How to Choose a Telescope

We take the mystery out of deciding which telescope design and features are right for your particular interests, budget, and lifestyle. Whether you are looking for a scope for yourself or for a son, daughter, or a friend, read this first!
- Nilesh Vayada, Galileo Telescope Makers

Like choosing neighborhoods, automobiles, or spouses, buying a first telescope is a highly subjective undertaking. There’s no "best" telescope for everyone. The one that's right for you will depend on your lifestyle and your astronomy goals. Spending a little time analyzing your motivations will help you make an intelligent choice. Let’s look at the different types of telescopes, and in so doing, some of the considerations that might influence your buying decision.

Power is Not the Important Thing
The first point to emphasize is that magnifying power is NOT the most important consideration when choosing a telescope. Not even close. It is the telescope or aperture, that determines how much you will be able to see. Overblown claims of 450x or 575x ’s light-gathering capability, power (or more!) in ads for inexpensive telescopes are pure baloney, and a sure sign of inferior quality. The brightest, sharpest images are obtained at much lower powers, on the order of 25x to 50x.

Refractors :
A small, quality achromatic refractor of 45mm to 60mm aperture makes a fine starter scope for observing the Moon and major planets. They’re inexpensive portable, and maintenance-free all desirable factors if you’re just "testing the waters" of the hobby. Their small apertures aren’t well suited for faint deep-sky objects, though. If nebulas and galaxies are your main interest, a Newtonian reflector is the way to go. Moving up to a 90mm or 100mm refractor will snare more objects and provide better performance, for a higher price. Renowned for crisp, sharp images, refractors are the priciest per inch of aperture of all telescope types. Refractors are also modified / useful for terrestrial observations yielding close-up images at moderate magnifications.
A refractor is the scope of choice if you will be doing most of your stargazing from city or suburbs, where the night skies are moderately light-polluted. Or you are doing terrestrial observations. Here, more aperture doesn’t gain you much, since viewing is restricted mostly to the Moon and planets. In fact, a big scope would only amplify the sky glow, yielding poor washed out images.

Reflectors
Newtonian reflectors are great all-around scopes, offering generous apertures at affordable prices. They excel for both planetary and deep-sky viewing. Of course, the larger the aperture, the more you’ll see. Smaller, 3" and 4" Newtonians will provide a nice "survey" of celestial luminaries, and they plenty portable. Six-inch and 8" Newts have enough aperture to deliver captivating images of fainter fare-clusters, ’re galaxies, and nebulas-especially in a reasonably dark sky. The tradeoff is their bulk and weight something you should definitely take into account before you buy.

Telescope Mounts
A quick word about mounts. Telescopes come on three basic mount types: altazimuth, Dobsonian, or equatorial. The altazimuth is the simplest and is recommended for casual stargazing and terrestrial observing. The Dobsonian mount is a boxy altaz-type mount designed for easy maneuvering of large Newtonian tubes of 6" aperture or greater. Equatorial mounts are a bit more complicated (and more expensive) than altazimuth mounts, but allow the user to follow the motion of celestial objects with a single manual hand control, or even automatically with a motor drive — a great convenience.

What About Astrophotography?
Before concluding, heres a quick word for the beginner who wants to jump right into astrophotography through their new telescope: Dont! At least, not until you have taken some time to learn the sky and become familiar with operating your scope. Photography of the heavens can be a wonderfully rewarding pastime, but is a combination of art and science with a steep learning curve that can discourage beginners who try to take on too much at once. Of course, if astrophotography is a primary interest there is nothing wrong with selecting a first scope based on its easy adaptability to camera work in the future. While most telescopes can be used for picture-taking (with varying prospects for success), the most important qualifications for a photographic instrument are a rock-solid equatorial mounting, and ease of attaching a camera so that it can be focused. For a variety of technical and economic reasons, compound telescopes of 8" aperture and larger are most popular for photography. They also make fine instruments for general observing.

 

The Bottom Line
OK, now that you ’ve gotten the crash course on telescopes, here’s some parting advice for aspiring astronomers:

Get as much aperture as you can reasonably handle, but not more.

Big aperture is desirable, sure, but you don't want to end up with a scope that is too big or complicated to conveniently set up, haul around-and use! For a first telescope, its recommended a basic refractor of 60mm aperture or smaller, or a Newtonian reflector of 6" aperture or less, unless you are really committed. After you’ve learned the basics of observing and developed an appreciation for the hobby, then you can move ’re up to a bigger, fancier scope.

Buy from a company thats knowledgeable about telescopes and astronomy, and who will support you even after your purchase (since you will likely have questions).

The advice is to select a well-made telescope, of a design matched as well as possible to your primary observing interest and most frequent observing site. Make sure its a size that can be handled easily (by your standards and no one elses) and used often, and you will enjoy a lifetime of awe and wonder under the stars!

  First
time use
Children City (Poor light condit ion) Lunar / Planetary Observ ation Deep Sky Observ ation Day time Nature Study / Sight seeing General astrono mical Observ ations Serious Astrono mical Observ ation Easy Transpo rtation Budget Astro & General Photo graphy
Tele-Micro Pen scope                
20x Tourist Telescope                
30x Handheld Telescope                
ST50 - A 50x Spotting Telescope                
Astronomical Telescope D75mm           
Astronomical Telescope D100mm          
Astronomical Telescope D125mm        
Astronomical Telescope D150mm            
Astronomical Telescope D200mm              
NTQ4 : A brass telescope              
Skyview       
Skyview 2         
Skyview 3      
Skyview 60           
Skyview 80          
Skyview 100          
Skyview 120