Thursday, May 20, 2010

Buying a Telescope for Beginners

So, you intend to buy a telescope, my belief that there are three primary concerns a beginner should have when buying a first scope: cost, size (& type), and reliability. Those three aspects are very common when you decide to buy whatever you put in mind, so we will try to follow them from a amateur point of view or just a father who want to get his son the scope he always dreamed of.


Well, astronomy can be quite expensive hobby whether you are an amateur or serious enthusiast, but reading articles and asking questions and taking advices from old pals in this field will make you enjoy every aspect in it without sacrificing your wallet, and remember, more expensive stuff are not necessarily better, well…at least for most of us, On the contrary the more expensive it gets (I mean really expensive) the more specialized it gets.

So many options, sizes, accessories and books, then there will be no limit for spending time and money more and more. But I always have this belief that anyone can start enjoying his hobby for a small budget and move step by step from the beginning, this will maintain your passion for this hobby.

Now, how much to spend on a ready-to-use telescope, based on current prices many people will advise you to set a budget of $400 for a decent one, this -for most beginners- a setback, and I personally find this overstated. A budget of $200-$250 will be more than sufficient, you will even find good deals under $100, but in most cases $200-$250 will be just great.

Size and type

Now we will be more specific, size and type of your first telescope can be controversial, yet it’s relatively easy for a beginner or a father who want to get the best for his son without sacrificing performance.

First we’re going to present the types of an “astronomical telescope”. Basically there are two main types, Refractor (which consists of a large objective lens and an eyepiece lens) and reflector (which rely on a large mirror as an objective). For a beginner, both are good if you consider an aperture (objective lens or mirror) around or a little greater than 60mm for a refractor, and 114mm (4.5 inch) for a reflector.

I see mostly for kids, that a refractor are very reliable and fun to begin with, first because it “looks astronomical”, require little maintenance and most of all not very fragile like a reflector one, you should know that it is quite easy to scratch or even break an edge of the mirror from just one wrong fall on rough ground, despite its thickness. So refractors are very good choice for kids or a beginner star gazer, who needs to take time to be more familiar with these devices before he gets into something complicated he could easily break before he knew it.

Another important thing to put in mind here is the focal length, and you can find it written on any telescope specs chart. A rule of thumb here is the larger the FL is, the more magnification you get, but sacrificing its field of view (that’s the area you see through the eyepiece, the larger is better indeed), and the lesser the FL is the opposite when using the same eyepiece. Of course there are models take the best from the two worlds, if you plan to increase your budget. And there is also “wide field” eyepieces which I find always a good buy and doubles the fun.

Now what are your options, a 60-80mm refractor or a 4.5 inch reflector, with any FL from 500mm to 1000mm, more than that and you will sacrifice it’s mobility and ease of use, knowing that there are some specific designs called “cassegrain telescopes” which have a very large focal length in a compact size, they are a bit expensive though. You can find good deals from many reputable manufactures like Meade, Celestron or Orion, they have a wide range of beginner’s telescope with very reasonable prices.


Reliability is how much you can depend on your telescope without many fixes and “holds” wherever your location of observing is, and also how easy it takes you to your desired target, and its mobility.

This often leads to one part, which is the telescope mount. There are many types of mounts, but to stick on this topic’s subjects guided to beginners, you only have to concern on simplicity, make and quality regardless the mechanism. A simple “fork alt-azimuth" mount will be a fair choice for the price; it’s easy to use and cheap, and work best with a refractor.

A “German equatorial mount” would be great choice also; it is from my point of view a must-have especially with medium sized aperture and longer FL. It is easy to calibrate, and later on you can add a “motor drive” and let it keep the object you observe fixed in your eyepiece, so you can enjoy observing for longer time without the headache of compensating earth’s rotation, it will cost a bit more, but believe me, it worth every penny.

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Thanks’ for reading and have a look on my other topics, and please add your questions, comments and thoughts, as I will be honored to answer your queries…

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