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 refractor 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 few years. Please do not hesitate to do your own research as if you are not convinced by any of the telescopes below, remember, this will be one of the most important instruments in your set up.
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 a Newtonian Reflector telescope, the excellent Orion 8" f/3.9 Astrograph. 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 concentrate on small refractors for this list.
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 enter from an end (left 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.
REFRACTING TELESCOPES under $1,200
The Heart Nebula (IC 1805) and the Lagoon Nebula (M8) with our Meade 70mm APO
William Optics ZenithStar 61 f/5.9 Double APO
The William Optics ZenithStar 61 f/5.9 Double 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 for 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
WILLIAM OPTICS REDCAT 51LX
Another very small and beautiful telescope by William Optics is the RedCat. This instrument may be more expensive than the ZenithStar, but it has a faster focal ratio! If, for you, buying a telescope means imaging small deep sky objects, be aware that the William Optics RedCat 51 has a the widest focal length of all the instruments in this list at 250mm. For comparison, the most common DSLR telephoto lenses have a focal length of 200 to 300mm.
If red is not your color, you may also get the limited edition SpaceCat for the same price!
The William Optics RedCat 51 telescope comes with its own included Bahtinov mask and carrying case.
Take a look at images taken with the RedCat 51on Astrobin.
Manufacturer: William Optics
Aperture: 2" (51mm)
Focal Length: 250mm
Focal Ratio: f/4.9
Tube weight: 3.2lbs
Tube length: 225mm
Orion ED80T Carbon Fiber ED APO
With a price tag of $949.99, the Orion ED80T Carbon Fiber ED APO is a very affordable refractor telescope for this aperture and focal length. Many of the astrophotographers we know today started out with this very telescope. Because it costs a couple hundreds of dollars less than other similar APO refractors, amateur astrophotographers who decide to make the switch from their achromatic instrument to an apochromatic telescope often go with the Orion ED80T.
The Orion ED80T Carbon Fiber ED APO telescope comes with its own included carrying case.
Take a look at images taken with the Orion ED80T on Astrobin.
Aperture: 3.25" (80mm)
Focal Length: 480mm
Focal Ratio: f/6
Tube weight: 5.5lbs
Tube length: 381mm
Meade 6000 Series 70mm f/5 Quadruplet APO
If you like fast telescopes, the Meade 6000 series 70mm will make you very happy. With a focal ratio of f/5, this is the fastest telescope in this list under $1,200.
With a wider field of view than the Orion ED80T and Explore Scientific 80mm, this is also the shortest and lightest one of the three.
You can watch us discover this telescope and use if for the first time in Episode 13 of Galactic Hunter.
The Meade 6000 Series 70mm f/5 Quadruplet APO telescope also comes with its own carrying case.
Take a look at images taken with the Meade 70mm APO on Astrobin.
Aperture: 2.75" (70mm)
Focal Length: 350mm
Focal Ratio: f/5
Tube weight: 4.5lbs
Tube length: 311mm
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 the Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9 Newtonian Reflector. We absolutely love this instrument and still do to this day, 4 years later!
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) with our Orion 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 Orion 8" Astrograph and a small refractor:
It is much cheaper - The Orion 8" Astrograph costs $499 ($479 when on sale), 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 4.9, 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 way 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, 4 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! We now own both the reflector below and the Meade 70mm APO listed above, and are very happy with both.
If you'd like to learn more about this telescope, read or watch our full review about the Orion 8" Astrograph.
Aperture: 8" (203mm)
Focal Length: 800mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.9
Tube weight: 17.5lbs
Tube length: 762mm
Let us know in the comments what telescope you started with, and how you like it! Be sure to read our complete equipment guide for DSLR 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.