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
Celestron 21061 AstroMaster 70 AZ Refractor 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. And, if you want to learn more about it Amazon.com has a nice little video on the product page. Just click on the link above for the telescope.
Refractor telescopes can also be stunningly effective for serious astronomical viewing and you can spend quite a lot of money to get an observatory quality telescope with all the accessories and super steady mounts. This kind of telescope is for very serious amateurs or for astronomy groups, clubs, even schools and universities (or serious amateurs) This kind of larger refractor can yield stunning results when it comes to viewing and when it comes to astro photography.
Vixen 25034 ED115 and Sphinx SXD Mount (#2616, #2503, #25151, #37103, 37112) This Vixen telescope is a good example of one of these upper echelon refractors.
Type 2: The Reflector Telescope
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.
But... Where the real power of a reflector telescope comes in is the amount of light gathering power you can get for your money. This is something that just cannot be had with a refractor telescope.
Here is a good example: This is an Orion reflector with an eight inch mirror. It is almost impossible to get a refractor telescope with an eight inch aperture and the cost would be well... astronomical.
Type 3: The Dobsonian Telescope
Orion SkyQuest XT10 IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope with Object Locator The Dobsonian telescope is a reflector with a mirror just like the one shown above and the difference is in the mount. Instead of a tripod like the one above the dobsonian has a specially designed easy to use mounting mechanism. What this does is dramatically reduce the cost of the telescope and makes it much easier to use. The benefit becomes that for the same price you can get a significanly larger telescope. The telescope here has a massive eight inch wide mirror in it. This will give you a substantial amount of light gathering power. And you will be able to find and see things that you could never see with the previous telescopes. A Thing about this telescope is that it is easy to use but if you think you are going to be taking pictures through your telescope at some point in the future this is not the scope for you. the simple mount, which makes it easy to use, makes it impractical for photo taking. Nonetheless this type of scope is the best value when it comes to dollars versus light gathering power.
Type 4: Catadioptic Telescopes
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.
Amazon.com also has a great Telescope store The Telescope Store