Taking photos of the moon with an iPhone

One of the best methods of taking photos of stars, planets and satellites is with a webcam, like the old Toucam Pro, and processing with Registax. That’s not the easiest method though, and when you want photos of the moon, an iPhone does the job very well.

The Moon, iPhone with Cortex Camera

The Moon, shot with an iPhone using Cortex Cam

Celestron C5, iPhone 4S, Magnifi

Celestron C5 with iPhone 4S for scale

First, you need a telescope. Any one will do, but I use a 5″ Celestron spotter scope. It’s not the best, but it’s what I have and I’m very fond of it. Second, you need an iPhone. Again, mine isn’t the best, it’s a 4S, but it’ll do. Lastly, you need a way of looking through the telescope with the phone’s camera, and that’s where the Magnifi comes in. This is an adapter to allow your phone to latch onto an eyepiece. I got it when they were announced on Kickstarter, and it’s proven very useful.

Magnifi adapter

Magnifi adapter

I use electrical tape wrapped around the end of a 24mm eyepiece to ensure the Magnifi fits properly. There are many eyepieces you could use, but some won’t fill the phone’s camera. In fact, the 24mm I use isn’t perfect, when shooting normally, as it doesn’t use the whole of the camera’s sensor.

24mm Celestron eyepiece with electrical tape

24mm Celestron eyepiece with electrical tape

However, when using Cortex Camera, it is ideal and it fills the screen completely. Cortex Camera is an application on the iPhone that uses the HD video mode of the camera to produce a better quality still photo than you’d get normally, similar to the way stackers and webcams manage it, albeit not in a manner designed for astronomy. Again, it’s not ideal, but it’ll do.

Mounted phone

Mounted phone

Once you have this set up, it’s really quite easy to take simple photos of the moon, especially if you use the Apple headphones with the mic attachment as a cable release (like a remote trigger for the camera so you don’t wobble everything when pressing the button) and a decent tripod.

Ready to shoot

Ready to shoot

Of course, what would be ideal would be a telescope with GPS-based tracking, but I’ve not tried one of those out with the phone. Yet.

On a Tripod

On a Tripod

One important lesson I learned was to practice when it’s light, so when it gets dark, you’re not fumbling about, trying to fit everything together. There’s a church clock visible from my back window I use to test the setup in daytime.

Church clock

Church clock

Experiment with different eyepieces and extenders to get the perfect settings with your own local landmark in the daytime and the practice will pay off when you try to take pictures of the moon.

Clock using Cortex Cam

Clock using Cortex Cam


Jared Earle is a writer, photographer and systems administrator. You can find him on Twitter most of the time.

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  • The Moon is amazingly bright through a telescope. I tried using my iPhone 5 and all I got was white.

    Do you use any filters in the eyepiece of the telescope, between the eyepiece and phone?

    I have a Celestron 8″ and experimented last Friday during the full moon. Forgot to try taking pictures of Saturn, but I expect that I would need a setup like you show in order to keep the whole right steady for a longer exposure picture.

  • Quantum-OdysseyΩ

    Great job on your ability to utilize COTS (commercial off the shelf) equipment, electronic techniques, and excellent photograph of the Moon. Wish I had that type of equipment available back in the 1960’s with my 6-in Newtonian reflector telescope. Don’t feel bad, all I have is an iPhone 4…:'(

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