Cape Fear Astro: Advice on Buying Telescopes

There's a lot of telescopes out there. Our advice is aimed primarily at people buying their first scope, but we hope others can gain something useful too.

The Most Important Thing About Buying a Telescope

The best telescope is the one used most often.

Lot of factors affect whether a telescope will be used. These include:

  • How easy is it to use?
  • How easy is it to store?
  • How easy is it to move?
  • Does it show what you want to see?
These questions and more will be addressed below.

The Second Most Important Thing About Buying a Telescope

Don't buy a scope from a department store, big box store, or deep-discounter unless you've already researched the scope, and know it fits your needs.

The majority of scopes sold this way are not worth buying. They usually have OK primary optics, but the mount, finder, and eyepieces are often of such poor quality that they make the scope nearly unusable.

Be very wary of any scope which claims to give high powers, especially anything over 200X. Another bad sign is if they include a "sun filter". These are actively dangerous, and can cause permanent eye damage.

The Rest of Our Advice

Your first scope doesn't have to be your last scope

The first scope you get doesn't have to be perfect for your entire astronomical life. As you learn and as your goals change, a different scope may suit you better. Choose a scope which is good for you now, and you can get another or a different one when it doesn't meet your needs anymore.

What do you want to see?

Telescopes do two things. They gather light, so we can see dimmer things. Wide scopes are good at this. And, they magnify, so we can see more detail in small things. Long scopes are good at this.

Here's a summary of things in the sky and the scopes to observe them. That doesn't mean you can't use other types of scopes, but many people feel this is the type which works best.

  • The Sun: Special scope, special filters.
  • Moon: any scope
  • Planets: long scope
  • Comets: any scope
  • Meteors: no scope- use just eyes
  • Multiple star systems: any scope
  • Star Clusters: any scope
  • Nebulae: wide scope
  • Galaxies: wide scope

Who will be using the scope?

Who will use the scope may influence what kind of scope to get. They may need a light, easy to move scope, or they may be fine with a heavy one. They may need a very simple to use scope, or complicated operation my be OK. Make sure the capabilities of the scope and the user(s) compliment each other.

How well do you know the sky?

There are now some telescopes which are so full of electronic sensors and computers that you can basically turn them on and get out of their way. However, these tend to be very expensiver, and may not deliver everything they promise.

If you can't name and locate five or ten of the brightest stars in the sky, and five or ten of the more prominent constellations, you might want to spend some time under the night sky with a star chart or planisphere. Learning your way around the sky can be fun, and is very useful for figuring out whether your telescope is anywhere near what you want to look at.

How much is too much?

As part of the "used most often" rule, you don't want a scope which is:

  • Too heavy
  • Too bulky
  • Too akward
  • Too complicated
  • Too hard to use
  • Too much of a hassle
For example, if you live in an apartment, do you have room to store it? Can you easily get it to (and into) your vehicle? Does it take so much time to set up and take down that you'd end up not bothering? You'll have to be honest with yourself about what you're willing to go through to use the scope. If you're not, it may end up taking up space rather than being used.

Don't forget accessories

Save some money for accessories.

  • Good charts are essential.
    Bright Star Atlas 2000 is good for eyes, binoculars, and small telescopes.
    Pocket Sky Atlas is highly regarded.
  • A red observing light for reading your chart. You can buy them for around $10, or make your own.
  • If your scope doesn't already come with one, you should consider a unit-power finder.
    Some have red dots, and are fine for the moon and planets.
    Some have red circles, and these are better for deep sky objects.
    Unit-power finders can cost from $10 to $45.

Some recommended scopes


Even quite inexpensive binoculars are very good for looking at the moon, and some of the larger and brighter deep-sky objects. One of the most rewarding things one can do is lie in a lawn chair on a summer evening and scan a pair of binoculars up the Milky Way. Just about any pair of binoculars in the range of 7x35 to 10x50 will do for hand-held viewing, so if you have some for sports, birding, or whatever, try them on the moon.

If you're going to buy a set specifically for Astronomy, do some research.

Table Top Dobsonians

Table-Top Dobsonians are very simple, light, easy to use, and inexpensive. They perform well on the moon and some deep-sky objects, and are OK for some planetary work.
These are not the cheapest, but they have good optics and accessories, and are very good value:

Full Size Dobsonians

If you need more power or more aperture than a table-top Dobsonian, it's hard to go wrong with a clasic Dobsonian. These are good for planetary or deep-sky objects. The only thing they're not really good at is photography.

Small Refractors

Big refractors are usually Quite Expensive. Some smaller ones are a reasonable balance of price and performance.
recommendation to be added.

Read More about Buying Telescopes

Here are some links where you can read more about buying scopes:

Overall Summary

  • The best scope is the one used most often
  • Keep your targets in mind
  • Think about starting with binoculars
  • Vist a local astronomy club and try out their scopes!
  • A table-top dob is inexpensive, easy to use, store, and move, and will keep you busy for a couple of years