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Astrophotography Telescope Buying Guide – Under $2000

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Astrophotography Telescope Buying Guide

Note: This post was created back in July 2015, I have since purchased a new astrophotography telescope, the Explore Scientific ED102 (The number 1 telescope on this list)!

So you’re in the market for an astrophotography telescope, are you? There have never been so many affordable options for the amateur astrophotographer on a tight budget. I am often asked which telescope I use, and which one I would recommend for beginners. The quick answer is a high-quality, doublet or triplet refractor.  

Larger models can be very expensive (and heavy!) due to the high-quality ED glass used. I think you will be quite surprised at the performance of a small 65-80mm refractor such as the Explore Scientific ED80 I currently use for astrophotography. To view the types of wide-field images I have taken using this small telescope, please visit my photo gallery.

An astrophotography telescope buying guide? I thought you were an amateur? Yes, it’s true, but I decided that since I was doing all this intense research into which telescope I will be buying next, I would share it for others in my position to help streamline your search.

I have researched refractors made by Orion, Meade, Sky-Watcher, Tele Vue, Takahashi, Vixen, Astro-Tech, Explore Scientific, Stellarvue and William Optics. Please remember that this is my personal list, and I am by no means an expert! I tried to keep a high standard when browsing for telescopes.

All of the telescopes on this list are apochromatic refractors. I hope this top 10 list is useful for anyone looking to buy a refractor telescope for imaging under $2000 US. 

Keep in mind that with my limited budget, I am interested in getting the best balance of aperture, performance, and quality I can afford. A high-end instrument like the 76mm Takahashi might be the number one choice on your list, but it doesn’t make sense for my situation. So without further adieu, here is MY top 10 list of refractors for astrophotography:

10. Tele Vue TV76

Astrophotography Telescope - Tele Vue TV76 Doublet Refractor

Thanks to Marc Fitkin, there is an extremely useful and insightful review of this telescope on his blog. He notes the ability to use this scope as a prime lens for daytime photography as well as astrophotography. Tele Vue telescopes have a reputation for being top-quality instruments that will last a lifetime.

Because I will be using this scope for astrophotography exclusively, a model that excels in visual use has less of an impact on me. The reason this high-quality scope lands at 10 on my list is because it is at the extreme end of my budget, yet has an objective of only 76mm. Maybe one day I will be in a position to purchase premium-priced optics, but not yet.

Price: $2,000 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Ring Mount, 20mm Eyepiece, 2″ Diagonal, 1.25″ Adapter, Custom Soft Case

 

9. Sky-Watcher 80mm Esprit ED

Sky-Watcher 80mm Espirit

This is another model that comes with an aluminum case, diagonal, and a finder scope – a huge bonus for me. The heavy-duty Sky-Watcher exclusive “Helinear Track” focuser is a nice touch. This scope actually includes a thread-on field flattener and adaptor for Canon cameras! A major selling point for someone like me. 

I do, however, wonder how much of an upgrade this would be to my current ES ED80. The built-in dovetail is a turn-off for some, but I think it is a great feature. It is nice to see companies like Sky-Watcher catering to astrophotographers, a trend I am sure that will continue.

Update: I had the amazing opportunity to try out the Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 ED APO in 2018

Price: $1,649 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Thread-on Field Flattener, 2.7″ to 2″ Adapter, 2″ to 1.25″ adapter, 2″ Diagonal, Canon Camera Adapter, Tube Rings with “V” Dovetail, Carry Case

8. Takahashi FC-76DC

Takahashi FC-76DC fluorite doublet

I can’t believe there is actually a Takahashi under $2000! Takahashi has a reputation for building a superior quality astrophotography telescope. This fluorite doublet is tied with the Tele Vue for smallest objective on this list. This instrument has the highest quality glass of all the telescopes on this list, and is very lightweight (4 lbs).

This telescope operates at a f/7.5 focal ratio, and includes a fixed dew shield. The downsides for someone in this budget are the small objective and 1.25″ focuser (though it can be adapted to 2″ with an additional accessory). The views through this “Tak” have been described as absolutely stunning.

Price: $1,949 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: None

7. Vixen ED103S Refractor

Vixen ED103S Apo Telescope

The official product description from Vixen states “ED103S lenses are almost free of chromatic aberration in all colors and are critically sharp edge to edge. The astro-photographer will be especially pleased with the high contrast images through this telescope.” 

The dual speed focuser, 4.1″ objective, and overall weight of just 8 lbs is what has me interested in this white beauty. Not to mention that it’s short tube length of 31.5″ makes it extra portable. A handy in-depth look at this instrument written by Pernel Johnson can be found here.

Price: $1,799 US (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Carry Handle

6. Meade 115mm ED APO

Meade 115ED Apo Triplet

Meade has catered to the next generation of imagers with this astrophotography telescope. The older version of this scope was almost identical to the Orion EON 115mm. The newer Series 6000 model uses an upgraded FK61 extra-low dispersion glass. Some notable features are the 3″ Crayford focuser, sliding dew shield, and overall build quality.

Update: In 2017, I had the opportunity to test the Meade 70mm Quadruplet APO

Price: $1,999 US (Ontario Telescope and Accessories)
Accessories Included: 3″ Diagonal, Cradle Rings, Mounting Dovetail, 8 x 50 Viewfinder, Hard Case

 

5. Stellarvue SV80ST

Stellarvue SV80ST-25FT

Forum users on astronomyforum.net reported that this Stellarvue Apo has an easy-to-use, well-built focuser. It allows the entire imaging train to screw together, giving you accuracy and stability when imaging. A flattener is a must-have to accompany this scope to eliminate coma, a trait many of these refractors have indeed. User reviews are very high for this precision instrument with the focuser being the biggest draw.

Price: $1,295 USD (OPT Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Hard Case

4. Astro-Tech AT106

Astro Tech AT106 Telescope

Sky and Telescope reviewed this scope back in 2009, saying: “the Astro-Tech AT106 provides all the benefits of a first-class 4-inch apo but without the premium price. I highly recommend it.” I have found a number of positive reviews about this modestly sized refractor. 

There is a great in-depth look including sample astrophotos at the scope on Stargazerslounge.com. This astrophotography telescope uses high-quality Ohara glass, and comes with a dual speed 2.7″ Crayford focuser. At just under the $2000 range, (including an aluminum case) This telescope is definitely a top contender for my hard-earned cash.

Update: It appears as though this telescope is no longer available.

Price: ?
Accessories Included: Hard Case

3. Orion EON 115mm ED

Orion EON ED Triplet Apo

An astrophotography telescope from one of the oldest most trusted brands in the hobby. Time after time, Orion products deliver and continue to impress their reviewers. My first telescope was an Orion, so this brand holds a special place in my heart. This APO has been around for a LONG time. (I found a review from 2006!)

This quality instrument offers excellent color correction by way of the FK-61 extra-low dispersion (“ED”) optical glass in its air-spaced triplet objective lens. With a focal length of 805mm at F/7, this is a fast, medium wide-field scope. The extendable dew-shield and multiple knife-edge baffles protect your eyes from off-axis reflections and glare to ensure a view with excellent contrast. 

The extra aperture for the price is what puts this scope near the top of my list. The massive 3″, rotatable , dual-speed focuser is an attractive feature for astrophotographers.

Price: $1,499 USD (Orion Telescopes)
Accessories Included: Tube Rings, Dovetail Bar, Foam-lined Carry Case, Starry Night Software

2. William Optics GT102

William Optics GT102

There are many fans of William Optics, and for good reason, they make quality instruments for a fair price. The focal ratio, 102mm diameter objective, and reputation of this scope make this one of my top choices for “next scope”. The optional DDG digital readout on the focuser is a neat feature, and would help me achieve accurate focus with my camera.

 I own the WO 72mm Megrez Doublet, and have had many great experiences with it for both astrophotography, and daytime nature photography.

Update: It appears as though the older version of this telescope is no longer available, and only the 20th anniversary edition is now for sale. Unfortunately, it now has a price tag that exceeds $2,000 USD! However, if you are looking for a more affordable option, have a look at the William Optics Z61

Price: $2, US (High Point Scientific)
Accessories Included: 2″ to 1.25″ Adapter, Mounting Rings, Dovetail

1. Explore Scientific CF 102mm

Astrophotography Telescope - Explore Scientific Carbon Fibre 102mm Apo Refractor

With over 4″ of aperture, and weighing just 7 lbs – Explore Scientific calls this the “perfect balance between portability and light gathering power”.

The HOYA ED glass is virtually free of chromatic aberration, and produces bright high-contrast images. The carbon fiber tube is highly temperature stable, eliminating the need for focus changes with temperature fluctuations. I am not going to lie, I am a little biased towards this telescope because of my unbelievably positive experience with the ED80.

Update: June 2016 – I bought this telescope!

I was contacted by Explore Scientific to upgrade my ED80 to the 102mm CF! Since then I have photographed many deep-sky objects including this version of the Lagoon Nebula:

M8 - The Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula

Price: $1,099 USD (High Point Scientific)
Accessories Included: 2″ Diagonal, Deluxe Case, Finder Scope Base, Vixen Dovetail

Well, there you have it, my top 10 list for anyone in the market for an astrophotography telescope. As you can see, I plan on sticking with Explore Scientific. At the end of the day, it comes down to value for me. If you have any hands-on experience with any of these telescopes and would like to comment, please do so below – I would love to hear them!

Astronomy Photo Gallery

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Rosette Nebula – Stock Canon DSLR

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How the Rosette Nebula looks with a Stock DSLR

Will an unmodified Canon DSLR pick up the red nebulosity?

Happy New Year! I was finally graced with some clear skies that showcased the beautiful winter milky way on Monday. The moon was about 19% lit, and didn’t set until about 10:30pm, so about half of data in the photo above was captured with the moon still out. The sky conditions were so fantastic on Monday, it was a shame I had to leave early to get a good night’s sleep for work the next morning.

The Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49) is a large circular HII region. The open cluster NGC 2244 (Caldwell 50) is closely associated with the nebulosity, the stars of the cluster having been formed from the nebula’s matter.

Rosette Nebula Stock

 

Caldwell 49 – The Rosette Nebula
Imaged Monday, February 3, 2014

38 subs, 3.5 Minutes Each totaling 2 Hours 13 Minutes

I used the Explore Scientific 80ED telescope for this photo because the size of this object is quite large. I am quite happy with my end result, although I plan on processing the photo several more times to try and pull out as much detail as possible.

I highly recommend Noel Caboni’s “Astronomy Tools” action set for Photoshop. I found it very helpful when processing this image, and every other image I have taken. For the price of a cheap filter, you can drastically improve your astrophotos. Well worth it!

Complete Astrophoto Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Tracking Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours 13 Minutes (38 x 210s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC
Support Files: 12 darks

 

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Winter Stargazing in Orion

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Winter Stargazing
M42 & M43, The Orion Nebula (& Running Man)

Imaged Friday, Nov 29, 2013 from Ontario, Canada.

Camera Equipment and Settings:

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours (30 x 240s)

Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in DeepSkyStacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC

Support Files: 15 darks

Winter Stargazing in Orion

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula, south of Orion’s belt. It is one of the brightest and well-known nebulae in the night sky. It is clearly visible in binoculars, even from light-polluted city skies like the one in my backyard! This nebula is well-photographed by amateurs and pros alike.

It was one of the first objects I ever photographed through a telescope, and I still remember my reaction when I saw what appeared on my camera screen.

As a matter of fact, I kept one of the very first images I took of Orion back in 2010 with my Canon Powershot Point-and-shoot camera…

My first image of a nebula with a point and shoot camera

One of my first astrophotography images – M42 – The Orion Nebula

The Orion constellation is probably the most gratifying constellations in the sky to photograph. The powerful figure of Orion the hunter is so prominent, it makes you think of all of the other people who stared up at him in wonder for thousands of years.

Here is an image of the constellation I took from my parent’s backyard as Orion rose over the neighbor’s fence. As luck would have it, there was even a meteorite that came streaking by during the shot!

The Orion Constellation

I haven’t posted in a while. My excuse is a combination of cloudy skies, switching hosting services and of course, the holidays. The image above was the last time I have been able to gather enough photons to create a decent photo. The weather has been pretty miserable, constant clouds with lots of precipitation and very, very cold! (Last night was -38°C with the windchill!)

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Pacman Nebula – Stock Canon DSLR

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Below, you will see an image of the Pacman Nebula using a stock (non-modified) DSLR camera. A Canon EOS Rebel Xsi (450D) to be exact. I have often said that an entry-level DSLR camera is probably the best astrophotography camera to start out with.

DSLR cameras are affordable, versatile, and can be used for more than just astrophotography at night. They are also more user-friendly and don’t require additional software tools to use. The deep sky image below is an example of what you can expect to capture through a telescope without an astro-modification. Further down the page, I’ll show you what this nebula looks like using a dedicated astronomy camera and narrowband filters.

The Pacman Nebula using a stock DSLR

 Pacman Nebula

NGC 281, The Pacman Nebula – Imaged Monday., Nov 3, 2013
20 subs 5 Minutes Each totaling 1 Hour, 40 Minutes

PHOTO DETAILS

  • Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
  • Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
  • Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
  • Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
  • Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
  • ISO: 1600
  • Exposure: 1 hours 40 minutes (20 x 300s)
  • Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC
  • Support Files: 15 darks

This is a great time of year for astrophotography, with the nights beginning so early and lasting so long. The downside, of course, is the frigid temperatures. Luckily I have a reasonable winter setup for imaging that includes a small space heater and a lot of warm clothing. I am able to enter a small shed and hang out while my camera fires away. The temperature dropped to -3 on Sunday night, great for imaging.

I have never shot the Pacman Nebula before. To be honest, I had no idea a stock DLSR could pick up so much red in this object. Cassiopeia rises nice and high in the evening this time of year, so imaging NGC 281 is a popular target right now. I am very happy with the way this DSO has turned out so far, even with the limited time I have put on it. I was also surprised at its size, comparable to the Eagle Nebula in my 80mm scope.

Frozen astrophotography equipment cases

My frozen Cases at my Dark Sky Site

The Pacman Nebula in Narrowband

My latest photograph of this nebula was taken using an Altair Hypercam 183C color CMOS camera. I captured broadband RGB light frames on this target using a 2″ Baader Moon and Skyglow (Neodymium) filter. To add a boost in signal, I also captured images with a 12nm Ha filter and combined the two using the HaRGB method.

astrophotography camera

NGC 281 – The Pacman Nebula

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