Choosing a beginner astrophotography telescope is not an easy task for a newcomer into the hobby. When you will go shopping, you will quickly find out that stores offer telescopes in many different forms. Refractors? Reflectors? What about the size? And what the hell ‘aperture’ and ‘F-stop’ mean? I just want to buy a decent scope to start astrophotography in my backyard and not ruin my budget on the way! If you want to take sharp and colorful pictures of nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters in the comfort of your own backyard with your DSLR or mirrorless camera, you are in the right place. Welcome to my Ultimate Guide to Choosing your First Telescope for Astrophotography.
First of all – I’m not a worldwide-recognizable astrophotographer with many Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) awards on my shelf. Also, I’m not a native English speaker, but I hope that I will be understandable. I’m just a regular guy from Poland, who always wanted to photograph the night sky using a telescope – and nowadays I do it! In this guide, I will tell you what telescope I would choose today if I was in your place – right at the beginning of this hobby.
Astrophotography Telescope for a Beginner Deep-Sky Imager – Most Important Factors
Choosing a beginner astrophotography telescope is somehow different than picking up scope for visual observations. Many beginners think that they should buy the biggest telescope they can afford, no matter what. Yet, to be honest, you should do the totally opposite thing. As a beginner astrophotographer, your goal should be to simplify things. Building a small and portable astrophotography rig that you can both use in your own backyard (or a balcony in an apartment, like me), but also be able to take it outside the city under the clear skies, is the way to go. Why?
- It’s a cheaper way to start. Astrophotography can really drain your wallet and by making smart buying decisions, you are able to get the best bang from your buck.
- It will be easier to learn. A smaller telescope, a smaller equatorial mount, less weight = easier to set up, easier to operate, less stress.
- If you live in a city, going the first time into the dark-sky place will be a mindblowing experience for you. You will quickly learn that doing astrophotography in an artificially light-polluted city is a lot harder than under the dark skies. And the lighter your astrophotography rig is, the easier it will be for you to carry it outside your garden/balcony.
All of that doesn’t mean that you should buy the cheapest gear available. No – the cheapest telescopes out there are garbage. But I hope that after reading this guide, you will be fully able to choose a great telescope to start your astrophotography adventure.
Telescope Design Type – Reflector or Refractor?
There are different telescope types on the market, but for a beginner astrophotographer, the best one is a simple refractor, and more precisely, the apochromatic refractor (APO) telescope. It’s a classic pirate-like telescope construction, and it’s the best one for beginner astrophotographers. Why?
- It doesn’t require any serious maintenance (like collimation – and if it does, it happens very rarely). Keep your glasses clean, and you are ready to go.
- It’s easy to operate. As a beginner, you don’t want to make things any harder, especially that you have many other things to learn about astrophotography than operating the telescope itself. Make this hobby simple at the start, and it will save you many frustrations on the road.
Size / Weight
A telescope is only a single part of a whole astrophotography rig. Telescope itself doesn’t take images – you need a camera (DSLR or mirrorless is the best pick for a beginner), some adapters to plug it to the telescope, a solid tripod, and the single most important component – the equatorial mount (if you don’t know what the equatorial mount is, check out my Astrophotography for Beginners guide). Every mount on the market has two parameters:
- Maximum load capacity – you won’t be able to use a 20 lbs telescope on a tiny, entry-level mount.
- Tracking accuracy – the longer the focal length (“zoom” – more on this in a moment) of a telescope is, the more precise (and, well, more expensive) the mount has to be to achieve expected tracking accuracy.
Generally speaking – the better the mount, the more expensive it is. No surprises here.
Ok, but what has that got to do with choosing a telescope?
Simply said, you should choose a telescope that is lightweight and has a wide field of view. That way, you can successfully use it with cheaper equatorial mounts, and enjoy the hobby in a budget-friendly way. You will upgrade your gear someday if you will find the hobby enjoyable (spoiler: you probably will, like the vast majority of us).
Aperture, Focal Length, and Speed
The aperture (eg. 72mm) of a telescope is the diameter of the light-collecting lens in front of your refractor. This parameter is more important for visual observations than astrophotography. It doesn’t hurt to have a bigger glass rather than smaller, but don’t judge telescope for astrophotography by this number only.
The focal length (eg. 420mm) is, simply said, how much zoom your telescope has. It determines FOV (field of view). Greater the focal length, greater the zoom. Shorter telescopes (like 100mm or 200mm) are good for large nebulae (like North America Nebula). Medium-sized (400mm-600mm) are good for smaller nebulae (Orion, Rosette Nebula), bigger galaxies (Andromeda Galaxy), Moon, and star clusters (Pleiades). Big focal lengths (1000mm+) are good for tiny galaxies (a lot of them are available to photograph at Spring) and planets.
Speed (eg. f/5.8) determines how fast your telescope collects light. This is one of the most important factors when choosing a beginner astrophotography telescope. The smaller the F-stop, the shorter time is needed to photograph a celestial object.
Just a note here – you can modify the focal length and speed of your telescope by using focal reducers. A focal reducer is an optical element mounted into your imaging train that multiplies the telescope’s focal length by some number. Let’s say you have a 72mm (aperture) 420mm focal length telescope. Its speed equals focal length/aperture = f/5.8. If you install a 0.85x reducer, then it comes 72mm aperture (that doesn’t change), 420×0.85 = 357mm focal length, and 357mm/72 = f/4.95 speed. Overall the telescope becomes wider and faster. Reducers are useful if you have a too large telescope for some larger astrophotography targets.
Optical Quality – Glass Type
Manufacturers utilize different materials to construct their telescopes. If you are looking for a beginner astrophotography telescope, you should seek for a one with high-quality low-dispersion glass. Those telescopes are not cheap but they guarantee wonderful astrophotography colors in your nebulae and stars.
Comparison Table of 5 Best Astrophotography Telescopes for Beginners in 2020
Now when you know which factors are crucial when choosing a beginner astrophotography telescope, let’s dive into the 5 best telescopes currently on the market for beginner astrophotographers.
A Detailed Look at 5 Best Astrophotography Telescopes for Beginners
Skywatcher Evostar 72ED is my personal telescope of choice that I use daily (nightly?). It’s a perfect mixture of speed, focal length, quality, and price as for the first telescope for astrophotography. I have been using it for several months now, and I’m simply in love with it. Why? Let the pictures I have captured with it below speak for themselves (you can also read my full review of the Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED).
Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED Sample Astrophotography Pictures
- 72 mm Apochromatic refractor with matched Lens Assembly with one ED element
- 420 mm focal length (f/5.8)
- Dual-speed 2” Crawford-type Focuser with 1.25” adaptor
- Tube-ring attachment hardware with v-style dovetail plate
- Aluminum case
|Manufacturer||Rokinon (US) / Samyang (Europe)|
|Aperture||77mm (filter size)|
Rokinon 135mm f/2.0 is not considered as a telescope – it’s a telephoto lens, but it’s so good at the job as if it was constructed for astrophotography specifically (and maybe it literally has been). It’s the fastest “telescope” here (f/2.0), and it produces outstanding images of our universe. The lens is available for most DSLR and mirrorless camera brands on the market, so you don’t need any adapters to plug it to the camera like with telescopes. Check out my pictures captured with this Rokinon below.
Rokinon/Samyang 135mm f/2.0 Sample Astrophotography Pictures
- Full frame compatible with an 18.8 degree angle of view on full frame cameras and a 12.4 angle of view on APS-C cameras
- Rokinon Ultra Multi-Coated (UMC) Optics
- Minimum Focusing Distance of 2.6 ft. with fast apertures of f2.0 - f22
- Features 9 diaphragm blades and includes a removable lens hood
- Includes lens pouch, front and rear lens caps, removable lens hood and 1 year Rokinon warranty
This little APO telescope is designed for travel astrophotography. It’s lightweight and widefield, so you can use it on a smaller equatorial mount without tracking issues. It has an integrated Bahtinov mask for easy and fast focusing in the night. Also, it’s simply beautiful. If I was starting astrophotography today, I would seriously consider this telescope for myself. Check out sample astrophotography images taken with WO ZenithStar 61 APO on AstroBin. + More here
Sky-Watcher ProED 80 (currently in the process of rebranding into Evostar) is the bigger brother of the Evostar 72ED from the beginning of this article, and is one (if not the one) of the most popular astrophotography telescope out there – and not without a reason. It comes with a modestly wide-field of view (600mm focal length – just perfect to fit the Andromeda Galaxy), the Sky-Watcher’s Metallic High-Transmission Coatings (MHC), a Dual-speed Crayford-type focuser (focusing takes less than a minute), and a good value for money. This telescope is the most basic choice for a beginner backyard astrophotographer, but not the best one for travel and backpacking. Check sample astrophotography images captured with ProED 80 on AstroBin.
- 80 mm APO Refractor with ED Schott glass, 600 mm focal length (f/7.5), Dual-speed 2" Crayford-type focuser with 1.25" adaptor
- 20 mm and 5 mm 1.25, 8x50 RA viewfinder, 2" dielectric diagonal
- Tube-ring attachment hardware, Aluminum carry case
And last but not least, the Explore Scientific 80mm ED APO telescope. It’s the most pricey one on the list, and for a reason. It’s a somewhat similar telescope to the Sky-Watcher ProED 80 listed above – it has the same aperture as the Sky-Watcher, but it’s almost 6 lbs/2.5 kg lighter than it. I would consider taking this telescope for astronomy camping when the Sky-Watcher 80 I would definitely not. The other plus for a beginner is shorter focal length – 480mm in Explore Scientific and 600mm in the Sky-Watcher, so you don’t need an additional focal reducer for this telescope (but using one would speed-up it even more). It’s definitely worth considering scope if you are not in a budget. Check out sample astrophotography pictures taken with Explore Scientific 80 mm ED telescope on AstroBin.
Looking for more interesting beginner astrophotography telescopes? Here are another five excellent types:
- 50 mm apochromatic refractor with matched lens assembly with one ED element
- 242 mm focal length (f/4. 8)
- 1. 25” helical Focuser
- Country of Origin:China
- A no-nonsense f/7.5 apochromatic refractor telescope offered at an unprecedented low price
- Transmits spectacular views of deep-sky delicacies as well as closer solar system targets for visual enjoyment or astrophotography pursuits
- 80mm refractor objective doublet includes one element of high-quality FPL-53 ED or extra-low dispersion glass, which virtually eliminates false color
- Features a smooth-adjusting 2" aluminum Crayford focuser that accepts 2" or 1.25" astronomy accessories for a wide variety of applications.Limiting stellar magnitude:12.2
- Optical tube assembly only, does not include telescope mount or tripod - which can be purchased separately
- Meade Series 6000 80mm f/6 ED Triplet APO Refractor Telescope - 2.5" Dual-Speed 10:1 Rack & Pinion Focuser - Aluminum Hard Carrying Case - Vixen-Style Dovetail - Mounting Rings - Dew Shield - Meade 1 Year Limited Warranty
- Series 6000 80mm Triplet APO
- Fully Multi-Coated Optics
- Vixen-style dovetail
- D= 80mm. F= 480mm. f/6 Apochromatic Refracting Telescope
- 70mm clear aperture
- 350mm focal length
- f/5 focal ratio
- 4 glass elements
- 2.5" dual speed rack and pinion focuser