You want to get started in astrophotography - what telescope should you get? The answer is simple. Don't get a telescope!
For astrophotography the best beginner telescope is called a camera lens. Almost any DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera can take great astrophotographs of many kinds of targets. With the light weight of a camera, stable tripods and mounts are much lighter and less expensive.
Here's an example of an image made with a camera, tracking mount, tripod, and telephoto lens that cost about $600 (2nd hand).
You need to learn skills and techniques that you don't need for regular photography. The same skills are needed with a telescope, except they are much bigger, heavier, and harder to use. Mistakes while learning are more expensive with a telescope.
There are no good astrophoto "snapshots". Post processing tools are very important for astrophotographers. Any decent looking astrophoto that you see has had significant work done after the image was taken. You will need new software tools and skills with them. It's not unusual to spend 3 to 5 hours processing a typical image. Putting postprocssing aside, It's best to start with a camera you have. A camera, a tripod, and understanding the "rule of 500" to set your exposure time are all that you need to get started.
Below is an image of Orion taken with a point and shoot camera on a fixed tripod.
For images from a fixed tripod the Rule of 500 gives an approximate maximum exposure time before star trails are visible in your image. Divide 500 by the full frame equivalent focal length of your camera lens to get your maximum exposure time in seconds. For a crop sensor APS camera you must multiply the lens focal length by about 1.5 to get the full frame equivalent focal length. For a micro 4/3 sensor use 2 X, for a 1" sensor 2.7 X.
You will usually want to shoot with your aperture set wide open to shorten exposure time, although reducing it a stop or two may increase sharpness. Careful attention to focusing is important. Electronic focusing with aids like magnified image peaking is much easier and more accurate than using an optical SLR focuser. Focus scales on lenses may not be accurate, so check your focus.
Once you've taken your first images you will quickly find that some specific features and additional equipment will help a lot. In rough order of importance:
Many astrophotographers find that they never need a telescope for imaging. You will want a telescope to image certain types of targets: close up images of the planets or small far away galaxies. The kind of telescope will depend on what you want to image. Starting with a camera first, you will learn the skills needed for the next step and have a better idea of the telescope you need. Be prepared to spend at least 10 times more in time and expense when you do try astrophotography with a telescope.
An excellent resource with lots of tutorials for beginning astrophotographers is Lonely Speck. I've put together a couple of walk throughs of equipment kits I use for photography without a telescope: mirrorless camera with a star tracking drive and a coat pocket astrophotography kit.
Content created: 2016-05-18 and last modified: 2018-01-11
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