In the last couple of years there has been a massive influx of new people joining the astrophotography community. Falling prices, more content online and the pandemic have prompted people to consider getting into the hobby. So now you may find yourself wondering what to buy and how much you should spend on your first telescope.
What To Absolutely Avoid
Cheap Amazon telescopes
Cheap telescopes listed on amazon like the celestron astromaster are fine for kids or people who just want to look at the moon a little, but anything more and you should look elsewhere. The mounts tend to be flimsy and the optics are mediocre at best. You may be swayed by a lot of good Amazon reviews, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t do a lot of research and when put next to something even comparable in price that I think is worthwhile they fall apart quick.
I’m not saying they’re bad, not in the least. GOTO Dobsonians can be really useful to quickly find objects and make the viewing experience much more convenient. However, if you’re getting into telescopes, stick with the manual stuff unless you have a lot of money to burn. You’re getting into this hobby because I suspect you’re interested in astronomy, so take the time to learn where the different constellations are and find the objects. I promise it’s very rewarding to find the Orion Nebula using nothing but your knowledge of the sky. Once you upgrade and get something better, then by all means go for the GOTO option and start seeing those really hard to find objects.
I would recommend not going bigger than 10 inches for your first scope, beyond that they just get a bit unwieldy which can dampen the experience a little.
This post was more about how to much to spend, but in this case I would say it doesn’t matter what these types of scopes cost, just don’t bother in the first place.
What To Look For
If you’re going with the used market, which I have an extensive post on already, you can find a great scope under $200 pretty easily. 6 to 8 inch dobsonians, Newtonian reflectors, small SCTs, achromatic refractors etc. can all be head pretty cheaply on the used market. If you’re on a very tight budget, this is the route I would go.
Otherwise, for the new market, look for apochromatic refractors and imaging reflectors for astrophotography pretty much exclusively. SCTs are great for galaxies if you’ve got the patience to image more due to their small apertures and they are harder to track with due to the focal length. Dobsonians are not useful for anything beyond planets or the moon. You’ll also need to factor in a tracking mount for photography, but that’s a different topic entirely.
If this is your first scope, I think you’re best bet is to limit yourself to whatever you can afford to spend without being bothered. What I mean is spend whatever money you can spend without having to think about it too much. If a $500 purchase is something you can make without worrying about the money at all, go for it. If that number is $100, look aggressively on the used market. You shouldn’t spend a ton on your first scope though just in case you don’t end up sticking with it, these depreciate very quickly.
My best suggestion is to either get a dobsonian if you’re going to do visual observation or get a smaller apochromatic refractor if you’re doing photography with it. These are generally going to be the most user friendly, require less expensive gear to get up and running while still providing good performance. I currently use the Astro Tech AT72ED for my images and you can see some examples from it in my gallery. I also had a 10 inch dobsonian which I setup by myself each night and really enjoyed even though I live in pretty serious light pollution.
I know it’s sort of a bummer of an answer, but there really is no straightforward answer to what scope you should buy and for how much. I put together a guide on what kinds of scopes to look for so take a look at that if you need to, it should give you some guidance on what to look for.
In terms of how much to spend, it depends on what you want. Visual observation will be cheaper than astrophotography, but obviously you can’t share what you’re seeing. If this is your first scope, stick to a price under the cost of a brand new 10 inch dobsonian. That should give you up to about $650 which is well more than enough to find out if this hobby is something you’re going to peruse further.