iPhone Mounts for iAstrophotography

***IMPORTANT UPDATE***  It seems as though the Orion SteadyPix Universal Smartphone Adapter is currently unavailable on Amazon.  Please see this new post for an alternative mount solution: SnapZoom Review Part 1.

***Update to the Update*** I’ve now written about my new favorite iPhone or other smartphone adapter, the Carson Universal.  Check it out here!

If you’re like me, your first experience with iPhone Astrophotography, or iAstrophotography, was holding your smartphone camera up to the eyepiece of your telescope.  It’s a delicate act trying to steadily hold the iPhone and simultaneously snap a picture, but the results can be surprisingly promising.

There’s a better way…

Fortunately, specialized iPhone-to-telescope mounts exist.  I’ve tried two different mounts with mixed results.

My first experience with an iAstrophotography mount was the Magnifi case by Arcturus Labs.  The case is a bit pricey, but well constructed.  It was a great step up from simply holding my iPhone; however, I quickly ran into some challenges.  The eyepiece clamp requires a specific amount of real estate and clearance to sufficiently clamp on.  Without this, the connection is loose and becomes inaccurate.  It seems as though the case may have designed primarily for microscope eyepieces.  I found that it worked well with my 20mm eyepiece, but with my 10mm and 6mm, there wasn’t enough eyepiece to grab on to.  The result was often that I couldn’t get the image centered or crisp on my phone.

The solution

I was eager to find a better solution, so I ordered the Orion SteadyPix Universal Smartphone Adapter.  This adapter is admittedly on the pricey side, but it’s definitely flexible and should work with most smartphones.  I immediately found that it was easy to use and adjust to get a good image.  However, this adapter has several locking knobs for adjustment, and these can be challenging to manipulate in the dark.  To overcome this, I made a few quick modifications with some lock nuts and super glue.

The modifications

Here’s a look at the front side of the adapter:

Orion SteadyPix Universal Smartphone Adapter

Orion SteadyPix Universal Smartphone Adapter

And here’s a look at the backside of the unmodified adapter:

Backside of the unmodified adapter

Backside of the unmodified adapter

The first step was to load up the adapter with my smallest exit pupil eyepiece, a 6mm Plossl.  Then I put my iPhone in the adapter and adjusted the knobs until the view was centered.  Here’s a screenshot of what that looked like:

Orion SteadyPix adapter

Screenshot: aligning the Orion SteadyPix adapter

With the iPhone aligned, I then superglued two lock nuts in such a location that I could always easily find the proper alignment positioning.  Here are some images showing how the lock nuts work to define the aligned position:

Orion SteadyPix Adapter

Modified adapter with iPhone out of position

Orion SteadyPix Adapter

Modified adapter with eyepiece adjusted into alignment

I used the ultra gel control Loctite superglue and found that the setting time and slightly gelatinous nature helped to accurately place the lock nuts.

So far, using this in practice with my telescope has been a real pleasure.  I can easily swing my iPhone out of the way to get a good look through the eyepiece.  Then when I’ve got the target centered, the lock nuts help guide the adapter into perfect alignment.  From there I can do some minor fine tuning adjustments of the other knobs.  This has been a big help with my iAstrophotography.

Let me know what you think of these modifications, and if you have any other suggestions, be sure to leave them in the comments!


6 comments on “iPhone Mounts for iAstrophotography
  1. Matt Wedel says:

    I haven’t seen you mention this here yet, but if you have an iPhone 5 there’s a nice trick you can use to take pictures without touching the camera. The iPhone 5 has a volume button shutter release–the trick is that this works even with the volume button on the included headphones. So you can plug in your headphones and use that volume button as a shutter release for jiggle-free picture-taking.

    I bring this up because the shake inherent in tapping the phone to take a picture is one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen from people using the Orion smartphone mount. Now that I know how to trigger the photos remotely, I really need to give this iPhone astrophotography a try. Thanks for blazing a trail and reporting on your progress–it’s been very interesting!

  2. Matt says:

    Great point! I love the headphone shutter release trick. Unfortunately, the Orion mount covers up the headphone jack on the iPhone 5. I tried to drill a hole in the part that covers it, but misaligned it, doh! I’ve got to expand the hole and will show some pics for part 2 of the mount hacks.

    Also, I’ve found that a some of the 3rd party camera apps do or don’t work with the headphone shutters. I plan on giving a review of some of these apps soon and will be sure to include this. Stay tuned!

  3. What a great post, website too in fact. Making astrophotography more readily available to more people. Great work

  4. Gabi says:

    I recently got a Celestron 70 travel telescope. I’m looking for recommendations for a digital camera or iPhone adapter. Is the one you recommend OK to use with the Celestron 70?

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