Astrophotography seems to be self-explanatory; Astro, relating to space and photography, taking snapshots of celestial and deep space objects.
Pretty simple, right?
On paper, astrophotography looks easy, but in a real sense, it’s more challenging than you would imagine.
See, astrophotography is much more than just taking a camera and pointing it up to the sky.
This art form requires some specialized equipment and know-how to get it right.
Your standard camera kits alone may not be powerful enough to capture images from farther distances or even in extreme low-light conditions.
This is where telescopes for astrophotography come in.
Of course, not all scopes will capture the best images, which is why we narrowed down our review to the 80mm refractors for astrophotography.
Now, if you’re familiar with telescopes, you already know refractors are simple to use, reliable, and beginner-friendly. They’re less sophisticated than reflectors, don’t require collimation, and most enthusiasts will find it easy working with them.
As for the aperture size, I find the 80mm the sweet spot between efficiency and cost.
The 80mm’s are cost-effective than the 120mm’s and have a far better performance than the 60mm’s.
Sure, they may not have the best light-gathering capabilities, but they can easily capture nearly all the celestial bodies without the need for you to dig deep into your pockets.
But with so many options in the market, finding the best 80mm refractor for astrophotography can be challenging.
Fortunately, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and in the guide below, we shall provide you with a comprehensive review of the best 80mm refractors for astrophotography.
Table of Contents
The Best 80MM Refractor for Astrophotography For The Money
#1 Sky-Watcher ProED 80mm - EDITOR'S CHOICE
Our top pick, the Sky-Watcher Evo, is one of those scopes that has it all.
It was specially built for and from the desires and the needs of astronomers and astrophotographers.
We’re big fans of this scope because it’s powerful and delivers the kind of quality you would only expect from the premium options for only a fraction of the price.
So, no more false colors, no image shifts, and no lack of contrast.
Features and Benefits
I wanted a good-sized APO, but something easy enough for a grab-and-go experience, and all my searches kept pointing me to the Skywatcher ED.
It’s a compact option, and obviously, the shorter tube and small aperture contribute to the scope’s modesty.
Skywatcher is also a doublet, so automatically lighter than a triplet of its size and same class. After all, less glass means less weight!
It’s easier to grab and transport the scope to any of your astrophotography locations.
I don’t even have to remove the scope from my trunk after an imaging session because it still leaves space for more!
Semi APO Doublet
I chose the Sky-Watcher ProEd because it’s marketed as an APO doublet with SCHOOT glass on one side and FPL glass on the other.
Of course, having a triplet would have been better, but far more expensive. This is not to mention an increase in optical quality would probably be quite minimal on an 80-mm aperture scope like the Sky-Watcher.
The results on the ProEd have fewer chromatic aberrations, only detectable on the brightest stars. It’s certainly an improvement over less-expensive ED refractors and achromats.
It produces vibrant true colors from planets like Jupiter and Saturn. The surface details on Jupiter are softened, while the focus is crisp, and details seem to snap right in front of your focus.
The Moon also lacks any chromatic aberration, especially when centered in the field of view, but has some hints of color fringing towards the periphery.
Overall, this scope delivers a satisfying viewing experience, and old hands at the trade will delight using the scope.
There’s no serious complaint about the ProEd, and it is a favorite among the masses, and for a good reason.
But, to be picky, it’s an 80mm refractor, usually classed as an entry-level size for beginners.
It’s the smallest model of the EVO Star Pro series.
While there’s no issue with that for astrophotography, it may be limiting on dim DSOs.
Keep in mind, though, this isn’t a flaw, but if you want bigger, you’ll have to spend more.
Personally, I’ve both an 80- and 100-mm scope, and while both are wonderful options, I tend to reach for the 80mm because of the modest mounting requirements and portability.
Of course, the 100 mm gives you a brighter view, but the 80 mm also provides views of some nebula, like M 42, and galaxies like M31.
Assuming you purchase the appropriate mounting system for astrophotography, it’s easy to achieve the type of Astro images you seek with the ProEd.
With the 600mm focal length, it’s possible to shoot wide-field stuff and good photos of the larger and brighter globular stars clusters and galaxies with some effort.
The scope’s low focal ratio of /7.5 additionally helps with controlling the chromatic aberrations. This way, you can achieve high magnifications even without the ultra-short focal length eyepieces.
However, without a flattener, the star’s edge may look comatic and may seem like you’re zooming towards the center of the field.
#2 Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Telescope - Best for Beginners
Our second pick, the Inspire 80AZ, is the new and improved member of Celestron’s original lineup of telescopes in the Inspire range.
The manufacturer promises superior optics and more accessories over its predecessor for increased observational capabilities.
We recommend the Inspire for beginners because it’s incredibly easy to transport and assemble and promotes light and effortless setup.
Features and Benefits
Inspire’s design is oriented towards beginners and even kids.
Part of this is because beginners will find it easy to navigate and locate celestial bodies.
Additionally, setting ye scope is a breeze and will have you observing in no time. Even on your first time out, you can assemble the telescope and all its accessories in just a few minutes. The adjustable tripod lets you customize the scope’s height or place it on raised surfaces.
We find managing the scope also easy because of its compact and lightweight design. Weighing a measly 16.98 pounds, you should have no problem transporting it beyond the backyard and to a dark-sky site.
With an aperture of 80mm, Inspire’s light-gathering capabilities pass the test.
I’ve used the scope for terrestrial and astronomical viewing and images are clear.
It’s a suitable option for observing the brighter members of the solar system, including the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.
The optical system is also powerful enough to provide closer views of the brightest deep-sky targets, such as the Messier 42 and Messier 31.
Observing the Moon on this scope is exhilarating, and you’ll find it easy to slew from the Craters Tycho and Copernicus.
But as expected at scopes at this price, there’s some degree of false coloration along the lunar limb. We also recommend utilizing a moon filter to improve the contrast and knock back the brightness that often washes out the Moon’s detail.
The only detail I’d like to see added is a control for slow panning. Nevertheless, it was still not difficult to keep the Moon in view as the images move with the Earth’s rotation.
However, suppose you want to see detail in the planets and deep space objects. In that case, I suggest you accessorize the Inspire with further eyepieces while being mindful of the magnifications to avoid blurring.
You’ll discover a myriad of photography opportunities during your observation, and the good thing is Inspire will afford you the chance to snap on the images.
A cool thing with the Inspire is it promotes easy astrophotography.
The scope is supplied with a smartphone adapter built into the objective lens cap to help you line up your phone’s camera lens right up to the eyepiece for a quick snapshot.
Just lock your smartphone’s camera lens onto the adapter and snap away.
As for accessories, few beginner scopes are accessorized as the Inspire.
First, it comes complete with a 90-degree diagonal, a pair of 20mm and 10mm Kellen eyepieces to provide you with everything you need to start your observation of the cosmos.
You also get a download code for Celestron’s “Starry Night” astronomy software, which lets you plan your observing sessions.
Unfortunately, because the scope lacks a computerized mount, it’s impossible to make the most of the software using the ‘Go-To’ facility. It would have been more useful to have a computerized Celestron telescope.
#3 Explore Scientific ED 80 - Value Option
I was recommended the Explore Scientific ED80by a friend I met on an online astrophotography forum. He had recently posted fantastic images showcasing the incredible imaging capabilities of this triplet APO.
By then, I had no idea that the scope would be my ticket to a lifelong ride into the world of astrophotography.
Explore ED 80 comes in both aluminum and carbon fiber variations and is pivotal to those dedicated to the art of deep-sky astrophotography.
Feature and Benefits
Overall, the construction seems solid with a great finish.
Everything seems solid out of the box.
The real start here is the carbon fiber construction, which not only looks good but extremely lightweight, especially for something so large.
It’s portable and easy to manage, and for most nights, I’m always ready in less than 10 minutes.
This is one area this scope doesn’t disappoint.
For virtual observation, it produces bright, sharp images with potentially gigantic fields of view.
For instance, the Moon’s views are ultra-sharp and detailed and don’t show chromatic aberration signs, even at advanced stages when the Moon is super bright.
DSO’s that are closer to the solar system are also captured in fantastic contrast. It’s easy to observe the M31, and we love how the scope resolves dust on the M32 and M1010.
At higher powers, it’s even possible to observe the rings of Saturn.
The Cassini division is visible, and even some subtle banding on Saturn’s disc.
Jupiter is a fine sight, and the bands are clear and sharp.
Of course, for the price, don’t expect this scope to resolve the finer details as the premium and large telescopes do.
Nonetheless, it still offers an impressive sight, especially considering it flaunts an 80mm aperture and a short focal length.
While the scope shines on visual observation, it also shines when it comes to photography.
I’ve not had much experience with APO refractors, but when I see ED 80’s photographic results compared to other people’s 80mm APO refractors, I’m impressed.
It’s particularly a fantastic option for shooting the Moon; whether with a DSLR or lunar imager, it delivers incredible results and will even reveal the subtle details.
The contrast on the fine surface detail is pronounced on this scope, despite the higher resolution and higher power.
However, we recommend using a coma corrector to eliminate some mild chromatic aberration.
While you might have perfect focus near the middle of your field of view, focus at the outer edge is soft.
Of course, the corrector isn’t necessary if you’ll be using it for visual needs, but for more pronounced astrophotography, you’ll need one.
You don’t get a lot in the box, but you certainly get what you need.
Even better, what you get is of good quality.
Explore Scientific comes complete with an extension tube, two carbon fiber diagonal, and an optical tube permanently attached to its Vixen-style dovetail
You get a basic package, but it has everything, save for an eyepiece and finder scope.
#4 Orion ED80T CF Triplet Apo - Portable
The Orion might be small, but it offers a big performance.
It’s also expensive, but not a surprise, considering it has a triple element objective lens that works to eliminate chromatic aberration that would otherwise destroy your photos.
With that in mind, can you do astrophotography with this scope?
Of course, you can, but there’s a catch.
Orion is a tube-only purchase with limited accessories, so you’ll be forced to fork out more for eyepieces, mount, and tripod.
Is that worth looking somewhere else?
Let’s find out
Features and Benefits
If you need a true grab-n-go scope, you can’t go wrong with the Orion.
With its shorter tube length and small aperture, this option is lightweight and portable, even with additional lenses.
It weighs a measly 5.5 pounds, so it should be easy to move around to your observing ground.
Additionally, it’s compact, so you can stash it into your car’s trunk or even backseat and still leave space for more items.
Triple APO Optics
Orion is one of my favorite scopes, and this largely because of the triple glass element.
If you’re familiar with the scope, you know that the best scopes for astrophotography will almost be APO scopes.
Our option consists of three lenses that help in correcting both chromatic and spherical aberrations.
Simply put, your observation or images should be free from color bleeding, fringing, or lase coloration, even on high contrast elements such as the Moon at its brightest.
Of course, a triplet lens element isn’t necessary for visual observation, but it’s critical for imaging and astrophotography.
On the flipside, triplets are more expensive than achromatic doublets.
In my opinion, though, the pay is worth it because you get plenty of benefits on this scope, including more color, less fringing, better sharpness, and improved fidelity.
Generally, APOs have good optical systems for astrophotography, and the Orion is not any different.
As for Orion’s specs, the F/6 ratio at the low-medium speed end of the spectrum is ideal for wide fields at low magnifications.
It also delivers awesome planetary photography with high magnification and will work well for most Astro imaging purposes.
While APO optics does correct some spherical aberrations, some have blurriness, especially for longer exposures.
It may be a dealbreaker for some users, but it’s easy to overcome by using a flattener.
The type of mounting is essential in Astro imaging as it enables you to track and follow your target after exposure.
Luckily, our pick has a ¼”-20 built-in mounting block mountable to any camera.
Additionally, it features pre-installed tube rings as well as a dovetail mounting plate.
#5 Sky Watcher Esprit 80mm
The Sky-Watcher Esprit 80 is an APO refractor scope designed for wide-field view astrophotography.
The Orion is a triple refracting scope, utilizing three lenses to produce images free from any color aberrations.
Being a huge fan of the wide-field APOs myself, I’ve a feeling this scope will help me produce the type of images I strive for.
Features and Benefits
Sky-Watcher Esprit comes in the form of an optical tube, roughly 15 pounds.
It’s not the lightest option on our list, but lightweight enough to use with entry-level equatorial mounts.
The optical tube’s length is just under 25 inches, so you shouldn’t have any problems managing or storing it.
Despite the compact size, it’s very stocky and solid, and I love that it can take a beating without compromising on its integrity.
Esprit’s signature feature is the triple-lens construction that works hard to correct any color aberration or fringing.
Unprocessed images of this telescope are good, if not better than most of the APO refractors I’ve used.
This “super-APO” uses high-end BK-7 and FPL-53 glasses to deliver images free from false coloration. Simply put, you see the images as Mother Nature intends you to see them.
With a focal length of 400mm and an F-ratio of f/5, Esprit produces dramatic astrophotography images for the type of DSO I go after.
If you’re particularly a big fan of nebulae targets like the Andromeda Galaxy or the Eastern Veil Nebula, Esprit’s native magnification is a perfect fit.
With the right camera, you’ll also have awesome snapshots of other large targets such as the North America Nebula.
But what I love most about this wide-field scope is it’s generally more “forgiving” than options with longer focal length.
I find the Esprit 80mm perfect for beginners because they don’t require tracking accuracy and auto-guiding performance the larger instrument does.
Remember that Esprit 80mm is tailored for deep-sky astrophotography and may fall short for planetary imaging or visual observations.
Like a true premium pick, Esprit comes complete with a host of visual accessories, including a diagonal and a finderscope.
Best 80MM Refractor for Astrophotography Buying Guide
So, what makes a good telescope for astrophotography?
There’re plenty of factors to consider on a telescope for astrophotography because what you use for sky imaging is different for a telescope for star-gazing.
We go through what we believe are some of the best specifications and features to look out for in a telescope for astrophotography in the text below.
Features to Consider when Choosing an 80mm Telescope for Astrophotography
Aperture is a measure of the diameter of the lens.
The aperture size you want for astrophotography needs is different from what you would want for star-gazing.
The reason is obvious: space is dark.
In astrophotography, you want to capture as much light as possible to see the specific body or details you’re looking at.
As for our picks, you’ll benefit from an 80mm aperture size, which is big enough to allow better light gathering capabilities and illuminate the celestial bodies in detail.
The focal length refers to how strong the scope’s system converges or diverges light.
If it sounds complex, then it’s simply the distance between the objective lens and where the light reaches focus.
It’s a critical specification as it impacts the focal ratio.
Generally, longer focal lengths result in dimmer images, though the difference isn’t easily noticeable.
The focal ratio is expressed in the form of an f-number.
Focal ratio is the ratio of a scope’s focal length to the diameter of the lens.
Normally, scopes come as fast or slow scopes.
Now, there’re benefits of having a high and a low f-number, but both also have their demerits.
The smaller the f-number, the faster the scope. Faster scopes are fantastic at providing a wide field of view, which is good for deep sky imaging.
On the other hand, the slow scopes provide a narrow field of view and are more useful for planetary use, especially when you want to zoom in to a specific object.
If you’re still unsure of what focal ratio to go with for your scope, I would recommend staying in the safe zone of f/6 or f/8.
When considering a telescope for astrophotography, it’s always a good idea to consider where you’ll be using it.
Will you use it in your backyard or take it to places with you?
It’s an important question to consider because it affects the type of scope good for your needs.
Of course, refractor telescopes are generally smaller and easy to manage than other types of scopes.
But some are more portable than others, and we would recommend you pick an option you feel you can manage without a hassle.
I know this is a bit strange, but the mount’s choice will affect the overall astrophotography experience.
This is because the Earth is in motion, so you need to consider its rotation. Without that, you’re likely to have your images blurred or with lines because of the scope staying in the same place but not staying focused on the same thing.
The alt-azimuth, standard across many telescopes, is decent and intuitive to move because it can be shifted left-right and down-up.
However, there is a second type of mount available for some of the more powerful telescopes.
The equatorial mount moves in a fixed direction and a single motion. It’s a great option for beginners because it looks like the telescope is being moved diagonally.
In the real sense, though, the equatorial mount moves in an opposite direction relative to the Earth, so it keeps you aligned to your sky object, making it harder to lose your objects once it’s set up.
Away from the two, the mounts are also categorized into manual and motorized options.
As for the manual telescopes, you adjust the telescope yourself, while the motorized options are digitized, so you don’t have to do all the work by yourself.
While astrophotography is possible with different mounts, we recommend an equatorial mount because it’s the most practical option for these computers.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner on our list of the best 80mm refractors or astrophotography is Sky-Watcher ProED 80mm.
We chose this option because it comes with everything you need to capture detailed shots of the DS.
Of course, it doesn’t have the highest specifications on our list (it’s a doublet), but it has grown in popularity because of striking the perfect balance between cost and performance.
It may not eliminate all the color fringing as the triple APO does, but it’s a performance that leaves nothing to be desired, even for the experienced users.
This is not to mention it comes at a budget-friendly price tag.