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  • The Road to Your First Telescope - A Newbie Astronomers Perspective

    I am still new to this hobby and just now getting my first scope(s) up and running, so this is not advice from a wise old astronomer. This is advice from one who has been in and out of a variety of hobbies. This is my newest passion and I have been immersing myself in information. I am going to share what I have learned so far in the hope it helps others get started.
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    There are no beginner telescopes. There are beginners and there are telescopes. That's it! And there are beginner's expectations, which can sometimes be unrealistic.


    What would be the perfect first telescope? We all ask this question.

    •One that can be purchased within your budget. ( is your budget realistic?)

    •One that will give you the opportunity to learn about the sky. (Do you want to learn or do you want to look at things?)

    •One that will not frustrate you or fall so far shot of your expectations that you walk away. (what are your expectations?)

    •One that you can handle (these things get big and heavy)


    Which telescope is that? That depends on you, your budget, how willing you are to learn and how unrealistic your expectations are. If you think you are going to spend $200 and see things that look like the Hubble photos, I suggest you take up flying model airplanes. That is my other hobby. Even with a $2000 scope you will never see views like the Hubble photos. Ever! If you could then they would not have had to launch Hubble into space.

    Want to get into astrophotography? Do you have the budget? Are you prepared to learn the world of computer editing software, video, photography and astronomy all at once? Do you have the budget? From what I read here, this can get really expensive really fast if you are going to try and get images that look like the Hubble photos. The cost of entry here keeps dropping so don't walk away yet, but consider your expectations. Do you have the budget and the commitment?


    GoTo - Goto scopes are like GPSs for your car. You tell them what you want to see and they point the scope at it. Cool! Some might say that goto scopes are beginner scopes because you don't need to know much of anything about astronomy. If you can master aligning the scope, it will find things for you. But will you learn the skies from a goto scope? That is up to you.

    When I started using a GPS in my car I stopped learning routes. I would arrive at a destination and people would ask what route I took. "I don't know, I just followed the GPS." No need for maps, just tell the GPS where you want to go and it will take you there. But how much do you learn about the route? Could you get there without the GPS? (Where are my maps?)

    There are goto scopes that cost $250 and there are goto scopes that cost $2500. Are they both good first scopes because they are goto? That depends on your budget.


    Mounts - You may think of them as tripods but they are so much more than that. They can range from $50 to $5000. Some are manual, some are motorized and some are fully computerized. A lousy mount can ruin the viewing experience of a good scope. Many entry level telescopes are reasonably good but the mounts are so poor that they ruin the experience, or so I am told by the wizards on this board. My first telescope, when I was in middle school, had a lousy mount but I didn't know any better.


    Dobsonians (dobs) - A dob is not a scope type it is a mount type but people talk about them like they are a type of telescope. Dobsonians are Newtonian reflector scopes that go in a dobsonian mount. The mount is very inexpensive but very stable. They look like a fancy lazy susan turntable that sits on the ground.

    Many have advised me, as a new astronomer, to get a manual dobsonian (mount + scope) because they provide the most aperture for the $$ and telescopes are all about aperture. The more aperture the more you can see.

    Most dobsonians, are simple manual scopes that rest on a tilt/swivel base the ground. They are stable and simple to use but you need to learn how to "star hop" to find things. This is like learning to travel with a map. You have to read the map then read the sign posts to find your turns. More work than a GPS but most likely, when you get there, you will be able to tell someone how you got there and you will be able to get there again. You learn the route.

    On a bang for the buck basis, dobsonians are a good choice. Note that there are more expensive dobsonians that have guidance to help you find things and there are even goto dobs, but the cost goes up and up.


    Binoculars - Probably the best advice I received on this and other forums was to get a pair of 7X50 or 10X50 binoculars, some basic books and charts and go look at the sky. See what you can see from your location. Start to get to know the stars with the binoculars. Learn to star hop to find things. I was surprised how much more I could see with $25 binoculars than I could see with my naked eye, even in my heavily light polluted area.

    I have to say that this has been wonderful. I learned a little about the sky over my head and how much I could see from my yard. I got a little experience with star charts and books. And I started to learn about star hopping. Total investment, for binoculars, books and charts, about $100. And I will use these forever so there is no loss of investment. And binoculars can be used for other things such as watching sports, birds, nature, architecture, vacations, camping, all sorts of stuff. So if I drop out of the hobby my binoculars will still get use.

    I also learned about light pollution in my area. I learned about the challenges of avoiding street lights and the like. And I learned a little about "field of view" which is important to a beginner and to experienced astronomers alike.

    I learned about convenience. I could grab the binoculars and go for a 30 minute observation in my side yard. Setting up some telescopes can take longer than 30 minutes when you factor in assembly, collimation and "temperature stabilization" time. So my 30 minute observation session would not be possible with some of the telescopes I have considered.


    Budget:

    For some, $200 is the absolute limit of what they can spend to get into this. You can get started for $200. For some $2000 seems like an easy entry point. Would we recommend the same scope to both of these beginners because they are beginners? Likely not.


    Portability

    Here is something I had not considered. If you get a BIG scope you will have great views. But if you get a big scope, where are you going to store it and where are you going to set it up?

    I attended an observation night with a local astronomy club. There must have been 20 scopes there of various sizes and types. Everyone was very friendly and all were happy to give me a peak through their scope and to tell me about it.

    One fellow had a BIG Celestron 11" SCT scope that he loved. Cost about $3000 all up. But he said he rarely used it because he could not move it and set it up by himself. It was too heavy and too clumsy to move by himself. He later purchased a smaller scope, a 6" I think, that he loves and uses a lot. No, it does not give him the views of the big scope but the smaller scope gets 10X the sky time because it is light and portable.


    It is all about aperture, not magnification


    In the end they all do the same thing, gather light! That is what telescopes do, they gather light. Then the eyepiece magnifies the image. The more light you have the better the image will look as you magnify it. There is more to it than that but for this discussion that is close enough. I have learned that most observations are done at less than 300X magnification and the majority under 200X, even with big scopes. many people do a lot of their observations in the 30 to 60X range.

    You can take a small scope, say a 60 mm refractor or reflector, and magnify the image 300X and the image will be dark and without sharp features, assuming you can focus on it at all. There is not enough light to allow that level of magnification. So if you want to get to high magnifications you need a big aperture so you have enough light to magnify. Telescopes are all about aperture. But small aperture scopes say under 100 mm/4 inches can give you a lot to look at with a modest expenditure.

    This is similar to having a 2 MP camera and a 20 MP camera. Both take great snap shots that look good at 3X5". You can make wall posters from photos from each but the wall poster from the 2 mp camera will look grainy and without detail. The wall poster from the 20 MP camera will look much better.


    Scope Types - SCT, MCT, Newtonian, Refactor


    I am not going to describe all of these types of scopes. In the end it is all about gathering light and bending it to your will. Each scope does it in a different way. The result is that some scopes have inherently wider apparent fields of view which are better for some purposes than others, but they can be used to look at everything. Others have inherently narrower apparent fields of view which make them better for some purposes then others but they can also be used to look at everything. So there are compromises with all designs. There is no one perfect scope.


    What I have learned from the good people on this forum is, if you stay in the hobby, you end up with three types of scopes:

    •binoculars - wide view, quick to grab and look. Most people seem to have at least one and some have many

    •a smaller grab and go telescope. What is small varies by person but typically this is something with an aperture of 6" or less and for some an 80 mm/3.1" refractor is the perfect scope for this purpose. This is their travel scope, short observations window or take it on a trip or vacation scope. Quick to set up by one person.

    •a big aperture scope to see dim deep sky things, usually a reflector of 8" or more. Bigger, heavier and maybe less convenient to move around but, what views!


    This is a broad generalization but it points out that no one tool does every job equally well. Some have a scope for planets and a different scope for deep space objects. Some are designed for AP, astrophotography, and some for viewing. Most can do both but it is a question of optimization and budget.


    And what is a grab and go to you and what is grab and go to me will differ. Some will say their 8" dobsonian is their grab and go scope. Others will give this distinction to an 80 mm refractor. Your smileage will vary.



    What is this Newbie doing? (my journey)

    I am not suggesting you follow me. But I will share my path. You might find it works for you.

    First 60 days - Reading this forum, and purchased the following. Total of Less than $100. This is to help me figure out if I am interested. I also attended a local astronomy club's "observation night" and had a lot of opportunity to look through everyone's scopes and get their advice. I have not joined the club yet, but if I get serious about this I will join the club. I plan to visit another club soon.


    Binoculars - In my case, Cheap 10X50 Binoculars (there are probably better choices) ,
    * Guide to the Stars
    * Moon map
    * Sky Chart
    * red light
    * Turn left at Orion


    First Scope

    I was all over the place with this. Big dobs, expensive SCT goto scopes and ... all over the place. The budget was $500 to $1500 but in the end I decided to take a smaller first step. I purchased an 80mm refractor goto scope for $250. Mead ETX 80 If I stay in the hobby this will be my grab and go scope, my travel scope.

    I have so much light pollution and so many obstructions by my house, my main observation area, that I decided I needed the help of a goto. I could not see things to the extent that I wanted, with the binoculars. So star hopping has been a bit of a challenge. But I was not prepared to invest in a "big scope" yet. I am still not sure if I am committed to this hobby. The new scope had not arrived at the time of this writing but I will update this when it does arrive to see if this was a good choice. If not, well $250 is not going to break me or swamp the family in debt.

    Gift Scope - A friend heard I was getting into this and handed me a 3", 76mm aperture, Newtonian reflector scope that had belonged to her father. Wow! I went from no scope to two scopes of different types in a matter of a week. If this had happened first I would not have ordered the ETX but it had already shipped. I can still return it but most likely I will keep both.


    The Comparison - So I am presented with a great opportunity. I will have a goto refractor and a manual reflector of similar size. They have eyepieces with similar magnification and they are both quick and easy to move around. I will be able to do a comparison as to what they are like and which way I want to go for the big scope, if and only if I continue to be committed to the hobby. I will post reports.


    Summary

    This is a quick summary of what I have learned at 60 days into the hobby. I put it here to help those just getting into the hobby. I have shared the advice I have received and the little bit of knowledge I have accumulated to try and make it easier for you to travel this early, bumpy road to getting to know the skies.

    Feel free to comment, positive or negative, and to ask questions. I have a ton of links saved that will gather together and post as a resource to newbies like myself. But more importantly, there are a lot of smart people on this forum who will likely jump in to help. You have come to the right place for help.


    Clear skies to you.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Road to Your First Telescope - A Newbie's Perspective started by aeajr View original post
    Comments 39 Comments
    1. Phoenix1583's Avatar
      Phoenix1583 -
      That's a fantastic overview of what new people should consider. I'd even say it deserves a pin at the top of the forum!
    1. rickg18704's Avatar
      rickg18704 -
      Thanks for the good read Ed. Very insightful for anyone getting into the hobby.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Got the Meade ETX 80 working. Tonight was all about learning how to align and use the GoTo features. It took me a couple of tries to get it aligned. Now I can do it in the dark.

      First goal was to confirm that the stars I thought I knew I did know. Those were confirmed. And I finally got to see Saturn. At 15X it just looked like a star with little definition. At 40X you could see the rings and the separation from the planet. It was small but it was definitely there.

      Tracking - At one point I set it on Deneb then went in the house to get a drink. After about 10 minutes I went back out and the scope was still tracking deneb. Cool!

      It has a really neat Tour feature. It formulates a list interesting things in tonight's sky. It starts with bright items, like Vega and Albiero and works its way to dimmer and dimmer things. I did not make a list of what it was showing me. I was not really observing, I would take a look then go to the next item to see if I could see it. In many cases it was pointing to a part of the sky that was completely blank to me. Several times I pulled the binoculars out to see if I could see what the scope was showing me using the binoculars, and I could not.

      It becomes clear, very quickly, why GoTo is such a popular feature. As I use the scope more and settle down to real observations I will report more on the scope. But, at this point, as a first scope that will help you find things in the sky, I like it. It is light, inexpensive, and easy to align. I have only used it up to about 88 power. The specs say it will handle over 200X. That might be great on the moon or planets. I will see.

      I am going to enjoy this scope!
    1. Wiseowl's Avatar
      Wiseowl -
      Hi Sir.

      A great write up for a beginner stepping into the world of astronomy, I truly hope that some beginners get to see this post in helping them make the right choices forward before jumping knee deep into something they might end up walking away.

      Regards

      Pieter
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      That is the goal of the discussion. When you are really new, as I am, you don't know what you don't know. My goal is to reveal what I didn't know and what I learned along the way. And experts are welcome to comment and correct any mistakes or misconceptions I present.

      For example, you don't need a big aperture and an expensive scope to view the sky and its wonders. And you don't have to spend a year learning star maps and star hoping to start to see what is out there. $230 and you are in business with a tool that will get you started and give you a show in the process. I am sure I will hit limitations on this scope but all scopes have limitations.

      As stated in the first post, many people go from nothing to that big scope and discover that either it is too big, too inconvenient or they really are not all that interested. The scope gets neglected and maybe sold at a loss, or put in the basement for "someday" which never comes and the money is gone.

      Reading through many threads I learned that many consider an 80 mm Short FL refractor the perfecto second scope or the grab and go scope. But what I saw last night was that this might be the perfect first scope, the best beginner scope. The wide view and the goto features are like training wheels to help me get engaged. But when I am ready I can take the GoTo/Training wheels off and it will let me disengage so I can hone my star hopping skills. The tripod is very stable. I have read that bad mounts are the downfall of many of the entry level scopes. This one avoids that. And I can grab only the top part and take it with me as a table top.

      I plan to keep the shipping box, which holds both the scope and the tripod, and use it as a travel case. Right now the scope lives, mounted on the tripod, in my garage. No temperature adjustments and I can grab and set it up in minutes. Another 5 minutes to align it and I am ready to go. If I need something faster than that I still have the 10X50 binoculars which have not lost their value. They give me a different view of the same sky and I can see that I will always value that option.

      Time to start an observation log.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      One more thought. The impulse to buy things is strong, very strong. If I spend money good things will come of it. But will they?

      That Celestron NexStar 8SE calls to me even now. And that Orion XT8 Intelliscope is in my dreams.

      More eyepieces for the Meade, barlows and ..... the call is strong.

      But I want to try and quiet those and learn with what I have now. Last night's little tour of the sky showed me that I can see so much with what I have now. I have so much to learn and what I have today can teach me what I need to learn without spending a lot more money. (Well maybe one more eyepiece or a 3X barlow, but that's it. )

      So much sky and so little time.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -

      WHAT IF YOU HAVE YOUNG CHILDREN? DO YOU WANT TO GET THEM INVOLVED?


      My children (girls) are grown. They find Daddy's hobbies amusing. My wife has no interest in my many hobbies, but she is generally supportive. I am a very lucky man.

      But what if you have young children? Do you want to get them interested in astronomy? If my kids were still young this would be a consideration for me.

      My philosophy with children is to expose them to as many different interests as you can. You never know what will grab their attention for an hour or the rest of their lives. Astronomy could become a key part of a week long vacation at "the lake" where the skies are dark and the stars are spectacular. This could be a vacation thing or it could hook them for the rest of their lives. Is your scope portable enough to take it on vacation to the dark skies of the mountains? Will you need a second scope for travel? Or maybe binoculars will serve this purpose.


      Children have short attention spans. They are not going to put up with long set-up times, cool down periods and waiting for you to figure out how to find Saturn as you read through the star hopping directions or trying to figure out the alt and az coordinates, RA and such. Is that Saturn or is that a star?

      If you know the sky and can star hop then you probably don't need a goto scope. If you don't know the sky I am sure you will dig in and learn the sky and spend 30 minutes trying to find a star formation by hopping to it for the first time, but will your 6 year old be bored?

      If you are trying to hook your kids, and you are not skilled at star hopping, maybe this is a good reason to get a GoTo scope like the Meade ETX series or the Celestron NexStar series. Or at least a location assisted scope like the Orion Intelliscope Dobsonians.

      Many of use cherish the involvement of our children and rejoice when they take interest in what we do. Astronomy can become a life long shared experience if you can get them hooked young.


      It can even become a game.



      OK, tonight we found Vega, Altair and Deneb. That is the summer triangle. Tomorrow I want you to find Altair and Deneb on your own by star hopping from Vega. Let's see how we might do that. (Pull out "Turn Left at Orion")

      If you find Deneb then lets look for Albiero. Albiero is a special kind of star, a double star. Let's look it up. And, if you are really successful we can go find "the coat hanger" from Albiero. Remember we are not going to use the GoTo to do it. Lets look these up in "turn left at Orion" to see how to find them on our own.



      Will your goto scope allow you to do that? If you can find these on your own then you don't need a goto scope. But you better learn them before you engage the kids because they get bored easily. Make it fun and they will start hunting on their own and start showing you things they found. Are you going to let them use the scope without you, to explore on their own?

      GoTo, in my opinion, should be an option, like a GPS. I don't know where to find Vega or Andromeda, take me there. Once the scope has shown you Vega 5 times you will know where it is, and what it looks like. You see it is part of the summer triangle with Altair and Deneb. Each night you will go out and look up and see it. No need to use the GoTo. You know where it is. Will your GoTo let you go to them manually? Be sure you know how that is done before you buy.


      Other Uses for your Scope(s)


      Can your astronomical scope be used for terrestrial purposes? Can you use it as a spotting scope to look at birds or mountains or look over the ocean to see the sailboats? Do you care?

      Telescopes tend to flip images. They either flip them left to right on in some cases invert them. Not an issue for looking at a star or Jupiter, but what about watching deer in the distant meadow. For that you will need a binoculars, a spotting scope or a correcting angle on a telescope.

      Remember this discussion is not about what scope to buy but what to consider when you buy that scope. There are certainly spotting scopes for terrestrial use and you can point them skyward but they are not optimized for celestial use.

      I bought the Meade ETX 80 Astronomy package. This video is about the back pack version. I show it not to sell you on the Meade but to show you how things can be used. This might not be your first choice for your main scope but it might be an example of what you would want in a travel scope to take to the lake on vacation, to engage the kids.

      video overview of the backpack version
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjsD69fPg6Y


      Do you care about land use? Do you care about size? Do you care about proper viewing image?

      This is why many people have a big scope for general use and a grab and go scope for travel. Or maybe your binoculars are your travel scope. In a dark sky location binoculars can show you a lot and they can be used for terrestrial purposes. Or maybe your travel scope is really a spotting scope which is optimized for land use but can sorta be used for the sky too. Or maybe you want your sky cope to be adaptable to land use too. That is unique to you.

      Just more things to think about. No one scope is perfect for everything, but what uses should you focus on for your first scope. That is what this discussion is about.
    1. Ozman13's Avatar
      Ozman13 -
      I also started with an ETX scope and still use it to introduce children to astronomy (a lot safer than using some of my more expensive equipment), but over the years I have found you will never need a 3x barlow. You will most likely find a 2x barlow to be useful especially if you consider it when making future eyepiece purchases. A 3x barlow overpowers most eyepieces usable only on your longer focal length eyepieces while a 2x is usable on all but your shortest EPs. And I say thumbs up on either the 8SE or the 8XTI, I have lots of different types of scopes and use them all. However when I think Dob, bigger is always better, and I like the SCT on an equatorial mount instead of a alt/az fork mount (although I have a LX200 which is extremely nice).
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Thanks for adding to the discussion.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      While I am very happy with the Meade ETX 80 so far, I did some research about other entry level GoTo scopes that are under $400. We each have our own preferences and priorities. So I offer these as a selection of relatively inexpensive computerized GoTo scopes. In my opinion, these can provide long term enjoyment on their own or they can become your grab and go or travel scopes if you move on to a larger scope. They range is from an 80 mm refractor to a 90 mm Mak-Cas to a 130 mm Newtonian reflector. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but all should be excellent entry points to astronomy for adults or adults introducing children to astronomy.


      Meade –
      All of the Meade telescopes have full GoTo features but can also be used manually, without power, so they also lend themselves to your star hopping instead of using the computerized GoTo features . If the batteries die, just unlock the telescope clutches and keep viewing the sky manually.

      Meade ETX80 Refractor – This is the telescope I purchased – $230 – $299
      http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000BTPVHW/...s=Meade+ETX+80
      Meade ETX-80AT-TC Astro Telescope with AutoStar - Telescopes at Telescopes

      Meade ETX 80 Refractor - Backpack version – $230 – $299 - nice packaging.
      Tripod does not appear to be a solid as the one above but it includes a "correct view" spotting scope angle for terrestrial viewing and a back pack.
      http://www.amazon.com/Meade-Instrume...tx+80+backpack
      video overview of the backpack version – Very good overview
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjsD69fPg6Y

      Meade Star Navigator 102 Refractor Telescope – $350 to $400
      https://www.astronomics.com/meade-st...pe_p19385.aspx
      Amazon.com : Meade Instruments 20099 StarNavigator 102-Millimeter Refractor Telescope, AutoStar (Black) : Refracting Telescopes : Camera & Photo
      Video- very good overview
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhZTuBIFNDI



      Celestron
      Based on my reading of the manuals, you can not use these without using the computer system. That means you need to be sure you have a power source or you can not move the scope. If you have power you can use the arrows to move the scope around yourself but there is no reference to disengaging locks or clutches so you can use this as a completely manual scope. Be sure to have spare batteries with you.


      Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Cas Computerized Telescope – $330 – $380
      http://www.amazon.com/Celestron-NexS...ized+telescope
      Celestron NexStar 90SLT MaksutovCassegrain Computerized Telescope Silver 22087 - Best Buy
      video
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgkEAiu62Ko


      Celestron 90 LCM Computerized Refractor Telescope $330 to $380
      Celestron 90 LCM Computerized Telescope
      Amazon.com : Celestron 90LCM Computerized Telescope : Refracting Telescopes : Camera & Photo
      Video
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSXURqPCcrk
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XH29OA-DtA

      Celestron 114LCM Computerized Newtonian Telescope – $260
      Celestron Computerized Telescope 114LCM 31150 B&H Photo Video
      http://www.amazon.com/Celestron-114L...ized+telescope
      Video
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XH29OA-DtA

      Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Newtonian reflector telescope - $400
      Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Telescope - Telescopes at Telescopes
      http://www.amazon.com/Celestron-NexS...ized+telescope
      Video – Set-up. If you have someplace to leave it set-up you only have to do this once.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVL5cL3v_RQ
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wtw1vjPj50
      Colimation Video – Important for Newtonian reflector telescopes
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2l38gjwE2A
    1. dr.stargazer's Avatar
      dr.stargazer -
      As a newbie myself, I have gained a lot of knowledge from your well written overview.

      I tip my hat to you sir.
    1. chanka98's Avatar
      chanka98 -
      Great post from someone who is also trying to figure it all out!
    1. gcisko's Avatar
      gcisko -
      Quote Originally Posted by Phoenix1583 View Post
      That's a fantastic overview of what new people should consider. I'd even say it deserves a pin at the top of the forum!
      I agree!
    1. gcisko's Avatar
      gcisko -
      This post is probably the best outline and perspective of what beginners need to consider. And you are right about the GOTO/GPS comparison. Another similar comparison is tuning a guitar. Electronic tuners are all the rage and the beginners probably have no idea about manually tuning a guitar.

      In my case I have been in the hobby since 1970 and feel I did enough star hopping. Plus with the light polluted skys, it is reassuring to know the GOTO will put the object in the center of the eyepiece.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Glad you guys are finding this useful. Feel free to add your own insights or to ask questions. Someone smart will jump in.
    1. COMtnSkies's Avatar
      COMtnSkies -
      I have recently been through almost the exact same learning curve and would have to agree very much with the points that are made. Nice job.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      When I started this discussion I noted I have two scopes of similar size, a Tasco 3"/76 mm Newtonian Reflector and a Meade ETX 80mm/3.1" refractor on a GoTo mount. I promised some comparisons so here is the first. As you will see at the end, it is all about that base!


      This is a based on a daytime observation of the moon. Around 6:30 pm with sky very much in daylight I pulled out the two telescope and my 10X50 binoculars.

      10X50 Binoculars - I always start with the binoculars. Moon looked great though it was a little washed out against the daytime sky. That was to be expected. However it was a pleasant view through the wide field view of the binoculars.


      Tasco Newtonian reflector, 3", 700 m F/9.2 with the .965" Focuser. I have a Meade Plossl 40 mm eyepiece, about 17X, and Tasco Huygens 12.5 mm eyepiece, about 56X.


      There seemed to be good view down the center but everything from about 1/3 out seemed to be hazy, almost like there was fog on the glass, but there wasn't. Must have been from the bright moon or from the bright background sky as I have not observed this at night. I had the same experience with the Meade so this was not a character of this scope.

      I got a real example of wide field of view of the binoculars compared to the much narrower FOV of the Tasco F9.2. Naturally the 10X of the binos compare to 17X of the scope contributed I am sure, but I have to say I liked the wide view of the binoculars. But the 17X mag gave more detail of the craters.

      Pulled out the 40 mm plossl eyepiece and slipped in the 12.5 mm Huygens eyepiece that came with the scope, about 56X. Here was where the value of a solid mount was revealed, as this scope does not have a solid mount. There is significant sway in the legs. I actually used the sway in the tripod to find the moon and eventually get it back into the eyepiece. I had to over shoot in two directions and lock things down so that it would shift back the other way and into the eyepiece. No solid precision here.

      Lots more magnification resulted in the moon filling the eyepiece. I quickly saw how fast the moon moved across the sky. I had to constantly keep adjusting the position of the scope to keep the moon in the eyepiece, especially at 56X. I can only imagine what it would be like to do this at 100X. I got a feel for the value of a telescope that tracks the target as this one does not track.


      Meade ETX 80, 80 mm F/5 400 mm refractor - Eyepieces - 26 mm, 9.6 mm and 6.4 mm Meade Super Plossl Eyepieces

      I released the clutches and was operating fully on manual. The fact that I can do this with this GoTo scope was one of the reasons I purchased it. There is no targeting scope on the ETX so I aligned it by eye. I actually left the eyepiece out and looked down the star diagonal and moved the scope till I could see the moon in the mirror.

      I slipped in the 26mm meade super plossl eyepiece, about 15X. The 400 mm FL F/5 Mead has a much wider FOV than the 700 mm FL Tasco. It gives a much more binocular type view. The focus was sharper than the Tasco but I had that same haze/glow in the outer 1/3 of the FOV. Switched to the 9.6m eyepiece, about 41X. Things are pretty sharp and there is no loss of brightness as the moon and sky are quite bright. I had to frequently shift the scope to track the moon but it was much easier with the meade mount as it did not wobble or shake.

      Pull the 9.6 mm eyepiece and slip in the new Meade 6.4 mm eyepiece, about 62X. Focus is sharp bt much more touchy at this magnification. If this was a camera I would have noted the very narrow "depth of field", the range of in focus areas in the lens.



      Comparison between the Tasco Newtonian and the Meade ETX 80 refractor - both scopes were used manually so there was no auto tracking in play here

      The biggest thing I learned was that the scope mount is very important to the observing experience. Even with a large target like the moon, manually tracking with each scope, the wobble of the Tasco stand was quite annoying. I am sure the scope would have done better if it had been on a better mount. The Meade mount was very steady and it was easy to manually track the moon with minor movements of the scope. Also the wider FOV of the Meade meant the target stayed in the eyepiece longer so there was less tracking required.

      I can really see the value in a mount that tracks the target if you are going to stay on it for more than a few minutes. I have used the Meade ETX 80 with the GoTo function and it will hold a target in the eyepiece very nicely over an extended period of time. This would be quite helpful if you are showing things to other people and they are switching back and forth at the eyepiece. I remember going to the astronomy club's observation night and looking in a variety of scopes. The tracking scopes always had the target in the eyepiece, the manual scopes had to be adjusted constantly.


      The biggest thing I learned from this comparison was not about which scope I liked better but which mount I liked better. If you are looking for a new scope, find out if the mount/tripod is solid and steady. It will make a major difference in the viewing experience!


      Clear skies!
    1. Contagious's Avatar
      Contagious -
      Being brand new, just starting to be more serious about astronomy, I think this is some great advice (for me).
    1. pete rallis's Avatar
      pete rallis -
      Ed, excellent write up, and good advice. I usually do things backwards, you know buy 1st and then figure out what I needed. But lurking here has been a great help.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Points of consideration for your first telescope, Field of View and Eyepiece Position


      Field of View

      As mentioned in the first post, I have two scopes, an ETX 80 refractor with a 5 focal ratio, and a Tasco 76 mm reflector with a 9.2 focal ratio.

      When you are new, don't have a telescope and trying to learn, you read these specs but really don't have a feel for what those mean. Here was a perfect example.

      I had about 15 minutes to steal a look at the sky last night. Normally it would be with the binoculars (wide field of view) but tonight I pull out the Tasco Newtonian which is standing in the garage with a 40mm/17.5X low power eyepiece in. Low power is best for finding things or just looking around.

      I came upon the "Coat Hanger". I love the coat hanger as it is so unexpected. I have seen it many times in the binoculars which have a very wide field of view so you can see it in the context of the stars and sky around it. In the F/5 Meade I also see it in the context of the stars around it. The FOV is not as wide as the binoculars but still pretty wide. But in the F/9.2 Tasco I could not get the entire figure in the eyepiece at 17.5X. If I had not seen it many times before I would have gone right past it as there was no context, no sky to view it against. You will read that lower focal ratios scopes are better for deep sky viewing because of this broader context of the view. I saw this last night.

      Next was Deneb, a double star that appears to be one star with binoculars. In my Meade, F/5 at 15X it still looks like a single star. But when I got it into the eyepiece of the Tasco, F/9.2, I can just make out the separation between the stars. However it was not so striking that I would have spotted it if I was just scanning the sky.

      Eyepiece Position

      For tonight's observation I was looking almost directly overhead. The Tasco sites on a tall tripod which is somewhat wobbly, not the best. However, I am 6'2" so overhead is a lot easier for me with the Tasco reflector than it is with the Meade refractor. The eyepiece on the Tasco, with the tripod fully extended is just about at eye level for me when the scope is at a high angle as it was last night. Looking at the same stars with the Mead would call for a chair or a knee on the ground.

      A Dobsonian sits on the ground so the eyepiece will be low. For example, an 8" Dobsonian, with a focal length of 1200 mm will have the eyepiece about 50-53" off the ground when pointed straight up and naturally lower than that when at an angle. Will that be comfortable for you? Can you shift the eyepiece from the side to the top?

      A refractor, Mak or SCT will typically have the eyepiece in the back so the higher the angle the lower the eyepiece. How will that work for you?


      Observing Chair

      No matter what design you look at, that eyepiece is going to shift position. The do sell Observing Chairs where you can vary the height of the seat. The link is just to an example. This might be one of those accessories you factor into your budget. I tis going on my Christmas list.


      As you look at telescopes consider the focal ratio, field of view and the eyepiece position. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages. Wide FOV vs. narrow. High eyepiece vs. low eyepiece. Nice to have both. I am starting to understand why people have multiple scopes of different designs.

      I hope you find this helpful in your journey to your first telescope.

      Clear Skies!
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