If you’re looking at getting into astrophotography, you’ll want to know what equipment you really need. For complete beginners, you’re not going to need more than a camera or even just your iPhone. But as you develop your skills, you’re going to want to take deeper and clearer pictures. For this, a telescope is a necessity.
There’s a massive difference between what the best telescope is, and what the best telescope for astrophotography is. It’s important to differentiate between the two. There are also a ton of other factors that you’ll want to consider when purchasing your telescope; cost and type being two of the most important things.
Along with your telescope, you’re going to want to ensure that you’ve got the correct adapting equipment so that you can use your telescope with your camera properly. But, I’ll touch on that as we look a little deeper at each of the different telescopes. So, lets see what some of the best astrophotography telescopes are.
Best Telescope for Astrophotography
SkyWatcher ProED 80mm APO
My preference for an astrophotography telescope is undoubtedly an apochromatic refractor – this is because in astrophotography, it’s even more important to have a telescope that doesn’t have any chromatic aberration (also known as color fringing, or blue tint). My favorite example of this is the SkyWatcher.
- 80 mm APO Refractor with ED Schott glass, 600 mm focal length (f/7.5), Dual-speed 2" Crayford-type focuser with 1.25" adaptor
- 20 mm and 5 mm 1.25, 8x50 RA viewfinder, 2" dielectric diagonal
- Tube-ring attachment hardware, Aluminum carry case
There’s a few reasons why I’d advise the SkyWatcher, especially for beginners. Firstly, the price. It’s no secret that with telescopes, you’re pretty much going to be getting your money’s worth most of the time. That means if you’re going to spend a few thousand dollars, then you can get a better telescope than this one. But, that really isn’t suitable for beginners.
For me, the beginners mark for astrophotography comes around the $500 mark, give or take a few hundred. You aren’t going to get something suitable for astrophotography at $100 or $200 bucks, but if you want a telescope for the kids to play around with, then you can spend a hundred bucks and not worry too much. But for taking photos, we need a better telescope – ideally a refractor.
Another reason that I recommend the 80mm to beginners, as well as it being cheaper, is that you’re going to get something much more convenient. In general, 80mm is considered to be an easier to use, ‘get up and go’ telescope whereas a 120mm version of the same scope will not have the same easy of use as an 80mm.
This telescope works well with the Celestron AVX mount, which is recommended by most as one of the better mounts for beginners (it’s more expensive than the telescope, but this is expected). You can also consider building your own mount to save some pennies, which is another good idea for those on a strict budget, but you do need some knowledge.
If you have a little more to spend, then considering an ED80T is another valid option. It’s another apochromatic refractor, which means that it’s relatively easy to set up with minimal visual aberration.
- Versatile triplet apochromatic refractor telescope featuring ED (extra-low dispersion) glass for exceptional resolution devoid of aberrations
- Fast f/6 focal ratio and 80mm aperture refractor excels in both visual and astrophotography applications
- Lightweight yet strong carbon fiber tube optical tube assembly construction makes this a great telescope to look at and through
One of the reasons that I’d undoubtedly recommend this telescope is that for it’s quality, it’s very lightweight. This makes it a good choice for anyone looking to travel with their telescope. If you live in the city like me, then when you’re going stargazing, you’ll want to venture outside of the city centre to avoid light pollution. A lightweight telescope makes this a little easier.
The ED80T is actually perfectly made for astrophotography, as opposed to some other cheaper telescopes which may not be suitable (like a Dobsonian). It ED80T has a focal length of 480mm (f/6.0), which is pretty suitable for a telescope of this stature. Whilst the focal length isn’t the main thing you want to consider when buying a telescope, it’s still worth taking into account.
Overall, this is another good option if you’re looking for an entry level astrophotography telescope.
Orion 10 inch Astrograph Reflector
In terms of entry level telescopes, Orion are one of the better choices to opt for. If you don’t want to opt for a refractor and want something with a greater focal length, then you might want to consider going for a Newtonian reflector.
- This affordable 10" astrograph is ideal for capturing stunning deep-sky astro-images
- Fast f/3.9 focal ratio provides swift wide-field imaging performance
- Enhanced reflectivity aluminum coatings on primary and secondary mirror provide 94% reflectivity
The good thing about Newtonian telescopes is that they generally run a few hundred dollars cheaper than refracting telescopes. The general rule is that if you’re trying to view things at a greater distance but you’re on a low budget, then you should look at getting a reflecting telescope. However, you might sacrifice some image clarity in doing this, which is why I personally prefer refracting telescopes.
And although the 10 inch aperture sounds impressive and works well for viewing distant planets, you might find the image quality isn’t as good as with an apochromatic refractor. This is true for most Newtonian reflectors, but the Orion Astrograph has been specifically designed for photography.
One of the main issues with this telescope is that although it works well, it’s reaaaally heavy. As in 25 lbs heavy, which is bit of a nightmare if you’re looking for a portable telescope that you can easily transport with you to low light pollution areas.
Overall, this wouldn’t be my first choice as an astrophotography telescope, but if you’re definitely looking for a Newtonian, then this would undoubtedly be my choice.
Guide to Astrophotography
The reality is that if you’re going to be taking Astrophotography seriously, it can get really expensive, really fast. That’s why I suggest starting with your iPhone as a first step. Then, try using your iPhone with a tripod. Next, purchase a cheap telescope for less than a few hundred bucks to work with, and get yourself a astrophotography phone adaptor from Amazon. Or, use an entry level DSLR to take pictures through your telescope.
After you’ve taken these steps and you’re sure you’ve got an interest in astrophotography, then you should consider purchasing a full setup. If you’re an accomplished astrophotographer reading this – I’m sorry for wasting your time, but I hate seeing newbies spend money on things that they’re never going to use.
Once you get to the level of using your telescope for astrophotography properly, there are a few different options available on the market that you may want to consider. I’ve listed my favorites above, but you’re still better off doing your own research to ensure that you get something that you really want.
What to look for in an Astrophotography Telescope
Whilst I tend to recommend apochromatic refractors to anyone who wants to get started with astrophotography, this isn’t necessarily a must. It’s my own personal opinion, and it’s based on the characteristics of the telescope itself.
When I’m looking for a good telescope, there are a few different criteria which I’ll want to look at to ensure that I’m getting the best scope for me.
Apochromatic vs Achromatic
These terms can be a little confusing, so I’ll try to explain them in the simplest way possible. Essentially, an apochromatic (commonly referred to as an APO) will have better chromatic and spherical aberration correction than your regular achromatic lens. This is important in a astrophotography telescope particularly because we’re trying to avoid color fringing in our resulting photos.
An APO will use ultra low dispersion glass in it’s objective lens, which gives us a crisper and clearer image without aberration. The typical refractor you find will use an achromatic lens, which can result in color fringing or a ‘purple halo’ when you start looking at brighter images.
The only real drawback of apochromatic refractors is that they are particularly expensive in comparison to other refractors.
Compact & Portable
Having a big powerful telescope is great if you’re going to keep it in your backyard and you live in an area with clear skies. Unfortunately, I live in the city center and any time I want to get out to do some stargazing, I need to load my equipment into the back of my car. For this reason, a lightweight and portable telescope is a necessity.
Easy to Use
Refractors do not require collimation, which is why they make good telescopes for complete beginners (or the impatient!). Collation just means aligning your telescopes mirrors up with the eyepiece – of course, this is only necessary with a reflecting telescope, as refracting telescopes use lenses. Anyhow, an apo refractor doesn’t require regular collimation and it’s very easy to focus and use, even for beginners.
Typically, when you’re looking for telescopes for astrophotography, the price will be an important factor. And, this will vary depending on whether you’re looking for a reflector telescope or you’re looking at refractor telescopes (my preferred option). Generally, you’re going to be looking at $500+ for the telescope itself, along with all the other stuff that you’re going to need.
Other Equipment Needed
If you’re adamant on using a telescope for your astrophotography, then there are some additional things that you’re going to need to invest in.
When using your telescope for astrophotography, you’ll need to pick up a camera too. Although professionals tend to use CCD cameras, for beginners your best bet is undoubtedly opting to use a good astrophotography DSLR. Some people opt to use their mobile phone with an adaptor until they get the hang of things, and this isn’t a bad idea for newbies.
In all honesty, any DSLR should do the job well for beginners so if you already have one at home, great. Or, you could try and pick up a cheap secondhand one online to use, too.
If you’re going to be using your telescope and a DSLR, then an equatorial mount is an essential component in this. This is really where we see the expensive side of deep sky astrophotography, as they can easily cost upwards of 4 figures. In many cases, the mount can cost as much, if not more than the telescope itself.
The most commonly recommended mount for beginners in astrophotography is the Celestron AVX , although it’s going to set you back nearly $1000. So, you need to be sure that you’re going to take this hobby seriously before investing!
T Ring Adapter
You will also need a T Ring adaptor to allow you to attach the telescope to the camera. T Ring Adaptors are relatively inexpensive, but a necessity if you’re wanting to connect your telescope and your camera. Although you T Ring adapters can be quite expensive, most of the time you’ll be able to pick up a cheap one at a decent price.
Another thing that you’ll need if you’re going out late at night in colder temperatures is a dew shield. A dew shield is exactly as it sounds – it helps to prevent moisture getting into the telescope itself, which can be a pain, as dew will often build up on the lens throughout the night. A dew shield can help to prevent this, and ensure that your telescope stays in good condition.
Remote Timer Shutter
If you’ve got your hands on the camera or the scope, you’re liable to make it vibrate. Even the smallest vibrations can have a big effect on the quality of your images. So, it’s definitely important to use a remote time shutter. This allows you a delayed timer, which is essential for astrophotography.
Head over to Mac Observatory if you want to know the software that I recommend for astrophotography (and you use a Mac, obviously). If you want a bit more information on exactly what equipment it is that you’re going to need, head over to my equipment page to see what other things you may need.
Getting Started with Astrophotography – Tips for Beginners
One of the main issues that I see with peoples photographs is that the photo itself is blurred. This is due to a lack of stability on the photograph itself, and there’s a few things that you can do to ensure that you’ll get a crisp and clear photograph.
The first thing to do, as I’ve mentioned above, is to get yourself a remote timer shutter, sometimes referred to as an intervalometer. This is essentially a timer that allows you to dictate the amount of shots taken within a set period of time. Most importantly for beginners, it allows the option to set a delayed timer so that you’re not touching the camera when it’s taking the photograph.
Something that seems to be underestimated by every newbie to astronomy in general is your location. It really doesn’t matter if you spend double the amount on your telescope, if you don’t have clear skies then you’re really going to struggle to get good images. If you’re in the city center and it’s extremely polluted, then you’ll need to get yourself out of the city to get the best views of the night sky.
For astrophotography in particular, you’ll want to consider your field of view. Your field of view refers to how much of an area you can see through your telescope. When you attach your DSLR or camera to your telescope, you’ll be able to see a specific area of the sky. This is based on the focal length of your camera, and the imaging chip in the camera itself. If you want to learn more about field of view, then check out this Sky and Telescope article.
Knowledge of the Sky
You’re definitely not expected to know everything about everything as a complete beginner, but you do still need to have some knowledge of astronomy if you want to get the best pictures you possibly can. My advice is to look at utilizing astrophotography apps and taking advantage of some of the knowledge that they have to offer. One of the best apps to look at is Star Walk. This isn’t the best app for actually taking photos with your phone, but there’s a ton of useful information within the app itself that you can use. It’s a good guide to celestial objects, and it can give you some ideas on what you want to look for.
Another app that you can consider looking at is Scope Nights or an equivalent. This kind of app will give you quick access to the weather – clear weather is imperative to your sky viewing, especially if you’re going to be taking pictures. It will also give you a detailed look at the light pollution in your area too so you can figure out where the clearest area near you is.
The ISO settings of your camera are important for your photography, but it’s especially important in low light settings. So for astrophotography, you need to ensure that your ISO settings are optimal.
ISO makes up the exposure triangle, along with shutter speed (affecting the blur of your image) and aperture (changing your field of view, or how much you can see). ISO is known for controlling how sensitive your image will be to image noise, with noise generally referring to some kind of distortion in the image itself.
The ISO that you’re going to need to use will depend on the other variants in the triangle, as well as just the scenario itself. For more details, you can check out Lonely Speck’s guide, which is one of the most comprehensive guides to ISO you’ll find online.
Overall, these are just some of the options that you could consider if you’re going to take your astrophotography seriously. If you asked 5 different astrophotographers their verdict on the best beginner scope, you’d probably get 5 different answers. So, take my opinion with grain of salt and remember to do your own research thoroughly beforehand.
If you have the cash to spare, then you can get started with deep sky imaging immediately. I’d advise that you head down to your local astronomy society – there’s usually one in every city – and ask them to give you some tips and pointers on getting started. The astronomy society is generally a friendly one, and you’ll probably make some friends whilst you’re down there.
Astrophotography is an awesome hobby to get into, and it’s worth trying it out if it’s financially viable for you. If not, then you can always use some astrophotography apps on your smartphone to see if you enjoy it and then invest more later down the line.
Last update on 2020-02-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API