Refractor Telescopes

Products reviews and general guides for the amateur and hobby astronomer.
Helpful hints and tips for first time telescope buyers.

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Buying Within Your Telescope Budget

Tips on Buying Your First Telescope

Depending on the size of your budget, the depth of your curiosity, and the seriousness of your habit, there are several key attributes to consider when buying your first telescope: portability, aperture size, and steadiness. There are three principal types of telescope; the refractor, the reflector, and the cassegrain. All telescopes work by taking the available light through what is known as the aperture and reflecting that light and image back to the eyepiece. The refractor’s aperture is usually smaller than the reflector’s aperture; therefore, a refractor allows you to see the moon and the planets, while a reflector will allow you to look deeper into the cosmos. The diameter of the mirror in the reflector, usually measured in millimeters, will tell you how large the aperture is; in this case, the larger, the better. The cassegrain utilizes two mirrors and a correcting lens, and is often used by intermediate to advanced amateur astronomers.

Magnification, surprisingly, is not nearly as important as aperture size. In fact, magnification is generally better at lower rates due to the amount of light coming in to the telescope; with a weak light source a higher magnification will appear dim and blurry, whereas a lower magnification with the same light source will render the object with more clarity and precision. A magnification between 32x and 50x is generally best. Any higher than this, and in typical nighttime viewing conditions, you will spend more time viewing earth-bound refracted heat waves from the day’s sun than anything in the night sky.

Portability plays an important role in choosing a telescope. If you have a dedicated space in your home for your telescope, then portability and set-up do not play that great of a factor. If, however, you do not wish to store the telescope in a permanent space, portability will play a larger role in determining what telescope to buy. Reflecting telescopes are generally easily portable up to about an 4” mirror, at which point they become increasingly difficult to move. Most refractor telescopes are extremely portable.

Additionally, the tripod on which the telescope rests is of vital importance. A cheap, flimsy tripod will make viewing difficult, if not impossible. A steady foundation is the key to a worthwhile viewing experience.

To enhance your experience, a basic knowledge of the position of notable celestial features is recommended. Most medium-budget telescopes come with something known as a ‘Finderscope.’ Mounted on top of the telescope, the German Equatorial mount version of the Finderscope automatically aligns the telescope to celestial north, a point on the sky designated in celestial maps. The other type of Finderscope mount is the alt-azimuth version, which allows 360 degree movement on the horizontal plane. Depending on the size of your budget, you can purchase other more specialized computerized finders, such as a “GoTo” scope, which has a pre-set list of celestial points of interest that one can select from a keypad. This “GoTo” feature is usually found in conjunction with the cassegrain telescope, and is not necessarily recommended for the first-time buyer, unless you do not mind investing significant time in the initial set-up.

For tips on where to buy your telescope, there are a few excellent print/online resources. Depending on your geographical location, the U.K.’s Astronomy Now offers a list of specialized telescope merchants, while the United States equivalent is Sky and Telescope. Finding a local astronomy club is also a great way to get first-hand recommendations for telescope vendors. Ultimately, spending time on research will help you to wisely spend money on your first telescope.

Refractor Telescopes 2012