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Equipment Lessons Learned

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#1 Refractor Paul

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Posted 08 August 2019 - 07:31 PM

The purpose of this thread is to give a formatted summary of the telescopes we’ve bought and sold and why, with a particular emphasis on our thought process at the time and the lessons we learned.


If we do this right, we may be able to help each other avoid some financial regrets and missed opportunities. I’m particularly interested in why we chose each scope and why we moved on to something different.


I’ll set the format as a bullet list section for “Lessons Learned” and a “Buy/Problems/Buy” format for “Money Burned.” This will make it easier for people who just want to scan the lessons learned.


Lessons Learned


1. The number one mistake I’ve made, repeatedly, is underestimating how important to the observing experience the quality of the mount is. Never have I thought, “This mount is too steady. I should have saved money on a more portable, lighter mount.”


2. I’ve never regretted buying a top tier piece of equipment. I miss every single piece of TeleVue gear I’ve sold and I regret buying almost every non-premium item. My most common regret is selling smaller aperture top tier equipment to finance the purchase of larger aperture 2nd or 3rd tier equipment.


3. Most astronomers say “aperture wins,” but for me, contrast, sharpness and a rock solid mount wins. I’ll cover this when I discuss the time I used my TeleVue Pronto 70mm and Celestron Nextar 8 side by side.


4. When you go to a star party, ask people what their most interesting observing experiences were. I never fail to get a list of new observing targets, such as observing the lunar X, seeing the extension of dawn around the entire disc of a crescent Venus, seeing each of the Galilean moons transit Jupiter’s disc, including shadow transits, seeing Albireo and other color contrasting binaries, etc.


5. There is no single telescope that will be perfect for every situation. However, in my case, the closest I think I will get to it is a top tier 5 or 6 inch apochromatic refractor on an absolutely rock solid mount. I’d still want a top tier 80mm apo on a top tier heavy duty carbon fiber fluid head camera tripod for grab and go.


Money Burned


Buy: I bought a 60mm refractor with .965 eyepieces for $20 from a 6th grade classmate. Seeing the Moon and a rather blurry Saturn was enough to inspire me to save up for a 114mm Newtonian.


Problems: The 60mm’s optics and alt-az mount were horrendous. I thought the equatorially-mounted  Newtonian was the most aperture for the money I could afford and it would allow me to use the slow motion controls for planetary observing. I also thought it would be large enough to at least give me a shot at resolving globular clusters and some of the brighter galaxies from my back yard. The Newt was so shaky, it was like observing while using an electric toothbrush. But, I saw enough to inspire me to save up (years later, when I had a real job) for a TeleVue Pronto on a TelePod mount.


Buy: I bought the TeleVue Pronto and I could walk out of my house in the middle of winter, grab the whole setup in one hand and the scope was settled in minutes with an ink black sky and blazing pinpoint stars. That scope was awesome. Too awesome. I immediately yearned to keep adding magnification on the Moon and planets. It took the magnification and it snarled like David Bowie and yelled: GIVE ME MORE, MORE, MORE.


Now I had a problem. With the alt-az mount at high mag, planets were drifting out of the field of view too quickly. I couldn’t justify giving up the grab and go and it felt silly to mount the tiny 70mm on a motor driven equatorial and have to drag counterweights and a battery pack out every time. With the Pronto, I could spontaneously decide to observe for 30 minutes when it was 20F in the middle of winter. I had an idea. Keep the Pronto for grab and go and get the Celestron NexStar 8. It’s also kind of grab and go. 70mm versus 200mm. My mind is racing. Aperture Fever, here I come!


Problems: Now I’ll have to carry around a much larger telescope, a dew shield, and a battery pack.I’ll also have to wait a long time for cool down, especially on nights of rapidly falling temperatures, which is just about every night that mosquitos aren’t planning a Bela Lugosi. The mantra ran through my aperture-addled mind…200mm, goto and tracking…200mm, goto and tracking.


I bought the NexStar 8. After a mercifully brief new scope curse, I got a perfect October night. It’s just past first quarter moon. I give the SCT half an hour to cool down and take a fateful look at Luna. I can see more mountains and craters than I can with the Pronto, but everything is light grey against darker grey. The edges are soft. It’s sooo bright. My night vision is toast. I have camera flash vision.


I switch eyes and look through the Pronto. The mountains are razor sharp, the shadows are absolute voids. I can’t see as many tiny craterlets with the Pronto, but what I can see looks so much better. I think: You’ve got to be kidding me! A 70mm semi-apo and I enjoy the view more than a 200mm SCT. I’ve just taken the first steps on the road to becoming Refractor Paul.


Buy: Sell it all. Save up for a TeleVue 102 on a Gibraltar mount. Did you spot my mistake? My expensive mistake? Now, I’m in a situation where I don’t really have grab and go. Almost, but not quite. However, the more significant mistake was paying all that money for the Gibraltar with digital setting circles.


You can probably guess where this is going. The TV102 didn’t smugly say “Please proceed with the Naglers and Radians, fine sir. I can certainly handle a bit more magnification.”


It leered at me, petting its cat, and in a predatory rasp, it said, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. 400x on the Moon.” It was at that moment I realized I didn’t have aperture fever, I had magnification fever. I couldn’t come anywhere near the optical limits of the TV102 with the manual alt-az mount.


Problems: I begin a dialog with myself, Archer style, Paul versus Other Paul:


P: Let’s finally be honest with ourselves. We need a $2500 mount, minimum.


OP: If I’m going to get a big, heavy, expensive mount, I want a 150mm top tier apo and be done with it.


P: Wait, what?! You’re talking about 12k to 15k all in…You know…those Chinese apos are tempting. They probably have 90% of the performance for less than half the cost.


OP: No. We need to hold out for a top tier 150mm. We will regret anything less.


P: That’s a mistake, Other Paul. We should get a top tier 5. We will regret the 6.


OP: But a 6 is just inside the range of a reasonable lifetime dream scope.


P: Get a 5. How many nights of the year will the 6 be worth it? You can easily transport the 5. The 6 is going to be a burden. Get a top tier 5 and mount it like you are a professional astrophotographer.


I look forward to reading your lessons.


Clear Skies,

Edited by Refractor Paul, 08 August 2019 - 07:39 PM.

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#2 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 08 August 2019 - 08:02 PM

My lessons:


The most important thing is getting out under the night sky and observing every possible moment.  


Figuring out how I liked to observe, figuring the equipment best suited observing the way I enjoy observing is the next most important thing.


Dobs are just about perfect for someone who is a natural tinkerer.  


Refractors are great for grab and go.  For me, a 120 ED qualifies as grab and go.. 


Perfection is not necessary to enjoy viewing the night sky.  


There's a lot of smart people out there.  Listen to them. 



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#3 kellyvictoria


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Posted 08 August 2019 - 08:03 PM

I have made many mistakes and learned many lessons with what I have bought...


I slowly worked my way to what I wanted... considering exactly what I wanted to use it for...

up until now, as I don't know what I might want in the future.  


With the advantage of reading others thought processes on CN I did however manage to avoid swapping a good scope for something else. I definitely keep the good stuff, even the medium stuff.

I find that I never know what I might use.  


I have and need a C8" with tracking for dark sites with others, a C11 on wheels with a FC76 mounted atop of it for home use... and a C6 to easily carry outside in the pre-dawn hours when I am half asleep. No tracking necessary.

So, those 4 scopes keep me happy. For now that is all I need...

Edited by kellyvictoria, 08 August 2019 - 08:08 PM.

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#4 OleCuss



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Posted 08 August 2019 - 08:05 PM

Wonderful OP!


My biggest lesson is that for some purposes more aperture is not better.


I got my 12" Dobsonian early on.  I later got the 80mm Swarovski spotting scope (used).  The spotting scope has been used far more and takes only seconds to have set up and be observing.

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#5 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 08 August 2019 - 08:12 PM

I should add:


Telescopes are tools. One needs a variety of tools, one size does not fit all. Big telescopes are best for small objects, small telescopes are best for large objects. 



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#6 jupiter122


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Posted 08 August 2019 - 09:04 PM

Lesson: if you win $500 million in the lottery and Giselle leaves Tom Brady for you, see the opportunity not the problem.

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#7 Auburn80



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Posted 08 August 2019 - 09:34 PM

#1 - Check, check, check and check!
#3 - Check
#5 - First sentence, Check

Fun read OP!

#8 Loren Toole

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Posted 08 August 2019 - 10:13 PM

My lessons:

I've evolved a bit in the last few years, regarding refractor features. I've owned a variety of focal ratios (f5, f7, f8, f10, f11, f16) and concluded that many desirable features seem to come together in a "astrograph" design, this means:


Short, compact tube (easier to balance)
Overbuilt focuser (carry heavy loads)
Sliding dewshield (compact for travel)
Triplet objective (above-average, fast optics)
Generous backfocus (mainly for cameras but a benefit for
binoviewing and other visual)


I am specifically thinking of my Espirit 120ED which I've used for over two years for imaging and visual. The only downside to having these features is OTA weight, the Espirit is a 26+ pound monster riding on my GPDX mount, while the short tube is a real advantage for stability, it's difficult to mount/demount the scope. I added a handle, this feature is a luxury for my other scopes since they're a lot lighter.



#9 starman876


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Posted 08 August 2019 - 10:24 PM

the best lesson is if you have a scope with really good optics do not sell it until have a scope with better optics.  

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#10 Jond105


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 02:12 AM

Lesson, make sure this is the hobby you want to be in and grow with before making the big purchase on a nice APO/ED refractor. Make sure you have the right mount requirements to hold your refractor you choose.

Make sure you know whether you want to stick a camera or an eyepiece in it.

And make sure you use it every gorgeous night possible. If it’s too big of a pain, maybe downsize. 

#11 nicknacknock


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 03:44 AM



- Don't sell accessories so fast - especially eyepieces. Scopes and focal lengths change, but eyepieces are forever. Example in point: Just ordered my 4th Panoptic 24mm foreheadslap.gif

- Expensive is the new cheap. Try to "get it right" as soon as possible, it works out cheaper in the end (says the guy who started this hobby 7 years ago and now holds scopes # 40, 45, 46 and 47 from a total of 47 scopes purchased - and I ain't done yet!).

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#12 sg6



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 05:58 AM

Mine is maybe ask about something, but expect answers tangenital to the question and go do what you want.

Always recall something I read that said to ask a quetion you already need to know 90% of the answer.


Avoid asking "What ........ " you will get every answer. Go look at the "What scope" questions. The first 5 will include Reflector, refractor and SCT/Mak and likely a set of binoculars just to complete everything.

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#13 nicknacknock


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 05:59 AM



Or to rephrase, it always ends up with "Buy a 8" dob" lol.gif

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#14 Wildetelescope


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 06:10 AM

Lesson 1. The best scope is the one you use.  My first scope was a 10 inch dob.  Love it, but too heavy fo me to use often.  Best purchase is my semi permanent pier, for the same reason. 


Lesson 2. You still need to be able to identify stars in the sky to use go to effectively.  Starwalk 2 is a great app on the phone for this.


Lesson 3.  Astronomy is a hobby of patience.  Don’t try to do everything at once when you are just starting out.  Pick small goals for an evening.  


Lesson 4.  To echo jon’s post, it is about what’s in the sky, not the gear.  Do not obsess about gear quality.  Buy what you can afford and have fun.





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#15 Allan Wade

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Posted 09 August 2019 - 09:43 AM

I’ve used many of the finest amateur telescopes in the world, because I make the effort to travel to lots of star parties. Money can’t buy the experience you get from attending star parties.


I’ve met some of the finest observers and vendors in the world at star parties. Money can’t buy, ok you get the idea.


I notice my observing performance reach its peak every time I spend extended periods observing. There’s no substitute for practice under the night sky and it can be worth more than getting a bigger scope.


If you are tempted to move into the big scope class, spend 90% of your time figuring out how you are going to deploy the beast under the stars, and 10% of your time on what scope you are actually going to buy.

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#16 csrlice12



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 11:31 AM

No, I don't need a 2" barlow.

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#17 Tyson M

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Posted 09 August 2019 - 12:15 PM



- Don't sell accessories so fast - especially eyepieces. Scopes and focal lengths change, but eyepieces are forever. Example in point: Just ordered my 4th Panoptic 24mm foreheadslap.gif

- Expensive is the new cheap. Try to "get it right" as soon as possible, it works out cheaper in the end (says the guy who started this hobby 7 years ago and now holds scopes # 40, 45, 46 and 47 from a total of 47 scopes purchased - and I ain't done yet!).

I agree with this 100%. I have bought and sold 2x Tele Vue 1.25" Everbrights.  I keep telling myself I shouldve kept it afterwards.


Eyepieces: invest in a premium set and keep them, don't break them up once you finally find a perfect set for you needs.  If you sell one you may sell more. 


Scopes come and go but eyepieces make all scopes work better.  One 2" set and one 1.25" set and be done with it for any future scope.  I bought and sold a 31mm nagler 3 times, no more.  A 22mm nagler twice, ect.  Still don't have that one but have a replacement that I like just as much. 


Not everyone can afford premium scopes off the bat, so it is hard to make the same recommendation for scopes. I will say, if you buy preowned, and take care of your equipment, you can sell and recover your funds for little loss on customs or shipping, to put towards a more expensive purchase when you have more funds.  Careful to not do this too much or you will lose money fast. 


With new scope purchase, I've bought many new scopes and always have taken a larger financial hit, so buy new when your 115% sure that is the scope you want and don't wish to sell. Easier said than done.


Also, I have had many great nights without premium gear so you DONT need it to enjoy the hobby.

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#18 bobhen



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 12:37 PM

Ease of setup and, even more importantly, takedown can be more important than almost anything. The “eyes are bigger than your belly” syndrome can be an expensive and even painful lesson.



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#19 Scott99


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 01:21 PM

we're in the refractor forum - I can say this!  Lessons learned #1-5 - DON'T waste time collimating!  Get a scope that doesn't need it. 

#20 db2005



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 02:12 PM

Great OP! Reading this, some of the items were almost a deja vu experience to me.


I'll add a few observations based on my own experiences:

  • Every observer needs a true grab-and-go scope: If a scope is not small enough that I'll use it on every reasonably good occasion, it's not going to be your grab-and-go scope. And the grab-and-go scope should be your best optic, because (a) high optical quality is way more affordable in small apertures and (b) because you will want pretty views to compensate for the limited aperture.
  • Optical quality is a Real Thing... for telescopes, diagonals, eyepieces, basically the entire optical train. You can only read so much from manufacturer specification sheets and marketing appraisals. You get what you pay for... bargain-hunting will leave you hungry for optical perfection. It's true: expensive is the new cheap.
  • Contrast trumps resolution for enjoyable views. And for me, this hobby is primarily about enjoying beautiful, captivating views. This favors small upper-tier refractors for many targets. Looking at the moon through an upper-tier refractor after looking at it through an SCT or Newtonian is like coming home again. The larger scopes may show me more detail, but a high quality APO renders Luna with unrivalled beauty and contrast.
  • Thermal issues are a Real Thing, at least where I live. The only telescope design which isn't significantly affected by this is ... the small refractor.
  • Most of the things I thought I knew about eyepieces 15-20 years ago seem so wrong today: Advice seemed to favor minimal-glass eyepieces, avoiding zooms like the plague; avoiding long eye relief eyepieces because they were poor performers. Guess what: Premium designs like the Pentax XW and TV Delos/Delite are potent performers and are extremely comfortable to use. And the Baader Zoom, while not perfect, is a very competent design. Advances in optical design and manufacture in recent years seem to have revolutionized the eyepiece market.
  • Sturdy light weight alt-az mounts are hard to find and the really good ones are not cheap. I am still looking for the "Unicorn", the perfect Alt-az mount.

Edited by db2005, 09 August 2019 - 02:12 PM.

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#21 CounterWeight


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 03:16 PM

What a great idea for a thread, thank you Paul.


These for me...


I like a good sketch better than an image for visual help.


For me, finding eyepieces I enjoy using is as important as a scope to enjoy them in.


A permanent pier for a mount will always make the mount operate better than on a tripod.


'Overmounting' is an urban myth.


Tracking is great for high power viewing and for doing outreach for anything non planetary.


Light pollution is a curse... dark skies a blessing.  A lot can still be seen urban observing.


Doing outreach is always worth the effort.


A big scope of any kind is still a big scope.


Old observing guides, articles are still useful.


Never underestimate the use and utility of a pair of decent binoculars.


Carefully think through where you plant a tree.


Collimating optics is worth learning about, nice that the refractors I've had never needed any (so far).


Keep track of the jet stream location.


Seated observing allows for more attention on what I look at.


That this is a hobby, if I am not enjoying it, I am doing something wrong...


As experience increases, expectations management decreases proportionally.

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#22 starryhtx


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 05:37 PM

OP what are some mounts your recommend for an 80-120mm refractor?

#23 Kunama


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Posted 09 August 2019 - 05:58 PM



- Don't sell accessories so fast - especially eyepieces. Scopes and focal lengths change, but eyepieces are forever. Example in point: Just ordered my 4th Panoptic 24mm foreheadslap.gif


lol.gif  I also just bought a panoptic 24mm, actually bought it back from a friend.  It will be the 6th time I have owned a P24 and will be looking around for another for binoviewing lol.gif

I am also on my 3rd Nagler 26T5 and I have lost count of the Delos line I have owned.


I have also bought and sold a few Taks, and thinking of buying back one I sold a couple of years ago cool.gif


So I guess the Lesson to learn is buy all the Taks but sell none of them........

Edited by Kunama, 09 August 2019 - 06:00 PM.

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#24 25585



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 06:36 PM

Scope safety: Layer it! Losmandy D dovetails and clamps. 2 fastenings minimum for everything, belt and braces approach.


OE kit included is barely sufficient, cheap stuff. They have your money, don't care once a scope has sold. Buy an OTA on its own ir with minimum kit, then get better stuff.


Scopes assembled in photos, indoor meetings, showrooms are for looking at, catwalk glam. Working and use the attraction may go.



Start simple but strong. German equatorials are awkward for visual. GOTO anything for larger scopes is expensive. 


First Newtonian should be a solid tube, or collapsible not truss.


Altitude Azimuth generally is kinder, more time viewing, less stress getting there.




Chinese ED is great! Inexpensive lenses giving quality views, this is the age of low cost quality.  




Buy indivudually, trying one at a time, to get the views you are happy with.


Plenty of good variety is possible without a single Tele Vue eyepiece. 


What suits others may not suit you, all eyes are different. 


Try before buying if possible.

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#25 gwlee



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Posted 09 August 2019 - 07:30 PM

4I’ve used many of the finest amateur telescopes in the world, because I make the effort to travel to lots of star parties. Money can’t buy the experience you get from attending star parties.

For North Americans like me, take  the money you saved to spend on that big dob or perfect refractor and spend it on 30 days in the Northern Territory going walk about with your handheld binocular. Then, start saving for another wonder scope. When you’ve saved up the money again, buy another 30 days. 


To complement the binocular, obtain one telescope, the largest, good quality, telescope of any design that you find EASY to use every clear night at your primary observing site that’s also easily affordable too you along with three good quality eyepieces and put them on a solid mount and enjoy the night sky. 

Edited by gwlee, 09 August 2019 - 09:01 PM.

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