and wide-angle images and includes a quick-release lanyard that could come in handy if you need to quickly take advantage of a sudden break in the clouds.

Telescope eyepiece adaptors

Welcome to digiscoping! If you’ve got any kind of telescope it’s so tempting to try and get an image using a smartphone. What’s more, it works really well if you can keep it very still. Cue a smartphone adaptor that fits around the eyepiece. Some work on binoculars too, though you'll have to put them on a tripod

Bresser universal smartphone holder deluxe

Bresser smartphone adapter

With suction cups to keep your phone securely in place and the ability to adjust its height, this universal holder allows you to perfectly position your smartphone to take the best photos

Visionary Universal Smartphone Camera Adapter

Visionary Universal Smartphone Camera Adapter

If you’ve got access to a telescope, a pair of binoculars, a digiscope and any other kind of optical device, go for something universal like this device, which fits over any eyepiece with a 26-51mm diameter

Tele Vue FoneMate Smart Phone Eyepiece Adapter

Tele Vue FoneMate Smart Phone Eyepiece Adapter

Here’s another convenient way to take images through a telescope or a digiscope: most likely of the Moon. A bracket that grips a phone and then lines up with the phone’s camera lens, it fixes to the eyepiece of either a telescope or a digiscope. Beware of vignetting around the edges.

Celestron NexYZ 3-Axis Universal Smartphone Adapter

NexYZ 3 Axis Universal Smartphone Adapter

The first thing we noticed when during our test run of the Celestron NexYZ was the quality of build.

We were also pleased to see how quickly you can insert and remove your smartphone, making this a great option for groups of friends who all want to have a go at capturing the chosen target on their own phone.

The best feature of the NexYZ is the ability to line the smartphone up with the telescope eyepiece in three axes, X, Y and Z, as this gives you maximum control when it comes to making sure the smartphone's camera is aligned with the optical axis of the telescope.

We used the NexYZ with a Stargate 500 GoTo Dobsonian, an Equinox 80 ED refractor and our 100mm spotting scope.

We were able to capture a range of targets including the Moon and deep-sky objects using the NightCap app, and we were very impressed.

Read our full Celestron NexYZ review

Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor

Celestron Inspire 90 AZ

How about a telescope with an integrated eyepiece adaptor for smartphones? That’s what you get with this simple 3-inch/80mm refractor on an Alt-Az mount. It’s enough to start taking photos of the Moon. A further accessory is available to attach a DSLR camera.

Vaonis Stellina Smart Telescope

Vaonis Stellina Smart Telescope

Welcome to the first – and incredibly expensive –WiFi-enabled phone-scope that stacks multiple six megapixel images of deep-sky objects to produce photos on your phone. Designed by professional astronomers, the French-made Stellina gives you a clearer image the longer it tracks an object, and the results are incredible. Controlled and used via a smartphone, you don’t even have to stay outdoors. Is this the ultimate astrophotography toy?

Read our full Stellina Observation Station review.

Advertisement

If you do happen to capture amazing astrophotos with your phone, we'd love to see them. You can get in touch with us via Facebook, Twitter, or simply by dropping us an email. Happy snapping and clear skies.

Authors

Travel and astronomy writer Jamie Carter
Jamie CarterScience writer

Jamie Carter is a travel and astronomy writer and author of A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide