BUYING YOUR FIRST TELESCOPE - General Principles

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GENERAL PRINCIPLES WHEN BUYING YOUR FIRST TELESCOPE

You're a beginner. This is going to be your first telescope. You like astronomy, or at least the thought of it, and you want to take this to another level. The last thing you want to do is waste your money. It's possible that your first telescope might be your last one. What you're hoping to buy is something you will actually use, something you will actually enjoy.

If this is you, you're in the right place. Please, Read On:

Judging a telescope:

  • The best scope is the one that shows you the most stuff.
  • The scope that shows you the most stuff is the scope you use most often.
  • The scope you use most often is the one that's easy to carry, easy to set up, easy to point, and easy to look through.  (And remember, you’ll be doing all these things in the dark!)
Easiest to Carry

Fairly obviously, that’s the one that weighs the least.  Or is least bulky.  Or perhaps comes apart into smaller pieces (provided you’re not carrying it long distances or up and down flights of stairs).

Easiest to set up

An alt/azimuth mounted refractor wins hands down.   (Newtonians need to be collimated, and are slower to cool.)

Easiest to point  (Well, point and track, actually)

For pointing, I’d favour a Dobsonian or a GOTO.

Pros, Cons? Well dobs suffer from “Dobson’s Hole” (difficulty pointing near zenith).  And cheaper GOTO’s can be temperamental in the cold.  They are also subject to “rubber banding” and various idiosyncratic motor faults (the mechanical components are surprisingly low quality).  They also require training and calibration episodically if you’re to achieve really accurate gotos.  And of course, they rely on electrical power.  (Some people say that GOTOs prevent amateurs from learning the night sky.  This is simply untrue: doing astronomy teaches you the night sky, no matter what instrument you use.)  EQ mounts, on the other hand, just put your eyepiece in impossible positions!

Easiest to look through

You need a rock solid tripod and a mount with smooth motion controls.  Or you need a reasonable dobsonian with good Teflon bearings.  Or else an equatorial head that’s designed to hold a scope much heavier than the one you put on it. 

Conclusion

Before you decide, join an astronomy club.  Ask for advice — many people have travelled the same road before you.  Look through as many scopes as you can.  At the very least, have an idea of what you’re likely to see through a particular scope when you lay out your cash.

Some Beginner's Telescopes:

Dobsonian 12" & F13065AT

 
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