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Ask HN: What entry-level telescope should I choose?
223 points by tolarianwiz 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 158 comments
I've always been wanting to get into space observation, what telescopes and books would you suggest for an absolute beginner?

I wouldn't get a telescope for direct observation. We're all used to stunning images from Hubble and from amateur astrophotographers. But even if you get an 16" semi-professional monster with all the options, you will not see those kinds of stunning views.

I've used a 20" (!) Dobsonian and as an experience it was pretty meh, aside from the novelty value. Space simply doesn't look that impressive that through a telescope - not even a huge light bucket. And a small affordable scope will be even more disappointing. You can see Saturn's rings and craters on the Moon and the satellites of Jupiter with some rough impression of banding, but most nebulae are faint, small, and not at all spectacular.

Instead, I'd consider astrophotography. It's not a cheap hobby, but it's also not as cripplingly expensive as a high-end scope. And you can produce genuinely stunning results by layering the sharpest and best images with software. This sidesteps the problem of poor seeing (optical distortions caused by air movements) which limits good direct viewing to large objects and cold nights.

The amazing thing about modern astrophotography is that amateurs are easily outclassing the images produced by professional astronomers fifty years ago. And you can start without a telescope at all by fixing a DSLR to a tracking telescope mount. There's also a lot to learn so you can start simple, produce some decent visual results, and then continue to be amazed as your skills improve.

Disagree. Seeing the rings of Saturn with your own eyes, literal photons hitting your retina that have come from Saturn, is a stunning view. Ditto for Jupiter's storm. Doesn't matter that it's not Hubble quality.

I was privileged to see the Shoemaker-Levy comet impact with Jupiter through the Lick 36” Refractor[0] on Mt. Hamilton. I still recall the large black spot on Jupiter from an earlier fragment, and a scintillating final piece of the comet yet to meet its fate, hovering a quarter-radius off the surface. Not something you see every day, but there is definitely magic to seeing it real-time.

[0] https://www.ucolick.org/public/telescopes/36-inch.html

Correct, there are a few objects that are spectacular. However they don't change much in time. So the novelty wears off pretty quickly. After seeing them a couple of times my telescope is now collecting dust in the attic.

Gotta mainline those photons.

Learning how to setup tracking with a meh telescope and a sturdy mount is in my opinion more fun and more rewarding than just tracing with a DSLR tele lens. Unless you have a system with big enough magnification to start bumping into the real issues with stabilization and tracking, on a DSLR with an APS sensor that will start happening around 300/400 mm focal length and lenses that are good enough to start doing stacking with are more expensive than a meh telescope.

Also it's better to start playing with a telescope sooner so that you get used to the particular problems of telescopes regarding IQ, like the ugly "bokeh" from the spider and the (lack of) chromatic aberration.

A good telescope you can look through is a smoother gateway into this than a DSLR for some people.

More than stabilization and tracking issues, is light pollution unless you have 300mm+ lenses. At that point with the tracking gear, lens and body you're well above a meh telescope, unless maybe you build the tracking gear yourself and are ok with some lens experimentation.

A cheap body+wide lens can do astro-photography, if you can easily get away from light pollution. If you want to look at things from a suburban backyard, a decent telescope is the way to go, maybe one with some sort of a camera attachment.

Yeah but you can't do much about light pollution so it's boring. With the telescope or the long lens you can learn how to deal with vibrations, drift, learn how to calibrate tracking, etc...

There are things you can do with physical+software filters, and bias frames in general, for wide astrophotography shots.

My point is you'll need a tracker with the long lens, worry about light pollution with a wide lens, and worry about neither with a telescope because human eyes aren't limited to ISO6400 and can stack in real time.

Nothing appeals to me about astrophotography since I’ll spend all that time on my computer just to get something I could find on Reddit in 2 seconds. The great thing about having a telescope is looking directly at Saturn.

I agree you need to temper your expectations. But, something I don't think comes up often enough is that as you get older, your eyes not only have focus problems, you have less color receptors too. That means galaxies and nebulae are just faint grey smears instead of faint colored smears for anyone ~30 and older.

> you will not see those kinds of stunning views.

> Instead, I'd consider astrophotography.

I mean, the same logic is true for astrophotography. Unless one is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and years practicing and willing to build a remote observatory on some land at a dark site, there is no picture one can ever take that isn't already taken in far superior quality here https://welcome.astrobin.com/

But it's fun to see things with own eyes and take photos with very own camera.

I hard disagree with you, though I think there is something important about acknowledging what you'll ever be able to see with the naked eye. DSOs are going to be fuzzy white spots, no matter how much aperture you have. You will never get the colorful panoplies of astrophotos.

That said, I think you're underselling the experience of seeing these objects with your eyes in real time, and overselling the accessibility (in price and in difficulty) of setting up astrophotography.

The most important thing to look for is the diameter of the aperture. Your resolution is proportional to the diameter of the telescope (absent atmospheric conditions). I would recommend a minimum of 6" in diameter. 8-12" is preferred.

With this in mind, the best telescope you can get for the price is a Dobsonian. Dobsonians are extremely mechanically and optically simple. This makes them long, and bulky. It also makes them cheap. It also makes them rather easy to point. They have a lot of mass and inertia, and a large moment of inertia. This makes them easy to move and point slowly and carefully.

Dobsonians are ideal beginner telescopes. Easy to point, cheap, good resolution.

This is the model I have (8" aperture, $450): https://www.amazon.com/Orion-8945-SkyQuest-Dobsonian-Telesco...

They're also rather easy to construct, if you are of a DIY mind. Here's a 90 minute youtube video on how to build one, with John Dobson himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snz7JJlSZvw

I'll glom on this only to add that while building your own reflecting telescope is valuable as a fun project or an educational exercise, you are unlikely to save much (if any) money doing it. A lot of John Dobson's "Sidewalk Astronomer" guidance comes from a time in Southern California where it was easy to find discarded porthole glass for free to grind into a mirror blank and when hardware shops would hand out teflon samples for free. Even finding the correct cardboard "sonotubes" can be a little tricky these days, and you're likely to blow out the price of an Orion or Apertura procuring a mirror (or sourcing the glass and getting it silvered.)

I hope that doesn't deter the "makers" among you from building a Dobsonian for the experience of it all, but if you want to get from zero to observing as cheaply as possible these days, you're probably better off just buying a Dobsonian similar to the one the parent comment linked.

Great advice! Start with good binoculars for $100-200. I would get a used telescope. Many of them are as good as new and here in Germany you get them for 50-70% of the regular price.

I bought an 8" SC myself used for 550€ including a mount with tracking.

binoculars cant go too far, the diameter is too small to allow enough light to be concentrated into your eye. With binoculars, u can look at the moon. boring. with a telescope, well u can see the planets live and take amazing photos

With a nice pair of coated binocs you can see some of the closer star clusters. Of course Andromeda is always a good view. And the occasional bright comet too.

The nice thing about binocs is they are easier to bring out than the scope. Plus they give the wife something to look at while I find cool stuff with the scope.

You can see a lot even with a pair of pocket binoculars. Easy targets are the moons of Jupiter, the Pleiades, and the Orion nebula. A good pair of binoculars will resolve the naked-eye planets to small disks and the stars to points.

That's a wider FoV, not a larger diameter objective. I was thinking more along the lines of...


Or on a more serious note, binoculars do come with pretty large objectives, but they get to be expensive when you get past 100mm. Here's one with 150mm objectives. And since binoculars have two objectives, that has the light-gathering capability of an 8-inch telescope.


I have a 4.5" Dobson. It is quite cheap even with an additional set of eyepiece that is almost mandatory. Our use case is occasional observation while on holidays and weekends, when space in the car is counted. You can leave kids touch it and on good nights reach magnification levels where pursuit starts being painful. Around 11-12PM kids are asleep, cold, bored and you have observed every visible planets. You can stay later searching for deep sky objects: it is difficult and not very impressive but you'll be quite happy when you find one for sure (often you'll doubt). I would say: perfect instrument for the setting I describe. Maybe binoculars would be great too, have not tried.

Agree on the Dobsonian on being a great entry level option unless you need to be mobile. You can still be mobile with a smaller dobsonian, but the bigger you get, the harder mobility becomes.

I think 6" is still pretty manageable for most people--you can probably fit it in the trunk of a sporty two-seater car. It's really only when you get to 10" and beyond--telescopes that are probably not a good "first scope" purchase for a variety of reasons--that the Dobsonian becomes a beast.

Yes, you absolutely hit what I was thinking! I was thinking the 6" Dobs would be portable, the 8" still ok, but past that ... probably not so much!

Unless you want to image things, either for EAA or full blown astrophotography, in which case the question is more about the mount than the telescope.

Did some Googling — apparently you can use Dobsonian for astrophotography.

Seems to me the field is wide open for someone to come in and solve it using off-the-shelf hardware. Maybe tapping the CCD and detecting the minuscule changes ... servo to rotate the CCD, servos to adjust pitch, yaw ... a feedback loop that blips the servos and decides if the image error is increased or diminished....

> Seems to me the field is wide open for someone to come in and solve it using off-the-shelf hardware.

Solve what?

You certainly wouldn't be the first to build a motorized tracking mount for astrophotography. There are plenty of existing products for manually-aligned star-trackers, and several still for "autoguiding" trackers that use the position of fiducials in the image plane. (These can use either a mirrored split in the optical path of the main imager "on-axis", or use a piggy-backed guidescope imaging system on the same mount.)

Check out high-gain, high-sensitivity imagers like the ZWO ASI290MM Mini, controller like the ZWO ASIAIR Pro, and tracking mounts like the iOptron CEM25P or Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro.

These are expensive, carefully engineered solutions, though. They don't really exist in the same market space as Dobsonian telescopes, and it wouldn't make any sense to make those tracking solutions twice as complicated and twice as expensive using by non-equatorial mounts.

I was unable to find a tracking solution for Dobsonian mounts. If they exist, awesome. I doubt a home-brew solution though would cost as much as the ones you identified.

I'm not surprised one can do it but it seems kind of silly, like using a motorcycle to pull a plow, or using a microwave oven to bake a cake. By the time you get it working halfway well, you could have just bought the right piece of equipment in the first place.

This is already a thing (tracking + derotator+ ccd in alt-az), but it’s super expensive and doesn’t work as well as just using an equatorial mount in the first place.

More basic tracking dobs are used for planetary and lunar astronomy though due to the shorter exposure times.

If you want to get into astrophotography, the phrase "entry-level" should probably not be in your vocabulary any more, though.

This is pretty universal advice, yes, in most (all?) skywatching tutorials. The astrophotography rabbit hole is deep, infinitely expensive and the learning curve is steep. It's a lot more sensible to start with visual observation.

(That said, I ignored the advice because really wanted to do photography more than anything else.)

Your parenthetical is why I commented - astrophotography isn’t just more advanced visual astronomy, it’s really a separate hobby.

That might be true in general, but this is a forum full of highly technical people. At the end of the day, doing basic Astro is not rocket science, and if OP is into photography they might be more interested in buying a small tracking mount for their DSLR than a telescope.

The hobbies are more parallel than sequential.

Would these be of any use in the bay area or places with high population and hence light pollution? I have clear view of my sky from my backyard except for the ambient light pollution in the sky.

There was a guy who regularly brought out his Dob (11" I think) in the Sunset district of San Francisco near Parkside Square as part of Sidewalk Astronomers public outreach. Good views of the moon, saturn, jupiter some nebulae, etc. and the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers often held star parties near at Land's End and Crissy Field pre-pandemic though their main viewing spot is usually Mt. Tam I think. Quite a few of Dobs show up I think.

This is the sort of thing where darker is always better, but John Dobson started a movement around "Sidewalk Astronomy" in the 60s and 70s in San Francisco with this very telescope design. I'm sure the light pollution has gotten worse since then, but the moon, the planets, and perhaps a few brighter Messier objects will still be within reach. It's a big sky and there's a lot to see.

> I'm sure the light pollution has gotten worse since then

Perhaps. In the South Bay they still have many of the sodium street lights because of Lick Observatory in the hills. I'm always amazed at how well you can see the stars from my driveway. I don't recall it being as clear in the midwest when I lived there.

I'm stunned how much I can see even with a bit of cloud cover in my front yard (and we have streetlights close by). But of course, you should probably get a case and go camping with one of these (in a secluded area) for best results)

just make sure the diameter is as large as you can afford. Watching Saturn with its ring and moons is something i still remember 20 years later. Definitely a good investment

Saturn is quite bright — you don't need much diameter (aperture) to see the rings. A smallish refractor with the right eyepiece (50x magnification) is enough.

You will get all kinds of advice! My short answer is buy quality used equipment if you can. Assuming you've outgrown binoculars:

If you're broke, get on craigslist and get a used 6" or 8" dobsonian.

If you have the budget, my advice is to get on craigslist and look for a used name brand telescope with at least 6" of aperture and an equatorial or computerized fork mount, and a pile of eyepieces and other accessories. This will probably be a Celestron 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain (there are a number of models, and there have been even more) and will cost $500-$2000 depending on its age, condition, accesories, etc. Yes, new ones more or less land in that range but expect to get a good deal on the bundle of accessories. It's not what I chose, but they're popular because they're at a sweet spot of portability and versatility.

There are many other options. I like the approach in the book Real Astronomy with Small Telescopes, but I live where it's usually cloudy and like to be able to bring a small telescope with me when I travel. https://www.amazon.com/Astronomy-Small-Telescopes-Step-Step/...

Many people suggest that your first telescope should be a pair of binoculars — if you already have a pair start with those. See:



Also, you'll need a planisphere or star atlas (or app), and a red torch so you don't ruin you night vision.

Canon image-stabilized binoculars will show you an incredible array of deep-sky wonders. I picked up a used 10x30 set on eBay many years ago and have used them for hundreds of nights of observing. I also have owned and loved a 4" TeleVue refractor for over two decades, but the Canons get used more often. You need to spend $2-3k+ to get a telescope that can beat even the smallest image-stabilized binocs. They are the perfect way to start.

I agree with this suggestion, but will add that you should get an affordable tripod to keep your image stable. (Your linked articles, of course, have plenty to add on this topic.) The lucky point here is that binoculars are small enough, light enough, and low-enough magnification that you can get a pretty cheap tripod without it ruining your experience. You can break into the hobby with a pair of 25x70s and tripod for like $150.

Agreed -- there is so much to see with a great pair of binoculars.

The Messier objects and some of the nebulae are just awesome.

Does anyone have some recommendations for good binoculars to get started with, and/or a tripod to pair it with?

If the binoculars can also be used for wildlife I'd be willing to spend a bit more for them.

I would never recommend binoculars without a tripod, personally, which means they aren't nearly as portable, which is one of the main selling points.

It depends on the magnification of the binoculars. Lower magnification binoculars are quite usable hand-held, and they can be stabilized pretty easily in a zero-gravity chair. The nice thing about smaller binoculars is that you can have them on hand in the car. They're great for road trips, because you can get them out for a quick view when you stop under dark skies.

Binoculars are very nice on a tripod, especially with a parallelogram mount, but being able to use them without a tripod opens up many more observing opportunities.

Telescopes need a mount and tripod (or Dobson-style mount) too! The price and barrier to entry with binoculars is smaller than any telescope you can't fit on your table top, and I think they're a great way to wet your feet and make sure you're willing to drag something out into the cold late at night.

I agree with your recommendation, but they do make small tripods.

Start with a small set of binoculars! They are critically underrated. I think the best part of amateur astronomy is knowing the sky in an intuitive way. With a pair of 7x35 binos (~40 USD online) and a dark site you can see a ton of stuff and they're dead simple to use. And you'll still get a lot of use out of them as a finding-aid with larger aperture equipment. I keep a small set in my car just in case I'm ever at a dark site.

Even if you live in a heavily light polluted city, you can do something astronomy-adjacent with binos: satellite hunting! HeavensAbove[1] has a really nice free android app for it. Satellites are mainly visible at dusk or dawn, and dusk is a lot easier than staying up late depending on your schedule. Plus it's like a race, they may only up for less than a couple minutes, so you have to have a keen sky-sense to pick them out. It's cool being able to know what they are too -- "huh, that's some Soviet rocket booster from the 70's"!

[1] https://www.heavens-above.com/


> So, I suggest people don't buy a telescope. (How un-commercial of me.) Instead I suggest attending star parties, joining an observing group or club and looking through many scopes before you spend any money.

> .. But before you buy a scope you never looked through, you should probably know the meanings of the words: dobsonian, apochromatic, equatorial, servo drive, periodic error, star test, collimation and shipping damage claim.

That was great advice when it was written in 2006. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of a pandemic, so parties with strangers are right out; I'm booking camping sites for the summer and want to bring a scope with me!

Are you booking camping sites for the summer now? How do you handle unforeseen changes like inclement weather? I've been trying to get more into camping in recent years, but haven't found a way to balance booking early enough and not having plans fall through

For me, one of the deep pleasures of camping is the "you'll live" revelations. Or travel in general.

Beautiful places are still beautiful in bad weather. Often less crowded to boot. If things get really bad, the car is dry and has a heater and there are lessons for proper equipment needs for next time.

I mean it's a multi-year project. Statistically, the weather isn't going get much better, nor is six month forecasting tied to a specific weekend.

Camping skill is the only practical area for improvement. The only one in a camper's control...and to be cliche, most of that skill is mindset.

Short of lightning strikes, grizzly bears, and freezing, I'll live through the weather. Good weather is nice, but it's not a need unless I need something to worry and complain about.

There's satisfaction in a tent that keeps the rain out and a bag that keeps the warm in that is harder to find at home with its running water, electric range, and shingled roof. Maybe it's I don't much think "you'll live" there. Because I don't have to pay much attention.

That's a fair point. I've been wanting to get into more hardcore camping (compared to the campsite, gravel-lot camping most of the people I know do), and it'll only make things easier from the planning/reservation perspective. I think I'll take your "you'll live" attitude and try to get more serious this year. Thanks for the advice!

I am not hardcore. I prefer a site with electric in a ground with hot showers...all things reasonably comparable. What I learned is that they are not bright line features.

Same with weather.

Even if it’s not wrong, Yellowstone is still Yellowstone...so to speak.

Anyway if you go to the Hoh Rainforest, you might get rain...I paid the dumb tax on that. I lived.

I love that about camping. Really pares life down to the essentials, and sometimes you find the essentials aren't what you thought they were.

As for weather, turns out it changes a lot! That's sort of the nature of weather. :) Unless you're mired in a stubborn stationary front, or a deep low that came from the ocean, you'll have different weather on night two.

There is a $20 fee to cancel. Campsites are first come, first serve, reserved on a rickety DNR server or over a phone. Predictably, on February 8, when it first opened, said server was hugged to death:


If you want the good sites, you have to reserve early. The system works great for old rich retired folks who have nothing better to do than call and find open campsites, and for whom the $20 fee for a no-show in their $200,000 RV doesn't matter at all, so I think it's unlikely to change to a lottery system or similarly more fair alternative any time soon.

If you're not willing to deal with the system, more rustic sites are often available. No electric (use solar or a quiet inverter generator), no water (but often close enough to a full-service campground you can fill your fresh tank, drive in, and drive out to empty your grey and black tanks before making the long drive home), but generally less crowded.

Well, thanks for the info, it's good to get a realistic description of the situation. In that case I might just start taking a look at good weekends and hope for the best. Also good motivation to get more serious about backcountry camping!

Inclement weather is part of the charm!

Seriously though, if you have appropriate gear for the potential range of conditions, you'll likely always be fine. This only gets complicated/expensive/(even risky) at the extremes.

I would second this. The Harvard Center for astrophyics had a public talk every month[1]. Then after, everyone would go on the roof and the telescope club and some grad students/post docs would stand by a dozen or so telescopes all pointing at items of interest. They're love and knowledge of the universe was infectious.

May this pandemic wind down..


The best telescope is the one you'll use often. I'd caution against the "bigger is better" advice. There are several reasons that's not always true. Larger telescopes are heavier, less portable, take longer to reach thermal equilibrium, and are more susceptible to atmospheric turbulence. They will also require a more substantial mount and more counterweights, which adds more weight and expense. I have a 4-inch refractor and an 11-inch SCT, and I get more use out of the refractor. I get even more use out of binoculars.

Which equipment is best for you also depends on what you want to get out of the hobby, your budget, and what you have space for. I'd recommend joining the forums at cloudynights.com and reading through the myriad of threads asking the same question, and you'll start to get an idea of what the trade-offs are. Also, find a local astronomy club so you can meet like-minded individuals who are eager to share their knowledge. Many clubs organize public viewing nights. If you can attend one of those, you'll be able to look through other people's telescopes to see what resonates with you.

If you're really itching to buy some equipment right away, I'd recommend a pair of 10x50 binoculars. Binoculars on a parallelogram mount and a zero-gravity chair is a very comfortable (and inexpensive) way to enjoy the night sky. And the equipment is portable enough to take with you on a camping trip. Binoculars and a zero-gravity chair is how I was observing the moon last night, even though I have the refractor and SCT. The setup time is nearly non-existent, which makes it easy to pop outside for a quick view.

Edited to add: You asked about books. I think you're smart to ask about reading material, because learning about what's in the night sky brings more joy to the hobby. (Equipment isn't everything.) One thing I'd recommend in addition to books is the Astronomy League's Master Observer program: https://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/master/master.html. It will introduce you to a breadth of objects. I like to read about each object (usually on the internet) as I'm checking them off the list. I learn more about them when I pair observing with reading.

The Astronomical League's material is generally excellent. They also have a nice introductory manual and observing program for beginners called the Universe Sampler: https://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/univsamp/univsamp.ht... https://store.astroleague.org/index.php?main_page=product_in...

I didn't know about the Universe Sampler. Great suggestion!

You could also look into astronomy classes at a local community college. I took an intro to astronomy class at a community college when I was about 18. I think it cost about $4 at the time, and I learned a lot of basics that way. You'll learn about the celestial sphere and constellations. You'll learn basic terminology: right ascension, declination, hour angle, sidereal time, celestial pole, ecliptic, meridian, transit, opposition, conjunction (inferior and superior), quadrature, elongation, occultation, and more. You'll learn the basic geometry of how things are oriented and move in the night sky, lunar phases, orbits, etc. It's a good starting point, and then you could subscribe to something like Sky & Telescope and understand much of the material.

The recommendations about binoculars are definitely worth considering.

However, if you're ready for the telescope, my advice is to spend as much money as your budget has on getting the biggest aperture you can buy.

More light = more better.

Auto-tracking is nice, but learning how to find objects in the night sky is a fun and worthy exercise, and if you have a big aperture you'll actually be able to see the things your telescope points to.

A few things to keep in mind:

* You're not going to see DSOs (Deep Sky Objects, like nebulae and galaxies) from the middle of a major urban area. You need access to a dark site. (Search for "light pollution map") Planets are easy to see from anywhere, cities included (though the viewing is always better the darker the sky is).

* Many objects in the night sky will look like little fuzzy gray spots to your eyes, no matter how awesome your telescope is. Don't expect a Hubble experience from a 6" scope (or 8, or 12+).

* Don't expect to take photos through your telescope, either. You might manage to get some cool shots of the moon (which looks _amazing_ in a telescope, btw), but true astro photography is a whole 'nother beast (both fun and expensive).

With all that as background, I'd recommend a 6" or 8" Dobsonian if you've got the budget. Something like an Orion Sky Quest XT8 or XT6.

My favorite book, by a light year, is "Turn Left at Orion". It'll help you find thousands of cool things in the night sky, and it's great for beginners on up. — https://www.amazon.com/Turn-Left-Orion-Hundreds-Telescope/dp...

P.S. Definitely checkout r/telescopes for additional advice and info.

That's not entirely true. Bright DS objects you'll see just fine if you step away the tiniest bit from super-bright lights, you don't need a "dark site".

My place is right next to a brightly lit pool (which I hate with a passion ;), and M42 is visible just fine. Even with the naked eye. Same goes for photography - I've got a few pictures of M42 that are pretty darn cool, with a single exposure and a Canon DSLR. I've collected excellent single-exposure shots of Jupiter & Saturn during the conjunction.

No, it's not as spectacular as the stuff you see when you look at images you find online, but it's still a "holy shit" moment the first time you manage to.

You should just be aware that you'll quickly learn the limitations, and getting a taste for DSOs/star photography means you'll likely develop a desire to do more. ("I wish I could see X"/"I wish I could take better pictures") And that starts getting expensive. (But that's true for any hobby that requires you to buy things, there are always more toys ;)

Yes, M42 (Orion Nebula) is spectacular and doesn't take much equipment or dark site. I have a large framed photo of M42 on the wall here which I took with just my DSLR from my driveway near streetlights.

I know nothing about buying a telescope, but I went stargazing last year on La Palma. It was fun-but-janky to try and take pictures by holding my phone up to the optical piece. It's super interested to me that I was able to capture a picture of a binary star on my Google Pixel 3a. If some sort of integration w/ a camera or phone is an option on low end telescopes, maybe consider that feature!

Also, here's some photos from the stargazing outing => https://photos.app.goo.gl/oCamaWZwfH2HwykBA

La Palma is the 2nd best place in the northern hemisphere to put a telescope, and it's well worth a visit. The island itself is beautiful, amazing actually. And it's super cool to go on tours of the telescopes. I got a chance to visit the Isaac Newton Telescope & the Gran Telescopio Canarias.

Telescope visit photos => https://photos.app.goo.gl/JcD1bCUb1asU9VcE8

You can find third party mounts for holding your phone at the eyepiece of your scope.

This one looks like it works with binoculars too: https://www.amazon.com/Photography-LUXUN-Mount-Quick-Smartph...

The cheapest one you can find. Because odds are you won't get into space observation. You'll try it and find out it's not for you. That's the way interests work.

If space observation is for you, the quality of the telescope won't matter because to a first approximation all of the limitations will be in your experience. You won't drive far enough away from city lights. You won't get the tripod level enough. Not closely aligned with the Earth's pole. The clamps won't be tightened tight enough. The eyepiece won't be optimal.

I mean, you'll have trouble finding the full moon.

No matter how much you spend.

Want to get good?

Set up the telescope right outside your front door and leave it there.

Use it every day.

But what if something happens to it?

It's cheap. Buy another. They're cheap.

Because something will happen to your telescope if you use.

It will fall.

You will drop it.

Knock it over.

You will forget it's leaning on the rear bumper when you back the car up.

All better than sitting in a closet.

The way to tell if space observation is for you is by a your willingness to be bad at it.

Being bad is being a beginner.

Mastery is reserved for masters.

Being into it is all the space in between.

Good luck.


I'm someone that over-analyzes every purchase even if it's at a price I'll never notice. This is great advice. The thought-hours and calories I've spent on "finding the best choice" for things that turn out to be less interesting is horrendous.

I've been following this thread because my 6 year old has expressed several times that astronomy is interesting to her. I've been wondering what the right choice of telescope is to support her, while realizing a 6 year old is fickle especially after bedtime. That hasn't made me pause at the rec's of a $700 8" Dobs, which it should.

I don't think binocs are great for little kids, as you can't point and then show and they have stability issues, but you're absolutely right that a cheap Amazon telescope will give us the moon (literally) and maybe some more, and then we can follow the interest from there.

Thank you.

They make very small binoculars and like all optics you can spend as much or as little as seems appropriate along a flattish curve of diminishing returns.

And to me, a small pair of non-toy binoculars is a great gift for a child. The sort that lasts a lifetime by virtue of being a general tool.

To me; two pairs of binoculars is better than one telescope. It allows “parallel play.” Looking at the night sky together but with individual agendas seems a great way to spend time together.

Maybe in a few years upgrade to a telescope. Children grow up quickly, yet not so much that there’s a rush to do things.

And with two pair binoculars, there’s also birdwatching.

Actually don't buy cheap. That's a sure way to be disappointed and to give up hobby before even getting into it.

Galileo and Copernicus and Brahe would have coveted today's flea market class telescopes. It's been diminishing returns for a long time, today's most terrible optics are really damn good. Most of the differences among what a beginner buys will be what sits in their closet collecting dust.

It's a fascinating hobby for people fascinated by it. Most people won't be fascinated enough to turn it into one. The idea of shopping for gear is typically more than the idea of using it. That's why this page is a shopping question not a use question. Shopping is easier.

Of course, optics are only half the battle. The other half is with the hardware all around them: plastic tripod leg clamps that slide, plastic baseplates that crack behind collimation screws, alt-az mounts that shake like a branch when you try to slew, and everything in-between.

I think you have the right mentality about making sure you enjoy the hobby and what to understand how to use a scope, but maybe the better advice (modulo COVID precautions) is to seek out star parties or observatory public outreach events. These are free, aren't fraught with the pitfalls of cheesy equipment, and will show you as much as you can expect to see with a scope given several years of experience and several thousand dollars of investment. Was it inspiring or disappointing? Would you drive an hour out of your way to stuff your hands in your pockets and do it again?

I understand what you mean. And I could attribute my disinterest in telescope sky gazing to exactly those factors...I’ve had two of them cheap wobbly things over the years.

But I know that’s not really it.

It’s that though it was cool to see the moon and planets and such, it didn’t make me want to solve telescopic problems in the dark.

Better equipment doesn’t change the types of telescope problems that need to be solved in the dark. It just changes the grain. The mount and optics will always be nothing but compromises. The weather will never be controlled. Light pollution will be there. Objects will rise and fall on their own schedule.

For me, those are mildly interesting. Not interesting enough to pursue ever more difficult problems. To find ever more rarely seen astronomical objects.

Going out to an event is a good alternative to a movie. But just as going to a movie isn’t a good indication of an interest in solving cinematic problems, looking through someone else’s telescope probably doesn’t indicate much about solving telescope problems ones self.

A cheap telescope is the simplest thing that might work. It is the most direct path past “maybe.” It is the least guilt option for a telescope sitting in the closet. And it is the easiest excuse for being bad...which all beginners are.

Here's my advice to save money on good astronomy equipment. Go to 'wwww.astromart.com' and pay $15 for a year's membership that gives you access to the classifieds section.

I am a very infrequent hobbyist but have bought quality equipment through astromart. Good quality telescopes have very good resale value if you take care of it.

The best telescope for the beginner is the one they can take out easily into the field and use it often.

A good quality 7x50 binocular is good to start with and then move onto something a little bit more substantive like a 3" refractor or an 8" reflector like a dobsonian or a newtonian with a tripod.

Also install a good piece of astronomy software like Stellarium or similar to virtually navigate your night sky and become familiar with constellations and the bright stars that you can see with the naked eye.

Beware this can become quite an expensive hobby if you fall into the rabbit hole.

I spent a few hundred on a 6" telescope, and as others have said, you can't see much. I know a couple of others who have laid down thousands and been rewarded with blurry pictures of jupiter and saturn after a lot of work.

I sold my telescope and bought a microscope - now that was fun. You can see everything just like you see pictures of, worlds within a drop of water. Because microscopy is limited by how much you can see due to light wavelengths. Spending a few hundred gives you the best of anything in the world, if you wanted to go nuts, a thousand will give you something that will be as good as anything else around.

That's such a great idea! Do you have any suggestions on what microscope to get?

I bought a celestron labs one, it was on sale at a place that was closing down, so no real planning in it. Its great. There's a guy called the microbe hunter that has a youtube channel and goes into all the things to look for on buying a microscope - https://www.youtube.com/c/MicrobehunterMicroscopy/featured


I'm getting kinda old and miserly but I still am deeply in love with stargazing.

I recommend to anyone who wants to try it out: get a phone app with VR so that you can easily spot where a star you want to see is, by waving it over your head. This will give you a transparent Earth and you can start to get a bit of a cadence for when stars are rising and setting.

Tracking the sun with a VR app as it sets, even if sitting inside your house on a chair, is such a cool way to sew together some concepts that sound obvious but only may be after this improvement to your vision. Seeing the orbit of Venus dotted around the setting Sun, you will quickly understand why we call it the Morning/Evening Star as it barely scopes above the visible horizon.

Learning why we call it the Dog Days of Summer is also a delight that a VR app can sew together for you as well.

I'm a novice, an absolute one - I love this hobby regardless. Spend 4.99 on a nice VR app and see if it only entices you further to open your wallet for a telescope.

I've tried one of those apps (Night Sky?), but I always find it's well out of alignment, stars being much further to the left or right than the app seems to indicate, things being closer together than they seem from my own perspective, etc.

Don't think it's the phone, it's a fairly new one etc (has all the AR bells and whistles on it).

That's fair. But what a delightful failure scenario: you end up looking for the thing you set out to find.

Perspective is very important. Sometimes - especially when looking for a specific item when doing something like stargazing, it’s amazing what else you find along the way.

None of the apps I've seen use AR. As far as I know, they are 100% gyro & compass based. These tend to need to be calibrated. G-maps has a built in calibration tool, I believe there is a calibration option in the android dev tools, and there are several apps that claim to calibrate as well.

I've been meaning to dive into ARCore, and on my list was a constellation based compass & gyro calibration app.

Please make an app recommendation.

First get 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars and if you remain interested in observation, move onto an 8 inch dob reflector as your first telescope. I got the Zhumell Z8 for $400 years ago when it considered to be the best deal around, but it might not be sold anymore. The usual options would be from Orion, Apertura, Sky-Watcher, Explore Scientific, etc. for $400-550.

In my own personal experience, trying to use binoculars without a tripod is infuriating.

Agreed. I'm not stable enough to look at wildlife through binoculars.

I'm a beginner myself, but here's my experience. First of all, as the saying goes, the best telescope is the one you have with you. That is to say, if you need to move the telescope at all, think seriously about portability.

My first scope was a 6" dobsonian that I bought on craiglist for $120. It was a great first experience, because I was able to see some amazing things. But it's size was a big downside. I couldn't fit it and a passenger in my civic coupe. It was also so heavy that I often didn't feel like taking it outside. If you're already in a dark place and can store it somewhere that's easy to get to, then I think it'd be great. If that doesn't apply, I'd try for something smaller.

I've recently been thinking about getting an Orion StarBlast 4.5 inch dobsonian, or ST130 (though this requires a mount). They're inexpensive and portable. Not nearly as much power as a 6 or 8 inch, but the portability trade off is worth it for me.

One other side note: if you get something with a tripod, it's gotta be at least decent. I also have a ST80 telescope, which I wouldn't really recommend it this case. But it has taught me how important the tripod/mount are. The tripod that came with the scope was unusable. I got really frustrated on forums, because so many recommendations were for $700 tripods, specifically to use with this $100 telescope. I've been happy enough with an $80 Orion Tritech II; it isn't great, but it isn't $700 ;)

Guilty as charged - my personal favorite setup is a $150 tube (Celestron C90 Maksutov-Cassegrain) on a $700+ tripod and mount. I wouldn't recommend it to a beginner.

6" f/8 newtonians like the typical 6" dob are really at a sweet spot of aperture, size, optical quality, and cost. They've been the classic beginner's telescope for generations for a reason. I wish I'd had one on a pier-mounted equatorial when I lived under dark skies.

If you are unsatisfied with the f/5 ST80 I don't know if you'd be happy with another fast (low focal ratio) telescope. See if you can find someone local to you to let you look through a telescope similar to the ones you're thinking about.

Good point that another fast telescope may not be what I'm looking for. Though I definitely still need to play with the ST80 more before looking for something else. I think it may have just compared poorly to the 6" Newtonian (not too surprising).

It's interesting to learn just how important tripod and mount are. I think the frustrating thing for a beginner is that they really just need a setup that works, whereas experienced users often describe really finely tuned expensive setups. And to the beginner it can sound like this is the only option.

It seems like every telescope kit or bundle comes at best marginally mounted if not undermounted. I agree it's very frustrating.

A used equatorial (EQ3 type or similar) with a clock drive would be a big step up for your ST80, and shouldn't be too expensive if you can find one.

Do a search for "star gazing forum" or similar and join a forum that has the most active discussions/users and read past posts to get started. They probably have FAQs for beginners and you can probably get most of your questions answered before spending any money.

I got into star gazing by accident a few years back because I found $250 entry-level telescope, unused new-in-box for $60 at a garage sale. So look for a used scope for your starter because it is cheaper and very common for people to buy expensive equipment then get out of the hobby. Once you get your sea legs you can upgrade knowing what you want to see and the right equipment to do the job.

I also went on line and learned how to use the scope and then went to some local "star parties" which were fun. Do a search for your area and go because you'll learn a lot faster by talking to others. The local club did a field trip/tour of a (small) observatory at a local community college which was great. Another benefit is some of these gazers have dropped a ton of money on advance systems and at the star parties they are more than happy to let you take a peek and look at all sorts of objects that a beginner scope can't see but it was fun to see the planets and the moon, etc. with my own scope too.

I definitely second the recommendation to find a local star party. They are also good because they help temper expectations. Most people assume that what they’re going to see when they get a telescope will be similar to what they’ve seen in astrophotography, and many would-be amateur astronomers are disappointed to find that those complex, brilliant galaxies they’ve seen in photos actually look like slightly-less-black smudges through an average telescope lens.

Going to a star party allows you to meet experienced backyard astronomers who can show you these objects[0] and talk to you about the hobby. That way you have some idea of what you can expect (especially at an entry-level). It’s a wonderful hobby, but it helps to know what you can expect to see (also realizing that the more you look through a lens, the better you’ll get at actually spotting objects).

[0] The other thing that doesn’t always get noted is how damn frustrating it can be to find objects without some experience. My first hunt for a Messier object was a profanity-laden experience. So, having someone present who knows how to navigate to those objects can make it more enjoyable!

There are a lot of truly terrible used telescopes out there. Mostly small refractors claiming tremendous magnification power. Don't get one of those.

If you are just getting started my suggestion is likely outside of your budget considerations however I wanted to make you aware and share this option should your interest expand in the future. I consider this entry "Looking back I wish someone would have told me that sooner." With that stated I can highly suggest "Questar" as a product to research and consider both from the multiple decades of proven quality, they have been involved in manufacturing optics for the U.S. government for a very long time, as well as the 'investment' in a premium product which accrues in value. Having bought many scopes in my day Questar was the last scope I bought many years ago. Ymmv however as I have personal experience in visiting their facility in New Hope PA and meeting multiple people there which exude quality above all else. They serviced and modernized my previous single owner scope which they still held the full manufacturing and maintenance records on which preceded even my existence. I welcome you in joining those of us that find extreme value and relaxation in watching the original reality show without commercials that has been on 24/7 even before life as we know it existed. Stay Healthy!

I've had a 90mm Questar for decades and it's still the finest thing I've ever owned. Owning a Questar is kind of like owning an Aston-Martin or a Curta calculator; it seems like a product too miraculous to actually exist.

I concur that it is built with quality above all else which in this day and age is a rarity to find AND they are still in business maintaining that quality. Certainly in this forum of technologists anyone visiting their website would balk at what they see and likely snicker too. However those of us that own a Questar are not using it to look at websites but we are known to occasionally sleep in late from 'spacing' out. ;)

If you are wondering whether you should buy a Rolex or a telescope this year, I recommend the 7" Questar. The classic 3.5" model is of course the well-heeled astronomer's travel scope. They are a very nice thing from a different era, for those that appreciate that.

Of course, quite good Chinese-made Maksutov-Cassegrains are available if that's your thing and a Questar is out of the budget. They are not beautiful, and they are not exquisitely machined, and they are probably not good to lambda/20, but they cost about what it will cost you to have a Questar collimated and otherwise serviced.

Correct however in that "different era" the proprietors of Questar cared about what they built which seems to be lost in the many products manufactured today in this more "modern era". And yes, I do greatly appreciate quality when I spend my hard earned income but to each their own.

My suggestions are: For visual astronomy on a budget - a Dobsonian, at least 8 inch. (this is not really expensive)

For visual astronomy with tracking a good CAT for small field, planetary, or a good Newtonian or for more money a Refractor. Each type of telescope has its pros/cons.

Visually you won't see much color, maybe on planets or some stars. Normally you will see everything grey. Deep Space Objects like clusters, nebula, etc...look like blobs of smoke (well the ring nebula does look like a small ring and others are unique). The Orion Nebula in winter is incredible (but it is cold outside)

For astrophotography a really good mount (Expensive). Mount is the most important, then depending on what you want to do: for large objects/DLSR, for smaller dimmer objects, 70mm APO refractor plus dedicated CMOS imager plus star tracker (even a good mount has tracking errors).

Ultimately the issue with Astrophotography is that it is quite expensive and even after you have all of the dedicated hardware you need software and image processing/stacking to get any good images...after all Deep Space Objects are really faint.

Not an expert, but I'm delighted with the NexStar 5SE.

Yes, it's a rather small aperture, so you're limited in deep space objects. (But I still took pretty amazing pictures of various nebula, so it's still pretty cool)

It's compact - which was a large point for me. I don't have a giant thing sitting around. It's also able to travel in a (slightly large) carry-on, if we ever get to travel on airplanes again.

It's not-too-expensive ($650 when I bought it. Not cheap, but not a $5K tube either)

The autotracking is good enough for long exposure shots, calibration is super easy.

But all that said: Get a good pair of binoculars first. Get a star map. Learn your way around the sky. That time investment is well worth it.

For one, it means that for many objects you can skip all the calibration noise and just dial them in like the ancient pre-2000 people: By hand. Calibration is more setup, it's boring, I still dial in by hand when I can. And it's fun when you can just look at the night sky and know where stuff is.

Caveat: Astronomy is ultimately a very opinionated hobby. All of the answers I gave might be wrong for you.

As others have said, binoculars are a great option, and high quality options are available that are much easier to use for astronomical observations…AND hold their resale value. I own a pair of Canon image-stabilized binos (10x50s). They were expensive compared to a high quality telescope and mount, but I take my binoculars out 50 times more frequently than my 8" Meade SCT telescope.

>They were expensive

$1,500 sound like the right ball park?


Several people have mentioned binoculars. If you do get binoculars, and might also want to use them for watching the local wildlife that visits your yard, take into account the "close focus distance".

Almost all binoculars can focus on things that are far away, which is usually the case for astronomy (and in those cases when it isn't, you are too busy running from the asteroid that is about to hit you to be making observations...).

But how close they can focus varies a lot. I've seen good recommendations for the Celestron Nature DX [1] series as a good but not too expensive binocular for critter watching.

The 56 mm models can focus down to 3 m, and the smaller models down to 2 m. I have the 8x42 model, and it has been great when I'm at my desk in the living room next to a big window, and see a critter I want to take a closer look at sitting on the rail of my front deck. I can just pick the binoculars up and get a good look right from my desk. With my old binoculars (50+ year old Tower Optical binoculars that my family had when I was a little kid), I had to back up to the opposite side of the room to focus on something on the deck rail.

If you want to wear glasses while using binoculars, make sure they have an adjustment for that. The rear binocular lens is supposed to be a certain distance from your eye. There needs to be a mechanism that allows you to get closer to the lens when wearing glasses, to compensate for the added distance glasses add.

For the Celestron Nature DX, you simply twist the eye cups. They are on some sort of threaded mechanism that can move them in or out as you twist them. Move them all the way out to use without glasses, and move them in when using glasses.

I believe I've seen some where you swap eye cups to switch distances, which seems like it would be inconvenient.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B73JONS/

I'm not an expert, just an user, and have the Bresser Spica 130/1000 myself. I use it roughly once a month and it works great, but it could have bean any other telescope.

The advice I would like to give you is to start your journey with the question, what do you want to do with the telescope?

- Look at stars planets etc.. - Buy a Reflector based telescope

- Also want to look at animals - Buy a Refractor based telescope

- Do you want to make it a new hobby and take it with you to friends - Buy a Compound based telescope

- Already in photography - Buy a telescope with a camera mount NO phone mounts

- More interested in the journey of making things and testing it - buy a telescope kit

- Do you have more then 400 dollars to spend - buy a cheap one first and then buy a good one with the money that is left after a few months.

I hope that will help you with your journey.

Before investing money, make sure you have access to a dark-ish place to observe the night sky. If you live in a major city, light pollution might be an issue and you may have to drive ways out to get decent dark skies to view anything other than nearby planets.

Lots of good suggestions in this thread.

If you have a pair of binoculars already, get some kind of tripod for them, or improvise something with a reclining lawn chair -- anything that can stabilize the binos and let you point them upwards comfortably. It's surprising how much you can see with medium-quality binocular if you can keep them rock-steady.

A six or eight inch Dobsonian telescope is a good next step. The entry-level models are cheaper than they look, and the optical reach greatly exceeds that of cheap department-store refractors. Last I checked, pandemic reality had made them hard to find new, but they occasionally go for a song on Craigslist.

Look up a forum called Cloudy Nights for much, much more info.

On the stability point, walking/hiking sticks work well as a monopod. Some commercial sticks have threading to mount a camera.

I used one similar to this on my honeymoon: https://www.rei.com/product/155737/mountainsmith-trekker-fx-...

Our astronomy society tries hard to persuade newcomers not to buy a telescope until they're sure they will actually get it out more than once, and in the meantime to borrow a club telescope. Your local club might also have a stock to lend out.

If you do decide to buy, pay attention to the tripod and mount. Get something with heft that won't wobble when you breathe on it - no matter how good the optics, if the scope is bouncing about you're not going to have a great experience.

r/telescopes has a pinned post about picking a telescope, and weekly threads covering this same question. It was a great resource when I was looking to make the same jump.

I just bought my first telescope last night using that guide, a Zhummel z114 off of Amazon. It was the last one.

A word of warning, it was really hard to find any of the lower price ranges telescopes that they recommend without it being overpriced. The demand is high.

I'm going to be in some of the darkest parts of the US very soon (Big Bend national park, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce) so can't wait to use it!


Which Telescope did you end up getting?

First I second the phone app (see what I did there?). The first thing you should work on, if you haven't already, familiarizing yourself with the sky. It is very frustrating to buy a scope and spend hours just trying to find an object, only then to spend more time trying to figure out if what you're looking at is actually the thing you think is. This on top of learning how to use the scope itself.

Next, read books on astronomy/star gazing and watch a some videos on stargazing, using a scope, general astronomy, etc. You don't need to have a PhD or anything, but a general working knowledge will serve you well. Also, before you lay out the $$, see if there is a local astronomy club near you (I'll bet there is). Clubs usually host a public stargazing night which is a perfect opportunity for you to get a little scope time and ask questions (and make some friends/connections in the hobby).

If, after all this, you still have the bug it's probably safe to plunk down your hard-earned cash on a wonderful 6" or 8" dobsonian scope. I bought mine about 30-ish years ago and I still have it and use it from time to time. Orion 8" dobs used to be the standard for starting out. You can still pick one up for about $450.00.

A few basics:

Magnification "power" is pointless nonsense. If you see advertisements about "100x magnification" or some such, run. That's the mark of a poor telescope you'll hate. What matters is the size of the aperture: The bigger the better.

You'll see lots of recommendations for Dobsonians, because reflectors are the least expensive way to get big apertures, and Dobsonians are the least expensive reflectors. Dobbies have one disadvantage: They cannot be used for long-exposure photography because they cannot track the sky. (Well, they can be outfitted with computer-controlled motors but that's going to add so much cost you might as well just buy a Newtonian reflector on an equatorial mount.) If you don't care about astrophotography this is a non-issue.

Refractors use lenses instead of mirrors and cost a great deal more for a given aperture than an equivalent reflector. (Any refractor that does NOT cost a lot more than an equivalent reflector is absolute garbage.) Refractors are great if you want to look at terrestrial objects in addition to space objects, because you look through them rather than through a hole in their side, and the image will be right-side-up. Right-side-up doesn't matter with space objects. Reflectors are almost always better for most people nowadays than refractors. Don't spend a lot of money on a fancy refractor until you're sure you really need one.

You'll see some discussion about buying lenses for Dobsonians: That's about eyepieces. Every telescope needs an eyepiece and all eyepieces are lenses. The "lens vs. mirror" debate is only about the main optical element in the 'scope which determines the aperture.

I'll second the suggestion to get a Dobsonian. I'm not any kind of astronomy expert, but they seem to be the cheapest, simplest way to get a large-aperture telescope.

Besides aperture, the other thing to look at is focal ratio. Generally, you'll want a low focal ration like f/5 for looking at large, dim objects like nebulas and galaxies, and a high focal ratio like f/9 or so for looking at small, bright things like planets.

I'm in sort of a weird telescope situation in that over the years I've collected three garage sale telescopes of various sizes, and they're all right around f/5. I also live in a city, so they're all optimized exactly for looking at the things I can't see unless I travel pretty far out of town where the sky is dark.

My two bigger scopes are made by Coulter Optical. Coulter is an interesting company. As I understand it, back during the 80's or so, you just couldn't buy a large aperture telescope for a reasonable price. So, Coulter came along and figured, "why don't we make a telescope where we put most of the manufacturing effort into a high-quality primary mirror, make the rest as cheaply as humanly possible, and sell the result? The result was the Odyssey 1, with a 13" primary mirror. It looks like large home-made waterheater, and is about as portable. Later on they made the Odyssey 8, a smaller version with an 8" primary mirror. The tube is made of cardboard, and the focusser is just a pvc slip fitting. The base is made of painted chipboard. That's the telescope I use the most, and it works great. I wouldn't recommend the odyssey 1 unless you live out in the country somewhere where you can set it up and use it without having to load it into a car and drive somewhere else.

Follow up to this:

Many telescopes come with one or two eyepieces, and you may want to get a few more in various focal lengths. Generally, the tradeoff is long focal length: everything is small and bright, short focal length: every thing is small and dim. So, generally you start out with a long focal length to find the thing you're looking for, and switch to short when you find it and want a closer look (assuming it's something small and bright like a planet).

There are also barlow lenses, which are sort of an adapter with lenses that increases the magnification of whatever eyepiece you're using. They're occasionally useful.

Most mid-range telescopes have standardized on 1-1/4" diameter. Cheap/older telescopes sometimes use 0.96" and big telescopes sometimes go with 2". Adapters are available to mount DSLR camera bodies to the telescope without using any lenses at all, which is a great way to go on a Dobsonian because there aren't any lenses at all in the whole optical path to introduce chromatic aberration, only mirrors. (I don't have a DSLR camera, but in the past I've had a bit of fun taking the lenses off of old USB webcams and adhering them to the focusser shaft with poster putty. I was able to get some decent low-resolution footage of an extreme-close-up of the moon that way.)

Another thing that might be useful sometimes is something you can use to cover most of the telescope aperture, for cases where you want maximum image clarity and are willing to sacrifice light-gathering. That can be handy for looking at the moon.

I haven't tried using filters, but those can also be used to bring out contrast in certain things.

You should consider what you want to look at. I made a telescope (ground the mirror, etc.) and discovered that looking at stars isn't interesting to me. But the big planets, moon and sun are amazing. If you want to explore the limits of resolving binary stars or hunting faint deep sky objects, you will want a different device than if you want to see the rings of Saturn which are surreal to see with your own eye.

I have a 4” Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. I bring it out whenever there’s something of interest in the sky. Every time I do my neighbors & their kids swarm me to look.

The images aren’t like NASA’s but that’s not the point. Seeing—-suspended in space—-planets, comets, nebulas, galaxies with your own eyes is a joyful experience. Personally knowing the sky intimately is a joy.

There is a lot of great advice here, but I will add two things to consider that haven’t been spoken to.

The first is portability and your personal transportation options. You will want to travel around to observe.

The second is imaging, what camera can you connect. Looking through a telescope is ephemeral and personal, but being able to preserve and share your experience makes it better.

I got an 8" Dobsonian about ten years ago at still am far from exhausting the possibilities. I got the Bintel (GSO) brand which seemed a little better, came with three eyepieces decent focusser and finder, and moon filter.

You can move the 8" Dob around with one person and fits across the back seat of a small car. You manually push it around so you learn to star hop, and learn the constellations more than you would with an electronic GOTO.

Only last year upgraded the eyepieces to Baader Morpheus. Gives good claer views of Saturn & rings, cassini division, Jupiter & great red spot, equatorial bands, Uranus, Neptune, Messier objects etc etc.

A 6" dob is a good option for planetary viewing too and arguably better than 8" in some regards (a bit smaller and more forgiving on cheap eyepieces). 8" is better for deep space objects of course.

Consider a 10" dob for deep space, but they start to get a bit large to move around.

I bought a telescope for my sister and for that purpose I learned a bit about the various options. You'll get a very good telescope (meaning you can see the rings of jupiter, saturn) for less than 400 Euro.

Buy a Newton (reflector/mirror) telescope with Dobsonian mounting - as opposed to the classic refractor with a tripod.

That's my 3 cents.

The OneSky Reflector Telescope from Astronomers Without Borders


This is pretty late in the discussion, but here's my advice: start with a smaller decent quality dob (6") -- we started with an Orion SkyQuest XT6 -- and get 2-3 decent eyepieces (10mm, 25mm, 32mm) and a 2x Barlow. You should be able to get all that for $750. That size scope is easy to carry and setup. With reasonable eyepieces you can do lunar, planetary (Jupiter/Saturn), double stars, star clusters, and nebula. None of it will look like the astrophotography, but seeing it yourself can be so satisfying. If you find you like it, there is no end to how much you improve your tech and how much can spend in the process! Also, check out CN (www.cloudynights.com) for tons of advice.

I've been shopping for my first telescope for about 18 months now (not entirely my first, I had an ok-quality small refractor as a child.)

Every time I've read so much that I know for sure what type I want, I read something else that makes me question what I want. So it's a complicated decision!

Install http://stellarium.org/ and get to know the stars from your location. Even if you end up getting a "goto mount" (where you enter the desired object and it finds it for you) you still have to align it so you'll still need to know and be able to find the stars it needs! So learning the constellations and stars is a must, you can get started on that before buying anything.

Join https://www.cloudynights.com/ forum and read lots. There's a beginner area there as well. It's a very active forum.

If it wasn't for covid, join a club and go to watch parties to actually test viewing through all kinds of telescopes.

Consider carefully where you'll keep it and where you'll use it. If you have a yard where you can keep it in a shed and roll it a few feet away to use you may not care about size and weight. But if you'll be carrying it down stairs and commuting to a darker view site on a bicycle, priorities are entirely different.

Seems like a Dobsonian is the overwhelming suggestion in this thread. Do consider that for example the Orion 8" Dobsonian is 41 pounds and over 4 feet long. Does that fit with your storage, transport and usage location constraints?

Whatever you buy, don't get something so cheap that the quality is so terrible it makes you give up. What this calls the "category 1": http://www.scopereviews.com/matrix.html

If, against all advice, you want to do astrophotography, this flips some of the requirements. For photos, spend most of your budget on the mount, not the telescope. In fact you don't really need a telescope, just a good mount and a DSLR camera (this is what I've been doing the 18 months I've been shopping for a telescope!)

(I did finally get tired of analysis paralysis and ordered a telescope last month. A StellarVue 80mm triplet refractor. There are long lead times these days for telescopes so it'll be a couple months before I actually receive it.)

> (I did finally get tired of analysis paralysis and ordered a telescope last month. A StellarVue 80mm triplet refractor. There are long lead times these days for telescopes so it'll be a couple months before I actually receive it.)

Congrats on the new scope! Excellent choice. Welcome to the hobby. :)

In my 20 years of experience under the stars, nothing beats the aesthetics of a refractor with a binoviewer. If I was starting again I would get a 4 inch refractor and put a binoviewer on it with a pair of 24mm panoptics.

That's a nice setup but it's a multi-thousand dollar proposition if you want good optics. Perhaps a bit steep for a beginner.

Another option you might wnat to look at is itelescope.com . They're an Internet Based Remote Astronomy Company.

They've got a bunch of telescopes based around the world which you can try out.

You might^ be able to infer the characteristics of a telescope you like, and the types of astronomy you enjoy by using their service.

^I'm a total newb here. But I did do my highschool work experience at Sydney Observatory. I could imagine that there are factors that might mean that you get better results on their service than in real life.

Get a good mount. Also, a good telescope is one you will use. Both of these are profound statements that took me a while to learn. I was gifted a celestron newtonian 4.5 inch many years back (not super expensive). I learned a ton. However, I realised that had I gotten a better mount instead of the fixating on the lense size, things would have gone a lot easier.

If you are a complete beginner, a challenge I'd recommend you setup is observe the rings of saturn. Observing those was one of the early highpoints for me.

I’d get an 8 inch. I ended up getting a 6 inch, and it’s nice, but i kind of wish I got an 8 inch. Don’t get me wrong, the 6 inch is nice, but I think an 8 inch would be a bit better.

I got a Celestron reflector with an electric mount. Aligning it is a bit of a pain, and you absolutely need full batteries to keep tracking, but it’s a requirement if you’re looking to take photos.

One other thing, it seems most astrophotography software is Windows only, so ymmv

Heads up I'm only an amateur. So this a bit of asking for advise kinda question . So what do you guys think about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unistellar This telescope seems promising.

I don't have much telescope experience, but I flipped one just so I could see Neowise and the big takeaway for me was that, possibly more important than the telescope is the stand. If the stand is unstable or hard to adjust, you will not be happy with your experience. Ideally, the controls to move the scope will have very fine-grained tuning abilities, with very little wobble or difficulty in adjustment.

I have an 8" Dobsonian that I bring out for my kids and the neighbors to use. With a lot of light pollution, it's really only good for seeing the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn--which should NEVER, EVER be underestimated as objects of awe, even when we're used to seeing MUCH better images.

I liked the Celestron Nexstar 6SE. Weight still ok and not too small. Something to tinker with a bit and quite easy to use.

I second the recommendation for the Cloudy Nights forum.

Secondly, I‘ll go against the grain and suggest you don’t start with a binocular or manual dobsonian, but with a motorized goto telescope. They come in many varieties and for a start, pretty much all of them are good. Celestron has a series of telescopes called Evolution and if it’s in your budget, an Evolution 6 will be a good scope for a long time. They also have smaller & cheaper scopes with Go-To that will work well too.

What’s Go-To? You tell the telescope what you want to look at, and it drives right to it and keeps the object centered within the eyepiece. The last part is quite important as even at average magnifications, objects tend to move out of the center (where it’s sharpest) quite fast. Many scopes can also be controlled via your phone with an app such as SkySafari - sometimes that requires an extra adapter for the scope though.

Why this path? I followed the usual advice of getting a binocular, then a small dobsonian and barely ever had the drive to use them due to finding objects to observe in city skies being hard. The scopes just collected dust for the majority of the year.

I just made the jump to a bigger scope with Go-To to a) make visual observations more interesting for me (more observing, less searching), and b) pursue a newly discovered interest of mine called Electronically Assisted Astronomy. Think Google‘s night photo mode but for a telescope, allowing you to see galaxies and nebulas in all their glory from home!

Agreed. You can't talk the dobson crowd out of anything, and dobsonians are cheap, and they do work. Most beginners, though, if they can afford it, would be better off with at least an equatorial mount with a clock drive if not a goto mount.

Whatever you get - get a solar filter. They're not expensive.

You can then see sunspots and can watch eclipses unfold.

I bought Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 classic dobsonian telescope. It turned out to be really good first telescope for me. Turn Left at Orion(5th ed) by Consolmagno & Davis is really good book that you should consider buying.

Make sure it has a good tripod. A friend had one and it was frustrating because the scope moved pretty easily, so between viewings it was out of wack. (It wasn't just the sky moving as it does...)

For pure observation nothing beats an 8 inch dobsonian reflector telescope. If you want to do astrophotography, it's important you have a tracking mount, but those can be _very_ expensive.

(For the 8inch: In terms of bang/buck that is)

I don't have an answer, but I'd look if there has been some related humble bundle in the past. You can either try to "find" it or take a look to the individual books.

As a kid I had a 6.5 inch reflector I got cheap 2nd hand, which was awesome. Looking at Saturn and its rings just sitting there in the sky was something I'll never forget.

Amateur radio astronomy is also alive and well. The cost barrier to entry is basically the $20 rtl sdr dongle if you have odds and ends around for making antennas.

Telescopes: depends on your use case. Check out the sticky on reddit.com/r/telescopes

Books: Again, depends, but Turn Left at Orion and Cosmic Challenge are good ones.

The bigger the better, so get a 10/12/14" dobsonian. They're cheap, dumb, easy to set up, you'll be able to see a lot, and it will last forever.

Refractor telescopes are extremely expensive to get a good one, otherwise the image quality is awful, and either way they are so limited in aperture and weight that you'll be able to see very little through them.

Don't buy anything off Facebook saying they've used some computer technology to make an amazing telescope. Yes computer technology helps some scientific applications but consumer wise it's all BS.

Reflector telescopes can be okay in theory and can be a good middle ground between the price/aperture of dobsonians and pricier options (my first scope was a reflector so I have a special place in my heart for the image they provide!) But you may as well save your money and get the dobsonian instead, because if you wanted to use a reflector for computer tracking and astrophotography you'll spend so much money on the mount and cameras and add ons that you may as well have bought the pricier option in the first place.

Don't get a fork mounted Celestron CPC. It's the same issue; more expensive, not as good as a dobsonian, you get computer tracking but can't use it for astrophotography.

That just leaves schmidt–cassegrain telescopes. If you want to do imaging you may as well jump here and try to buy a package that has it all including a really really good mount. The only downsides are that you'll be spending $10k-$20k. If you weren't interested in those things... may as well get a dobsonian.

One thing I wanted to mention that everything bar the dobsonian is going to be extremely heavy. For the reflector and Schmidt's you'll be carting a 25kg mount, 25kg of weights, then trying to hoist a 25kg scope onto the mount with one hand and slot it into a tiny rail in the dark while your other hand fumbles for a tiny screw clamp that holds it in place. There's a reason people get into the hobby and then give up.

A dobsonian you basically lift the tube and plop it anywhere onto the base and you're good to go. So unless you're fit, don't bother even getting started with anything except the dobsonian.

As dobsonians are cheap, they're easy to buy and sell, and so if you don't hang around in the hobby then you'll be able to exit quietly and not feel much of a loss. If you do become an enthusiast and jump to the top end there's no loss either, because it'll be such a nightmare to set up, you'll still be using the much larger and better dobsonian for all of your normal viewing.

Dobsonian 10”. Best bang for your buck for deep space casual viewing. 10” is a reasonable size, weight, and price combo.

8" Chinese light bucket (Dobsonian).

Dobsonian. And realize that good lenses can easily cost more than the telescope.

Nightwatch by Terrence Dickinson is a good book to get started with.

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