Getting that “first scope” is the most difficult task for anyone starting out in astronomy. Walking in a telescope store or simply browsing online among the plethora of products, most of us would go round in circles trying to find out which is the “best” for us. In this guide I’ll let you see through some pros and cons and pitfalls to avoid in buying your first scope.
If truth be told, it IS the deciding factor in buying your first telescope. To simply put, if I have a billion to spend, I’d probably get the best that there is! Or just buy myself another space telescope if ground isn’t enough for me.
So how much are you willing to spend? As a rule of thumb, anything cheap doesn’t do well and if you want better quality and performance, the price does simply go up! If you are playing it safe around cost vs performance, you’d probably be ready to spend 20,000 php to 30,000 for a start. Get ready to spend more as you get more serious in it!
Pitfalls to avoid:
Avoid cheap toyish telescopes that falsely advertise seeing planets and the universe saying it can zoom up to 500 times! It might, to a certain degree but it would only frustrate and dampen your high for the sky. These department store telescopes is made of very poor plastic materials thus leading to bad optics. Again, stay AWAY from it.
But there are as well entry-level telescopes from a well known manufacturer that are “computerized” or called as “go-to” that is designed to locate objects in the sky by a push of a button. But it only makes it more expensive rather than an improvement of the optics. I’m not saying “go-to” is a bad thing, in fact it does help, but as starting point, you could have put more value on your money on the optics rather on the fancy stuff. You could get it 1/3 of its price without go-to and will still give the exact same view!
Tight on budget but wanting to start? A decent binocular is one of the best ways to start observing! Costs around 2,500 and up, it can give you views of some of the best hidden gems of the sky! Definitely better than department store refractors out there.
2. Where to buy one?
In this age of the internet, you could almost get anything from anywhere around the world, telescope including ofcourse. Most of local astronomers had been a regular customers from US based shops since there is only a few stores that specializes in telescopes here in the Philippines. But there areare things to consider from buying overseas which includes the shipping rate, customs fee and insurance. These three factors can add up the price of the telescope bought outside the country significantly. There are work around to minize by using an online shopper service, which will buy and pack things for a cheaper rate using freight but takes a longer. But this does not eliminate the damage your scope could recieve in transit so always read carefully the insurance policy of the provider you choose.
Theres a known hobby shop in Manila that sells entry to intermediate level telescopes. They are authorized dealer of Celestron here so you would save your self the worry of shipping. Plus, if you are a member of a local astronomy club, you could get a 10% discount from them too!
Check from time to time local classifieds and from club listings that sells used but excellent scopes. They are cheaper and saves you the cost and trouble of shipping.
I was lucky enough to get a used ETX 125 for a fraction of its price and it served me really well and had loved it! But when buying a used telescope, personally inspect/make sure that there is NO DAMAGE on its lens or mirror. A well-cared telescope can last a lifetime.
3. Visual or Photographic?
A very good way to help in choosing a telescope is to ask yourself if you would want to enjoy stargazing visually or if you want to do some astrophotography. Or maybe even have some amateur science studies with it?
Most of the amateur astronomers I know had started by doing visuals then jumped into photography and there are some who enjoyed and still enjoys visually romancing the stars! It will all depend on you or how you would mature as an astronomer.
For visual astronomy, in my opinion, a dobsonian telescope (a reflector telescope usually 6-12 inch in aperture mounted in an alt-az base, popularized by John Dobson, hence the name) will be the best option. The simplicity and its light- gathering power combined provides an enjoyment to novice and experts alike.
Its mount is so simple that with enough DIY skill you can make one yourself, and you’d just have to buy a reflector telescope of your choice. The only downside of a dobsonian is its portability, since they are quite big and bulky and you might need a hand or two in transporting it. But if you have a good observing site at home, I can say this is a good choice.
If you’d like a grab-and-go telescope for visual use, I would recommend a Maksutov or Cassegrain around 90mm that can be mounted easily on a photo tripod. It’s small and light but its focal length gives a good “zoomed-in” view of the moon and planets. Despite being small, it can give enough view of deep sky objects! These are good if you don’t have a good observing site in your house or area and would like to travel a lot, great for campers.
Astrophotography is, however, another broad subject. Most amateurs who venture in this area are those who had matured in visuals and want to take pictures of what they observe or to record data for science use. Some are actually photographers who want to look for an out-of-this- world subject, literally and figuratively. But nevertheless, there’s a bit of a learning curve in it, not to mention the cost of the equipment to use.
You could start of by choosing a OTA, meaning optical tube assembly that is suited for photography, not all telescope works well in it and equally important to it is a good and stable tracking mount. Astrophotography is a very rewarding venture be it in art or science, but patience and passion is a must to go on with it.
A very expensive telescope that is not put into use is just simply a mirror and a piece of tube, what matters is how much you would use, enjoy, and share the wonders of what the night sky has to offer.
Every telescope (or telescope accessory) comes with clouds and rain so better be ready for it!