BEST TELESCOPES & GEAR FOR
We’ve all seen pictures of the amazing jewels hiding in the night sky beyond the grasp of our bare eyes. If you want to see them yourself you will need a telescope. But which one? What can you really expect to see? Before you run out and buy a scope, take a moment to find out which type of telescope will be best for you!
Generally speaking, in the world of telescopes the old adage “bigger is better” applies: The larger the diameter (aperture) of the telescope, the more light it will collect and the deeper into space it will see. Think of it as a bucket collecting photons. The wider the bucket, the more photons it will gather. The more photons you gather, the fainter the objects that you will be able to see. However, you will also want to balance other factors such as cost, size, quality, and ease of use. Below are some basics about telescopes that will help you decide.
Your telescope will consist of three main components: The optics, the mount, and the eyepieces. For the most part you don’t have to worry about eyepieces right away; a good beginner telescope will come with one or two to get you started. All you have to do is decide which type of optics and mount will work best for your lifestyle, pocketbook, and observing goals.
Here’s the menu:
Refractor telescopes have a long, slender tube with a lens at the front that “refracts” or bends the light from the sky to bring it into focus. This is the oldest style of telescope and has many advantages. They are simple to use and understand, need less maintenance, and typically give very sharp views. Unfortunately, it’s difficult and expensive to manufacture large diameter versions of these scopes, so they are commonly fairly small in aperture. The takeaway is that this telescope will really wow you on bright objects, such as the planets and moon, but will not have enough light gathering to see the really faint objects in the deep sky (but you will still be able to see some deep sky objects!). We LOVE the Celestron Omni 102 XLT for beginners. With it’s 4” (102mm aperture) and nice sturdy mount, we think you will be a very happy planet hunter.
Also called Newtonians, these telescopes are the best aperture-bang for the buck. They have fat tubes with a parabolic mirror at the bottom. Light from the sky enters the tube and gets reflected by this mirror back up to the top of the tube where there is a small diagonal mirror that bounces the light out the side of the tube to your eye. The mirrors are cheaper to manufacture than refractor lenses, so you can afford a much larger diameter telescope when you choose this style. With all of this extra aperture, you will be able to see dim and distant objects in the deepsky. We think the Sky-Watcher 8” is an unbelievable deal. You won’t believe what you will be able to see with such a modest investment!
Ok, so you want it both ways: big enough to really reach out to the universe, but magically small enough that your grandmother can transport it? And what the heck, it should do a nice job on the planets too!
Well, a catadioptric telescope is for you. You’ll spend a little more money on this design because it’s more complex to build than a reflector, but the combo of aperture and transportability is hard to resist. Here is a really popular model that has a computer for finding objects that can be driven by your smartphone or tablet: Celestron Evolution 6”. This scope is a true grab-and-go with all of the very best technology wrapped up into a beautiful package, including a built-in rechargeable battery. If you want a larger diameter and you are thinking about trying your hand at astrophotography, consider the Celestron AVX 8” SCT.
We love these mounts for their beautiful simplicity and affordability. The two axes of movement are parallel and perpendicular to the ground, making them very straightforward to set up and use. As the Earth rotates, the stars move out of your field of view, requiring you to “chase” them by moving the telescope. You will have to make adjustments to both axes in order to track objects. Some altazimuth mounts are fitted with computer drives that will do this automatically for you. A solid standalone manual Alt-Az mount is Celestron’s Heavy Duty Tripod, or the Explore Scientific Twilight I mount. An excellent computerized mount is the Sky-Watcher USA AllView mount.
These mounts employ an ingenious design to track the sky where the axes of movement are parallel and perpendicular to Earth’s rotational axis. This is achieved by pointing the mount’s axis toward Polaris; the same star that Earth’s axis points to. As Earth rotates once on its axis every 24 hours, this type of mount rotates slowly in exactly the opposite direction to compensate, essentially freezing the sky in position in your eyepiece. These are more complicated to set up than Altazimuth mounts, but are an absolute MUST for astrophotography. When you purchase your mount from us, we will give you instruction on how to align the mount so it will track properly. These kinds of mounts can also be manually operated or powered to find and track objects for you. Some great beginner options are Celestron’s Omni CG-4 mount or their Advanced VX. iOptron offers a very compact CEM25, and Sky-Watcher USA has the AZ-EQ5 which can be used in Alt-Az or Equatorial mode in the same package!
Qualities of a great beginner telescope:
- Sturdy mount
- Easy to use
- Easy to transport
- Backed by a knowledgeable and helpful retailer (that’s us!)
Things to be wary of:
- Flimsy mounts
- Telescopes advertising extremely high magnification
- Buying a scope without first doing a little research
- Telescopes that are advertised for kids are often toys that don’t work very well for stargazing and may prove more frustrating than inspiring. Skip it, save your money for a better telescope later or invest in a decent set of binoculars.
Overwhelmed? Here are some of our recommendations for the best home telescope to buy. Find a price point you like and an optical design that agrees with your observing goals. Each of these options has been fitted with a mount that is sturdy and works well with the scope. If you are still having trouble deciding, give us a call! We can help you find the perfect beginners telescope to launch you into a life-long passion for the night sky.
- Celestron Omni 102mm Refractor
- Celestron Evolution 6” SCT
- Celestron VX 8” SCT
- SkyWatcher 8” Classic Dobsonian