With such a variety of telescopes on offer it can be tricky to choose which one is most suitable, especially for beginners. This article offers advice as to which one may be most suitable for you, your budget and your circumstances. Put simply the best beginners telescope is one that is used regularly and not one that lives in its box! It therefore needs to be easy to setup, practical and enjoyable to use.
The best advice is to try before you buy
The best advice we can give before buying a telescope is to first visit your local Astronomical Society or Astronomy Club who will be happy to help you choose a suitable instrument — many will be able to offer hands on practical experience with a variety of telescopes explaining the pros and cons of each design. For your nearest Society or Club check our events map or the Federation of Astronomical Societies website.
How telescopes work
If you are going to buy a telescope it’s good to understand how it works! Telescopes work by gathering light — some do this using mirrors (reflecting telescopes) and others use lenses (refracting telescopes). The light that is gathered by the telescope forms an image which is then magnified using an eyepiece that you look through.
The more light a telescope can gather the brighter the image that is formed and the more detail you will see. The power of a telescope is therefore determined by how much light it can collect — not by how much it can magnify! Magnifying the image does not necessarily mean you see more detail and often objects look best when using low powers of magnification. The size (aperture) of the light gathering area of a telescope combined with the quality of the optics used to gather that light ultimately determine how good the telescope is.
Equally important is the mount that the telescope is fixed to — there’s no advantage having a good quality telescope with excellent optics mounted on a poor quality, wobbly and difficult to use tripod. Indeed this is the reason a lot of beginners struggle and are then put off — cheaper telescopes often have a poorly designed mount built in a way to reduce overall cost and this comes at the expense of it becoming impossibly difficult to operate (even by seasoned amateur astronomers).
An ideal telescope is one that has good light gathering area, quality optics, a solid mount and is easily operated.
The team here at Go Stargazing highly recommend a particular type of telescope known as a Dobsonian. Named after their inventor John Dobson, an amateur astronomer from San Francisco, these telescopes are sturdy, have good quality optics and come with large reflective surfaces (mirrors) that gather more light. They are easily moved up and down and being mounted on a rotating base means they can access any part of the sky. They are good value for money, ideal for beginners (including children from the age of about 10) and great for observing the Moon, planets and the brighter deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae. They are really good fun to use too and little can go wrong if you look after them!
How much does a Dobsonian cost?
Being of simple design Dobsonian telescopes are amongst the best value telescopes that money can buy and without too much compromise. Your budget goes primarily towards how powerful the telescope is (the size of the light gathering mirror). A Dobsonian telescope with a 6″ mirror costs in the region of £230, an 8″ about £300 and a 10″ approximately £450. There are other types of telescope that can be found cheaper however you may well find yourself venturing into the realms of those of poor build quality and difficult to use (in which case you really must try before you buy!).
Where to buy?
As for where to purchase a telescope we highly recommend you go to an independent astronomy equipment supplier (rather than any online retailer). We ourselves recommend First Light Optics whom we know to be a very reliable, helpful and customer focussed supplier of telescopes and associated equipment.
With guidance these portable Dobsonian telescopes are ideal for children aged 6 to 10. They make ideal travel scopes for a family stargazing adventure to a dark sky region! They cost from approximately £50 for the “mini” to £140 for the flextube and all give great views of the Moon, planets and brighter deep sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.
Fully Automatic “GoTo” Telescope
Sky-Watcher StarTravel-102 Refracting Telescope
This refracting telescope uses lenses instead of mirrors to gather light. The easily portable mount connects to your smartphone or tablet and uses your device’s date, time and GPS co-ordinates to automatically align the telescope with objects in the sky. Observe the Moon, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies all by using the app on your mobile! Such convenience does come at the expense of aperture (light gathering area), however this telescope still offers fantastic views!