Of all the many appealing aspects astronomy holds for amateurs, astrophotography must be top of the list. And it is no wonder: there is nothing quite like being able to capture the beauty and majesty of the cosmos and call that snapshot in time your very own.
There are many things to consider as a novice getting started in astrophotography. There will be plenty of gadgets and gears waved in your face and if you aren’t sure of what the essentials are you can end up spending thousands of dollars on equipment you will never actually use.
We don’t want that though. A journey to discovering a passion and skill for astrophotography starts by being straightforward and simple. Getting the must-haves and working up from there.
While it is true that you can get some great pictures of the night sky with your camera alone, there is a limit to what your camera can ‘see’.
So right at the top of the list of beginner astrophotography essentials is, of course, your telescope.
Here, we’ll take a look at the features that can turn any good telescope into one of the best telescopes for astrophotography.
|PRODUCT||FOCAL RATIO||APERTURE SIZE (mm)||PRICE||OUR RATING|
|Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST||f/5||130 mm||$$$||4.4 Stars|
|Celestron 21045 PowerSeeker||f/8||114 mm||$||4.0 Stars|
|Meade Instruments 216003 Polaris||f/6.7||90 mm||$$||4.0 Stars|
|Celestron 31042 AstroMaster||f/8.8||114 mm||$$||4.0 Stars|
|Orion 9024 Astroview 90mm||f/10.1||90 mm||$$$||3.9 Stars|
What Makes a Good Astrophotography Telescope?
Let me just say right off the bat that the things that make a good telescope can depend on your needs, means and other personal considerations.
However, there are those raw aspects that do indeed factor into what makes a good telescope – and more importantly that make a good astrophotography telescope – regardless of personal preferences!
Let’s take a look at some of the basics that you should consider before purchasing a telescope:
Focal Length and Focal Ratio
Focal length is such a key component when buying a telescope, whether for pure observation or as an astrophotography telescope.
And yet so many beginners are scared off by these many numbers and trying to understand them.
Focal length determines a telescope’s angular field of view and magnification power as well. It is the distance the light has to travel from a telescope’s primary lens or mirror to the point where it is focused.
A shorter focal length has a wider field of view and this means you can see a greater amount of the sky at once.
A longer focal length has a narrower field of view and better viewing under high magnification.
What’s even more crucial than the focal length, especially for astrophotography, is the telescope’s focal ratio. Divide the instrument’s focal length by the aperture (the size of its primary optic or the main opening of the telescope) and you will get the focal ratio, also referred to f/stops.
So why is it important for astrophotography? It’s because focal ratio determines the “relative speed of the optical system.” In other words, a faster focal ratio will record an image quicker (needing less exposure time than a slow focal ratio.) This is ideal.
How do you determine what ratio is good?
Slow: f/9 +
Mid-range: f/5 – f/8
Fast: f/4 and lower
You can get the biggest, most expensive, highest quality telescope in the world and never spend one night observing the heavens through it.
A light, portable and easy to-set-up telescope is fundamental to growing your hobby in amateur astronomy and astrophotography.
A big, chunky telescope that can’t fit in your car is never going anywhere, and sometimes a drive out to clearer and darker skies is necessary, especially if you live in the city and even the suburbs.
But even if fitting it in your car isn’t a huge issue, setting up a telescope that weighs more than you do will be.
Aperture, defined earlier, determines your telescope’s light-gathering capabilities, and so as you can see it is a pretty big deal. Sadly, its importance has also been greatly exaggerated to the point where many people believe it is a telescope’s single most important feature. The bigger the better.
This isn’t true though. Certainly a larger telescope can give you better views – especially of deep sky objects – but this entirely depends on the quality of the optics. What use is a telescope the size of an Olympic pool if the optics are poor? All you will really get is a big view of blurry fuzz that you can never resolve no matter how hard you try.
The lesson: a high quality 3 inch telescope is better than a lower end telescope of 10 inches… any day!
A telescope isn’t much without a mount. It definitely needs to rest atop something. Mounts come in various designs, but the two main designs are the equatorial mount and the altazimuth mount.
Altazimuth mounts are sturdy, solid mounts that allow you to manually move your telescope up and down and side to side. They are super simple to use also pretty inexpensive.
Equatorial mounts are a little harder to get the hang of at first, but are well worth learning how to use. The mount comprises of two different axes: one called right ascension (east-west) and the other called declination (north-south). Right ascension and declination actually make up the stellar coordinate system. This type of mount makes it possible to track a single object all night long because it accounts for the rotation of the Earth.
An equatorial mount is therefore essential to astrophotography. Attaching a motor to your equatorial mount allows you to automatically track and photograph any object the telescope is fixed on all night long.
Refracting vs. Reflecting Telescopes
Reflecting telescopes, also called Newtonians, use mirrors as their primary optic while refracting telescopes use a lens.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the two telescopes:
- Newtonians can be very appealing to amateur astronomers because they are much cheaper than refractors, even for very large aperture reflectors.
- With those large light-gathering apertures, Newtonians are perfect for deep sky observations, which is ideal for many astrophotography aspirations.
- Avoid the problem of chromatic aberration (bending light differently depending on its wavelengths) with a reflector.
- Reflectors are built with two mirrors – a primary and secondary mirror – and they do get misaligned from things like transporting, bumps and rough handling. For this reason you will need to learn how to collimate, or realign, your optics.
- The primary optic is exposed to the elements and so requires maintenance like cleaning and needing to recoat the mirror, and also having to let the telescope cool enough to match the temperature of the outside air.
- Reflectors also suffer from coma – a defect that causes an object to appear comet-like on the edge of the field of view.
- Refractors require almost zero maintenance at all due to the fact that the lens is fixed and is sealed from the elements. This makes it great for novices who are still learning about caring for a telescope.
- Refractors don’t have a secondary optic blocking the light’s path, so images can possibly be a bit more vibrant due to better contrast.
- Refractors are great for people – like children – of all heights and for people who may be unable to stand for extended periods. This is because the eyepiece is located at the end of the tube.
- Refractors are more expensive to manufacture and so they are more expensive to buy – especially at larger apertures.
- Refractors suffer from chromatic aberration, which means the different wavelengths of light don’t all focus together at the same point.
- Even if cost isn’t a factor for you, making refractors in larger apertures is actually quite difficult. One of the reasons why is the heavy weight of larger lenses.
The telescope you choose for astrophotography will depend entirely on you. Even seasoned amateur astronomers still heatedly debate which one is better! You can read more on reflectors vs. refractors here.
Astrophotography Telescope Reviews
The best telescope for astrophotography (and for you) is out there. Here is a look at some lower to mid-end priced, quality telescopes to browse through – and hopefully purchase!
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Mount Reflector
This telescope is a steal for the quality and ease of use.
Many may opt to go for the more conventional, at least when it comes to beginner astrophotography, refractor telescope, but when the quality of the optics is good – as is the case here – and you learn how to collimate your optics (a necessary but easy-to-learn skill) your reflector can become more loved than any other telescope.
At 5.1 inches, you will easily be able to view bodies in the solar system, as well as various deep sky objects.
This telescope is perfect for astrophotography for a number of reasons. Weighing in at 27 lbs, it’s light and compact enough to transport to perfectly dark skies, or just easily set up in your own yard. It is equatorially mounted – a must for astrophotography so that you can track objects as they move through the night sky. A short focal length gives a wide field of view, essential for viewing objects such as clusters and nebula, and a fast f/5 focal ratio seals the deal.
Celestron 21045 114mm Equatorial PowerSeeker EQ Telescope
A light, portable telescope, this Celestron PowerSeeker is the ideal telescope for a novice just starting out. Attaching a motor for automatic tracking of heavenly bodies is simple and convenient with its sturdy equatorial mount. This is a must for astrophotography.
Owners of this Newtonian design praise the straightforward and easy set-up of this telescope. Nothing can squash the budding passion of a beginner astronomer and astrophotographer than having a clunky telescope that takes ten lifetimes and arm just to get set-up!
This quality telescope is an excellent value for money.
Meade Instruments 216003 Polaris 90 EQ Refractor Telescope
An aperture of 3.1 inches may not seem like a lot, but when the optics are great, 3.1 inches opens up a whole new dimension to the heavens. As a beginner, this telescope will keep you occupied for many a night as you get wonderful views of the planets and Moon, and some brighter deep sky objects.
The focal ratio is f/6.7 which is about medium speed but not bad at all for novice astrophotography. The thing that does make it one of the best telescopes for astrophotography is its stable and hardy German equatorial mount – the most recommended mount on the market for novice and expert astrophotographers alike.
One thing that many happy owners agree on is that this Meade Instruments provides excellent views of the Moon, so if you are serious about some great lunar shots, this is the astrophotography telescope for you.
Celestron 31042 AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector
Possibly one of the best things about this Newtonian design from Celestron is the straightforward, fuss-free, no tool set-up. Owners of this telescope rave at the easy assembly of this instrument, and that’s essential for a novice. It is perfectly portable as well.
This is one of the best types of telescopes for astrophotography for other reasons too. Its heavy duty mount is at the top of the list for reasons why owners of this Celestron are so happy with this purchase. A steady, sturdy mount that can support the weight of your photography gear goes a long way.
The mount is German equatorial for accurate tracking of objects.
Orion 9024 Astroview 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope
The Orion Astroview is a high quality telescope that will provide countless hours of viewing pleasure.
The 3.1 inch refractor will suit beginners for several reasons: it provides excellent views of the solar system and various other deep sky objects, comes with an added bonus Starry Night software which is a great learning tool, and provides crisp images even at higher magnifications.
It is also great for astrophotography with its solid equatorial mount and adjustable tripod.
Best of all, beginner telescope owners and hobbyist are really satisfied with the simplicity of this instrument.
As we have seen, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get the best types of telescopes for astrophotography. Ensure that you have the basics down with the telescopes that you choose, and be sure that the quality of the optics is good. Choosing a solid equatorial mounted telescope is a must if you want a full and happy astrophotography experience that you can keep developing.
Lastly, be happy and comfortable with the telescope you choose. You want to be able to transport it, set it up, and actually use it often. Simplicity is truly best.
Clear skies and happy snapping away!