What is the the best telescope to buy? We tend to hear this question a lot from our followers. There is no one single answer, as it will vary for each person and their own unique situation.
Lots of newcomers to astronomy can become “starry eyed” when considering what is the best telescope for the money. There are so many choices available it is easy to understand why it can be a very daunting task. If you’re in doubly, make a quick trip to any mall or discount store and you’ll find numerous options from various manufacturers.
So in an effort to reduce the overwhelming confusion and provide some helpful guidance, we’ve got a total of 15 tips (actually they are broken down into ten DO’s and five DON’Ts) to help you select the best telescope to buy that meets your needs and desires as you get started in astronomy. Take a look below:
HERE WHAT TO DO:
- DO a little bit of research and become familiar with the constellations – Get started in astronomy by making sure you know the basics. Having that foundation will allow you to actually enjoy your telescope even more because you’ll be knowledgeable about where to look and then you’ll also have a better understanding of what your viewing. Being able to locate and identify the constellations will help you immensely because you’ll be able to look up into the sky and have an immediate understanding of where “everything is located”. A great reference constellation Ursa Major (Big Bear) which contains the Big Dipper star grouping. Using the Big Dipper, you can then easily locate the star Polaris (aka North Star). From there, you can spot the Little Dipper. We’ve had several people recommend, “NightWatch: A Practical Guide To Viewing The Universe”, a classic astronomy book that is extremely helpful to new astronomers.
- DO use binoculars to view the Earth’s moon and deep sky objects – Believe it or not, binoculars are a great way to get started viewing celestial objects, plus you may find it relatively easy to borrow a pair from a friend or relative at no cost while you continue your search for the best telescope to buy. Binoculars are easy to use and typically have “just enough” magnification power to show some detail of object (e.g., the Moon’s craters, mountain ridges)
- DO some research before deciding on a telescope to purchase – It has just enough information to get you familiar with the types of telescopes, components, accessories, etc. You should know the three main type of telescopes, their design characteristics, plus a little bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each type. A great place to start is our Telescope 101 article.
- DO seek advice from other astronomy hobbyists and get the perspective and opinions – If you don’t know anyone locally that is into astronomy, that’s okay… Here are some places to look: the local community college or adult education center may offer astronomy classes for beginners. Also, there are a multitude of telescope reviews that you can find online just by executing a simple query in a search engine.
- DO look for a telescope with intent of owning it for a long time – Think of a telescope as an investment, not a consumable device that you will eventually outgrow. With that thought in mind, aim for buying a quality optical device.
- DO pay attention to the aperture size of a telescope – The aperture size tells you how much light the telescope is able to gather from the viewed object. This is arguably the single most important specification of a telescope that you need to consider before purchasing a telescope. Want to know more about a telescope’s aperture size, then check out our article about the importance of aperture size.
- DO inspect the tripod and mounting system – In addition to looking for a quality telescope, you’ll also want to ensure that both the tripod and mount are well-constructed. The mount must be designed to hold the telescope securely and be capable of balancing it for smooth operation. As for the tripod, it is the foundation for the telescope and mount so it needs to be sturdy so that it eliminates any vibrations when moving and positioning the telescope.
- DO build a list of telescope requirements – After you’ve gained a basic understanding of the types of telescopes, components, construction and capabilities, we recommend putting together a list of the specifications (e.g., aperture size, focal length, physical weight) and features (e.g., refracting or reflector or compound, finder scope or laser pointer) that you desire for your telescope.
- DO use your list of requirements (aka your shopping list) to research and review telescopes – The is the smart way to evaluate what’s available in the market, and then narrow the list of choice down and identify the two or three candidates that fit the bill.
- DO check our Buyer’s Guide where we’ve listed recommended telescopes and grouped them by price – We’ve researched the market and identified quality telescopes that offer a good combination of features in various price ranges. Our list includes a variety of different types of telescopes to meet the many different personal budgets. This might just be the quickest and easiest way for you to find the best telescope to buy.
DON’T DO ANY OF THESE:
- DON’T decide to purchase a particular telescope because it advertises a high magnification (e.g., 400x Power) – The bottom line is this, every telescope has a limit with regard to magnification power. Exceeding the threshold of a telescope’s useable magnification power will always result in poor viewing results. In other words, just because a telescope can magnify an object 400 times (aka 400x), doesn’t mean that you should do it. A telescope’s “Maximum Useable Magnification (MUM)” is easily computed and used as a guideline whenever using that specific device. The computed value, or MUM Factor, indicates the magnification power that should never be exceeded for that particular telescope. For example, we spotted an auction listing on eBay for a beginner’s telescope that is advertised with an optical magnification power of 402x but the calculating the MUM shows a maximum magnification value of about 118x. That means the maximum useable magnification is roughly 3.5 times LESS than the maximum power advertised… Wow, what a difference! For more details about a telescope’s Maximum Useable Magnification, be sure to see this article which explains what it is, how it’s calculated, and what it means to every astronomer.
- DON’T purchase a telescope just because it is on sale – While you can often find a bargain price on a good telescope, don’t use the discounted price a the deciding factor. Some folks get confused thinking that a telescope that is on sale is the best telescope to buy. We get it that everybody likes to save money, but don’t do it if it means sacrificing quality. Because in the end if you’re using inferior equipment and getting poor viewing results, then the likelihood of enjoying astronomy and becoming more involved with the hobby are probably zero. If you’re stuck trying to decide on which telescope to purchase, then follow the tips we’ve got in this article. Or to make it even easier, take a peek at our recommendations… we’ve done all of the hard work and research for you and identified great telescopes to consider.
- DON’T buy a telescope just because it is expensive – This is the corollary to the previous tip. A higher-end telescope with great technical specifications, premier construction materials, and lots of accessories isn’t always the best telescope for someone to own. For some hobby astronomers, it might not be a good solution.
- DON’T purchase a telescope just because it looks too good to be true (e.g., the marketing shows lots of glossy pictures, they offer lots of accessories) – Avoid falling into the “shiny object” trap. The offer for a telescope may look tempting, but do some research first, figure out you want and then spend the time to find the best fit for you and your needs. You’ll be much, much happier in the long run.
- DON’T expect a telescope to provide great results if there is lots of “light pollution” – If there is too much ambient light in the are surrounding your telescope setup, it will ruin (or at the very least degrade) your viewing experience. Simply put, light pollution interferes with the light emanating from the objects in the sky that you are viewing. Think of it this way: Imagine standing in a stadium at one end of the field and the stands are filled with people talking, cheering, clapping, etc. Now there is a person at the other of the field talking to you. Do you think that you can hear what that person is saying? What if the person is yelling, can you hear them any better? Probably not, because there is too much other noise surrounding you and causing “sound pollution”. If you carry this analogy over to astronomy, you are trying to view a distant object with a telescope, but there is lots of other light near you and surrounding you and your telescope. How well do you think that you’ll be able to see the object? In other words, trying to avoid setting up your telescope in a location with lots of light pollution.
So there you have it, here are the 15 DO’s and DON’Ts we recommend for beginning astronomers to consider when they are looking for the best telescope to buy.
As an alternative, you can always turn to our Buyer’s Guide, where we’ve done all of the hard work, narrowed down the choices, and identified the best telescopes for the money.
Do you have other tips or suggestions? Drop us a comment and share your knowledge with everyone.