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$15-20k first system

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#1 tadsbud


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:02 PM

As this is my first post I just want to start by saying thank you to everyone who makes this website the awesome resource it is.

Everyone's situation is slightly different when it comes to purchasing equipment, so even though I have read what others have done, I am hoping I can get some advice for my own situation.

A little about me, I will be moving to either Albuquerque NM, or Maui HI in about a year. I currently live in Ohio. I do not know exactly where I will be moving (in the Air Force), but it will be one of those two locations. I only relate this as it might impact what optics to consider.

Stargazing has always been a somewhat spiritual experience for me whenever I get out and actually see the stars. I am currently working on a thesis in Electro Optics relative to deep space detection. My studies have caused an almost obsession with stargazing--only one problem...

I have ZERO equipment. I just go out and look at stars and admire what I see. The desire to get a telescope has been strong for almost a year now--I have waited this long so as to make sure this isn't just a fleeting attraction.

I am one of those who believes in "buy once cry once" when it comes to important purchases--which is another reason I have yet to buy anything.

I do have a limit to what I can spend of around $15-20k (depending on how much I purchase at once).

So my requirements in list form...
1. Observe celestial splendor from the moon to deep space objects.
2. Flexible enough to add AP equipment (DSLR and/or CCD) for deep space imaging (although I plan on just observing for a while I want to budget for this gear now).
3. Portable--I know this is relative--a 20-30 pound scope that can be put in some kind of hard case is what I am thinking.(20-30 lbs for the scope alone, I understand the total weight will be more)
4. $15-20k for everything down to photoshop.
5. GoTo feature
6. I could care less about name brand--more impressed with measured quality (sometimes correlated sometimes not).

I have no bias or prejudice of one system or another. What I am looking for is to generate a solid list of everything I need to purchase (some now some later perhaps).

Also I understand that for $15-20k I will be making trade-offs on performance, portability, versatility, etc--not looking to get it all, just best bang for buck.

Thank you :bow:!

#2 Haas



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:06 PM

Not much help here, but wow, what a nice budget for a start. That's way more than most who are looking for their first purchase. You should have lot's of fun shopping.

#3 lamplight



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:18 PM

We got another one.. :) Welcome to CN. I wouldn't even begin to start on this one.. Have you looked at the different scope types available, pros and cons of each? I might start with the book "nightwatch" if you haven't been through something like that first? It would address some of those basics. You can probably include a couple scope types in this budget to cover everything from huge aperture deep sky grasping, to widefield small scopes such as a little refractor for wide field photos. There are so many options one scope recommendation might be doing a disservice to you until you can possibly try a couple at a astronomy club(?) and or get some more info on scope types first.

#4 MikeBOKC


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:43 PM

Since you envision some level of astrophotography at some point, you will likely need a fairly high capacity equatorial mount, which of course can also be used to carry one or more scopes for visual observing. I would second the motion of finding and enrolling in a local astronomy club at either of your destinations. Try out some of the equipment members are using for both AP and visual, ask for their input and advice.

Then, you might focus on a system something like the 9.25 Edge on a CGEM or CGEM-DX mount, which would be quite good for both uses. Or, look at fork mounted SCT like the CPC line for visual use and a second kit for AP, perhaps a mid-sized APO refractor in the CGEM. There are quite a lot of options out there . . . but your post indicates you have given considerable thought to this, and sampling choices via a local club would fit that approach. Bottom line, you can acquire some excellent equipment for both uses with your stated budget.

#5 rdandrea



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:55 PM

Coming back from several years off, I spent $450 for a Craigslist 8" Newt on a CG-5. Congratulations on your budget.

#6 Pharquart


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:02 PM

As you learn more, you'll find that each type/model of telescope has its strengths and weaknesses. The best scope for observing faint fuzzies visually is far from the best scope for astrophotography. Even viewing different objects visually can call for different telescope. Many deep space objects like nebula benefit from a large aperture and wide field of view (like a Dobsonian) while splitting binaries and getting sharp views of the planets/moon calls for an APO refractor. And astrophotography is all about the mount, not the optics (and a HUGE learning curve!)

So if I were you, even with a big budget, I'd plan to own a few different telescopes eventually. My advice is to start much smaller in budget. Around here, you'll get tons of recommendations for an 8" Dob, and it's a good recommendation. You'll spend 5-10% of your budget and get a great scope to try out and see if you like it. You really won't know what type of astronomy turns you on (Galaxies? Planets? Binary stars? Open clusters? Globulars?) until you try for a while. So if you only want to cry once, don't spend all your budget now as a newbie, or you run the risk of crying very hard when you discover you spend $15k on something that isn't right for you. Learn what's right, THEN spend the big bucks.


#7 hfjacinto


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:07 PM

That's a nice budget, I'm probably that much into the hobby with all the gear I have. Honestly since you have such a nice budget, the first thing you should get is the backyards astronomers guide after reading that I think you will know what to get. The issue with the request is that I can make a shopping list but that's my list not yours. You really need to narrow down a specific scope type, what type of camera you want, is a 100lb mount ok, etc...

#8 tadsbud


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:15 PM

I have done a lot of random reading over the past year. However I haven't been able to lock myself down to a specific setup.

Right now I am eyeing some kind of triplet apo refractor (like TMB-130). Last month I have had the Celestron CGEM DX 11 Edge HD in my cart--although that is probably pushing my "portability" comfort level.

I have also thought about getting a 8-9" SCT and then a decent 3-4" refractor or something?

I feel like step one for me is deciding on what scope(s) to buy.

Also perhaps a rough estimate on what % of my budget I should spend on what would be helpful to keep certain things within a range.

For instance,
30% telescope(s) $4,500-6,000
20% mount/tracking $3,000-4,000
20% CCD/DSLR $3,000-4,000
20% accessories $3,000-4,000
10% misc $1,500-2,000

So I suppose a more focused question is, what amount should I be looking to spend on a telescope(s) with a budget of 15-20k (given my portability and AP friendly requirements)?

#9 psandelle



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:26 PM

My big suggestion would be to reverse (or even more) the scope and mount numbers. Especially if you're going to go for AP later. Mount is half the battle in AP.

My gear (coming back in to the fray after 35 years) came to around $12,000 - but I knew I really wanted to do wide-angle AP (and then had a fun 6" achro for visual). I think a couple of scopes might get you closer to a "full-service" experience.


#10 Paco_Grande


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:26 PM

Welcome to the asylum.

That is a very silly budget for your very first telescope. It would be as if a motorcyclist came to me and asked which bike he should buy for his first year doing track days. He's thinking $15k for a liter bike. I'm thinking $3,000 for a used 600 class sport bike.

So, forget AP for now. Buy an ED80 and an alt/az mount, like an Orion ED80 and a Vixen Porta II. Add a few good eyepieces, an observation chair, a book or two, red flashlight, and you're all set to go for around $1,200. Or, buy a Celestron 8SE and the same list of other bits. Now you're around $2,000. The former would be manual scope, the latter a GOTO, both with nice views.

Stick the rest of the cash under the mattress until you understand if an expensive rig is really what you want. At this point, you won't be able to tell the difference between an Orion ED80 and a 150mm Astro Physics refractor.

#11 WarmWeatherGuy



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:30 PM

I would start by choosing the mount. If you're going to want to do astrophotography (AP) then look at the different EQ mounts. For your scope I would consider getting several OTAs. No one scope will do everything. For AP you may want a nice 5" APO and something bigger that has a big mirror. For visual you may want a 14" or larger Dob.

I think you'll find that you underestimate the weight and size of your gear. I put my gear in Pelican cases and it won't all fit into my car. So a larger car might run you over your budget. My mount (CGEM) in the case weighs 63 pounds.

For your budget, and wanting to be portable, I would look for a mount in the $1,500 to $4,000 range.

#12 Jeff2011



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:32 PM

If it were me, I would be nervous making a purchase of that amount, especially without any hands on experience. You can read up on this stuff and study until you turn blue, but until you experience it, you may not know what you like. It is very easy to buy a setup that you later discover is too big and bulky and therefore does not get used. Also as time passes your interests may change. For example you may decide that video AP is more interesting than DSLR/CCD AP. Joining a club is very good advice. Wish I had done that sooner. My club has loaner scopes and they provide training on how to use them.

Best of luck in your Astronomy pursuit.


#13 hfjacinto


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:33 PM

Your estimates are pretty good, but you have 2 goals that can use different gear. For example AP needs a fast light scope, an 80-120 mm APO can capture lots (see my gallery) but they aren't the best for deep sky objects. So you also need a larger scope like a c11 or c9.25.

I honestly would say hold off for a few months before jumping into ap, for no other reason that's its frustrating at times. There are days I rushed to set up and I either had computer issues or guiding issues or forgot something stupid like an extension tube that I couldn't image.

Also an ap quality mount isn't too portable.

When I want grab and go I use an older LXD 75 mount and my 120 mm APO, other times I take out the 9.25.

And accessories there are so many, even eyepiece if you want a set of Ethos your $4000 budget may get blown and then you find out you don't like 100° eyepieces.

I would again tell you to take it easy, I understand the want to spend money, but look through a few scopes before going all in. You might decide you want a dob or a 14" sct or a 150mm APO.

#14 tadsbud


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:43 PM

I should note that I finally plan on attending a local astronomy club meeting. I am not very social when it comes to going out and attending clubs--kind of a recluse.

I have read a small book on AP which caused me to contemplate a 2 scope setup--one for viewing and one for AP.

I really like the idea of a Dobson for viewing, but I am not sure about portability. My living space is such that I will most likely need to travel somewhere to view most nights (busy street with street lamp in front and lots of very tall trees in backyard). Also I have a small car and might be moving overseas next year.

#15 Paco_Grande


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:55 PM

I should note that I finally plan on attending a local astronomy club meeting. I am not very social when it comes to going out and attending clubs--kind of a recluse.

The zen master asked his student, who was frustrated because he felt angry all the time, "Were you born angry?"

Well yeah, good on you! Break out of the recluse mode. Crash out of your comfort zone and engage with the astro folks. So much to learn about equipment, methods, techniques, the simply amazing sky, and maybe even a little about yourself. :D

#16 Dennis_S253


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:57 PM

Well, your well over my budget at this time. What part of Ohio are you in? Do you have some clear skies or can you get to some clear dark sites? I see this will be your first scope? Did I read that right? Why not get your feet wet and get a Orion ST 80? It's cheap and won't effect your budget. I'm sure you'll use it now and down the road. Just my 2 cents... clear skies

#17 stevenf


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:06 PM

No matter what your budget is you can't spend your way around the inherent limitations there are to every scope type. Large heavy scopes and mounts suitable for AP will show you more, but portability becomes seriously limited.

Honestly the best advice I could give you would be to spend some money on a good 100-120mm wide field ED or APO plus a solid alt-az mount, and a decent set of eyepieces. If you love the experience of just looking around the skies with eyes only you may love the experience of cruising around with a widefield refractor. The refractor can also be used for AP later on, once you get the right mount (heavy, not portable). A short tube refractor and an alt-az mount can make for a very portable and easy to set up/take down package.

#18 Ian Robinson

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:08 PM

Spending that much on YOUR FIRST SYSTEM is silly IMO.

My advice is use $12k as a deposit on a house or appartment (as an investment to rent out if you have free airforce housing).

Then buy a good 2nd hand newt and an oversized (for the newt) equatorial on a very solid tripod and good barlow and good offaxis guider and a coma corrector and a gaggle of nice eyepieces and astro filters and naybe an autoguider and 10" notebook to drive the guider.

#19 David Pavlich

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:15 PM

Welcome to Cloudy Nights! I'm going to hold my recommendations to just the mount. I'd look at the used market and find a Tak EM400 or Tak NJP, an AP900 or a Losmandy Titan. Any of these will give you plenty of capacity to build a very nice visual and/or imaging platform.


#20 wz2


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:37 PM


$7000 Mach 1 mount and accessories
$4200 TeleVue NP101is
$2000 tripod of your choice
$4200 one of the SBIG 8300 packages
$2800 accessories/software
$20,000 TOTAL

The above package should be light weight and easy to travel. Plus the scope is fast and a good way to enter AP if you ever decide to go that route. The mount and the scope are a solid core and could keep you busy for a lifetime. Let's let some of the other members tweak the package.


#21 Escher



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:16 PM

This is rather tongue in cheek...

But - If I had $20k to play with... and knowing what I know *now*...

Meade 14" LX850 = $10K
POD XL3 w/ PZT = $4k-$5k depending on shipping
Which leaves $5k for the camera of your choice.

That would get you into a very serious setup... Not as portable as some would like, but doable if yo are serious.

Or, Go the Celestron route:
Celestron CGEPro Edge HD 1400 = $10K
Starizona Hyperstar III for 14" Edge = $1k
Cam of choice = $4K
POD XL3 + PZT = $4-5K

Thats assuming you want to shoot the moon and go max aperture and max flexibility... Not sure but I'd lean toward the Celestron version... the Edge scopes are sweet.

#22 WarmWeatherGuy



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:30 PM

There are a few recent posts that are problematic. They list a few items (scope, mount, camera...) that total the upper limit. This is not good advice. There are MANY things that you also need - Photoshop, Maxim DL, cases, eyepieces, guide scope, guide camera, powertanks, dew shields, heating strips, dew controller, mount upgrades, side-by-side mounting hardware, books, focusing masks, focus upgrades, camping gear, diagonals, Powermates, focal reducers, filters, etc., etc.

#23 Escher



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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:37 PM

Note my tongue in cheek comment... ;)

WarmWeatherGuy is right though...

Truth be told - I'd second the recommendation (third, fourth??) to wait on AP for a while.

You can easily get into a very fun setup for a couple of grand that will keep you very busy visually for a long time while you learn.

If you take the other route and lower either of the two setups I mention by one aperture size, that would save you enough to get the software, and any accessories you need...

Personally - its all about how you work and what you want to do.

I dont have a dew shield. I dont have a dew heater. I dont go out for more than an hour or two at a time..., but I do have a POD so I can sneak out at a moments notice.

If you want to go out for long sessions - then a dew heater system is a must...

If you plan to have everything setup in your back yard, and want momentary access for quick sessions under an hour - then I'd set aside a few grand for a POD or other dome...

#24 tadsbud


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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:41 PM

This community is awesome. Great advice.

I want to clear something up here. I plan on spending $15-20k total--definitely not buying a full AP setup right now--I just wanted you all to understand what my upper limit is based on long term goals.

Would investing in something like the Celestron NexStar 8 SE be a scope that I could eventually attach to a solid GEM and use for AP? Or would an 9.25" Edge HD be a better option? Or another brand altogether?

I know a good AP mount is expensive. Would you drop $8k on a AP Mach1GTO (with tripod etc) or look at something in the $5k range given my budget ceiling.

I know some of you are cringing at a newbie asking about $8k mounts--please understand I am not an impulsive buyer (ask my wife--I sometimes take years to actually pull the trigger on a major purchase).

I am going to do AP--in fact I already do a bit of the processing side in Grad school--just using data others have collected and/or simulating data--I want to collect my own data! Also next year I will be working at an observatory--so I see this as a great time to get familiar with field imaging and not just lab simulations.

#25 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:57 PM

First let me say hello and welcome to Cloudy Nights... :waytogo:

I could recommend some equipment but rather I want to share my concern. At this point, you have no real experience, you can only imagine what looking through a telescope might be like, what owning and setting up a telescope might be like, what astrophotography might be like.

There is a time when it is appropriate to spend $20,000 on equipment but the time to do that is when you know what you really want, when you have enough experience to know what it is that attracts you so you can choose the right equipment.

The actual observing experience is governed by factors that may well seem obscure, your position when viewing for example is probably one of the most important and very individual. Figuring out what it is you really enjoy doing is the most important discovery any amateur astronomer can make... once you know that, that is the time to spend real money.

Before that, take it slow, get your feet wet, invest in some decent equipment, learn how to use it, find how what you enjoy, what you dislike...


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