Beginners Telescopes – Easy Guide and Review
Beginners Telescopes: When people first get interested or even talk about looking at the night sky and astronomy, the first thing that jumps to mind is stargazing using a telescope. It’s like a fisherman has a rod or a boat and a painter has a brush, to many it’s a rite of passage and something they must have to feel like a proper astronomer.
There is so much a beginner can see without a Telescope and even more to see with binoculars (a pair should be owned by every beginner and budding astronomer), but there comes a time when a beginner feels they must have a telescope. This is when you can venture into a very technical and confusing world for the first time.
Just a few things to consider then we will jump into the Telescope review:
Glossy magazine adverts, hyped up marketing and the need for the most up to date gadgetry will lure the beginner toward the world of the GoTo or computerised telescope. In all honesty, DON’T GO THERE!
Computerised Telescopes are expensive and optical performance is reduced to cover the cost of the mount and computer. They are also in many cases and contrary to what the adverts tell you, very difficult to set up and use. I have heard more beginners moan about not being able to use their computerised telescope than I thought was possible – They are technical and complicated.
GoTo telescopes are really only suitable for those wanting to do a lot of astro imaging or can afford many hundreds or thousands of pounds for a good telescope; this is not the realm of the beginner.
Another reason beginners are drawn to computerised Telescopes is they can press a button and the telescope will slew to your chosen object, or is supposed to if you can get it to work properly. This really is a waste of time and money because you can do that using the internet. A major part of being a Beginner or even an advanced astronomer is exploring and finding objects by star hopping and learning the night sky. This is fun and very rewarding and computerised telescopes don’t help you learn and can actually hinder and take the fun out of stargazing.
The next thing we need to consider is the type of telescope and mount (the tripod bit).
There are two main kinds of beginners telescope: Reflector and Refractor telescopes. There are also other more advanced types of telescope such as Schmidt Cassegrains, but we won’t cover these here as they are more the domain of the advanced astronomer.
As a Beginner you really need a beginners telescope that can do as much as possible without specializing too much in a certain area.
- A Newtonian reflector telescope uses mirrors and are good all round beginners telescopes.
- A Refractor telescope uses lenses and are good for beginners observing bright objects such as the Moon and Planets.
- A Dobsonian reflector telescope uses the same system as Newtonians optically with very simple mounts.
Newtonian/ Dobsonian reflector telescopes are used for general observing and very popular as they are better at gathering light due to larger mirror sizes than the smaller refractor telescope lenses. They have more light gathering ability and are cheaper to make. Reflectors are good all rounder’s and refractors are good on brighter objects or imaging, but there are some good beginners telescopes.
Next is the mount, the support of the telescope and this is usually an equatorial or Alt Az mount. Most beginners telescopes today are sold with mounts which are equatorial (align with the celestial pole) and have knobs and adjusters for manually tracking objects, but these can be confusing for beginners and tricky to set up properly. Alt Az mounts are simple up/down and side to side manual telescope mounts and beginners find them very simple to use.
So, based on the above we need to choose the best type of beginners telescope, a telescope that is a general all-rounder with good optics and simple operation – a Dobsonian reflector telescope.
- 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
- Fun and perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer alike
There are excellent equatorial mounted reflector telescopes, but in my own experience the Dobsonian telescope wins every time for general astronomy and are perfect for beginners – EQ mounts are just a bit too fidley.
On with the review:
The Best Beginners Telescope
I have used this telescope and in my opinion it is probably one of the best, if not the best Beginners or even advanced astronomers telescopes available.
This amazing little telescope has a good quality 130mm mirror housed in an incredibly easy to store and use Dobsonian package. The telescope has a collapsible front section that basically makes the scope half the size (roughly 18 inches long) for storage and it takes seconds to extend for use.
The massive benefit is; this telescope is has basically no setup time apart from needing to cool down for several minutes when outside and it’s very small and portable. A beginner can place it on a garden table, a chair, a wall or any surface you choose and start using it straight away with no messing around aligning or setting up.
Once setup and in use it is apparent that the optical quality is superb and the views are excellent even with the included eyepieces. The Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Andromeda Galaxy, Orion Nebula and a host of other objects are easily visible to beginners with this telescope.
There is a standard red dot finder and this was incredibly easy for a beginner to setup install and use to find objects for viewing through the scope. All you do is manually move the telescope up and down and side to side with your hands on its Alt Az mount – It’s that simple!
I have used this little telescope on a number of occasions when I would not have normally gone out observing due to setting up my more advanced and complicated telescopes, for that reason this is better than my other telescopes and one of the best telescopes available for beginners to buy. It was originally bought for a 5-year-old and she could use it straight away, it’s no toy, just simple and easy to use.
UPDATE: There is a smaller more compact beginners telescope that I would like to include: The Celestron Firstscope at around £40. This tiny telescope is basically the same as the Skywatcher Heritage 130 above, but is a lot smaller with a 3 inch mirror. It is ideal as a starter or quick grab and go telescope but is less capable than the Heritage 130 Flextube due to the smaller mirror. It is good for viewing the Moon and brighter objects such as Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. It is a capable kids starter or grab and go table top beginners telescope for the more advanced astronomer.
The second beginners telescope reviewed is one of the Heritage 130’s big brothers – The Skywatcher Skyliner Telescope
I own and use the Skywatcher Skyliner 250PX and it is my best telescope, just like the heritage 130 telescope it ticks all the same boxes, but is a lot bigger at 250mm (10 inches) in mirror diameter (aperture). It’s basically the same telescope scaled up in a solid tube (flextube versions are available) and the only benefit over the Heritage 130 is it can see a lot more fainter objects due to the massive light gathering ability. You may occasionally hear the term light bucket to describe these types of scope.
NOTE! Bigger apertures/ mirror size usually increase brightness and contrast but does not increase magnification; that is done with eyepieces.
The Skywatcher Skyliner and Heritage range of telescopes are perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer, built to last and simple to use. These are windows to the Universe and sizes range from 130mm up to 300mm (12 inches). The range is priced at roughly:
- £220 for a 150mm (Details)
- £310 for a 200mm (Details)
- £500 for a 250mm (Details)
- £600 for a 250mm flextube (Details)
- £1000 for a 250mm flextube Synscan (Details) (A GoTo Version if you must have it)
Skywatcher are probably one of the best makes for the beginner as the telescopes are very good value. Dobsonian telescopes are also manufactured by Meade and Celestron and a few other telescope manufacturers and are all similar.
The third and final beginners telescope to be reviewed is the Meade Lightbridge
The Meade Lightbridge telescope range is one of the best available and is placed at the upper end of the market. Sizes start at 10 inches and go up to a massive 16 inchesand I have been lucky enough to use the 16 inch version with top of the range Meade eyepieces.
The Lightbridge telescope oozes quality as soon as you get near it, these telescopes are built by one of the leading manufacturers in the world; Meade and are the cream of the crop of this review, but are still able to be used by a beginner, albeit a rather well off one.
Extremely smooth focuser controls and movement with the mount coupled with incredibly high quality optics – I actually saw colour in the Orion nebula using the 16 inch version once – An amazing telescope of very high quality.
The Lightbridge uses a traditional truss setup to support the upper portion of the telescope and a fabric shroud can be wrapped around to do away with stray light or damp conditions.
The Lightbridge telescope is just a larger higher quality Dobsonian telescope and I have included it for those beginners who may be interested in something at this level of quality – It’s still a Dobsonian.
The range is priced at roughly:
All of the beginners telescopes in this review are great for the someone getting their first telescope; it all just depends on the size of your wallet. You can get a great starter/ beginners telescope for under £150 and go up to nearly £2000, but in my own opinion the three reviewed are the best, especially the Skywatcher Heritage 130p flextube which is the most portable cost-effective choice for someone buying their first beginners telescope – it ticks all the boxes!
NOTE! With all of the beginners telescopes mentioned and all other amateur telescopes, there is a limit to what the human eye can see. The bigger the telescope is, the brighter the image will be in most cases. Visually observing through a telescope will hardly ever give similar results to those seen in images, there just isn’t enough light and the human eye is not that good in the dark. Many beginners can be disappointed that all they can see is a tiny disk of Jupiter or a very faint fuzzy grey patch that is supposed to be a Galaxy or nebula. Be prepared for this and ask at a local club to look through a beginners telescope at varying objects to avoid disappointment.
I hope this guide helps you in choosing your new telescope.
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Enjoy your new beginners telescope.