Best Telescope For Astrophotography Under $500 [Buyers Guide]

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For many years, telescopes have led to a plethora of our most significant discoveries about outer space and what exists beyond our own planet.

If you’re looking to catch a glimpse for yourself or possibly have a knack for photography, there’s undoubtedly a telescope on the market that suits your needs and budget.

This buyer’s guide will dive into three of the most popular astrophotography telescopes available for less than $500.

Here are the top picks:

Product
Editors Choice
Celestron - AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope
Celestron Inspire 80AZ Telescope
Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
Celestron - AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope - Reflector Telescope for Beginners - Fully-Coated Glass Optics - Adjustable-Height Tripod - BONUS Astronomy Software Package
Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Smartphone Adapter Built-In Refracting Telescope, Blue (22402)
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope (Black)
Aperture
130mm (5.11")
80mm (3.14")
130mm (5.11")
Highest Useful Magnification
250x
189x
260x
Editors Choice
Product
Celestron - AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope
Celestron - AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope - Reflector Telescope for Beginners - Fully-Coated Glass Optics - Adjustable-Height Tripod - BONUS Astronomy Software Package
Aperture
130mm (5.11")
Highest Useful Magnification
250x
Product
Celestron Inspire 80AZ Telescope
Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Smartphone Adapter Built-In Refracting Telescope, Blue (22402)
Aperture
80mm (3.14")
Highest Useful Magnification
189x
Product
Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope (Black)
Aperture
130mm (5.11")
Highest Useful Magnification
260x

Let’s now delve into each telescope and explain why they are so worthy of your consideration.

Celestron – AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope

Widely loved by many astronomy enthusiasts, the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Telescope is more than capable of satisfying your astrophotography needs.

The Celestron AstroMaster telescope is a brilliant reflector telescope that is ideal for astronomy newcomers looking to get started without breaking the bank.

Features:

  • Aperture – 130mm
  • Focal ratio – f/5
  • Focal length – 650mm
  • Limiting stellar magnitude – 14.2
  • Magnifications (with eyepieces) – 33x and 65x
  • Mount – Equatorial with motor drive for object tracking
  • Finderscope – Star-pointer
  • Highest useful magnification – 250x
  • Total weight – 28lbs

Pros

It has fully-coated glass lenses, a light and robust frame, two eyepieces, a StarPointer red dot finderscope, including an adjustable tripod.

Easy Setup & Use

The company has also made it easy to set up your DSLR camera to take photos, although it doesn’t include a Barlow lens which can be essential for higher quality photos.

This telescope can easily be used by adults and children alike.

Lightweight & Portable

It’s known for its lightweight frame and comes with a manual German Equatorial mount for quick and precise aiming.

An excellent choice for beginners, as telescopes can end up getting quite complicated to operate correctly.

For example, telescopes range from small desktop stands all the way up to the Hubble Space Telescope that orbits our planet.

The system is powered by a 130mm glass optic objective lens allowing you to see the Moon and distant planets in plain sight.

Refined Adjustments

The AstroMaster mount includes two slow-motion control knobs for making more refined adjustments in your view.

Don’t forget to attach your 10mm or 20mm eyepieces for added comfort.

Astronomy Software

Additionally, this telescope includes the Starry Night Basic Edition astronomy software that consists of a database of over 36,000 space objects.

You can print sky maps, look up an endless list of known objects in outer space, and plan out your next observation, including what you’re looking for.

Cons

Build

Although this may be an excellent choice for beginners, any astronomer with experience tends to say otherwise, as there are a few complaints about the build and performance even with the qualities it provides.

For starters, one of the most recurring comments is that the base model could use some upgrades to perform optimally.

Even though some people may be okay with the optical quality, many others say it lacks in comparison to the price as it can at times provide a low-quality view.

Secondary Eyepiece

Furthermore, there are consistent complaints about the lower eyepiece that’s provided.

You’ll find issues with internal reflections, blurry pictures, and weak construction.

Because of its limited apparent field, it only has an actual field of vision of 0.9 degrees, making it difficult to locate many things that are otherwise simple to find.

Mount Stability

As for the mount included with this telescope, many stargazers have issues with its stability and overall sturdiness.

This can easily be a deal-breaker for many as astrophotography can require extreme steadiness for extended periods of time without interruption.

In addition, the optical tube’s rings are adjustable to change the position of the eyepiece.

However, doing so can easily mess up the telescope’s balance, distort the telescope’s aiming, and ruin your view.

When passing objects in outer space can begin and end in seconds, it’s essential these minor mishaps don’t occur with your telescope.

Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Telescope

An excellent option for beginners is the Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Telescope.

Features

  • Aperture – 80mm (3.15”)
  • Focal ratio – f/11
  • Focal length – 900mm (35.43”)
  • Limiting stellar magnitude – 12
  • Magnifications (with eyepieces) – 45x and 90x
  • Mount  – Altazimuth mount
  • Finderscope – Star-pointer
  • Lowest useful magnification – 11x
  • Highest useful magnification – 189x
  • Total weight – 25.6lbs

Pros

Easy Setup

This telescope’s construction is easy to set up.

All that’s needed is to open the tripod legs and fix the accessory tray’s position before inserting the telescope tube into the mount’s dovetail lock, and you’re good to go.

Portability

Not only is this an affordable option, but it’s easily portable too.

Astronomy Software

This telescope also comes with a copy of Celestron’s Starry Night Astronomy Software in addition to their SkyPortal mobile app.

This allows you to discover outer space, our Solar System, and countless objects in the night sky.

This will help you search for particular objects and keep you educated along the way with your new discoveries.

Smartphone Adapter

Concerning astrophotography, the Inspire 80AZ has made it easier than ever by providing a smartphone adapter so you can take fast and simple photographs with your smartphone.

Of course, there are some quality limitations to this, but you can find plenty of decent image examples from previous customers online.

Furthermore, you can improve some of the image quality by using better quality eyepieces as well.

Cons

When it comes to the vastness and unpredictability of outer space, a fantastic viewing opportunity can pass by in mere seconds.

Luckily, you can find a few upgrades that’ll ensure you never miss such an opportunity.

Manual Adjustments

Some telescopes come with auto-tracking capabilities that can help ensure that you never lose a passing object.

With the Inspire 80AZ, unfortunately, you’ll have to make manual adjustments to keep track of these passing opportunities.

Requires Delicacy

Target tracking with this telescope can be tricky since it demands a sensitive yet delicate touch and synchronous movement along two axes: left and right, in addition to up and down.

This can prove difficult for someone who has never used a telescope before.

Color Fringing

Furthermore, there are quite a few reports of color fringing, including blurring, which would only become worse during manual tracking.

This can be improved by upgrading your eyepieces as the stock versions with the 80AZ aren’t the best, especially if you’re looking to take some photos.

For example, considering many comets can travel between 2000 and 10,000 miles per hour, you don’t want your chance at a viewing or a picture ruined by blurred colors.

Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

If you’re looking to track passing objects and capture a few photos conveniently, the Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope is more than equipped for novice and experienced stargazers alike.

Features

  • Aperture – 130mm
  • Focal ratio – f/5
  • Focal length – 650mm
  • Magnifications (with eyepieces) – 26x and 65x
  • Mount  – Equatorial mount
  • Finderscope – 6×30
  • Lowest useful magnification – 19x
  • Highest useful magnification – 260x
  • Total weight – 24.2lbs

Pros

Slow-Motion Tracking

You can practice manual slow-motion tracking of objects in space as they appear to move across your vision with the EQ-2 equatorial telescope mount and adjustable tripod.

Highly Portable

If you have a favorite viewing location, the telescope’s 24-inch long optical tube construction makes it highly portable, allowing you to take your celestial observations anywhere you want with little to no hassle.

Great Light-Gathering-Ability

Furthermore, the aperture reflector telescope catches enough light to provide stunning views of the Moon, numerous planets, in addition to galaxies, stars, and even nebulas.

Great Optics

Having a decent view goes hand in hand with having the appropriate optics.

The telescope has magnifications of 26x and 65x, and the highest useful magnification is 260x; however, for optimum picture quality, you might consider a Barlow lens to see finer details in your field of view.

Aside from improving your optics, you can utilize the included 6×30 finderscope to precisely point the SpaceProbe reflector at a variety of near and far objects in outer space.

Astronomy Software

You can’t talk about the Orion 130ST without mentioning its excellent and extremely helpful astronomy software.

With this telescope comes a Special Edition of Starry Night astronomy software. The user-friendly Starry Night Special Edition program will help you organize your explorations and comprehend what you see by providing realistic sky simulations. It includes many other essential features, such as additional control of your telescope as well.

Cons

Poor Assembly Instructions

Among novice and experienced astrophotography enthusiasts, a commonly talked about issue with this telescope is the included instructions for assembly.

Numerous individuals from varying experience levels with telescopes agree that the included instructions aren’t constructive, if not overly confusing.

This has made it somewhat challenging for some to get started, but there are a few other quirks about it as well.

EQ Mount Tracking

In regard to the telescopes included mount, EQ (equatorial) mounts can be difficult for tracking objects and, in many cases, may require entirely dark skies for any decent visibility at all.

Picture Quality

In reference to the topic at hand, the Orion 130ST is an excellent beginner telescope for those interested in astrophotography, but it doesn’t go very far with picture quality.

With the correct adapter, you can utilize your smartphone to take pictures of your view, but you won’t be able to surpass the quality of mobile phones.

If you want to take a more detailed approach with better quality photos, this would require a different telescope or camera combination.

The photos you take would be limited to our solar system’s Moon and planets.

You can track manually, and if you buy a Barlow lens to raise the focal ratio, you should be able to get a better and improved image.

In addition, you can find a 1.25″ camera adapter for DSLRs that the Orion company themselves sells.

Nevertheless, it should be understood that although this is possible, the Orion 130ST isn’t explicitly made for this level of astrophotography.

Overall Build

Moving forward, the overall build quality of the telescope has led to a decent number of complaints.

Although celestial viewing seems like an entirely stationary activity, it’s actually quite the opposite.

Some forget that the rotation of the Earth, in combination with the movement of other celestial objects, requires the telescope to be adjusted occasionally.

The Orion 130ST doesn’t have the sturdiest tripod and has a history of having somewhat of a shake or wobble to it, which can be frustrating when trying to track the Moon, planets, or other space objects.

Buyer’s Guide – Choosing the Best Telescope for Astrophotography Under $500

You likely have other questions before you make your purchase, so let’s get into the main ones which will hopefully help you make your decision.

Which Type Of Telescope Is Best For Astrophotography?

The best telescope for astrophotography is one that suits your specific needs and meets your quality standards.

Suppose you’re just looking to test the waters of astrophotography.

In that case, it’d be best to start with a manual tracking telescope, as it will allow you to learn how to properly navigate a telescope in addition to how tracking objects work.

Furthermore, you want to ensure whichever telescope you choose has a sturdy and reliable tripod, as the slightest tremble of movement could mean the loss of the celestial object you’ve been tracking.

If you’re looking for a little less hassle, there are plenty of astrophotography telescopes that come with automatic tracking features, along with electronic axis adjustments.

These types of telescopes tend to come with very informational and helpful software that aids your stargazing efforts.

Although they may be more expensive, telescopes with automatic tracking can make it much easier to find and track moving objects in the night sky, and the software will keep you educated on what you see at the same time.

What Makes A Telescope Good For Astrophotography?

A telescope that pairs user-friendliness, high-quality optics, and sufficient power to observe deep enough into space.

One of the recurring complaints with various astrophotography telescopes is the stock eyepieces they come with tend to be of low quality.

For the best viewing experience, you want to ensure you have a quality eyepiece; otherwise, you may be dealing with blurred images, color blending, and overall a poor quality viewing experience.

Furthermore, telescopes provide many different magnifications, which will be paramount concerning what you’re searching for in outer space.

Higher magnification doesn’t always mean the same or better quality, though, so make sure to review the telescope’s magnification quality and capabilities.

Another common concern among astrophotography enthusiasts is a well-built and sturdy mount.

This can be a deal-breaker for many as many can’t afford even the slightest movement during their viewing session.

The provided aperture is also essential regarding viewing quality and capabilities, as this is what determines how much light the telescope can receive.

A higher aperture will allow you to produce more vibrant and detailed images from your telescope.

In Conclusion

It’s apparent that astrophotography comes with a wide array of equipment and specifics regarding quality and performance.

There are many telescopes available for $500 or less that can handle various astrophotography interests.

Moreover, you can rest assured that there’s plenty you can do to upgrade your telescope’s viewing quality and the images you get out of your observation sessions.

If I could only recommend one then it would be the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ-MD – and I would get it off Amazon, too.

So if you’re on the fence, go with that one.