What to Know Before Buying a Telescope

Telescopes come in an overwhelming variety of sizes, shapes, and prices. To make sense of this embarrassment of riches, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions.

The author owns a half dozen scopes, including the 70-mm refractor at left and the 12.5-inch truss-tube Dob at right.
Carla Procaskey
How much are you willing to spend? How portable does your telescope need to be? Do you plan to do astrophotography? And what do you hope for and expect from astronomy?

If you shop really carefully, you can buy a good telescope for $100. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend a telescope costing $2,000 or more to a beginner who is really committed and knows exactly what he or she wants.

For a quick overview of what telescopes are all about, see our article Choosing Your First Telescope.

For a more comprehensive discussion of astronomical equipment, you can download the article What to Know before You Buy from the 2010 issue of SkyWatch, our annual magazine.

5 thoughts on “What to Know Before Buying a Telescope

  1. Anthony Barreiro

    I would advise beginning skywatchers to get a good pair of 10×50 binoculars and to spend a year or two learning to observe the sky through binoculars before getting a telescope. Binoculars are less expensive, much easier to use, and they will show you a much broader area of the sky than the very narrow view through a telescope eyepiece. I have several very good telescopes, but I still use my binoculars much more often than any of my telescopes, simply because it’s so much easier to grab the binoculars for a quick trip out to the back yard or up the hill, without the hassle of lugging, setting up, and breaking down a telescope. A search for "binoculars" here on skyandtelescope.com will lead you to a number of helpful articles.

  2. Ken Renard

    I would agree with Anthony for starting out binoculars are great and you can always use them for years to come. I use my 10 X 50 almost every day. I must say my small 72 mm refractor gets a great deal of use. Its always set up and I can be observing in a few seconds. I was able to look at Saturn and Venus this morning before leaving for work. I have brought the small refractor on trips and carry it around the yard. It also works great for birds and wildlife. Either binoculars or a refractor with a wide field of view will help in learning the sky and makes finding things a bit easier. I am often amazed at what I can see with such a small scope, even in my own backyard. I have had it in dark skies and its amazing.

    My daughter has a skyscanner 100 (mentioned in the article above) which is a great scope for a kid. She is 6 and can play around and you don’t have to beak the bank. We mounted it on a small wooded box with a bolt. Its perfect kid height and is fine for adults as well. We built a sun funnel for it and show all the kids in the neighborhood the sunspots. Just about every day we have out at least one or the other. If you take your time to look most scopes will show you so much.

  3. Anthony Barreiro

    Ken, you’re right! My 70 mm refractor gets a lot more use than any of my bigger telescopes. I took it to Hawaii to watch the transit of Venus, and it performed admirably.

  4. Al


    I read your article with great interest as I am in the process of going from an 8" Celestron NexStar to the largest possible (aperture) telescope (with GoTo system) for star parties, outreach, some astrophotography and possibly spectroscopy (for undergraduate research).

    I am considering a 16" Dobsonian with GoTo system such as this one:

    I would greatly appreciate your input on this choice.



  5. Ted Hauter

    Bino’s with image stability is the only way to go. They are a $1000+ SO..

    Even if this is your first day in astronomy, I highly recommend spending $2500 on a good 8" SCT with GOTO, with a binoviewer or good eyepieces, battery packs to run the goto, a Telrad finder, and star charts, plus maps on your phone.

    If it doesn’t pan out, you can sell this easily for only about a $800 loss – a cost of getting into the hobby. Which is nothing, ask any veteran amateur.

    But it will pan out right? All you need is interest.

    If I had taken this advise, I would have saved around $800 messing around with starter equipment.

    Money that can go towards those IS binos you will need.