You don’t need a full-sized Celestron telescope to practice amateur astronomy and astrophotography. A number of manufacturers are now making various viewing devices that are portable and easy to use, although they may lack the power of a space telescope.
Binoculars are perhaps one of the most common handheld viewing devices. Outside of astronomy groups, few people associate binoculars with sky-gazing. Yet, most experienced astronomers keep a pair of binoculars in easy reach, even if they’re using a powerful sky telescope.
In certain circumstances, binoculars have several features that make them more suitable for sky-gazing than space telescopes. For example, a pair of binoculars is easy to transport, rather than a larger, more cumbersome sky telescope will take more effort to move from place to place.
Binoculars also offer a wider field of vision than other handheld viewing devices and sky telescopes, allowing astronomers to get a more inclusive view of the sky. The larger the diameter of the binocular lenses, the larger the field of vision will be.
While binoculars are popular handheld viewing devices for astronomy, they aren’t suited for astrophotography. Combined binoculars/digital cameras do exist, but they are often gimmicky. Other handheld viewing devices, such as spotting scopes, are better suited to astrophotography.
Spotting scopes are handheld viewing devices that resemble small sky telescopes. Spotting scopes, like binoculars, are easily portable. Also like binoculars, spotting scopes produce an upright image, as they are designed for both sky and terrestrial viewing. Keep in mind that images viewed through a space telescope are upside-down mirror images.
Like a sky telescope, a spotting scope eyepiece can be replaced with eyepieces of different magnifications. When combined with a tripod, spotting scopes can be used for limited astrophotography, although a motorized Celestron telescope is better for long exposures.
Electronic Handheld Viewing Devices
Electronic handheld viewing devices are small computerized tools that can provide astronomy beginners with a wealth of knowledge.
Electronic handheld viewing devices contain software that identifies celestial objects. The user simply points the viewfinder at a section of sky, and the device provides information on the celestial objects in that portion of the sky.
Electronic handheld viewing devices can also locate celestial objects, making them a handy tool for budding astronomers. As a stand-alone device, however, electronic handheld viewing devices aren’t as versatile as binoculars and spotting scopes. In general, they are better used as aids to larger Celestron telescopes.
Celestron Telescopes versus Handheld Viewing Devices
Celestron telescopes, while larger than handheld viewing devices, have their own unique set of advantages. A Celestron telescope will generally provide greater magnification and clearer detail than handheld viewing devices.
However, when it comes to astrophotography, a space telescope outperforms handheld viewing devices. Camera mounting devices are readily available for Celestron telescope models, and a large sky telescope is more likely to be motorized. Alternately, cameras, especially digital cameras, can be bulky, often making them too heavy to attach to handheld viewing devices.
Portability and versatility are the great strengths of handheld viewing devices. Both binoculars and spotting scopes can be used to view terrestrial objects, as well as star gaze, a feature that a space telescope doesn’t possess.
Another advantage of using handheld viewing devices over larger telescopes is the fact that amateur astronomers can be taken hiking, camping and on other excursions where a Celestron telescope would be impractical. A space telescope must also be protected against the rain and weather, while many handheld viewing devices are water resistant.
The Cost of Handheld Viewing Devices
Generally speaking, handheld viewing devices are less expensive than Celestron telescopes, although high quality binoculars and spotting scopes can cost as much as $800. The low end of the price scale for handheld viewing devices starts at $90.
For sky gazing, the diameter of the lens is more important than magnification. The larger the objective lens diameter, the more light handheld viewing devices will gather, making images look clearer and sharper.
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