Whether you are looking to buy your first telescope or want to upgrade your current one, the variety of choices on the market can complicate your decision. As you are looking for the best affordable telescopes to enhance your practice of astronomy, first decide how much you want to spend, how you’ll be using the telescope and what you’ll be viewing.
Cheap Telescopes: A Warning
Although you can get some wonderful telescopes at inexpensive prices, be wary of any cheap telescopes bragging about their magnifying power. In fact, magnifying power is determined by the aperture. Aperture refers to the width of a telescope’s objective lens or primary mirror. The larger the aperture number, the more light the telescope collects and, therefore, the more the telescope can magnify an image.
Because larger apertures allow more light to enter the telescope, they are the most important factor in determining the degree to which a telescope can magnify distant objects. In general, 25x to 50x is usually powerful enough to see bright, sharp images.
Refractor telescopes are types of telescopes that use lenses to gather and focus light. If you want to get a refractor telescope, you can adequately begin viewing objects with an aperture of 60mm to 80mm. This will allow you to see the moon and major planets. Amateur astronomers who live in a city and rarely get away from urban skies to star gaze will likely want a refractor telescope.
Usually you can get a small refractor telescope in this range for around $100 to $350. These varieties are usually portable and maintenance-free, two great qualities for amateur astronomers looking for their first telescopes. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to see faint deep-sky objects, like galaxies, with this type of telescope.
As you become familiar with how to use the basic refractor telescopes, you can enhance your practice of astronomy with refractor telescopes that have 90mm to 100mm apertures, allowing you to see even more objects in greater detail. While these telescopes tend to be pricier, they do help you further you astronomy hobby.
Telescopes that use mirrors, rather than lenses, to magnify images are known as reflector telescopes. These types of telescopes are often more affordable than refractors, and they offer a greater range of viewing options, allowing amateur astronomers to see anything from star clusters to planets.
While larger apertures on reflector telescopes will allow you to see farther, getting a 6-inch or 8-inch aperture on a reflector telescope will also limit its portability, as larger apertures make telescopes bulkier and heavier. As a result, you may want to start with an aperture around 3 inches to 4 inches.
Keep in mind, however, that reflector telescopes do tend to increase the incidence of coma, a phenomenon in which the objects at the edge of a viewing field appear blurry and elongated. Consequently, those looking to get the sharpest image from their telescopes may be better suiting using a refractor or a catadioptric telescope.
Commonly referred to as Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCTs), the catadioptric telescope is a type of telescope that uses both mirrors and lenses to magnify images. Not only do these telescopes significantly reduce the defects associated with the other two types of telescopes, but they also are far more portable, allowing you to bring them to various locations to practice astronomy.
However, unlike both reflector and refractor telescopes, the catadioptric telescope is rarely “affordable” due to the fact that even the basic models can cost over $1,000.
Tips for Finding Cheap Telescopes
As you are finding the best telescope for you, remember that you will likely have to shop around. Instead of buying the first telescope you like, compare prices for that telescope at different retail stores, outlets and online businesses. With the Internet, inexpensive telescopes are far easier to find. In fact, some astronomy Web sites have ads where astronomers sell old telescopes as they upgrade to newer models, which can help you find a good deal on a secondhand telescope that’s still in great condition.
You can also search on eBay or other bargain shopping sites, but be careful paying money to anyone unknown over the Internet. You want to make sure you have some protection in place to get your money back if the telescope either doesn’t arrive or arrives in poor condition.
Talk to other members of local astronomy clubs or anyone at a star gazing party who owns a telescope to find out where they bought it. Chances are they’ll be happy to pass on advice if they had a good experience, or give you warnings if they didn’t.
Whenever you see a telescope you like, find out what features it has (such as the aperture size) and how much it cost. This will also give you a better sense of what is considered to be a reasonable price range for any telescope.
Another option for affordable telescopes is to make your own. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time grinding mirrors and lenses, you can buy kits to build your own telescope. Similarly, you can buy the required pieces separately and research the various available designs to learn how to put those pieces together.
Homemade telescopes will often cost far less than buying a preassembled one in a store, but you will make up for that savings in the time spent putting it together. If you are up for the challenge and don’t have a set timeline for having a completed telescope, building your own telescope will give you a sense of accomplishment while also saving you some money.
Other Tips for Finding Affordable Telescopes
As you shop around for affordable telescopes, remember that you don’t want to start out buying a piece of equipment that is too complicated for you to handle and manipulate. As a result, experts recommend that beginning astronomers get reflector telescopes with an aperture of less than 6 inches or a refractor telescope with an aperture smaller than 90mm. After you’ve mastered the basics, you can start investing in larger, more complicated devices.
Skymaps and Astronomy Software
As a guide for your amateur astronomy journey, there are plenty of different digital options and programs out there. Click here to learn more about Skymaps and here for more information about Astronomy Software.