Unlock the Secrets of the Stars: Top Telescopes for Astrophotography

When someone seeks to enter the field of astronomy they often become interested in astrophotography. Why? Well, it’s simple. The gorgeous photos of space we see online, often from super telescopes from NASA or professional observatories. But amateurs at home can also take amazing photos of space too, and that what’s I love about this pastime.

Celstron 130slt reflector telescope
My first telescope – Celestron 130slt reflector

However, the first question that I often hear is what is the best telescope for astrophotography? As we will see, this is not an easy question to answer and can be quite complex to discuss. However, if you are asking this question and looking for an answer, I will help you to come to a conclusion that will be helpful in making a choice that is right for you. Briefly, though, here is a good answer:

The best telescope for astrophotography is the one that helps you take the best images of astronomical targets. Two types of telescopes are used for astrophotography, refractors, and reflectors. The quality of the optics and the sturdiness of the telescope mount are two very important factors.

If you are looking to buy a telescope for astrophotography, a lot will depend on your current level of expertise. Are you a beginner with little or no experience, or have you tried astrophotography before and sought to improve? The equipment suitable for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer is very different! There is absolutely no point in trying to use equipment that is too advanced for you before you have learned the techniques to correctly use it. This is also a waste of your time and money and will cause much frustration!

Astrophotography is a complex pastime and can develop into a professional occupation if you take it that far. There is a long learning curve that is very steep at times. You’ll need to understand what your goals are and which targets you want to image before you can choose the best telescope for your astrophotography journey.

Let’s look into this question, not only by looking at the facts which you can find elsewhere, but I’ll try to give you my perspective as an astrophotographer who is familiar with the many choices and problems you may face when choosing and using your telescope and other astrophotography equipment. Hopefully, this will be much more useful to you practically than just reading about telescopes in general.

What are the Different Types of Telescopes?

There are many different types of telescopes available on the market today but not all of them will suit your needs when it comes to astrophotography. There’s an important distinction between a telescope that you would use for hunting or birdwatching and one that would be used for astrophotography.

The telescope is a powerful instrument that allows us to see the universe in great detail. However, the type of telescope that is best for you depends on what you want to photograph. Ask yourself, do you want to photograph planets and the Moon or far away deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae?

I wrote a post answering an interesting question – can galaxies be seen in a telescope? Go check out my answer.

Some telescopes will be great for both. The telescope I have, for example, can handle all these objects but I do think that planets are best imaged with refractor telescopes that do not need to be too large. These objects are usually pretty bright so easily focused and observed. They can easily be found too and exposures can be very short so it is not really necessary to have an expensive equatorial mount. An alt-az mount will do. More about mounts later.

If you have a telescope already, or if you are thinking of buying one, click this link to learn about how to set up a telescope and camera for astrophotography.

Telescopes can be classified by size, shape, and design. The bigger the size, the more magnification it will have and the heavier it will be. So, for astrophotography, there is a decision to be made based on how and where you plan to do your imaging. If you want to go out and carry your equipment or transport it by car, you don’t want it to be too heavy and bulky. Portable is best for you!

Yesterday I watched a very interesting and informative video that will give you an astrophotographer’s view on different kinds of telescopes and which ones are worth using. I hope this video will clear up a few confusions and give you a better idea of the choice you have.

The main classifications of telescopes include:

Refractor Telescopes

These are the most common type of telescope and use lenses to collect light from objects in space

A reflector telescope is a type of optical telescope that uses mirrors to collect and focus light. These telescopes are generally less expensive than refractor telescopes, but they are also more complicated to use.

Reflector telescopes

These are the most common type of telescopes in the world. They use two mirrors to collect and focus light from an object into an image. The first mirror is concave, or dish-shaped, and it collects the light from the object. This is also called the primary mirror and can be found at the rear end of your telescope. The second mirror is flat and it reflects this light back up to a focal point where eyepieces are positioned for viewing. This is called the secondary mirror.

A reflector telescope can be more portable than other types of telescope.

The main disadvantage is that they require more maintenance than refracting or catadioptric telescopes. One of these is collimation which needs to be checked often for a reflector telescope but not for a refractor. However, collimation usually takes me about 5 minutes and is quite easy once you have a laser collimation tool that fits over the focuser tube.

How to Choose the Best Telescope for Your Needs?

The first step is to decide what you plan on using your telescope for. If you want to see distant galaxies, then a long-focus, large-aperture telescope may be perfect for you.

Telescopes are the best way to see the stars and other celestial objects in space. Telescopes can be used for a number of purposes and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The type of telescope you choose will depend on your specific needs and how much you are willing to spend.

The next step is deciding how much money you want to spend. Telescopes range from $50 all the way up to $400,000 depending on what features they have. The recently launched James Webb Telescope is the most advanced telescope of all and the price is about 10 billion dollars and counting! I spent a couple of hundred dollars to acquire my Celestron 130mm reflector and I still use it a year or so later. No need to spend thousands of dollars especially if you are in the early stages of your astrophotography journey!

Here is a detailed overview of some of the best telescopes for astrophotography currently available, I think it will definitely point you in the right direction.

Of course, a telescope is just one part of your setup for astrophotography. Here’s what you need to know about the cost of starting astrophotography, go check it out now.

Research: What Telescope Would You Recommend for Astrophotography?

I decided to do some research and ask this question to those who have experience in astrophotography.

The reason why I carried out this research is that after searching on Google.com for an answer to this question, all I found was a number of posts by websites listing their choice of the top 5 or so telescopes for astrophotography which did not appear to be based on actual user experience of the telescopes.

In order to provide something far more helpful to someone looking for an answer to this query, here’s what I did:

  • I searched the internet for forum posts and opinions from actual amateur astrophotographers
  • I asked forum members with experience in astrophotography what they considered the best telescope for astrophotography, either for a beginner or more advanced astrophotographer. I submitted my question to Cloudynights.com, Stargazerslounge.com, Quora, and forums.space.com. I am a member who regularly posts and answers astronomy questions on these sites.
  • In all, I managed to locate and acquire 103 replies/ answers to this question.

Here are the results I got from the data I collected:

Recommended TelescopeVotesImager’s Level
ED refractors in the 72mm or 80mm range33%beginner
Williams Optics RedCat14%
Astro-Tech AT65EDQ or AT72ED13%beginner
Orion CT-8012%beginner
ASTRO-TECH 6″ Newtonian7%beginner
4-inch apo refractor6%beginner
Celestron C65%
Astro-Tech AT80ED 80mm refractor4%beginner
TEC 1401%experienced imager
SVX 1521%experienced imager
FRA4001%beginner DSO
APM 105/650 LZOS Triplet1%
Results from a poll of astrophotographers I took in December 2022

Some of the sources of the data (far too many to list all of them here):

Conclusion: The Best Telescopes for Astrophotography

So there we have it. It would be best if you chose either a reflector or a refractor of simple design unless you are much more experienced in which case you may need to spend more and do the research necessary to choose your best telescope. For any beginner in astronomy, the brand and availability of parts are important. Brands such as Celestron, Skywatcher, Orion, or Meade all have a good reputation for quality and should give you years of trouble-free use.

Check out my guide on choosing a cheap camera for astrophotography as there is no point in using a telescope for imaging purposes unless you think about the camera you use.

My research highlighted some of the most popularly recommended models of telescope for astrophotography recommended by those who have actually used them.

References

Chris Woodhouse. (2017). The Astrophotography Manual. A Practical and Scientific Approach to Deep Sky Imaging. 2nd. Edition. Abingdon. Routledge.

Dyer, Alan. Telescopes for Astrophotography. Astronomy; Nov 1990; 18, 11; SciTech Premium Collection
pg. 72