So you want to buy your first telescope but don’t know where to start? With so many options, choosing your first telescope can be overwhelming for beginners.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to consider when buying your first telescope.
The Different Types of Telescopes
Three main types of telescopes are suitable for amateur astronomers – refractors, reflectors, and catadioptric telescopes. Here is a brief overview of each type:
A refractor telescope uses a glass lens as its objective to gather and focus light. The glass lens is at the front of the telescope and light passes through it to come to a focus for magnifying objects.
Advantages: Refractors produce crisp, high-contrast views with minimal chromatic aberration. Great for lunar, planetary, and binary star observing.
Disadvantages: Limited light gathering ability and tends to be more expensive per inch of aperture.
A reflector telescope uses a mirror as its objective to collect light and form an image. The mirrors are generally made from glass substrates that are ground and polished to an exact shape and then coated with a thin layer of metal.
Advantages: Excellent light-gathering ability and greater aperture per dollar compared to refractors. Great for deep-sky observing.
Disadvantages: Requires periodic alignment/collimation and images can suffer from diffraction spikes.
Catadioptric telescopes combine both lens and mirror elements to gather and focus light. The most common is the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) which uses both refracting and reflecting elements.
Advantages: Compact size, wide field of view, good for astrophotography.
Disadvantages: Complex design means it requires precision manufacturing and can be expensive.
|Telescope Type||Best Uses|
|Refractor||Lunar and planetary detail, binary stars|
|Reflector||Deep sky objects like galaxies and nebulae|
|Catadioptric||Astrophotography, a bit of everything|
Key Factors to Consider
When choosing your first telescope, there are a few key specifications to take into account:
The aperture refers to the diameter of the primary light-gathering lens or mirror. The larger the aperture, the more light the telescope can collect allowing you to see fainter objects. For a beginner telescope, an aperture of 4 to 6 inches is a good range.
The focal length determines the telescope’s magnification and field of view. Longer focal lengths produce higher magnifications with narrower fields of view. Shorter focal lengths have wider fields good for finding objects. Beginner telescopes typically have focal lengths between 400mm to 1200mm.
The mount is important for easily moving the telescope to point at objects in the night sky. There are two main types suitable for beginners:
- Alt-azimuth (alt-az) mounts are simple to use but require manual tracking of objects. Better suited for low-power observing.
- Equatorial mounts allow smooth tracking by moving along one axis, but require aligning with the celestial pole and have a learning curve. Best suited for higher magnifications.
Dobsonian mounts are a popular variety of alt-az mounts – simple and steady platforms for Newtonian reflector telescopes.
Consider how portable the telescope needs to be – more lightweight telescopes can be moved and carried more easily at the expense of stability. Tabletop models offer an ultra-compact option. Bulkier mounts provide the most stability for high magnifications.
Telescope prices cover a huge range. You can get a starter scope for under $200 or spend tens of thousands for professional instruments. For a beginner on a budget, stick to the $200 to $500 range. Don’t forget to factor in accessories too.
Ease of Use
Look for a telescope that is relatively simple to assemble and operate. Stay away from telescopes requiring complicated setup or alignment. The best beginner telescopes don’t require lots of experience to get great views.
While not strictly required, the following accessories will enhance your observing experience:
- Additional eyepieces – At least one low and high power eyepiece to allow easy switching between magnifications.
- Finder scope – Makes aiming your telescope much easier. Helps locate objects to observe in the main telescope.
- Light pollution filter – Filters out urban light pollution, improving views without traveling far.
- Planetary camera – Attaches to the telescope to capture photos and video of lunar, planetary, and bright deep-sky objects.
- Collimation tools – For reflectors, used to tune optical alignment for peak performance.
- Moon filter – Attenuates the Moon’s bright light to see more detail on its surface.
- Star charts/planisphere – Maps of the night sky to aid in locating celestial objects to observe. Apps can also be used.
- Red flashlight – Preserves your night vision while reading star charts in the dark.
Best Telescopes for Beginners
With a budget of $200 to $500, here are some excellent telescopes to consider for beginning amateur astronomers:
1. Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
- 4.92” aperture refracting telescope
- 1000mm focal length
- Equatorial mount for easy tracking
- Lightweight and portable
The PowerSeeker 127EQ is a great starter telescope for kids and adults. It offers good-quality optics in an easy-to-use package. Its equatorial mount allows you to accurately track and follow celestial objects as they move across the night sky.
2. Orion SkyQuest XT6 PLUS Dobsonian
- 6” aperture reflector telescope
- 1200mm focal length
- Dobsonian alt-az mount
- Large light-gathering ability
The Orion XT6 PLUS is one of the best beginner telescopes for the money. Its large 6” aperture shows amazing views of deep sky objects. The Dobsonian mount is simple to use while providing steady views. An excellent bang for your buck.
3. Celestron NexStar 5SE
- 5” aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope
- 1250mm focal length
- Computerized GoTo mount
- Compact and portable
The NexStar 5SE is a great go-anywhere telescope. With its computerized tracking and database of 40000+ objects, just push a button to find and observe celestial targets. The 5” aperture offers great views of the planets and brighter deep sky objects.
4. Zhumell Z130 Portable Altazimuth Reflector Telescope
- 5.1” aperture reflector telescope
- 650mm focal length
- Compact tabletop Dobsonian mount
- Wide field views, excellent for beginners
The Z130 packs a lot of functionality into an ultra-portable package. The wide field views make it easy to find objects in the night sky. The setup is quick and simple. One of the best starter telescopes for the money.
Tips for Getting Started in Astronomy
Here are some tips to begin your journey in amateur astronomy and make the most out of your telescope:
- Start by learning the night sky. Identify popular constellations and bright stars. A Planisphere star chart can help. Apps like SkyView are also great for finding visible celestial objects.
- Patience is key. Take time to set up your telescope properly and allow time for your eyes to adapt to see details.
- Pick clear nights with minimal light pollution when viewing faint objects like galaxies and nebulae. Light pollution filters also improve contrast.
- Experiment with eyepiece focal lengths to achieve ideal magnification of objects. Too much magnification can make images blurry.
- Keep notes and sketches to remember details you observe. Recording with a smartphone adapter is also fun.
- Join an astronomy club to gain wisdom from experienced observers and access dark sky observing sites.
- Subscribe to astronomy magazines like Sky & Telescope or Astronomy for inspiration, sky maps, and the latest discoveries.
- Most importantly, have fun! The thrill of viewing Saturn’s rings, the Orion Nebula, and distant galaxies for the first time through your telescope is priceless.
Caring for Your Telescope
To keep your telescope working properly and extending its lifetime:
- Avoid cleaning coated optics – blow off dust gently with a lens blower. Fingerprints can be wiped gently with optical lens tissue and methanol.
- Store the telescope in a clean, dry, dust-free place.
- Allow lenses to acclimate before observing to prevent dew buildup.
- Collimate reflector telescopes regularly for optimal performance.
- Transport and move the telescope carefully to prevent alignment issues with optics.
- Check for loose screws once in a while and re-tighten if required.
With its combination of portability, intuitive alt-azimuth mount, and ample light-gathering capability, the Zhumell Z130 is one of the best starter telescopes available today for beginners interested in exploring the night sky.
So don’t wait to grab your first telescope and embark on your adventures in amateur astronomy. Use this guide’s telescope recommendations and observing tips to make the most of your stargazing experiences. With a high-quality, beginner-friendly telescope in hand, breathtaking views of ringed planets, distant galaxies, and serene lunar craters await. Clear skies!
FAQs about Choosing Your First Telescope
What magnification telescope is for beginners?
50x to 150x is sufficient for most visual observing as a beginner. Over 200x magnification often yields blurry views if atmospheric conditions are not ideal.
How much should I spend on a beginner telescope?
$200 to $500 can get you a high-quality starter telescope that will provide great views without breaking the bank.
Is 40x magnification good for a telescope?
Yes, 40x is a nice moderate magnification to start with for lunar and planetary viewing before working up to higher magnifications on nights with steady air.
What kind of telescope do you need to see planets?
A refractor telescope with at least 60mm of aperture is recommended for nice views of planets like Jupiter and Saturn and their major moons.
Is it worth buying a cheap telescope?
Very cheap telescopes under $100 often have poorly made optics that make viewing unsatisfactory, so it’s better to save up for a starter telescope in the $200 range.
What is a good telescope for a beginner adult?
An 8-inch Dobsonian like the Orion SkyQuest XT8 provides excellent views for beginners while being easy to assemble and transport when needed.