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 using a telescope for 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. You not only need to have a good camera for astrophotography, but the right telescope too. Luckily, telescopes come in a range of prices to suit anyone’s budget. To help you find the right telescope for your astrophotography 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.
Those looking to get a more premium stargazing experience can benefit from the Polaris 130EQ. The first thing you’ll notice is the enormous aperture! At 130mm wide, this telescope is perfect for viewing deep-space objects. It’s a master at collecting light, illuminating faraway objects that you couldn’t see with an ordinary refractor.
To improve the image even more, this telescope uses high-transmission coatings. They help to make bounce light and reduce chromatic aberrations. Pair that with the specialized moon filter, and you can view fine details in no time.
- 130mm aperture
- 650mm focal length
- High-transmission coating
- Precise equatorial mount
- It includes two eyepieces
- Moon filter
- Versatile tripod
While professional telescopes come loaded with features, they are often hard to use and not suitable for home astronomers. With this personal telescope from Meade Instruments, you get all of the features that you need to find planets and constellations in the sky. A black 18mm eyepiece comes in the box that allows you to get a clearer view when looking at the stars. It also features a 0.5mm bandpass filter that weeds out objects on the outskirts of your field of vision to help you focus on a specific object.
Designed for amateurs with more money to spend, this telescope has an expensive look with parts in gold and black. Weighing just six pounds, the telescope is perfect for use in your backyard or if you want to use it in a field or on a camping trip. You get a 400mm focal length that goes deep into the sky as well as an internal battery that gains its power from sunlight.
- 0.5mm bandpass filter
- 18mm black eyepiece included
- Black and gold design
- 40mm objective lens diameter
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.
Meade Instruments makes many telephoto lenses and similar tools, including this wilderness spotting scope. When you’re hiking or camping, you’ll often come across wild animals. The experiences they had with other humans will make them turn around and run when they see you. This scope allows you to see them in their native habitats without worrying about scaring them or making them run away. It is easy to use and fits right on top of your camera to help you get the most beautiful shots.
Thanks to the power zoom, you can get up to 45 times closer to wild animals and reduce the zoom down to just 15 times the average. The scope has a 65mm objective lens that pulls in more light to help you get photos with more clarity. It purges nitrogen and is both fog proof and waterproof to ensure that the weather won’t stand in your way. While the included adapter lets you easily attach the scope to your camera, you also get a carrying case for safe and convenient storage.
- 15 to 45X power zoom
- 65mm objective lens
- Uses special coatings to reduce reflections
- Includes an adapter and carrying case
A powerful education tool, the Celestron 80LCM is a must-have for any space fan. It looks like a simple refractor telescope at first glance. But, this device is hiding some impressive features.
The first is the GoTo mount. Celestron’s computerized system makes quick work of finding celestial objects to view. With the Sky Align feature, you can get up and running in only a few minutes. You don’t need a deep knowledge of astronomy to start stargazing!
The telescope also has the Sky Tour feature, which teaches you about objects visible from where you’re standing. It also comes with computer software to help you continue learning once the sun rises.
- 80mm aperture
- Computerized GoTo mount
- Sky Tour feature
- Includes two eyepieces
- Comes with Starry Night software
The Gskyer refractor telescope gives you an easy way to enter the astrophotography game. At face value, this device looks like a pretty high-quality telescope. It has a sizable optical tube and a wide aperture to let light flood in.
The kit also comes with several accessories. In addition to multiple eyepieces, Gskyer throws in a smartphone adapter and wireless remote. The adapter lets you attach your smartphone camera to the eyepiece for some killer astrophotography shots. The remote, meanwhile, is for snapping pictures without touching the phone and ruining the setup.
- 80mm aperture
- 400mm focal length
- It includes three eyepieces
- 3X Barlow lens
- Smartphone adapter
- Wireless remote
- Adjustable tripod
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 LX85 from Meade Instruments is a high-powered telescope that can serve amateur astronomers and seasoned stargazers well. It features a short but wide optical tube. In total, the aperture is roughly 8 inches wide. Thanks to the high-transmission coatings on the objective lens, light fills the tube to create an ultra-clear image.
The telescope comes with a durable equatorial mount and the AudioStar system. Like other computerized systems, AudioStar will automatically find and track objects in the night sky. However, it can also take you on an audio tour of the skies above, making it a great educational tool for anyone looking to learn more about the cosmos.
- 8-inch aperture
- High-transmission coating
- Equatorial mount
- AudioStar motorized controller
- Includes two Plossl eyepieces
You can foster your child’s interest in the solar system and get a better look at the sky yourself with this telescope, which is suitable for beginners. With a focal length of 500mm, it allows you to get close to constellations and stars. The 80mm aperture allows more light to come through, which can help you feel closer to the sky. The telescope comes with two eyepieces that are perfect for kids and adults that you can also use to adjust the magnification. When you magnify objects, you can see them with more clarity.
OYS Store used anodized aluminum to build the telescope and the tripod base. That base lets you adjust one leg or all three and has mounts that can support cell phones and other devices. The included finder scope helps you target and identify specific objects. It also works with the diagonal prism to provide clear and accurate images. If you worry that it won’t work for your family, you’ll like that the telescope comes with a two-year warranty from OYS Store.
- 500mm focal length
- 80mm aperture
- Anodized aluminum tripod and telescope
- Comes with a two-year warranty
Beginners can get all of the help that they need with this telescope. It has a 114mm aperture and 500mm focal length that lets you see people nearby and keep an eye on objects in the sky. The glass optics use a special coating that reflects the images that you see while also reducing glare. Thanks to the reflective glass, you can clearly see stars and objects, even on a cloudy night. There is also a focus knob for focusing on objects and a scope that helps you find specific things.
With the included tripod, the telescope is easy to set up. Each leg grips to the ground to keep the telescope stable and adjusts to let you use it on uneven surfaces. You also get tons of accessories, including two eyepieces and a mount for using the telescope with your cell phone. The manufacturer gives you a star map, too. When you find a star, you can check the map to see its official name.
- Included 10mm and 20mm eyepieces
- 500mm focal length
- 114mm aperture
- Features an adjustable tripod
Celestron is no stranger to creating some fantastic optical gear. This Schmidt-Casegrain telescope is no different! It features a massive aperture to get crystal-clear images with impressive brightness.
The shining star of this telescope is the computerized mount. It connects to GPS and can automatically point to thousands of celestial objects in the sky. The included database has over 40,000 targets and can show you the best sights from your location.
To make things even more convenient, Celestron included the SkyAlign system. It makes quick work of setting up, aligning the optics in only a few steps.
- 279mm aperture
- Motorized mount with GPS
- Automatic positioning database
- Includes heavy-duty tripod
- SkyAlign system
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.
If you’re on a budget, this telescope from TELMU is a worthy consideration. It’s surprisingly efficient despite the affordable price tag. Using refracting technology, it’s on the simpler side. However, that’s a good thing. Not only does it keep costs low, but it makes the device very user-friendly.
Setting up is a breeze. Both the tripod and the telescope itself have straightforward adjustments. It even comes with a smartphone adapter. Once attached, you can view the target through your screen while snapping some pictures.
- 70mm aperture
- 400mm focal length
- It includes two Kellner eyepieces
- Coated optics
- It includes two eyepieces
- Smartphone adapter
- It comes with an adjustable tripod and carrying case