5 Best Telescopes for Astrophotography in 2020 [+Mount]

Today almost everybody can do astrophotography at very low cost and marvel at their own space masterpieces. With the recent technological advancements and price drops of high resolution, low light, digital cameras, you can get some really nice astrophotography shots. If you invest a bit more on the mid-range scope and tracking mount, you can get world-class images when you give enough time to edit them.

Doing astrophotography is never easy; you have to have the right equipment for you, a lot of spare time to spend under the night sky while taking the raw images, and of course, later spending even more time in stacking, pre-processing and post-processing your valuable images.

After your first successful astrophotography session, you’ll never look at the night sky the same again.

We Recommend

Best value/money ratio

Orion 8297
Reflector Telescope

Best for the money

Meade LX850-ACF
Catadioptric Telescope

Best for beginners

Orion 6-Inch
Reflector Telescope

What you need for astrophotography?

In order to have a basic setup for astrophotography, in general, you’ll need three things, a telescope, a motorized mount, and a digital camera. Later you’ll buy all kinds of gadgets and accessories.

  • The telescope is important for light gathering and getting clear, focused images. When you buy your scope, you must know its limitations and the most important thing to know is what it is best for, so you should use it for what it’s made for.
  • The motorized mount will serve you well if you get to know how to use it and set it up as precisely as possible. The better telescope you have, the more precise the setup of your mount must be.
  • And finally, the camera. In the beginning, you’ll probably use your nice DSLR camera and it will get the job done for sure. Much later, you’ll probably need to switch to dedicated CMOS or CCD camera in order to have control of more options and obtain better images with less time spent capturing them.
  • After you choose your favorite applications for stacking and pre-processing… soon enough, you’ll probably need to pick the right astrophotography image editing software, because Photoshop just won’t do it.
  • As far as accessories go, it might be a never-ending story. In astrophotography, accessories are inevitable, form headlamp to bahtinov mask, from autoguider for the mount to various optical filters if needed. My advice is to go slow on these because if you change any part of your equipment, most of them will become obsolete.

What type of telescope is best for astrophotography?

There are three main different types of astrophotography telescopes:

Refracting telescope – uses various lenses to form an image.

  • These telescopes are better for wider fields of view, something like a telephoto lens. Refracting telescopes don’t have a secondary mirror to block some of the light. 
  • There are no ‘crosses’ (diffraction spikes) on the brightest stars because there is no spider to hold the secondary mirror.
    Low and mid-range lenses suffer from chromatic aberration, vignetting, and other not wanted optical distortions. 
  • For better image quality with less optical distortions, there are apochromatic telescopes (APO) that are consisted of several concave and convex lenses. 
  • Longer focal length APO types can be quite expensive and because of more lenses used, they tend to be heavier. If you would like to use them for visual observing the eyepiece is in an awkward position, low to the ground.

Reflecting telescope – uses several mirrors to form an image. Because of their simple design, mirrors are easier to produce hence a far lower price for the same characteristics with refracting telescopes. 

  • Reflecting telescopes don’t suffer from chromatic aberration, nor vignetting. They are lighter in weight than refracting telescopes and have slightly better portability. With their open tube design, it’s easier to achieve thermal equilibrium.
  • Slight loss of light because of the secondary mirror placed in front of the telescope is not that bad of a deal. Stars exhibit diffraction spikes from the spider. 
  • In my opinion, most of the time, those crosses just enhance the beauty of the picture taken, but if you use optical or color filters over several nights, the spikes can be in a different position for even the slightest different position of the camera. 
  • This kind of design can collect a lot of dust. They are more portable than refractors, still bulky at longer focal lengths.

Catadioptric telescope – uses a combination of mirrors and lenses to form an image.

  • These are the telescopes for best astrophotography. Catadioptric telescope has minimal chromatic aberration and no vignetting. Catadioptrics are very compact and have great portability. 
  • There are no diffraction spikes, so you can use images from several different observations. They have a high degree of image sharpness. If you use them for visual observing the eyepiece is at a very comfortable level.
  • They have several times higher price than reflecting telescopes of similar characteristics. 
  • There is a slight loss of light because of secondary optics and almost closed tube design is responsible for slow thermal equilibrium; almost always, you should use a dew heater.

Astrophotography telescope price timeline

In astrophotography, you can use any scope you like, the best ones, in the beginning, are the ones that you already have, or you can borrow. And from there you can expand your equipment as your skills develop. When it comes to buying astrophotography telescope, I would recommend starting with a wider field of view, something more forgiving, but also something you can use even when you buy your more powerful scope.

Starter – up to $200 – Telescopes that are cheaper than $200 are not quite recommended for astrophotography, most of us are using autoguiding scopes that are above that price range. Of course, you can start with this kind of scope, but you’ll outgrow it very fast.

Bargain – $250 to $450 – This is the price range where someone should start looking for his first scope. If you opt for a nice sub 80 mm/3” refractor or some 6” reflector, you’ll get to the fast lane of astrophotography. Even years later, you’ll find good use of these scopes.

Budget – $500 to $900 – In this price range, you’ll find a lot of nice quality astrophotography telescopes. Most of the scopes in this category you’ll find good use even years later. If you choose to buy larger aperture reflecting telescope, you’ll have a nice jumpstart in higher contrast images, but later, you might find those diffraction spikes annoying. Me personally, I love diffraction spikes and I think that the image gets more ‘personality’ and looks rich. If you think that diffraction spikes are not cool, then you can choose a nice 100 mm APO refractor.

Advanced – $1000 to $1600 – This is where the fun begins. This is where you can buy an awesome refractor or nice budget catadioptric telescope that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. I must warn you that higher price ranges are usually dominated by longer focal length telescopes that are not that forgiving, so make sure you’ve mastered auto-guiding techniques before getting in this territory.

Pro – $2000+ – Sky’s the limit. After you master all the calibration and alignment techniques, you buy a high-end dedicated camera and you feel ‘at home’ with your favorite guiding, capturing, and astro image editing software, you can buy yourself a telescope that will expand your limits. Here you wouldn’t be much concerned about portability; all of them are heavy and bulky. I’m afraid that after this category, in order to get better images you’ll have to sell your house… and your wife.

Pick the right astrophotography mount

There are two main types of motorized mounts, but only one I would recommend for astrophotography. There are equatorial mounts and altazimuth mounts. I would suggest staying away from the latter ones because you’ll need additional wedges in order to have correctly aligned images. These wedges are bulky and heavy for use; sometimes, they are adding complexity to the mount that you don’t need.

When choosing the right setup for astrophotography, one of the most important things to look out for is a nice and steady motorized mount that tracks the motion of the sky. I can’t stress enough that proper setup of the mount is crucial for good, clear images.

Quick tip: Choose your mount only after you calculate the weight of your telescope, camera and other accessories attached to your scope.

You must pay attention when you polar align your mount and scope. Later you’ll be rewarded with better images and the possibility of longer exposures without star trailing. I would strongly recommend using an autoguider even for beginners because you can take longer exposures and with that, you’ll have less noise and better contrast. 

Autoguider consists of small scope and tracking cameras that are cheap enough to give you a lot better precision. Even when using auto-guiding, pay attention to accurately aligning and setting up the mount. 

After installing one of these, you can take far longer exposures with no star trail. Scopes like these can be nice for planetary imaging when not using them for guiding. All of this you are doing because of the Earth’s rotation, celestial objects appear to slowly progress across the sky from east to west, at roughly the apparent diameter of the full moon, every two minutes.

Related5 Best Star Trackers for DSLR in 2020 [Buyer’s Guide]

Pick the right astrophotography camera

The best camera to use is, of course, the one you own. If you are buying one, then choose one according to your budget. Manufacturers don’t play a role here; you should look for the best performance in low-light situations.

Quick tip: In order to use your favorite digital camera, you’ll need to get a T2 adapter and M42 adapter to your camera lens mount.

The most important characteristics when choosing a camera are:

  • Sensor size – Any 4/3”, APS-C, or 35 mm (full-frame) camera will do. The bigger the sensor, the better the image and wider field of view you’ll get.
  • ISO – Keep in mind that the bigger native ISO, the sensor supports the better images you’ll make and you’ll have less noise (signal to noise ratio).
  • Sensor resolution – This is somewhat counter-intuitive, but for night photography, you should look for lower resolution sensors because they’ll get more photons per one pixel, which means less noise.

Digital interchangeable-lens (DSLRs and mirrorless) cameras can be used for astrophotography, but bear in mind that those are a lot more expensive than dedicated astrophotography cameras. With dedicated cameras, you’ll get better results at a lower price. If you are looking for a camera to use it for regular photography too, then I would recommend one of these three: Pentax K-3 SLR Camera; Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera; Sony a7 III Full-Frame Mirrorless. If you already own lenses for the more popular Nikon or Canon cameras, than you should opt for one of their models.

If you want to buy a camera exclusively for astrophotography, then I strongly recommend buying a dedicated astronomy camera. These cameras are superior in low light sensitivity with their lower signal to noise ratio (SNR). Better astrophotography cameras are monochromatic, so you’ll have to use additional RGB filters in order to get a color image. When you switch to narrowband filters for false-color images like Hubble’s palette, you’ll get truly stunning results. Using narrowband filters will give you the opportunity to minimize light pollution and shoot under the strong moonlight.

I can recommend using the color astrophotography camera ZWO ASI071MC-Pro 16 MP Color Camera or probably the best monochrome astro camera in its price range ZWO ASI1600MM Pro 16 MP CMOS, both of them have integrated cooling for even better results.

How to choose the right telescope for astrophotography?

When it comes to choosing a scope for astrophotography, you have to pay attention to two things: aperture and focal length… and sometimes portability, those telescopes can get big quite fast.

  • The bigger the aperture, the more light-gathering power. More light means less noise to signal ratio (SNR) for your images. 
  • The longer the focal length, the sharper the image will be. As you know, refractors are heavy and bulky; reflectors are light and bulky, and catadioptrics are relatively light and compact.
  • In astrophotography, we don’t care much about the focal ratio, ‘f-stop,’ we always need bigger, longer, better. 
  • When shooting at deep-sky objects, of course, the primary characteristic you’ll be looking for is the aperture and when imaging the planets and the Moon, you don’t need large aperture since they are quite bright.

Best telescopes for astrophotography

1. Orion 6 Inch f/4 Newtonian Astrograph Telescope

This is a very nice beginner’s astrophotography telescope. 

Because of its shorter focal length, it’s more compact and easy to transport, also easier for collimation. 

Despite it looks cheap and some of its elements are cheap while using it, it feels solid and well built, you’ll get nice and sharp images because of the good optics. 

The overall quality is very good and there is no focus deviation while moving from one object to another. 

I can’t stress enough and say that this telescope can serve you very well as you enter and improve in the hobby.

What can you shoot with it: After checking the largest objects, you can point this scope to fainter and smaller nebulae. With a nice, motorized mount, you can get good images with this one. Not recommended for planets, but who can stop you?

Check the price of Orion 6 Inch f/4 Newtonian Astrograph Telescope here

What we liked

  • Very compact
  • Lightweight
  • Well built
  • Good aperture for beginners
  • Huge field of view
  • 8×50 finder scope

What we didn’t like

  • Some parts look cheap
  • Topheavy for imaging
  • Focuser could be better

Type: Reflecting telescope
Aperture: 6” (150 mm)
Focal length: 600 mm
Focal ratio: f/4
Weight: 17 lbs/5.8 kg

2. Sky-Watcher EvoStar 72ED Optical Tube Assembly

A small refracting telescope is where everyone should start. 

The forgiving wide field of view will give you more maneuvering options

Later, when you buy better equipment, you can use this as an auto-guiding scope

I guess you’ll always use this kind of lens if you get to like wider FOVs. 

You have to buy some additional basic accessories on your own since they aren’t included.

At longer exposures, chromatic aberrations and vignetting are noticeable. Unfortunately, similar high-end scopes are ten times more expensive.

What can you shoot with it: Center of the Milky Way, Rho Ophiuchi nebula, Andromeda galaxy, the Pleiades, Orion nebula, Horsehead and Flame nebula, Rosette nebula and the rest of the large deep-sky objects.

Check the price of Sky-Watcher EvoStar 72ED Optical Tube Assembly here

What we liked

  • Very portable and lightweight
  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent field of view for beginners
  • High contrast
  • Multi-purpose scope

What we didn’t like

  • Vignetting
  • No finderscope included

Type: Reflecting telescope
Aperture: 2.8” (72 mm)
Focal length: 420 mm
Focal ratio: f/5.8
Weight: 4.3 lbs/2 kg

3. Orion 8-Inch f/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph Reflector Telescope

This is my favorite option. At an unbeatable price, you’ll get 8” scope and shoot at everything you like, just mount your nice digital camera to it. 

This telescope has twice the light-gathering power of a 6”, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy this piece of glass to make marvelous astrophotos

If you find a nice coma corrector, you’ll get an even better field of view.

Well built and has the features needed for connecting to most mounts

Anyone who is interested in astrophotography that doesn’t have $10.000 to spend on equipment should definitely own this one. After this kind of scope, you’ll probably spend six times more money for a scope to notice the bigger quality of imaging.

What can you shoot with it: Everything!

Check the price of Orion 8-Inch f/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph Telescope here

What we liked

  • Great characteristics at low price 
  • Very lightweight for 8”
  • Very well build
  • Excellent aperture for beginners
  • Great field of view
  • 9×50 finder scope

What we didn’t like

  • A lot of diffraction spikes

Type: Reflecting telescope
Aperture: 8” (200 mm)
Focal length: 800 mm
Focal ratio: f/3.9
Weight: 17.5 lbs/6 kg

4. Celestron Advanced VX 8" SCT

Very good setup without breaking the budget, taking into consideration that the motorized mount is included in the price. 

With this kind of equipment, you can take pictures of everything from planets and the Moon to the faintest galaxies and nebulae at great resolution. 

Being not too heavy and bulky, this setup can be used in your backyard, or you can somewhat easily transport it to your favorite remote astro-imaging location. 

Equipment like this could be completely set up in 15 to 20 minutes, form polar alignment and leveling to finding additional alignment stars. Depending on your location and weather, you’ll probably need an additional dew shield for your corrector lens. 

One nice, high-end focal reducer for effective deep-sky objects is a must. In the future, I would recommend making a custom carrying case for the scope and the mount.

What can you shoot with it: With scope like this, you can take photos of everything, you’ll probably need to obtain a few more accessories to switch from planets to DSO.

Check the price of Celestron Advanced VX 8″ SCT here

What we liked

  • Well built telescope
  • Functionally works well
  • The mount and tripod are very sturdy
  • Quick setup process
  • Setup can be done by one person

What we didn’t like

  • Dew shield would be advisable
  • Focal length reducer for DSO
  • Should be sold with a right angle finder

Type: (Schmidt-Cassegrain) Catadioptric telescope
Aperture: 8” (200 mm)
Focal length: 2000 mm
Focal ratio: f/10
Weight: 38 lbs/17 kg (67 lbs/31 kg with the mount and tripod)

5. Meade LX850-ACF 12" f/8 w.UHTC Catadioptric Telescope

This Meade LX telescope has superior optics, internal coating, and precision manufacturing that makes this piece of glass desirable for any respectable astrophotographer. 

This fine telescope will take you to places you’ve never been to. You’ll produce images that you thought were never possible

It provides perfectly sharp images at the highest level over the entire field of view. Its aperture is more than twice as big as the 8” scopes, which means twice the light-gathering power.

I The Meade LX850 is not something for your backyard. It will suffer from light pollution, so you’ll use it for field trips at remote locations or even make your own little automated observatory.

Price is 10 to 20% lower from its competitors, that’s why you should consider this one.

What can you shoot with it: Literally everything.

Check the price of Meade LX850-ACF 12″ f/8 w.UHTC Telescope here

What we liked

  • Superior optics
  • Superior build quality
  • Superior design
  • Price is lower than competition

What we didn’t like

  • Pricey for occasional use
  • May be heavy to transport

Type: (Schmidt-Cassegrain) Catadioptric telescope
Aperture: 12” (305 mm)
Focal length: 2450 mm
Focal ratio: f/8
Weight: 55 lbs/25 kg

Also read:

Scroll to Top