The Cheapest Ways to Start or Improve Your Astronomy

Astronomy, like most hobbies, can quickly get very expensive depending on how far you go down the rabbit hole. If you fall into the trap of buying your way out of problems you may find your family or significant other staging an intervention to avoid losing all your assets because you wanted that shiny new dome and that $100k professional PlaneWave telescope.

Ok this might be a bit too cheap.

Some of the best photos I’ve taken  with extremely modest gear. Here are some ideas, and at the end of this article we’ll list all accessories in-store for less than $200 that can help your astronomy.


Basic Visual Astronomy

If you aren’t taking photos, astronomy in general doesn’t need to be expensive at all. You won’t need tracking, cameras or fancy adapters and filters. All you need is a halfway decent tube and a tripod. The following telescopes are all examples of simple setup-and-go visual telescopes for simply looking at space with your own eyeballs. Many astronomers also start with hand held binoculars which can also open up a whole world of opportunity.

Don Machholz – Visual Comet Hunter

Don Machholz uses his eyeballs and homemade equipment to discover comets, and has discovered 12 of them by eye alone! Don is living proof that serious astronomy can be done unaided by expensive or computerised equipment. See his work at http://donmachholz.com

These telescopes lack some of the fancy features of the more expensive ones, but ultimately contain the same underlying magnification you need to channel photons from space into your eyes.


DSLR Widefield Images

Before we even get into telescopes though, it’s important to remember that space is big. Like, really big. Some of the best photos of space don’t actually fit in a telescope at all, because the Milky Way and some of the larger visual galaxies are so large you don’t even need a telescope to capture them. Using a DSLR Camera, wide angle lens and a simple tripod is often all you need to take beautiful portraits of the Milky Way. Many of these options have become extremely affordable in the last few years with capable DSLR camera bodies being quite cheap to buy second hand.

Dylan O’Donnell – Right time, right place.

Dylan took this image of Comet 252P/Linear passing the Large Magellanic Cloud from his backyard using nothing but a DSLR camera, cheap 50mm lens and a tripod. The image was published by National Geographic. See his work at http://deography.com

Most of the gear needed to do wide field DSLR work can be bought from a regular camera store, however Bintel does stock some helpful accessories.


Smartphone Astrophotography

Cameras can be an expensive part of astrophotography, but most of us are walking around with a perfectly capable camera right in our pockets. Revolutions in CMOS sensors are creating a new breed of astrophotographer taking both wide field images of the Milky Way and telescope enabled images of deep space targets with the aid of a simple smartphone adapter.

Grant Petersen – Smartphone ISS.

Grant took this incredible image of the International Space Station with manual telescope tracking and a Samsung Galaxy S8. See his work at https://twitter.com/GP_O11

Bintel stock a range of smartphone adapters depending on your budget.


Small Tracking Mounts

If you’d like to get into equatorial tracking in order to capture long-exposures of deep space without committing to a heavy, expensive equatorial mount then you should consider one of the cheaper small tracking mounts that have been growing in popularity recently. The SkyWatcher Star Adventure is probably the most popular of these and will allow you to track the rotation of the sky/Earth with a DSLR and a long lens, or modest telescope setup. They are lightweight, portable and easy to use with no shortage of stunning results.

Giritharan – Bintel Customer

This amazing image of the Carina nebula was taken with a Williams Optics Star 71ii, SkyWatcher Star Adventurer with Manfrotto tripod & Canon 6D Camera (140 x 40s @ ISO2000, Stacked in Pixinsight, Processed in Photoshop

SkyWatcher Star Adventurers have become the most popular small tracking mount on the planet.


Inexpensive Accessories

If you’ve already got a bunch of astronomy equipment but have a small budget for improving your work, we can also recommend a few popular items that may give your astronomy workflow the improvement you need for a very modest outlay. Check out the accessories below for some ideas – and clear skies!

Go on, treat yourself!

– The Bintel Team.

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