Our nearest star, the Sun, offers more dynamic activity and day-by-day changes than any other object in the sky. With even an inexpensive white-light filter/telescope you can see sunspots, the Sun’s grainy surface, and safely observe eclipses, and with a more expensive hydrogen-alpha telescope you can look at solar flares and prominences in addition to the aforementioned features. The Sun changes minute by minute – especially filaments and prominences, which can appear and sometimes disappear in the span of hours.
If you’re strictly interested in white light observing and not a dedicated solar instrument, consider purchasing a regular telescope and buying a full-aperture film or glass white light solar filter for it instead.
A word about safety
When buying a solar telescope or solar filter, ALWAYS make sure your device is ISO and/or CE certified and that your filter has no pinholes or coating errors. Also, if your telescope’s filter is not permanently built in, be sure to check that it is snug and has no gaps or light leaks.
Failing to do any of the above can result in eye injury and temporary or permanent blindness. The Sun is plenty safe to observe with the right equipment, but always take precautions when doing so to prevent any accidents.
Ranking Best Solar Telescopes According to Price & Features
Best Telescopes For Viewing Sun – Reviewed
1. Sky-Watcher Virtuoso – Choice Between $250-$600
The Virtuoso is for some reason hardly marketed at all by Sky-Watcher, which is a real shame, because it’s awesome. For less than $300 you get a 90mm Maksutov on an alt-azimuth tracking mount with slewing buttons, a solar filter, and 2 eyepieces. An amateur 15 years ago would’ve paid more than twice as much for the same thing with less functionality.
The Virtuoso’s tracking system is dead simple: Point it at Polaris, lock the axes, and switch the scope on. Obviously sighting Polaris doesn’t work during the day, so you can do something simpler: Point the scope north as best you can and point it at the altitude that Polaris would be at (your latitude in degrees north) – it won’t be perfect, but plenty good for tracking the Sun and certainly better than nothing. The Virtuoso is a tabletop scope, but it has threads in the bottom to attach to a photo tripod, which I highly recommend using.
The Virtuoso comes with 25mm and 10mm “Super” eyepieces which are more than adequate and a 5×24 solar finder. This finder is junk and should be replaced with a red dot, and you should NEVER look through it when using the telescope on the Sun.
2. Meade Coronado Personal Solar Telescope – Choice Between $600-$850
The Coronado PST revolutionized solar observing when it was introduced in the early 2000s. Prior to the PST, H-alpha solar telescopes were extremely expensive affairs only found with very wealthy and skilled amateurs, or professional astronomers. The PST brought solar telescopes to (relatively speaking) the masses, and is probably the best selling H-alpha solar telescope of all time.
The PST comes with a single 18mm Plossl eyepiece which should work okay, but you’ll want at least a couple other eyepieces. As is generally true of most H-alpha scopes a mount is not provided with the PST but Meade sells lightweight, inexpensive alt-azimuth and equatorial mounts designed to match the aesthetics of the PST and the PST can be easily adapted to fit a Vixen dovetail plate and thus most mounts, or you can screw it directly to a photo tripod.
The PST only has one major weakness: Its focuser. The PST focuses by moving a pentaprism, which keeps the eyepiece fixed and the scope compact, but it has limited travel. This means that many cameras and even certain eyepieces or eyepiece/Barlow combinations cannot reach focus. Otherwise, the PST is an absolutely great solar telescope at an affordable price.
3. Lunt LS50 – Choice Between $850-$1300
50mm of aperture is the minimum required for serious solar observing and imaging, and the Lunt LS50 delivers on both. It’s capable of high magnification (75-100x), and can take stunning solar images with even relatively inexpensive cameras. The scope’s tuning system is also far superior to the one supplied with the Coronado PST.
My only complaint is the focuser. By default the LS50’s focuser is a nonrotating 1.25” helical. It’s usable and provides plenty of travel, though it’s not my favorite. You can buy an aftermarket 1.25” Moonlite or FeatherTouch focuser which will easily attach to the scope, but keep in mind that either is several hundred dollars which puts you close to the price of Lunt’s LS60 which comes with a built-in 2” dual-speed Crayford focuser.
The LS50 lacks a finder or mount. The Tele-Vue Sol Searcher attaches right to the tube clamshell and is relatively inexpensive if you need a finder, though you can just aim the scope using its shadow on the ground and get dead-accurate pointing. For mounting, you can attach the scope directly to a photo tripod or buy a Vixen dovetail plate and an equatorial or alt-azimuth mount – anything rated to hold at least ten pounds will do for visual or photography.
The LS50 comes with a 21.5mm-7.2mm zoom eyepiece, which provides between 16x and 48x. I don’t really care for zoom eyepieces with most telescopes because of the narrow field of view they provide, but with the LS50 even at the 7.2mm setting the Sun fits with plenty of room to spare.
Lastly, the LS50 includes a quality, foam-lined aluminum carrying case which ships with it – a nice bonus that would easily cost over a hundred dollars if sold separately.
Overall, the LS50 is a very good choice for the beginner or serious solar observer.
4. Lunt LS60 – Choice Between $1300-$1500
The Lunt LS60 shares relatively little in common with its little brother. Sporting a completely different internal tuning system, and a GSO dual-speed 2” focuser (with an optional upgrade to a Feathertouch), it is far superior to the LS50 in form and function.
Like the LS50 the LS60 could use a finder like the Tele-Vue Sol Searcher, and it has a ¼ 20 hole on the bottom of the tube clamshell for attaching to a photo tripod. However, the LS60 operates at enough magnification and is hefty enough that you should really consider a quality astronomical alt-azimuth or equatorial mount with at least 10-15 pounds of weight capacity, which will also necessitate purchasing and attaching a Vixen dovetail to the LS60’s tube clamshell.
The LS60 doesn’t seem to be supplied with Lunt’s zoom eyepiece by default, but you can buy it or any other eyepieces separately.
This version of the Coronado PST has an extra etalon on the front, reducing its bandpass from 1 angstrom to 0.5 angstroms. You can take off the extra etalon to revert it to a normal PST if need be.
While reduced bandpass offers more surface detail, the downsides are that the scope becomes less portable, significantly more expensive, and the images are dimmer. And for less money, you can get the Lunt LS50 which has a 0.7 angstrom bandpass – nearly as narrow – and more aperture. However, some people swear by double stacking and the slightly narrower bandpass, so it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth your money or not.
Useful Accessories for your Solar Telescope
Tele-Vue Sol Searcher
You can line up your solar telescope with the Sun using its shadow, but if you’d like to save yourself some time and frustration then there’s Tele-Vue’s Sol Searcher. It operates using similar principles to a pinhole camera, and attaches to your scope via screws, or you can use Velcro or double-sided tape to install it.
Coronado Cemax Eyepieces & Barlow
These eyepieces and Barlow are designed specifically for solar use with special blackening, baffling, and solar-optimized coatings. They also come with a nice hard carry case if you buy the full set.
Coronado AZS Mount
This mount works great if you’re looking to do only visual observing and simple photography with your solar scope. It’s designed to match the aesthetic of the Coronado H-alpha solar telescopes but looks good with Lunts and other scopes too. The Coronado AZS mount is also great for any small telescope that has a ¼ 20 hole or Vixen dovetail plate for both terrestrial and nighttime use.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is not only a great mount for wide-field astrophotography with your DSLR, but it’s great for mounting any small telescope including an H-alpha solar telescope on. However, it does not come bundled with a tripod so you’ll need to buy that separately – a heavy-duty photo tripod is best.
Tips On Choosing a Solar Telescope
- White Light & Hydrogen-Alpha: What’s the Difference?
White light solar filters are typically removable and attach to the front end of your telescope – never use a solar filter that screws onto your eyepiece. They can be made of glass or special Mylar-like reflective film. White-light filters are named as such because the entire visible light spectrum is transmitted. Depending on the exact material used in the filter the Sun may appear white, yellow, orange, or a slight greenish or bluish tone. White-light filters show the Sun’s photosphere – the Sun’s “surface” – so you’ll see sunspots and the photosphere’s grainy surface. When there are no sunspots – as has been from early 2017 to the time of this writing with only a few small spots occasionally – the Sun is essentially featureless.
Hydrogen-alpha filters work a little differently, using a Fabry-Perot etalon and dichroic blocking filter to filter the Sun’s light down to a very narrow wavelength – 1 angstrom or less. This makes the Sun appear ruby red and shows the Sun’s chromosphere, its lower “atmosphere” where solar prominences, filaments, plages, and spicules – phenomena in the Sun’s atmosphere – occur. You can still see granulation and sunspots, too. Even though it’s relatively inactive at the time of this writing, the Sun still shows plenty of constantly changing features when observed in H-alpha.
Obviously, you don’t need the extra light collecting area provided by a larger telescope to see the Sun better, as it’s already blindingly bright and being filtered down anyways. So all aperture does is increase resolution.
There’s a problem, though – seeing. Atmospheric seeing, or air turbulence, is typically pretty bad during the daytime, and the area of sky around the Sun is worst. The result is that solar scopes above four to six inches or so have to resort to costly measures to eliminate the effects of bad seeing, as even lucky imaging and stacking with cameras and computer software is limited in what it can compensate for. As a result most solar telescopes tend to be below five inches in aperture, and are refractors so as to provide the highest contrast and resolution.