Five Astrophotography Telescopes for Beginners
Had enough of shooting with the 'ol camera lens? Ready to take the plunge and start capturing images of nebulae and galaxies up close? Here are five telescopes I recommend for those buying their first scope for astrophotography!
Before we get into the list, you should probably know about the different types of telescopes you could get, and why refractor telescopes are the best for beginners. There are three main types of telescopes:
Refractors are the best choice for beginner astrophotographers by far. Refractors use sets of lenses to refract light down to a focus point, exactly like a regular camera lens. The huge advantage they offer over all other types of scope are their ease of use. These telescopes are plug-and-play. You will not need to worry about collimation, tip-tilt adjustment, or other major optical challenges.
Newtonian reflectors are a type of telescope which uses mirrors to focus light down to a point. They have a primary mirror, secondary mirror, and usually a corrector element at the focuser. The secondary mirror is tilted 45 degrees from the primary to shoot light out to the side of the instrument. What these telescopes offer are large aperture and fast light collecting ability at a low price. The problem is consumer newt astrographs usually have poor mechanical design. They are difficult to balance, difficult to collimate, and are just harder to use compared to a refractor. For a beginner this isn't ideal, but for an experienced user it may be worth it for the benefits listed above.
Cassegrains also use mirrors to collect and focus light, but instead of shooting light out of the side of the scope, it goes out of the back through a hole in the primary mirror. Most consumer cassegrains are SCT’s or Schmidt cassegrains which use a corrector plate to hold the secondary mirror at the front of the scope. They have very long focal lengths, are slow, and have their own mechanical/optical problems like the newtonian. They are great for experienced users, but not so much fun starting out.
Taking all this into consideration, I am going to be keeping my recommendation list to refractors only, since I am keeping beginners in mind. The other important thing to keep in mind is that the more focal length in your telescope, the more difficult it is to use. The ‘zoom’ in your telescope is not everything when it comes to deep sky astrophotography. Also, you NEED A MOUNT for all of these telescopes to work. So please budget in a mount to your setup. I will be covering these shortly as well.
Here are five scopes ordered by what’s in stock:
The Radian 61mm is a popular small quadruplet refractor with a focal length of 275mm. It is good to go straight out of the box and can support a full frame sensor if you’re using one that large. It has a really nice stock focuser and rotator on it. It is capable of holding my big QHY600 with a filter wheel on it. The advantages of this telescope are its small size, small focal length, and good image circle size. It will be easy to use on most amateur mounts and will deliver great images.
The WO RedCat is a very similar scope to the Radian 61mm in terms of specs. It is just a little smaller in every aspect, making it another great portable scope. The main difference is this scope uses a helical focuser like a camera lens, instead of a standard crayford or rack-and-pinion focuser. This makes it a bit more like a camera lens than a telescope, except it is much easier to mount dedicated astronomy cameras as well as DSLRs. To view some good example images taken with this scope, check here on AstrobBin.
The SkyWatcher 80mm Esprit Refractor is a classic kind of APO triplet refractor. Pretty much every telescope company has one of these available and they are all mostly the same. The SkyWatcher has pretty good build quality and a faster focal ratio than most at f/5 which is why I’m recommending it here. You will need a field flattener with this scope, and any other triplets on the list. It will deliver excellent optical quality and has pretty good mechanicals, you can’t really go wrong here! To see some good images taken with this scope, follow this link to AstroBin!
The SkyWatcher EvoStar 80 APO is like a less expensive version of the Esprit. It has the same aperture, but a longer focal length. This means it is slower to collect light, but will give you more reach. You will need a field flattener to make this one work as well, but all in all its another great option if you’re starting out. To see some good images taken with this scope, check them out here on AstroBin.
The Orion ed80t-cf is a scope I’m very familiar with, since it was actually my first astrophotography telescope, and I still use it to this day! This is Orion’s take on the 80mm refractor. The cool part about this one is that its carbon fiber so it looks nice. The optics are very nice but you will need a field flattener. This scope can’t really handle full frame sensors either, the stars are okay to the corners but it will get bad internal reflections on full frame so keep this in mind. The stock focuser is okay, but will struggle with heavier cameras. Overall it's a great starter scope, my images should attest to that!
In summary, for your first telescope try to keep it simple. The night sky will still be there when you decide to upgrade even more. Short focal length refractors will provide you the best balance of ease of use and image quality possible. Your astrophotography will be its best when you spend more time shooting and less time troubleshooting. It is already one of the most difficult kinds of photography, no need to make it hard right away!
Good luck and clear skies!