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Wondering what to buy to get started with astrophotography.

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I have a budget of around 750 and don't know what to buy. Currently I have a Celesteon Travelscope 70 and want something powerful for clear photos of planets and galaxies. I was looking at the Zenithstar 73 III APO and would be willing to spend up to 1500 but don't know what I would need to buy for it.

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Hello and welcome to the forum!

For planets and galaxies, you typically want a large aperture scope because the finest detail you can resolve is based on the size of your telescope's mirror or lens. Twice the size = twice as sharp in effect.

Many would recommend a telescope such as a classical cassegrain or ritchey chretien for this use case as the telescopes are compact, do not require a corrector for narrow fields of view, but can be improved with a corrector, and cheap per mm of aperture... relatively speaking. https://www.teleskop-express.de/shop/product_info.php/info/p5222_TS-Optics-GSO--8--Ritchey-Chretien-Pro-RC-Teleskop-203-1624-mm-OTA.html

They are however famously hard to set up, so perhaps not ideal for a beginner.

There is the amateur astronomer favourite of the newtonian telescope: https://www.firstlightoptics.com/reflectors/skywatcher-explorer-200p-ds-ota.html These are extremely cheap (the cheapest!) per mm of aperture so are excellent for planetary imaging. However they do also come with some setup pain, and the cheaper ones may bring you trouble further down the line. I used the 130mm version of the scope in the link above (130P-DS) and found it quite good, but for more than a DSLR camera of weight on the focuser you need to swap some components out. I might lean into this option in your situation.

A refactor is possibly the golden goose for amateurs looking for an easier time, however to get 200mm of aperture like the RC and Newtonian, you would be spending tens of thousands of dollars instead of 400 or 900! In my opinion refractors are best placed for people wanting to image wider fields of view or who seriously just enjoy not having to do any alignments or adjustments!


For mount, the old addage holds as true as ever: "The biggest mount your wallet and back can support". This is less important for planets as tracking only needs to be good enough to keep the subject in frame for a few minutes. But for galaxies you want a rock solid mount to get single images with exposure times of 1 minute plus, without any error. Something like the HEQ5 would be my minimum viable mount for something like the 200mm RC or newtonian.

Camera wise, you can go for a modded DSLR to save the most money, but there are cameras based on the IMX 585 which are cost effective and low noise which are on the market now which might suit your purpose very well!

Hope you find what suits you most!

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I think you need to remember that in astrophotography terms, planets and galaxies are very different beasts. Planets are much more forgiving in terms of tracking, but you will want plenty of focal length and a high focal ratio is not a problem. Galaxies require much longer imaging times and need a good mount, guiding for all bar one or two and suitable FL for the camera.

You do not say what your budget needs to include. Is it camera, mount and scope? Maybe give a little more detail and it will make it easier to advise. To be honest, for that budget you will be hard pressed to cover planets and deep sky targets effectively.

Edited by Clarkey
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Hello Dbogan and welcome to the site. I am going to echo what Clarkey said in that no one telescope does it all, so part of the fun in this game is a bit of research into what you would most like to see or image. Have a look in resources/astronomy tools/field of view in the menu's at the top of the page and input a range of telescopes and eyepieces/cameras to see just what sort of telescope will give you what sort of image. There is a topic that's worth searching for called "what can I expect to see" well worth a read. Another way to go is look around the site to see what people are using and what and how they achieve it. All the best and keep us up to speed.

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  • 1 month later...

If you're wanting to image planets and galaxies then you'll need focal length. And longer focal lengths = more difficulty since everything is magnified, from poor polar alignment, to poor guiding, to finding the object, wind.....etc etc

I've done a fair amount of imaging with a C6 on an AVX mount and gotten some great pics out of it. This gives ~1000mm with the Celestron focal reducer, which will give decent resolution on small galaxies, and ~3000mm with a 2x barlow for planetary imaging. SCTs really are the jack of all trades. They perhaps don't excel in any one area, but they do at least allow you to partake in any one area. Plus they are relatively light, compact and easy to collimate.

But once you've added in a camera and everything else (Bahtinov mask, leads, dew shield, guide camera and guide scope), this setup is gonna be way more than £1500.

If you're new to AP then a short focal length refractor on an EQ5 class mount is probably the best way to start, as everything becomes less demanding with less focal length. Again, though it's always a compromise to some extent, as you'll want to spend the vast chunk of your money on the mount, then the scope, then the camera, which means you may not be getting a particularly large chip or active cooling. And an apochramatic refractor is also going to cost more than an achromat, which will give false colour in your images (though it can be controlled to a certain extent with filters and post-processing). But it will at least get you started, to see if it's something you want to pursue, and then you can upgrade as you go along (and this is all part of the fun, if a tad expensive!!). 

This is probably the least frustrating way to go about it and you'll get some fantastic wide-field shots of the larger nebulae, M31, M33, and you can also get some nice galaxy pairs/clusters (think M81/M82, Leo triplet, Virgo cluster). Maybe using a 3x barlow will get you some decent planetary disc sizes, but the resolution will be lacking with a small aperture - not something I've tried before.

Good luck!

Edited by Neil_104
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A few years back it was quite easy to suggest a mount and scope combo as there were really just four or five models to choose from, with significant gains at each step.  These days there are far more options to choose from, which makes suggesting something harder.  Also the phrase "astro photography" is to general, as it one end of the spectrum is using a mobile phone's camera to snap what the eyepiece is displaying, right up to dedicated cameras costing more than a second hand Volvo !  With a budget of $750 you are going to be limited towards the entry level for equipment.

Also when it comes to imaging the mount is more important than the scope that sits on it is.  You really want stability for fainter galaxies and other deep sky targets.  Therefore you would normally go for a mount that is the next size up than you would when visually observing, so rather than put a 6" reflector on an EQ3, you would stick it on an EQ5.  Rather than stick an 8" reflector on an EQ5 you would use an HEQ5, or even an EQ6.  Regardless of mount, it has to be driven if you want to image deep space targets, so that means a goto option.  So new you are looking at £600+ for an EQ5 goto, which won't leave much for all the other equipment.

As others have said, for planetary work a large aperture and a long focal length is required.  Most of the large detailed images of Jupiter's clouds structure you often see here and in magazines is often taken through a 12" or larger SCT.  Whilst the same scope could be used for DSO's it requires adaptors to reduce the focal length, because to gather the data of faint targets you need a fast scope which has a short focal length.   You see where this is going... no one scope fits all...

Have a read through other posts like yours - you'll soon see that imaging is an expensive aspect of astronomy.  To get the clear shots of galaxies and planets you may need to increase your budget three fold.

An alternative is to look at using a tracking mount and a DSLR camera with a standard 50mm lense and a 200mm zoom lens.  You would be able to produce some stunning wide field views of the night sky, and possibly very acceptable moon and larger planetary images, although again, like scopes, camera lenses can be budget or high end with a wide price range.

Read through the forum... this sort of question comes up very frequently, so you may find useful info that can help you.

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