Astronomy is an exciting hobby! It ignites our curiosity of the fascinating universe around us. Unfortunately buying your first telescope can be an extremely complicated task. You can easily find yourself lost in technical jargon and endless options available. Beginner shoppers often jump into buying an unsuitable telescope, get frustrated trying to use it and eventually even give up on pursuing astronomy altogether. The following guide explains everything you need to know before buying your first telescope. We’ve also short-listed our Top 2 Telescopes for beginners, enthusiasts and amateur astronomers.
Should I Buy a Telescope or a Spotting Scope?
Some people want to purchase a telescope for watching the stars as well as watching the neighbour next door. While this is a nice thought, unfortunately, it is not a practical one! Before deciding on what to buy, think about what you are interested in viewing the most:
Telescope – Telescopes are designed for night viewing. They have unique optics and light gathering capabilities that allow us to view objects in complete darkness. They lack the ability to view objects during daytime properly. If you are only interested in astronomy, then buy a telescope otherwise buy a spotting scope which can be used for both astronomy and daytime viewing.
Spotting Scope – A spotting scope is a smaller telescope also designed for terrestrial viewing (land viewing). It is a powerful instrument yet portable and perfect for watching distant subjects on land, at sea or skies. Spotting scopes are commonly used by birdwatchers, hunters, nature observers and amateur astronomers. If you are interested in viewing objects on land or at sea, as well as star gazing, moon watching and astronomy then you should consider a spotting scope. You can refer to our guide on how to choose a spotting scope.
What is the MOST Important Feature in a Telescope?
The #1 feature of any telescope is Aperture. Aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s main optical component (consisting of either a lens or mirror). The larger the aperture is, the more light comes in the telescope and the brighter your image will be. A telescope’s function is to simply enhance the light of the moon, stars and galaxies thus allowing us to see them in the dark. With a large aperture, you will be able to see more stars and see them more clearly. When we look at the stars with our naked eye, we can only see the brightest ones. This is because our pupil acts as a very small “lens” and can only gather very little light.
Is the Biggest Aperture the Best Choice for Me?
Not necessarily. While a bigger aperture will result in a brighter and better image, it will also mean that your telescope will be larger, heavier and normally more expensive. Even more important than aperture is where you will be using your telescope the most.
Where Will I be Using My Telescope?
Effective astronomy requires viewing from a dark location. If your backyard, out on the farm, is completely dark with no artificial light around then you can choose a large and bulky telescope. If you need to travel to a darker location (which is the case for many of us) then you should consider the portability of your telescope. Many high-end telescopes can be extremely large and can require a lot of time and experience to setup properly. If only the thought of setting up a huge telescope in the dark makes you shiver then buy a smaller, user-friendlier one to start with. You might find that you will use it much more often.
How Much Magnification Do I Need?
This is a common misconception when shopping for telescopes! In fact, magnification should hardly be a consideration when buying a telescope. As we mentioned before aperture should be your main consideration. If you have a small aperture, then you will see a darker image. More magnification will only make that dark image bigger. This is the same principal as if you were looking at a low-quality computer screen. If you zoom into the screen, you will only see a grainier picture.
High magnification also means you will see a narrow piece of the sky so unless you are watching deep space with a large commercial telescope magnification is NOT an important feature. Also, note that a magnification of a telescope can be increased or decreased by switching eyepieces. Some vendors will try to promote a low-quality telescope by stating that it has a high magnification. Beware of these types of offers! The telescope will usually have either a small aperture or a very poor optical quality.
What Type of Telescope Should I Choose?
There are 3 basic types of telescopes: Refractor, Reflector and Cassegrain. A Refractor telescope uses lenses, a Reflector uses mirrors and a Cassegrain uses both.
A Refractor telescope is what most people think of when imagining how a telescope looks like. It is a long, gleaming tube with a large lens at one end and an eyepiece at the other. This is the most common type of telescope. A Refractor telescope can provide the finest images attainable for a given aperture. It is also the most expensive option when considering price vs. aperture.
A Reflector telescope uses mirrors instead of lenses. Because mirrors are cheaper to make than lenses, it is a better option when considering price vs. aperture. When well made a reflector can provide sharp, high contrast images at a small fraction of the cost of an equal-aperture refractor. A Reflector will also be much smaller in length than a Refractor of the same aperture. In other words, a Reflector is often a more portable telescope and better value for money.
What is the Best Type of Telescope for Beginners?
A particular type of Reflector is known as the Newtonian telescope. These extremely popular instruments are available in apertures from 20cm up to more than 76cm. They represent the ultimate in observer convenience for casual viewing. We believe that a Newtonian telescope is the most suitable for beginners for the following reasons:
- Relatively cheap compared to other types of telescope
- Totally manual and incredibly easy to use
- No setting up apart from moving it to your observing area
- Big light gathering ability, so you can view many different objects
The Bresser AZ 76/350 Carbon telescope for example is a recommended model for a beginner astronomer. It is compact, very lightweight yet powerful, requires no setup and can easily be carried to any dark rural location by either foot or car.
Another similar option, which is good for both beginners and sharing with kids, is the Celestron FirstScope. This is a 76mm Reflector style telescope. It is an entry-level telescope and very easy to use.
Do I Need to Setup, Adjust and Maintain My Telescope?
Some telescopes require more maintenance than others. When buying a telescope, you should consider your experience level as well as how easy it is to setup, use and maintain it. Some people jump into buying an expensive telescope only to find out that they are unable to use it properly or can’t be bothered maintaining it. Remember, a good telescope is one that you will enjoy taking out and using regularly.
Both Refractor and Newtonian telescopes, for example, are the easiest ones to use and do not need much adjusting. Always make sure that you read carefully through your telescope’s product description. Telescopes that are more suitable for beginners will typically state it on their product description.
Our Top 2 Telescopes for Beginners and Amateur Astronomers (2023)
Here at Procular UK, we are always passionate about testing, studying and reviewing all of our telescopes and optics. Below is a list of our top pick telescopes for beginners, hobbyist or amateur astronomers:
Bresser AZ 76/350 Carbon Telescope with Tripod
Current Price: £125
The Bresser AZ 76/350 Carbon Telescope is in our opinion one of the best beginners to mid-level astronomy telescopes available. It is very lightweight and portable. You can place it anywhere using the included tripod and start using it straight away. No messing around, aligning or setting up.
Ideal for viewing the moon, planets and brighter deep sky objects during the night. You can also safely observe the sun during daytime using the included solar filter.
The Bresser AZ 76/350 Carbon Telescope is perfect for starting out with astronomy or for getting your kids or grandkids into it. It comes fully assembled in the box and includes everything you need to get stargazing right away.
Currently available for £125 inc. free delivery
Avalon 80mm Venture HD Spotting Scope
Current Price: £399
A magnificent choice for those lucky enough to have the perfect viewing point at home. Why settle for only star gazing when you can enjoy enhanced ocean or landscape views as well? The Avalon 80mm Venture Spotting Scope kills two birds with one stone. Its generous 80 mm aperture will allow you to clearly see the moon, planets within our solar system or even the rings of Saturn. But unlike other astronomy telescopes, it is also designed for viewing landscapes, ocean, beach or wildlife.
This spotting scope features up to 60x magnification, high-quality optics and provides a sharp, crystal-clear image during both daytime and night. Fully waterproof and fog-proof, it will serve you well in full sun, overcast and rainy conditions alike. If you want to look at the moon and stars + have ocean or countryside views and need a powerful scope to enjoy them then this is the one.
Also included with the Avalon 80mm Venture Spotting Scope is a table-top tripod and a carry case.
Currently available for £399 inc. free delivery