A lot of people buy telescopes in haste that ultimately collect dust because the buyer didn’t know what they wanted it to do, and/or realized what little they could do or couldn’t do with it… the goal is always to try and mend that problem!
In this continuation to the OVERSIMPLIFIED Guide to Selecting Your First Telescope, here we will attempt to straight up tell you what telescope setup to go for based on a simple answer of “I want it to do _____” or “I want a scope that can _____”
You can worry about extra eyepieces or lenses that may add to your viewing at a later time!
All of the Product Listings Here are Between $200 – $750, and each picture links to their product listings.
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“I want a good telescope for less than $100-$200”
Get a pair of binoculars instead!
Please stop buying these cheap-o-scopes or dare I say, “trash telescopes” and expecting them to perform like the scopes you see at star parties!
“I want A Telescope That Can Show Color like I See in Your Astrophotos – Hopefully one that isn’t expensive!”
Sadly, many casuals get disappointed when deep sky objects appear grayscale while observing the cosmos using just our eyes through a telescope. Very few objects such as bright stars and planets show any distinct color to our eyes.
It will not matter how powerful and expensive of a telescope you get, objects that are dim and far like nebulae and galaxies will appear grayscale. It has everything to do with the human eye – it doesn’t see color that well in the dark to begin with; and our eyes are always “re-shuttering” thus don’t allow our pupils to accumulate enough light needed to see their color details. A camera shutter on the other hand can be set to stay open as long as desired, and even just a few seconds of exposure allows enough light for the color to show up.
The closest things to a telescope that shows color views are of course the “smart telescope/camera hybrids,” which that cost around $3-4,000. The “live color views” they advertise are in fact stacked exposures from an internal camera sensor, and your “eyepiece” is still you looking through an opening onto a backlit screen. Are they surely good outreach tools? Yes. But you can achieve better images with bigger setups for less money – and IF you want good planetary views, you’re better off with a traditional scope!
In the above images, you have M16 as shown by what the $3,000 eVscope can do, and then MY shot of M16 with a setup that cost nearly $1,000 less!
“I Just Want A Decent Telescope For My Young Child That Isn’t Too Expensive”
Go With Either One Of These Two telescopes…. Click On Their Pictures to see their product listings!
When it comes to scopes that are easy to use for children to try out, either one of these will do the job. The Dobsonian telescope to the left will offer a more sturdy mount, while the Refractor to the right will offer separate fine adjustment controls after centering and locking on the target.
“I Mainly Want to See The Moon and Planets”
Click on the following individual pictures to check these telescopes out…
Refractor and Catadioptric telescopes are better suited for that purpose, as they give sharper views. However, viewing them at high magnification (where you can REALLY see details up close and personal) requires the telescope to be held steady and track steady… hence you’ll want a mount that can do that!
“I Want a BIG Telescope and Don’t Care Too Much About Added Gadgets!”
Go with a large Dobsonian in the double digits! They’re designed to be very simple to use, while having the advantage of using larger mirror telescopes that can collect more light than refractors can for a fraction of the cost! Click on the following picture to check out the Xt10 Classic.
No matter the budget, for the same price you can either go with a larger fully manual scope, or a somewhat smaller scope equipped with a computer drive.
“I Don’t Want A Computer Scope, but I STILL Want To Be Able To Track…”
Any telescope with a sturdy Equatorial Mount will serve the purpose… the sturdier the better. Even if fully manual, the scope will allow you to only make adjustments along one axis if you get the mount properly aligned. Adding a compatible clock drive (often sold separately) that compensates automatically with Earth’s rotation will allow you to spend more time observing and less time adjusting. Click on the pictures below…
Those who stick to manual Alt-Az mounts say they can learn to track as well, but it’s a lot more painstaking.
“I Want To One Day Do Long Exposure Astrophotography!”
In this case, no matter what type of telescope and camera you get, it’s simply a very strong and solid Equatorial Mount that you need. There’s two levels of requirements, minimal and serious; If the EQ mount features neither of these required add-on components, then you will NOT be able to do long exposure photography! With that said, smaller cheaper EQ mounts are NOT recommended for telescopes – but can still be suitable for wide angle camera shots of the sky (like a constellation, a large bright comet, or the Milky Way)!
Minimal– EQ equipped with a clock drive… required to keep scope moving with Earth’s Rotation.
Serious – EQ with GoTo system… Once you get all the alignments correct to your liking, you spend more time exposing than searching.
Remember that this listing is for the MOUNT only… whatever telescope optical tube assembly you get is up to you, but make sure that the combination of the telescope tube, tube rings, finder, and camera (plus potentially a guide scope & autoguider) does NOT exceed the max load for the mount!T
A SkyView mount can get you started, but eventually, you’ll want an even heavier mount with less backlash that can handle longer focal lengths… and that is when the mount alone will cost four figures!
And there you have it, folks. No long articles going over small details, just straight up answers to simple thoughts you may have had in mind when selecting your first telescope!
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2 thoughts on “Straight Up Answers for What Beginners Want out of Telescopes!”
Good info, straight to the point. I’m guilty myself of buying a telescope in haste that ultimately collected dust after using it a handful of times. At the time (this was 5 years ago), I was living in a big apartment complex in a big city (Houston) making it difficult to observe with all the surrounding buildings and light pollution. I agree with your tip about a pair of binoculars. Looking back, I should of gone for a nice set of binoculars instead. You live and you learn..
Thank you for the comment! I hope what you got 5 years ago didn’t set your pocketbook back too much. Even if you have a big enough scope, I can agree It is tough when you’re in a big city (Greater Los Angeles for me) to observe other things besides the moon and bright planets – but you’d be surprised to find the catalog isn’t as small as you think (open clusters and bright resolvable double stars). I hope one day that 1. you get a better scope, and 2, you can take it out to a location away from all the cities!