Telescopes are a crucial piece of any astrophotographer’s arsenal. They work in tandem with your camera and provide you with the power to get up close and personal with the cosmos. Of course, not all telescopes are made the same. Your final images will rely, in large part, on the capabilities of your telescope. In this guide, we’re going to help you find the best telescopes for astrophotography. We’ll go over some key features that you need to consider. Below, you’ll also find our recommendations for 20 telescopes to fit anyone’s budget.
Types of Telescopes Available
Before we get into what makes a good telescope, let’s go over the kinds of equipment that’s available to you. These optical instruments have been around for centuries. While technology continues to push the limits of what telescopes can do, the basic principles behind them remain the same.
The type of telescope that’s right for you will largely depend on what you’re trying to capture. Typically, astrophotography is separated into two categories. The first is focused on lunar bodies. These include planets, comets, and the moon. The other category is deep-sky astrophotography, which involves images of the Milky Way galaxy, nebulae, and distant star clusters.
Ideal for getting images of planets and the moon, refractor telescopes are great for amateur astronomers. These telescopes are some of the easiest to use, as there are fewer factors to take into account when composing your shot.
Refractor telescopes use a series of glass lenses to focus light on a fixed point. The great thing about refractor telescopes is that they’re quite tough. The glass hiding within the body of the device is all sealed, making it great for photographers on the go.
Within the broader refractor telescope category, there are two types of equipment to consider. The most basic is achromatic. It consists of curved lenses that sometimes disperse light and cause chromatic aberration, which is that unwanted cloudiness that you often get when trying to photograph stars. While low-dispersion lenses made of ED glass are growing in popularity, the alternative is considered to be better.
Apochromatic telescopes are specifically designed to combat chromatic aberration. Apochromatic refractor telescopes achieve this feat by bringing all light colors to a single point. This creates a clear picture with less noise and reduced star trailing.
Next up, we have reflector telescopes. As the name would suggest, these devices use mirrors to collect and focus light on a given point. These are great for deep-sky imaging. But, they come with a pretty steep learning curve. Reflector telescopes take time to set up and focus.
Newtonian telescopes are a subcategory worth considering. They are reflector telescopes that use two primary mirrors. Light travels through a parabolic mirror first. Then it goes to a secondary mirror before being directed towards the focuser. With Newtonian reflector telescopes, you also have to worry about collimation. Basically, collimation is a technique to strategically align the light in a precise spot. It takes time and practice. However, it can do wonders for your final image.
Finally, we have a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. This option is like a hybrid between a refractor and a reflector telescope. It consists of a spherical mirror and a glass lens. Corrector plates work to fix bending and refraction issues. Like Newtonian telescopes, Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes aren’t great for beginners. They can be used for taking images of planetary bodies, you have to worry about chromatic aberration and image shift.
Important Features to Look for in an Astrophotography Telescope
Telescopes come in a wide variety of designs. As a result, you’re going to come across several specifications during your search. Primarily, telescopes are made for visual astronomy. This is when you look through eyepieces rather than taking photos with a camera. To ensure that the telescope will work well for your photography needs, keep the following features in mind.
Many budding photographers looking to take pictures of our solar system focus so much on the internal capabilities of a telescope that they completely forget to consider the mount. Your mount is going to be holding up the optical tube and your camera. A flimsy mount will make long exposure shots virtually impossible and put your investments at risk.
There are two types of mounts available. Altazimuth mounts are the most basic. They can be manually adjusted, allowing you to point the telescope at any part of the night sky. Equatorial mounts offer a bit more precision and control. They coordinate with the Earth’s rotation, ensuring that your target object doesn’t get out of frame during your photo session. Computerized equatorial mounts are a good investment and take care of most of the hard work for you.
Like the aperture on your camera, your telescope’s aperture size will play a role in the clarity of your image. A large aperture lets in more light and opens up the field of view. Generally, speaking, a larger aperture results in a more powerful telescope.
With that said, it’s not that black and white. Larger apertures are great for capturing planets and celestial bodies. However, deep-sky astrophotography focuses more on aperture speed and requires a smaller opening to reduce muddiness.
Focal length refers to the distance light has to travel after it has gone through the various mirrors or lenses. Typically, a long focal length means that the telescope will be larger. This isn’t always the case, but it’s pretty common. Longer focal lengths are great for picking up celestial objects. You can easily see the moon and several planets.
The caveat is that you’re sacrificing portability and field of view. The field of view for a long focal length is quite limited. But, you can increase your exposure times to make the object appear brighter in the dark sky.
With a short focal length, you’re able to take wide-field photographs. This is great for deep-space astrophotography where you want to see as much of the target as possible. Plus, these telescopes tend to be a bit smaller and easier to lug around to your favorite spot.
While focal length does have a significant effect on the final picture, aperture speed is crucial, too.
Aperture speed is directly correlated to focal length. Also referred to as the focal ratio, this figure is determined by dividing the focal length by the aperture size. Essentially, it’s a figure that represents how fast the telescope is at capturing light. A higher ratio, such as F22, actually means that the aperture is slow. Meanwhile, smaller figures, such as F3 indicate that it’s fast.
So why does this matter? Well, how you pair the focal ratio with the focal length determines what you can capture. Faster apertures are best for deep-space photography.
While not mandatory, some additional features can make all the difference when it comes to astrophotography. The first is a field flattener. Oftentimes, taking photos through a refractor telescope results in distortion. It creates a curvature that makes it look like you’re zooming in. A flattener gets rid of that distortion to create a flat field and clean picture.
Next up is a guide scope. Guide scopes work with astronomy software to continually track your target. Depending on the distance of the planetary object, it may be difficult to take long exposures due to the Earth’s rotation. The scope keeps the telescope locked in.
Lastly, you can get a telescope with a reducer. Also known as a telecompressor, this component is designed to significantly shorten the focal length. This allows you to compose your shot quickly while also getting a wider field of view.
Best Telescopes for Astrophotography
If you’re thinking about getting into astrophotography, you’re looking at a potentially pricey art form. Luckily, telescopes come in a range of prices to suit anyone’s budget. To help you find the right telescope for your needs, we’ve separated our top picks into budget, mid-range, and top-end price categories.
This telescope kit from Celestron is great for any budding astrophotographer. The kit includes a refracting telescope with an 80mm aperture. There’s also a standard mount. While not as feature-rich as an equatorial mount, it does make setup a cinch when you’re on the go. The cool thing about this telescope is that it already has a built-in smartphone adapter. Just lock your smartphone’s camera lens onto the adapter and snap away.
Another great option from Celestron is the NexStar 130 SLT. The Newtonian reflector telescope is paired with a computerized mount. Rather than having to find celestial bodies on your own, you can simply choose from the database of over 40,000 objects. The telescope will automatically track the object, allowing you to take pictures with very little work. The aperture measures 130mm, gathering more than enough light to capture some truly stunning photos.
The AstroMaster telescope is sporting a large 130mm aperture. Within the body of the Newtonian telescope is a glass objective lens. The crystal-clear lens helps to create a crisp image with reduced noise. The equipment includes an equatorial mount for accurate pointing. Making adjustments is relatively easy as well thanks to the slow-motion control knobs.
If you’re looking to capture images of large planetary bodies, this telescope from Orion may be for you. It’s a reflector telescope with a massive 5.1-inch aperture. The large aperture allows light to flood into the telescope. This helps to provide clarity and color saturation in extremely low light. Despite the large opening, the body is relatively small. The primary optical tube is a mere 24 inches long, making it great for travel.
With its low price tag, this telescope kit from Gskyer is a great first investment into the world of astrophotography. Powering the optics is a refracting lens and a 70mm aperture. The focal length is approximately 40mm long, offering plenty of versatility in what you can capture. There’s a small finder scope on the side and two eyepieces to help you get up close and personal with your target.
The focal ratio of this Gskyer telescope is F6.7. It’s not the fastest aperture speed available. However, this widens up the possibilities of what kinds of objects you can photograph in the night sky. The size of aperture is relatively large at 90mm to let plenty of light in. Pair this with the long focal length of 600mm and you should have no problem taking images of the moon, planets, and more.
High-resolution images are the goal of this telescope from Orion. The aperture is very large, measuring about 6 inches in diameter. Yet, it has a fast focal ratio. Taking short-exposure photographs is easy. Attached to the main optical tube is a dual-speed focusing system. While the telescope doesn’t come with a mount, it is relatively compact and lightweight. Thus, you don’t need a heavy-duty mounting system to complete your setup.
Meade Instruments designed this reflector for simplicity and versatility. The equipment sits on top of a German-made equatorial mount. It’s a robust mount that operates smoothly for easy tracking. The telescope itself has a moderately focal ratio of F8. It’s also sporting a long focal length of 1,000mm. The aperture is about 114mm. These features make the telescope effective for a wide range of photographs.
From Celestron is this Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. While these types of telescopes often require a bit more skill to use due to the complicated lens setup, Celestron has taken a lot of the guesswork out of looking at the cosmos. Like some of the brand’s other gear, this model is completely computerized and comes with an object database with thousands of entries. The 5-inch aperture is wide, ensuring that everything looks crisp.
This telescope from Meade Instruments is sporting a focal ratio of F13.8 and a focal length of 1,250mm. Due to the slower aperture, this isn’t going to be the best telescope for looking at deep-space targets. However, it does a fine job of capturing celestial bodies. The telescope comes with an AudioStar hand controller to help you find objects in the night sky. It also has a removable optical tube assembly, a vixen-style dovetail, and multiple eyepieces.
If viewing star clusters and galaxies are your priority, consider the Orion 9005 AstroView telescope. The refractor telescope has a 4.7-inch aperture and a moderate focal length of 600mm. The optical tube sits on top of a sturdy equatorial mount. Friction bearings and counterweights help to make adjustments smooth and precise.
This professional-grade Gskyer telescope looks intimidating. However, it’s relatively easy to use. In fact, Gskyer designed it to be set up in minutes without the need for any additional tools. Thanks to the wide 5.1-inch aperture, the reflector telescope does a great job at producing a clear image of celestial bodies. Included with the telescope are multiple eyepieces to adjust your magnification and a smartphone photography mount.
While this telescope may look similar to other Celestron models on our list, it offers enhanced functionality and better clarity. The aperture is about 8 inches wide. Plus, it has a relatively fast aperture of F10. This allows the telescope to look at deep-space objects without any trouble. Celestron includes their computerized mounting system to help you find thousands of cool celestial objects to photograph.
The Sky Watcher is relatively simple in design. However, inside the optical tube, the components work together to provide you with a flexible viewing experience. The aperture is 120mm while the focal length is 900mm. While it is a refractor telescope, Sky Watcher uses ED glass to help prevent chromatic aberration. The telescope comes with a few different eyepieces and a dual-speed focuser.
The Meade telescope is perfect for serious astrophotographers. It’s a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that’s designed to provide optimal clarity regardless of what you’re trying to find. There’s a coma-free optical system with lenses that have ultra high-transmission coatings. This results in less distortion in your final image. As if that weren’t enough, the telescope comes with an StarLock guider system and a GPS-powered mount. With just a few button presses, you can lock onto over 145,000 distant objects.
Here’s another great astrophotography telescope from Meade. Like the previous model, it’s completely motorized to help you find your target. It’s also equipped with an error correction system, which will make fine adjustments every once in a while to ensure that you’re still on track. In addition to the coma-free optics, a field flattener is included to remove distortion.
With a massive focal length of 2,000mm, this telescope is more than capable of capturing even the most distant object. This particular model has an 8-inch aperture as well to let as much light in as possible. The optical system is heavily treated for clarity. It has an ultra high-transmission coating and is coma-free. It, too, comes with an AutoStar database and a basic tripod for field photography.
Don’t let the compact nature of this Celestron telescope fool you. It’s packing a lot of optical power. The massive aperture floods the telescope with light, making otherwise invisible objects easy to see in the night sky. Pair that with the Starbright XLT coating and your images will look crystal-clear. The forked mount is completely motorized to improve tracking efficiency. It’s compatible with a Wi-Fi module, allowing you to control its movements from anywhere.
This Orion telescope has a very distinct design. Aesthetics aside, the optics are impressive and fully capable of making deep-space objects visible for your DSLR camera. The aperture is 16 inches wide. Inside the compact optical tube, there’s a parabolic mirror with a reflective aluminum coating. This unique mirror controls light efficiently for better visibility. Like other Orion telescopes, this model is paired with a GoTo tracking system.
The apochromatic telescope from Orion is built to reduce chromatic aberration. As a result, your images will look clear and true to life. A triple-lens system directs light efficiently and prevents the colors of the stars from merging. Multiple coatings and ED lenses are used for further clarity. The telescope has a moderate focal ratio of F7. The aperture is roughly 130mm.