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How to Buy a Telescope


Buying a telescope, especially if you don't know much about them, can be a difficult thing. I lay out some basic information and some basic facts that will help you make a good telescope buying decision - one that is based on your wants, needs, skill levels and budget.


A Quick Look at the prices of telescopes

I am going to give you the scoop and information about telescopes of several different types, sizes and in a variety of prices ranging from about a hundred bucks to around fiftenn hundred. This way you can get a sense of where your price range is. Telescopes, of course, are fine optical products and can easily run into the range in excess of ten thousand dollars. But if you are looking at getting a telescope in that price range you already have a good sense of astronomy and telescopes. This little tutorial is for the person that is really interested in astronomy and really interested in having some wonderful telescope experiences at a good value for your dollar.

First Let's look at the Types of Telescopes

This is the first decision you have to make and I will guide you through the types of scopes so you can find something that is right for you.

Type 1: The Refractor telescope

Meade Refractor  

Meade 70AZ-A Telescope  This is the oldest type of telescope and it is what we think of when we think "telescope". It has a long tube with a big lens on one end and an eyepiece on the other. If you want good value and a good viewing experience you may want to consider getting this type of telescope. This one, as many entry level refractors, comes with a complete kit including two eyepieces, a tripod and some software.


Type 2: The Reflector Telescope

Meade Reflector

Meade 114EQ-ASTR F/8.8 4.5" 114mm Equatorial Reflector Telescope w/ Autostar Suite Software, Red Dot Finderscope, two Eyepieces, Tripod - 04066

A reflector telescope is quite different than a refractor. Instead of two lenses it has one lens and one mirror. In the picture shown there is a mirror on the right end of the tube and you look in the eyepiece on the left end. The important thing to know about reflector telescopes is that dollar for dollar you get much more light gathering power. Mirrors are easier to make than lenses. The mirror in this telescope is 4 1/2 inches in diameter compared to the refractor above which is a little less than 3 inches. This is a significant difference in how much light the scope will gather and will make a difference in how much you will be able to see with it.

Type 3: The Dobsonian Telescope

dobsonian telescope 

Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

A powerful and capable telescope, the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian is one of our most popular reflectors due to its elegant combination of precision optics, mechanical simplicity, and rock-solid stability. You and your whole family will appreciate the bright, clear views of the night sky provided by the XT8 Classic. The Moon and planets of our solar system like Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars shine brightly in the SkyQuest XT8 Classic, allowing you to inspect them in detail. The XT8's 8-inch aperture is also large enough to gather a significant amount of light from more distant celestial objects for great views of sparkling star clusters, cloudy nebulas, and faraway galaxies. The XT8 Classic Dob is a tremendous value considering the high quality views it provides on such a wide variety of celestial objects. The point-and-view simplicity of the Dobsonian design is not as complicated as an equatorial (EQ) mount and tripod, so with a little practice, your whole family can scan the heavens just like experienced hobbyists. For any astronomer seeking serious adventure, the XT8 Classic Dob has it all!


Type 4: Catadioptic Telescopes

schmidt cassegrain telescope   

Celestron NexStar 5 SE Telescope  This type of telescope is in the class of some of the finest astronomical instruments and what they are is a combination of lens and mirror - they have both. There are several variations of catadioptic and the most popular is called the Schmidt-Cassegrain. Light comes into the tube corrected by a lens at the front then bounces off a mirror in the back. It then hits another mirror then goes to the eyepiece. So this telescope is a fine astronomical instrument and is of the quality that will give you an absolute lifetime of amazing star gazing and discovery. What it also gives you is much better performance than a reflector of the same size. This 5 inch telescope will outperform, quite significantly any 5 inch reflector telescope. You can also use it to take photos. But it does come at a cost. A five inch scope of this type can easily run over a thousand dollars. This is an investment you make when you want to experience the best in astronomy. One more important thing about this type of telescope is that the configuration of lens and mirror makes for a very manageable sized telescope. This whole thing fits in a suitcase and is easy to throw in the passenger seat of the car and take anywhere quickly. It is quite a bit convenient when you compare it to the dobsonian which is a big telescope.


Summary of the types of telescopes and which you should buy

If you are looking just to dabble a little bit into astronomy and are on a tight budget get yourself an entry level refractor in the 60mm range. The cost, including all accessories, should be around a hundred bucks.

If you want to spend a little more and want to get more light gathering power then you might want to get a plain reflector.

If you want to maximize what you can see in the night sky and keep the price down, as long as you don't plan on taking pictures then the dobsonian is a great choice. You will get a very big mirror at a price that can't be beat.

If you think that astronomy is going to be something you are passionate about and you want to purchase something that will give you decades of outstanding performance then you should consider a schmidt-cassegrain telescope.