How to Buy a Telescope

By Robin Gill on September 5th, 2021 at 1:56pm

If you have stuck with me through this series of posts on telescopes, you may now be thinking… “OK, that’s a lot of information… how do I sort through it to make a buying decision”? Here are some final thoughts. First, some questions to consider:

  1. Who is the primary user? A child? An older person with limitations? A strong individual?
  2. Where will it be stored and used? In a permanent location? In the garage? Stashed in a car to quickly flee to darker skies? What do you have to transport it in?
  3. What do you want to do with this scope? General basic observing – moon, planets, brighter nebulae and galaxies? Deep sky challenges? Photography?
  4. Are you technically inclined? Do you like futzing with user interfaces and troubleshooting problems? Do you prefer your telescopes simple?
  5. Are you patient? Patient with learning curves? Patient waiting for equipment?
  6. How much money do you have to dedicate to this scope? I promise you, there is no upper limit.

A few rules gleaned from watching many people make these decisions over the decades:

  • Rule number 1 – the best telescope to buy is one that will get used. If you buy a nice tricked-out scope that is too heavy to lug around, and that will not get used, that is not a good selection. Know thyself. If buying for a child, is this a strong interest already? Or are you trying to cultivate it? Is it likely to be used or end up in the “toy box”.
  • Rule 2 – Hang around telescope people. Look through other scopes. Learn what to expect. Your $500 scope, no matter how good, is not going to give views like Hubble, or even like Phil Creed’s photographs. Visual observing is very different from imaging. It can be very rewarding, but it is not the same.
  • Rule 3 – Consider used. There is a thriving market in used telescope equipment. Your local club may have donated equipment for sale. Its members may be swapping and upgrading. There are internet forums like Cloudy Nights and Astromart that cater to telescope and accessory sales. (They are also great sources of wisdom on all aspects of the hobby… just a bit less personal than your local in-the-flesh astronomy club).
  • Rule 4 – Avoid big box stores and online mass merchandisers. They tend to handle substandard merchandise marketed to titillate you with high magnification and high tech while leaving you high and dry on quality basics line optical quality and mechanical stability. Ask experienced amateurs for which dealers they trust.

Remember, you are getting into this to satisfy your curiosity and your sense of awe in the face of the universe. Be patient. Be humble. Have fun.