The worst mistakes you can make when buying a beginner telescope 2/2

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You’ve seen the pictures and your excited!  You too want the “best telescope for viewing planets and galaxies” and the “most awesome telescope for newbies” (or perhaps “best telescope for kids“?) and before long, your not just looking at colourful galaxies, clusters and planets, you find on the internet, but your browsing the catalogs of telescopes that promise you more than the world – the universe itself!  Your imagining, with ease, bending down and seeing those same sights, right from your veranda, or window.

I’m writing this article, and then the in depth “Avoiding Beginner Disappointment Series” of articles to spare you from the dissapointment and grief that comes from making the biggest mistakes, and to steer you in a slower, more steady direction that won’t just save you money, but preserve your enthusiasm and hopefully embark you on a wonderful experience of learning about the Universe for years, and hopefully a lifetime.  So, you have started in the right place.  The next article, the first in the follow up in depth series explores more fully the points in this article, and we will eventually get to that right way to get that “best telescope for beginners” and a follow up kid specific one.

So, what are the biggest mistakes you can make when buying the “best telescope for beginners?”.

  1. You buy a telescope based on a colourful picture.  I admit it – I did this.  I saw a picture of the Orion Nebula (also known as “M42“) and wanting to badly see it for myself.  I somehow imagined I would see it the way it was in the colourful pictures I saw.  In your case, it might be those fantastic moon crators, Jupiter or Mars!  Instead, when I eventually got a telescope and looked through it, it wasn’t very big, and it was a fuzzy blob.  I was crushed.  I felt embarassed and soon the telescope with which I was supposed to be able to show the Universe served as a humiliating momento of my impulsive buy and stupidity.  I hid it out of sight and tried to keep up the pretense of being excited.  What went wrong?   It turns out lots of things.  Here’s just one – I didn’t understand that a telescope – no matter how good – just won’t give you colour when you look through it.  The telescope just can’t gather enough light from that far for your to get color pictures, you need to have a lot of very expensive and fancy equipment, oodles of money and be prepared to dedicate enormous time to learning too.  We’ll address some of the other issues in future articles.
  2. You went for the whole “magnification” thing.  I told my brother about wanting to see the stars you know.  He is an experienced (terrestrial) photographer.  He told me I needed a powerful magnifying lens to see that far.  You know, one of those Tasco “675X” ones! He was right – and dead wrong.  Mars is about 170 million km away at the time of writing.  So, to see that up close, your going to need some serious zoom power.  I initially imagined seeing that planet, filling up my view and going “ooooohh!”.    Here’s something to remember – most of your viewing will be done with low magnification!  That’s in the range of 90x to 150x.  Always remember that.  You see, the stars and planets move, as well as the earth.  You zoom in that close, you would need “tracking” – perfectly moving the telescope along with the object your trying to look at.  You simply won’t be able to do that at 675, not even if you have surgeons’ fingers.  Trust me on that.  400x claims are misleading – 675x? – I believe intended solely to lure the unsuspecting customer.
  3. Picking the wrong telescope for what your expecting.  Here’s the truth of the matter – telescopes come on a scale – ones that do planets very well, and those that don’t.  The ones that do planets very well usually don’t do very well with other exciting things in the sky (remember that “M42” from before?) and the other way around.  The telescopes that do “both” don’t do nearly as good of a job at it as a specialist telescope.  You need to decide between a telescope for viewing planets and so called “close objects” (ironically which need high magnification), “widefield” telescopes with which you can see DSO’s (Deep Space Objects) or compromise and get one that can do okay at some bits of both.  We’ll get into which ones do what later.
  4. You paid attention to the telescope – not the thing it was sitting on – the mount.  Looking through a telescope is very sexy.  So of course, your interested in it.  You choose long and hard what you are going to get, and while your willing to pay a little extra to get that “better telescope”, you “save” when it comes to the mount.  (“What’s that?” you might be asking right now – read on!).  The Mount is the tripod that the Telescope sits on.  It’s crucially important to have a steady and solid mount that won’t move as you rotate the telescope, move when there is a breeze or gust of wind.  If it’s light, and unsteady, it will wobble continually, even from just touching it.  This is a disaster – imagine seeing Mars – but just for a second as it wobbles out of the picture.  Whoops!  There it goes again.  “Here, have a look now!” – “No, it’s gone…” etc..  How depressing.  Invest in a good mount.  We’ll do a article on that soon.
  5. You paid attention to the telescope – not the thing on top of it – the finderscope.  The what?!  The finder is that second telescope that sits on top of the big one.  That very fact makes people resentful.  You just bought a big telescope.  Why would you need another small one sitting on top of it?  The truth is, finding the object you are trying to look through – even something as big as the moon – is a nightmare without a good finder.  Imagine sitting there frustrated as you can’t find what you are looking for!  As the objects move (they do!), you need to continually reacquire what you are looking at!  Enter the “finderscope” – it doesn’t really magnify, so it looks just like what you are seeing in the sky.  As you look through it, you “find” what you are looking for easily.  Then you switch to the real telescope.  5×24 or 6×30’s “finderscopes” are inadequate.  Try and get a 7x50mm finderscope with crosshairs in the middle.  You’ll thank me later.
  6. You paid attention to the telescope – not the eyepieces.  When I bought my first telescope, I honestly though you looked right into, well, the telescope.  Because that’s logical, right?!  Wrong.  The telescope gathers the light and then puts the image together – the eyepiece magnifiers that and lets you see what you are seeing.  Good Telescope but Bad Eyepiece = Bad Experience.  A good guide is that you should be paying half of what you paid for the telescope for eyepieces.  The guy who said an engagement ring should be worth a month’s salary would agree with me.  How many?  You should get three.  A low magnification “widefield”, a medium eyepiece and a high magnification eyepiece.  Go a 30mm (which is low magnification – believe it!), a 20mm and maybe a 7mm or similar.  Then add a device called a Barlow (which works with your selection and gives you three extra sizes for “free”!) and you will have a great range (You will, with a Barlow, have 30mm, 15mm, 20mm, 10mm, 7mm and 3.5mm (high magnification!) More will come on eyepieces and Barlows.  Check back now and then.
  7. You bought a telescope and don’t understand how to use it.  It’s not your fault.  Really.  Well, maybe just a bit.  I mean, we all need to start somewhere, and you just didn’t know all the things you needed to know, so of course, you didn’t know what you needed to know if you know what I mean.  If your buying a Goto, you need to know how to align it.  If your buying a Newtonian, you need to know how to collimate it.  If your buying a refractor, you need to understand the mount you have – and regardless of what you get, you need to know what your going to point it at and how to get that thing you bought pointing at it!  The simple truth is, Astronomy is not an instant gratification hobby.  That’s not bad news – it’s good!  You have picked up an interest in something that will, if treated with respect and patience, form an interest for you that will outlive reality TV, news and gaming.  Explore my blogs and articles and find out more before your purchase.

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(c) 2018 – Marcel Gutsohn, All rights reserved.