Updated: Jun 7
Some of the first questions a person asks when they are interested in astrophotography as a hobby are: which telescopes are the best ones to begin with, and how much do they cost?
It can be very difficult to find a clear answer to these questions when you do not have any experience in the field. You are just trying to learn how to get started!
In this guide, we will go over the best beginner telescopes to purchase when you are starting Astrophotography.
We will assume you have little to no knowledge about telescopes and are eager to start imaging the heavens. The telescopes in this list are OUR suggestions, based on our experience and knowledge acquired over the past several years. Please do not hesitate to do your own research if you are not convinced by any of the telescopes below, remember, this will be one of the most important instruments in your setup.
No matter which telescope you end up buying, it will have an enormous impact on your images and you most likely will feel very attached to it. We are still very much in love with our first $479 telescope (more info on that later).
Since you need more than just a telescope to start Astrophotography, make sure to go through our complete beginner astrophotography equipment guide, where you will learn every piece of accessory you'll need for this hobby.
Below, we will tell you what we think are the best refractor telescopes to buy to start astrophotography. We will suggest several instruments that are below $1,200 and should fit your budget. Let's get started!
Astrophotography with a Refractor Telescope
If you have been following our YouTube channel since the beginning, you probably know that we started out with an 8" Newtonian Reflector telescope. It wasn't until 3 years later that we got to try our first refractor telescope for Episode 13 of Galactic Hunter.
We then realized how easy and portable small refractors were compared to our 17.5 pounds reflector. Although we definitely loved starting out with our Newtonian telescope, and believe it is the best reflector for beginners, we will mostly concentrate on small refractors for this list. We'll include two non-refractors telescopes at the end of this post!
Refracting telescopes are the most popular types of telescopes for beginners. These are easy to use, do not require much maintenance, and are usually pretty tough. The downside is that they can be quite expensive in relation to their aperture and focal lengths.
The first refractor telescope was invented in the Netherlands in 1608, but the first patented product was constructed a year later by Galileo Galilei.
If you do not know how refractor telescopes work, it is pretty simple! These are very similar to camera lenses.
The light enters from an end (left on the drawing above), goes through the objective lens, and reaches the eyepiece, or, in our case, the camera sensor.
If, after reading this guide, you decide that a refractor telescope is the type of instrument you want to start with, here are the two most important terms to look for:
ED - The term "ED" stands for "Extra-Low Dispersion" and is related to the type of optical glass used to build the telescope. An ED glass will ensure that your stars do not have false colors. This can be a real problem as your stars may become purple or magenta if purchasing a cheaper telescope that does not have ED glass.
APO - The term "APO" stands for Apochromatic, almost all Apochromatic refractors use ED glass. These telescopes are built with the intent to eliminate any chromatic aberration.
Below you will find what we believe are some of the best beginner refractor telescopes for astrophotography. These are all small, lightweight and therefore portable, and are the ones we would pick if we had to start over and purchase our first refractor. We selected the five instruments below because they are excellent yet affordable. Their price ranges from $478 to $1,200.
Not a fan of refractors? Keep scrolling to learn about two other telescopes we suggest.
REFRACTING TELESCOPES under $1,200
The Heart Nebula (IC 1805) and the Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC2264) with our Askar FRA500
William Optics ZenithStar 61 f/5.9 Doublet APO
The William Optics ZenithStar 61 f/5.9 Doublet APO is a very small, wide, and affordable telescope that can easily be transported anywhere you go. It includes its own Bahtinov mask integrated directly into the cap of the tube, and, for an extra $49, you can also get a carrying case dedicated to this telescope.
This is one of the nicest-looking telescopes out there (your girlfriend/wife might even call it "cute"! 🤗) and it also comes in three available colors, red, blue, or gold.
Take a look at images taken with the ZenithStar 61 on Astrobin.
Manufacturer: William Optics
Aperture: 2.5" (61mm)
Focal Length: 360mm
Focal Ratio: f/5.9
Tube weight: 3.2lbs
Tube length: 230mm
Another popular telescope from William Optics is the William Optics RedCat 51. It has a very wide focal length (250mm) which makes it great for large nebulae.
Askar FRA 300 Pro
The FRA telescope series from Askar includes the FRA 300, 400, 500, and 600.
The smallest one of the group, the Askar FRA300, costs $949 and is an excellent wide-field refractor telescope. With a focal length of 300mm, the Askar FRA 300 is perfect for large nebulae.
We were looking for a telescope around 350mm focal length. What we ended up doing was getting the Askar FRA500 (which has a focal length of 500mm) and attaching the Askar 0.7x reducer/flattener. This gave us a focal length of exactly 350mm, and a faster focal ratio of f/3.9!
This is a great combo that you can achieve on the FRA400, FRA500, and FRA600 telescopes.
The Askar FRA telescopes are all Petzval designs, meaning you do not need to worry about back focus. An important thing to note is that if you decide to attach the reducer to make your telescope faster and wider, the Petzval design will no longer take effect and you will need to ensure you have the right back focal distance between your camera sensor and flattener.
Take a look at images taken with the Askar FRA telescopes on Astrobin.
Aperture: 2.25" (60mm)
Focal Length: 300mm
Focal Ratio: f/5
Tube weight: 5lbs
Tube length: 303mm
Explore Scientific 80mm FCD100 f/6 ED APO Triplet
The Explore Scientific 80mm FCD100 f/6 APO Triplet is one of Explore Scientific's most popular telescopes, it is a small ED APO Triplet that has a focal ratio of f/6, which is the average for this category of telescopes. We should also note that this is the heaviest of all four of the instruments listed at this price. Nevertheless, you should expect to get nice crisp images of the larger deep sky objects out there.
Take a look at images taken with the Explore Scientific 80mm FCD100 on Astrobin.
Manufacturer: Explore Scientific
Aperture: 3.25" (80mm)
Focal Length: 480mm
Focal Ratio: f/6
Tube weight: 7.5lbs
Tube length: 381mm
Why Not Start with a Reflector?
Although almost everybody suggests that true beginners start with a small refractor telescope, it doesn't necessarily have to be the case. Take... us for example! Our first telescope was an 8" Newtonian Reflector telescope. We absolutely love this instrument and still do to this day, many years later!
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) with our 8" Astrograph
Would we recommend that you purchase a reflector as well for your first telescope? Well, that depends on how much effort you are willing to put into his hobby. Below are the key differences between the 8" Astrograph and a small refractor:
It is much cheaper - The 8" Astrograph costs $499 ($479 when on sale, although as of 2023 the price is now in the $600's...), making it the most affordable telescope in this list.
It is much faster - This telescope has a focal ratio of 3.9, which is very fast! The fastest refractor in the list above is 4.5, but most small refractors have a focal ratio of 6.
It has a longer focal length - This can be a good or a bad thing. If you don't care about very large targets (like the Heart Nebula or the North America Nebula), then you'll like being able to capture smaller objects.
It is much larger and heavier - Don't expect to carry it with one hand! It is also 17.5 pounds, which is 10+ pounds more than a small refractor.
It needs to be collimated - This is probably the most important point. You will need to learn how to collimate the mirrors if you are purchasing a reflector telescope. Thankfully, there are quick and easy ways to collimate a telescope nowadays. Watch our laser collimation tutorial for more information.
Do we regret starting out with a reflector telescope? Absolutely not! This telescope is still going strong, several years after purchasing it! We are glad it forced us to learn collimation and how to deal with a larger instrument. It also made the transition to a refractor telescope almost too easy!
If you'd like to learn more about this telescope, read or watch our full review about the Orion 8" Astrograph.
Price: $499 (although it varies each year)
Manufacturer: Orion (doesn't matter, they're almost all identical)
Aperture: 8" (203mm)
Focal Length: 800mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.9
Tube weight: 17.5lbs
Tube length: 762mm
I heard "RASA" telescopes were fast... Can I start with that?
One of the most popular telescopes for astrophotography is the Celestron RASA. There are currently three models out there as of 2023:
Celestron RASA 8" - $2,079
Celestron RASA 11" - $4,399
Celestron RASA 36" - $13,999
Obviously, the RASA 36" is not only too heavy, too large, and too expensive for a beginner, it is also way more difficult to use because you will need your own observatory!
The RASA 11" is much more portable than the 36", but it is still way too large and heavy! An observatory is also recommended for this model.
The RASA 8" is much more reasonable for beginner astrophotographers. It is
To make it short, here are the pros & cons of buying a RASA 8 as your first telescope:
Very fast at f/2, meaning you will be able to get impressive images of deep-sky objects in less time than other telescopes
Different design than refractor and reflector telescopes. The camera screws in in the front of the telescope
Does not need to be collimated often
Cannot attach DSLR cameras and filter wheels or it blocks the light from entering the optical tube
You probably won't feel the need to upgrade for many years to come
Less portable than the other telescopes listed in this guide
If you've got great biceps, and do not feel too scared by the Cons listed, then the RASA 8" might be a great starter telescope for you!
Aperture: 8" (203mm)
Focal Length: 400mm
Focal Ratio: f/2
Tube weight: 17lbs
Tube length: 728mm
Let us know in the comments what telescope you started with, and how you like it! Be sure to read our complete guide on how to start Astrophotography, and go through our Tutorials page! We hope your first steps in Astrophotography will be successful, and that you will get to spend many clear nights under the stars with your chosen telescope.
GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS
Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!
Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloguing photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.
Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order, so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing, and a learning journey through the ages.