How Expensive is Astrophotography (What you Need to Spend)
November 24, 2022
Many think that astrophotography is an expensive thing to do, but is this actually true? This is what I plan to answer in this post. It is not as straightforward as you think, and I will tell you why.
Astrophotography is expensive, depending on your idea of expensive. You can get started in astrophotography for around $500 or less but as you progress you will want to acquire more expensive equipment. A good equatorial mount costs at least $1000. Telescopes and cameras can cost more than this.
How expensive it is will depend on how seriously you want to get into this hobby, as the choice of equipment ranges from basic to advanced and from amateur to professional. Nasa has just spent 10 billion dollars on the James Webb Telescope!
Home-based astrophotographers like myself usually get started with basic equipment such as a tripod, a DSLR camera, and lens, or even a mobile phone. These items are not expensive and some of this equipment you may already have at home. Once you have been bitten by the bug though and decide to move to the next level, the expenses can mount up and we can say that it is not cheap to acquire what you need. Here is an article I wrote to help you do astrophotography without a tracker.
In this article, let’s check out how expensive astrophotography is so that you can better make a decision whether you want to get into this as a temporary or more permanent pastime. Remember that astrophotography can begin as a hobby and end as a profession!
The Cost of Equipment for Beginner Astrophotography
A beginners rig can cost as little as this:
Camera: A DSLR for about $150 secondhand.
An adapter T-ring to connect the camera to a telescope is approx. $20
If you want to use a telescope and capture more distant deep sky objects or planets then you’d need to use the following:
DSLR minimum $150 secondhand
Mount (star tracker) – the Skywatcher Star Adventurer is about $350
T adapter is about $20
The total cost for this setup would be about $920.
If you use a lens instead of a telescope you could spend between $100-200 on a lens and this would cost you approximately $600-700. Here is a helpful guide I’ve written which will help you to decide on which lens you can use for astrophotography.
The Cost of an Astrophotography Setup for More Advanced Astrophotographers
Once you become a bit more advanced you’ll be looking at getting the best quality images you can and will probably have outgrown your beginner’s equipment but that is not to say that you can’t continue to use some of what you already have.
The next level of setup for me required the following:
An equatorial mount. I chose the CEM26 from Ioptron which cost about $1200
A new dedicated astronomy camera, the ZWO ASI533 MC PRO, a one-shot color camera with cooling for approximately $800
A ZWO duo narrowband filter for $150
An Optolong L Pro filter for $150
I used my existing telescope tube the Celestron 130slt which is probably worth $250
A guide scope for $90
A guide camera (SV Bony SV305) is about $150
A few other accessories such as a dovetail, scope rings, etc. for $50
From what I have the cost would be about $2900. I think this is quite typical of a medium-level good quality astrophotography setup. Is this expensive? Probably, yes. But don’t forget I will be able to use this for some considerable time. Also, the quality of my latest images is incredible and I am quite satisfied now with my results.
The above image was taken with my new camera the ZWO ASI533 MC Pro and is 60 x 6-minute exposures stacked together and processed in Photoshop. Integration time was therefore approximately 6 hours using the ZWO duo band filter.
Can you afford astrophotography?
This is an important question to consider before you get started or before you get into it more seriously. Not everyone has a large budget to spend on a hobby and you may not have extra money lying around that you can spend on an upgrade to your astrophotography setup. Here is what you need to get started in astrophotography on a tight budget.
Before spending money on astrophotography gear think about this:
How much money do you have to spend on astrophotography each month? Can you put some aside?
How seriously do you want to get into astrophotography?
What equipment will be necessary for the future? How much will that cost?
How long can you use your existing equipment?
Some of us have wives who may not like to see us spend our hard-earned cash on this hobby we love. This means you’ll probably have to justify your spending if you are in this position. It may be a top priority for you, but maybe not so much for your family.
You may decide that yes I can afford astrophotography if I am careful and buy wisely. Yes, this is an option but you will need patience and time to save toward your next upgrade.
How to Reduce the Cost of Astrophotography
There are ways to reduce the cost of astrophotography, so let’s consider these. You can spend less by doing some or all of the following:
Consider buying second-hand equipment. Discuss this on forums like Cloudy Nights. There are even classifieds there so if you have another person selling who is local, that might be an option.
Spread out your purchases and pay in installments but take care to manage this well. It’s much harder to pay upfront in one go than it is to pay off slowly.
Consider smaller and cheaper brands, for example, SVBony who manufacture in China in the same factories and put their name on the item. In many cases, the finished product is almost identical to that of a more expensive brand.
Only buy when absolutely necessary. If equipment is holding you back your frustration will grow. In this case, better equipment can help you improve and make things easier.
Research before you buy anything new. This is likely to prevent you from regretting your purchase and from making the wrong choice. This will save money in the long run.
Watch reviews and videos on YouTube. This will give you a good idea of how new equipment will benefit you and if it is worth the money. Potential problems can be avoided by doing this.
Don’t be afraid to try astrophotography but be aware of the potential costs of getting serious with this hobby. I’ve explained exactly what expenses there are and now that you know this, I wish you enjoyment and adventure on your astrophotography journey. Spend wisely!