This is your beginners guide to getting a telescope! You can learn what to do and what not to do, and you will learn what to consider when buying a telescope. The last thing you want is a telescope to collect dust because they were bought in haste. The best telescopes are not the biggest or the highest quality, it’s the telescopes being used!
Don’t get a Telescope Without having SOME knowledge of the Sky!
While you don’t need to know all the constellations, it does help to know where key stars are, as well as being able to identify the planets when they are visible. Your knowledge of other stars will grow with repeated use.
It helps to understand key concepts, such as objects rising in the east and setting in the west. Knowing your cardinal points is also key, because equatorial mounted telescopes require near precise alignment with true north to work properly.
If you’re thinking about those computerized go-to telescopes, they REQUIRE you to know your stars for alignment purposes!
AVOID the Department Stores!
Sure, we can appreciate the sentimental thought, but experienced telescope users will tell you that nearly all telescopes that you see in a department store are “trash telescopes.”
The packaging makes them seem too good to be true, with emphasis on super high magnification power and pictures on the box that are taken straight from the Hubble. Don’t let the packaging and price fool you!
These telescopes that you can find in department stores are usually made of cheap materials with poor optics, and a horrible mount that’s so shaky it’s near impossible to keep the tube steady to observe anything!
Do Not Drink the Magnification Kool-Aid!
One mother told me, “my son’s telescope is a 60x/120x magnification telescope.” So I asked her, “Great, what’s the aperture?” She replied, “Oh, it has 60x and 120x magnification!” So I tried again, “No, I’m asking how WIDE is the telescope,” and she persisted, “It’s 120x magnification!” Unfortunately, her son most likely had … ahem… a trash telescope.
Magnification won’t mean anything without the right aperture and focal length first! Avoid telescopes that boast about its “magnification!” They are heavily misleading you down a beginner’s trap!
Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Astronomer
If you know someone who is experienced with telescopes, such as the author of this article, then you will get good insight! Experienced telescope users are usually more than happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
They understand the important things to look for, and can provide firsthand experience on what you’ll see with the telescopes in question. Trust me, WE WANT TO HELP YOU!
Buy from Trusted Stores or Websites Only!
Physical stores that specialize in optical equipment and telescopes still do exist, but that requires some research on your part. But nowadays, telescope shopping is done online.
Thankfully, all it takes are simple internet searches, which will get you to the more reliable vendors. Even if you’re unsure, some companies do have excellent customer service reps available, and you could always go back to asking a person you know.
Don’t Assume the Brand Name Means Good Quality
While there ARE some brands that are known for poor quality (Seben, Bushnell, and especially Tasco), even well known brands like Celestron and Meade are guilty of selling bad telescopes in department stores during the holidays.
Some of the larger telescope companies, such as Celestron, Meade, Orion, Skywatcher and Vixen, market multiple telescope lines, ranging from inexpensive entry level to expert/professional instruments. Nowadays, they’re often made in the same factories, manufactured by big companies, and end up under the different brand names.
So don’t worry about the brands too much, you’ll find good quality telescopes from all these lines.
You Don’t Need to Spend Crazy Money!
Beginner telescopes are usually in the $200 price range! Even a good beginner level telescope can get you craters on the Moon, the phases of Venus, the cloud bands and moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and even some popular deep sky objects.
But if you have seen my raw pictures and videos and think, “But I want my views to look like that,” then you will need to go bigger and get the proper mounts and accessories; but it’s going to cost more!
The Bigger Your Telescope, the Less Portable It Is
Yes, when it comes to telescopes the bigger the better. I know that 12″ Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope will give remarkable views, but they’re also heavy and can’t be transported in one piece. How would you like to take the telescope apart and reassemble it everywhere you go? The entire set up to my 8″ Equatorial Newtonian takes up the entire trunk of a small car.
Those who own larger telescopes are either willing to deal with it, or they simply keep it at home. Smaller telescopes on the other hand can practically fit in your arms and be set up within a few minutes!
If your first telescope is often going to be transported, save yourself the hassle and stick with a reasonably smaller and light weight scope.
Now that you have been given the advice of this article before you purchase your first telescope, it’s now time to learn about the types of telescopes, and what specifications are most important! Check out The Three Types of Telescopes.
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