What do you want to see and do?
If you’re new to astronomy or buying it for somebody else then the chances are that you don’t really know exactly what you want to do but you want to see some good stuff. That’s fair enough, so you want a telescope that can show you a good range of things such as the Moon, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. All of the telescopes listed below will allow you to view these things to some level.
Or maybe you do know and you want to see or photograph those fantastic colour images that you see in astronomy magazines or on the NASA website?
Time to be realistic: those were often (not always) taken using expensive equipment or by astronomers with many years of experience behind them. Putting your eye to the end of a telescope will rarely show that.
I don’t mean to put you off – quite the opposite. In fact when you look through a telescope for the first time at the Moon, satellites of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn, I promise you you’ll never be the same again! The connection between your little eye and the rest of the universe is just mind-blowing! When you look directly at a galaxy, it’s so far away that you are in fact looking millions of years back in time. You’re seeing that galaxy as it was millions of years ago, when it’s light started out on the journey towards your eye. TELESCOPE = TIME MACHINE!
If you do want to take photos through your telescope you can do simple imaging with most telescopes – even using your smartphone camera (you can get attachments to hold the phone at the eyepiece end of the telescope – many different types and prices). A motor drive certainly helps but is not essential for the Moon for example. Here’s a photo I took by attaching my DSLR on the end of a simple 80mm refactor on an altazimuth mount (see below for what this means) with no motor drive.
And with a bit of practice and experience you really can take amazing images of the night sky. See our Flickr Group for examples of what some of our members have done with a wide range of equipment.
But start out with realistic expectations and you won’t be disappointed.
Get a good book such as Turn Left at Orion, which will show you what to expect, what objects will look like in different telescope sizes, and many ideas of what to look at. Keep an eye on our website for ideas of what to observe at various times in the year. We have published articles on Globular clusters, Open clusters, comets, the Moon, Lunar eclipse, …