[/caption]We get this question the time. People want to get into astronomy, and they want to get their first telescope. So, to all you experienced astronomers reading Universe Today, what do you suggest people consider for their first starting telescope? We’ve heard lots of horror stories about bad quality department store telescopes, so where should people go? How much should they expect to spend? Who are some good telescope manufacturers? What should people avoid?
My first answer is always to suggest that people use a planisphere and their own eyes in the beginning, learning the constellations. Then graduating to binoculars if they’re still enjoying the hobby before even considering a telescope purchase. What’s your opinion?
Feel free to respond in the comments below.
43 Replies to “Question: What’s the Best Beginner Telescope?”
I’d recommend either the StarScout or SkyViewer telescope kits from Learning Encounters. The optics are very nice, it’s inexpensive and you get to put it together.
I agree with what is written here, start off with naked eye observing and then graduate to a nice pair of wide angle, good contrast binoculars. I started off with a cheap 4.5″ reflector which was great for lunar/planetary views but I think observing with the naked eye and using binoculars will give you a better idea of what to expect in the night sky if you decide to continue into the telescopic world.. 🙂
Indeed, trick question! Best beginner scope is Binoculars.
with binoculars, one can still see galaxies, nebulae, planets, comets… and the wide FOV is easy to find things, and stereoscopic vision lovely. skymaster 25×70 work well.
However, my first telescope was an Astroscan – I’ve had it for 20 years; it still works beautifully while a few meads have bit the dust (due to cheap plastic construction on the fork).
Even so, I do think Binoculars are a better purchase for the beginning stargazer.
I want to take the plunge on a Orion Dobsonian Telescope, I’ve had the skymaster 25X70 for a year or so. I’m a beginner and I think a “Go to” telescope would be the way to go, but I know those are expensive. Any thoughts.. thanks!
Depends on your budget and if you don’t mind hauling 50lbs of telescope around to star parties, or from your garage to your backyard. Might want to look at the Orion XT8.
A ‘goto’ scope might work for you, it might not. You can also go with a ‘push to’ scope, which is a dobsonian mount with encoders that tells you which direction to need to move the scope to find an object.
I personally perfer a manual dobsonian mount for these reasons:
2) Very stable — this is important!
3) Manual operation ‘forces’ you to learn the sky–half the fun is finding objects youself!
4) Easy to set up
I had an Orion XT8 about a decade ago, then I upgraded to the XT10. I’ve had the XT10 for 8 years now and have been extremely satisfied with it.
hi, yes the dobs are cool, and if you’re lazy go with the “go to”, but really you’ll learn much more about the sky if you search for things yourself, and the satisfaction will be far greater. why spend more money for something that might, but probably won’t fail, when you can put that money into a better “do it yourself and learn more” scope. takair, fr.edde
Or maybe, !!! make your own Telescope !!!
4 or 5 inches.
Contact your local astronomy clubs or/and associations.
That’s a good idea…But it does not always work out, you know.. Yet it is fun….
This should be required reading for anyone considering a telescope: http://scopereviews.com/begin.html
Start out by just getting a star wheel–one that shows the consellations, get outside, and learn the sky. A light polluted site isn’t bad for starters because only the brighter stars will be visible, which are usualy the stars that are members of constellations.
Then join a club and/or get out to a star party. Ask lots of questions. Get a decent pair of binoculars as well.
The very worst thing a beginner can do is run into a dept. store and buy the first ‘500x telescope’ they see in a pretty box with cool pictures on it. That’s a sure way to failure.
Personally, IMO a 6 or 8 inch dobsonian is the ‘best’ beginner scope because they’re inexpensive, provide enough aperature to show a wide variety of objects, and have an inherently stable mount–the most important aspect of a scope IMO. The best optics in the world won’t do anything for you if they’re attached to an unstable, rickety mount. Some will find that a dob isn’t for them, which is fine. The important thing is to learn the sky, join a club, and learn as much as possible so you can make an informed decision on what scope is ‘best’ for you–BEFORE you buy something.
I want a personal augmented reality planetarium so instead of seeing this monitor and the walls of this room I could see where say Sagittarius A* or the Sloan Great Wall was relative to me at this very moment. Also I would like augmented reality “Hubble eyes” so I could look up at the Andromeda constellation and see M31 stretching out there six times as wide as the full Moon.
I’ll plug the Orion XT8 as well. Just recently got into astronomy via my daughter and have enjoyed it quite a bit. I got a lens assortment as well so i’d have a range of magnifications available. Only other accessory i got was a finder scope as an alternate to the red dot finder. I’m in the suburbs and it can be hard to find some of the starting stars without it.
I debated on the push-to model, but am glad i didn’t. Having a scope was a great motivator to start learning where constellations are and how to star hop. If i just had binoculars i’d have ended up watching tv instead of learning my constellations. Also worth pointing out that most of those deep space objects aren’t much to look at even through a bigger scope. If you take out the fun of finding them your almost better off looking at hubble images.
If possible, the person considering a “first scope” should find a local astronomy club, attend a star party or two (or three), and get first hand experience with different instruments. At least in the club I belong to, members are more than willing to show beginners their own equipment and share the view with all and sundry. (And talk your ear off !)
But by all means, the novice should be discouraged in the strongest possible manner from buying anything “cheap”, i.e., low quality. Better to use one’s naked eyes, or purchase a relatively low-cost QUALITY pair of binoculars if they can afford it (100-150 dollars), and save up for something they can enjoy, and not curse at!
The ‘usual’ advice is boring and for me, almost put me off astronomy all together. Make no mistake – telescopes are where it is at if you’re an amateur astronomer. Most astronomers will tell you to start out with binos, go to a small scope, and then at some point years down the track get a bigger scope that will go deeper. Total tosh as far as I am concerned.
Binos suck unless you have either a stable mount, image stabilized ones or something like this beautiful bit ‘o kit (http://www.scopesnskies.com/prod/binocular/mountings/mirror/scopeteknix/astro-engineering.html). If not, they wobble around, and will piss you off no end. With any one of the above though, they are give nice wide-field views of a limited number of objects. They are best for sweeping vistas of the Milky Way and open clusters, a very few nebulas and globular clusters, and even fewer objects of other classes.
Learning the sky is totally boring. Beyond getting a basic acquaintance with some of the brighter constellations and where a few of the brighter DSOs are, learning the sky is something best left for learning by osmosis when you actually have a scope. Maybe if you are retired and have hours on end to sit out under the stars it is worthwhile. People who actually work jobs and have to get up in the morning will want to get out, relax, see a number of cool things through a scope and then get back home to bed. Which brings me to scope choice:
Typically, people will tell you the age old chestnut is that ‘the best scope for you is the one you’ll use most often’. Yawn. If they actually believed that, then they wouldn’t be dropping their dosh on some of the behemoths that are available out there. The best scope for you is actually the one that you will get most pleasure from. If you want to get a 36″ scope and it only gets used once a year, and yet that one time is enough to shake your very being to the core (which scopes that big tend to do), then go for it. If a 4-incher will scratch your itch, then that is the one for you.
Size? Go for at least a 10 inch aperture if you want to see anything deep-sky at all, beyond about 5 unusually spectacular objects. A 12 inch is better. When you get to 15″ and 18″, you are getting into the sort of scopes that you will never feel the need to upgrade from. Realise that no amateur scope will show you what you see in Hubble or VLT photos etc – if they did we astronomers wouldn’t need to beg for billions of dollars to build these things.
Type? Plain old run-of-the-mill dobs will show you lots, but you’ll waste endless hours searching for objects. If that is what you like to spend your time on – cool. If not, get a push-to scope (computer tells you how to get to the object you want to see), which will show you a great deal more, far more quickly. That’s what I have had since the beginning (12″ Meade Lightbridge w/ Argo Navis scope computer) and it has served me very well. Even better is a go-to scope, assuming you’re not lazy and don’t mind the additional weight and much additional expense for an equivalent sized instrument.
The best advice I can give is ‘know what you’re getting into’. Go to an open night for an Amateur Astronomy club and use people’s gear. They will let you, and then you’ll get a feel for what it is actually like to find objects, what they look like through certain size instruments etc.
I’m not an astronomical telescope user, so take it for what it’s worth. I just love this website and look at it daily. I tried looking at the stars with a generic binocular and the shaking would have turned me off forever if I thought I had to start that way. As far as I can tell, binos are worthless for looking.
This is what I was waiting to hear for 6 months! Unfortunately I read it too late. I bought a Bino and to be sincere it’s the worthless thing ever.
Telling people to buy binoculars it is a really bad joke!
I bought an 8 inch dobsonian, it’s really cool, BUT it is HUGE! And heavy! I regret not joining any astronomy club before…..
just my personal opinion, but I agree with the previous commentors about going out to a star party with a local astronomy club and seeing what suits you best, both in use and in budget. for myself, i sort of lucked into a nice 10″ meade sct (not goto) and I love it. it’s big enough to see some pretty cool stuff and with the addition of a telrad finder, it’s actually fun to star hop and find things for myself. now, that being said, not everyone will be able to get a scope that big at the price i did, and it’s also quite heavy to transport if you have to travel to get to a dark sky site. therefore, i’ll plug my little travel companion, I bought a little orange tube Celestron C90 and a sturdy little Meade tripod to mount it on. this little scope gives sharp views, is light, and with an adapter, will accept all my ep’s from my big scope. No amateur scope will show the detail of Hubble or the big ground based monsters of the professional world, for myself, I like to look for things in the little scope, and then spend a night or two at the computer browsing photographs of the objects I found. It really puts things into perspective to think, “wow, that’s what I saw, how far away must it be to look like just that little smudge in my scope”? anyway, just another opinion. The most important thing is to “have fun!!!!!”
I have a computerized CAT, a refractor and a big Dob. The big Dob is the easiest to use and the most “fun”. For a beginner, I’d go with a 10″, 12″ or 14″ Dob, no computer, a good atlas and a dark sky. I’d keep it as simple as possible but with the largest aperture that one can afford or lug around, whichever is limiting. The dark sky might be the tough part for most.
yeah PK, a dark sky is a premium. i would bet big money that the majority of the people in my city have never seen the milky way in all its beauty, and dare i might add could care less. i was well past 50 when i first saw it, 10k feet up in Leadville, Colorado, i had no idea.
a planisphere and learning constellations first.. well.. i won’t say boring, but compared with your very first look through with your very own scope this is much more exciting. a first scope should be one that is easy to take outdoors, set up, and use. for the money, ease of use, and pretty good sights, no less than a 6″ dobsonian with a couple of eye pieces, wide field, and closer to start. then after you’ve seen all the cool stuff in the constellations using your planisphere, you will have learned enough to choose your next better scope.. good viewing little ones takair fr.edde
8 inch Dob. It’s a great size, easy for teenages and ladyfolk to carry and amazing bang for buck. Regardless of some of the comments on here, a 8 inch scope with night adjusted eyes and reasonable skies will show a wealth of the night sky. Even in poor skies, the bright targets will be still good.
Owning a 12″, I would not say it is the easiest scope to transport and would easily make beginners think twice about taking it out. So unless its going to live, and be used from your backyard, I would not recommend it for a beginner.
Anyway they have to learn how to use eyepieces, navigate the night sky and do all the other things us Amateurs love to do.
Id say a similar sized goto SCT would be the best for a cashed up beginner. But if you are unsure of how deep you will go in the hobby, the 8 inch dob is like a quarter the price.
You’re two days late! I just ordered the following:
And actually, I’m pretty happy with it after reading some of the comments below 🙂
I agree with you Dr.Fraser. In my opinion, starting off with a big, bulky telescope won’t help. Instead, I think, they will disappoint you..Unless you know how to use it. And it is no fun letting all the finding and centering of an object to a computer. It’d be better to first get used to the changing night sky just with your own eyes [of course, a planisphere or a sky map would surely help in better knowing the night sky]. Then, it is well and good to go for binoculars and then for telescopes. Otherwise, you will not admire the sky without a telescope, your interest will be superficial. I believe, that if you go on with your hobby this way, it’ll not be yours for long. I know, big & computerised telescopes do give grand results, but will it not be grander if you know where the object ,you are observing, is actually located in the sky. I mean that’d amaze you, right ? Like -“Oh ! Wow this gorgeous object that we are observing, is located right there, in such a tiny patch of the sky” You’ll really admire the sky then. Well, that was my opinion….
PS – Excuse me, for I’m not good at English
I think the astronomy community does itself a disservice by slagging off Department store telescopes. They really aren’t that bad and are easily accessible to the general public. Most people (if they ever do at all) will try out a scope 5-6 times until the novelty wears off and it ends up in the garage next to all that gym gear they never used much either. This is fine if they just spent a hundred bucks on it.
Good point! My ‘first scope’ was a borrowed 80mm ‘dime store’ (Relegate to history!) refractor which lived in a neighbor’s closet. I lived in L.A., so the only thing I could use it for were the bright planets and M42 = better’n nothing!
Dang. Read this lot, and you might think you aren’t a proper astronomer unless you have a telescope. Without a telescope, you won’t spot a new supernova or a new comet for yourself, true, but few people manage that; and you can discover stuff without a telescope on GalaxyZoo.
My advice to newbies – find a friend with a telescope, and see whether this is for you. Get them to show you some panets, and some of the objects they find pretty. Let them chose the night: really cold nights give the best viewing.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get hooked. I didn’t. I love the theory and the pictures from those that do it, but I stay in on cold nights.
I have recommended the “tabletop dobs”, Orion 4.5″ StarBlast $200, or 6″ Starblast 6i $420 to beginners and had no complaints. Set them up on a 5 gallon bucket or endtable, use the red dot finder to point it at the moon or planet, and people are hooked. You can even get carrying cases for them. Easy to use, even for beginners. Most beginners who get telescopes on tripods give up in frustration, and put the telescopes in the closet until a garage sale tears later. (I mean years later.)
I use the 6i for my beginning astronomy course. You can see spectacular craters on the Moon, Saturn’s ring, Jupiter’s bands and moons. Even the Messier object faint fuzzies are visible. You can make out stars in the brighter globulars. The students are surprised when I tell them to grab it and point it for themselves.
My 2 cents,
Nyack and Manhattan, NY
1) join a club and use incredible telescopes of people who love to share them.
2) Go to star parties and use incredible telescopes of people who love to share them.
3) Buy a good mount one that you can upgrade your telescopes and binoculars on,don’t overdo it though.
4) find a Mentor with lots of patients to teach a “dummy” read a map and to star hop or get goto mount.
Agree with Astrofiend. I got a pair of recommended astronomical binoculars for a trip to Tucson (I live in a light-polluted area) and was very frustrated. My normal camera tripod was simply too unsteady; even worse, I found it virtually impossible to merge the right and left images because of a bit of “lazy eye” (or whatever it’s called). To be fair, viewing conditions were not ideal during my visit; if there had been sparkling, clear nights with a bright Milky Way, it might have been different.
I also agree with taking a realistic approach to what you will actually see with a modest telescope. If you don’t enjoy tinkering and fiddling, a telescope will no doubt just remain in the closet. For a while I had a reasonably decent 4″ scope with a reasonable equatorial mount with a “star-finder”, and happily spent most of my time playing with the alignment and gears and so forth. But when it came to viewing, it was mostly the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter. Looking at a single isolated star is not exactly an exciting view.
Agree also with the idea of getting involved with an astronomy club if you have the time (which unfortunately I don’t). Find out what really works before spending a lot of money.
First let me say that I am a long-time listener to astronomy-cast and I love it. Thanks for all the awesome and informative episodes.
I got an Orion Skyquest XT-8 this summer and have been incredibly happy with the scope’s performance and portability, all for a great price.
Here’s a link with more information: http://www.telescope.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=8943&utm_source=googlebase&utm_medium=comparisonshopping&gclid=CLKxlN2LrKsCFaUCQAodn0FC6w
I have been in UIUC’s astronomy club for five years now, and have always enjoyed going out on dark site trips and using the observatory on campus, but having my own scope now has been wonderful for exploring the skies whenever I find the time.
I’ve been able to get great views of the moon, globular clusters, open star clusters, Jupiter, andromeda galaxy, ring nebula, some pretty binary stars, etc… I love how quickly you can navigate from one object to another with this dobsonian, and the instrument’s portability (it breaks into two pieces, weighing roughly 20 and 25 pounds).
It’s my first telescope. Before this, I got a giant pair of binoculars (Celestron Skymasters, 15X70) and was very happy with the price and quality… before that, just going out and learning what I could from the other stargazers.
For me, an indispensable book was Terence Dickinson’s “Night Watch”… for those interested, you can get it here on amazon:
Yeah, it’s $20… but, an incredible value considering the introduction to stargazing, advice on equipment, excellent star charts, and gobs of information to get one started and inspired.
Regardless of size, the best telescope is one that gets used, not left in the garage or closet!
I’ve been listening to the ‘Astronomy FM’ webpage quite a bit lately as I cruise the web in another window. Yesterday, Monday, I listened in to a live broadcast from the York University Observatory where they chatted up this very subject. Seems like all the comments made here today mirror (No pun intended) the comments made during yesterday’s broadcast (Where you can join in their live chat) They take suggestions for images taken with their SBIG equipped 40cm scope – weather and equipment permitting. Unfortunately, since they are located in Toronto, they are quite frequently clouded out……(*)
Which begs the suggestion: Why doesn’t UT do something similar? Perhaps there is an observatory close by that would be more than happy to help facilitate a project like that? This is an EXCELLENT way to generate interest in astronomy!
An 8″ GoTo scope the best “Bang” for the buck for a beginner. It will shoot the Moon an Sun (with solar filter) perfectly with 6.3 reducer. It will, with the aid of eyepieces show “Visual” details of Planets at the oppositions.It will not! give you a Hubble telescope view the Universe,No scope on Earth will. That’s Astrophototagraphy an that’s a whole different ball game! An 8″ has just enough ampature (with-out a lot weight) An just enough ampature not to disappoint a beginner using there eyeball. The universe is just hand-controler “Tour” away…prices are $1000-$1500 from all different kinds of companies
Nothing beats the viewing with your own eyes, even though you live in a polluted area.
I al really happy that the government is now finally stopping all streetlights at night, when I drive the highway I can now see stars. And it saves energy!
I never liked binoculars, I never managed to keep them steady. But I had for many years a small refractor, no more that 50cm and that one got used enormous amount when I grew up.
Currently I have a 10 inch dobsinian. 🙂 I can rarely use it because of bad weather and light pollution but really love what I see in it.
I read a thang in Sky and Telescope where a binocular observer used a dry wall sanding pad on a telescoping pole. The pad itself is mounted on a pivoting (360*/rotating) head. One places the binocs on the sanding pad, either by simply holding it or using velcro straps or large rubber bands. The end of the pole rests on the ground. With this relatively inexpensive support one can view the night sky either standing or sitting in a chair and achieve a quite steady viewing platform… a very handy little innovation – cheap too!
I agree, naked eyes are the best for starts … maybe forever. I majored in Astronomy before moving on to EE partially because it was cloudy every night undergrads had use of the telescope. Five-decades later, I still find myself waiting for a clear night. Time to watch the Perseids? Bah! My Number One concern now is how to stop City Hall from adding more light pollution to my backyard with unnecessary streetlights. I can still see M45 and soon M42. I’m out almost every night to verify the constellations agree with the calendar.
Where a telescope will be used should determine what you buy. A 10″ DOB on a apartment balcony won’t work. Start with binoculars (which can be used for purposes other than astronomy) and scout out your observing site. Once the room youhave is determined you can decide what you need & can afford.
Where you are going to use your new telescope should be an important consideration. A 10″ dob on an apartment balcony may not work so well. Buy binoculars, which also can be used for non-astronomical purposes, and scout out potential observing sites. Only then should you put down your hard earned dollars.
Observing sites… It’s well worth looking around your area for a dark site! I typically travel about 10 miles to a nearby mountain side viewing spot @ +/- 1,500 feet. MOST people don’t have that option? Where, viewing in the shadow of a large building helps, or a large grassy area like in a nearby park which works to eliminate heat waves rising from patches of asphalt/rooftops or concrete. But WATCH OUT for the sprinklers as they are usually set to activate late at night! As a last resort, put a dark towel or cloth over your head and the eyepiece to eliminate nearby light source reflections.
I made a ‘dew shield’ out of a rolled up piece of tar paper and rubber band that on to the end of my scope. This too reduces reflections (On refractor lens or corrector plates) and moisture buildup and is MUCH cheaper than buying a heated element and associated batteries/power pack.
Key here is elevation.. the higher your viewing spot, (usually) the better the seeing will be. I am near the coast and I can’t tell you how many times I drove all the way up the mountain to my viewing spot, only to be fogged in! Dzzzzz… Fortunately, the fog tends to settle late at night as cold air forces it downward to lower elevation. I take a light and a book and will wait an hour or so to see if conditions improve? which they SOMETIMES will? Perseverance pays!
I agree with Astrofiend’s ‘jump right in’ approach … with a warning.
I did this (after being inspired by this website and astronomycast). I have no regrets, I love the hobby. But I have pursued it mostly on my own.
So it took me almost two years to figure out that the new Meade SN-10AT, that I bought looking ahead to my desire to try basic astrophotography, was actually defective, possibly with one of the mirrors not shaped properly.
The problem was confounded by me damaging the scope on my first night using it by not properly securing it to the mount … due to my inexperience.
Once I had finally realized that I couldnt colimate it due to some nasty astigmatism in the optics, I had a local telescope store attempt to fix it. They put a lot of effort into it, far more than what they charged me for, and made it much better … except for the astigmatism, concluding it was a poorly shaped mirror, noting that the scope was made at a time when Meade had been having some real quality problems.
Had I joined a local club I’m sure this would have been found far sooner, or perhaps I would have started with a different scope, saving me a lot of frustration.
In the end I traded it in, got me a 2nd hand 7.5″ Skywatcher Maksutov Newtonian, which I’m very happy with. It performs a lot better than the gimped 10″ Meade. One day hopefully soon I’ll unload the sloppy LXD75 mount. The mount was fine to start on, but I think that I’ve outgrown it.
I really want a 10″ (or larger) scope, but haven’t had the time or money to do so lately. Instead I purchased a Galileo-scope a couple years ago and have quite happy with it. Sure, its got a very narrow field of view, but seeing Jupiter and the Galilean moons through it was just a wonderful feeling, and my son (5yo) bugs me to use it every now and then.
Hopefully I’ll be able to get a larger scope soon, but in the meantime, my $35 scope + $15 tripod works pretty darn good. 😀
Join your local astronomy club and go to star parties to see what telescope might work for you. Many clubs even have scopes to borrow. Talk to the amateurs. I think you will find them all very happy to share their experience. But to avoid getting hooked don’t ever look at Saturn or M13 or the Orion Nebula.
I’m a big fan of a non-fancy Dobsonian Mount, probably a 6″ mirror. Orion makes one for about $250. This gives enough aperture to see a good deal of objects, including planets, double stars, the moon and pretty much all the Messier Objects. The Dob Mount is very stable and frustrations with wobbly tripods will be eliminated.
I’m new to all this, so this is a topic of interest to me. I started with binoculars, 10×50. Not impressive until I saw Jupiter and a few moons. Just points of light but it thrilled me. Moved up to a bigger set of binocs, lets me see a little more, and ordered my first telescope (a basic 80mm refractor) which will arrive Friday, and I cant wait. The binocs are great for casual gazing, and gave me that first glimpse that hooked me.
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