Best Refractor Telescope for Astrophotography [Top 8+ Picks in 2023]
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Astrophotography is not an easy or low-cost hobby. It can, however, be a very rewarding one. If you’re going to get into astrophotography, then you want to know you’re using the right kit. We have a selection of great telescopes to meet your needs, whatever your level of experience.
Our top pick of best refractor telescope for astrophotography is the Sky Watcher EvoStar 100 APO Doublet Refractor. It offers a good mix of image quality and value. It doesn’t come with many accessories, so every cent is going towards the quality of this high-quality telescope.
Best overallSky Watcher EvoStar 100 Doublet Refractor
Best Large Aperture TelescopeSky Watcher EvoStar 120 APO Refractor Telescope
Budget OptionOrion Observer 90mm EQ Refractor Telescope Kit
Related post: Best Computerized Telescope for Beginners [Top 11 in 2023]
Best Refractor Telescopes for Astrophotography in 2023
Best Overall — Sky Watcher EvoStar 100 APO Doublet Refractor
Sky Watcher EvoStar Doublet Refractor
This high-end amateur scope offers great deep-sky views as well as crystal clear views of solar system objects.
The Sky Watcher EvoStar 100 APO Doublet Refractor is not the right choice for a very first telescope. However, it is an ideal telescope for astrophotography. It lacks a mount and accessories, but the telescope itself is top-notch.
This telescope is a doublet APO; for this price, you’re not going to find a better telescope. The two glass lenses provide minimal chromatic aberration, which gives you sharp images and minimal distortions.
The telescope comes with a Crawford-style focuser, with two speeds. This allows you to find a rough focus before you carefully hone in on your target. This whole mechanism is very smooth and works well.
This scope is quite light at only 3kg, although it is on the longer side. The aluminum case it comes makes it easy and safe to transport.
The aperture size is 4”, which isn’t the biggest on our list. The optical quality is top-notch, though. The deep-sky viewing is bright and clear.
The most significant limitation of this scope is the resolution limit. It’s not the best you can find at only 1.39 arcseconds. However, unless you are just going to be hunting for double stars, this is unlikely to be a major problem.
In terms of speed, it is on the slower end with a focal ratio of f/9. However, it does deliver in terms of image quality. For the price, this is possibly the best telescope for astrophotography you can get.
Best Large Aperture Telescope — Sky Watcher EvoStar 120 APO Doublet Refractor
Sky Watcher EvoStar 120 APO Doublet Refractor
This telescope offers stunning true colors of deep sky objects in astonishing detail plus, it’s just small enough to be a grab-and-go telescope.
The Sky Watcher EvoStar 120 APO Doublet Refractor is the big brother of our top pick. For the jump from a 100mm aperture to a 120mm one, you will be paying a pretty penny. However, you will easily notice the large jump in the number of celestial objects you can now see.
This is also a doublet scope with an ED lens. This gives minimal chromatic aberration, as you would expect from an APO scope. There are minimal distortions, and the color is true across the whole field.
The scope has an f/ratio of f/7.5. This does put it at the top end of the scopes on this list. However, as this is a great telescope for deep sky astrophotography, you will likely already be leaning towards longer exposure times anyway. Given how much you can see, the f/ratio is pretty respectable.
While this scope doesn’t come with a mount, it does come with a respectable selection of accessories. It comes with split hinged tube rings and a Vixen-style dovetail plate. You get a 2” diagonal with both a 2” and a 1.25” eyepiece holder. There are then two eyepieces, a dew cover, dust covers, and a carry case.
The focuser is a Crawford style design. It has the expected two speeds and is smooth and sturdy.
If you are looking for a combination of a large aperture and quality optics, then this is going to be the best telescope on our list for you. It gives great quality images and can reveal a wealth of new celestial objects to your camera.
Best Budget Option — Orion Observer 90mm EQ Refractor Telescope Kit
Orion Observer 90mm Refractor Kit
There’s quite a lot of power and nuance in this affordable telescope.
The Orion Observer 90mm Refractor Kit is one of my favorites because it provides decent quality of image without burning a hole through your wallet. While it’s not THE cheapest option there is, it’s a perfect balance of price and quality.
The “kit” part means you’ll have to assemble it yourself, though. But everything you need comes included in the box, along with instructions – except for the camera, of course, which you’ll have to purchase separately. That’s a whole lot of value when you take into account that many scopes of similar quality are priced this or higher, and they don’t include the mount!
The focal ratio of 10 means that the magnification is pretty high, but it comes with a trade-off: the field of view does suffer a bit. Which means sharp images, but less deep and with a longer exposure time.
But then again, the bigger focal ratio allows for better performance at a lower price. After all, to pack up an equal optical quality into a smaller (or in this case, shorter) package would require quite a bit of mastery.
This short review wouldn’t be complete or honest without a word of caution for intermediate to advanced users: you can’t really expect to snap perfect shots of deep space objects. Also, there will be some chromatic aberration. But on the whole, this is still a very decent scope that’s worth every penny.
Best for Introduction to Deep Sky Astrophotography — SVBONY SV503 f/7 Telescope
SVBONY SV503 f/7 Telescope
This is a relatively compact doublet scope with great optical technology, which is great for wide-field astrophotography.
The SVBONY SV503 f/7 Telescope has a smaller f/ratio than the above Orion, but that doesn’t mean you need to make do with less sharp images. On the contrary: the technology used here is top-notch, even if the brand name doesn’t ring any bells.
Just think about it: some other options (such as Orion AstroView we mentioned above) some at a slightly lower price, but they include a mount!
This little guy, on the other hand, is what it is: a nice scope with potent optics, best for beginners but won’t disappoint more seasoned stargazers either. And yes, you’ll have to shell out some more money to get a mount if you don’t have one already, as well as extension tube for the camera. Luckily, the dovetail is compatible with most mounts.
Even as doublets, many scopes at this price range will suffer from some chromatic aberration. Not this one! The glass technology on the double lenses will get rid of it, plus it allows for very nice colors (hello, nebulae!) and contrast.
What makes it great for astrophotography is dual speed focusing. This means a much smaller chance of snapping blurry images that are hardly worth anything!
The size and weight will also allow you to just grab it and shove it in a backpack when you’re on the go.
Best for Beginners — Meade Instruments S102mm Aperture, Portable Beginner Refracting Astronomy Telescope
Meade Instruments Portable Refracting Astronomy Telescope
This telescope comes with everything you need to get started in astrophotography; it’s an ideal telescope for a beginner.
The Meade Instruments Portable Refracting Astronomy Telescope is a perfect choice for a beginner. Unlike many of the options on this list, it comes with everything you need to get started. It has a mount, a red dot viewfinder, a pair of eyepieces, a pair of Barlow lenses, and a smartphone adapter.
The tripod is collapsible, which is good for transporting it, but is sturdy when constructed. The mount is an Alt-Az model. This makes it intuitive and easy to use, but not a good choice for long exposure photography.
The aperture is a really good size for a beginner telescope. It is an f/5.9 telescope, which makes it a particularly fast scope. When combined with the smartphone adapter, it makes for a good combination for anyone interested in taking quick and easy snaps of the night sky.
It’s a good introductory telescope for a beginner astrophotographer, especially one who doesn’ already have a telescope of their own.
This is a good telescope for getting pictures of the moon and the planets. The mount will limit the pictures you can take of deep-sky objects as tracking will not be possible.
Best for Wide Field Views — Orion 9005 AstroView 120mm f/5 Refractor Telescope
Orion 9005 AstroView 120mm f/5 Refractor Telescope
This 110mm aperture telescope is made with an ED glass lens, offering fantastic true-color views of the night sky.
The Orion 9005 AstroView is a high-quality refractor with maximum light transmission for the aperture size. This gives you crisp, sharp, and detailed images of the nearer planets. For more distant planets like Saturn, though, the x1.25 lenses won’t be enough, so you’ll need to get a lens with higher magnification like Barlow x2 or x3.
Yes, it might sound a tad pricey, but you’ll get a tripod, mount, and two eyepieces. Perfect for absolute beginners who have yet to take a full bite of astronomy.
The scope is an f/5 scope. That makes it a medium wide-field refractor. It’s perfect for getting good views of star clusters or clouds of gas like the Orion nebula, or galaxies like the Andromeda. Because of the ED glass used, it also performs really well when you push the magnification.
There is hardly any chromatic aberration. It’s minute enough that you may be hard-pressed to even find it. This will give you excellent true color pictures of the night sky.
There is a really hand clamping system at the end of the scope. It makes attaching your eyepieces or camera really easy. You fix them in place by rotating a ring that goes all the way around the barrel. This is great for making adjustments on a cold night. You don’t have to abandon the warmth of your gloves to fiddle with a thumbscrew. Even though it’s easy, the attachment is very secure.
This is a really nice telescope for any astrophotographer who wants to have the choice of taking deep sky images as well as getting great high magnification shots of more local celestial bodies, like the moon and the planets.
Best for Travel — Orion ED66 CF Carbon Fiber Refractor Telescope
Orion Carbon Fiber Refractor Telescope
This compact refractor is ideal to grab and go, and it comes with a hard travel case for transport.
The Orion ED66 CF Carbon Fiber Refractor Telescope is an ideal refractor for anyone who is on the go. If you want to easily grab a telescope for astrophotography while you’re out and about, then this compact scope is ideal.
This telescope is made from carbon fiber. This not only makes it light, but it also makes it resistant to temperature changes. Metal scopes can suffer when they go through large temperature changes. You don’t have that issue with this scope. It’s another reason why this scope is so good for travel.
The barrel is a compact 12” long. When combined with the 66mm aperture, you get an f/6.1 scope. For a telescope of this size, it’s a nicely balanced speed.
This telescope is a doublet and contains one ED lens. This means the chromatic aberration is reasonably low. It has a Crawford style focuser with two speeds. It comes with a 14mm wide field eyepiece and a hard carry case.
This telescope is a good balance. It works for lunar, planetary, and wide-field astrophotography.
Best Computerized Telescope — Meade StarNavigator NG 102mm
Meade StarNavigator NG 102mm
This refractor scope comes with a go-to mount and a database of over 40,000 celestial objects.
The Meade Instruments StarNavigator NG 102mm Aperture Computerized GoTo Refracting Astronomy Telescope is a good option for anyone who is new to both astronomy and astrophotography. Because it is a computerized telescope, it makes it really easy to find anything you are looking for in the night sky. It will then track your chosen object allowing you to take a long exposure picture with ease.
This works well as a scope for beginners because it comes loaded with 4 hours of audio commentary. If you’re new to astronomy, you can ask the telescope to suggest objects to view and learn about them as you do.
This setup will work best with a lightweight camera set up. With a heavy rig, it can make the tracking inaccurate.
With an f/ratio of f/6.5, this scope is fast enough to take good pictures of the moon and planets.
It is an entry-level scope, so the optics are not the best on the market. You will get some chromatic aberrations.
More advanced astrophotographers would be better served looking for an OTA that matches their needs and buying a computerized mount separately. For a beginner, though, this is a good computerized refracting telescope.
Bonus: “Smart” Telescope — Vaonis Stellina Observation Station and Hybrid Telescope
Vaonis Stellina Observation Station and Hybrid Telescope
A good all-in-one choice for non-conventional amateur astronomers who like to enjoy deep-space objects on their phone. The only convenient option for group viewing!
We could almost make an inverted riddle out of this: it doesn’t look like a telescope, it doesn’t act like a telescope, yet it is one. What is it?
It’s Vaonis Stellina Observation Station. And if it weren’t for the tripod, most people would never think it’s a telescope!
Indeed, it really looks like a station – there’s no eyepiece that you can look through, no tinkering with finderscopes or focusers. Everything works automatically at the push of a button on the app. And yes, no camera is needed. Heck, you don’t even need to go outside to use it! Turn it on through the app and enjoy the views on your phone or tablet.
Another thing worth mentioning is that this is practically the only telescope I’ve ever seen that gives you the ability to stargaze in groups. As many as 20 smartphones can be connected to it at the same time – a great idea for family or friends gatherings, but even more so for astronomy classes!
Now, it definitely won’t be a good idea for astronomy nerds who are addicted to the more traditional and customizable technology where you can upgrade a scope with dozens of accessories. (I like to think I’m one of them, and I probably wouldn’t buy this scope if not for sheer curiosity.) With this station, you don’t need to buy ANYTHING else. Just set it up, which is pretty easy, choose the objects you want to see from the catalogue in the app, and enjoy!
Another thing that may put you off is the price, which is quite hefty. The idea is good and may even revolutionize the telescope industry in the long run by making it simple enough to be accessible to people who don’t know a thing about astronomy. After all, most younger users would be delighted to be able to share their photos on Instagram within seconds.
But if you don’t feel like waiting for this technology to become a bit cheaper, you won’t regret it with this robotic-looking-and-acting guy. Besides being smart, it’s also sturdy and weatherproof, and can provide good results in less-than-ideal conditions.
But what about the view? While it performs nice with wide-angle view (think nebulae and galaxies) as well as closer objects such as the moon, it doesn’t excel when you’re trying to observe the planets in our Solar System.
What to Consider When Buying a Refractor Astrophotography Telescope
The aperture of a telescope is the size of the opening through which light enters. For observation, the size of the aperture is one of the most important features of a telescope. For astrophotography, aperture size matters, but it is not such a stand out feature.
A larger aperture means that more light will enter your telescope, which will allow you to see more distant objects. As aperture size goes up, so too does cost and size. The increased aperture size will often lead to an increased focal length. This will then have an impact on your pictures.
So in astrophotography, aperture size needs to be balanced with focal length. The focal ratio is the number that highlights this balance.
The focal length is the distance between the lens/mirror of a telescope and the point at which the light comes into focus. With a longer focal length, you will get a larger image formed, which essentially means you’ll have more magnification.
Magnification can be good for local objects, but the downside to magnification is that everything gets magnified, even the details you don’t want like atmospheric distortions or sway from your mount.
Telescopes with long focal lengths tend to have smaller fields of view. They also often require longer exposure to get the same quality of the image.
If you want to avoid any hint of star trails, there is a rule you can follow based on the focal length of your telescope. The ‘500 rule’ states that 500 divided by the focal length of your scope is the maximum number of seconds you should use for a single picture. Beyond this, you’ll start to get star trails.
Focal Ratio (f/ratio / f/number)
The focal ratio of a telescope is found by dividing the focal length by the aperture size. It matters because it gives you an indication of how long an exposure you’ll need to get the pictures you want. It’s sometimes described as being the speed of the OTA.
For telescopes, good f/ratios are between f/5 and f/8. For anything lower, you’ll need a camera, not a telescope. Anything over f/9 is considered a slow system.
Achromatic vs. Apochromatic
You will typically come across two types of reflectors.
These reflectors use two glass pieces to focus the incoming light. The problem with these is that they don’t fully focus on the whole spectrum of the light. They work well at the extremes of the spectrum but less well in the middle. The end result is a slightly blurry image. For observation, it’s not hugely noticeable. However, it will show up in any long exposure photographs.
Apochromatic Refractor (APO)
Where Achromatic reflectors bring the extremes of the visible spectrum into focus together, Apochromatic reflectors bring red, blue, and green light into focus at the same point. This means you will have a much better final result. They almost completely remove any chromatic aberration that you can experience with refractors. They are also easier to focus and tend to be lighter and more portable.
Long story short – Apochromatic reflectors are the better option for astrophotography.
Number of Lenses
As you get into more sophisticated telescopes, you’ll start to come across doublet and triplet telescopes. In these devices, the main objective lens is made from more than one piece of glass. By adding the extra layers of glass, you are able to decrease the amount of chromatic aberration. However, this comes with a much steeper price tag.
For beginners who are looking for their first telescope, it may not be worth getting anything more than a standard telescope. If you are determined to get the best possible pictures, then a triplet scope is going to provide the best possible final result with the truest color. For most astrophotographers, a good quality doublet will tread the line between the cost and quality of the image.
When it comes to lenses, it’s not just the number that matters. The quality is a big factor as well. The best lenses are made from extra-low dispersion glass (ED). This glass reduces the spread of light as it passes through it. The result is less chromatic aberration and truer colors.
You generally have two choices in focuser on telescopes. There is a rack and pinion style. This is the basic option. It moves your scope using a simple rack and pinion. This gives you set increments and a single speed.
A Crawford style focuser is a little more involved. It uses a spring-loaded shaft against four bearings. The result is a smoother and more precise focus. It’s also not uncommon to find a two-speed option. This allows you to get a rough focus and then a fine one after at the slower speed.
The other consideration for the focuser is if it can carry the weight of your camera sn accessories. It has to move with all your kit attached, so it’s worth checking it can carry the weight you need it to.
Type of Mount
If the telescope you’re considering comes with a mount, then you might want to take some time to consider if it’s the best telescope mount for astrophotography, and if it meets your needs. The mount you use is going to have as much of an impact on your photography as your telescope.
An Alt-Az mount does not have a fixed field. This means that stars in the background will appear to rotate as you take a picture. So, for long exposure pictures, you’ll end up with star trails.
EQ mounts are aligned with the polar star. This results in a fixed field. So there will be no distracting star trails in the background of any long exposure pictures you take.
A computerized mount will allow you to automatically track stars. This is essential if you are interested in photographing any deep sky objects.
There are a large number of accessories that can come with a telescope that can be beneficial for astrophotography. You can find them separately, but it’s nice if they are included, especially if you’re new to astrophotography. Some examples include a field flattener, focal reducers, and Barlow lenses.
Type of Photos
One large consideration when it comes to choosing the right telescope for your needs is the type of pictures you want to take.
If you are planning on taking long exposure shots of deep-sky objects, you’ll need to look for a telescope with a respectable aperture size and a go-to mount.
If you’re planning to take pictures of brighter objects, like the sun and moon, then you get by with a larger f/ratio. So you can get good quality pictures without shelling out for a much more expensive OTA.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the most important consideration for astrophotography?
There are probably two main considerations which will have a major effect on the pictures you are able to take. These are the types of mount and the f/ratio.
You need to identify the types of shots you want to take. This will guide you towards the f/ratio you can settle for and the type of mount you need.
What is astrophotography?
Astrophotography is just a posh name for taking pictures of the night sky. It can be done with a regular camera. However, if you want to get detailed pictures of the sky, you need to use either a camera with a telephoto lens or a telescope with a camera mounted to it.
What type of camera do you need for astrophotography?
If you want to take anything more than ‘snaps’ of the night sky, you’ll want to invest in a camera that is capable of taking long-exposure photographs. The generally agreed-upon best option is a DSLR camera. These will work well for beginners and more experienced photographers alike. There is also a good choice of inexpensive options.
Last update on 2023-04-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API