How to Buy a Telescope
Buying a telescope may seem like a simple task – just trot on down to Wal-Mart or Target, pick the best-looking/most expensive/biggest magnification, come home and voila! Instant Copernicus! However, like most other specialized scientific instruments, a telescope needs to be manufactured to exacting standards, with precision and care being the buzzwords of any dedicated telescope manufacturer.
In short, never, EVER buy a telescope without at least three recommendations from people in the know. Department store telescopes are almost universally rubbish, offering claims like ‘400x magnification!’ and other such nonsense. Okay, this may strictly be true, but the optics of the telescope will not be able to handle that kind of magnification, and will produce a blurry splodge of light that could be either the moon or bird droppings on the lens.
Instead, go to a specialist telescope or astronomy shop. You may pay more, but you’ll be buying something that’s high quality and well-made, that doesn’t need to resort to lame boasts. Make sure you pick a good make – Celestron traditionally make the best beginners’ scopes, but Meade, Konus and Bushnell are all good options as well. Expect to spend a minimum of $100 for a good starter scope, and ensure that it has certain features; The absolute basics to look for are a focal length of between 900-1250mm, a decent focuser – rack and pinion styles are probably the best option here – a well-scaled latitude control and a reliable viewfinder. Check the mount, and make sure that it is solid and stable – most image bobble can be prevented with a good-enough mount.
Secondly, work out where you plan to site the telescope before you buy. Will you be in the city, or in the country? Standing or sitting? Do you want an electric or battery-powered scope, and will you be able to operate it in your viewing location? Do you plan to star-hop (locating planets by eye using a star chart) or do you want to purchase a Go-To telescope to do the work for you?
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to put together a solid idea of the type of telescope you want to buy. Keep these in mind as you make your choices, because buying the wrong telescope can lead to a very, very expensive piece of equipment not being used, and just taking up space around the house. Remember, if all else fails, get advice from someone in the know.
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