After weeks of reading and posting on another forum (where there are a couple of long-time astronomers that I trust) and nearly an hour on the phone with High Point Scientific, I've narrowed our "first scope" question down to three:
Celestron Omni XLT 102mm Refractor on the CG-4 mount
Celestron Omni XLT 150mm Reflector on the CG-4 mount
Orion XT8 Classic
We will be viewing in our back yard and in the parking lot of a nearby observatory, both with similar light conditions. I see pluses for the CG-4-mounted scopes because I can put new OTAs on the mounts if I want to experiment later, but the value of the XT8 seems tough to oversell.
I've budgeted for a basic set of eyepieces just to learn what they do and which ones I find useful along with a collimation eyepiece if necessary (the XT8 comes with a cap, the XLT 150 doesn't come with anything as far as I know).
Can anyone offer any advice on these choices? I like the ability to add a motor for tracking, but for our budget I'd rather spend the money on optics than GoTo. Thanks!
P.S. We joined a local astronomy club and attended a star party with access to an ETX-125, a dob similar to the XT8, an Astromaster 114EQ, a pair of CPC 1100s (if I remember correctly), and the 24" in the observatory. The scopes were all pointing at the moon, though, which didn't tell us much about how they'd handle other objects.