Budget Astrophotography Kit Guide

by Zane Landers

Astrophotography, unfortunately, is a bit of a money pit. Not only is the gear expensive, but the overall quality of your images and the versatility of your rig is pretty much directly proportional to how much you spend. Thus, it’s important to consider how easily you’ll be able to upgrade as your interests and budgetary constraints evolve over time (and camera/software technology improves). 

The bottom line is that if your budget is under several thousand dollars you are going to want a rig that is easy to upgrade piecemeal over time, and the easiest way to do this is to start with fewer, but a high-quality kit that’s modular and easy to swap out. Even if you have a really huge budget, the only thing you should be spending big bucks on immediately is the equatorial mount; upgrades can wait and you’ll make better decisions on what to buy once you learn more, but getting rid of an expensive toy you lost interest in is a challenge.

Even if you have a really huge budget, the only thing you should be spending big bucks on immediately is the equatorial mount…

This article is mainly about rigs for deep-sky astrophotography. For planetary astrophotography, the main formula is to get the biggest telescope you can afford, equip it with motorized tracking with either an equatorial platform or driven mount, and get a relatively inexpensive planetary camera and the appropriate Barlow lens. Most guide cameras are pretty good for planetary photography, assuming you get the color versions.


We’ve created 5 kit recommendations based on price range brackets.

Capabilities: Star trails, Milky Way, very large nebulae

Camera: Canon Ti series or similar DSLR

Telescope: Quality kit lens up to 180mm focal length or so.

Mount: iOptron SkyTracker Pro, Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, or Omegon MiniTrack LX3

Guiding: None

Other: Photo tripod and suitable ball head

A DSLR, kit lens, and a star tracker can produce wonderful shots of the Milky Way and large nebulae along with nightscapes and star trails (the latter doesn’t even need a tracking mount). A star tracker usually can’t support autoguiding or anything with a long focal length, though a lens of up to 180mm might work okay. If you already have a DSLR and lens, all the power to you.

If your budget gets bigger, you might want to consider upgrades like a broadband light pollution filter or image processing software such as PixInsight.

Capabilities: Large nebulae, Andromeda Galaxy, widefield shots of star clusters

Camera: Canon Ti series or similar DSLR


Telescope: Sky-Watcher Evolux 62ED, Apertura 60ED, Astro-Tech AT60ED

Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi or Explore Scientific iEXOS-100

Guiding: None

Other: Field flattener and/or focal reducer

Witha budget of $1200 or more, you can start using an actual – albeit very small – telescope and equatorial mount. The sub-$1000 equatorial mounts like the Star Adventurer GTi are essentially beefed-up star trackers with declination motors and the ability to add autoguiding in the future when your budget allows. These small refractor setups are lightweight and tolerant of poor polar alignment, but will allow you to go after large nebulae and star clusters, as well as really wide shots of galaxies (namely the Andromeda Galaxy or galaxy groups).

If you can afford it, a field flattener will dramatically improve your images’ sharpness towards the edges with a refractor. A 0.8x reducer/flattener combination increases your speed photographically but makes for a pitifully short focal length.

As previously mentioned, paid software packages for processing are a good idea when your budget allows.

Capabilities: Most emission nebulae, some galaxies, larger star clusters

Camera: Canon Ti series or similar DSLR


Telescope: Apertura 72mm Doublet, Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED, SVBONY SV503 80ED, or SVBONY SV550

Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro, iOptron CEM26, Celestron Advanced VX, or Explore Scientific EXOS-2GT

Guiding: None

Other: Field flattener and/or focal reducer

You’re not going to have wildly different results with a 70-72mm fast refractor versus a smaller 60mm one, but the slightly longer focal length is still nice for smaller targets, and an 80mm scope can start to let you do a little more with galaxies or other small targets. The bigger takeaway here is the mount. Any of the mounts on our list here has a massive payload capacity compared to a small star tracker, and will work with ASCOM drivers and PC control software, but the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro and iOptron CEM26 have significantly better performance than their competitors and a higher true weight capacity, making them more versatile and allowing of future upgrades. You can of course add guiding later.

Capabilities: Most nebulae, galaxies, globular and open star clusters

Camera: Canon Ti series or similar DSLR


Telescope: Apertura, Astro-Tech, GSO, Orion, or Meade 6” f/4 Newtonian astrograph

Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro or iOptron CEM26

Guiding: SVBONY 50mm Guide Scope with ZWO or SVBONY guide camera

Other: Baader MPCC Coma Corrector

A 6” f/4 astrograph is an ambitious setup, but with a proper coma corrector and autoguiding will allow you to capture galaxies and globular star clusters, as well as nebulae and open star clusters (albeit with a reduced field of view). The autoguiding is really key to making this setup work, and a coma corrector is needed to avoid blurry stars starting halfway out from the center of an f/4 reflector’s field of view.

Capabilities: Large nebulae, Andromeda Galaxy, widefield shots of star clusters

Camera: Canon Ti series or similar DSLR


Telescope: Sharpstar 61EDPHII, Askar FRA300, William Optics RedCat 51,

Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro or iOptron CEM26

Guiding: SVBONY 30mm Guide Scope with ZWO or SVBONY guide camera

This setup is really a suggestion – with such a large budget, purchasing refractors with built-in reducer/flattener combinations is possible, and you can add guiding for even better results. A cooled camera and filters might be a worthwhile upgrade in the future, too, for an even wider field and more spectacular results.