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How To Choose Your First Telescope?

Elvis Elvis

Look in any shop, magazine, or catalog and you’ll see that the range and variety of telescopes is vast, both in price and in design.

They range from about $25 to $5,000. Some are refractors, some reflectors, some Schmidt-Cassegrains. Some are for terrestrial uses, such as bird spotting, others for astronomical use.

But where to start? How do you pick the ideal first telescope?

The three things that you need to consider are, in no particular order:

  • Budget
  • Anticipated use
  • Accessibility

Budget

How much do you want to spend now on the purchase, and how much are you likely to spend over the next year or so.

Some experts say that you should buy the best basic telescope you can afford and forego some of the options until later. This means that if there is a choice between one telescope with a low basic specification, but lots of accessories, and another with a higher basic specification but less accessories at about the same price, then you should choose the latter. You can always add accessories later. You cannot improve the basic spec later, without upgrading the telescope completely.

For example, say the choice is :

A 3 inch scope with 3 eyepieces, a mount,
some filters and some software

and

A 5 inch scope, single eyepiece, mount,
no filters, no software

Then go for the 5 inch model now and buy the eyepieces and filters you need later, when you’ve some experience.

How To Choose Your First Telescope?

It’s tempting to get a lot of boxes to open and things to play with, but in your early days, concentrate on the simple things. Work out what you need and buy them when you’re ready.

The basic spec forms the foundations for the scope. You’ll be nearly always better off with a larger scope than a smaller one, all other things being equal. (And it gives your family and friends an opportunity to buy you gifts at birthdays and Christmas!)

Having said all that there are sometimes exceptions to prove the rule. The current deals by Celestron and Meade are excellent value and should certainly be considered.

If you have under $100 to spend on a telescope, we would recommend that you wait until it’s nearer $200. Although there are some scopes that you could buy at that price, you will likely be disappointed by their performance. How about a great set of binoculars?

If you want to see more than just planets and examine deep space objects such as the Messier objects, then you will need a telescope with a main lens or mirror of at least 3 inches (76mm). If you can, go for a larger size, since they will capture more light and allow you to use greater magnification eyepieces.

A good example of minimum sized reflector is the Celestron FirstScope-76EQ. This 3″ scope comes from a high quality company and has very few optical components, basically just a mirror and an eyepiece. The equatorial tripod is adequate for its size.

How To Choose Your First Telescope?

You can easily find standard accessories such as eyepieces and filters, either from Celestron, or a wide range of other companies.

It costs under $150.

By increasing your initial budget to around $300-400 you will find that the field really opens up. You will find a good range of reflectors and refractors at this price.

Anticipated Use

Do you anticipate that you will be spending several hours a week with your new instrument, or is it just for the occasional peek at the stars and planets from time to time.

If you are intending to spend a long time with your scope then make sure the viewing position is comfortable and that the eyepieces are too. This is particularly important if you wear spectacles. You may be able to get correction-adaptors for your eyepieces, so that you don’t need to wear your spectacles whilst viewing.

If you want to just see planets, then a small scope will be fine. If however you want to track down deep space objects such as galaxies, planetary nebulae etc, then you will need a scope with a large lens or mirror, preferably over 4 inches.

Do you want to take photographs either through the scope, or with a camera piggy-backed on the scope’s barrel. If so then you will need to be sure that the correct accessories are easily available, that you have a solid mount (for the extra camera weight) and that the telescope can be motor driven to keep aligned on the objects during the long exposures.

Accessibility

How easy is it to get to the site, set up and use?

If you intend to spend a long time outside, the you will want an instrument that is easy to set up and easy to use, with a good range of accessories and a very good mount.

If you intend to take your telescope with you in the car, will fit fit in your trunk? Some large reflectors and refractors have long focal lengths and are just too long!

If you intend to take it on vacation, will it fit in the plane as hand-luggage?

How heavy is it – can it be managed by one person, perhaps up or down stairs and steps?

Is the alignment procedure straight-forward. Before you use any scope, particularly those with azimuthal mounts and goto computers they need to be carefully aligned so they track the objects closely as the Earth rotates. This is sometimes time-consuming and detracts from the pleasure of viewing. Be sure you understand how to set up your scope, before taking it out in the dark. It’s too late and too dark to read the manual out there!

As you can see although it may initially appear hard to select the perfect telescope, by using these guiding principals, you will be out there in your back yard in no time, enjoying with us the pleasures of this wonderful pastime.