Backyard stargazing is a ton of fun, but you have so many options as an amateur astronomer that it can be very confusing. There are some questions you should be asking yourself before buying a telescope. You’ll want to narrow down the type of telescope, your budgetary concerns as well as other things to consider before your first purchase.
Land Viewing or Sky Viewing
Telescopes are great for land viewing, but most people are looking to purchase a telescope to see the Moon, stars, planets, or nebulae. You should be narrowing that down even further. You can’t buy a telescope that can see everything perfectly. Some telescopes are great for objects like the Moon while others are used for broader objects in the sky like nebulae. Before you make your purchase, it’s best to narrow down the type of viewing you’ll want to do.
Types of Telescopes
This type of telescope is good for beginners. It has a simple design that most people are familiar with for viewing. There’s a lens in the front that allows light to enter the tube. This light allows for viewing through the eyepiece at the back of the tube.
Pros of the Refractor
- The design is simple and easy for beginners
- The ends are sealed, so you don’t have to worry about dust
- Doesn’t require maintenance
Cons of a Refractor Telescope
- Faint objects are hard to see
- Can be incredibly heavy
Read our article, How Does A Refracting Telescope Work?
A reflector telescope has a mirror at the end that reflects to a second mirror. These mirrors gather light and reflect the image to an eyepiece. When an image is magnified, it’s actually the image gathered inside the tube that is magnified for viewing.
Pros of the Telescope
- Deep sky objects are easier to see
- Quality of the image is high
- Light and compact
Cons of the Reflector
- Open tube will need to be protected from dust
- Needs routine maintenance
Read our article, How Does A Reflecting Telescope Work?
A hybrid telescope is either a catadioptric or a cassegrain option. They’re hybrid options because they have a lens and mirror system that doesn’t rely on one type alone. While mirrors can become misaligned, lenses can have distortion. With both systems, the problems cancel each other out.
Pros of the Catadioptric
- Faint objects are seen
- Objects on Earth are visible
- Tube is closed
- Astrophotography is possible
Cons of the Telescope
- More expensive than other two
- Huge and bulky
Consider the Aperture
While you’re thinking about the best type of inner workings you’ll want with your telescope, you should consider a few other things. The aperture is the diameter of the opening for the mirror or lens. It’s what allows in the light much like a camera. Instead of magnification, you should be worried about the aperture.
Focal Length of the Telescope
The focal length of the scope is the distance from the focal point to the lens or mirror. The focal length isn’t as vital as aperture, but it’s a definite concern. The longer the focal length, the bigger the objects will look. It’s still more important than the magnification of the telescope. This might fly in the face of the idea you’ve had about telescopes being all about the magnification.
Magnification with the Eyepiece
The magnification isn’t a function of the tube at all. It’ll depend on the type of eyepiece you’ve chosen for the telescope. You can actually upgrade this later with more powerful eyepieces. You’ll start with the one currently included with the telescope.
Mount for the Telescope
There are equatorial mounts as well as alt-azimuth types of mounts. The simplest design – the alt-azimuth – will allow your telescope to move side to side on the azimuth. It’ll also move side to side to focus on the altitude. There could be an adjustment knob for easy movement or a computer control. This is the best one for beginning astronomers.
The equatorial mount is designed to move with the rotating sky. It’ll be aligned with the Earth’s axis. It allows the telescope to move with the objects but keep the same field of view. It’s meant for easy astrophotography. This kind of mount is best used for those who have more experience with telescopes in general.
The best telescope for beginners boils down to a personal choice. It’ll depend on how much experience you have with telescopes. It’ll also depend on the amount of money you’re willing to spend on your hobby. Some people want the best experience possible while others want to buy a telescope to learn with their children. It’ll depend on the depth of your interest and budget concerns.
Reflecting telescopes are good for a limited budget. You’re getting a good amount of value, but you’re getting a telescope that requires some maintenance. A refractor is a bit more expensive, but you don’t have to worry about aligning it continuously. It’s one that is compact and lightweight, which makes it good for travel. The alignment won’t be a concern with movement, either. Those who want to eventually take pictures or video with their telescope will want to purchase a hybrid with the right mount.