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Polar Alignment Camera Install [Polar Scope]

It’s time to buy a polar alignment camera. The QHY PoleMaster or Orion Starshoot are each a nice $299 opportunity. iPolar, by iOptron is a cool $249. And that’s it. That’s the end of this post. Not really. You’re reading because you want to see how I installed a generic USB camera on my mount. Well you’re in luck, I desire to share this story with you.

The Past is Still Valid

Drift Alignment Before
Drift Alignment Before

Many articles ago I wrote about my polar alignment method. In it I explain how I use the US Geological Survey compass to orient the tripod north. I show you how to level the tripod and then explain drift aligning. Consequently, drift aligning works great when you don’t have a view of Polaris. It’s drawback, time. Occasionally I’m taking 30 minutes plus to align my setup. Drift alignment works and has it’s place in the tool belt.

The Plan

3D Printer Setup

After looking at the many options for a polar alignment camera, I decided to explore other options and I knew SharpCap works with generic USB cameras and has a polar alignment routine. I decided to combine my 3D printing capability with my astrophotography hobby. I simply needed to find a camera for which I can design a holder. Sounds simple enough. Time to go shopping.

Polar Alignment Camera: The Choice

USB camera as a polar alignment camera

Perusing the internet yielded hundreds of camera styles. While 3D printing allows for complicated structures, I like simple. That drove my decision to buy a generic USB camera from Amazon. The shape is simple enough to design around and has enough features for my use. Made my camera purchase along with two 1/4″ Thumb screws. They can be purchased on Amazon as well.

Polar Alignment Camera Holder Design

Polar Alignment Camera Holder
polar alignment camera setup

3D printing is also not new for me. I have printed Bahtinov masks, Canon t-ring adapters, lens caps and more. This one was going to be more intense. than those. Once the camera arrived, I took measurements of the cavity in the mount, the diameter of the counterweight bar, and a few dimensions not previously given on the camera. A very smart person introduced me to and I’ve been using it since. It took 7 trial prints to achieve the final piece. In other words about a day of printing. The final result is available for you if you choose to do this project. The links to all the components are below.

The Video

Polar Alignment Camera Parts List

The list is below and lets look at the cost.

$67.78 is the total cost for me and the resulting photo is below. Would you rather spend $250+? Sure that’s a choice. For me, I plan to put my future money into the optical train (telescope, camera, etc). So this makes sense to me.

Looking Up

Polar alignment camera result
Result of This Camera

The results were great. In post editing I usually have to fix the stars. In this photo I didn’t (still not perfect, but very close). The result of a good polar alignment is small, tight, round stars. That is what I experienced. This was a fun project. Let me know if you do this or something similar. Finally, keep looking up and the sky is only the limit when you mind is unwilling to fly. Go beyond!

Kevin Francis

Kevin Francis is a Mechanical Engineer by day, amateur Astrophotographer by night who is taking his Google Pixel smartphone camera to new limits.