Choosing Your First Scope


This could be an everlasting discussion. Some swear by Refractors, some like Newtonians Reflectors, others want Cassegrains. Each have their advantages, it all depends on your particular needs. Is the telescope going to be for a child, a teenager or an adult? Are you going to be mobile and want a take along, just set it up on a driveway or do you want a small observatory in your own backyard? Are you going to study sun spots, moon craters, planets? How about deep sky objects like star clusters, nebula and galaxies? Hopefully the following examples will help you choose.


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Showing is an Orion 120mm short tube on a Meade LXD55 GO-TO mount. These are the most common of all scopes. Light enters through the front "objective" lens, focuses and directs the light to the back of the scope. Stay away from the inexpensive department store models. Never, never, never buy a 40/50/60/70MM refractor, you will be disappointed.

Forget scopes advertised as 600 power - 100 to 150 is all you'll ever need. Now for viewing the planets, or the moon, sun or double stars, you can not beat a good 80/90 or 120MM refractor. Refractors are renowned for their exquisite image quality. They are very portable, easy to set up and make a great first scope, especially the 90MM (3 1/2"). to 127MM (5") range.

Why spend $100/$200 on a cheap "department store" scope when just for $100/$200 more you can purchase a good quality refractor telescope that you will be proud of. Celestron, Meade and Orion (to name a few) offer good quality 80/90/120MM scopes on sturdy mounts anywhere from $250 to $500. These scopes will bring in the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and look into the craters on the moon. Double stars are a delight through a good refractor. These scopes are especially good in light polluted areas. If you live in a city like me, light pollution can be so bad that all you can see are the planets, the moon and a few doubles. But, seeing mountains, creators and valleys on the moon can be thrilling.

Of course, as with any item, you can buy a top of the line 5" or 6" high quality refractor that will "knock you socks off" for a few grand. This is my Vixen 114SSED. (4 1/2") - a superb scope

{short description of image}The ED “SS” refractors feature a 2-group 3-element optical design with ED (extra-low-dispersion) glass to dramatically reduce the secondary spectrum and produce sharp images with outstanding contrast for both visual and astrophotography applications.

ED114SS OTA GP-Trim Highly portable 4.5” APO at a blazing fast f/5.3 imaging speed. Includes removable third element field-flattener lens, 1¼” eyepiece adapter (can take 2” eyepieces with adapter), big 7x50 finder, mounting rings and dovetail to fit any Vixen and compatible equatorial mount. Model # TS-OR-3391 Weight: 4.4 kg / 9.7 lbs --cost $2499.00

I recently purchased a 90MM SHORT TUBE fron Orion for $280.00. I originally bought it to be a guide scope for my 12" reflector. Since then, I have used it as a telephoto lens for my 35MM camera, a "terrestrial" scope for nature watching and as a portable scope for showing sun spots, moon craters, planets and have even found a few star clusters.

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It came with a 1 ¼" focuser, two Kellner eyepieces (25MM/9MM) a 6X30 guide scope and a ¼" – 20 plate for mounting on a tripod, all for $280.00. If only they would have had such a scope years ago when I first started, I would have been a happy camper. AN EXCELLENT FIRST OR SECOND SCOPE.


Newtonian Reflectors

Reflectors offer a simple, high performance design at the lowest cost per unit of aperture (size) of any type of telescope. Mounted in an open tube, light travels down to a mirror that "reflects" it back up to the top to the "secondary" mirror and into the eyepiece. Optically, reflectors can provide outstanding performance. Newtonians of 8" aperture or less (no less than 4 1/2") are quite portable, easy to set up and are ideal for observing faint deep-space objects. By far, the biggest seller is the 8" ($300 to $500). A 6" can be purchased for less than $250 and can resolve most Messeir objects.

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Orion 12" DOB
I personally own a 12" reflector that I use when I'm on the go. This is my "portable" scope and is capalble of resolving the faintest of Galaxy's. This is also an Orion and sells for $949. This is the largest of the small scopes.

The mount is usually at the bottom - the so called Dobsonian. Although not as portable and needing more space to operate, they are still easy to use. These scopes are capable of resolving even the faintest galaxies. This is the type of scope a lot of astronomers refer to as their second scope. To the young enthusiest, an 8" Dob can mean the difference between "Oh, He has a scope!" and "Hey, did you see that light bucket over there?" A good 8" can be purchased for less than $350.



The most versatile of all scopes, an all around strong performer. The large aperture in a short tube is designed by "bending" the light instead of "reflecting" to an eyepiece. This scope actually reflects the incoming light off of the primary mirror to a magnifying secondary mirror and then directs it out the back of the scope to the eyepiece. Optically and mechanically, it is perfectly suited for all types of astrophotography. Whether using a piggy back camera or through the scope to a CCD camera, this is the ultimate, highly portable scope. These are sometimes referred to as the "go to" scopes. These scopes can be purchased completely manual or fully automatic. Most already come with motor drives. The advantage to this type of scope is having an 8", 10" or 12" lens in a tube that is no longer than your arm. As you would expect, they are not cheap. An 8" with all the bells and whistles could run close to $2500.00. Because of the large aperture, you need dark skies to really get the maximum from these scopes. I personally have owned a Meade 10" LX50 with a Mageallan II computer system and an 8" LX200GPS. I have since sold them because I prefer DOB's (less electronics). To someone not familiar with Schmidt-Cassegrains, they can seem very complicated but if you ever intend on getting into astrophotography, this is the scope to go with. You can purchase an 8" with manual controls for about $1000.00. By far the best sellers are the Meade LX200's. All GO-TO computer controlled, from $1600.00 for the 8" LX90 to a big 14/16" for $10,000.00 +.

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Meade 10" LX50