Thinking about buying someone a telescope as a Christmas Present? I have some solid advice for you.
A telescope is a wonderful gift to buy someone. There is magic in a telescope and it says a lot about you, and about the recipient. A telescope symbolizes curiosity, intelligence, inquisitiveness and science! These are all very desirable qualities that we like to inspire in people. So, when you buy somebody a telescope you are not just getting them a toy or a game. You are also giving them a little bit more. An opportunity to grow, learn and explore in a fun and scientific way.
You are going to spend a few dollars on this gift.
And you don't want it to be one of those gifts that is used once then forgotten about.
First off let me say that a telescope is easy to use but also a bit tricky to use! I know that is a contradiction but it is kind of like driving a car. At first, you have no idea how to do it. But with a little practice, and a little know how you are driving without even thinking about it. It becomes very easy. A telescope is a bit like this. But not as complex. You just have to know a few things about telescopes and about how to find things in the night sky. To alleviate this learning curve I recommend you also get a book with the telescope you buy.
I have written a book which makes finding things with a telescope easy. Learn more about my book here. But for now let's move on to how to select a telescope.
Second of all let me clarify sizes of telescopes. They are typically measured in either mm or inches. The smaller telescopes generally in mm. And this designation tellls us the size of the aperture on the telescope. This should give you a sense for how "big" a telescope is.
So here are typical sized telescopes in order from smaller to larger:
60mm ( a little over 2 inches)
70mm ( Just shy of 3 inches)
80mm ( A little over 3 inches)
4 1/4 inches
127mm (Just about five inches)
Selecting a telescope
There are three main considerations when selecting a telescope as a gift for someone:
1. The cost of the telescope
The entry level cost for a telescope is around $100. That is what you should consider as a basic starting point. From there the price goes up all they way into the thousands. No need to consider those high end telescopes. When you get into that kind of price range the telescope is for an avid amateur with lots of telescope experience. He or she will be able to make the decision based on what kind of observing he or she does.
What I am going to do in this article is break down the next two categories by price. So, you can select by age group and by experience of the recipient then decide what price range you want.
2. The age of the person or child receiving the telescope
First off: Don't worry about the "Power" of the telescope. It is practically a useless measurement. Higher power doesn't work with small and inexpensive telescopes. That is just a marketing trick. Children 10 and under: This is a bit of a tricky pick. But there are two important things. First off get something called an alt-azimuth refractor telescope. Under no circumstances should you get something called a "reflector" telescope. (That is a telescope with a mirror in it rather than a lens. Secondly, you should get a telescope with a mount called "Alt-azimuth". I realize that might sound strange but all it means is that the telescope is moved in a very easy way: up-down and left-right. So, two things to consider: A refractor telescope and an alt-azimuth mount.
3. The experience level of the recipient
For the most part I have selected "a first telescope" for your gift recipient. If the recipient has some telescope experience you might want to talk to him or her first. That is the best course of action. It takes the surpise out of the gift but is a good thing to do because he or she might have some strong likes and goals when it comes to the next telescope owned.
Here are my picks:
A child age 8-11:
Why I chose this telescope.
It is small and easy to operate. It is a refractor and it has an alt-azimuth mount. The backpack makes it easy to transport and also kind of fun. And, unlike many kids telescope this one actually has a full size tripod. For many kids telescopes the tripod is small which means it has to be on a table or the child has to lay on the ground to use it! Not this one.
More Why: Celestron is a famous brand and it means quality. This telescope has a quality lens and will give good viewing.
Plus - You will also be comfortable using this telescope when hiking, camping or traveling. The small size and the back pack make it easy to transport or carry. It will get more use. This is a telescope that won't end up in the closet collecting dust.
A child ages 12-16:
If this is a random gift that the child doesn't know about and you want to see if a telescope will inspire some discovery and curiousity then get yourself a refractor on an alt-azimuth mount. This telescope is a good choice:
Celestron Powerseeker 70AZ
Why this one: It is a little bit more like what we expect with a telescope. Longer tube and bigger lens. It is also on an alt-azimuth (Up-down/left-right) mount. So it is very easy to use and point at objects in the sky.
A child ages 12-16 who has expressed a definte interest in astronomy and a telescope:
Why this one. This telescope has an equatorial mount. That means it can be set up to easily follow the stars and other heavenly bodies. It is a critical for astronomy because it makes it easy to find something then follow it over time. You just turn one of the little knobs and the telescope will finely move and follow an object. But it takes a little bit of setup. Much better telescope but takes a bit of "desire" from our young astronomer to learn how to set it up and use it. Standard astronomy thing here. And a definite good thing to have if our young gift recipient is serious about astronomy. This one will provide more astronomical viewing and usefulness for longer before a next telescope is needed.
Ok 17+, including adults ( I have listed these by price for you, the least expensive first)
Why this one: Nice little compact telescope with a generous 5 inch mirror. Portable and delivers good performance. I have this telescope. The thing about this telescope is that it has a generous main mirror but it is reasonably priced. You get good price vs performance.
Why this one: Wonderful refractor telescope on an Equatorial mount. The 90mm primary lens is a generous size yet still at a reasonable cost. (I have the 80mm version of this telescope and love it.)
Why this one: Everybody who uses a telescope once in a while needs to get more accessories. If you think that the recipient of your gift telescope is going to use the telescope more than just a few times you really should get this bundle. It comes with some great to have accessories.
Why this one: This one is a bit more serious. The 8 inch primary mirror is a light bucket that will gather much more light than the previous telescopes. It is also a pretty big telescope. This one is for the recipient that is pretty serious about getting into astronomy as a hobby.
Celestron NexStar 6 Telescope
Why this one: This one is in a league of it's own. It is the best of all the telescopes we have looked at so far. And of course the price exhibits that. This telescope is for somebody really interested in amateur astronomy. It has superb optics and it is computer driven which means that after setup you can punch a few buttons and the telescope will automatically go to objects in the sky. Really nice telescope. A quality gift that somebody getting into astronomy will love.
Wow, if you are considering this next telescope then I want to get on your gift list. I don't recommend you get this one for a person who has no telescope experience. This is a second telescope gift. It takes some know-how and experience to get maximum value out of this one. If this is a first telescope it is easy to get frustrated and lose interest! But this telescope is an outstanding choice that even makes it very easy to take phenomenal astro photos of planets, the moon and deep space objects.
Why this one: This is a quality telescope that is on the upper range of what an amateur would get while still staying within a reasonable price range. Once telescopes get bigger than this the cost goes up significantly. With this one an amateur astronomer can do a lot including taking amazing photographs of deep space objects, galaxies, nebulae, planets and more.
I applaud your decision to get somebody in your life a telescope as a gift. It is a great gift to give. I still remember that very first telescope I received as a Christmas present. I was around 12 years old and it inspired me to a wonderful life long pursuit of the hobby. And while choosing a telescope can be a bit tricky, particularly if you don't know anything about telescopes, my suggestions here should have taken most of the mystery out of it for you. Hopefully I have helped you to choose a great telescope!
-Will (The Telescope Nerd)