By Robert Ince

Which telescope is best for beginners?

With such a variety of telescopes on offer it can be very tricky to choose which one is most suitable, especially for beginners. This blog offers advice as to which one may be most suitable for you, your budget and your circumstances. Ultimately the best telescope is one that you use the most – that applies to all scopes, not just entry level ones…so to be used regularly it needs to be easy to setup, practical and fun to use.

Links to all of the equipment referenced in this blog can be found on the website: 
https://gostargazing.co.uk/which-telescope-is-best-for-beginners/

The best advice is to try before you buy
The best advice I can give before buying a telescope is to first visit your local Astronomical Society or Astronomy Club who will be happy to help you choose a suitable instrument — many will be able to offer hands on practical experience with a variety of telescopes and can also explain the pros and cons of each design. For your nearest Society or Club check my website at Go Stargazing events map or the Federation of Astronomical Societies website.

How telescopes work
If you are going to buy a telescope it’s good to understand how it works! Telescopes are simply light buckets – they work by gathering light, bringing it into focus and focussing it into an image. Some telescopes do this using mirrors (reflecting telescopes) and others use lenses (refracting telescopes). The image formed by the telescope is then magnified using an eyepiece which you look through.

The magnification of the eyepiece is usually expressed as its focal length measured in millimetres but different designs of eyepiece have different fields of view too. It’s good to remember that magnifying an image does not necessarily mean you see more detail — often objects look better through a telescope under low powers of magnification – mainly due to the limits of a scope and how stable the atmosphere is. The more light a telescope can gather the brighter the image that is formed — the brighter the image the more you can magnify it and the more details you will see.

The power of a telescope is not determined by how much it can magnify but how much light it can gather — therefore the size of the light gathering area of a telescope combined with the quality of the optics used to gather that light determine how good the telescope is.

Equally important is the mount that the telescope is fixed to — there’s no advantage having a good quality telescope with excellent optics mounted on a poor quality, wobbly and difficult to use tripod. Indeed this is the reason a lot of people are put off — often the tripod mount is poorly designed and built to reduce the overall cost, this at the expense of it becoming impossibly difficult to operate (even by seasoned amateur astronomers).

An ideal telescope is one that has good light gathering area, quality optics, a solid mount and is easily operated.

Dobsonian telescopes
I highly recommend a particular type of telescope known as a Dobsonian. Named after their inventor John Dobson, an amateur astronomer from San Francisco, these telescopes are sturdy, have good quality optics and come with large reflective surfaces (mirrors) that gather lots of light. They are easily moved up and down and being mounted on a rotating base means they can access any part of the sky. They are good value for money, ideal for beginners (including children from the age of about 10) and great for observing the moon, planets and the brighter deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae. They are really good fun to use too and little can go wrong if you look after them!

How much does a Dobsonian cost?
Being of simple design Dobsonian telescopes are amongst the cheapest type of telescope money can buy and without too much compromise. Without fancy electronics or motors your budget goes primarily towards how powerful the telescope is (the size of the light gathering mirror).


Sky-Watcher Skyliner 150P - 150 millimetre / 6 inch primary mirror
Two eyepieces (10mm & 25mm), Finder scope

Sky-Watcher Skyliner 250P - 250 millimetre / 10 inch primary mirror - Two eyepieces (10mm & 25mm) Finder scope

A Dobsonian telescope with a 6″ mirror costs in the region of £220, an 8″ about £290 and a 10″ approximately £440. There are other types of telescope that can be found cheaper however you may well find yourself venturing into the realms of those of poor build quality and difficult to use (in which case you really must try before you buy!)

Younger Astronomers
With guidance these diminutive and portable Dobsonian telescopes are ideal for children aged 6 to 10. They make ideal travel scopes for a family stargazing adventure to a dark sky region! They cost from approximately £49 for the “mini” to £140 for the flextube and all give great views of the Moon, planets and brighter deep sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.

Sky-Watcher Heritage 76p Mini - 76 millimetre / 3 inch primary mirror Two eyepieces (10mm & 25mm) Ideal gift / first telescope for children

Sky-Watcher Heritage 100p - 100 millimetre / 4″ primary mirror Table top design

Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p - primary mirror 130 millimetre / 5 inch Compact flextube design Two eyepieces (10mm & 25mm)

Recommended Accessories

Red dot finder
A red dot finder makes it easy for you to point your telescope at objects in the sky. When looking through this type of finder a red dot is projected onto the sky and, once aligned, where you point the red dot is where the telescope is also pointing! Most beginners find these devices far easier to use than the “finder scope” which some telescopes come with.

Telrad finder
A very popular alternative to using a red dot finder is a Telrad finder. These devices work in a very similar way to a red dot finder however project a circular target instead.

Baader Hyperion Zoom Eyepiece
All new telescopes come with eyepieces and are very good and perfect for beginners but we recommend the first upgrade you might consider is this zoom eyepiece. By twisting the eyepiece you can increase or decrease the magnification to 5 different levels — it’s the equivalent of having 5 eyepieces for the price of 1!

Laser Collimator
To help get the best out of a reflecting telescope (one that uses mirrors) it is sometimes necessary to align the mirrors so that they reflect light optimally. The process of adjusting the mirrors so that they are in alignment is called “collimation” which is made far easier when using a laser collimator. This device shines a laser beam down through the telescope helping adjustments to be made and, with a little practice (or help from your local club or society) is straightforward. The Baader Laser Collimator is by far the best and is the only one you will ever need to buy!

Links to all of the equipment referenced in this blog can be found on the website: 
https://gostargazing.co.uk/which-telescope-is-best-for-beginners/


Additional Information

You'll find more information on places to stargaze in the North West region as well as events and activities scheduled in the area on the GO STARGAZING website at: https://gostargazing.co.uk/regions/north-west-england/