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Choosing to buy a telescope can be one of the most enjoyable experiences in a person's life, or one of the most frustrating. Determining the telescope for sale that's right for you is critical, yet can be difficult, with such a myriad of choices. Some beginners find themselves purchasing their first telescope at a big box store, and usually find the telescope is not what they expected. Sadly, this is the most common reason budding astronomers drop out of the hobby. It isn't because astronomy let them down, it is because their expectations of what their telescope should do let them down!
Take a moment and ponder the three questions below, if you're looking to buy a telescope. If you do not know the answers, click the "Read More" button for a full explanation. If you are still not sure or have further questions, contact one of our telescope experts and pick their brain, or make plans to attend a local star party and check out what other amateur astronomers are using! Sure, you may find more questions than answers at first, but you'll be glad you did!
- What do you want to do with your telescope? No, it's not a trick question!
- Where do you plan to set up your telescope and how much can you comfortably lift?
- How much can you spend?
What do you want to do with your telescope?
This may seem like the "duh" question of the century, but trust me on this one. Do you want to look at the moon and planets, and maybe a few of the brighter galaxies and nebulae? Do you want to check out our own solar system as well as explore objects that are at the furthest reaches of the universe? Do you want to take pictures of what you see? Do you want to use this telescope for bird- and wildlife watching, and other day-time observations? Maybe you want to do it all. OPT has the right telescope for sale! Pick one, and then scroll down for suggestions:
If you want a nice introduction to astronomy but are not really interested in observing beyond our own solar system, a smaller refractor or reflector on a sturdy, easy to use alt-azimuth mount may be all you need. You can still spend quite a bit on this set up (optics of any sort have a wide price range that depends on their quality), but there is no reason to go big if you do not want to check out the universe much beyond our own neighborhood. This would also be a good set-up for a youngster. Just remember to choose a telescope with a sturdy mount (it is NO fun to use a wobbly mount regardless of the circumstances), and if you do not care to do daytime observations (birding, whale-watching, wildlife, etc) you can get a reflector or refractor. Pick according to your budget after that, and you should be good to go.
If you want to explore the entire universe, aperture is your best friend. Buy the biggest telescope you can afford and that you can comfortably lift. Which big telescope fits best depends on how much help you would like finding objects in the sky (do it yourself vs computerized), whether you would like motors that keep the telescope positioned on an object for a length of time, and if you want to take pictures.
Want to do it yourself by arming yourself with a trusty star chart and a flashlight? Take a look at the Dobsonian reflector telescopes. They give you the biggest aperture for your money, because their "mount" is a simple lazy-susan base. The basic models do not come with motors, and you simply push the telescope where you want it to go…and move it when the object leaves the eyepiece (due to the rotation of the Earth). Do not plan on doing photography with a Dob. It is not impossible, and I have seen quick shots through the eyepiece of a bright object like Jupiter, but do not buy a Dob if you want to do photography.
What? You want to look deep but you want some help finding your way around the universe? There are Dobsonians that guide you to objects for a bit more money, but there are also a bunch of larger apertured telescopes that come with completely computerized mounts. Turn them on, push a button, they do a dance, beep at you, and you start observing! Use the filtering navigation to your left when you are browsing telescopes and click on "Computerized" to see a list of choices.
If you want to do photography through a telescope, you will need a mount that tracks an object as it moves through the night sky, and does a very good job at that task. A sturdy German equatorial mount is a popular choice, but many people choose a computerized "alt-azimuth" mounted telescope and then turn it into an equatorial mount with the addition of a wedge when they decide to start imaging. Either one of these options will do a nice job, and if you are someone who wants to do it all, they will work for you, too! Imaging is a big subject, and will not be discussed fully here. If you are not sure what mount or telescope to choose and you know you want to take pictures through your telescope, I recommend you contact one of our telescope experts at OPT and let them help you. You will be glad you did.
If you want a telescope for your deck or patio, or to take on birding or wildlife adventures, we recommend a spotting scope or refractor. There are many spotting scopes that have zoom eyepieces built in if you do not want to bother with changing eyepieces when you want to get a closer look, or, you can have a bit more flexibility with a small refractor or other spotting scope that accepts interchangeable eyepieces. The mount you use depends on whether the telescope will be on display in your home or not. Most spotting scopes and small refractors work well on a sturdy photographic tripod, but there are also pretty wood tripods available for a decorator look. Can you choose a larger telescope and use it for both astronomical and terrestrial views? Sure, people do it all the time. Just make sure you do not choose a classic Newtonian reflector (Dobsonian would fall into that category). While there is no law against looking at a coyote with a Newtonian, he will look like he is standing on his shoulder instead of on his feet. Views that are right side up and left-to-right correct are not possible with a classic Newtonian telescope, but they are possible with most other common telescope styles.
Where do you plan to set up your telescope, and how much can you comfortably lift?
Telescopes come in all shapes and sizes, and can weigh as little as a few pounds or as much as several hundred pounds. OPT has all sorts of telescopes for sale. Most people want to bring their telescope in and out of the house whenever they wish to observe, so easy set-up and reasonable weight are important factors. Of course if you plan to house your telescope in an observatory, then weight is not really a factor (although size is) because you will set it up once and that's it! Remember, the best telescope is the one you will USE! If it is too heavy or takes too long to set up (in your opinion, which is the one that counts), you will have a tendency to watch TV or read a book instead of doing astronomy. Do not let other people tell you the answer to this question…it is very personal. Some people feel the work required to set up a very large (12" and up) telescope is worth it, and would be unhappy with something smaller, while others would set it up once, put it in the closet, and never use it again, so think about it.
How much can you spend?
Telescope prices vary greatly, and it is worth taking a look at your budget first and giving yourself a low-to-high price range, but know that OPT has the right telescope for sale. Always buy the best telescope you can afford, and you won't be sorry. Go super cheap and, well, you get what you pay for. The good news is, most telescopes come with at least one eyepiece (often two), and can be set up and used right out of the box. The bad news is, you will want a few extra accessories anyway. You may want to add a budget buffer for accessories you want immediately. As for the rest, it gives your family something to buy you for your birthday besides a coffee mug, scarf, or necktie!
Aperture vs Power: Don't Be Fooled!
Don't fall for advertisements about buying a telescope for its amazing magnifying power. The "power" or "magnification" of a telescope system relies on the eyepiece, similar to the way different camera lenses are used to change the magnification of a subject when attached to a camera body; while the ability to see and resolve progressively fainter objects depends on the primary mirror or lens size of the telescope, known in the industry as "aperture".
The key ingredient to any telescope's visual performance is aperture - not power. The larger the aperture, the more light a telescope can collect, causing the image to be brighter. Aperture wouldn't be so critical if most astronomical objects weren't so faint. In other words, the Moon is easy to see even without much aperture, but once you are out of our solar system and objects are much further away and much fainter, you must rely on aperture to see in the dark, just like your eyes dilate as available light decreases.
It is interesting to note that each time the size of the aperture doubles, the light gathering power increases four times. For example, a telescope with 8" of aperture has four times more area and will collect four times more light than a 4" scope, making the image four times brighter! Aperture also plays a far more critical role than just light gathering. As size doubles, so does resolving power. This proportionally increases your ability to see finer details on planets, split double stars, or see individual stellar members in concentrated star clusters. In our Moon example, better resolving power would allow you to see more details on the lunar surface. In other words, even though bright objects may not benefit from the increase in brightness that a larger aperture provides, they would still benefit from better resolution.
If you're interested in learning more about telescopes for sale, browse through our telescope listings. In Telescopes "by Design" you'll find more about each basic type of telescope style and its general applications. As you journey further into each category, you can learn the history of different telescope types and how they work. If you'd like to see what kinds of telescopes each manufacturer has to offer, you'll be introduced to the companies that produce telescopes and the models they offer in Telescopes "By Manufacturer".
Finally and most importantly, don't panic! OPT has a ton of experience in setting people up with the right telescope and we can do that for you as well. If you need our help, you can stop by our showroom, give us a call, send us an email, or start an online chat. Happy telescope hunting!