Web Cam Astrophotography Basics
Web cams have changed amateur astrophotography profoundly. You can now have a CCD for a fraction of the cost. Web cams can take awesome planetary and lunar astrophotos right out of the box. You can use the capture software that comes with the cam for capturing your shots and then use freeware to process the results. Can't get much cheaper than that. Of course for better results it is you should use specialized software, but that is available on the cheap as well.
And if you are a do-it-yourselfer, web cams can also be adapted to take long exposure astrophotos, pretty cool right? Plus there are ready to go, web cam based planetary imagers now available from Celestron, Meade and, Orion. Meade and Orion also have imagers for long exposure, deep-sky imaging. All these include software. They are however more expensive.
If you already have a web cam great, you only need some software which can be downloaded for free, and an adaptor to connect the web cam to your telescope. If you don't own one the following cams have proven to be good for astrophotography and good deals can be found on eBay for example.
-ToUcam Pro by Philips PCVC740K or PCVC840K ToUcam PRO II. I have both of these. I am leaving the new one as a dedicated planetary imager and adapting the PCV740K for long exposure astrophotography.
-Vesta pro also by Philips. I haven't personally used this web cam but others have with great success. It can also be adapted for long exposures.
-Quickcam pro by Logitech. I used to have one of these, but I prefer the ToUcam. It does a good job though and can also be modified for long exposures.
-There are other web cams which are good for astrophotography but these three are the only ones I have experience with.
Now for the adaptor to connect the web cam to your telescope. I use a Mogg adaptor, made by, surprise Mr. Steve Mogg. More information and purchasing can be found at: http://webcaddy.com.au/astro/adapter.htm For either ToUcam you will want the UWAT-F, for the Vesta Pro the UWAS-F, and for the Quickcam Pro the UWAL-F. He has adaptors for other astrophotography web cams as well.
Next you will need some software to make this all work. Good news it won't cost you a single penny. First you will need some capture software. K3CCDTools version 1 is absolutely free. It works very well to capture astrophotos with web cams. I use version 3 which costs $45.00 because I use some of the other features it offers but you won't need that for basic planetary work (yet). You can download it at: http://www.pk3.org/Astro/index.htm?k3ccdtools_download.htm.
To get really nice detail in your shots you will need to combine(stack) multiple images. A really nice piece of software is called RegiStax. It is also freeware. You can download a copy at: http://registax.astronomy.net/html/download.html.
The next article in this series will be on setting up your web cam and software, capturing your first image during daylight, then getting your first astrophoto (the moon).
Carl Gilbertson has been involved in amatuer astronomy for over 30 years and astrophotography for over twenty-five years. Learn more at his site: http://webcamastrophotography.blogspot.com