One of the most asked questions that AOAS members, or any amateur astronomer faces is, "What kind of telescope should I buy?" This time of year we hear it more often. I'll try to give you some ideas about how you can help steer someone in the right direction the next time you hear this question.
Sometimes, asking questions can be most helpful in trying to assist someone in making a choice for a telescope. Ask them some basic questions about, 1) How much they want to spend? 2) What they want to see with a telescope? 3) Where will they use their telescope? And 4) Do they have any restrictions on how much they can lift or carry? These are among the most important questions that will help them make the right choice. Its all about which telescope they'll use most often. They won't be happy with any telescope that they don't, or can’t, use regularly.
|Small refractor telescopes such as this is what to watch out for at the mega-department stores. In general, the optical glass that forms the image in these telescopes is of sufficient quality to give acceptable images, but the wobbly mounts and the inferior eyepieces supplied with these type of telescope is ALWAYS the thing that does them in. FOREGROUND: Franzie, 1997-2005;Coleman Chief of Security - 2003-2005|
|A home-made 80mm f/13 refractor. AOAS member Margaret Brogley asked me to help her restore this telescope built by her brother in the mid-1950's. I built the wooden mount which gave it the stability it needed to work well. Wobbly mounts are a frequent problem found in smaller refractor telescopes.|
A small refractor is in the 70mm to 90mm range, or for the metrically challenged, a 2.7” to 3.5” diameter of the main lens. For a reflector, a small size is typically a 4.5” or a 6”, while an 8”mirror can be considered by some to be medium-sized.
Size Really Matters!
Never be lured into a situation of buying a refractor telescope at a department store. I tell everyone the same thing, “NEVER buy a telescope based on the “Mag Factor” ….magnification is NOT what gives good images. The size of the objective and its quality of craftsmanship are what really count the most. A Wally-World Rosco telescope advertising 650x power isn’t even worth a second glance, except maybe as an example of what you don’t want to buy.
There are close objects within our solar system, the moon, planets, comets and asteroids, all of which refractors work very well on, and then there are the galaxies, nebulae, and thousands more objects in the deep-sky available for viewing with 4.5” to 8” (and larger) telescopes.
Click read more for more targets, more helpful suggestions about choosing telescopes, and for a group of links to some telescope manufacturers and dealers.
|The simple and super-sturdy Dobsonian mount makes this AOAS-owned 13.1" f/4.5 reflector a great telescope available for ALL paid members to use here at Coleman Observatory.|
The great part about simply setting up in your own yard or driveway is that the neighbors are bound to take notice very quickly. Those neighbors you already speak to will likely be curious enough to come on over and ask what your “cannon” is aimed at. This isn’t as silly as it sounds….I’ve had several people ask me what I was setting up, and yes, a couple have thought my telescope was a cannon or a rocket launcher. If there are lots of neighbors in all directions, you might also assure them all that you aren’t “spying” on them.
|Here is our AOAS-owned CETUS telescope. This is a 14" f/11 Schmidt-Cassegrain optical system. This is the Catadioptric type of telescopes that use both lenses AND mirrors to form the image.|
|Don't forget about the accessories that are also needed to get all that you can out of your telescope. Extra eyepieces, filters, finderscopes, there are many different things that give a telescope user a more enjoyable experience.|
Most telescopes come with only one eyepiece. The eyepiece is the single most important accessory for telescope users. I usually advise that an EXTRA amount equal to 30% to 50% of the total cost of the telescope you choose be spent on a complete set of accessories. This does NOT have to be all bought at the time the telescope is purchased, but one extra eyepiece and a Barlow lens is encouraged at the time of the initial purchase. Every eyepiece gives a different power of magnification for each individual telescope.
Everyone learns early on that some objects look much better with a little more magnification. Other objects want a wider field-of-view and a very LOW power of magnification. Experience will be the most helpful tool in choosing which accessories should be bought, and you can soon find out more about your choices for accessories in our AOAS "Telescopes 101" page, slated for posting around January 1, 2007.
Summing It All Up
There is no perfect telescope size, or type, for everyone. That’s one reason why there are so many sizes and types available today. My favorite may not be your favorite, and many amateurs have more than one telescope too, as I mentioned above. Some will actually move to a smaller town or even to an area farther away from ALL intrusive lighting away from any surrounding towns just to be closer to an ideal observing site. You simply have to understand that this is how powerfully this hobby overtakes some folk’s lives. All of what they’ll do is done for more opportunities to use their telescope more often……and isn’t that what I already said was the most important factor in deciding what telescope one should buy in the first place? If you can help someone buy the telescope that they’ll USE most often, they’ll forever thank you for helping them find the “perfect” telescope.
Some very helpful websites and links!
My TOP Pick; The all-around favorite, a 6"f/8 Dobsonian from several different makers for about $250
The "next step up", an 8"f/6 Dobsonian for about $350
My TOP Refractor Pick Konusmotor 90 low-cost 90mm f/11.1, two eyepieces (17mm & 10mm) AND a 9v. battery-driven R.A. motor available from several American dealers, like Astronomics $209.00