Buying a Telescope
By Dave Owen (Space Dave)
If you're thinking about buying your first telescope, I hope the information on this page helps. Please read the whole page first, then contact me if you have any more questions.
First, the bad news:
- Telescopes are expensive. New telescopes cost at least several hundred dollars for an entry-level model. If you’re paying less, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed.
- Learning to use a telescope takes time and patience. It’s a skill that you master over time.
- Cheaper telescopes are not generally suitable for taking photos. Although you can get some nice shots of the Moon, almost everything else needs a more expensive telescope and lots of practice.
Think specifically about what you'd like to use your telescope for. Do you just want to look at the Moon and planets or are you interested in nebulae, galaxies and other more challenging objects? Do you want to take photos? Do you also want to use the telescope for daytime viewing?
Although larger is generally “better”, a smaller telescope might be better suited to your situation. Think about where you’re going to use it and how portable it needs to be. Smaller telescopes usually get used more often than larger ones.
Magnification is not a specification to be concerned about. The main thing to look for is the aperture (size of the lens or mirror).
The mount is as important as the telescope itself – you need a good one.
A good pair of binoculars is a realistic (and cheap) alternative to a telescope.
NOTE: I haven't included the exact prices below because they fluctuate. Please click the links to see current prices.
For a budget of under $500, you can either go for a cheaper telescope or a good pair of binoculars. In most cases I actually recommend binoculars, because they're a good way to get started but they'll also continue to be useful after you buy a telescope.
If your heart is set on a telescope, you can get a reasonable "refractor" design for under a few hundred dollars.
For a budget of $500 - $1,000, most people will find the "dobsonian" telescope to be the best value for money. On the downside, they look bulky and they don't fit most people's idea of what a telescope should look like. However they're surprisingly light, relatively easy to use, and very popular with astronomers of all skill levels. Buying a dobsonian is a pretty safe choice.