In this article, we present the best telescopes for astrophotography using a combination of data research and manufacturer recommendations.
In particular, we have analyzed two years of data from the 250+ finalist images for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest to see what the most successfully used telescopes are in astronomy imaging.
At-a-glance, our quick recommendations are:
|Celestron C14||Takahashi FSQ-106ED||Sky-Watcher EvoStar 72|
|Best all round||Best advanced||Best budget option|
|Check prices||Check prices||Check prices|
Read on for more details of other great options for astrophotography telescopes and how to decide what is right for you.
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How to know what is the best telescope for astrophotography?
In order to work out what the best telescopes for photographing space are, we did two things:
- We analyzed the data from the 252 images that made the finals of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in 2019 and 2020.
- We asked the major telescope manufacturers what they recommend as the best for imaging.
1. Analysis of telescopes used by the finalists of the Astronomy Photography of the Year competition
We analyzed the equipment used in the 252 images of the finalists of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in 2019 and 2020 (see the full data here).
See the results here displaying the number of times a certain telescope was used in different images:
As you can see, the top five most popular telescopes are:
- Takahashi FSQ 106ED
- Celestron C14
- Celestron 11” EdgeHD
- Astro-Physics 167mm apochromatic refractor telescope
- PlaneWave CDK-17 432mm Dall-Kirkham reflector
Most of these telescopes are high-budget specialized items (in particular, the PlaneWave model), but below we outline a number of options to suit smaller budgets and less advanced use.
2. Recommendations from the leading telescope manufacturers
We also reached out to the leading telescope manufacturers Celestron, Meade Instruments, Sky-Watcher and Orion to get their recommendations on their best telescopes for astrophotography.
Their recommendations are taken account of in the telescopes featured in this article, but you can see their full responses in the FAQs section below.
Best astrophotography telescopes
This is the most successfully used telescope by the finalists of the astronomy photographer of the year contest.
It is a quadruplet astrograph refractor – a specialist astrophotography telescope that is solely suited for imaging, rather than viewing.
It has a focal ratio of f/5 but with an optional focal reducer this can go up to f/3.
- Telescope type: Apochromatic Refractor
- Aperture: 4.2 inches (106 mm)
- Focal length: 21 inches (530 mm)
- Focal ratio: f/5 but can be up to f/3 with accessories
As you can see from the data above, the C14 was the second most successful telescope in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, so its credentials for being one of the best telescopes for astrophotography are clear.
C14 is the name of the optical tube with “14” referring to the very large 14-inch aperture.
It has a focal ratio of f/11 but part of what makes this telescope great for astrophotography is that with Celestron’s Fastar technology it effectively has a much faster ratio of f/2 (much better for imaging).
It does this by allowing you to remove the secondary mirror from the telescope and place your camera (DSLR or dedicated) directly on the front of the tube. By doing this you are effectively switching the telescope between being optimized for astronomy to astrophotography. The resulting faster focal ratio and a wider field-of-view make it perfect for deep sky imaging.
Despite its size, it is a catadioptric telescope, is not too bulky or heavy, and can be easily packed and stored.
It can also be bought in two ways as a package that includes the CGX-L mount and everything that you’ll need, so it a great option for someone looking to just buy it all at once and start taking amazing images of the night sky. Check these links if interested:
- Celestron CGX-L 1400 Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope Bundle
- Celestron CGX-L 1400 EdgeHD 14″ Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope package (this is a slight different version with EdgeHD that corrects for the field curvature and coma that occur in schmidt-cassegrain telescopes)
It not an astrograph (like the Takahashi below), so is an all-round telescope that works just as well for observing as well as astrophotography.
- Telescope type: Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
- Aperture: 14 inches (356 mm)
- Focal length: 154 inches (3910 mm)
- Focal ratio: f/2 when adapted with Fastar (f/11 as standard)
This is a great value doublet apochromatic refractor telescope from leading manufacturer Sky-Watcher.
This is the best budget option on the list, being very aware that most of the other options listed here are in the higher price bracket.
If you’re just getting started and don’t have thousands to spend then this can be a great option for getting into deep sky astrophotography.
This model has a 72 mm aperture, and there are also more powerful alternatives – including the 80mm aperture, which will increase the light-gathering potential.
- Telescope type: Apochromatic refractor
- Aperture: 2.8 inches (72 mm)
- Focal length: 16.5 inches (420 mm)
- Focal ratio: f/5.8
This Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain is the perfect telescopes for those wanting to get into astrophotography (or astronomy in general).
It has a computerized equatorial mount, which is perfect for space photography (rather than Alt-Az mounts).
This is the 8-inch version, that is powerful enough to view and capture images of planets and deep sky objects (galaxies, etc).
It has a focal ratio of f/10 but, like the C14 above, the Fastar functionality allows you to attach your camera directly in place of the secondary mirror and get a much faster ratio of up to f/2.
If you want different options to suit your budget, you can also explore the same model with slightly lower 6-inch aperture, or upgraded 11-inch aperture – remember, the larger the aperture, the more light is gathered. The Celestron NexStar 9.25-inch is another option popular for astrophotography.
- Telescope type: Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
- Aperture: 8 inches (203 mm)
- Mount: Equatorial GoTo (motorized)
- Focal length: 80 inches (2032 mm)
- Focal ratio: f/2 when adapted with Fastar (f/10 as standard)
The RedCat is included here because it’s another budget/mid-range option.
It is a dedicated imaging telescope with a focal ratio of f/4.9.
It has the advantage of being extremely small, light and portable and so can be much easier to take on trips and to put less demand on your mount.
- Telescope type: Apochromatic Refractor
- Aperture: 2 inches (51 mm)
- Focal length: 9.8 inches (250 mm)
- Focal ratio: f/4.9
This is something completely different, but worth including for any beginners that are just looking for the easiest shortcut to astrophotography.
The Stellina is telescope with in-built camera that does everything – locate and photography deep sky images at the press of a button.
You can read our detailed overview of the Stellina vs eVscope for more details on these astrophotography telescopes.
- Telescope type: Smart/hydbrid telescope
- Aperture: 3.25 inches (80 mm)
- Focal length: 400 mm
- Focal ratio: f/5
What do you need in a telescope for astrophotography?
We should start by saying that for astrophotography, you need three main things:
- A camera
- A mount
- A telescope
The focus of this article is on the telescope, but it would be incomplete to not cover these other things – in particular, the mount.
Most beginners probably won’t appreciate the importance of the mount but in many ways it’s as important as the telescope you get.
Let’s now cover each item briefly in turn.
Firstly, the camera.
The main choice is really between a regular DSLR/mirrorless camera, or a specialist astrophotography camera.
Most people, especially beginners, will do best to just make use of a regular DSLR or similar camera. You don’t need a specialist astrophotography camera to start with.
We cover the best cameras for astrophotography here, so check that out if you want a detailed overview.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you are planning to use a DSLR as your camera of choice.
Secondly, the mount.
A mount is a piece of equipment that fits between your tripod and telescope. It works by slowly moving where your telescope is pointing to compensate for the rotation of the Earth.
This allows you to focus on an object and track it in the sky for longer and allow you to focus on it and take longer exposures.
This means you can gather more light and take better pictures of the galaxies, planets, or whatever you want to shoot.
There are two main types of mount:
- Equatorial mounts, and
- Alt-Azimuth mounts.
The headline you need to take away is that equatorial mounts are more precise than Alt-Az mounts and therefore better suited to astrophotography.
The mount you use should also be motorized so that you don’t have to adjust it by hand. This is important as manually moving it causes vibrations and degrades your images. For astrophotography, your camera needs to be perfectly still for longer periods.
The third consideration in a mount is that you will probably also want GoTo functionality. This means that your mount has the ability to automatically find and track objects in space from a database.
This makes it much easier and quicker. Note though that some prefer to learn manually – the choice is yours. Manual mounts will generally be cheaper than GoTo equivalents too.
Therefore, the best mount for astrophotography will be:
See the best mounts for astrophotography.
Thirdly, the telescope.
We recommend two different types of telescope depending on your circumstances:
- Telescope packages for beginners that include a GoTo mount
- Standalone telescopes for intermediate (or ambitious) users who want to buy a mount separately
The easiest option for beginners is to buy a complete package with a telescope and mount.
You only need then to attach your camera to get going with your astrophotography (note, this may require additional adapters which can be bought).
The alternative to buying an all-in-one package is to buy everything separately.
The advantage is that you can usually get more advanced and specialist astro-imaging equipment (in the telescope and the mount).
The downside is that it requires more work to make sure you get what you need.
If you already have a good mount (or plan to buy one separately) then we recommend going for what’s known as an apochromatic refractor telescope for astrophotography.
These are telescopes with a lens system that features two (doublet) or three (triplet) pieces of glass. This works to reduce chromatic aberration, which is a form of distortion which can appear on the images.
If you want a detailed explanation of the different telescope types, see our overview here, but the TLDR is that there are three main types of telescope:
They each have their own characteristics but catadioptrics and refractors are generally smaller and easier to use.
The key specifications to look out for are:
- Aperture – This is the diameter of the telescope’s lens. The bigger this is, the better, as the higher the aperture the greater the light gathering abilities.
- Focal Ratio – This is the f-number (f/2, f/10, etc) which is calculated by focal length divided by aperture. The lower this is, the better, as it indicates that the telescope is faster and better for imaging. The recommended telescopes above all have focal ratios of around f/5 or lower.
See here for a detailed overview of different telescope specifications.
Astrophotography telescope FAQs
What are the best types of telescope for astrophotography?
There are broadly three types of telescope that work well for astrophotography
- Catadioptric telescopes (like the Celestron models) – these are more compact telescopes that can be bought as bundles and are great for both observing and imaging.
- Apochromatic refractors – used mostly for imaging and not observing.
- Newtonian/Dobsonian telescopes – tend to be very large and bulky but generally give the best bang for buck in terms of power for price.
For relative beginners, if you can afford it, we recommend a catadioptric telescope bought in a bundle with mount and everything you need included, like the Celestron EdgeHD 8-inch.
If you have the space at home then a dobsonian might be for you, and if you already have a good mount and want a telescope just for photography then an aprochromatic refractor might be for you.
What are the best Meade Instruments telescopes for astrophotography?
We asked Meade what they regard as their best astrophotography telescopes and here’s what they recommend:
“The best telescope model we have for photography would be our 6000 series triplet APOs. These are designed solely for astrophotography.
Another good series would be the LX85 on a German Equatorial mount.”– Meade Instruments in email to Skies & Scopes, June 2019
As Meade say this is “the best telescope model we have for photography” it’s worth looking at. The Meade Series 6000 115mm f/7 ED Triplet APO Refractor Telescope is a triplet refractor designed solely for astrophotography.
It has a 4.5-inch aperture (115mm) and weights around 12 lbs, and so won’t be too demanding on your chosen mount.
What are the best Orion telescopes for astrophotography?
We asked Orion what they regard as their best astrophotography telescopes and here’s what they recommend:
“This Orion 8″ f/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph Reflector Telescope would be a good option.
For a complete package we would recommend the Orion StarBlast 114mm AutoTracker Reflector Telescope.”– Orion Telescopes in email to Skies & Scopes, June 2019
The Orion Sirius ED80 EQ-G Computerized GoTo Refractor Telescope is also a great option.
It is a 3.1 inches (80 mm) aperture apochromatic refractor telescope package. It comes with a GoTo equatorial mount with a database of 42,000 objects in space to explore.
This is a telescope tailored for astrophotography with the key benefit of being small and portable.
You might need to buy a field flattener to improve your imaging of deep sky objects.
What are the best Sky-Watcher telescopes for astrophotography?
We asked leading telescope manufacturer Sky-Watcher what they recommend as their best astrophotography telescopes:
“Depending on the users budget there are several choices.
The Esprit range of triplet refractors are the best.
Others to consider are the Evostar-ED DS PRO Doublet Refractors, the Explorer-190MN Maksutov-Newtonian, the Quattro, and Explorer-PDS series Newtonians.”– Sky-Watcher in email to Skies & Scopes, June 2019
What are the best Celestron telescopes for astrophotography?
The best Celestron telescope for astrophotography is the Celestron C14. This is the premium option (see more details above).
The Celestron EdgeHD 8-inch is also a fantastic package.
You could also consider for lower budgets the NexStar SE range of telescopes.
What’s the best telescope for photographing the moon?
The moon is the closest and easiest space object to photography.
However, the right equipment can make a huge difference and you can aspire to take stunning images.
For photographing the moon, if the conditions are right (i.e. no clouds, dark moon, no light pollution), you don’t need as much power in your telescope as you would for photographing other objects that are much farther away (i.e. the planets and galaxies).
So if this is your focus, then you can get a lower-spec telescope (say 4-inch aperture) and get great results. The Celestron Nexstar 4SE could be a good option for a package.
What’s the best telescope for photographing the planets?
The planets of our solar system are much farther away than our moon, but much closer than far off galaxies.
For photographing the planets, you need a telescope with a larger aperture (say, 8-inches) as well as a long focal length.
The longer focal length is more important for planetary photography because you want to get as close as possible to the object you are shooting (a planet) and it is (relatively) small – at least in terms of space. Think of it as using a long telephoto lens to photograph a bird.
This is different from deep sky photography where you are shooting something that is ridiculously huge like a galaxy.
For context, our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars and least as many planets.
What’s the best telescope for deep sky astrophotography?
For deep sky imaging then, you are shooting something much larger and much farther away.
The best telescope is therefore one with large aperture and a short focal length.
This is because you are taking images for longer periods and need to gather as much light as possible. The larger the aperture, the greater the light gathering.
Also, larger telescopes with longer focal lengths put greater demands on your mount. This can lead to small tracking errors which are magnified with long focal lengths.
Therefore small (3 to 4 inch) apochromatic refractors (for example, the Sky-Watcher ProED 80mm) can be perfect for deep sky imaging, as can be catadioptric telescopes with large apertures (such as the Celestron 14″).
What’s the best telescope for photographing the sun?
Photographing the sun is a separate practice altogether and requires strong filters.
It goes without saying, never look directly at the sun through your telescope or camera as you can do serious damage to your eyes.
Some telescope manufacturers offer specialist solar photography telescopes. See the Meade Instruments Cornado PST Personal Solar Telescope for example.
What’s the best beginner/entry-level astrophotography telescope?
For beginners, we recommend you get one of the astrophotography telescope bundles recommended above:
You could also get a telescope with a manual (not GoTo) mount.
This will make it harder, but may push you to learn and will generally be cheaper.
What’s the best intermediate or advanced astrophotography telescope?
For those who are already experienced in using telescopes and/or in astrophotography, we recommend to get a good quality mount and telescope separately.
The standalone telescopes we have recommended above, such as the Sky-Watcher Doublet Refractor are good options.
What’s the best portable or home astrophotography telescope?
If you want a compact telescope that is easy to store and transport, then your best options are either:
- a small catadioptric telescope and mount package, like the Celestron Advanced VX 8″ SCT
- Or a small apochromatic refractor with a separate mount.
If you get a very light apochromatic refractor, you could also consider using it with a DSLR star tracker but you will need to check the payload capacity and combined weight of your camera and telescope.
This would then result in a very lightweight and compact astrophotography setup. Although it will not have the GoTo functionality to be able to locate objects in space for you.
How to connect a camera to a telescope?
The best way to use a DSLR to take photos through a telescope is to attach the camera directly to the eyepiece of your telescope.
This can be done with the addition of two small pieces of extra equipment:
- A T-Ring – this fits into your camera where the lens would normally go
- A T-Adapter – this connects to your telescope eyepiece
Unfortunately, these items are not universal and you need to make sure you get the right T-Ring for the camera you have, and the right T-Adapter for the telescope you have.
How to connect a smartphone to a telescope?
Adapters are available to connect smartphones to telescopes to enable you to take photographs with your phone.
The leading telescope manufacturers have their own smartphone adapters:
If you are interested in this then you might like to read our guide to smartphone astrophotography.
Are there telescopes with cameras built in?
Yes, these are a relatively new development but make brilliant options for beginners looking to get into astrophotography in as simple a manner as possible.
The most popular of these are the Stellina and the eVscope – check out our article on telescopes that can take pictures (Stellina vs eVscope).
Over to you: What’s the best telescope for astrophotography?
Overall, there are two ways to get the best telescope for astrophotography for you.
Firstly, you can buy an all-in-one bundle that gives you a telescope and mount together. This is perfect for beginners who want to get into astrophotography with the minimum of fuss.
Secondly, you could buy the telescope and mount separately. This can enable you to get better quality equipment but requires a bit more work and research.
Hopefully this guide has helped you out and the recommended telescopes are right for you.
Please let us know if you have any thoughts on what we’ve covered here in the comments below, or if you have different views on what the best telescopes for astrophotography are.