I was doing a lap around the backyard in the dark (my watch had bitched at me about sitting too long, and it was correct) and I was looking up at Orion and Sirius and Aldebaran. It was clear, the moon isn’t up yet, they were gorgeous – as always. I thought about going in and getting my tripod and good camera and setting things up, but I’ve got deadlines to meet and I needed to get back inside…
Could I use my iPhone, handheld, no tripod, no other apps? Of course not! It’s just an iPhone 8, and while I hear that the iPhone 12 can do really well with low-light astrophotography (and the Pixel 5 is supposed to be amazing?) and the iPhone 13 is going to be even better, a phone that’s coming up on four years old couldn’t ever… Could it?
That’s an assumption.
How hard would it be to test?
It turns out that answer is, “Yes – and no, but mostly no.” The biggest problem is getting it the camera to focus, it doesn’t have anything solid to grab ahold of. But if you can lock the focus, you can get something that at least shows Sirius (middle right), the four “feet and shoulder” stars of Orion as well as the “belt” stars, Aldebaran on the right, and Procyon near the top. That’s something like six of the dozen brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere (one of the reasons the winter sky is so easy to find your way around, and so spectacular looking) so it’s cool that they DO register, but like the dancing bear, it’s not that they do it well, but that they do it at all that’s impressive.
Once the focus is locked you can try to manually fiddle with the exposure and brightness, but that seems to mainly cause a lot of noise as the image sensor gets overloaded.
At least that picture brings out the orange color of Betelgeuse (top left star in Orion, still hasn’t gone supernova…) where the first picture didn’t show any of the colors.
So, that answers that. Perhaps before they fade into the spring sky I can get a night where I’m not getting my ass kicked by deadlines and I’ll bring out the good gear to play with.