Looking to dip your toes in the astrophotography realm with your telescope?
If you’re a seasoned telescope user, you’ll have a head start in the game since you should already know how important telescope specs and quality equipment affect observation.
When it comes to imaging, you must be extra picky since budget, precision, and the appropriate combinations of OTA, mount, and telescope accessories will greatly affect imaging outcomes.
Can beginners get into astrophotography?
When I talk about beginners, I’m not referring to a brand-new telescope user. A beginner in this context is someone who has some telescope experience, even if it’s limited, but is perhaps new to astro-imaging or GoTo mounts. Everyone must start somewhere regardless of skill level.
So, how do you choose a telescope for imaging?
What information must you know from get-go?
Here are the basics to get you started!
Best Astrophotography Telescopes In 2021
Astrophotography with your telescope is not an easy or inexpensive hobby. Pursuing it to capture great photos while improving your skills and techniques will require time, effort, dedication, research, and money. There are many astronomers that say it’s easy once you “get” it or that a certain aspect of astrophotography isn’t that hard. While there is some truth in that, you should know that astro-imaging is a lifetime of learning and perfecting the craft.
As you introduce new accessories and equipment to your setup, you provide the opportunity to expand your skill set and acquire even better images. Serious astro-imaging goes beyond just using a telescope. You must be prepared to use a laptop or computer, processing software, and various types of cameras.
With the work and research it takes to get into imaging, you will need a solid understanding of how telescopes function and what their specs mean for your imaging intentions. While advanced telescope users will at some point go down the imaging path, beginners can get started with the basics on a small refractor.
Everyone must start somewhere, right?
Best Astrophotography Telescope Reviews
1. Orion ED80T CF Triplet APO
The Orion ED80T CF APO telescope may have a small 80 mm aperture, but its optical quality more than makes up for it.
Pros & Cons
✔️ APO w/ED
✔️ CF tube
✔️ Hard carry case included
This buy is what I call a standalone buy as it only provides the OTA. This would be a good purchase for someone who is putting together their own telescope system with the mount of their choosing. So, advanced users, listen up.
The ED80T has a triplet APO optical system with ED glass, or in other words, as near to imaging perfection as you can get. Little to no CA, excellent sharpness, and improved focusing quality. However, it’s not without its flaws. Hint: you’ll need a field flattener.
You may like the fact that the Orion telescope has a carbon fiber tube. While some may care for its aesthetic appeal, its real benefits are weight reduction and temperature stability because it doesn’t expand and contract. Of course, carbon fiber increases the overall price of any telescope.
Speaking of price, you are out quite a hefty chunk of change just for an OTA. It does come with a 2” Crayford focuser and hard carry case, but you will be left to invest in all the essential accessories to get going.
It’s a big deal to get optical quality crossed off your checklist. At the end of the day, you’ll have stunning images that inferior scopes with larger apertures can’t compete with.
2. Orion Sirius 8 EQ-G GoTo
The Sirius 8 offers an excellent aperture size for imaging very faint objects with a fast focal ratio to provide wide fields of view. But, how much poundage will you be hauling around?
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ EQ-G mount
✔️ Accessories included
The Sirius 8 EQ-G GoTo telescope is the type of setup that you’d really want to keep in one place as it is with other scopes 8” and larger. However, it still comes in around 85 lbs total which isn’t too bad if you’re planning to hit sites for some dark skies.
With 8” of aperture, you should be hitting dark skies to gain access to thousands of star clusters and many nebulae and galaxies. With its focal specs, you can take faster images and achieve wide field of views. Secondary obstruction is 58 mm wide that accounts for 28% of the aperture diameter. The primary mirror has a parabolic curve which is a must-have for an f/5 scope.
The EQ-G mount is obviously a computerized German equatorial mount, and it comes with the usual fixings of a mount at this price – 1/2/3 star alignments, backlash and PEC, built-in autoguider interface, and a 30 lb payload capacity.
Even though this is setup for advanced users, beginners with some telescope handling under their belt may find the Orion Sirius to be a worthy upgrade to take things to the next level for observing and imaging. Hopefully you’re comfortable with collimating Newtonians!
3. Celestron Advanced VX6 SCT
The Advanced VX6 SCT includes the OTA and a computerized EQ mount. For those sticking to a budget and are looking for included accessories, the VX6 offers a complete package.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 6” aperture
✔️ GEM mount
❌ Need autoguider
The Celestron VX6 is a nicely done Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) with a good aperture for capturing some distant DSOs. As an SCT, it does have a long focal length with a medium-slow focal ratio of f/10. You can use a focal reducer with the scope that may also help with some other optical aspects.
The Advanced VX mount is a computerized GEM (German Equatorial Mount) with a payload capacity of 30 lbs. Celestron is pretty good about being liberal about their payloads, so it would be safe to load up without straining the gears and causing inaccuracies. Just pay attention to weight.
The VX mount allows for backlash and periodic error correction (PEC), but you will need an autoguider to obtain initial data for PEC to do its thing. This will require additional funds and assembly to take full advantage of the Advanced VX.
While no one piece of the telescope system weighs over 20 lbs, total assembly is around 57 lbs. While it may seem heavy, you do have the benefits of having a 6” aperture, shorter tube, and it’s considered a lightweight option for many advanced imagers. Why not for you too? It’s one of the best options for a beginner to get started with.
4. SkyWatcher EvoStar ED80 Pro
The EvoStar ED80 Pro has an 80 mm aperture, ED glass, and a good-for-everything focal ratio. What can you expect to do with it? Let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Pros & Cons
✔️ ED doublet
✔️ Medium speed
✔️ Accessories included
❌ May need additional accessories
The EvoStar 80 has been referred to and is marketed as an APO telescope. Unfortunately, this is just not the case with the EvoStar series. The OTA houses an ED doublet with Schott glass as one of the elements. So, it’s still a high-end optical system that provides excellent sharpness, clarity, and color-true optical quality.
Even though it may be hard for some to swallow the 80 mm aperture, you must understand that optical quality and optical speed will trump a large size any day if your primary interest is astrophotography. While a small size can’t make up for resolution on faint objects, with an ED achromatic refractor and a good medium-speed system, you can take faster exposures with better optical quality. That’s what will make the difference in your shots.
While the EvoStar does not come with a mount and tripod in the buy, it does come with accessories that are appreciated since it’s a standalone OTA kit. So, why would you need additional accessories? A field flattener would be a good idea to add to your imaging kit and additional or upgraded eyepieces are never a bad thing to have on hand. A hard case is also included to store the OTA in – nice touch!
So far, the EvoStar 80 has been able to justify its price point. Since it has optical quality under its belt, it will be up to you make the most of it with a quality mount.
5. SkyWatcher EvoStar 72ED
Attracted to the low price of the EvoStar 72 ED? Wondering what the differences are between the EvoStar 72ED and the 72 APO? Let’s clear up the confusion together and learn more about the SkyWatcher telescope.
Pros & Cons
✔️ ED glass
❌ No accessories
The EvoStar 72 is marketed as an APO telescope, but unfortunately, it’s not a true APO refractor. Don’t fret, it does have upgraded optics with its ED glass and doublet lens assembly. With an ED doublet and as a standalone buy, it sheds some light on why it has an attractive price.
Its 72 mm of aperture is suitable for bright object imaging and offers a good balance between weight, portability, and performance. It is on the faster side for a scope, so wide field viewing and imaging is within your future.
Beginners will have to acquire the necessary accessories and equipment to complete their setup, but intermediates should have at least a GoTo mount and camera at the ready.
While its 72 mm aperture is limiting, the optical quality allows you to push the limits a little more. You can grow with this telescope and with practice and experience, it’s possible to image some harder targets. The SkyWatcher telescope has some good potential and the kind of quality that will match a beginner’s efforts and learning curve.
What to Look for in a Telescope for Astrophotography
Real astrophotography is much more than just snapping a pic or two or using your smartphone. There is a lot to learn to acquire the right telescope for the job with the appropriate type of accessories to get it done right. Here are a few pointers to get you started.
Do a quick self-evaluation to help you narrow down the options and find the best telescope setup best suited for your photography intentions.
- Budget/Price – How much are willing to spend?
- Primary use – Will you be imaging at least 80% of the time or only taking a few photos here and there?
- Planets or DSO? – What will you be taking photos of? Planetary and deep-sky imaging require different optical specs.
- Portability – Will you be traveling? Imaging from home? Small/large car? Setting up alone or with someone else? Telescope portability will impact convenience and ultimately your satisfaction with the astrophotography experience.
Visual VS Imaging (Astrophotography)
Viewing and observing through a telescope is far different to using a telescope for imaging/astrophotography. One such example is aperture. While bigger is better for visual, it’s not so with imaging as optical speed is the primary consideration over aperture.
Another primary consideration is price. Acquiring a quality astrophotography telescope with a precise computerized GEM mount and imaging equipment is significantly more expensive than buying a telescope designed for visual use.
Astrophotography requires a lot of practice, time, and learning. It’s not just about taking photos through a telescope; you must also learn about image processing – this is will make a big difference in the quality of your finished picture.
Refractors are often recommended as the type of optical design for imaging, but without ED or APO glass, there will be chromatic aberration that detracts from the quality of the photo. Newtonians often have focal specs that make it difficult to allow a camera to reach focus without purchasing and incorporating additional accessories. Scopes like an SCT (Schmidt-Cassegrain) and RC (Ritchey-Chretien) can suffer from off-axis aberration and mirror shift.
These are good examples of how excellent visual telescopes will not work for astrophotography and why you must learn about what you’re doing and how it will impact your budget.
As mentioned, size isn’t the primary concern for imaging, although it is still a critical astrophotography attribute. The larger the aperture, the more photons collected. The more photons collected, the better the photo looks in its raw state before processing. It also determines how faint of an object you can see since light-grasp ability is the principal function and benefit of the aperture.
So, why don’t all astrophotography telescopes have large apertures?
Larger size equals a need for precision which means it’s more complicated to make and thus more expensive. Larger apertures usually mean a longer focal length which means a longer tube and likely more weight. Additionally, optical quality is just as or more important than size. Taking photos with a large aperture with poor optical quality will result in poor quality images. A lot of the time, a larger aperture means higher magnification of optical aberrations. These inherent ramifications can make astrophotography even more difficult.
For the advanced user, a 4” to 6” size would make for a capable and versatile setup. For the beginner, a small 65 mm to 80 mm refractor telescope would be best. It won’t break the bank, doesn’t magnify optical problems as much, and can be inexpensively mounted to an EQ mount.
A telescope’s optical “speed” is calculated by dividing the focal length by the aperture to acquire the focal ratio (f/number). A high f/number is usually best for high-power viewing and photography for moon and planets. A low f/number is usually best for wide fields of view, low power, and deep space photography.
The optical speed also tells us how fast it can capture images. A low f/number can take photos of faint, extended objects faster. Super-fast speeds like that of an SCT without the secondary at f/2 can take short sub-exposures which makes guiding much less critical. A higher f/number will take longer to take photos but works well for bright objects.
Refractor or Reflector?
Refractors of high quality will be more expensive than Newtonians or catadioptric telescopes. Because they’re made with smaller apertures, they will struggle with recording faint objects, and they suffer from chromatic aberration. You can go larger in size to a 4-6” refractor, but it will be pricey. Look for ED glass or APO (Apochromatic)/Triplet refractors to achieve high-resolution images.
Small refractors are a great option for imagers. They require little to no collimation, no flexure, and provide almost instant temperature acclimation. However, sometimes there is just no substitute for aperture when imaging faint objects.
Reflector telescopes provide good value for the money, but they do require collimation and will likely need a coma corrector. Depending on their specs they can be great for planetary and deep-sky imaging. One problem to be aware of is back-focus. You may find you can’t rack out the focuser far enough to achieve focus on a Newtonian made for visual. However, this problem is solvable by moving the mirror up in the tube. Long focal length Newtonians will also require autoguiders and they need counterweights. This will add to cost and weight.
While reflectors require more maintenance and additional equipment and accessories, they provide better value at less than its refractor equivalent and all the resulting benefits of a larger aperture.
Optional Accessories & Equipment
While we say these are optional because we don’t know what it is that you have, they may very well be mandatory for your type of setup. This is a short list of common astrophotography accessories and equipment that you may need to acquire.
- Auto Guider/Guide Scope – Small refracting telescope that essentially replaces a finder scope and piggybacks atop the OTA. Can also be mounted to sit side-by-side along the telescope tube.
- Barlow Lens – Lens that provides increased magnification and increased focal length. As a result, also slows down the optical speed of the telescope.
- Coma Corrector – Corrects for coma usually in fast telescopes especially fast Newtonians. Helps to provide sharpness, especially on stars, at the edges of the field of view.
- Field Flattener – Provides a flat plane for imaging to correct for field curvature between the center and edges of the field of view.
- Finder – Low or zero power optic that provides a wide field of view. Used to help aim the telescope and locate an object to place within the field of view of the eyepiece.
- Focal Reducer/Telecompressor – reduces the focal length to increase optical speed and widen the field of view.
- Guide Camera – Used alongside a guide scope. Usually used for exposures longer than 60 seconds to offer compensation for minute amounts of drift and tracking errors.
- Minus Violet Filter – Yellow filter that is a very useful accessory for refractors with CA or non-APO telescopes to filter out violet and blue light to reduce CA.
- Power Supplies – Batteries can provide a back-up power supply if your main supply fails. Usually a 12V DC power tank is sufficient to power the motor and hand controller.
Telescope Astrophotography Methods
Afocal photography consists of using a camera with its lens and the telescope with its eyepiece. Both instruments must be focused to infinity. For achieving maximum quality, the camera should be mounted to a tripod and aligned with the eyepiece at a distance to take full advantage of the exit pupil. Bracket exposures to find the right shutter speed necessary to provide optimal exposure of the photo.
This type of photography does not require motorized mounts or tracking ability since it works best for pictures of the sun (with the appropriate filter!) and moon at short exposures. This method is extremely convenient for Dobsonian telescopes or scopes on alt-azimuth mounts/tripods.
Piggybacking incorporates a camera and its lens to take photos. It mounts to the telescope tube and a computerized EQ mount moves the camera to track stars to counteract for field rotation and stars retain their pinpoint shape.
Prime Focus Photography
Prime focus astrophotography means to use the camera without a lens and the telescope without an eyepiece to use the telescope in place of the camera lens. A T-ring and T-ring adapter are used to couple the camera to the body of the telescope.
This type of photography requires a very sturdy and heavy-duty EQ mount with a smooth and precise drive system to achieve quality results from the prime focus method.
Eyepiece Projection Photography
There are two types of Eyepiece Projection photography. Positive projection allows use of a telescopic eyepiece and a camera without a camera lens. The eyepiece projects the image directly onto the camera film.
Negative Projection incorporates a Barlow lens or a teleconverter between the telescope and the camera. No eyepiece or camera lens is used.
Can You Take Pictures Through a Telescope?
There are multiple ways to take photos through a telescope. The simplest method that requires the least investment is to hold your smartphone up to the eyepiece of the telescope. However, this is amateur-style and quality can’t compare to other methods that can be done.
Afocal, eyepiece projection, piggybacking, and prime focus are the most common methods of taking photos through a telescope. This is called astrophotography, astro-imaging, or just imaging.
Do You Need a Telescope for Astrophotography?
Technically, no. High-powered binoculars mounted to a sturdy tripod can provide some good images. You can also mount your camera to a photography tripod.
However, to achieve greater magnification or to capture images of faint and deep-sky objects, a telescope is required. It also provides the opportunity to take advantage of various types of astrophotography methods such as prime focus and piggybacking.
What is the Best Type of Telescope for Astrophotography?
Many prefer APO refractors because of the exceptional optical quality provided by the optical system, but they’re very expensive.
Some prefer Newtonians because they provide a larger aperture and they tend to be cheaper than refractors.
SCT telescopes are another favorite because they’re compact and lightweight, but they tend to require focal reducers to achieve focusing.
Ritchey-Chretien telescopes are superior alternatives to the common types as they provide aberration-free imaging, but they’re also expensive.
The best type is the one you feel comfortable using, is somewhat portable if you travel or intend to image under dark skies, has a computerized EQ mount, and that you feel is worth investing in to acquire additional accessories and supplies needed to image.
What is a Good Starter Telescope for Astrophotography?
For those who don’t yet have the knowledge to identify a good starter telescope for astrophotography, a fair recommendation would be to start with a small size refractor with ED glass as a minimum expectation. They don’t require collimation, they’re lightweight and compact, and they cool down quickly.
If you must have a larger aperture, a 4-6” Newtonian would be a good starter for imaging. This is especially so considering that it offers good value per inch in aperture versus high-end refractors. Be sure to be comfortable with collimating the scope and how to balance it when you load it up.
The OTA must be paired with a GoTo mount with EQ movement. As a starter, it doesn’t need to have the heaviest payload capacity as short, un-guided exposures is likely what you are starting with. Extreme precision like that of expensive GEMs is not required on a starter.
There’s a lot to learn and a lot practice when it comes to astrophotography. How much you get out of your images will depend on the quality of your telescope setup, your skill level, and how much time and effort you put into it.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go the way you imagined it would the first time. Being patient and taking the time to learn new techniques and acquire accessories are just as valuable to your imaging as your telescope setup. Others can benefit from your experiences, so be sure to share your photographs and telescope setup specs with others!
Clear skies friend.