We’re often asked here at Bintel what the best way to take photos through a telescope is. In reality, half of our store is dedicated to selling not optics, but astronomical cameras, mounts, adapters, filters, and other accessories, so it’s not like there’s a “one size fits all” response. That said, for a beginner buying their first telescope, it’s not particularly hard to take a few shots of the brightest target in the night sky, and this quick guide will show you how, with two easy methods!
1: Use your phone – no additional parts required!
In the same way you position your eye above the telescope eyepiece to view the night sky, you can also position the camera on your phone. With a bit of practice, it’s not too difficult to line up the small pinprick of light to the camera sensor, allowing you to take photos of the moon with ease! Holding the setup still however is a challenge for everybody. Keep at it, and with persistence, you may end up with some very nice shots – the moon image above was taken with an iPad by one of our customers, Paul Woodhouse, and his Celestron CPC. This method will work for all telescopes, and can be used to take zoomed in images during the day too!
If you are struggling to hold your phone steady enough to take an image, it may be worth considering a smartphone mount, which will clip your phone directly to the eyepiece. Mounts similar to this are also available for point-and-shoot fixed lens cameras – see our camera adapters page for more.
2: Use your DSLR (for refractors and SCT cassegrains only)
If you have a DSLR camera with removable lens, taking the next step is an obvious choice to take excellent images. Depending on the brand of your camera, and the type of telescope you have, a few extra parts will be needed as follows, but once you get started, the exciting world of astro-imaging awaits! While this article is specifically about moon photography, this sort of setup will allow the dedicated astronomer to image planets, and some of the brighter deep space objects too, especially if the telescope being used is electronic with GoTo. For the best results, use a remote shutter for your DSLR to avoid unnecessary vibration, available at most good camera stores.
Part One: T-ring for your camera – this will allow your camera to clip onto the back of your telescope just like it would attach to a lens.
Part Two: Projection Camera Adapter – if you have a refractor, you will likely need this adapter to reach focus (in some instances, the t-ring may work directly on the telescope, but this varies between models). The included extension tube however is a welcome addition to any photographer’s kit, and will allow you to increase the magnification of your images, zooming right in on the moon’s craters!
Part Three: SCT Adapter – this replaces the visual back of an SCT (Cassegrain) telescope, and allows the T-ring to screw on. If you have a Nexstar 4SE, you will need the Mak Adapter
Now, you’re ready to get started!
The Moon – by Nicky Ladas with her Celestron CPC from Bintel, and Canon 60D
Potential pitfalls to take note of:
- DSLR cameras will more often than not fail to reach focus when connected to reflector or dobsonian telescopes, due to the optical arrangement of these systems. For the best results, we recommend only attempting this type of photography with glass-based refractors (of appropriate size) or schmit-cassegrain telescopes, however with the correct t-ring, some reflectors will be able to image (eg: the Skywatcher Collapsible GoTo Dobsonian range)
- You may have heard of “long exposure astrophotography”, whereby the exposure of a camera is left open for up to half an hour, letting in as much light as possible to create the image. This requires an electronic tracking telescope, but it must be on an EQ-style mount. Most GoTo computerised telescopes we sell are on AZ-style mounts, and must be upgraded with a wedge for this more advanced form of photography. Without a wedge, these telescopes are excellent for short-exposure photos of the moon and planets, and are capable of imaging the brightest deep sky targets, but for the best results, a wedge is recommended.
- Please be aware that while any camera can be connected to any telescope with the right parts, mounting a big heavy DSLR on the back of a small refractor or reflector model is always going to cause stability issues, so taking a worthwhile image can be very challenging with this method.
If you are unsure, please feel free to contact our full-time staff in-store for more details, or advice on how to set up your specific telescope and camera combination for astrophotography.