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Portable Astrophotography Setup with Smartphone Guiding (Read On!)

I wanted to share my portable astrophotography setup with the community.  Hopefully, someone will find it helpful, especially the part about using a smartphone with SkySafari Plus to locate targets.  Check out the photo of the setup below.  I started with a solid Manfrotto tripod I already had from my days as a videographer.  I then added a Sony A6300 mirrorless camera (which I use for studio photography, as well).  Then, after much deliberation and research, I purchased the Ioptron Skyguider Pro and a William Optic Zenithstar 73 with the 73A Field Flattener (basically the heaviest WO telescope I could put on that guider).  It is a fantastic combination, very capable, and I love it. 

I am new to astrophotography and when I started using this setup I found it very challenging to locate targets.  I live in Northern California where the typical light pollution level is orange.  I would start by finding the nearest bright star to my target.  Then I would take a guess (left, right, up, down 15 degrees, 10 degrees, etc.) and then take a 10 second test exposure.  If I found the target, great.  If I didn’t, I would make another guess, and so on.  Sometimes this went well; most of the time it did not.  Soon the whole thing started to become very tedious.  To solve this problem, without the added expense and weight of getting a computerized mount, I added my smartphone to the mix.  I purchased the Sky Safari Plus app and an adjustable mount with a ball joint to mount my smartphone to my camera (at the flash mount).

Now, to locate a target, I (again) begin by locating a nearby bright star.  I focus it and center it on my camera screen.  Then, with the app open and adjusted for frame size (5.6 degrees X 3.0 degrees for my camera setup), I adjust the smartphone mount so that the view in the SkySafari app is the same as the one on my camera screen.  Once they are aligned I can then type the target into the search field on the app.  It will then give me arrows to follow as I move my telescope, until the target is centered.

Again, I take a test exposure.  The target is almost always within my camera frame.

This method is not perfect.  The target is not always centered.  And I cannot, for example, expect my smartphone to track accurately 30 degrees across the sky.  But most of the time, if I start nearby, the target is within frame.

Thanks for all of the information you post.  It is really helpful.

One more thing: I find that I can always get rock-solid one minute exposures from the Ioptron, and that I can often get rock-solid two minute exposures (depending on how often I want to go back and polar align as I move from target to target).

Happy Hunting!

I brought this rig up to Lake Tahoe last weekend where I was able to shoot for a couple of hours before the moon rose.  Each of the stacked images is the full frame and made from sixteen one-minute exposures with five dark frames and one bias frame.  I’ve included a couple of individual frames for comparison.  I stack them using Deep Sky Stacker then in Photoshop I jack up the exposure, play with the levels a bit, then tune the color.  I go for a natural look. 


  • 0
    Keiron Smith

    Incredibly innovative.  As we would expect, and as you discovered, if you start with a star nearby the target object is more likely to be within frame.  Accuracy over longer distances is very difficult to achieve.

    Thank you for sharing this very informative post! 

  • 0

    Can you please share exactly which cold shoe mount you're using for your smartphone? It looks like one I ordered, except for the bottom attachment.

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