Choosing a telescope
The ideal telescope for you
Everybody’s ideal telescope is different. There is a lot to choose from, so start by thinking about what you want to get out of it and how you intend to use it.
- What do you most want to look at – the moon and planets, or ‘deep sky’ objects like nebulae and faraway galaxies? A small telescope will give you great views of the planets, but bigger is better when it comes to the really beautiful deep sky objects.
- Where are you going to use it? If you live in a city with a lot of light pollution, you might want something you can pack in the car and take to a dark site out of town.
- How willing and able are you to lug around and set up a large heavy telescope?
- Is it for children as much as for you? If so, short legs and short attention spans come into play. A computerised ‘goto’ scope can eliminate the down time of searching for objects, but convenience comes at a price.
- Do you want to do astrophotography? If so you will need an equatorial mount, and perhaps a scope that is optimised for photography.
- And as always, how much can you afford?
While the best telescope for you depends on your personal circumstances, there are some general rules that apply to almost everyone.
Bigger is better
The size of the telescope is the biggest determinant of how impressive things will look. By size we mean aperture, which is the diameter of the main mirror or lens. The bigger the mirror or lens, the more light is collected and the more you will see. Bigger telescopes give images that are brighter, sharper and clearer.
But not so big that it becomes a hassle to use
Bigger scopes are less portable and harder to set up. Some telescope designs are more portable than others. Remember, the easier the scope is to move and set up, the more often it gets used.
Forget about magnification
Choose a scope based on its aperture, not its magnification. Changing the magnification is as simple as changing the eyepiece. While bigger telescopes allow you to get more magnification in ideal viewing conditions, most of the time atmospheric conditions will constrain you. High magnification is useful for looking at the planets when the air conditions are very steady. A lot of the time, especially for viewing the most beautiful deep sky objects, lower magnification is better because you get a brighter image and a wider field of view.
Quality matters a lot
A small scope with a first-rate mirror or lens is better than a large scope of mediocre quality. Do not cut corners on quality. The cheap refracting telescopes that you can buy from general stores are junk and will turn you off astronomy. The quality of the telescope mount is just as important as the optics. A wobbly mount makes viewing a chore, and makes astrophotography impossible.
Making a choice
To sum up, the big trade-offs are aperture, cost, portability and whether you want to do photography.
To learn more about aperture, read How Big A Telescope Do I Need?
The table below compares different types of telescope and how well they do on the various criteria that you need to consider. You should also read our page on Types of Telescope, which goes into the strengths and drawbacks in more detail.
|Aperture per dollar||Medium||Best||Low||Medium||Lowest|
Want to know more?
Get in touch with the Astronz team if you would like some help. We will give you unbiased, expert advice because we want you to own what’s best for you.
You can try out some alternatives before you buy. Astronomy clubs and societies often have viewing nights where you can look through different telescopes. You can also hire telescopes and try them out if you a member of the Auckland Astronomical Society.
Many Internet sites have advice for people starting out. Our two favourites are: