How to Select the Best Telescope for You

There is no one best choice that fits everyone. There are 100s  of possible choices, the issue is now to go about deciding. The best telescope for you is the telescope that you will use most often.

Key Issues:

  • What do you want to look at? How do you decide?
  • Astrophotograpy planned? Terrestrial use? Solar use?
  • What is your budget? Just how serious are you?
  • Does it need to be portable? Fit in an RV? In a car's trunk? Even just move out from a garage.
  • Ease of set-up an issue?
  • The Magnification Scam! If the box or ad promotes how much it magnifies, it's probably junk.
  • Aperture Rules! In general, the larger the aperture (main lens or mirror) the more you can see.
  • Mounting as important as optics

Types of Telescopes:

  • Refractor
  • Reflector
  • Catadioptric or SCT
  • GoTo?
  • Binoculars

Accessories are needed, too:

  • Eyepieces
  • Filters
  • Barlows
  • Observing Chair
  • Flashlight
  • Star Charts
  • Storage case

Telescope Design Issues:

Refractor—Advantages

  • Little or no maintenance and is easy to use. No cool-down time.
  • Reliable simple design.
  • Excellent for lunar, planetary or binary star.
  • Good for terrestrial viewing.
  • High contrast images due to its clear aperture (no central obstruction).
  • Sealed optical tube.
  • Objective is permanently mounted and aligned.

Refractor—Disadvantages

  • Usually more expensive per inch of aperture than Newtonians or Catadioptrics.
  • Heavier, longer and bulkier than equivalent aperture Newtonians or Catadioptrics.
  • The cost and bulk factors usually limit the maximum size to smaller apertures.
  • Less suited for observation of deep sky objects because of aperture limitations.
  • Poor reputation due to low quality imported toy telescopes

Reflector—Advantages

  • Lowest cost per inch of aperture.
  • Reasonably compact and portable up to focal lengths of 1000mm 40”.
  • Excellent for faint deep sky objects.
  • Reasonably good for lunar and planetary work.
  • Good for deep sky astrophotography if properly mounted.
  • Low in optical aberrations and deliver very bright images.

Reflector—Disadvantages

  • Requires regular alignment (collimation).
  • The open tube could mean more complicated cleaning compared to other designs.
  • Generally not suited for terrestrial applications.
  • Slight light loss due to secondary (diagonal) obstruction when compared with refractors.

Catadioptrics—Advantages

  • Best all-around, all-purpose telescope design. Most are extremely compact and portable.
  • Good for deep sky observing or astrophotography with CCDs.
  • Very good for lunar, planetary observing.
  • Good for terrestrial viewing or photography.
  • Closed tube design reduces image degrading air currents.
  • Easy to use.
  • Durable and virtually maintenance free.
  • Large apertures at reasonable prices.
  • Best near-focus capability of any type telescope

Catadioptrics—Disadvantages

  • More expensive than Newtonians of equal aperture.
  • It is not what people expect a telescope to look like.
  • Slight light loss due to secondary mirror obstruction compared to refractors.
  • May suffer from image shift since the primary mirror is usually moved for focusing.

General Recommendations—

  • Child [<$50]: cheap binoculars and basic star chart
  • Teenager [$250]: better binoculars and mount or basic Dob; and observing book
  • Adult w/limited budget [$500]: good binoculars, mounting, or 80mm refractor, extra accessories; and observing guides
  • Adult w/medium budget [$1-2,000]: mid-size Dob or CAT, w/o GoTo but can be added; and star maps & observing guides
  • Adult/big budget [$5,000]: large Dob or CAT on GoTo mount; and computer-aided star charts
  • Adult/RV: small CAT or 80mm refractor on basic tripod mount; and observing guides
  • Adult/unlimited budget: huge Dob or large CAT on Paramount mounting, CCD, etc. in an observatory with remote computer operation

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