I'm interested in deep space astro-photography, especially galaxies and nebulae. I wonder what is the best way to obtain a very good quality, at a decent price :

  • A small telescope with a very good and stable tracking mount, with the body directly attached to the telescope
  • A long prime lens (300-400mm ?) with good aperture and sharpness, together with a tracking system like AstroTrac mounted on a usual tripod.

The second solution seems less stable than a telescope, but the telephoto lens can also be used for different usages. I have a Nikon D700 body (thus a full frame sensor) and a classic manfrotto tripod with head 496RC2.

  • 1
    It seems like you really already have everything figured out. Since you own Nikon, it is highly unlikely you will find a better lens than one of Nikon's own fast telephoto primes. Along with the astrotrac, you would be set...no? Only thing I would recommend, if you really want to do "deep space" photography, is something much longer than 400mm....600mm with a 2x TC, 800mm with a 1.4x TC...something along those lines will get you much better (i.e. more frame-filling) nebula shots than a 300-400mm lens. To really go DEEP, you'll need a telescope.
    – jrista
    Nov 27, 2012 at 17:26
  • I'm afraid that the astrotrac will not be as stable on my tripod as a telescope, and therefore won't allow me to stay sharp for long exposures (60s). Also, for M31, the biggest messier object, you only need a focal length of 600mm to fill the frame. When you say "Nikon's own fast telephoto primes", do you think of the $10k 600mm ? :p
    – Emile
    Nov 27, 2012 at 17:53
  • 1
    Not necessarily the VR II...you wouldn't need VR with it mounted on a tripod anyway, and I believe the older one is similar in price to a decent telescope (such as a Celestron or Meade). As for the astrotrac, if you don't think it will be stable, then it sounds like you have a rickety pod...and a rock-solid one of those aren't all that expensive (a drop in the bucket compared to a decent 'scope or lens.) Finally, regarding object size, you may only need 600mm to fill the frame with M31...but what about much smaller objects, namely galaxies...some of those are tiny, whole clusters are...
    – jrista
    Nov 27, 2012 at 18:26
  • ...often just a blip. If all you care about is the larger Mezzier objects, then you could do with a short lens or scope. But you said you wanted to go deep, are very concerned about stability, mentioned galaxies...so I figured you meant "deep" (i.e. very distant and high magnitude.) I guess I consider Andromeda to be more of one of those objects you might even catch in a wide field night sky photo.
    – jrista
    Nov 27, 2012 at 18:38
  • 2
    I just went to the link your 2nd bullet point. OMG! That's expensive, get a Celestron CG-5 mount, used, make sure you have a firmware upgradable handset, and stick a camera on it. BTW, I could sell you mine but I'm not sure it is a good deal. But run away from that second link. Look at astromart.com for used deals. Nov 27, 2012 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


I'd add a third option. Get a dedicated CCD camera made especially for astrophotography. Visit the astronomy forums around the net, and you can get a good sense for what people are using and what their results are. Most of the deep space photos that I've seen are with a dedicated astronomy camera.

On the other hand, if you want to use an existing lens or purchase a lens for dual-purpose, I'd look at something like this:


  • My question was not about the camera sensor but the optical system, telescope or lens+tracking ? (note that I already considered the astrotrac in my question). Both ways exists and I wonder what is the best for a decent price.
    – Emile
    Nov 28, 2012 at 13:25
  • Some beautiful shots are taken with a standard lens (e.g. 500px.com/photo/12983355). Other with telescope (500px.com/photo/17944199).
    – Emile
    Nov 28, 2012 at 13:26
  • I edited your question to show that you considered the AstroTrac. I don't usually click every "this" link to see what "this" means. :)
    – Eric
    Nov 28, 2012 at 22:36
  • You did well, it was a bit hidden indeed.
    – Emile
    Nov 29, 2012 at 8:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.