People love to view the night sky, the moon, the stars, and other celestial objects. They are a constant reminder of just how small we are. There are people among us, like you and me, who want to take “stargazing” one step further. To do that, you will need appropriate optics such as those offered in telescopes and astronomy binoculars. In the telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy debate, the question becomes, which one should you choose?
The truth is, when looking at telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy, there really isn’t one good answer. There are many factors to consider. Once you know these factors the choice becomes clearer. In this article we’ll review in detail what these factors are so you can make an informed decision.
Basics of Telescopes vs Binoculars for Astronomy
Before discussing the preference of telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy, it is necessary to know some basics about them. This way, it will be easy to understand their differences and specialties in respective appliances.
Generally, people think of a powerful telescope while talking about astronomy. But to be honest, the telescope is not the only choice an amateur astronomer has. It is often the case that a good pair of astronomy binoculars is all you’ll need.
Experts will easily sort out whether they need a telescope, or pair of binoculars, or a combination of both on any given outing. However, beginners will find the telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy dilemma a little more challenging.
What are telescopes?
Telescopes area a monocular device since they use a single eyepiece. In simple terms, a telescope is a long optical tube that uses lenses or curved mirrors, or both, to gather light and makes distant objects like the moon, stars, galaxies and other celestial objects visible in a brilliant way. There are some variations regarding the types of telescopes available, so I encourage you to explore that article once you’re done here.
The name itself defines what the type is and how it works. Reflector telescopes basically reflect the emerged light from the primary mirror to a second smaller mirror which is seen through the eyepiece. These types of telescopes can be a good option for beginners since they cost less than other types and models.
For beginners, we definitely recommend Dobsonian type reflector telescopes. They are cost effective, easy to use, and offer the biggest light gathering capabilities (more on this in a bit) for the price. Amazon has a wide selection of Dobsonian Telescopes at a great price.
Refractor telescopes use a lens to refract light and show the view through the eyepiece. They were touted as the first practical telescopes, and are widely used for terrestrial applications and astronomy. Again, Amazon has a great lineup of Refractor Telescopes at great prices you can check out once you’re done here.
Benefits of Using Telescopes
Every optical device has its own unique features to serve specific purposes. When discussing telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy, in some cases the telescope is a clear winner.
Some of the reasons you’ll want to go for a telescope are as follows:
Since telescopes are designed and built to cover vast distances, viewing objects like the moon, stars, and galaxies, makes a telescope a clear choice. While a good pair of high-end binoculars are indispensable to enter into astronomy, in the end, for deep space targets, a telescope is the winner.
Generally, telescopes are used with tripods which makes them more stable. They can provide viewing without any shaking or blurry effect, which can be a problem when using binoculars with large magnification.
Ease of Upgrade
When starting out on your journey to explore the amazing world of the night sky, an inexpensive telescope will do. Check out our article, best telescopes under $500, to look at our top picks. Then as your interests and expertise increase, you can easily upgrade your telescope by purchasing additional lenses. Again, we’ve got you covered when it comes to high quality lens kits at good price points in this article here. This is a major advantage telescopes have over binoculars.
Binoculars can be referred to as two telescopes mounted side-by-side and aligned to point in the same direction. You can use both eyes while viewing through binocular and get better depth perception. This is one of the most important features of binoculars that you will not get with a telescopes.
Binoculars have two basic types of mechanisms:
Porro prism binoculars were standard until roof prism binoculars were introduced. They are really great for the money and come in all medium and low priced binoculars.
Roof prism binoculars are now leading the binocular market. They cost more due to their greater optical precision. They seem to be simpler than other ones but have a more complex structure inside.
Benefits of Using Binoculars
A decent quality binocular is designed to serve almost all purposes to some extent. Therefore you can use a hunting binocular for astronomy or bird watching to some extent and astronomy binocular for wildlife observation. Which means, for one price, you are getting a device that will accompany you in various situations.
Portable and Compact
Binoculars are available in various sizes. Super-compact binoculars will fit in your pocket and are great for portability. For high-powered astronomy use, a pair of astronomy binoculars will serve the purpose. Quick note, heavy binoculars, especially large astronomy binoculars, perform better with a tripod.
Better Depth Perception
Telescopes use a single eyepiece and therefore provide a flat view. Binoculars, on the other hand, allow you to use both eyes. Therefore you will get clearer depth perception and maximum viewing area.
Binoculars come in various price ranges depending on features and quality. In comparison, expect to pay more for a decent telescope vs binoculars. Luckily, when choosing binoculars you will have various price options and a lot of selection.
Telescope vs Binoculars for Astronomy
So far we have shed some light on the basics of telescopes and binoculars and their basic advantages. It is quite evident that in terms of form and function, telescopes and binoculars are really different. In this section, we will discuss the preference of telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy.
Handling and Portability
Binoculars are smaller and lighter than telescopes. So you will get more portability with binoculars than telescopes. Telescopes are used with tripods, therefore, it is difficult to handle or move them fast. On the other hand, compact binoculars are easy to carry and handle. Even if you are using a heavy binocular that requires a tripod you can move it with less effort than a basic telescope.
So binoculars are the perfect choice for you if you are looking for a portable device that will help you to explore the amazing world of astronomy.
Most people think the greater the magnification the better. But this is not necessarily true. With greater magnification, the weight also increases. That means you are bound to carry extra weight with more magnification. This is the reason high magnification devices need a tripod to operate easily.
If you are looking to observe great detail on the moon, planets, clusters of stars, or similar deep-space objects you need higher magnification. In general, telescopes are built to fulfill these magnification demands.
Fortunately, high magnification binoculars or high-end astronomy binoculars are available as well. For a comprehensive list of good high-end binoculars be sure to check out our article, best binoculars for astronomy under $500.
While you can get binoculars with higher magnification, if deep-space is your thing, telescopes are the best in terms of magnification for astronomy.
Telescopes provide a flat and inverted view, while binoculars provide a 3-dimensional (3D) depth-of-field and a corrected view. Unless you are an experienced user of telescopes, you should start with a pair of binoculars for astronomy. This way you will enjoy a more vivid, wider field-of-view and learn to navigate the night sky.
For example, in terms of moon viewing, binoculars don’t have much to offer even with their 3D depth-of-field. Since the moon is large and almost stationary, telescopes are better to observe the moon. And the inverted image is not a big issue since you can solve it with an additional eyepiece or a good moon map.
Field-of-view, a.k.a. FOV, is the actual area that a person sees from his eyes through the eyepiece of an optical device. The important fact is this, with magnification the FOV gradually decreases resulting in a smaller area you’ll be looking at. While telescopes and binoculars both have magnification and gradually narrow down the field-of-view, binoculars have a relatively wider one in most cases.
Now you may be wondering, when should you opt for telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy?
If you want to observe the stars, planets, enjoy star clusters, and galaxies in relation to each other, versus in isolation, then binoculars are the best fit. That said, in order to unlock the awe and brilliance of a star cluster, you will need a telescope.
We have already mentioned that telescopes provide better stability because they are designed to be used with tripods. For smaller binoculars, you can use them handheld and enjoy the night sky. If you’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars, you can get binoculars with electronic image stabilization built-in.
For extended use, which is quite common for astronomy, you will get tired when using binoculars handheld. The blurring effect increases as your arms and hands get shakier. Therefore, consider a tripod or the image stabilized binoculars discussed above. With a tripod, you can control the device as well as the smooth movement.
With astronomy comes the enjoyment of celestial photography or “astro-photography”. We think telescopes are better for this purpose. Through the use of adapters, you can attach cameras to your telescope. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone to capture images or record your viewing experience if you pick up one of these smartphone telescope adapters. We prefer and recommend telescopes for this purpose.
Low Light Performance
What you will see through a device in low light conditions depends on the size of the aperture. The aperture increases with the objective lens. Normally, telescopes have a larger objective lens than binoculars. That’s why telescopes perform better in low light conditions, by collecting more light and rendering a better image. Similarly, the telescope will help you observe dim stars clearer.
In the case of binoculars, they too come with large objective lens but this is not the common case and they will be big and heavy. That said, normal size binoculars have a decent objective lens diameter. We recommend, for multi-purpose use, you look for 10×50 binoculars.
High-end astronomy binoculars may cost more than a decent quality telescope. Also, you will have to arrange a tripod to use the binoculars easily. Generally, you have to pay more for quality astronomy binoculars.
Telescopes vs Binoculars for Astronomy…Who Wins?
There is no ultimate winner among telescopes vs binoculars for astronomy. The answer is purely subjective and depends on your needs. Binoculars excel in portability, multi-purpose use, and beginner friendliness. While telescopes have better magnification, better low light performance, and stability.
So which one you should choose then?
If you are a beginner, we will suggest you start with a decent pair of binoculars. This way you will have a multipurpose optics that will accompany you for hunting, birding, and astronomy. Once you are in love with the night sky, and its amazing world, you can get a telescope to explore more. If you are not interested in astronomy, binoculars are a good choice for multipurpose use.
For experts, you already know that a combination of decent astronomy binoculars and a quality telescope is the best option for astronomy. Because while exploring the night sky and its objects sometimes you will like to observe a certain object from a closer view and sometimes you will want to observe in groups and get a bigger picture.
About the Author
Kalman is an outdoor enthusiast who loves the night world dearly. Expertnightvision.com is the result of that love. From an early age, he was fascinated by the wonders and beauty of nature which is driving him till today.