In this guide we’ll look at the best telescopes for astrophotography.
We’ve compared image quality, portability, magnification & cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What Is The Best Telescope For Astrophotography?
More Detailed Astrophotography Telescope Reviews
Astrophotography Telescope Buyer's GuideThis guide goes through different considerations for choosing an astrophotography telescope. Your personal goals and budget are often the most important factors. I’ll also briefly explain different kinds of mounts and accessories, the differences between refractor and reflector telescopes, and the significance of specs like aperture, focal length, and magnification.
Personal interestsWhat are you most interested in? First of all, are you completely dedicated to astrophotography? Do you plan to take photos frequently and invest serious time in honing your craft? Or are you primarily an astronomical observer, someone who loves seeing the stars and planets up-close, enjoys the challenge of locating new things, and simply wants to take a photo or two for your personal enjoyment? This guide should be helpful to both groups, but it’s aimed a little more at the former, at people who want to take photos at least semi-regularly and need a telescope specifically designed for astrophotography. If you decide instead that you want to prioritize observing over photographing, then take a look at our other telescope reviews and guides. You should also ensure, before you buy, that a particular telescope model is suitable for visual observation (in addition to astroimaging). What do you want to see and photograph? There are two basic categories:
- Lunar and planetary bodies: The Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and so on.
- Deep-sky objects: Galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.
BudgetDecide in advance how much you want to invest in a telescope. I firmly believe that every telescope on this list provides excellent value, including the higher-priced ones. Nonetheless, there’s probably a limit to how much you can or want to spend; if you’re working with a tighter budget, take a close look at the Explore Scientific ED80, the Sky Watcher S11210, or the Orion 09007 SpaceProbe, the more affordable options on my list.
PortabilitySize and weight are important considerations in choosing a telescope. Portability is especially important if you plan to hike or travel with your telescope. But even if you just plan to observe from your backyard, you’ll want to choose something lightweight and user-friendly enough that you actually use it. As with many things, there are trade-offs involved. Larger telescopes tend to be more powerful, but smaller telescopes are more portable. In my opinion, the telescopes on this list strike a good balance between power and portability. In particular, check out the Sky-Watcher Esprit or the Meade 70mm Astrograph for examples of lightweight, compact, portable options (under 10 pounds).
MountMany telescopes don’t come with mounts included. That gives you the freedom to choose a mount that best fits your needs and priorities. Your telescope’s mount is crucial for astrophotography. The last thing you want is a wobbly mount that ruins all your photos or makes it impossible to create a long-exposure image. Take a moment to think about what you need in a mount:
- How big of a telescope does it need to support?
- Where do you plan to put your telescope? Will you need a tabletop mount, or would a full-length tripod serve you better?
- Do you plan to travel often with your telescope? Is it important for your mount to be super portable?
AccessoriesIn addition to a mount, you may want to look into the following accessories:
- Field flattener: Field flatteners are important accessories for astrophotography as they help reduce distortion.
- Coma corrector: This device compensates for comatic aberration.
- Telecompressor: Also known as a reducer, this element is used to shorten focal length and make the optical system faster, which produces a wider field of view.
Refractor telescopesRefractor telescopes were the earliest kind of telescope made. They use lenses to gather and focus light (instead of mirrors, as reflector telescopes do). Because the body of a refractor telescope is sealed, refractors tend to be a bit tougher; dust and dirt can’t collect inside the tube, and there’s no need for making regular adjustments (whereas reflector telescopes require collimation). Refractor telescopes are an excellent choice for observing lunar and planetary objects (relatively bright and discrete objects). If you dream of seeing Jupiter’s great Red Spot or getting up-close and personal with the Moon, then give refractors some serious consideration.
Apochromatic refractorsAlthough some refractors struggle with chromatic aberration—an effect that distorts what you see with your telescope—the apochromatic refractors included here are designed to avoid this issue. A good, small- or medium-sized apochromatic telescope offers many advantages:
- Relatively compact and portable
- Durable and low-maintenance
- Great optics
- Minimal chromatic aberration
- Reliably produce awesome photos
Reflector telescopesThe final two telescopes on this list are reflector telescopes, which you can also use for astrophotography. Reflectors use mirrors instead of lenses to collect and focus light. Both the Sky Watcher S11210 and the Orion 09007 SpaceProbe offer fairly generous apertures (8” and 5.1” respectively), which will collect lots of light to generate beautiful images and views of dim, deep-sky objects (galaxies, nebulae, etc.). Reflectors are slightly higher-maintenance than refractors, since the mirrors can be shifted out of alignment by bumps and movements (e.g. while on a car ride). New owners of reflector telescopes will need to collimate the mirrors, but this is easy to learn from your telescope’s manual or an online tutorial.
ApertureTelescopes generate images by collecting and focusing light. No light, no image. Light can be gathered in either a mirror (reflector telescopes) or a lens (refractor telescope). Aperture is a measurement of the light-gathering opening in a telescope. It indicates the diameter of either the objective lens (of a refractor telescope) or the primary mirror (of a reflector telescope). Simply put, a larger aperture means that more light is collected. So, a larger aperture leads to a more powerful telescope that lets in tons of light and can produce images of even distant, dim stars. Note that quality optics are also important, not just aperture! You want a lot of light coming in, but you also want to it be well-focused. In addition, bear in mind that as aperture gets bigger, the entire telescope gets bigger, heavier, and more expensive to match, so there is a limit to how big you can reasonably go. Overall, aperture and quality optics are perhaps the most important factors to consider when selecting a telescope. These factors are much more important than magnification. Every scope I’ve listed here have, at minimum, an aperture of 70mm (2.76”) large enough to let in ample light. Ideally, you shouldn’t select a telescope with a smaller aperture than that.
Focal length and ratioOnce light enters via the aperture, it travels to a focal plane a particular distance away. A telescope’s focal length measures the distance between the light-gathering mirror or lens and the focal plane on which light is focused. A longer focal length will often (but not always) mean a longer telescope. The focal ratio describes the relationship between focal length and aperture. It is equal to focal length divided by aperture. So, a telescope with 1200mm focal length and 400mm aperture would have a focal ratio of f/3. The focal ratio tells you how “fast” a telescope is. Telescopes with focal ratios between around f/6 and f/8 fall in the middle of the spectrum. A lower f/number (e.g. f/3 or f/4) indicates a faster telescope. A larger f/number (e.g. f/10) indicates a slower telescope. So practically speaking, what do these three interrelated factors—aperture, focal length, and focal ratio—actually mean when you’re comparing telescopes? Here are a few important things to know:
- Long focal length + slow focal ratio = smaller field of view, good for photographing bright, distinct objects like the Moon and planets.
- Short focal length + fast focal ratio = wider field of view, more suited to photographing faint and faraway objects, or those that are more spread out.
- Focal length is frequently correlated with telescope length. A shorter focal length is often found on a shorter telescope.