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Beginner Telescope with $300 budget

Beginner Refractor Equipment
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#1 bookworm

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 03:56 PM

Hey all

 

I'm attempting to help my mother Christmas shop for my dad and I'm getting lost in all the possibilities and options. From perusing through Star Ware, this forum, and all the other articles I've found, I think a refractor would best suit him and his needs. I see people swearing by Dobs but when questioned (and from what I know about him), his interest is primarily planetary and probably lunar viewing rather than deep space at this point. He's a huge gadget guy but there's not much flattering on the computerized mounts and I'd rather avoid those battery drains if I can get something higher quality but more work. The refractor has also been touted as good for kids with minimal temperature adjustment time and low risk of dew accumulation, which as his patience varies by mileage is probably better to start with.

 

From what I've gathered, the Celestron seems to be winning out in terms of what people have and are happy with in the refractor category, but the Star Ware book I have is old so all those scopes with their detailed reviews is rather dated.

 

Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 100AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Refractor Telescope

 

Celestron AstroMaster 90AZ - 90 mm Refractor Telescope - 21063

 

Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ Refractor Telescope - 22451

 

Celestron Inspire 80AZ Refractor Telescope - 22402

 

These all seem to be in the budget, more or less, and I can see there's some difference with the multi-coated vs fully coated (still not entirely clear on what the difference there is), as well as focal length, but I'm rather stuck. Does anyone have any of these scopes or experience with them? Unfortunately there are no astronomy clubs in my area and the nearest in store telescope is states away.

 

Any help is appreciated!

 

(PS how much should I budget for eyepieces? I've seen very mixed reviews on the celestron eyepieces that come with the scopes. Or is that more a personal decision and I gift him my Star Ware book and tell him to have fun?)

 

 


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#2 Sky Muse

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 04:47 PM

This one is much better, yet for not much more...

 

https://www.amazon.c...e/dp/B083JP3QYJ

 

For improved performance at night... https://www.amazon.c...nics,132&sr=1-5

 

In so far as eyepieces, a 32mm Plossl, a 12mm wide-angle, an 8mm wide-angle, and a 2x-barlow, are suggested.


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#3 barbarosa

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 05:05 PM

$300 budget, planetary and lunar, useable with grandkids, warry of computerized mounts and concerned about battery drain. Not interest in a Dob.

 

Planets are small targets higher focal ratio scopes (f/7 and up) are better than lower focal ratio (f/5.5 and below) as a general rule. But for a given aperture the higher the focal ratio the narrower the field of view and conversely the lower the focal ratio, the wider the field of view. A wider field of view makes it easier to get the target in view and keep it in view as it moves across the sky. 

 

Among the items you list I would favor the lower focal length StarSense over the longer focal length AstroMaster. More versatile and a better tripod.

 

But if I were primarily interested in the planets and the moon and I had a larger budget I would favor a Maksutov Cassegrain and I would put it on a go to mount. The MCT will have image quality superior to any entry level refractor. A go to mount saves endless trouble trying to find DSOs. 

 

Plossls are just fine. Celestron's are as good as most, but you could do as well to buy from Astromania or SVBony, But don't rush out to buy any accessories until Dad has become familiar with whatever comes in the box and can make an informed decision. For sure don't buy an eyepiece kit or a filter kit. Nothing in life will be as frustrating to use as the short focal length EPs in a typical kit and colored filters are not going to get much use.

 

The AstroMaster f/11 compared to f/6.6  STARSENSE EXPLORER DX 100AZ both with a 10mm Plossl. 10mm because seeing conditions often prevent the use of greater magnification. Under good conditions you may be able to use a Barlow or 6 or 8mm eyepiece.  This image seems to favor the f/11, but in practice it is harder to get on target particularly by a child. Astronomy Tools can show the relative size (not detail) of many objects in any scope/eyepiece/barlow combination.

 

astronomy_tools_fov (15).png

 

 


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#4 DaveB

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 05:13 PM

Personal preference, I would avoid computerized scopes at that price point, but I don't know if your father would prefer one. And (again, personal preference), I would avoid an equatorial mount. I currently own two equatorial mounts and they are great for photography, but when I used to use one for visual observing, I didn't like that the scope would have me scrunching down or on a stepstool, depending on the location of the target.

 

At $300, a dob is the best bang for your buck, but the Celestron AstroMasters seem like reasonable scopes for the money based purely on their specs. Don't expect the mount to be very stable, but it should be usable.


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#5 tony_spina

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 05:27 PM

If you are a Costco member they have the Celestron Omni 102 AZ for $159.  I would hurry if this meets your need as they will run out quickly 


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#6 bookworm

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 06:12 PM

Unfortunately, the costco sale seems to be limited to Canada, because that would have been fantastic.

 

I appreciate all the advice.

 

I guess the question I should raise is is the dobs that good? People seem to love it but reading about it, it has similar pros and cons to the alt-az. Am I reading too much into the collimation/alignment concerns that are there with the reflectors vs the refractor, and writing off an equally (if not better) subsection of scopes?

 

There's a lot to be said for actual lived experience vs what I can read in a book, so all the insight is welcome.

 

Edit: looks like the costco deal is in store! thanks for that heads up


Edited by bookworm, 04 December 2022 - 06:29 PM.

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#7 mikemarotta

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 06:33 PM

Sorry to be a Scrooge but for $300 you are going to be buying him a lot of frustration.

 

A Dobsonian needs to be collimated. It is easy to learn. However... With one person doing it, you look in the eyepiece, then you go down to the screws and make a blind adjustment. Then you go back up to the eyepiece and see what you have done. Repeat... repeat... At a local star party, I helped one of our stalwarts collimate his Dobsonian twice. He was at the eyepiece and I was at the screws. Left... right... up... no... back... OK.. no... OK back...  If your Dad is like me he is going to lose patience with that.

 

At $300 the telescopes are fine. The mounts are junk and he will find the camera-style PAN and TILT frustrating. Won't go... won't go... too far! ... back... too far!... won't go...

 

The Orion VeraGo mount is not the best because the price limits performance, but it does have Slow Motion controls. I bought four of them for my four 70-mm refractors for star parties, etc.

https://www.telescop...keyword=VersaGo

That's $120 plus taxes, shipping and handling of your budget. You still need an OTA (optical tube assembly), eyepieces, finder, etc.

 

One solution would be the ASTRONOMERS WITHOUT BORDERS ONE-SKY TABLETOP NEWTONIAN for $250.

We have a lot of discussion about it here. 

https://www.cloudyni...y#entry12327614

 

It has trade-offs, also, of course, however one person can collimate it alone.

It is a 5-inch field of view,  a "walk in space" view compared to a small refractor. 

And, yes, it is good for planets, too.

The Dobsonian "lazy Susan" mount is easy to use and responsive.

 

See here:

https://shop.astrono...ector-telescope

 

Best Regards (and Clear Skies),

Mike M.


Edited by mikemarotta, 04 December 2022 - 07:04 PM.

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#8 tony_spina

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 06:40 PM

Unfortunately, the costco sale seems to be limited to Canada, because that would have been fantastic.

 

I appreciate all the advice.

 

I guess the question I should raise is is the dobs that good? People seem to love it but reading about it, it has similar pros and cons to the alt-az. Am I reading too much into the collimation/alignment concerns that are there with the reflectors vs the refractor, and writing off an equally (if not better) subsection of scopes?

 

There's a lot to be said for actual lived experience vs what I can read in a book, so all the insight is welcome.

 

Edit: looks like the costco deal is in store! thanks for that heads up

Yes the sale is in store in the US



#9 Polyphemos

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 07:26 PM

If you are a Costco member they have the Celestron Omni 102 AZ for $159.  I would hurry if this meets your need as they will run out quickly 

My wife couldn’t resist and picked one up today.  We’re in California and another member posted the same deal from a Costco on the opposite side of the country in Virginia.

 

If you can find one for $159 it’s an incredible bargain, and probably the best current bargain in beginner scopes.  Add an inexpensive but proper star diagonal, and a couple of inexpensive but decent Plössl eyepieces, and for under $300 the OP can put together a pretty decent scope quite a bit better than the plastic competition.


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#10 Sky Muse

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 07:46 PM

That one from Costco is the one we had often suggested a few years ago...

 

https://www.celestro...z-102-telescope


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#11 Polyphemos

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 10:14 PM

That one from Costco is the one we had often suggested a few years ago...

 

https://www.celestro...z-102-telescope

I suspect that the Costco 102 AZ doesn’t have the same coatings at the Omni 102 AZ; they certainly don’t look the same in my own examples. My Omni XLT 102 (f/9.8) objective coating is green, while my Costco 102 ΑΖ has lavender colored coatings.

 

The linked scope, beyond the better finder, also appears to come with Plössl eyepieces, while the Costco version has Kellners, and possibly with plastic lenses.

 

Celestron had to economize wherever they could, but I’m glad the basic optical tube assembly doesn’t appear to be compromised in comparison to the linked version.  The objective cell still screws on, which is great for collimation, the optical tube and dew shield are both metal, and the focuser is all aluminum except for the steel hardware and plastic focus knobs.  All in all a terrific bargain for $159.99.



#12 sevenofnine

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 10:28 PM

The AWB OneSky deserves some consideration. It's back in stock at $249 This is a decent portable table top Dob that many members use for their camping scope it seems borg.gif

 

https://shop.astrono...ector-telescope.


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#13 Sky Muse

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Posted 04 December 2022 - 10:56 PM

I suspect that the Costco 102 AZ doesn’t have the same coatings at the Omni 102 AZ; they certainly don’t look the same in my own examples. My Omni XLT 102 (f/9.8) objective coating is green, while my Costco 102 ΑΖ has lavender colored coatings.

I've encountered both of a Meade 90mm f/10 achromat...

 

doublet coatings3b.jpg

 

But, thus far, I've seen only green, and of a Meade 102mm f/6...

 

objective2b.jpg



#14 bookworm

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 09:49 AM

You guys are all wonderful! I’ve found some other reviews are here of people who have been tempted by the Costco deal and found it a nice little scope of by no means perfect. With that deal, it makes it easier to invest in some of those eyepieces and accessory upgrades to start and let him work from there what he likes. I’ll probably head to Costco and see if it’s sold out yet and then on to the wild world of plössls and a Barlow or so. 
 

thanks again, you all are lovely people and I appreciate you helping me wade into this world of information. It’s easy to feel out of your depth with all the options and information. 


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#15 tony_spina

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 10:50 AM

You guys are all wonderful! I’ve found some other reviews are here of people who have been tempted by the Costco deal and found it a nice little scope of by no means perfect. With that deal, it makes it easier to invest in some of those eyepieces and accessory upgrades to start and let him work from there what he likes. I’ll probably head to Costco and see if it’s sold out yet and then on to the wild world of plössls and a Barlow or so. 
 

thanks again, you all are lovely people and I appreciate you helping me wade into this world of information. It’s easy to feel out of your depth with all the options and information. 

That's great.   Keep us post on how it turns out



#16 bookworm

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 11:59 AM

Unfortunately, seems like all the hobby astronomers in the area have Costco memberships, as it’s out in all the stores in a multiple state radius around me! If anyone is interested in that deal, go fast



#17 Wildetelescope

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 12:11 PM

Sorry to be a Scrooge but for $300 you are going to be buying him a lot of frustration.

 

A Dobsonian needs to be collimated. It is easy to learn. However... With one person doing it, you look in the eyepiece, then you go down to the screws and make a blind adjustment. Then you go back up to the eyepiece and see what you have done. Repeat... repeat... At a local star party, I helped one of our stalwarts collimate his Dobsonian twice. He was at the eyepiece and I was at the screws. Left... right... up... no... back... OK.. no... OK back...  If your Dad is like me he is going to lose patience with that.

 

At $300 the telescopes are fine. The mounts are junk and he will find the camera-style PAN and TILT frustrating. Won't go... won't go... too far! ... back... too far!... won't go...

 

The Orion VeraGo mount is not the best because the price limits performance, but it does have Slow Motion controls. I bought four of them for my four 70-mm refractors for star parties, etc.

https://www.telescop...keyword=VersaGo

That's $120 plus taxes, shipping and handling of your budget. You still need an OTA (optical tube assembly), eyepieces, finder, etc.

 

One solution would be the ASTRONOMERS WITHOUT BORDERS ONE-SKY TABLETOP NEWTONIAN for $250.

We have a lot of discussion about it here. 

https://www.cloudyni...y#entry12327614

 

It has trade-offs, also, of course, however one person can collimate it alone.

It is a 5-inch field of view,  a "walk in space" view compared to a small refractor. 

And, yes, it is good for planets, too.

The Dobsonian "lazy Susan" mount is easy to use and responsive.

 

See here:

https://shop.astrono...ector-telescope

 

Best Regards (and Clear Skies),

Mike M.

What Mike Said!   :-)

 

JMD



#18 bbasiaga

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 12:40 PM

If you are a Costco member they have the Celestron Omni 102 AZ for $159.  I would hurry if this meets your need as they will run out quickly 

This scope is a GREAT beginner scope.  My kid has one, but we find ourselves using it quite a bit.  We did replace the finder with a telrad.  The real thing that makes this so great is the mount, with sturdy legs for its price class, and nice slow motion controls.   While the internet custom is to "+1" something, I'd give +1000 to this recommendation.  I recommended this to a buddy of mine and he loves it for use with his kids as well.  And that price is quite good from Costco. I think we paid $250 on amazon a few years ago.  

 

Just to be clear, I couldn't find it on Costco's site, but this is the one I'm referring to. Notice the slow motion control knobs on the mount. 

https://www.celestro...rtphone-adapter

 

It is available on Amazon, but not at $159.  https://www.amazon.c...B014EQ1LB2?th=1

 

-Brian


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#19 Polyphemos

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 01:11 PM

This scope is a GREAT beginner scope.  My kid has one, but we find ourselves using it quite a bit.  We did replace the finder with a telrad.  The real thing that makes this so great is the mount, with sturdy legs for its price class, and nice slow motion controls.   While the internet custom is to "+1" something, I'd give +1000 to this recommendation.  I recommended this to a buddy of mine and he loves it for use with his kids as well.  And that price is quite good from Costco. I think we paid $250 on amazon a few years ago.  

 

Just to be clear, I couldn't find it on Costco's site, but this is the one I'm referring to. Notice the slow motion control knobs on the mount. 

https://www.celestro...rtphone-adapter

 

It is available on Amazon, but not at $159.  https://www.amazon.c...B014EQ1LB2?th=1

 

-Brian

Brian, the version you linked has better objective coatings, better eyepieces, and a better finder.  


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#20 bbasiaga

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Posted 05 December 2022 - 02:10 PM

Brian, the version you linked has better objective coatings, better eyepieces, and a better finder.  

Thanks for clarifying. 

 

The one I linked still fits the budget, and it has the best tripod/motion control of the intro level scopes I have seen.  As said before, don't bother with one with the single handle pan/tilt camera style motion control.  They are a big pain. 

 

The eyepieces are basic plossls and work fine.  I'd spend money on a better finder before eyepieces.  A telrad or rigel finder are nice.  

 

-Brian


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#21 bookworm

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Posted 07 December 2022 - 07:03 PM

I found that one on amazon as well, and I did notice the difference with the additions so I'm glad you all pointed that out too! Decided to go with that one. Thanks again, so much


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#22 bbasiaga

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Posted 08 December 2022 - 08:48 AM

I found that one on amazon as well, and I did notice the difference with the additions so I'm glad you all pointed that out too! Decided to go with that one. Thanks again, so much

I hope you enjoy it!   If you find the scope drifting, that means it is out of balance.  You can slide it forward and back where it clamps in to the mount to make it balanced. 

 

Also, all telescopes get bouncy in the wind, just FYI.    If you decide to try new eyepieces, I'd be tempted to look at the UFF ones from Astronomics.  They are only $55 each and have about a 60degree AFOV.  They seem to get good reviews in slower scopes like this one.    But like I said, get a better finder scope first.  The one that comes with it is OK, but not very sturdy. 

 

-Brian


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#23 Ohmless

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Posted 08 December 2022 - 12:35 PM

Unfortunately, seems like all the hobby astronomers in the area have Costco memberships, as it’s out in all the stores in a multiple state radius around me! If anyone is interested in that deal, go fast

welome to cloudynights.  Please tell the new hobbyist about us!


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#24 Sacred Heart

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Posted 09 December 2022 - 04:35 AM

Bookworm, I'm just going to lay it out there, at $300 for a scope / mount costco / walmart type store you are not going to use it much before you get frustrated.  

 

Refractors are nice, once you get to a certain point, AT 72 maybe a $400 and up.  Optically you best useable value would be a Dobsonian.  Both are you find / you aim / you track, but the dob will be brighter, clearer, maybe even sharper, and smoother when tracking / following.

 

My advice, when it comes to supermarket telescopes, run away do not walk away. I'd buy a pair of decent binoculars and sit in a chair looking at the sky before I get a supermarket telescope.  

 

My opinion, to do what you want to do with a refractor, or something you can use with ease next year is a  minimum $1500.   Celestron C6 / C8 for visual.   AP is a different story / animal.

 

My opinion,  a really good starter set up for viewing, if going the refractor route, a small 70 - 90MM refractor, on a CEM 26 / 28 mount with a few eyepieces and a barlow.

 

Remember, we all know that no hobby is cheap, unless your hobby is walking.  By the way, walking is priceless.

 

Just my views and opinions,   Joe



#25 Polyphemos

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Posted 09 December 2022 - 06:41 AM

I found that one on amazon as well, and I did notice the difference with the additions so I'm glad you all pointed that out too! Decided to go with that one. Thanks again, so much

Great choice, and one I expect your father will enjoy for a long time to come. The AZ 102 is an excellent scope to begin with, one your father can enjoy now, and one he can grow with in the future if he chooses to dive deeper into amateur astronomy.

 

Since my wife purchased our Costco version of the AZ 102 we have used it to view the Cassini Division in the rings and the cloud bands in the disk of Saturn, the belts and moons of Jupiter, the occultation of Mars by the Moon, various open clusters in and around Auriga, nebula and multiple stars in Orion, and features on the Moon. That was during the first two nights.

 

Is the AZ 102 perfect? Of course not. Can it be improved upon? Definitely! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly serviceable as it is, or that your father will become frustrated with it. It’s more likely that if your father becomes interested in amateur astronomy he’ll improve upon this first scope with a star diagonal and more capable eyepieces. We all do that, and that’s a big part of the fun, but everyone’s got to start somewhere and as the part owner of a AZ 102 I think you’ve made a terrific choice.

 

Good luck and send your father here at CloudyNights where the members will get him started on the right foot.


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