Choosing the right telescope
You’ve been thinking about it for a while now: you would like to observe the stars, but you don’t know anything about astronomical material, and you don’t know where to start. The good news, the guide you are reading is there to help you, step by step. When you’ve finished reading, you should be able to figure out which telescope is right for you!
If you are in a hurry, you will find a table with a list of telescopes for beginners at the end of this file.
In addition to this tutorial on choosing a telescope, I have created a Pyxis tool, a quiz that can help you choose your dream instrument correctly. With a few simple questions, Pyxis will clear the way for you by offering you a type of telescope that should match what you are looking for. Try Pyxis now.
I also offer you the possibility of using Callisto, which is a reasonably robust telescope comparator. Thanks to this tool, you will know the significant differences that can find between several telescopes. Just click or search for the telescopes you are interested in (up to 5 telescopes maximum), and a table will present to you with the specifications of each instrument. To test urgently!
If you are a complete beginner in astronomy, don’t panic. This guide intends to be concise and easily and quickly know the key elements that will allow you to choose your next telescope while avoiding some mistakes you could have made on a compulsive purchase.
Take the time to digest this article before purchasing your equipment. It will allow you to enjoy it for many years to come!
- Using a telescope
- Which telescope, to observe what?
- The price of a telescope
- The telescope mount
- How will the stars and planets look in my telescope?
- What if I want to do astrophotography?
- The image is blurry in my telescope!
- The choice of eyepieces
- The essential telescope accessories
- Where to observe?
- How Pyxis can help you choose your first telescope
- Callisto: the telescope comparator
- Where to buy your telescope?
- Connected alternatives: eV scope and Stellina
1. Using a telescope
First of all, you have to know that a telescope is like a car, a bicycle, or a computer: you have to learn how to use it to be used correctly. Therefore, the best telescope will be the one you can master, and it will be the one with which you have done a lot of practice.
So, buying a telescope is good, but knowing how to use it is better!
There are some questions you should ask yourself before making such an acquisition:
- I instead want to observe planets?
- I instead wish to observe galaxies, nebulae, globular clusters?
- You especially want to observe the moon?
- I dream of seeing the sun close up?
- Do I want to observe or take pictures?
- What is my ideal budget for a first telescope?
- By the way, do I want a telescope or a refracting telescope?
- Do I live in the city or the open countryside?
These questions are fundamental because they will allow you to know which type of telescope to buy according to your desires. For example, if taking pictures of the sky is not necessarily your priority, there is no need to invest in expensive equipment that you will not use to its full potential.
2. Which telescope, to observe what?
In most cases, when you have just acquired a telescope or a refracting telescope, the first object you will point your device at is undoubtedly the Moon. Why? Because it is the object closest to us, and therefore the easiest to observe.
– How about the sun?
The sun? Of course, but BE CAREFUL! Never look into your telescope in the direction of the sun without a suitable filter; you risk burning your retina irreversibly. Indeed, the magnification of the telescope’s eyepiece will concentrate the light emitted by the sun in a single point, just like a magnifying glass!
Observing the Moon will be an excellent start and even essential for the novice astronomer. Imagine: seeing a full moon on a beautiful starry night can be a delightful sight under normal circumstances. But what about a Moon that would reveal to you the details of its craters, the beauty of its seas, in absolutely stunning resolution? If you are reading these lines, it is because you are not far from experiencing it.
How to choose the right telescope to see the Moon?
If there were only one thing you had to consider when selecting your future telescope, it would be the diameter, also called the aperture. Indeed, it is the diameter of the tube that will make the difference, unlike the bad advertisements that we can sometimes find, which tout extreme magnifications (example: “this telescope magnifies 450 times!”). Do not trust a sign that promotes a telescope that magnifies hundreds of times: the quality of the object you observe would be the same as looking at a starfish in front of you … 50 meters below polluted water!
So, to observe the Moon correctly, you would instead need a refractor with an aperture of 60 to 70 millimeters.
What is a refractor?
The refractor is an astronomical telescope or lens telescope. It’s thinner than a traditional telescope. The telescope is an excellent choice for a beginner wishing to observe the Moon and planets.
To observe even more details on the Moon and the planets of our solar system, a good reflector of more than 100 mm will do perfectly well.
What is a reflector?
The telescope is the generic name given in principle to the reflector. Unlike the refractor (telescope), the reflector is provided with various mirrors, while the latter (the telescope) consists of lenses. The telescope is larger than the telescope, therefore relatively more difficult to transport if you live in town and want to observe in the countryside to avoid light pollution as much as possible.
What is light pollution?
One of the major problems of the die-hard astronomer is finding a place where the artificial light of cities is least present. In fact, the closer you are to the streetlights in your neighborhood, the more miniature objects you will be able to observe in the sky.
To realize how important this aspect of astronomy is, look up at the stars at night, in town, and observe with the naked eye the number of stars that we see, and to do the same in the countryside. The difference is instructive.
New York at night. Light pollution makes it almost impossible to observe the sky.
© Kai Pilger, Pexels
A telescope will allow you to observe the Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter in town correctly. Still, if you want to observe galaxies, nebulae, and other star clusters, you will need a telescope instead, go into the countryside, and there, you will be satisfied!
I still don’t know which telescope to choose!
The reason is simple: it is challenging to give this question a ready-made answer because it depends on what you want to observe. The critical thing to remember is that the larger the size of the instrument, or rather, the larger the diameter (aperture), the greater the ability of the telescope to collect light and complex objects. Then, it’s all a question of resources.
The price of a telescope
Whether you want to give a telescope for Christmas for a child, or if you want to start stargazing, you can make this dream come true without breaking the bank. Indeed, in the multitude of glasses and telescopes available on the market, a large number is ideally suited for beginners and all budgets. If you are the perfect beginner in astronomy, here is a telescope of choice: the Skywatcher 130/900, which is very popular for its ease of use and low price. Its direct rival, the Omegon 130/920, cheaper and of equivalent quality, has been very successful for some time.
Here are some other telescopes & glasses which are excellent choices to start with:
We can say that with a budget of less than 300 €, it is possible to enjoy the purchase of a telescope. On the other hand, avoid buying telescopes on auction sites or in supermarkets (this is only my humble opinion). It is a safe bet that you will be disappointed: obsolete device, in bad condition, too inefficient.
If you have significant financial means for purchasing a telescope, be careful: the more expensive the machine, the more it is likely to be very imposing (not always, but often: the problem of congestion, transport). In addition, it may be pretty tricky to handle: a bit like a camera full of features of which you only use a small percentage.
One more thing that is important: know that a suitable rimless telescope is not a good telescope.
The telescope mount
To support, orient the telescope and point it in the desired direction, it needs a mount. There are several types of telescope mounts:
The azimuthal mount
It is a basic mount for small telescopes, and it allows you to orient a telescope vertically and horizontally. It may do the trick very well for a beginner. Good to know, this mount does not allow you to do astrophotography easily.
The altazimuthal mount
This mount resembles the azimuthal mount, but it is technically more advanced: it often equips with a motor allowing the electronic telescope guidance to follow a celestial object. This type of mount is interesting because, without this motorization, you have to constantly adjust the telescope manually to avoid losing sight of the object observed.
The equatorial mount
This mount is almost the favorite of astronomers because it has an axis of rotation parallel to the Earth’s axis of rotation. More difficult to take in hand than the azimuthal mount, once this grip carries out, the equatorial mount gives a better comfort of use, remarkably to follow a star.
The Dobson mount
The Dobsons are a bit of a particular case in astronomy. Some astronomers keen on direct observation swear by this type of mount, while others, like astrophotographers, will not want to hear (too much) about it.
Unlike other types of mounts, Dobson does not reduce to just a mount: it is a whole set which most often constitutes a large-diameter Newtonian telescope installed on a simplified azimuthal mount. The primary asset of the Dobsonian is, therefore, its large diameter for an affordable price, allowing observations of a breathtaking level of detail.
If your intention is above all else the visual, that is, pure observation, you should seriously consider acquiring a Dobsonian, like this magnificent telescope.
How will the stars and planets look in my telescope?
The answer to this question is not apparent. However, we will try to answer this! Perhaps the best way to find out what you’re going to see in a telescope is by going to an astronomy club near you.
You are sure to find some charming people there who will let you try out their astronomical equipment. It will allow you to realize what it is to use a telescope, and above all, you will see in real life how we can see the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, etc.
Concretely, you should know that when you observe a planet such as Saturn, do not expect to see it in close-up with all the details in your telescope. Be aware that you can easily distinguish its rings, however, which are already huge. You will also be able to admire Jupiter and perceive its large red stripes, and with a bit of luck, you may even see its large red spot! On the other hand, it will be pretty tricky (but not impossible) to observe planets such as Mercury (too small and too close to the Sun). Uranus and Neptune are visible, but at best, you will see a small colored dot.
What is interesting about planetary observation is that the planets are very bright objects. It is therefore quite possible to observe them comfortably even if you live in the city.
The deep sky
Unlike the planetary, profound sky observation (nebulae, globular clusters, galaxies, etc.) will require more rigor. Indeed, if you observe in the city, you will have great difficulty locating and observing these objects, which reflect a minimal amount of light. It is why it is better to move to the countryside to enjoy this type of observation fully. Also, be aware that when you point your telescope at any of these objects, don’t expect to see a galaxy or nebula with thousands of shimmering colors, such as can be found in astronomy books or on the Internet.
At the risk of breaking a myth, know that what you will see in your instrument will be rather a milky spot, a little fuzzy as long as your telescope will have a diameter less than 200 mm. With a telescope of at least 250 mm, the results will start to be interesting for observing galaxies and other nebulae.
Therefore, it should remember that to observe the deep sky comfortably. It will be better to turn to a telescope of at least 250 mm in diameter because deep-sky objects emit little light. It is necessary to use a device allowing to collect the light. No more possible.
To have a more concrete idea of what you will be able to observe in your telescope or your refracting telescope, I recommend visiting the site http://www.stelvision.com. This site allows you to enter the characteristics of your future telescope. Based on these characteristics, it calculates you and displays an image as you could see it on the telescope! Here is an example of how you might see Saturn with a 130/900 telescope and an eyepiece with a focal length of 6mm: Saturn at the 130/900 telescope.
Therefore, the Television site allows you to perform various tests to find out what you will be able to see with the telescope: the Moon, Saturn, the Pleiades, the Andromeda galaxy, the Orion nebula. Please note, however, that even if The displayed image gives a good overview of reality, what you could see with the telescope is likely to be different (light and air pollution, place of observation). By the way, if you need a very well-done star chart, I highly recommend the Stelvision 365 card that you can find at Amazon.
Universe2go: an augmented reality mobile planetarium
Smartphone owners and other geeks passionate about astronomy will be delighted: Omegon has released a box in which you can insert your smartphone and which, via a dedicated app, will inform you about what you observe by superimposing. A lot of information, such as the name of the stars observed. You even warn when the ISS passes in the sky. I won’t tell you more, and it’s up to you to find out.
What if I want to do astrophotography?
Astrophotography is a discipline quite apart from the world of astronomical observation. Before getting started, you must:
- Know the sky well
- Master your telescope
- Have a significant budget
As a beginner, it cannot be easy to get started with astrophoto. First, take the time to know how to observe!
The image is blurry in my telescope!
There can be several reasons why you are not getting good images. If there is a lot of wind or light pollution, you will not get good results. There is another primary reason, sometimes overlooked by many people: the poor collimation of your telescope. It is a critical setting that will give your instrument a second life.
The choice of eyepieces
The eyepiece is the eye of the telescope: without a suitable eyepiece, no salvation. It is the eyepiece that takes care of magnifying the image. It is thanks to it that will reveal the beauty of the stars before your amazed eyes.
Friends, It is possible to use different types of eyepieces for the same telescope. What you need to know is that there are mainly two sizes (in fact, their diameter, generally called “flowing”) of eyepieces:
- 31.75 mm (1.25 inch) eyepieces
- 50.8 mm (2 inches) eyepieces
The most commonly used eyepieces are undoubtedly those measuring 31.75 mm, i.e., 1.25 ”. If you are wondering about the proper methods to choose suitable eyepieces, I invite you to read my dedicated article on the issue.
The essential telescope accessories
There are many accessories available for our valuables, from the most trivial to the most useful. Rather than talking about it here, I invite you to consult my article dedicated to telescope accessories. It is a detailed article that attempts to give a broad overview of the accessories we must have.
Where to observe?
There are many places in France to feast on our heavenly vault. What if you went to discover the stars in a magical place to make your observations? I advise you to visit the site of Hervé ROCHE, who has two magnificent gîtes in the Cévennes: Les Espérelles Hautes!
How Pyxis can help you choose your first telescope
With Pyxis, choosing your telescope has never been so easy! Answer a few questions sincerely, and Pyxis will determine which type of telescope is what you are looking for. Although in the Beta version, this tool can determine with reasonable precision which material you need. So, don’t wait any longer and come and try Pyxis!
Callisto: the telescope comparator
Callisto is another tool that lets you select multiple telescopes and compare their features to help you make the right choice. I urge you to try it. If this tool is helpful to you, do not hesitate to let me know by posting a comment here!
Where to buy your telescope?
If you can find a specialty store, this will allow you to touch the telescope and see its size and bulk. I advise you to check the price carefully and see if you can not find cheaper on the internet for the purchase. Several very reputable e-commerce sites will save you money on prices. Here are the ones I recommend:
- Astro shop: leader on the European market, they have an impressive number of products in stock.
- Optique-pro: they are the same as astroshop, with a prettier design (personal opinion).
- Omegon: the site dedicated to the Omegon brand, a rising brand created by Rastro shop.
- Amazon: the leader in e-commerce, great products available.
Note: for a while, I recommended the Nature & Découvertes site. It turns out that a considerable number of people have bought and then returned their devices. I do not recommend that you buy from this store. Perhaps this is because they don’t specialize in astronomical material: their catalog is pretty well stock, but they don’t seem to deliver appropriately.
I therefore strongly recommend Rastro shop: the feedback I have from people who buy from them is 98% satisfied. So there is little chance that you will be disappointed with them, a shop specializing in astronomy.
Connected alternatives: eV scope and Stellina
Recently, the world of amateur astronomy has changed and opened up to a new era: that of fully connected telescopes, controllable from your smartphone, offering on this occasion a whole new way of observing the sky. These solutions, although expensive, are quite suitable for beginners.
If you are interested, I recommend reading my articles on the Stellina de Vaonis and the Unistellar eVscope.
Choosing a telescope, especially when you are quite a beginner, is not an easy thing. However, we hope that this little guide for beginners will have enabled you to see more clearly and make the right choice for acquiring your next telescope.
We present to you below a small table with some telescopes that we have selected. These telescopes are classified by level, the first of the table being the one that we consider perfectly suited to the beginner.
List of the best telescopes for beginners and up!
|Skywatcher 130/900 EQ-2||Reflector / Telescopes|
|Omegon 130/920 EQ-2||Reflector / Telescopes|
|Omegon 60/700 AZ1||Refractor / Telescope|
|Skywatcher 150/1200 NEQ-3||Reflector / Telescope|
|Skywatcher 60/700 mm AZ-2||Refractor / Telescope|
|Omegon 203/1200 Dobsonian Telescope||Refractor / Telescope|
|Skywatcher 200/1000 NEQ-5||Reflector / Telescopes|
|Skywatcher 70/700 AZ-2||Reflector / Telescopes|
There are also a good number of telescopes for sale at Amazon