Shooting the Moon With a Game Boy Camera Is Really Hard

By Alex Cranz on at

By modern standards the Nintendo Game Boy Camera is crap. It takes 2-bit 128×112 pixel photos in crisp black and white. Intended to be viewed on the simple display of a Game Boy, the images the Game Boy Camera takes are always super pixellated and often require squinting just to figure out what the heck the subject is.

Unless you get a really nice image with lots of contrast. Then, as with traditional black and white photography, the Game Boy Camera can resolve some pretty cool images. Astronomy student Alex Pietrow suspected as much when he strapped a Game Boy Camera to the end of a 179 year old telescope to snap some shots of the moon.

The moon! (Image: Alex Pietrow)

“I like to tinker, especially with old technology,” Pietrow told Gizmodo by email. He had plenty of access at the Leiden Observatory (colloquially known as the Old Observatory) where he works as a tour guide. “One of the perks is that you can use the antique telescopes for silly things like this.”

Which is precisely what he did. After first figuring out how to save the images from the Game Boy Camera to a PC (a trial in and of itself according to Pietrow), he put together a camera rig involving a Game Boy Advance SP, a Game Boy Camera, a smartphone mount meant for astrophotographers, and a 6-inch Fraunhofer telescope from 1838.

“I did a lot of astrophotography with proper cameras so I had a rough idea of what was possible, but the 2 bit nature of this camera made it a wonderful challenge.”

After getting his rig set up he waited. “The biggest issue was a typical Dutch one: waiting for a cloudless night,” he said on his blog. It took a few weeks of patience to get the above shots, and afterwards Pietrow considered another subject popular amongst astrophotographers: Jupiter. Jupiter, to the naked eye, is just a big blob of light that’s virtually indistinguishable from the field of stars to a layman.

The big blob is Jupiter. The three tiny dots that are brighter than all the other dots are three of Jupiter’s moons. (Image: Alex Pietrow)

Which is why Pietrow is so proud of this shot he grabbed. “I managed to get the contrast perfect to get Jupiter and [three of] its moons. Quite impressive for a 2 bit camera, as Jupiter is more than 600 times brighter than its moons.” Not all of Jupiter’s moons (there are 67), just three of the most prominent ones.

The shot of Jupiter above is actually blown up nearly nine times its original size. It originally came out of the Game Boy looking like this:

Pietrow isn’t done with the 2-bit astrophotography game either. Before heading to Stockholm in September to study for a Ph.D in Solar Physics, Pietrow is planning a few more long nights tucked into the Leiden Observatory. “When the weather allows it I want to try to get Saturn on camera and perhaps make some solar photos and see if I can capture sunspots.”

More Space Posts: