Astrophotography is not a cheap or simple hobby to get into. But, it is an incredibly rewarding one! Now you've decided to take the leap, buying the right telescope for your needs is a big deal.
At Love the Night Sky, we recognize how many choices face you as a backyard astrophotographer. So, to make things a bit easier, we've assembled this guide to help you find the best telescope for astrophotography.
In the table below, we share our thoughts on four telescopes that are all great for astrophotography. We've also reviewed the essential equatorial mount you'll need to deliver amazing night sky images.
You'll find detailed reviews of each model further down the page.
Top 5 Astrophotography Telescopes
Orion EON 130mm Apochromatic Triplet Refractor
|Check on Orion|
Orion ED80T CF Triplet Apochromatic Refractor
|Check on Orion|
Sky-Watcher Pro ED Doublet APO Refractor
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Celestron CGEM II Edge-HD 1100 XLT OTA
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Celestron Advanced VX Computerized Mount
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Astrophotography Equipment Guide
If you're new to astrophotography you may have a cartoonish caricature of the crazy stargazer going on an excursion to some campground off the beaten path with a station wagon's worth of luggage.
We're assuming that you are a stargazer of perfectly sound mind, and you're probably planning to do your astroimaging from the safety of your backyard... but one part of this caricature is doubtless true:
You will need a lot of equipment to create a successful fashion shoot with the sky after sunset, to create pictures like this one of the Orion Nebula (M44 and M45).
Not only will your complete kit include the telescope but also a professional quality computerized mount, a camera, a tracking scope and a handful of miscellaneous accessories such as adapter cables, ballast weights, filters, rail mountings, etc.
We'll dig into each of these below but, before you feel too overwhelmed, take a look at the following video from the wonderful pair of astrophotographers at the Galactic Hunter YouTube channel. They demonstrate what a complete astrophotography rig may look like.
While it may be wrong to label a single component of your rig 'the most important', you won't do much astrophotography without a camera.
(By the way, don't confuse astrophotography - which uses a telescope - with night sky photography, i.e. taking big, panoramic photos of swathes of stars overhead. If that's more your interest, take a look at our night photography guide.)
Typically, they come in one of two flavors, CCD or DSLR, both of which have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. While the choice is up to you, the majority of new astrophotographers gravitate towards the more cost-effective and versatile DSLR camera.
There are decisions to be made on picking the right camera lens for astrophotography too. That's beyond the remit of this article's focus on 'scopes, but you can learn more here about astro-imaging camera lenses.
Once a decision has been reached, you will still need a T-Ring to fasten your camera directly to the telescope.
One thing you'll notice about the 'scopes in this review, unlike all of our best telescope reviews, is that only one of them is supplied with an equatorial mount (the Celestron). All of the others are for the optical tube assembly (OTA) only because all of the money is going into creating stunning optics.
The big difference when equipping yourself for taking pictures of objects in space is that the astrophotography tracking mount you use needs to be just as specialized as the camera and telescope you'll place on it.
To take pin-sharp pictures of stars, like those in the Milky Way picture above, your astrophotography tripod needs to be:
- German Equatorial - your tripod has to follow the stars in the direction they travel, which means a GEM is essential
- Strong - it has to carry a lot of equipment
- Sturdy - Astro-imaging requires long exposures, i.e. leaving the camera shutter open for many seconds, or even minutes. You can't afford to have an exposure ruined by vibration
- Motorized - You know better than most that the stars appear to move quickly across the sky when they are magnified. Once you point a camera at them with an open shutter, you're going to have trails of light, rather than pinpricks, unless you've got a motor aligned to the sky's rotation
There are two types of motorized mount: closed-loop and open-loop.
A closed-loop motor links to a secondary tracking scope, also known as an autoguider. The autoguider locks onto a specific celestial body, normally a star, and uses it to keep the main telescope locked onto the image you're capturing as Earth rotates.
Closed-loop astrophotography is more sophisticated, gives better results and (of course) is more expensive.
Open loop, on the other hand, uses a computerized database to slew your scope to where the object should be. As long as you polar align and star align correctly this can be accurate enough for capturing brighter objects like the moon and planets that only need short exposure times.
For fainter objects like galaxies and nebulae, closed loop tracking is advised.
With hundreds of different uses, computer software can be coupled with your telescope and camera meaning you might not even need to go outside to take your photos after your imaging rig is set-up.
You can literally sit at your table and control the locating and capturing of your chosen object from your computer, including exposure time and other camera settings.
There are many brands of astrophotography software on the market that we don't have space for here but, luckily, our friends over at Reddit have compiled a comprehensive guide to the most popular.
We'd also recommend checking out what the experts at Amateur Astrophotography Magazine suggest as the best software for astrophotography.
Miscellaneous Astrophotography Equipment
There are dozens of other items such as:
- Counterweights, to stabilize your mount
- Telescope Filters, to negate light pollution or improve image contrast
- Power converters, that may be required on a case by case basis
- Batteries/power tanks, to power motorized tracking away from home
This is largely dependent on your exact setup, but a quick look through an astrophotography catalog will reveal a large number of optional additions to your set-up. Many of these are a great asset to the standard of your astrophotos, even if they are a drain on your bank account.
A Guide to Astrophotography Telescopes
The history of telescopes has been a long sequence of minute improvements meant to fine-tune every aspect of the craft. In this brief section, we set out the features you should consider when making your final purchase.
The telescope itself comes in a number of varieties in their lenses, such as apochromatic and achromatic or catadioptrics, reflectors and refractors.
In our dedication narrowing down the best telescope for astrophotography, we'll only be looking at apochromatic refractors because it's generally accepted that they result in the highest quality images.
The apo lens type excels at cutting down any distortion that may be caused by chromatic aberration.
Doublet and Triplet Refractor Lenses
Doublets and triplets are names given to types of primary lenses found in high-end refractor telescopes, like the ones we're reviewing here.
As the name suggests, doublets are comprised of two pieces of glass, whilst triplets are manufactured from three pieces. There is a brilliant discussion about the pros and cons of each in this thread from the Cloudy Nights forum, but the essentials are:
- Making a perfect triplet lens takes more time and effort (i.e. cost) than for a doublet
- Triplets correct chromatic aberration better than doublets, so give better picture sharpness
- Triplets are heavier and so take longer to align and cool down than doublets, which makes them less practical for a relaxed amateur
The summary to all of this is that triplets cost more but give better color-correction in astropics than doublets. However, the difference is marginal and the cost is probably the more material factor if you're just starting out.
Look out too for the letters 'ED' in the names of these telescopes. This refers to the type of glass used in the lens and stands for 'extra-low dispersion'. This high-quality glass produces a much lower spread of colored light than regular glass, reducing aberrations even further.
In our review there are three refractors, the two Orion models are triplets and the Sky-Watcher is a doublet. The Celestron is a catadioptric model.
Slow and Fast Ratios
The focal ratio of a telescope is its focal length divided by its aperture. For example, a telescope with a 150mm aperture and a 900mm focal length has a focal ratio of 900mm / 150mm = f/6.
In astrophotography, this becomes important depending on the type of object you want to image. Faint objects that require a large field of view to be imaged well, like galaxies and nebulae, are best done with a 'fast' ratio, which is anything with an f/ratio less than 5.
Slower ratios, above f/8, or so, are better for brighter objects like the sun, moon and planets. Mid-range ratios, around f/5 to f/7 are versatile for most needs and are what we've focused on in our review.
Read more about slow and fast telescope ratios and their impact on astrophotography in this forum discussion.
Field Flatteners and Focal Reducers
Focal reducers do exactly what you'd expect - they reduce the focal length of the telescope they are attached to. This means you can increase the field of view size and reduce exposure times needed for your shots.
Field flattening is a function of most focal reducers. The natural curve of a lens leads to image distortion at the edge of the field of view, even when the center of your view is perfectly sharp.
Field flattening makes the stars right on the edge of your image sharper than they would otherwise be, bringing huge improvements to the quality of your finished astropics.
You can read much more detail about field flatteners and focal reducers here.
The Choice is Yours...
Each specialized telescope should also cater to your specific need, so know what you need first. The best telescope for deep-sky photography may not be the best telescope for planetary imaging.
Our article on about the best telescopes for beginners reviews the differences and varieties in more depth.
Finally, if you plan to do your own detailed research before making a final purchase, it's easy to get caught up in all of the technical terms. Here is both a simple and a complex guide to your equipment. This third glossary provides an overview of the hobby as a whole.
Detailed Reviews of the Best Telescopes for Astrophotography
Here's a brief reminder of out top 5, detailed individual reviews are below the table. We've not included any Newtonian Astrographs in this round-up because we prefer high quality refractors over reflectors for astroimaging.
The only exception, the Celestron CGEM Edge, is a stunning catadioptric astrograph telescope.
Entry to astroimaging
Money no object
Sharp image tracking
These are our detailed reviews of the five telescopes that we think cover the needs and budgets of most backyard astronomers wanting to specialize in deep space objects.
One of Orion's top of the line products, the Orion 09565 EON 130mm ED Triplet Apochromatic Refractor is a 23 lbs. firecracker, showcasing all the power of a triplet apo refractor telescope.
Orion designed this awesome refractor with both standard object observation and astrophotography in mind.
The big 5.1" aperture boasts an affordable price compared to competing models of the same size and is versatile considering its viability from between 19x and 260x magnification, making it perfect for wide field shots while still being capable of taking much tighter nightscapes. The total focal length amounts to an astounding 900 mm and a complete ratio of f/7.0.
While most triplet refractors don't typically produce a flat field image, the Orion 130mm tends to be flatter than average. However, for optimal results, a field flattener is still recommended.
This model features a dual-speed (11:1) Crayford 3" focuser is a precise tool for focused control over your astro-images. Although like many other triplets, it tends to have insufficient back focus and the focusing may require some micromanagement.
Virtually no false color reports when in full focus on a DSO (deep space objects), thanks to the ED glass used in the lens. Brighter objects may show minor aberration effects, but nothing to be concerned about.
Solid and compact for both its weight and length, split clam tube rings easily secure it on any compatible mount with little hassle. This Orion telescope also comes with a hard case ideal for transport, though it is lacking any extra room for modifications that may be added to the main OTA.
The telescope does not come with a finderscope or eyepiece, all of your money is going into an exceptionally crafted lens and telescope body. This is also our recommendation for the best astrophotography telescope for beginners.
- Powerful focuser
- Extremely sharp optics
- Relatively affordable
- Focus can need 'micromanaging'
- Not so sharp on nearby objects
- Few accessories
Another excellent example of a triplet, this smaller Orion ED80T Apochromatic Triplet exemplifies what a smaller astrophotography telescope should deliver.
At around $1000, this is a relative bargain for its specification. This light, 5.5 lbs. telescope is the dream for a hobbyist or even professional that doesn't want to hassle with large equipment but still wants to take crystal clear pictures of the deep sky.
Its 3.1" aperture may seem underwhelming, especially compared to the 130mm model above, but, unless you plan to spend all your imaging time on faint DSOs, this telescope strapped to an equatorial tripod is more than capable for most needs.
The focal ratio of f/6 and the total focal length of 480mm make for a more than adequate for the viewing local celestial bodies and wide shots of more distant ones. It scores with the lowest magnification score of 12x and a highest of 160x.
A field flattener is almost a necessity with this telescope when photographing objects outside the solar system.
The dual speed 2" Crayford focuser (11:1) is more than capable of bringing any image into crisp view with the slightest adjustments. The use of high-spec ED glass in the lens makes for remarkable color correction.
One of the hidden stars of this telescope is the retractable dew shield, which makes the telescope over 18" long when used and only 14" when retracted. It not only accomplishes its goal of protecting the lens from the elements but can also block out unwanted light to further reduce image distortions.
The telescope also comes with a 2"-to-1.25" step down adapter, a dovetail finderscope base, and a copy Starry Night's astronomy software for your computer. The foam lined case it comes with is easily stored for travel.
It should not come as a surprise that this is our five-star telescope of choice for entering the world of astrophotography.
- Crisp imaging
- Fantastic wide shots
- Good color correction
- Limited true deep space imaging
- Requires field flattener
- Smaller aperture
The first doublet on the list, this 4" APO from Sky-Watcher manages to avoid most of the chromatic aberration problems that many doublets are known to experience.
This Sky-Watcher features their "ProED" glass, which delivers the color correction essential for great astroimaging. Their patented Metallic High Transmission Coatings virtually eliminate false color.
This 10 lbs. telescope has the inside of its optical tube painted matt-black and baffled to reduce stray light to practically zero.
The Sky-Watcher refractor telescope has a focal ratio of f/7.5 from a focal length of 900mm. Its magnification range spans 17x to 283x, making it flexible enough to do lunar, planetary, and DSO photography with no hassle.
Ultimately, it is a veritable jack-of-all-trades. As the cheapest scope on our list, it is extremely affordable for the range of tasks it can do, it is also a good beginner's option.
Unfortunately, there are some concerns regarding fragility and the accuracy of the focuser. This Sky-Watchers' focus may need more frequent maintenance than more expensive builds.
However, if you are after an entry-level astrophotography scope, you could do much worse than this model. Especially as it also comes supplied with a guidescope, several eyepieces, a diagonal, and an adaptor.
The case contains everything well enough, as long as there are no extra modifications.
- Extremely adaptable
- Good price for the quality
- Useful accessories
- On the fragile side
- Focuser may require an upgrade
- 'Jack of all trades' scope
An expert level titan, the Celestron 1100 Edge HD XLT OTA is an astrograph telescope boasting both extreme power and versatility.
The 28 lbs. telescope has a whopping 11" aperture guaranteed to produce a flat plane image.
The focal rate of f/10.0 can be cut down to f/7.00 or even ultra-fast f/2.00 with Fastar technology.
It should be no surprise that this is the most expensive scope on our list by some margin. But, you are getting huge aperture and the Celestron Advanced VX stand (reviewed below) included.
The overall focal length of 2,800 mm allows for even the faintest areas of the deep sky to be photographed and viewed with relative ease at their sharpest. It is a master of clarity designed to cut excess light entirely out of the equation.
It comes with the dovetail railing and two regular optical pieces and a mirrored diagonal.
If money is not your primary consideration, then this 11" Celestron may be your perfect astrophotography scope choice.
- Near-perfect imaging
- Great for extreme DSO
- Versatile telescope
- Expertise an advantage
- Tricky to balance & stabilize
Not a telescope, but a mount for your astrophotography scope. The Advanced VX computerized mount from Celestron, to be precise.
We said above that a high-quality setup is essential for taking pin-sharp astrophotographs and this is an excellent, high-quality mount.
But we couldn't resist the opportunity to review such an easily programmable and steady motorized mount, coming complete with a viewfinder.
This model has 2" steel legs for stability with height index marks on them to make levelling easier. They also spread further apart than other mounts for improved stability. The design can manage 30 lbs. of payload, which a photography rig can easily reach.
The computerized motor has internal cabling, so set up is easy, and the hand controller will link to your preferred imaging software via a USB2 port. And, as a cherry on the cake, this mount can self-polar align using any star in the sky.
The computer itself has over 40,000 objects stored in its database and - a bonus for astrophotographers - this tripod is designed to track past the meridian without needing a meridian flip.
Its slew speed is geared, so the control is fine when tracking but a fast 5° per second when initially seeking your target.
This is a great choice mount if you're looking to upgrade from the one you currently use for astronomy to the more professional requirements of astrophotography.
- Extremely steady & stable
- Light considering its capacity
- Great astrophotography choice
- Polar axis finder is limited
- Price of a decent scope
- Not much else to fault!
While all of the products under review today were superb, we would be most surprised if someone were to walk away dissatisfied from a purchase of the Orion 9534 ED80T CF Triplet in particular.
Due to its wonderful range of use, accessibility, and portability, it combines the perfect bang-for-buck ratio for any astrophotographer, regardless of skill level.
If you've enjoyed what you've read and want to explore the world astrophotography some more, then check out these great resources dedicated to the cause: