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This is a guide to how I capture images for lunar and planetary imaging. First, finding and centring the subject in the camera's field of view.

I assume that you have your webcam, equipped with a suitable 1 1/4" adapter for the telescope's focusser tube, and that you know how to find (visually) what you are intending to image.

  • First, place a low-powered eyepiece in the telescope and find the subject. Sometimes a lower power is needed than at other times. For the moon, you can use a fairly high-powered lens since it is a large, fairly easy-to-find object. Other times, for example when imaging a planet, you will need to use a low powered eyepiece at first then "zoom in" to a higher-powered one.
  • It´s a good idea to make a medium-powered eyepiece parfocal with your camera (this can be done using either a specialist ring made for the purpose, or using a cheap clamp intended for a rubber hose pipe -- see equipment page for an example).
  • Centre the subject then step through higher powered eyepieces, centring each time, until you get to approximately 200x. Again, this is not so crucial for the moon. If you are imaging using a Barlow lens, insert it after you have centred the subject in the lowest power eyepiece, then centre again using the same eyepiece. Then step up the power as described but without removing the Barlow lens!
  • The process of successively centring the subject in higher powered eyepieces will have made sure that it is centred really well. This is vital for small subjects like planets since the small field of view of the webcam means that a tiny error can make it impossible to find the subject again except by accident. If you have a parfocal eyepiece or other means of approximately finding the Webcam´s focus point, now is the time to use it. Remember not to remove the Barlow lens!
  • If you don't have a parfocal eyepiece you will need to take the time to find the focus position the first time, then record the position by marking the focusser drawtube or similar. To ensure you can find the target you wish to focus on I suggest you do this first using the moon, and later improve the accuracy by focussing on a bright star.
  • Now you have the subject centred in the high-powered eyepiece view, and the focusser set to approximately the correct position for the webcam. Now comes the moment of truth: Carefully, without disturbing the focusser nor moving the position of the telescope at all, loosen the thumbscrew and remove the eyepiece (but not the Barlow, if you are using one, of course!) from the focuser tube. Just as carefully, attach the camera either by sliding in the 1.25" adapter and gently tightening the thumbscrew, or by threading the camera with "T" ring onto the focusser "T" thread. If the PC is not yet switched on and the webcam plugged in to a USB port, do this now, being careful not to disturb the telescope by pulling on the Webcam's USB cable.
  • Now start our capture program: K3CCDTools. If you previously used it with this webcam connected then it will be ready to go, otherwise you will need to choose the webcam on the menu. Choose the Image Capture tab (rather than Sequence Processing) and make sure preview is enabled. Pull up the webcam settings and set 5fps, gain mid, slowest shutter speed. This should ensure you see the subject on the screen, even if it's out of focus.
  • You should see the target on the preview screen. If not, check the focus. Particularly when using a Barlow lens, an out-of-focus planet becomes faint quickly. Increase the gain and adjust the focus. If you are sure the focus is more-or-less correct, you will need to re-check the centring of the target using eyepieces. Before you do so, try shifting the telescope position slightly (using the manual controls) to pick up the target. Finally check the sky: I have known a clear sky to become cloudy just at this point!
  • Assuming you now have the target on the screen, switch on the K3CCDTools reticule display and centre the image using the telescope's manual controls. now adjust the Webcam settings to give the best view. This will depend on the target and conditions, but in general it is found that the image should look slightly underexposed on the preview (try adjusting gain so the K3CCDTools level meter shows a maximum of around 150). Suggested settings can be found here.
  • The next step is focussing.
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