Must-Have Apps For Astrophotographers
Having the right technology and gear is an important part of astrophotography. While the latest DSLR camera, specialized webcams, and post-production software are certainly key, there are also a few smartphone apps you should consider adding to your astrophotography Wishlist.
Here’s a curated list of a few high-performing pocket planetariums and camera tools.
Sky Map started as a Google developed app, and is now one of the leading open source smartphone options for astrophotographers. The app uses unique augmented reality technology to transform the image inputted from your smartphone’s camera into a live planetarium. That means users can aim their camera at the dark sky and Sky Map will automatically sense and identify which planets and deep sky objects are in the frame. This is an excellent way for newbie astrophotographers or stargazing enthusiasts to identify the area of the night sky they wish to shoot.
A free option with a smaller download size than most astrophotography applications, Sky Map is a good first option for astrophotographers looking to start experimenting with smartphone apps.
SkyView is essentially the iOS version of Sky Map. Voted one of the top apps for iPhone, SkyView uses augmented reality software to turn the night sky into a visual feast of stars, constellations, and satellites.
The app promises to digitize your entire stargazing experience — it includes a feature where users can set calendar notifications for upcoming stellar, lunar, and solar events. Users don’t need to leave the app to find out more information about what they’re seeing, either. SkyView contains detailed pages about planets and constellations, which includes information about their size and distance from the Earth. These pages also list declination and azimuth degrees, technical details that astrophotographers and more advanced telescope users will find helpful.
While SkyView does offer in-app purchases, most users say they’re content with the features available through the free interface.
Outside the realm of free apps, there’s also the excellent Star Walk application for Android and iOS. The app is praised for its diverse features and simple-to-use interface. Like SkyView, an information window on Star Walk provides background information and interesting facts about various celestial targets. The app also has a night mode, which dims elements of the app and converts colors to a warm red, reducing the damage that can be caused by backlit nighttime smartphone viewing. Star Walk also has an advanced visual magnitude slider which can be adjusted to toggle the screen view between what you’d see with the naked eye versus more distant, dim stars. For these functions and more, Star Walk contains what is perhaps the most detailed user manual available for smartphone apps.
The app is available for $1.99 on the Google Play store and $2.99 in the Apple Store.
Smartphone apps don’t just have to complement expensive DSLR gear — in some occasions, they can replace them. Camera FV-5 is an Android application that allows users to hack their smartphone cameras, manually tweaking each setting as desired. That means adjusting exposure times and ISO, two elements that are key in astrophotography. Depending on the smartphone being used, Camera FV-5 also allows photographers to capture RAW image files, leaving much more room for post-production adjustments.
The astrophotography blogger behind the site Lonely Speck, has a helpful entry on how he used his OnePlus One smartphone and Camera FV-5 to capture shots of the Milky Way. The app can be bought for $3.90 in the Google Play store.With apps like these on the market and the mobility of smartphones, make sure you pack your phone during your next astrophotography outing.