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How to choose your first telescope

Looking to buy the best telescope? Check out our guide below and you’ll be well-placed to select the correct one for your needs.

Do you want to purchase a telescope but aren’t sure where to begin? Take a look at our guide on picking your first scope.

“How should I choose a telescope?” “How much should my first telescope cost?” “How do Dobsonians and Newtonians differ, as well as reflectors and refractors?”

These are just a few of the questions we frequently receive from readers who are interested in learning more about practical astronomy.

They are absolutely worth considering if you want to spend as little money as possible while still getting wonderful views of the night sky.


Dormant telescopes can be found tucked away in the corners of many garages and spare rooms: telescopes built to gather views of moons, stars, and planets, but now collecting dust.

Perhaps some were too heavy to carry in and out at night, others were too difficult to put up, or perhaps the sights were disappointing.

When considering the question, “What sort of telescope should I buy?” we can state right away that the best telescope is one that is both practical and comfortable to use on a regular basis and offers interesting views of the night sky.

Although there is a confusing number of equipment available, all of those variants may be divided into three fundamental groups.

Refractors were the first form of telescope invented, and most people are familiar with them.

Glass lenses at the end of a tube are used to focus a magnified image of the sky.

The second type we’ll look at is called a reflector since it uses mirrors instead of lenses to magnify the sky view. It was designed by Isaac Newton.

Mirrors with a hole in the middle are the ultimate form of telescope design. This style of telescope is known as a Cassegrain.

Now that we’ve created a basic division into categories, we can look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Refractors

refractor


Refractors, the most common form of telescope, have a number of enticing features.

They are often lightweight, simple to set up and use, provide crisp views, and require little upkeep.

Variable magnifications and a wider range of viewable objects are provided by interchangeable eyepieces.

Because of its portability, it is possible to take journeys to see darker skies away from light pollution.

In the world of telescopes, however, there is a saying that ‘aperture is king.’ Or, to put it another way, bigger is better.

In visual astronomy, larger telescopes produce more stunning sights.

Refractors have limitations in this regard. Large lenses are prohibitively expensive and difficult to manage for amateur photographers.

As a result, the majority of amateur refracting telescopes today have apertures ranging from 60 to 150mm.

We have telescopes with multiple lenses that provide a crisper, more natural view at a premium price point, ranging from inexpensive versions with a single front lens to telescopes with multiple lenses that provide a better, more natural view at a premium pricing point.

The quality of the optics of the telescope, which is mostly defined by their cost, will have a considerable impact on the quality of the views, and the cheap refractors that are popular in electronics and photography stores are frequently disappointing.

Smaller refractors with a diameter of less than 90mm are suitable for viewing the night sky, which may include star clusters such as the renowned Pleiades, M45.

Although some detail and moons can be seen when looking towards Jupiter and Saturn, the planet itself will appear small and bright in the perspective in both cases.

Under clear skies, some brighter galaxies and nebulae may be visible, and with practise, it gets easier to spot the interesting objects.

Larger refractors, such as those with a diameter of 100mm or more, can really open up the skies, and under sufficiently black skies, hundreds of deep-sky objects, such as galaxies, globular clusters of stars, and brilliant nebulae, can be seen.

On a clear night, surface colours and details can be seen on Saturn, Jupiter, and even Mars.

The larger optics allow the telescope to display more detail in craters and rille features, so lunar images should be sharp with strong clarity in craters and rille features.

There’s no doubt that a good refractor mounted on a strong mount or tripod can deliver a fantastic astronomy experience that will keep you coming back for more for years.

Reflectors

reflector telescope

Reflecting telescopes have an open tube in the front and a round mirror called the primary mirror inside the tube’s bottom.

Light enters the tube and is reflected back within the tube onto a much smaller angled secondary mirror before exiting through the side of the telescope towards the top end, where the replaceable eyepiece is located.

This design allows for far bigger apertures than refractors, and amateur reflectors are available in sizes up to 500mm in diameter.

Reflectors can be used in two ways. Smaller variants, up to around 12 inches in diameter, can be mounted on tripod-style mounts similar to refractors.

However, mounting the telescope tube on a revolving base that stands on the floor is a common alternative.

This can be flexibly rotated, and the telescope may swivel up and down, allowing it to be pointed at any point in the sky.

Dobsonians are telescopes that are mounted in this manner and provide the most cost-effective and gratifying views of the deep sky when compared penny for penny.
In fact, the views provided by a relatively inexpensive reflector can be comparable to those provided by expensive refractors.

Dobsonians can be stunningly simple – no wires, no batteries, just point it at what you want to see – or they can have a full ‘Go-To’ control that can position the telescope at hundreds of sky objects automatically.

There are trade-offs, as reflectors’ mirrors need to be adjusted from time to time, but this shouldn’t deter you.

They can, however, be big, heavy devices that are difficult to transfer outside and back in, or to transport to darker locations, and they can take up a lot of space when not in use.

Although collapsible into manageable components, the larger Dobsonian versions may necessitate the use of a stepladder when viewing objects far overhead!

Cassegrains


Cassegrains 1

Cassegrain telescopes work similarly to refractors in that you point the front end of the telescope at the sky and view through a replaceable eyepiece on the rear.

They are relatively heavy but tend to be shorter lengthwise, making them perfect for storage where room is restricted.

These telescopes may require minor adjustments from time to time to ensure that the mirrors are correctly aligned.

A Maksutov-Cassegrain or a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope may well be the finest option for individuals hoping to experience the best views of the planets and our Moon for a particular size of eyepiece.

Details can be observed inside Jupiter’s coloured bands and numerous colour bands on Saturn, as well as the Cassini and other divisions of Saturn’s beautiful ring system, as well as polar caps and features on Mars, when the sky conditions permit.

Other deep-sky objects can, of course, be observed, with Schmidt-Cassegrains with bigger apertures giving the most gratifying experience.

Although the views are not as sharp as those from refractors, they are a popular choice for people looking for a good medium between a large enough aperture and a manageable size.

Because larger telescopes provide higher magnifications, the item being studied will move out of view more quickly, hence they are sometimes equipped with electronic tracking mounts to track the targets as they move.

What Next?


Decide where and how you’ll use your telescope, whether it’ll be at home or at dark-sky locations, to get the best telescope for you.

All three designs are available in simple or fully computerised versions, with built-in wi-fi enabling smartphone operation.

You might like a simple grab-and-go setup, or you might prefer more elaborate equipment with completely autonomous operation to display more beauties of the night sky.

Whatever telescope you choose, refractor, reflector, or Cassegrain, you should buy it from a specialist astronomy dealer who knows everything there is to know about the telescopes they sell and can answer all of your questions.

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Celestron 22097 NexStar 127 SLT Mak Computerised Telescope
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Bestseller No. 7
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Bestseller No. 10
Astronomical Telescope Zoom 90X HD Outdoor Monocular Space Telescopes Portable Refractor Spotting Scope With Tripod for Kids Beginners
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