Buying a telescope for the first time can become overwhelming if you don’t know what you should be looking for. I wish I could say its as easy as just going out and purchasing one, but it’s not. It all comes down to what you want to see and how your planning on using the telescope. Through this post I will try and break it down into sections, answering the most frequently asked questions when it comes to buying a telescope.
Buying a Telescope – Breakdown
- The Basics
- Getting Started
- Different Types of Telescopes
- The Telescope Mount
- Buying a Telescope For Children
- Planning on seeing?
- Taking Pictures with a Telescope
The Basics For Buying a Telescope
Like I mentioned before, when buying a telescope for the first time, it can become very overwhelming when your hit with all these specs and options. Straight out the box, the key feature of any telescope is the aperture or the diameter of its lens or mirror. Reason being, the bigger the aperture the more light can be collected resulting in distant objects becoming brighter. But the downside to this is that bigger telescopes aren’t as portable as smaller ones. So before you dive right in and buy a telescope for the size of its aperture. Take a moment to think what you’re going to be doing with your new telescope. Are you going to be able to load it into the back of the car and go on stargazing trips?
An easy way to determine what a telescope is best at viewing can be done by looking at its f-ratio. The f-ratio is the telescopes focal length divided by its aperture. For instance, a telescope with a 900mm focal length and a 70mm aperture will give you an f-ratio of 12.9 to f/12.9. In simple terms, the smaller the f/number, the lower the magnification, the wider the field and the brighter the image. So, smaller f-ratios like f/4 to f/5 are ideal for wide-field observing and deep space objects like galaxies. With larger f-ratios like f/11 or f/15, these are best used for narrow-fields, and higher power views of the Moon, planets and cluster of stars. While medium, f-ratios telescopes like f/6 to f/10 can work well either way.
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Any astronomer will tell you that the best way to get started requires no astronomy equipment at all. In fact, to get started observing the night sky is buy grabbing a jacket, maybe a friend too and head to a location that has little light pollution and lookup. Enjoy all the stars that aren’t visible when you’re surrounded by light pollution from the cities.
To help you on your journey of learning the stars and constellations with the naked eye, don’t forget to take with you a star chart (which are free to download here) or like most people these days, you can download a stargazing app like Stellarium on your PC or mobile device. Make sure to have your phone’s brightness completely down or in night mode, so that you don’t ruin you night vision.
Another great way to get started in astronomy is by finding stargazing events or clubs near you. Most astronomical societies will organise events like this a few times each year and its always a great way to learn about the night sky, plus a chance to look through different telescopes.
Different Types of Telescopes
To add more to the difficulties of buying a telescope, telescopes come in three different types: reflectors, refractors and compound.
Reflectors, like the name suggests, uses mirrors instead of lenses to reflect the incoming light. This also means that the eyepiece can be placed in a more ideal location on the side of the telescope. While larger mirrors are cheaper to manufacture than larger lenses, reflectors are better value as the sizes go up. Reflector telescopes are the most popular choice when astronomers want to be able to see deeper into the night sky at objects like Saturns rings, Jupiters Moons, nebulae, and nearby galaxies. Another word for reflectors is Newtonian Telescopes because Sir Isaac Newton invented them. His telescope in 1668 is the earliest know type of reflecting telescope recorded.
Refractors are the most common starter telescopes used and are the most easily recognisable. It works by the astronomer looking through the eyepiece at the end of the telescope, which travels through a series of glass lenses, allowing them to see the night sky object. Refractor telescopes are ideal for viewing the craters on the Moon, bright planets, or even daytime landscapes and wildlife. Unlike with reflector telescopes, the bigger/powerful the refractor telescope the more expensive and inconvenient it becomes to look through the eyepiece.
Compound telescopes are a mixture of reflectors and refractors. Also known as a catadioptric telescope, it uses both lenses and mirrors to create a powerful telescope with a short tube length. The downside, like a refractor the eyepiece is still at the end of the telescope, but its shorter length makes it convenient to look through. You’ll find compound telescopes are more expensive than either reflectors or refractors but are far more portable than reflectors for the similar magnifying power.
Tip – There are a lot of different types and options on the internet when it comes to buying a telescope. I suggest you stick with a reputable astronomy brand like Orion, Celestron, Bresser, Meade, and Sky-Watcher.
The Telescope Mount
A telescope mount is as important as the telescope itself. Its the base that supports the telescope of the ground and allows it to point in different locations and different angles.
If you want to achieve a sharp clear image buy a decent mount. A cheap tripod will wobble at the slightest touch and any image viewable in the telescope will be shaky. A sturdy mount will keep the telescope still and result in a much clearer image, but also remember that this could also mean that your telescope becomes bigger and heavier, resulting in it being less portable. Honestly, it’s about finding the right balance between your needs and your budget. If you stay clear of cheap, flimsy unheard of brands and stick with high-quality mounts from dedicated telescope brands you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Usually, the terms alt-az and equatorial will appear floating about when searching for mounts. These refer to how the telescope can be adjusted to a particular point in the night sky. Alt-az is short for altitude-azimuth which is the simplest system. This type of telescope can swing left-right and up-down, just like a standard camera tripod. An equatorial mount works in a similar way, but as the name suggests, it’s titled as to follow the natural path of the stars in the night sky. This does make it easier to follow the stars and deep-sky objects over time.
Most amateur astronomers tend to go for a good value and sturdy Dobsonian mount. This is an alt-az mount that supports larger telescopes. In fact, its design is so simple that it can even be made at home.
Binoculars as an Alternative
While beginning your astronomy hobby, binoculars can become a very useful astronomical equipment for viewing the night sky and observing stars and constellations. You don’t need to worry about portability as binoculars can be carried with ease, you can also store them in your car, in case you find yourself travelling home one night, and decide to pull over. Just like telescopes, it’s always ideal to stick with a brand that has a reputation behind them. Click here to view our collection of binoculars
Buying A Telescope For Children
A quick and simple idea when buying a telescope for a child is to choose something that is easy to set up. A great option is the Celestron PowerSeeker 80EQ or the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ. These two reflector telescopes have great power, a simple alt-az mount, and also come with helpful guides to observing the night sky.
What Are You Planning On Seeing?
Stars, constellations and meteor showers – For this type of night sky observing, no telescope is required. The best way to begin stargazing is to familiarise yourself with the winter and summer constellations. Just like learning a new map, you’ll begin to find it much easier to navigate your telescope once you know how to locate a few constellations.
You might already know this, but meteors are best viewed with the naked eye. These awesome bright streaks of glowing dust and rock cover a huge area of the sky and are gone in an instant. So no special equipment is needed, all you require is patience. To help you find out more about up and coming meteor showers and how to view them, check out EarthSky.
The Moon and the planets – To few these amazing night sky objects, look for a telescope with a narrow-field and a large f-ratio around f/11 to f/15. This will give you the specifications to see Jupiters four Galilean moons, the beautiful rings of Saturn, and even the multicolour bands of Jupiter’s clouds. Also, with a large f-ratio telescope you will be able to keep an eye on double stars and explore the craters on the Moon. Celestron NexStar 127SLT is a good example of that type of telescope.
For a wider view of the moon, as well as nearby galaxies and star clusters, grab a good pair of 10×50 binoculars. These will magnify objects by 10x, and yet still keeping a wide field of view to see large, bright objects. Again, good brands for binoculars include Orion, Celestron, Helios, Opticron, Revolution, and Strathspey. Check out these Celestron Binoculars
Nebulae and galaxies – To few these more exotic objects, a good all-rounder telescope is the Orion SpaceProbe 3. It allows you to see both galaxies and planets without over budgeting. If you’re interested in going further and viewing more distant deep space details, you might want to consider getting a bigger telescope.
Taking Pictures With Your Telescope
To do some amazing astrophotography you’ll need to invest in an adapter to mount your digital camera or phone against the eyepiece of your telescope. With a DSLR camera, you can remove the camera lens altogether and use the telescope itself as a lens, mounted with an adapter ring.
For more faint, deep sky objects you will need a long exposure time to collect enough light, In this case, a telescope with a motor that tracks the object across the sky will need to be required, as well as a sturdy equatorial mount.
To expand your knowldge of astronomy, Space Geek recommends you try and find a local astronomy club to join near your area.
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