Buying Guide
SO YOU'RE READY TO BUY A TELESCOPE. WHAT'S THE BEST ONE FOR YOU?
The answer depends on you. Consider your lifestyle, what you would like to see, and what astronomy goals you may have.

THERE ARE 3 TYPES OF TELESCOPES

1. REFLECTOR: Best bang for the buck

A reflector telescope uses a mirror system to reflect light to a focus point. Unlike a refractor, which is a sealed tube, reflectors are open at one end. The collected light reflects off the first mirror - a curved concave primary mirror - then reflects off a smaller secondary flat mirror to the eyepiece for viewing.

Reflector
  • Ideal for faint deep sky objects (star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies), Moon, planets
  • Least expensive per inch of aperture
  • Compact and portable
  • Very bright images
  • Mirror system slightly compromises light quality
  • Because air can easily circulate through, they adapt ("equilibrate") to changing temperatures faster
  • Requires regular collimation (realignment of mirrors), which isn't hard to do, but necessary to avoid compromising performance
  • Open tube system takes in a little dirt, but they are easy to clean
SHOP REFLECTOR TELESCOPES
They are excellent for viewing deep sky objects like remote galaxies because of their larger apertures for light gathering. Very affordable choice - the most performance per dollar invested. Easy to use and set up.

2. REFRACTOR: The classic telescope for day and night views

A refractor is the classic design you picture when you think of a telescope. It uses a lens system to produce images by collecting and bending or refracting light into a cone shaped tube that is focused in an eyepiece. Like eyeglasses, a telescope's lenses magnify and focus on the object being viewed. Galileo used a refractor telescope to discover the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter in the early 1600s.

Refractor
  • Ideal for moon, planets, and stars
  • Good performance; known for crisp, sharp images
  • Dual purpose day/night viewing. See upright images of distant wildlife and scenery
  • Closed tube design means little to no maintenance needed; optical elements are fixed in place and cannot be misaligned during normal use
  • Light enough to mount on a camera tripod
  • Grab-and-go
  • Priciest per inch of aperture of all designs, but the most user friendly
  • Great for beginners
SHOP REFRACTOR TELESCOPES
Great choice for city or suburb stargazing, where you have to contend with moderate light pollution. Also good for bird watching, as view will be "right side up" and easy to track when it moves.

3. Cassegrain: Most compact design

A Cassegrain telescope is a compound or hybrid of a refractor and reflector that combines a front lens with mirrors to focus light. Light passes through the corrector, it reflects off the primary and then off a curved secondary, finally passing through a hole in the main mirror and reaching the eyepiece.

Cassegrain
  • Great for moon, planets, bright nebulas, and star clusters
  • The most compact design
  • Usually packaged as all in one complete system
  • Very long focal length in a convenient compact tube
  • Ideal grab and go telescope
  • Very good for tabletop use
  • Fits on a tripod
  • Little to no maintenance; rarely need collimation
  • Can see daytime views with accessories
SHOP CASSEGRAIN TELESCOPES
A relatively recent design, Cassegrains are the most versatile type of telescope. They are compact and durable. Top notch deep sky observation. Great for lunar, planetary and stars as well as terrestrial viewing and photography.

Now that you're familiar with the telescope types,
NARROW DOWN YOUR SELECTION WITH THESE THREE BASIC CRITERIA:

1. Aperture: Determines what you can see
The aperture refers to the telescope's opening size (diameter). The larger the telescope's aperture: the more light fills up your field of view, making brighter and sharper the night sky objects you can see. So, basically, bigger is better.

2. Size and Design: Affects portability
Bigger is not necessarily always better when it comes to the telescope's overall physical size, which varies depending on design. How much effort will you put up with to put your telescope to use? If you have to lug it out of a closet to set it up outside, would you? If you want travel with your scope, will it fit in the trunk of your vehicle?

3. Cost: How much do you want to spend?
Consider the investment you'd like to make. Remember that aperture size and computerized models add cost. You don't have to spend a lot to get a good telescope, but you may want to invest in a moderately priced telescope to sustain what can be a rewarding lifelong hobby.