Interested in the night sky and thinking about buying a telescope? If like many families you like to do things together or have a tight budget, then this guide to choosing and using family telescopes is for you. It’s also a great guide to beginners telescopes, the principals are the same.
Consider who the telescope is for and how they are going to use it. You may have an individual family member with an interest, maybe yourself, a child, parent or another relative. Or more than one of you has an interest in astronomy. Therefore there are a few things to consider. So when you do choose, you choose correctly. This guide will simplify these decisions for you!
Choosing the Right Family Telescope
More than one family member with varying interests and ages should be able to use the telescope. With this in mind, the telescope needs to be a jack of all trades and simple to set up.
Avoid complicated mounts and tripods. Family telescopes should be simple, easy, and quick to setup by children or adults without too much fuss. Avoid computerised Go-To telescopes which can be expensive, have tricky mounts/ tripods and can sacrifice optics in favour of electronics. In other words, computerised telescopes tend to cost a lot. However, some models may be suitable for some families if they want to start imaging and don’t mind spending the money, are couples or have older children. Telescopes with complex mounts are suitable for the more patient or technically minded.
Quality and Usability
Many cheap telescopes aren’t much better than toys and seldom give views advertised on the box. Many of these are small Refractors or Newtonians types of telescope on rickety Alt/ Az or EQ mounts. Always check reviews with websites such as Amazon. You can find out a lot regarding other people’s experience and it will help you make the right decision before you buy.
Avoid the High Street
Another thing to be wary of is high street or department store telescopes. You may see some well-known manufacturers names on telescopes, but don’t be fooled by exaggerated claims on the box. Most department store/ high street telescopes are lacking optically and have hard to use tripods and mounts. Don’t get sucked in by the sales assistants patter, not many of them have experience using them and go by what the box says. If in doubt, ask an astronomer, there are plenty on Twitter or Facebook.
The Good Choices
With the above in mind, it’s now time to show you a selection the best family telescopes. There are basically two types which I think are best: Dobsonians and general purpose GoTo/ Computerised telescopes. Remember, we are discussing general use family telescopes here. More advanced or specific use telescopes will be covered in a future guide.
Simple, basic and easy to use! No complex electronics or mounts to worry about, with a simple Alt/ Az (up/ down, left/ right) mount. Because of the mounts low cost and simplicity, savings are passed on to where it counts. The optics! Dobsonian reflector telescopes can have massive mirrors which mean they gather lots of light which are ideal for visual use. The more light gathered by the mirror, the easier it is to see the object you are looking at. Ideal family telescopes.
Here are some excellent Dobsonian telescopes ranging in size. Remember, the larger the mirror the easier it is to see many objects. Click on the images for more info and where to buy.
An entry level table top telescope ideal for younger or less frequent observers, small and ideal for those dipping a toe into astronomy. It has a 75mm aperture so capable of observing bright objects such as the Moon and bright Planets. For more information click on the image or here.
A larger entry level table top starter telescope with 100mm mirror for observing bright objects such as the Moon and Planets, some bright nebulae and star clusters. For more information click on the image or here.
Larger beginners telescope with 130mm mirror. Large aperture for little money with a collapsible tube. Great for the Moon, Planets and many deep sky objects and very easy to use and store. It is also very popular with beginners and more advanced stargazers. For more information click on the image or here.
Large 200mm Dobsonian Telescope with a very large aperture, excellent for viewing objects including the Moon, Planets and deep sky objects. This size of the telescope is popular with amateur astronomers. For more information click on the image or here.
Very Large 250mm Dobsonian Telescope with a massive aperture, excellent for viewing objects including the Moon, Planets and deep sky objects. This size of the telescope is very popular with amateur astronomers. For more information click on the image or here.
Computerised Go-To Telescopes
Do you like gadgets and do you want to find objects at the touch of a button and much more? A computerised telescope may be for you. With computerised telescopes, it’s a bit like Goldilocks and the three bears! Cheap Go-To’s can scrimp on optics and expensive telescopes are for experienced astronomers. For a family, you need something just right, a “jack of all trades” Go-To telescope with easy setup.
Here is a selection of computerised Go-To telescopes that should be fine for beginners through to the most seasoned astronomers in your family.
Compact 90mm computerised Maksutov Cassegrain telescope. Ideal for observing the Moon, planets and double stars, and also can be used for high-power daytime terrestrial viewing. Smart tracking of objects and smart camera connectivity. Upgradeable to Go-To with optional hand controller allowing 42,900+ night sky objects to be automatically found. For more information click on the image or here.
Compact and very portable 114mm computerised Newtonian telescope. Excellent all-around performance for the observation of the Moon, planets and Deep-Sky objects. Smart tracking of objects and smart camera connectivity. Upgradeable to Go-To with optional hand controller allowing 42,900+ night sky objects to be automatically found. For more information click on the image or here.
Affordable entry level to mid-level computerised telescope. High quality 127 mm (5″) Maksutov-Cassegrain – good for terrestrial and celestial observing. You can see details of the lunar surface, Venus and its phases, polar caps on Mars, Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn with its rings plainly visible and much more! Easy to set up and use within a few minutes. Fully computerised Altazimuth mount with flash upgradeable hand control with 4,000 celestial object database. One of the best computerised family telescopes. For more information click on the image or click here.
State of the art 5″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a sturdy computerised Go-To mount. An Ideal telescope for observing and photographing the wonders of space. Fairly easy to set up and use. Many features found on Celestron’s most advanced computerised GoTo telescopes. For more information click on the image or click here.
Large computerised Dobsonian telescope. Ideal for novice or advanced astronomers. A large 8″ optical tube and extremely portable with its collapsible flextube. Automatically locate and track thousands of objects as they move across the night sky using the telescopes Synscan controller. Manually move the telescope anytime and to anywhere you wish – with no need for realignment. A massive computerised and extremely easy to use window to the Universe. For more information click on the image or click here.