Astrophotography: Equipment Types

This is part of a larger article series on the basics of astrophotography.


Buying amateur astronomy equipment is exciting and fun – so much so that beginners tend to rush into it a bit unprepared. I did.

If you are a beginner to astronomy, you may be on the verge of buying your first equipment, and you may have astrophotography in mind as one objective. Or, if you have a bit of experience in amateur astronomy, you may be thinking of buying your first additional equipment, and, again, astrophotography may be one of your objectives.

There is a great variety of good astronomy equipment on the market. One could probably say there is no bad equipment (with the exception of the deceptive astronomy-like toys sold in department stores); but there are certainly bad choices, and I made many of them. I purchased telescopes poorly matched to mounts, purchased mounts with astrophotography in mind that were poorly suited to astrophotography, planned to use cameras that were not good choices, underestimated the difficulty of the things I hoped to do first, and overestimated the quality of results I should expect. I had a series of disappointing efforts before I paused, studied the field, and then spent a couple of years starting over with better equipment choices, expectations, and planning. I’m still not good at astrophotography, but at least I am now feeling progress instead of frustration.

This article outlines what I wish I had understood sooner: the kinds of equipment available to the astrophotographer, and the strengths, weaknesses, and intended uses of each. I hope it helps you understand your options and make intelligent choices.

We will discuss:

The different types of telescopes and how well they are suited to astrophotography, and to what kind.
The different types of cameras that can be used for astrophotography, and how they should be matched to the kind of targets you would like to photograph and to your other equipment.
Probably the most important item, yet the one most neglected by beginners, is the choice of mount. We will review the various kinds with respect to their suitability for astrophotography.
A solution to a problem you may not even know you have, special cameras and control hardware are available to help you keep your telescope precisely tracking your imaging target. We’ll review when these are needed and how they are used.
Since most modern astrophotography is done with digital techniques, you will need a computer and appropriate software for most forms of imaging. We’ll have a quick, if incomplete, look at the field.
You are using so many parts, connected in so many ways, that it is worth your while to take the time to draw a “schematic diagram” of your system. This will be invaluable in debugging, and in setting up after you have had to take your gear apart for repairs or storage.

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