Telescope buying guide for beginners

Telescope Buying Guide for Beginners 2018

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Great! So finally you made a smart decision to buy a nice telescope. Perhaps you’re just craving for knowledge. For any of the case, this telescope buying guide for beginners is a sure help.

What is the best telescope for a beginner ?

Most beginners go after such a questions. You’re going to learn exactly the same. But if you want to choose from ready made list, here are some to picks from.

You’re a nerd to this field. That’s okay! Everything has beginning (even universe!). What worst however is start with mistakes. Hence, here’s a friendly warning! Buy the telescope only if, either you’re experienced with it, or, with stargazing. Be the new-guy for both world & you struggle a lot. Try to avoid it!

[Jump for a astronomy binoculars instead & gain some skywatching experience first. This aren’t any random bino’s. A good pair of astronomy binocular is quite powerful. Hence bino’s are suggested first!
In case, you want a glimpse of some nice pairs, here you go: list of best Nikon Binoculars for Astronomy.]

Enough nonsense for now, lets return to the topic.

Lets start the Telescope buying guide for beginners!

[Oh Please! You don’t need a highly expensive, flashy telescope when you don’t even know how to operate it. They will be complicated to handle. Go easy, move slow, save money & efforts!]

I think we’ve covered enough for don’ts. So now its time for do’s! And here are few things to start:

Choose a telescope with high quality lenses/mirrors (according to your budget) & which is easy to operate. Easily said than done! Avoid local manufacturers.

To be able to pick some nice scopes, you first need to understand what a nice scope is really made up of. That’s why, we will first learn about some of the important specifications of telescope. You will get to know what parts of scope are more important than other? Their role? What should be their sizes (or values), so you can pick that suits your needs.

Fundamental parts of Telescope

What is telescope? A nerd say “Telescope, as it appears, is a long metal tube with lenses at both ends, as whole, supported by some mount”. Yeah, but its half truth! Its not that plain!

Here are the most important components (first being most important and so on):

  1. Aperture (or Objective Lenses)
  2. Focal Length
  3. Magnification
  4. Mount

Different parts of typical telescope

Aperture – The most Important (Eyes of telescope)

Anything or everything you are seeing now is due to light! Light source (eg. Sun) emits photons, they fall on object & reflects from there and reach your eyes. You ultimately see that object. Lesser light – poor view and vise versa (don’t just look at Sun!). You’re familiar with this concept. Can you see anything in the dark ? If so, you’re superhuman! 😮

Telescopes Aperture -Beginners Guide to Telescope 2018

The aperture or objective lens is just the eyes of your telescope. Aperture can be either a lens or mirror. Its role is to gather light incident on it. The light collecting property of aperture is proportional to the its size. It is related to square of aperture. The high quality – larger diameter aperture – collects more light with minimal lose to reflection.
Poor quality aperture reflects a high portion of incident light i.e. loss. Dim & blurry view is what you then get.

For instance, a scope with 200 mm aperture captures 4x more light than 100 mm scope. As a reference, the human retina is 7 mm (if he is healthy). A 100 mm telescope captures (100/7)2 = 204x more light that of your eyes. Hence its easy to get attracted to telescopes with a big objective lenses or mirrors. But there’s a problem. The price goes high faster than size does.

Aperture is most essential part of any telescope. For those looking for best deep sky experience. A telescope featuring aperture more than 5” is great. This are expensive a bit however. But don’t get disappointed if you’re on budget. A telescope with 3” aperture is still a good bet. Remember, how much you’ll see in the night sky doesn’t depend upon how big your scope is. Its also important that how much time you spend observing the sky.

Focal Length – Depends on your needs

If aperture is first priority, focal length is second! Theoretically, focal length is the distance from the objective lens to the point at which light gets collected (or focused). The reason its importance, because it determines telescopes magnifying power.

focal length of telescope
Image Source: Opticscentral.com.au

Okay! So magnifications is variable. You can always change it as needed. Eyepiece does magnification. They are replaceable, universal & comes with variety of powers.

But not every power suits for your telescope. There’s a practical limit upto which a telescope can efficiently magnify. Simply do this simple math. Aperture size x 2 = Max Magnification possible. Its helpful when you are in need to choose accessories (like eyepieces) for your scope. You shouldn’t go beyond this number.

What you need to know is, larger focal length is easier to use & great for eyeglass users. It will have long range of support for magnification. This are usually less expensive and just fine.

Magnification – Is it really important?

Its easily realized that when people think about eyeing on distance object, they prefer highest possible magnification. But should you really go for flashy “500x or 600x Magnification”? The answer is: Yup! If you plan to see blurry pictures then go for high mag. Or you may be more inclined toward high resolution view. In that case, focus on aperture instead!

Magnification of jupiter
As Magnification goes up, clarity goes down! Image Source: http://m4ktub.ws

Don’t worry! You don’t have to compromise magnification. There will always be room for upgrades. Higher power eyepiece can be purchased separately. So remember to not to get sucked by that luring magnification. Essential is aperture.

Mount type – Get moving!

You’ve just learnt a lot about telescopes. Congratulations, you are no longer a nerd now (theoretical). But don’t ignore the mount please! You should be thankful for its efforts in keeping your telescope steady & movable around the skies

There are two main functions of Telescopes Mount:

  • Hold your telescope firmly so it doesn’t shake while you’re making observations.
  • It helps you track the sky, follow the celestial objects with smoother movements.

Usually, as you go deep & magnify the sky, a bad mount would also magnify the scope’s vibrations. It will ruin your viewing or photography experience & you cry!

There are three major mount varients available for telescope including Altazimuth, Dobsonian and Equatoria.

Telescope mount types
Telescope three popular mount types. Image Source: Mvc.on.ca

Altazimuth

Also called Alt-Az, is the simplest type of mount available for scopes. The mount allows vertical (altitude) as well as horizontal (azimuth) motion of scope. A good quality Altazimuth mount allows a nice scope movement & helps tracking the objects across the skies.

There are computerized versions of Altazimuth that allows easy & accurate tracking of objects.

Altazimuth mount is usually cheaper than others in the list. Its good for both, land & sky viewing. For deep sky photography however, this mount is usually not suggested.
Altazimuth is the best for beginners since its easy to use.

Dobsonian Mount

Its the upgraded version of Altazimuth. Dobsonian is usually mounted on the ground with heavy platform. Its common to see its application in heavier Newtonian reflector telescope. Dob is usually mounted with 6-20 inches aperture scopes.

It allows steady experience, good for deep sky viewing & photography.

If you want to spy the night sky for longer duration, Dobsonian is the one. It can be a bit expensive though!
Dobsonion is for beginners to intermediate level astronomer.

Equatorial Mount

Equatorial is best mount type among all the three listed. Its winner over non-computerized Alt-azi. Equatorial is ideal for observation that goes deeper & lasts for hours. Its also ideal for astrophotography.

Stars are stationary. But as earth revolves round its own axis, they appear moving.

A properly aligned Equatorial mount can be aimed at space objects & guided easily with either manual slow-motion controls or by an electric motor.
Equatorial is not suggested for beginner astronomer. It can be tedious to operate for new folks.

Then there are two sub-types of equatorial mount: German & Fork mount. You can learn more about mount types here

Don’t get tired, we are near to the end of this telescope buying guide!

Enough of important components of telescope for now. Lets get to haul the concepts of telescopes!

Three Telescope types is all you need to know about!

Refractor, reflector, and compound. This are the three basic types of telescopes. From a cheap telescope of a random department store to the giant Hubble space scope worthing billions, all falls in one of this three types.

They carries their own pros & cons. What you need is to figure out which one suits your needs & budgets.

Refractor Telescope
Light Path:

refractor telesscope
Image Source: liverpoolas.org
A most common type of telescope & also simplest. Its less complicated in construction. Refractor scope features a aperture lens at the front side to gather light.

It further sends photon to inner lens, from where light incidents on your retina through eyepiece of the scope.

Good For:

  • Land & near sky viewing
  • Inside components are fixed & doesn’t move
  • Strong built-in
  • Less to no maintenance required
Bad For:

  • Not good for deep sky objects as they faints.
  • Sometimes lengthy
  • Can be heavy, inconvenient to transport.
  • Expensive
  • Inferior to reflector & compound telescopes
Suitable For:

  • Beginners
  • Those who want Telescope with little to no maintenance!
  • Sky+land viewing (eg. birdwatching).
Reflector Telescope
Light Path
Reflector Telescope
Reflector telescope is sometimes also called as Newtonian scope. It is one of the best type of telescope for deep sky observation.

Unlike previous, reflector scope uses mirrors for photons collection. Also with this type, eyepiece is on the side, instead of the end of tube.

Good For:

  • Its Light Weight
  • Great for deep sky observations
  • More light is collected with larger aperture, so nice & bright image is delivered
  • Superior to Refractor
  • Less expensive compared previous one
Bad For:

  • Not meant for land viewing
  • Due to the involvement of mirrors, special care is need to be taken.
  • The aperture side is vulnerable to dust
  • High maintenance is neccessery
Suitable For:

  • Beginners
  • Observations of faint & deep sky celestial bodies
  • Best quality image experience
  • Those looking for value for money!

 

Compound Telescope
Light Path:
Compound or Cassegrains telesscope
Its the hybrid type. Mixture of both refractor & reflector technology. Compound telescopes usually also referred as catadioptric or “Schmidt-Cassegrain” scope.

It usually features two mirror at the top of a lens. A lens-mirror combo collects light & send it for further processing to eyepiece. Compound scope is widely used for astrophotography.

Good For:

  • Far distant faint celestial objects
  • Its sealed, so less maintenance is needed
  • Widely used for astrophotography
  • Crispy clear viewing experience
  • Supports landviewing too
  • Shorter in size
Bad For:

  • More expensive than others in the list
  • Are bulky
  • Rarely, brightness is an issue.
Suitable For:

  • Intermediate & advanced users
  • Deep Sky+Land experience
  • Best quality image experience
  • Astrophotographer or Astrophotography

Whoa! You just graduated from the university of AlienPanda & earned degree of “Telescope Buying Expert” (subscribe for degree!). :p

What is the best type of telescope for beginners?

We have just learnt the three types of telescope. But which one suits a beginner? Refractor & reflector both are made for beginners. For land & sky view, refractor. For deep sky – reflector. Compound? Its complicated. Grab it when you’re experienced enough.

Lets Sum it up!

You have just finished over 1800 words so far in this telescope buying guide for beginners. That’s a lot of knowledge.Telescope buying Guide done

Do you need a recap?. There are four major components of telescope; aperture, focal length, magnification & mount type.
Bigger-the better. Don’t compromise with aperture!

Focal length is important but not more than aperture. Large focal length means larger object view. When confused, go for telescope with large aperture+larger focal length.

Don’t overthink on magnification. You’ll always have room for upgrade. Mount is something you can choose easily. A nice one will keep your scope from shaking with slow-motion movement.

For beginner, Altazimuth mount is suitable.
And lastly, for a nerd, refractor or reflector telescope would be ideal.
Make sure the weight of the whole system is easy to carry if you wish to use it on different locations.

I hope I’ve made things clear for you! I have one thing to ease your job. Here are 8 best telescope for beginners , in case you’re having hard time choosing the best one!And I’m always on your side to keep you from cosmic trouble! Just leave a comment below & watch my reply rising! :p

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