I am still new to this hobby and just now getting my first scope(s) up and running, so this is not advice from a wise old astronomer. This is advice from one who has been in and out of a variety of hobbies. This is my newest passion and I have been immersing myself in information. I am going to share what I have learned so far in the hope it helps others get started.
There are no beginner telescopes. There are beginners and there are telescopes. That's it! And there are beginner's expectations, which can sometimes be unrealistic.
What would be the perfect first telescope? We all ask this question.
- One that can be purchased within your budget. ( is your budget realistic?)
- One that will give you the opportunity to learn about the sky. (Do you want to learn or do you want to look at things?)
- One that will not frustrate you or fall so far shot of your expectations that you walk away. (what are your expectations?)
- One that you can handle (these things get big and heavy)
Which telescope is that? That depends on you, your budget, how willing you are to learn and how unrealistic your expectations are. If you think you are going to spend $200 and see things that look like the Hubble photos, I suggest you take up flying model airplanes. That is my other hobby. Even with a $2000 scope you will never see views like the Hubble photos. Ever!
Want to get into astrophotography? Do you have the budget? Are you prepared to learn the world of computer editing software, video, photography and astronomy all at once? Do you have the budget? From what I read here, this can get really expensive really fast if you are going to try and get images that look like the Hubble photos. The cost of entry here keeps dropping so don't walk away yet, but consider your expectations. Do you have the budget and the commitment?
GoTo - Goto scopes are like GPSs for your car. You tell them what you want to see and they point the scope at it. Cool! Some might say that goto scopes are beginner scopes because you don't need to know much of anything about astronomy. If you can master aligning the scope, it will find things for you. But will you learn the skies as part of this process? That is up to you.
When I started using a GPS in my car I stopped learning routes. I would arrive at a destination and people would ask what route I took. "I don't know, I just followed the GPS." No need for maps, just tell the GPS where you want to go and it will take you there. But how much do you learn about the route? Could you get there without the GPS? (Where are my maps?)
There are goto scopes that cost $250 and there are goto scopes that cost $2500. Are they both good first scopes because they are goto? That depends on your budget.
Mounts - You may think of them as tripods but they are so much more than that. They can range from $50 to $5000. Some are manual, some are motorized and some are fully computerized. A lousy mount can ruin the viewing experience of a good scope. Many entry level telescopes are reasonably good but the mounts are so poor that they ruin the experience, or so I am told by the wizards on this board. My first telescope, when I was in middle school, had a mount like this.
Dobsonians (dobs) - A dob is not a scope type it is a mount type but people talk about them like they are a type of telescope. Dobsonians are Newtonian reflector scopes that go in a dobsonian mount. The mount is very inexpensive but very stable. They look like a fancy lazy susan turntable that sits on the ground.
Many have advised me, as a new astronomer, to get a manual dobsonian (mount + scope) because they provide the most aperture for the $$ and telescopes are all about aperture. The more aperture the more you can see.
Most dobsonians, are simple manual scopes that rest on a tilt/swivel base the ground. They are stable and simple to use but you need to learn how to star hop to find things. This is like learning to travel with a map. You have to read the map then read the sign posts to find your turns. More work than a GPS but most likely, when you get there, you will be able to tell someone how you got there and you will be able to get there again. You learn the route.
On a bang for the buck basis, dobsonians are a good choice. Note that there are more expensive dobsonians that have guidance to help you find things and there are even goto dobs, but the cost goes up and up.
Binoculars - Probably the best advice I received on this and other forums was to get a pair of 7X50 or 10X50 binoculars, some basic books and charts and go look at the sky. See what you can see from your location. Start to get to know the stars with the binoculars. Learn to star hop to find things. I was surprised how much more I could see with $25 binoculars than I could see with my naked eye, even in my heavily light polluted area.
I have to say that this has been wonderful. I learned a little about the sky over my head and how much I could see from my yard. I got a little experience with star charts and books. And I started to learn about star hopping. Total investment, for binoculars, books and charts, about $100. And I will use these forever so there is no loss of investment. And binoculars can be used for other things such as watching sports, birds, nature, architecture, vacations, camping, all sorts of stuff. So if I drop out of the hobby my binoculars will still get use.
I also learned about light pollution in my area. I learned about the challenges of avoiding street lights and the like. And I learned a little about field of view which is important to a beginner and to experienced astronomers alike.
I learned about convenience. I could grab the binoculars and go for a 30 minute observation in my side yard. Setting up some telescopes can take longer than 30 minutes when you factor in assembly, collimation and "temperature stabilization" time. So my 30 minute observation session would not be possible with some of the telescopes I have considered.
For some, $200 is the absolute limit of what they can spend to get into this. For some $2000 seems like an easy entry point. Would we recommend the same scope to both of these beginners because they are beginners? Likely not.
Here is something I had not considered. If you get a BIG scope you will have great views. But if you get a big scope, where are you going to store it and where are you going to set it up?
I attended an observation night with a local astronomy club. There must have been 20 scopes there of various sizes and types. One fellow had a BIG Celestron 11" SCT scope that he loved. Cost about $3000 all up. But he said he rarely used it because he could not move it and set it up by himself. It was too heavy and too clumsy to move by himself. He later purchased a smaller scope, a 6" I think, that he loves and uses a lot. No, it does not give him the views of the big scope but the smaller scope gets 10X the sky time because it is light and portable.
It is all about aperture, not magnification
In the end they all do the same thing, gather light! That is what telescopes do, they gather light. Then the eyepiece magnifies the image. The more light you have the better the image will look as you magnify it. There is more to it than that but for this discussion that is close enough. I have learned that most observations are done at less than 300X magnification and the majority under 200X, even with big scopes.
You can take a small scope, say a 60 mm refractor or reflector, and magnify the image 300X and the image will be dark and without sharp features. There is not enough light to allow that level of magnification. So if you want to get to high magnifications you need a big aperture so you have enough light to magnify. Telescopes are all about aperture. But small aperture scopes say under 100 mm/4 inches can give you a lot to look at with a modest expenditure.
This is similar to having a 2 MP camera and a 20 MP camera. Both take great snap shots that look good at 3X5". You can make wall posters from photos from each but the wall poster from the 2 mp camera will look grainy and without detail. The wall poster from the 20 MP camera will look much better.
Scope Types - SCT, MCT, Newtonian, Refactor
I am not going to describe all of these types of scopes. In the end it is all about gathering light and bending it to your will. Each scope does it in a different way. The result is that some scopes have inherently wider apparent fields of view which are better for some purposes than others, but they can be used to look at everything. Others have inherently narrower apparent fields of view which make them better for some purposes then others but they can also be used to look at everything. So there are compromises with all designs. There is no one perfect scope.
What I have learned from the good people on this forum is, if you stay in the hobby, you end up with three types of scopes:
- binoculars - wide view, quick to grab and look. Most people seem to have at least one and some have many
- a smaller grab and go telescope. What is small varies by person but typically this is something with an aperture of 6" or less and for some an 80 mm/3.1" refractor is the perfect scope for this purpose. This is their travel scope, short observations window or take it on a trip or vacation scope. Quick to set up by one person.
- a big aperture scope to see dim deep sky things, usually a reflector of 8" or more. Bigger, heavier and maybe less convenient to move around but, what views!
This is a broad generalization but it points out that no one tool does every job equally well. Some have a scope for planets and a different scope for deep space objects. Some are designed for AP, astrophotography, and some for viewing. Most can do both but it is a question of optimization and budget.
And what is a grab and go to you and what is grab and go to me will differ. Some will say their 8" dobsonian is their grab and go scope. Others will give this distinction to an 80 mm refractor. Your smileage will vary.
What is this Newbie doing? (my journey)
I am not suggesting you follow me. But I will share my path. You might find it works for you.
First 60 days - Reading this forum, and purchased the following. Total of Less than $100. This is to help me figure out if I am interested. I also attended a local astronomy club's "observation night" and had a lot of opportunity to look through everyone's scopes and get their advice. I have not joined the club yet, but if I get serious about this I will join the club. I plan to visit another club soon.
I was all over the place with this. Big dobs, expensive SCT goto scopes and ... all over the place. The budget was $500 to $1500 but in the end I decided to take a smaller first step. I purchased an 80mm refractor goto scope for $250. Mead ETX 80 If I stay in the hobby this will be my grab and go scope, my travel scope.
I have so much light pollution and so many obstructions by my house, my main observation area, that I decided I needed the help of a goto. I could not see things to the extent that I wanted, with the binoculars. So star hopping has been a bit of a challenge. But I was not prepared to invest in a "big scope" yet. The new scope had not arrived at the time of this writing but I will update this when it does arrive to see if this was a good choice. If not, well $250 is not going to break me or swamp the family in debt.
Gift Scope - A friend heard I was getting into this and handed me a 3", 76mm aperture, Newtonian reflector scope that had belonged to her father. Wow! I went from no scope to two scopes of different types in a matter of a week. If this had happened first I would not have ordered the ETX but it had already shipped. I can still return it but most likely I will keep both.
The Comparison - So I am presented with a great opportunity. I will have a goto refractor and a manual reflector of similar size. They have eyepieces with similar magnification and they are both quick and easy to move around. I will be able to do a comparison as to what they are like and which way I want to go for the big scope, if and only if I continue to be committed to the hobby. I will post reports.
This is a quick summary of what I have learned at 60 days into the hobby. I put it here to help those just getting into the hobby. I have shared the advice I have received and the little bit of knowledge I have accumulated to try and make it easier for you to travel this early, bumpy rod to getting to know the skies.
Feel free to comment, positive or negative, and to ask questions. I have a ton of links saved that will gather together and post as a resource to newbies like myself. But more importantly, there are a lot of smart people on this forum who will likely jump in to help. You have come to the right place for help.
Clear skies to you.
Edited by aeajr, 04 August 2015 - 08:11 AM.