Many ask “How expensive is astrophotography?”, and many believe it is. How true is this? I’ll answer this question in this post. It’s not as straightforward as you might think, let’s find out why.
Astrophotography is expensive, depending on your definition 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 is astrophotography? This depends 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 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, I’ll answer the question: How expensive is astrophotography? so that you can better make a decision about 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 beginner rig can cost as little as this:
- Camera: A DSLR for about $150 second-hand.
- An adapter T-ring to connect the camera to a telescope is approximately $20
- A tripod is approximately $30–50.
- A widefield lens for $130–150
A beginner setup with a DSLR, tripod, and lens suitable for widefield Night Sky photography such as Milky Way shots would cost about $350.
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 second-hand
- Telescope $400
- 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, which would cost you approximately $600-700. Here is a helpful guide I’ve written that will help you decide which lens you can use for astrophotography.
How Expensive is 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 colour camera with cooling, costs 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 with my results now.
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 in 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’re in this position. It may be a top priority for you, but maybe not so much for your family.
So what can you do if the budget is tight? Well, fortunately, I’ve written this guide for getting started in astrophotography on a tight budget. Go check it out, as it will help.
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 for your next upgrade.
How to Reduce the Cost of Astrophotography
There are ways to reduce the cost of astrophotography, so let’s consider them. 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 it 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!