Are you interested in excelling in the wonderful world of stargazing? Telescopes are expensive and complex instruments, so you need to make certain that you get one that will service your needs. Depending on the type of scope you buy and your skill level, you can use it to see various beautiful objects in the sky. In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know when it comes to buying the ideal telescope.
How Much Does a Good Telescope Cost?
We get so many questions...
What type of telescope is the best to buy? This is the most popular question being asked by people interested in seeing the stars and moon at night. My experience in astronomy helps me share sound advice on this subject. I have discovered that the needs and wants of people are different when it comes to telescopes. These are two questions one must address when before buying a telescope.
- How much $$$ are you willing to spend?
- What are your plans for the telescope?
Over the years, I have discovered that some only want to use a telescope as decoration in their living room. How do I know? Ehm, if someone says they have budget of less than $300, I normally answer this.
- Get a good binoculars
- Save more money
Novices are well-known for tipping their hand to me when they frown at my advice, and still go to buy an inexpensive Refractor or Newtonian. They will also buy a cheap mount and unstable tripod. It may look cool in the living room, but it will be very difficult to use in that position. Don't ask for an advice how to choose exceptional telescope, then run to the local mall and buy a telescope for $150.
Let's take a close look at some tips that can help you buy a quality telescope.
Choosing and Buying a Telescope
Here are some basic rules of thumb for you with an interest in astronomy.
First Get a Good Binoculars
You should focus on buying a good pair of binoculars if you do not have at least $300. You will be amazed at what you can see at night with an inexpensive pair of binoculars.
Don't Choose a Telescope Based on Power
It will be a grave mistake for you to buy a telescope with "650x" written on the box. This type of telescope will not perform well. Even the top of the line telescopes are limited to approximately 50-75 times per inch of aperture. It means about 120x for a cheap 60mm refractor.
A telescope with "650" is a marketing scam that is designed to entice you to buy a poor scope. This type of practice has lost some popularity, but it is still being used today. Please keep in mind that you should never buy a telescope because of its power! Taking heed to this simple advice will help you avoid making a big mistake!
Aperture is #1 priority
The diameter is the #1 factor to take into consideration while shopping for a telescope. You will be extremely happy if you buy the aperture that falls within your price range. Larger aperture refractors are pricey.
You can have the best telescope in the world, but a shaky mount will make it difficult for you to enjoy your view at night. Dobsonian is well-known for offering high quality telescopes that have plenty of aperture. Department stores are notorious for selling telescopes that have horrible mounts.
Second Hand Telescopes
You can save a tremendous amount of money if you buy a used telescope. Used telescopes are ideal for people who are not interested in the latest, coolest scope. As a matter of fact, I purchased a used telescope.
Older telescopes cost less than half of what you will spend on a new telescope. Serious used telescopes are normally in good condition because owners take very good care of them.
What Do You Expect?
It is imperative to point out that the view through telescope will not be the same quality the photos in magazines. The planets will look small, and will lack the color and contrast you see in astrology books in the public library.
Most people are disappointed with what they see when they try a telescope for the first time. Please, do not misunderstand my point! You will be amazed when you look at the Moon or Saturn, but the reality normally disappoints first time viewers.
How Do Telescopes Work?
Telescopes use a comfortable eyepiece to study details that are collected with light, brought into focus and developed into an image. Telescopes have the ability to collect more photons than the eye. They help you to see the fainter objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Smaller details emerge in the images because the objects are magnified.
How to Use a Telescope Properly
It is vital to point out that each telescope works differently, and has its own particular set of instructions. It is imperative for you to read the instructions if you purchased a complicated telescope. Reading the instructions can help you learn and master the features.
What To Consider Before Buying a Telescope?
What is your goal with your telescope? Observer objects? Are you interested in photographing objects? Do you want a stationary or transportable telescope? See the stars, or look at the illustrious planets?
Refractor vs. Reflector vs. Catadioptric
1. Refractor Telescopes
The refractor is the first thing that comes to mind when someone hear the word "telescope". Refractors are designed to collect light with an objective lens at one end and focus the light at the eyepiece at the other end. Refractors were at a point where they were becoming obsolete, but they made a big comeback due to modern glass elements.
Advantages of Getting a Refractor: They can capture the best images, and there is no obstruction in light path.
Disadvantages of the Refractor: Some secondary color will be visible except the best units. Large aperture instruments can be incredibly massive. It is the most expensive out of the three designs. It can be mistaken for the cheap telescopes (reflector) being sold by department stores.
2. Reflectors Telescopes
The Newtonian Reflector uses a parabolic mirror located at the end of a tube, and focuses the light back at the front of the tube, where the eyepieces is located, after being deflected by a smaller mirror in the path of the light.
Advantages of the Reflector: It is the cheapest of the three designs, it is easier to carry around, and is inherently color free.
Disadvantages of the Reflector: Expect to lose some contrast. It is considerably large when compared with Schmidt-Cassegrains. At times, it requires collimaton (alignment) of optics.
3. Catadioptric Telescopes
The Schmidt-Cassegrain and its relatives (Schimdt-Newtonian, Maksutov-Cassegrain, and etc.) use both lenses and mirrors to fold the optical path carefully back onto itself. A Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope is also known as an "SCT."
Advantages of the SCT: It is the most compact out of the three designs. It is cheaper than refractors, and it has a large assortment of after-market accessories.
Disadvantages of the SCT: It costs more than reflectors. Images are potential poor when compared to the other two designs.
Main Components of a Telescope
It can be challenging to explain the attributes of a telescope to a novice. I will now cover the basic terminology of telescopes.
This is the size of the opening in a telescope where the mirror or lens collects light. This factor is important because telescopes function off light gathering. More photons are collected when the aperture is larger. The size of the aperture calls for a higher price and a larger telescope. Aperture is measured in millimeters or inches (25.4 mm is equal to 1 inch).
The focal length is the distance from the objective lens to the point where the light comes into focus. The longer the focal length, the larger the image if at the point of the focal plane, and the higher the magnification is for viewing the sky at night. Local focal lengths are ideal for small objects like double stars, planets, and etc. Focal length can also be measured in millimeters or inches.
To get the real focal ratio, you must take the focal length and divide it by the aperture. A fast focal ratio is normally considered to be f/4 or less. Mid-range focal ratios range from f/5 to ff/8, and slow ratios start at f/9. A fast focal ratio will help the telescope record the image faster.
Taking its name from Peter Barlow, this lens increases the effective focal length.
Should I get a refractor or a reflector?
Well, it really depends. Get the aperture that your money will allow. A reflector is great for 75% of the people interested in buying their first telescope.
The reasons to buy a refractor are more complicated. Inexpensive refractors are well-known or having problems with false color, but they are easy to carry around while traveling. Please keep in mind that refractors have the tendency to give more pleasing view when used during daytime hours. Most reflectors are pretty big in size, but they have superior light gathering ability.
Is there any benefit to buying a cheap scope?
In short the answer to this will usually be no. In general terms you get what you pay for so if you want a really good telescope, you will have to pay for it. Once you have purchased a high quality telescope though, it may never need to be replaced. It can be viewed as an investment rather than an extravagant purchase.
What are the benefits of a computerised 'GOTO' telescope?
A computerised telescope makes it easier to find objects that are deep in the sky. These are objects that might have otherwise have been missed, especially if you are new to astronomy and are still learning about the positions of the stars and the planets. The price of a computerised telescope has also come down quite a bit in recent years so they are generally more affordable but they will be more expensive than a regular telescope. However, there are some people that do not like using a computerised telescope because they do not believe that they will ever really be able to learn the sky without hunting for things themselves. Whether you choose to buy a computerised telescope or not will largely depend on your personal preference and whether you want to hunt for things before you view them or you are happy to have them pointed out.
Why is the aperture important?
The larger the aperture the higher the light and the resolution will be. A comparison between a 5 inch and 10 inch telescope will show that the 10 inch telescope will have four times the amount of light and twice the resolution. This can make everything that you see through the telescope much clearer, although you will have to bear in mind that if the sky is cloudy you will not be able to see that clearly regardless of the aperture.
What telescope should I choose?
There is no easy answer to this question as the telescope that you choose will depend on what you want to use it for. You will need to find something that you want to use and that you do not find too frustrating. This may mean that you end up not wanting to use the telescope at all which will be a big waste of money. One other thing that you will need to bear in mind is that there is a good chance that finding the right telescope is going to cost you a lot more money than you may have anticipated.
If you can not say for certain what you want from a telescope then you may be better off getting a pair of binoculars. This is not said to be flippant, telescopes are expensive pieces of equipment and it is a lot of money to spend on something that you are not even sure you will use that often. There are many good models of binoculars that are on the market that will be more than adequate for looking at the stars every now and again. The other advantages of binoculars is that they will not take up a lot of storage space when they are not in use. They can also be picked up and used as soon as they are needed without having to worry about setting them up.
If you just want something to impress the neighbours then this is another reason to question whether you really do need a telescope. They may well be impressed by seeing a telescope in your window but from a distance they are probably not going to be able to tell anything about the capabilities of the telescope. Therefore you may just as well go and pick up the cheapest telescope that you can find, but you should not expect to be able to see much through it if you do use it to try and observe the stars. If you just want a telescope to look at, a miniature model that will sit on your desk or shelves may be all that you need.
If you enjoy stargazing every so often but it is not a serious hobby, then as mentioned before, a good pair of binoculars will probably do everything that you need and this will also be a much cheaper option. If you do really want to get a telescope then a Dobsonian will probably be the best choice. This provides the best aperture for a budget telescope and is also very easy to use and set up.
I Have $XXX To Spend On A Good Telescope
$200 or less
If you buy a telescope in this price range then it is very likely that you will end up being disappointed. The cost of telescopes had gotten lower over the last few years but the fact still remains that you get what you pay for. In most cases it is probably best to avoid telescopes in this price range altogether, unless you just want something that looks good but does not do much. $200 is still a lot of money to pay for something that does not do everything that you have been expecting it to.
The range of telescopes that you can find for this price has improved in recent years and you should be able to get a decent telescope if you are only just starting out in astronomy. You should be able to pick up a good Dobsonian model for this price and there are quite a few well known brands that sell this type of telescope in this price range. You should also expect to get some accessories included for this price such as eyepieces which can help to make the deal a little better. You should expect to pay nearer $400 though for the best models.
You will have much more choice available to you in this price range. You will be able to get a larger Dobsonian and more advanced versions of the models that you would get in the previous category. The telescopes that are available in this price range will be more than adequate for most uses and you should be able to see everything that you want to in terms of stars when you are using them.
Most people will have no need to pay more than $800 for a telescope. However, there are some occasions where this will be necessary and these are discussed below.
I Am Very Serious About Stargazing
The main problem that you may have here is that you are limited by the amount of money that you have to spend rather than the choices of telescope that are available. If you do not have the budget to spend more than $800, then you will should find that a lower end Dobsonian will do most things that you need it to. However, if you do have more to spend then the sky really is the limit. One thing to consider when you are buying a large telescope is that you might not be able to get it home without any help. A really big telescope will probably not fit in your car and so you might need to have to delivered to your home in a van. If you are putting it upstairs it might take two people to carry it. Another thing to consider with a large telescope that has a lot of different features is that you won't be able to just set it up once and leave it. Every time you use it there will probably be adjustments to be made. This means that you will have to take the time that is needed to do this into account if there is something that you want to see at a particular time.
I Want To Do Astrophotography
The most important thing to consider when you are thinking about a telescope for astrophotography is not actually the telescope itself, it is the mount. Most astrophotographers prefer to use a German Equatorial Mount (GEM). These mounts will usually fit any type of telescope and so your choice of telescope will not be restricted. If you buy a Meade or Celestron telescope then these will come with a mount although this will not be able to be used with any other telescope.
I Want To See The Planets
The two things that you need to look for in a planetary telescope are a long focal length and contrast. APO refractors are usually the best choice as they have both of these features but they do tend to be very expensive. If you are looking for a cheaper option then Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes (SCT) still give very good views of the planets but you will lose some of the contrast. One thing that is not essential when looking for a planetary telescope is a large aperture. This is because even though a higher aperture will produce a higher resolution you will only notice this when the air is extremely steady and this is something that does not happen all that often.
Getting can be a wonderful thing or it can hinder you from pursuing this exciting hobby. It is your choice! As I stated earlier, it will be a big mistake for you to buy a cheap telescope. You will be wasting your time if you buy the $149 650x scope at the department store. Choosing this option will save you significant money, but you are sacrificing the quality that more expensive scopes offer. You should also avoid telescopes that advertise its power on the box.