If you are looking to explore the various celestial bodies above to see what the cosmos has to offer, then you’re probably contemplating purchasing a telescope. With so many telescope types available in the market, choosing the right telescope can be a daunting task.
For this reason, we have put together this article to help break down all you need to know about before purchasing your first telescope. We’ll also walk you through the various telescope prices and answer the question, how much does a good telescope cost?
So, if you’re looking to buy your first telescope, or maybe you are looking to just learn something about telescopes, you’ve come to the right place. Without wasting too much time, let’s dive right into it.
What to Look For When Buying a Telescope:
Aperture and Magnification
If you are looking to purchase your first telescope, then the first thing you want to consider is the telescope’s aperture. Aperture refers to the opening of a lens which determines its light gathering ability or how much light a lens allows to pass through.
Generally, the aperture is directly propositional to the light gathering ability of a telescope. So, the larger the aperture of your telescope, the more light it can gather.
Well, the aperture of a telescope is an important feature to look at when it comes to telescopes because the higher the aperture of your telescope, the better or clear the images of celestial bodies will appear.
So, a telescope with a bigger aperture will give you a much brighter and clean image when compared with a telescope with a small aperture.
Aperture is measured in f-stop, which is normal expressed as f/x, where x can be any number greater than 1. The higher the f-stop value, the lower the aperture and vice versa.
To find out what the f/stop of your telescope is, you simply divide the telescope’s focal length by the focal length or diameter of the eyepiece.
Whiles, it is good to choose a telescope with a higher aperture, it might not be necessary depending on the type of objects you want to view. What I mean by this is that sometimes having a scope with a smaller aperture will do just fine and save you the cash.
So, below are some celestial bodies you can view with their respective apertures:
- If you are looking to view only the sun, and the closest stars, then getting a telescope with an f-stop value between f/6.6 to f/10 should be fine.
- To explore planets as well as open clusters, then getting a telescope with an f-stop value greater than f/10 should be fine.
- For globular clusters, then getting a telescope with an f-stop value of f/5 should be fine.
- Finally, if you are looking to explore Nebulae, then a telescope with an f-stop value less than f/5 should be fine.
Magnification is another important factor when you’re considering purchasing the right telescope. While aperture tells us the amount of light that can enter the telescope, the magnification tells us how many times our telescope can enlarge an object.
Generally, the larger the magnification of your telescope, the smaller the aperture. This means an object’s brightness increases with a decrease in magnification.
This is true because, as you increase your magnification, the amount of light gathered by your telescope gets spread over a larger area, causing a decrease in the brightness of the images you view through the telescope.
Magnification can be determined by dividing the focal length of the eyepiece by the focal length of the objective lens of your telescope. These parameters should be stated clearly on the telescope.
The Type Of Telescope
Generally, telescopes can be classified into three main types. And each of them has a specific purpose they serve. Let’s take a look at each type of telescope.
These were the very first type of telescopes created in 1608 by Hans Lippershey. Lippershey was a Dutch spectacles maker from Middelburg.
Refractor telescopes are characterized by an enclosed tube with a glass objective lens at one end, which gathers light and propagates light to the eyepiece to ensure proper magnification and viewing of celestial bodies.
Refracting telescopes are great if you are looking for a telescope to view planets, galaxies, nebulae, and the moon. The diameter or aperture of the eyepiece of a refractor telescope ranges from 60 to 70mm.
Refractor telescopes come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
- They require minimum maintenance
- They produce steadier images
- They produce clear and crisp images
- They tend to be quite cumbersome, thanks to their high aperture
- Most refractors, except for apochromatic refractors, cannot focus all the light into one single point causing chromatic aberration.
- They can be quite expensive especially apochromatic refractors.
Unlike refractors that use glass lenses as it’s objective lens, a reflector uses a mirror as its objective lens. These types of telescopes were made in honor of Sir Isaac Newton, therefore, they are often referred to as Newtonian telescopes.
The reflector telescope is characterized by its concave primary mirror, which is responsible for collecting and reflecting light to the smaller secondary mirror, which is suspended on the spider.
The secondary mirror also reflects the light at a 90-degree angle to the eyepiece.
Just like refracting telescopes, reflecting telescopes come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at them.
- These types of telescopes are prone to chromatic aberration.
- They are more affordable than refractor telescopes. This is why reflectors are usually referred to as the telescope with the most value for money.
- You need to allow it to adjust to the air temperature before use.
- Generally, these telescopes are much larger than refracting telescopes.
- They require a lot of effort in maintaining them.
- They do not produce as crisp an image as a refractors do.
You can check out our article here for a full review of Reflector vs Refractor Telescopes to see which one we think is better.
Since reflector and refractor telescopes all come with their advantages and disadvantages, the Cassegrain telescope combines the features of both telescopes to give you a hybrid telescope.
It uses a concave mirror as the primary lens and a secondary hyperbolic mirror. The secondary hyperbolic mirror is responsible for correcting any optical errors.
These types of telescopes are compact and can be used for almost every type of celestial viewing activity.
Generally, the only disadvantage this has is that it produces dimmer images thanks to the folded pathway, which causes some of the light absorbed to be lost.
Getting yourself a good Cassegrain telescope will cost a little more than an equivalent sized Newtonian telescope, however, it will cost less than a refractor telescope.
Visit are article for more details on all the different telescope types.
Portability and Telescope Prices
The portability of scopes is another feature you need to consider to help you make the right decision.
Sometimes you might need a scope you can transport to a viewing site to help you see certain celestial bodies better.
Generally, the larger the aperture, the less portable the telescope becomes because the telescope tends to have a bigger lens. Also, telescopes with a higher aperture or the lower the f-stop value tend to be more expensive.
Another factor that affects the telescope prices has to do with the type of telescope. As already indicated, a refractor telescope is more expensive than a Cassegrain telescope, however, a Cassegrain telescope is more expensive than a reflector telescope.
Therefore, having an idea on what you budget is, how portable you want your telescope to be, will often guide your choice of choosing the best telescope for you.
Choosing the Right Mount
Well, there is no telescope without a standing mount, so, as much as you are interested in getting a telescope, it is equally important that you choose the right amount for your telescope.
Mounts are useful because they help provide you with a much stable image. Also, mounts allow you to rotate your telescope effortlessly when the need arises.
Telescope mounts can be classified into two:
- Equitorial mounts
- Alt-az mounts
These are the simplest and most common types of telescope mounts on the market. They are easy to use and they are mostly beginner-friendly telescopes.
Just like a camera tripod, this mount gives you the flexibility of moving your telescope from side to side and up and down movement. The up and down movement is referred to as altitude, while the side to side movement is referred to as Azimuth, hence the name; Alt-Az mount.
Compared to equatorial, Alt-Az mounts are easy to use. The Alt-Az mount comes in two common variations:
- Fork mount: With a fork mount, the telescope is placed between two arms, and this allows the telescope to move along the horizontal and vertical axis( up and down, left and right).
- Dobsonian mount: Dobsonian mounts, on the other hand, are made to host and mount large reflector telescopes.
Alt-Az mounts are used for exploring the lower part of the sky, and for terrestrial viewing. Tracking the movement of the stars using an-Az mount can be quite challenging because as the stars move, they tend to drift out of sight.
These are a little bit more complex and expensive than the Alt-Az mounts.
Equitorial mounts track the motion of the earth, and it works just like an alt-az mount, however, it is tilted backwards at an angle (“altitude”) which allows the horizontal movement to align itself with the earth’s star Polaris, and the vertical movement becomes parallel with the earth’s rotating axis.
This way your latitude is automatically adjusted to comply with the moving star. With these features, the equatorial mount can help you track the movement of the earth.
Due to the complicated nature of this mount, they tend to be more expensive than a regular Alt-Az mount.
Now we have a fair idea on how what you should look for when purchasing a telescope, let’s take a look at the price range of some of the telescopes on earth.
As a beginner, it is good that you go through the various telescope options before choosing the right telescope for you. A great place to start is a star party in your locality.
These star parties are usually organized for amateur astronomer to allow them to use the various telescopes and give them the chance to ask questions.
Before you buy any of the telescope recommended above, make sure that you attend a star party first.
What is the Biggest Telescope For The Money?
When it comes to telescope prices, they will vary depending on the type of telescope. However, when it comes to the biggest telescope for the money in terms of size, then a Dobsonian telescope is a clear winner here.
Dobsonian telescopes are Newtonian reflector telescopes that are mounted on a Dobsonian mount. The are often referred to as “light buckets” because of their large apertures and cannon-like shape or design. They can offer the best bang for your buck because they are made of mirrors instead of glass lenses so manufacturers can build a much larger telescope at a cheaper cost.
In general, the larger the aperture, the more money you’re going to need to spend.
How Much Does a Good Dobsonian Telescope Cost?
Dobsonian telescopes get our top spot for the biggest telescopes for the money due to their large aperture and relatively inexpensive cost. They are a great beginner scope. The only downside to these telescopes are that they’re big and bulky.
How Much Does a Good Cassegrain Telescope Cost?
Cassegrain telescopes combine the features of a reflector telescope as well as a refractor telescope, so, they are expensive than a Newtonian telescope but cheaper than a refractor telescope.
The price of Cassegrain telescopes will depend on the aperture as well and whether it is digitized or not. Most digitized Cassegrain telescopes comes with a database of pre-installed celestial bodies, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding targets in the night sky.
How Much Does A Reflector Telescope Cost?
Reflector or Newtonian telescopes are cheap because they are made of mirrors instead of glass lenses. A good entry-level Newtonian telescope will cost between $200 and $500. Below are a couple of our top picks at these price-points:
How Much Does A Good Refractor Telescope Cost?
Refractor telescopes are expensive, and they are usually smaller in size because they are made of actual glass lenses. You can checkout very good Refractor Telescopes here on Amazon or checkout our article that looks at the difference between reflector and refractor telescopes here.
Which Telescope is Good For Viewing Planets?
When it comes to choosing a telescope to view planets, the most important factor is the aperture.
Generally, you want to get a telescope with an eyepiece aperture of around 3 to 5″ for refractors, and 5″ to 8 inches for a reflector or a Dobsonian with a magnification of 20 to 30X would do just fine if you are looking to view planets.
You want a telescope that can let you see small objects, you want a telescope with a larger diameter. If you are looking for more specific dimensions for specific planetary bodies, then here are a couple popular ones:
- If you are looking to view the moons of Jupiter, then you want to get yourself a telescope of 5 or 6 inches in diameter for the aperture with a magnification of 30X.
- For viewing Saturn rings, getting a telescope with a magnification as small as 25X and an aperture of 8″ should be fine.
- For a planet like Pluto, then you need at least a 10″ aperture and a magnification of 50X should be ideal.
For a comprehensive guide on the best telescopes for viewing planets, check out our article here.