A friend asked me for “suggestions on entry level telescopes that I can slap a camera on?”, and I wrote a textwall. I sure as heck don’t want to write this again, so, let’s put it on the internet!
- Tier 0) Point a DSLR at the sky, take ~1 minute shots, however long you can get away with without star trails.
- Tier 1) Barn door tracker: basically, a little motorized panel that you can mount a camera to, that turns roughly at the same rate of earth’s rotation. Can significantly extend the possible exposure time, allowing you to use a traditional telephoto lens for some zoomie pics. Relatively cheap, maybe 50-100 bucks?
- Tier 2) Doesn’t h*cking exist.
- Tier 3) Cheapest solid tracking mount you can buy, and the (extremely tiny) telescope you can put on it. $400-500 for the mount, $200 for the telescope? I do not recommend this, it’s kind of crappy and you’ll be saddened by the quality you get from the money you put in.
- Tier 4) Entry-level mount, entry-level telescope (my current tier): $800-1000 mount, $400 newtonian telescope. Produces some dang fine results, I’m super happy (would be even if I hadn’t sunk a LOT of money into accessory gear). You can get a $10 adapter for a DSLR to the telescope’s mount system, if you don’t want to go full dedicated CMOS astro cam right away. (Entry-level CMOS is $1000-2000, CCD is even higher)
- Tier 4b) Entry-level mount, entry-level refracting telescope: $600-800 mount, $1000 refracting (lens) telescope: The Good Shit™ for deep sky astrophotography (galaxies, nebulae, open/globular clusters, anything not in our solar system). I used to run this for a while, until my parents decided to kick me out, and my telescope is at their house, and no way in hell am I ever seeing this heap of money again.
- Tier 5) Beefier mount, beefier reflector: $2000-3000 mount, $1000-1500 scope. Get those super fast, super deep images, and some hella nice pics of some real dark stuff. You’ll want a full equipment arsenal at this tier - filters, dedicated astrophotography camera, guidescope, all that good stuff.
- Tier 5b) Mid-range mount, schmidt cassegrain telescope: I dunno, something price?? SCTs are for the hella long focal lengths, and this is for those goooood (good shit, aww yeah, mmhmm) planetary pics. Planetary is a whole different beast than deep sky, generally uses a completely different set of equipment/processing flow (e.g. thousands of 10-50ms exposures, instead of 10-50 extremely long exposures)
- Tier god) Dedicated lil house in the back of your yard, permanent mount poured into concrete, fully automated setup, congratulations, your shack in your yard costs more than your car.
(These “tiers” are completely made up, don’t google them)
Clarifications on 4/4b (reflectors/refractors): Reflectors are way cheaper, and generally longer focal lengths than refractors. They’re also usually much physically bigger which means they need bigger (more expensive) mounts. Longer focal length sometimes isn’t what you’re going for, though! Sometimes you need some really quality lenses to get some seriously sharp pics - and yes, traditional refracting lenses are pretty dang good.
The end result of the weight is that for refractors, you don’t need as beefy of a mount, but the telescope itself is usually as expensive or more so than the mount. With reflectors, the mount usually dominates the cost - the actual telescope tube itself is surprisingly cheap!! (A refractor is way easier for portability, too, if that’s a concern)
For reference, here’s the telescope tube I currently have - I really hecking love the speed of it, f/4 is pretty dang fast in the world of telescopes. (also, telescope f ratio means something completely different in astro world than photography world)
For a mount, I have an older (cheaper?) version of the EQ6 mount.