Beginners Telescopes – Easy Guide and Review
Beginners Telescopes: When people first get interested or even talk about looking at the night sky, the first thing that jumps to mind is a telescope. Similarly, 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 above all a telescope is something they must have to be 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 budding astronomer). But there comes a time when a budding astronomer feels they must have a one.
Read on to find out how to choose the right beginners telescope and save time.
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A few things to Consider before we begin the Beginners Telescopes Guide and Review
Avoid cheap department store telescopes if you can. Most of these sub £100 telescopes aren’t much better than toys and will give poor views of objects in the night sky. The exception to this is the small Dobsonian telescopes I mention later in this guide.
Glossy magazine adverts, hyped up marketing, and the need for the most up to date gadgetry will also lure the beginner toward the world of the GoTo or computerised telescope. In all honesty, DON’T GO THERE! unless you are really sure you want one.
Computerised Telescopes are expensive! Beginner level computerised telescopes tend to and certainly have smaller optics. Hence making the telescope more affordable. Entry level computerised scopes can also be 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.
What You Can See with a Computerised Telescope
The database in some computerised Beginners telescopes can contain thousands of objects. When setup correctly, the telescope will find all of them! GREAT RIGHT?!?!
Realistically, this certainly isn’t true!
The telescope can find and point to thousands of different objects. The big problem being the optics, because they are no way big enough to see them. A small 2 or 3 inch scope will only be usable on a few dozen bright objects. The other several thousand promised on the glitzy packaging, still remain hidden in the darkest deepest depths of the Universe. The optics aren’t gathering enough light. Therefore you will need a bigger telescope to see more, and more means ££££’s if you want it computerised.
Computerised Beginners Telescopes Good and Bad
GoTo telescopes are really only suitable for the technically minded or those wanting to do astro imaging. Or can afford many hundreds or thousands of pounds for a good one. This is not the realm of the beginner or someone on a tight budget. They can be fantastic telescopes, especially the more premium telescopes, but they come at a high price.
Another reason beginners are drawn to computerised Beginners Telescopes is; They can press a button and it will find your chosen object (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 or books. Above all, a major part of being a Beginner or even an advanced astronomer is exploring and finding objects. This is achieved by star hopping and learning the night sky. This is fun and very rewarding and computerised telescopes don’t help you learn. They can actually hinder and take the fun out of stargazing.
However, we are living in a digital age where all of our information is served to us at the touch of a screen or button. If you like tech and prefer that the telescope does all the finding for you, then a GoTo is certainly the telescope for you.
Above all, the thing we need to consider is the type of Beginners Telescope and mount (the tripod bit).
There are two main kinds of beginners telescopes: Reflectors and Refractors. There are also other more advanced types such as Schmidt Cassegrains with advanced optical assemblies. They are more the domain of the advanced astronomer and can be very expensive.
First of all, beginners really need a scope that can do as much as possible without specialising too much in a certain area.
The Most Common Beginners Telescopes – We only Need One!
- Newtonian reflector telescopes use mirrors and are good all rounders.
- Refractor telescopes use lenses and are good for beginners observing bright objects such as the Moon and Planets.
- Dobsonian reflector telescopes use the same system as Newtonian’s optically with very simple mounts.
Use Newtonian/ Dobsonian telescopes for general observing. They are very popular and better at gathering light due to larger mirror sizes. Very much in contrast to the smaller refractors which use lenses. Newtonian’s have more light gathering ability and are cheaper to make and good all rounder’s. Refractors are good on brighter objects or imaging.
The Telescope Mount
Next is the mount, the support of the telescope and this is usually an equatorial or Alt Az mount. Most beginners telescopes have mounts which are equatorial (align with the celestial pole) and have adjusters for manually tracking objects. These can be confusing for beginners and tricky to set up properly. Alt Az mounts are simple up/down and side to side manual scope mounts therefore beginners find them very simple to use.
The Best Type of Beginners Telescope
So, based on the above we need to choose the best type of beginners telescope. 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
Equatorial mounted reflector scopes are great, but in my own experience, the Dobsonian telescope wins every time. Dobsonian’s are perfect for general astronomy and perfect for beginners – EQ mounts are just a bit too much of a fiddle, but do have their uses.
On with the review:
The Best Beginners Telescopes
The first kind of beginners telescope I am going to review is the compact or mini Dobsonian telescope, also known as the table top telescope. The Skywatcher heritage 130p flextube costing roughly £150 and is available here has been the most popular mini Dobsonian telescope for many years. There are now many other similar designs by other manufacturers and they are pretty much the same as this telescope in essence. I will list them below to give you buying options other than the Skywatcher Heritage.
I have used and own this telescope and in my opinion it’s probably one of the best. If not the best Beginners, or even advanced astronomers scopes available!
This amazing little telescope has a good quality 130mm mirror in an incredibly easy to store and use Dobsonian package. The telescope has a collapsible front section. This basically makes the scope half the size (roughly 18 inches long) for storage. It takes seconds to extend for use.
Due to it’s popularity, it is almost out of stock everywhere (in October/ November 2020) so I have included some alternatives which are just as good if not better in some respects. They are all basically the same with slight differences such as construction material and accessories included. See below.
Why These Beginners Telescopes?
The massive benefit is; It has basically no setup time apart from needing to cool down for a few 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.
There is usually a standard red dot finder and this is incredibly easy for a beginner to setup install 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!
One Of the Best Beginners Telescopes Available
I have used the Skywatcher Heritage on a number of occasions when I would not have normally gone out observing. This is due to setup time compared to my more advanced and complicated telescopes. For that reason this is better than my other telescopes and one of the best Beginners telescopes available 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.
There is a smaller more compact beginners telescope that I would like to include: The Celestron Firstscope at around £60. 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’s good for viewing the Moon and brighter objects such as Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. A capable kids starter or grab and go table top beginners telescope for the more advanced astronomer. you can see more small or children’s telescopes here
Larger Dobsonian Telescopes
Once you have had a mini Dobsonian or other type of telescope you may want to branch out further. You can look at telescopes which are good for photography such as guided or GoTo computerised telescopes (guide to these coming soon) or you can upgrade to a big Dobsonian. I always say go as big as you can afford. The bigger the mirror, the more light it will gather and transfer through the eyepiece. More light = fainter objects to appear and brighter objects are clearer also. As mentioned above, eyepieces are responsible for magnification and and you can find out more about eyepieces here.
Orion Dobsonian Telescopes
Orion Telescopes are an excellent telescope manufacturer of very high quality and solid telescopes. They have been producing excellent products in the US for many years and have excellent customer service.
The range of Orion Dobsonian telescopes is impressive with standard Dobsonian’s and GoTo enabled Dobsonian’s on offer. I have used one of these scopes a number of times and I’m impressed with the quality. The range starts with the small Orion StarBlast table top/ mini dobsonian as listed above and progresses through various sizes up to 12 inch SkyQuest Dobsonian’s and larger. If you want a big quality telescope. get one of these
The next beginners scope 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 it ticks all the same boxes. It 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). 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. As of late 2020, these telescopes are out of stock everywhere. It is unknown if more are being produced. This isn’t a problem as the Orion range above are similar, if not better telescopes.
Bigger Means You Can See More. Right?
NOTE! Bigger apertures/ mirror size usually increase brightness and contrast but does not increase magnification. You adjust magnification with different sized eyepieces.
Dobsonian telescopes are perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer. Built to last and simple to use. These are windows to the Universe with sizes that range from 130mm up to 300mm (12 inches). The range is priced at roughly:
- £250 for a 150mm (Details)
- £400 for a 200mm (Details)
- £600 for a 250mm. (Details)
- £1500 for a 250mm GoTo (Details)
Skywatcher and Orion 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.
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 scope 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. Therefore, 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. Beginners can be disappointed because 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 beginners telescope.
Please check out the rest of this site for other guides relating to telescopes, planispheres, Star Atlas’s, binoculars, eyepieces and much, much more. Please browse the rest of this site for more stargazing guides and information.
Enjoy your new beginners telescope.