Recommend a decent telescope

So, got my tax money back and decided to buy something I’ve been thinking about for years - a telescope.

Any recommendations on a decent beginner system (Just FYI, I’ve been looking at the Celestron Nexstar 114 GT Telescope)?

I’m looking to stay under $500-600 accessories included.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Love my Meade ETX-90. Bought it used maybe 5 years ago for $400 on E-Bay. Mine didn’t come with the computer, which you’ll likely want.

Best bet for a decent beginner system in your budget range: an 8" dobsonian reflector. Recommended sources include Orion Telescope Center, Hardin Optical, Hands on Optics, or Oceanside Photo and Telescope.

The telescope you’re considering is too small, and you’ll outgrow it quickly; most of the purchase price is going toward the “GO-TO” computerized locating system, and not enough toward the optics. It doesn’t do much good to have a searchable database of thousands of objects if they’re all going to be too dim to see well in your telescope when you find them! Dobsonian telescopes, in contrast, put the money almost entirely in the optics; the mounting is designed to be study, vibration-free, and very easy to use rather than “fancy”. An 8" dob is a scope you’ll be able to enjoy for a lifetime.

You also need to consider how you’re going to use your telescope: where are you going to store it, how much weight can you lift comfortably, how much set-up time is acceptable, are you going to transport it in your car, etc. Most people find an 8" dob is reasonably portable, but if you drive a very small car or live in a fourth-story apartment and will be carrying the scope up and down stairs, it might not work well for you. Do some reading before you make your purchase!

Thanks for the feedback Artemis.

That’s something I’ll have to think about, honestly the whole GO-TO thing sounded pretty attractive to me. Is that something I could add on the Dobsonian telescope later?

You can add digital setting circles, which aid you in finding objects but which won’t physically move the scope so it’s pointing at the right spot - instead you push the tube until the digital display tells you it’s pointing in the proper location.

The Orion Telescope Company’s new Intelliscope Dobsonian comes with the sensors for a digital setting circle system already built into the mount; you buy the hand controller containing the digital display separately, so you could get the scope now and add the controller later. It’s a brand-new system, though, and the controllers have been on backorder for a bit, so I’ve not seen any feedback yet on how well the system works.

If you’re serious about wanting GO-TO, I’d advise you to save up more money and increase you telescope-buying budget up to about $1000. That’s the price range where you start to get sizable good optics and a well-built mount to accompany the GO-TO feature. DO NOT underestimate the importance of a stable, easy-to-use, and sturdy mounting! A shaky mount that vibrates every time you touch the telescope’s focuser can make a scope nearly impossible to use. And remember, too, that telescopes are used at night; when you’re evaluating the mounting or a GO-TO hand controller, ask yourself how easy it would be to loosen or tighen the knobs, read the keypad, punch in information, etc., in the dark while you’re wearing gloves!

Here are some resources I’d recommend checking out before you decide what scope to buy:


Nightwatch by Terence Dickenson

The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer

Star Ware: The Amateur Astronomer’s Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Buying, & Using Telescopes and Accessories by Philip S. Harrington.

Web Resources:

Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews

Ed Ting’s Telescope Reviews

Todd Gross’s Weather and Astronomy Site

AstroMart - the Forums often have current telescope reviews.

There are a number of Yahoogroup telescope equipment forums, many dedicated to just one make or model of telescope. But Philip Harrington runs a general forum, Talking Telescopes, where all types of equipment is discussed; there’s a lot of useful information in the Files section, and it’s a real treasure-trove of a site. You may even search the database and find a few reviews of the Celestron Nexstar 114 GT Telescope from people who have used it. I strongly recommend joining this Yahoogroup (it’s free) and doing a bit of reading, and then asking questions of the members there, before you buy anything!

Too small for what? You can have a lot of fun with a 114mm telescope. It’s true that you’re mostly paying for the fancy computer-controlled mount, but that’s reasonable. Later you can keep the mount and replace the telescope using the Baader Nexstar bracket. In fact I’m thinking about buying a NexStar 80GT, throwing away the telescope and using the mount for my Borg refractor. (This is a popular combination; Borg makes an adapter specially for this purpose.)

Yeah, but what good is the extra aperture if you can’t find the objects? :smiley: I used to think half the fun of amateur astronomy is learning to find faint objects without electronic aid, but I’m beginning to think that relying on computerized GOTO mounts is a perfectly acceptable and viable alternative.

I recommend you ask for more suggestions on the message board on the Cloudy Nights site. It’s a very friendly message board. (Even more friendly and civil than the SDMB!)

Too small for finding much more than the Moon, planets, and a few of the brighter deep-sky objects in the increasingly light-polluted skies most amateurs are dealing with these days. I have a 94 mm Brandon apochromatic refractor, and I love it - but I don’t recommend such a small aperature for a beginner’s first scope unless they’ve got real portability/weight restrictions to deal with. In light-polluted suburban skies, the views are simply too disappointing.

As for buying the package and planning to upgrade the scope later - that’s fine if you’re sure you’re going to want to stick with a small refractor or 4" reflector. But the mounts sold with these “beginner packages” are too small to stably support larger scopes, and some of them are very shoddy mechanically, too (although that may not be true of the particular Celestron mount in question).

I’m not against GOTO per se - but I do think beginners need to consider whether they MUST have it, if they can’t affort the cost of both a good GOTO mounting and sizable, well-made optics. If grem0517 had said his budget was $1500, I’d recommend a GOTO scope without any hesitation. But if $500 is all he has to spend, and he’s going to be using the scope he buys for quite a while because he won’t be able to afford to upgrade, he needs to very carefully weigh the benefits of GOTO versus the benefits of large aperature, because he simply CAN’T get both on that budget.

I’m really hoping the Orion Intelliscope Dob turns out to work well, because I think it will be a nice compromise for beginners - no motorized tracking, to be sure, but it offers both digital setting circles with a large object database and sizable aperature in a price range that’s not too high for most beginners to afford.

Cloudy Nights is defintely a great site! The “Talking Telescopes” yahoogroup is also a fun, friendly place. And both are great places to find information on the current telescope models Meade and Celestron are selling (as well as other brands).

Much food for thought fellas, thanks again!

Been talking with the Treasurer and I might get to make that $500-600 for the telescope itself (filters, tripod, carrying case, lenses extra!).

Looked over the Meade’s and they look pretty cool although new they might be out of range right now. Will one of the sites mentioned above explain the differences between Schmidt-Cassegrain, Dobsonian, etc (not to mention Polar vs altazimuth (sp?)?

Artemis, it’s actually not so much a question of the money per se as how much I’m willing to spend without really knowing how hooked I’m going to get. If it turns out to be something I really like, I’ll be upgrading pretty quickly.

The Orion Telescope Center has a section explaining the differences between alt-azimuth and polar/equatorial mounts and between refractors, reflectors, and Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. You can find even better explanations in the files section of the ‘Talking Telescopes’ Yahoogroup, at Cloudy Nights, and especially in any of the three books I recommended. Check out Sky and Telescope’s Website, too - under their “How To” section you’ll find information on different types of telescopes and advice on choosing the right type for you, and in their “Resources” section you can find astronomy club listings. Going to a local astronomy club’s star party so you can check out many different types of telescopes first-hand (perhaps including the very model you’re thinking of buying) before you actually purchase a scope is an excellent idea!

If money isn’t really a limiting factor, then going with the Celestron Nexstar 114 GT Telescope isn’t an unreasonable move - by the time you’re ready to move on to a bigger, more expensive scope, you’ll have enough observing experience under your belt so that you’ll have a better idea of what objects you really like to view and what sort of scope will best suit your needs.

A Review of the Celestron NexStar 114 GT by Ed Ting, which you might want to check out. The scope’s apparently being discontinued, so if you decide this is the scope you really want, don’t wait too long to buy it!

I have an 8 in Dob (an older Orion model)

But here are a few questions:

  1. Are you planning on astrophotography? because a dob doesn’t work well for that
  2. Are you at a good place to view3? Do you need to travel to go to a good place? Because a 8in dob isn’t super-tranportable. (But not THAT bad- only 2 main parts and fits well in a Geo Prizm (folding down one of the rear seats)

Artemis is right on with everything he or she has said.
The two most important things in a scope are optics and stability.

The reason the dobsonian mount is the best choice for a begginner is because it dominates both categories. Take a look at a dobsonian.
Stability – The mount seems to be all common sense as it is low to the ground and uses the Earth itself for stablity, not a tripod. Do not underestimate the importance of stability (to echo Artemis)… A shakey tripod WILL ruin your hobby.

Optics – Look again at the picture. You are basically getting a simple wooden mount, and a big tube. ALL the rest of your money is going straight to the optics. A dobsonian is the most bang for your buck, I do not think anyone can argue against that.
My dob is a 4 1/2 inch I bought from Stargazer Steve. It has a cardboard - yes cardboard - tube, a plywood base. Does any of this matter? Not Really. My money went almost exculsively towards the mirror/lense combo this way. I have had the scope for 5+ years, and I do not ever think I will ever outgrow it. The sky has many wonders for a scope this size, it would be hard, even for a serious ametuer, to explore them all.

For instance, for many it is fun to hunt down the objects found on the Messier List As the links says, Charles Messier compiled the list of deep sky objects so he could refer to it when comet hunting (the list was just a reference so that these galaxies and nebulae were not repeatedly mistaken as comets).

He did all of that on a scope smaller than the one you are likely to buy. If you buy a good dobsonian mount for $400, spend $100 on a few good eyepeices (which can be used later with an upgrade scope) and hunt down all of the “Messier Objects” you will either not ever be able to do it (and never outgrow your scope on the upside) or you will know EXACTLY what you REALLY want by the time your done.

BTW, there is no shame in never outgrowing your first scope. I have had mine for five years, and it still challenges me, and I still have a lot of those god-damn Messier Objects to cross off. I beleive you will feel the same way if you go with a dob.

I would like to reccomend Stargazer Steve, because he does offer a wonderful product, but the bigger merchants are offering quality products at prices like this. Just impossible to beat.

Those who are recommending a Dobsonian over a Nexstar, are you aware that the NexStar 114GT only costs $250? I wouldn’t recommend it at the list price ($738) but at the current discounted prices, it seems like a very good deal.

Although I agree that a Dobsonian is also a good entry level telescope. You can get a 10" Hardin Dobsonian for $500 which would collect 20x more light than the 114GT, and you don’t need electricity to run the telescope. It’s more difficult to transport, and high magnification observation (i.e. planets) is a bit more difficult with a Dobsonian.

It’s certainly not a bad deal at that price - but you can get a 6" Dob for the same $250, and the 6" will show you more (assuming you’re willing to live with an alt-az mount and no GOTO).

Exactly - every telescope involves a series of trade-offs. My concern is that beginners are often too easily wowed by “fancy features” such as GOTO, and they forget that simplicity, ease of use, light-gathering power, and quality of the optics should also count for a lot. They may buy a small scope because they’re impressed by the fancy electronic mount and the implied promise that the telescope will “find the objects for them”, only to wind up disappointed with the views and the mechanical performance of the unit, and frustrated when they discover that mastering the GOTO feature also has a learning curve and isn’t always easy to set up and use. (And unlike star-hopping, what they learn when they do master the instructions for their first GOTO telescope won’t carry over to their next one, because GOTO controllers aren’t standardized.)

grem0517 should do some more homework and decide what tradeoffs he’s willing to make and what features he absolutely MUST have before he buys any scope, unless he wants to risk the telescope becoming another of those perpetual closet-stuffers that never gets used. At least that way if he does decide to go with the Celestron NexStar 114 GT, he’ll know he’s getting the best scope for his personal observing situation and not simply the one that’s being marketed the hardest to newbies!

That should be 5x not 20x. Sorry.

this is obviously nowhere close to a professional instrument, but the edmund astroscan used to be a pretty popular starting point for beginners. it’s cheap, simple and, not least, very portable. getting started with something like this might help you identify what you really need when you’re ready to take your next step.

Get a good 6" reflector…they are reasonable with a Dobsonisn mount.
Orion sells several models which should be perfect. Get some good eyepieces if you have some $$ left over.

I’ve wanted a telescope for a long time. The other day, I stumbled across one of my astronomy books and started thinking about it again. What do you experts know about the Meade ETX-125AT?

One of my books – I’ve forgotten which one – suggests starting astronomy with the Mk.I eyeball and then using binoculars. I tried binoculars when I lived in Lancaster yonks ago. it was a cold winter’s night, and I spotted Jupiter. I believe I saw two moons, too; just two tiny, tiny white spots next to it. I used a tripod with the binoculars duct-taped to the top. I’d really like a proper 'scope.

I’ve heard good things about the optical performance of Meade Maksutov Cassegrains. If portability (compact size) is a very high priority, and you really want a computerized mount, I think it’s a decent choice.

But it’s a lot of money for a 5-inch telescope. If you can compromise on portability, you can get a Celestron C8N-GT for almost the same price. That’s an 8" Newtonian on a computerized mount - much larger and heavier than the ETX-125, but gathers 150% more light. It’s a more flexible system too, you can put other telescopes on the mount.

Or if you can settle for computer assist (aka Digital Setting Circles - computer tells you which way to move the telescope - no tracking or automatic slewing), you can get a 10" Orion Intelliscope for $750. I like this approach personally - it uses much less power than a computer-controlled (GOTO) telescope so you don’t need to mess with big rechargeable batteries. And the computer doesn’t get in your way - it’s there as your guide if you need it, but if you don’t need it you can still use the telescope manually.

Thanks for that. I’ll search for a site later, since I’m getting ready to leave now. I’m strictly an amateur. I haven’t even taken any astronomy classes. But I find astronomy fascinating. I’d like to have a telescope that I’ll not neet to replace. That is, big enough to last my life, but not too big.

I thought of a Dobsonian (I downloaded plans years ago), but I want to try to take some photos so I’ll need the equatorial mount and motor drive.