I grew up loving the idea of going to space. Looking up at the stars wondering what was out there. The X-Files made me a believer in the out of this world but NASA made me a believer and lover of science. I remember my first telescope and being able to help someone else choose one is priceless.
Avoid Department Stores
The only way to get a telescope worth using for an extended period of time is by going to a store that specializes in astronomy. Department store telescopes (or discount stores and catalogs) are cheaply made. Those telescopes are priced far above their actual worth.
Look around the shelves at any big-name store around Christmas. You will see the shelves stocked full of telescopes at what look like good prices. Avoid these at all costs. They are made from cheap plastic and the lenses are usually plastic and not well made.
Do Not Buy On Lens Alone
Never buy a telescope by the magnification. Instead, compare the aperture of the lens or mirror. There are very few telescopes that give more than 50X magnification per inch of aperture.
Aperture Is Queen
Everything is size-related within the telescope. With all things equal, the bigger the size: the better the telescope.
Optical Quality Is King
Size is relative inside the tube. A smaller scope that contains an excellent set of optical lenses can see a lot more than a large telescope with sub-standard optical lenses. A case in point would be viewing the Great Galaxy in Andromeda with a 21” telescope. You would think that you could see some great details but imagine the telescope came from Wal-Mart – you are basically looking at a ball of cotton. A 3.5” Questar telescope for instance has more oomph than the 21” monster. Quality should never be passed over for size because neither is readily interchangeable.
Remember that you are looking at stars and the perfect place to see them is in a remote area like a field and not on the rooftop of your apartment building in Manhattan. The lights from the city can easily take away from the clarity of the astronomical bodies you want to look at. This has a lot to do with choosing the right telescope because you really do not want to buy a telescope that is not portable so look for something that is compact yet powerful with its components.
The smaller the telescope the more it will get used. If you can move it around and easily pack it away that means you can easily pull it out. Getting your children interested in astronomy means they need to be able to maneuver the telescope themselves. A telescope under 3” will be brought out nearly every clear night whereas a telescope made of steel, iron, and glass will rarely be brought out because it would be a major chore to load up and transport.
Mounting A Good Offense
It is hard to believe but the mount is oftentimes more important than the scope itself. Without a mount that is solid and steady, you cannot even begin to focus the telescope correctly let alone take astral photography or time elapsed photography. The telescopes at the department store all come with these very scientific-looking mounts complete with all sorts of knobs and sliding limbs but looking good does not mean that they are. In fact, they are completely worthless. They shake like nobody’s business, are wobbly, and just make focusing impossible. Simple is sometimes the best. A basic tripod is all that you really need. They are solid, sturdy, and last a long time. Any good mount will cost a couple of hundred dollars which puts into perspective the presumes quality of those telescopes that come with a mount and still only sell for a little over $100.
Before Buying A Telescope For Yourself
A telescope is a fun and useful tool but it is only as good as the person that is using it. But before you decide to spend the money on one, especially a cheap one; you should spend some time around them. As a potential owner of a telescope, it is your job to know about the inner workings of them as well as your needs. You can join up or visit stargazer clubs in your area to get some experience with them and talk shop with other owners. The experience will be invaluable to you when you finally do get down to buying one for yourself.
So what are you waiting for? Browse around the site, read some reviews, and find the telescope for you!