Astrography: Using a 50 Year Old Camera to Photograph Space

An image of photographer Kevin Wimmer

Kevin Wimmer

One day while web surfing, I came across a post on Reddit discussing taking photos of space using a point-and-shoot camera and a technique called “afocal photography”. Afocal photography is a technique where you mount the lens of your camera to the eyepiece of another viewing device, such as a telescope or a microscope. After reading a bit about this technique, I knew I wanted to try it out for myself with my trusty Polaroid sx-70 camera.

Planning The Polaroid Shoot

I wasn’t sure what the best way to go about taking the Polaroid photo. Timing out when to execute the photoshoot was key. I considered things such as the visibility of the moon and the weather. A quick google search provided me with a website that tracks the visibility and phase of the moon, which allowed me to plan out when to perform my shoot.

Image of the Mint sx-70 lens setExposure time would have to be reduced due to the moon’s luminance. I knew to shine a light source into the camera’s light sensor, thereby shortening exposure time. If I hadn’t, the photo would come out far too overexposed. Utilizing a tripod to keep the camera steady and also ensure that the viewfinder was perfectly lined up with the telescope would be necessary. I also knew that using an additional lens on the camera to get close enough was important. Luckily MiNT Camera came out with a lens set for the Polaroid camera, including an adapter piece to mount the lenses to the camera.

The Setup

The close-up Polaroid lens set that MiNT created wasn’t powerful enough for this project. Instead, I used the MiNT lens adapter and a telephoto lens with a macro attachment from a DSLR. I attached the lens to the adapter by mounting the fisheye lens from the MiNT kit to the adapter and then attached my telephoto lens with some electrical tape. I then mounted the camera to a tripod and set up a continuous flash to shine light into the camera’s light sensor. This tricked it into thinking it was brighter outside than it was in reality to reduce the exposure time. 

An image showing a modified lens for a Polaroid sx-70 camera
A telephoto lens with a macro attachment, mounted on top of the MiNT sx-70 lens adapter with fish-eye attachment
My Polaroid sx-70 camera with the custom modified lens attached
The full view of my setup for this photoshoot

Taking The Polaroid

Now came the time to photograph. My telescope, tripod-mounted camera, and some lighting were all set up. I focused the telescope on the moon, and then placed my camera over the eyepiece. It was amazing how clear I could see the moon!

View of the moon through a polaroid sx-70 viewfinder
This is the view of the moon I saw when I looked through my sx-70 camera. This was the best photo I could take of it- in real life it was much better!

The only thing left to do was press the shutter button and wait…

Placing the Polaroid in my jacket pocket while it developed kept it warm. I hoped my body heat was enough to keep the cold February temperature from affecting its development. I resisted the temptation to peek because I didn’t want to risk ruining the photo. 

Polaroid image of the moon

The Resulting Polaroid Photograph

Finally— the waiting time was up! I took the photo out of my pocket and was amazed by the results of my handiwork. I had taken a successful photograph of the moon using a 50-year-old Polaroid camera! 

Polaroid image of the moon

I knew that I had to repeat this process, and took several more photos of the moon. I took a total of 7 Polaroids of the full moon that night! An immediate wave of inspiration to create an entire Polaroid collection on moon phases overcame me. I know that in the coming months, depending on the visibility levels of the moon, I will be creating this “phases of the moon” Polaroid series, but for now, I couldn’t be happier with my results!

The Finished Artwork:

An emulsion lift of my Polaroid moon photograph

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