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Cape Fear Astro: Advice on Buying TelescopesThere'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:
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.
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:
Don't forget accessories
Save some money for accessories.
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
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.
Big refractors are usually Quite Expensive. Some
smaller ones are a reasonable balance of price and
Read More about Buying Telescopes
Here are some links where you can read more about buying scopes: