Buying Guide to Telescopes, Binoculars, and Accessories

Please read the update page for some important updates to this site.


6. Buying A Telescope

6.1. What Company Makes the Best Telescopes?

This is a very unfair question at the best. There are many companies which make good telescopes. A lot will depend on just how much you want to spend for a telescope. The major companies that make and/or sell telescopes are as follows: Orion Telescopes, Meade, and Celestron. There are other smaller companies that make good scopes too. For example, Televue has a very good reputation, at a somewhat higher price than Orion, Celestron and Meade.
Editorial Note: Orion Telescopes is now known as the Telescope and Binocular Center, but they have retained the Orion name as a brand name for many of their products. Some small companies widely regarded as good on the sci.astro.amateur newsgroup include Starmaster, Starsplitter, and Obsession (Newtonian reflectors); AstroPhysics, TeleVue and Takahashi (high-quality refractors); and Questar (Maksutov-Cassegrains).

Some brands to avoid: Tasco is sold at Toys R Us, K-Mart, & Wal-Mart. Waste of money.
Editorial Note: Tasco's really a distributor, not a manufacturer, and some of their older (>30 yrs. old) scopes are decent. The current models are generally poor, though.

Simmons: Another waste of money, worse than Tasco.

Bushnell: I have looked at this companys telescopes 1st hand and I do not belive that they would withstand one full night of usage viewing the sky. They are even WORSE than Simmons! They are so bad they make Tasco junk look good!

6.3. What Is The Best Telescope To Buy?

Once more this will depend on the answers of questions you need to ask yourself. Are you going to use the telescope for just viewing? or are you going to into the field of Astrophotography? Also it will depend on how much you want to spend too. In the end, only you can answer this question.

You will also find useful articles in the November 1991 issue of Astronomy (specs on a wide range of telescopes, and answers to a lot of the questions about technical jargon surrounding advertisers and equipment. There is also an article in the November 1991 issue of "Popular Astronomy." Both Astronomy and S&T (especially the former) do review articles on telescopes, accessories, etc. on a fairly regular basis. Also, no FAQ list is going to be truly definitive--we all have our own opinions and interests, and one person's "piece-of-junk optics" might be another person's dream telecope. This does not apply to department store telescopes, though. Really.

Under $100

Get a pair of binoculars. The only telescopes in the double digit range are pure junk. On the other hand, you can get a good pair of binoculars. Orion sells a pair (the 7x50 or 10x50 Observer (17mm and 14mm eye relief respectively) for $109 specifically designed for astronomy. The Bushnell "SportView" are a possibility as well.

Under $300

Orion: Orion has a 60mm Refactor for under $200.

"Stargazer Steve": For just over $200 Stargazer Steve has a 3in Newtonian Reflector. (Editorial Note: An odd name, but one worth looking at if you're interested in a cheap (as in "inexpensive" rather than "shoddy") telescope. He also offers a 4.25" Dobsonian in kit form, for around $300, and a 6" kit is also supposed to be available soon. This may be one of the best options for someone on a severely cramped budget.)

Edmund Scientific Edmund Scientific Co. has a 3" reflector for around $230.

From $300 to $500

Edmund Scientific: Edmund Astroscan 2001 ($290 - $340). It is a portable 4" Newtonian with the distinctive shape of a cylinder thrust into a sphere. The sphere rests in an aluminum base and the telescope can be pointed in any direction. Uses 1.25" diameter eyepieces. Supplied with a 28mm eyepiece giving 16x and a 3-degree field of view, wide enough to do without a finder scope. The drawbacks are that it is not very good for planets; and that it's difficult to track at high power. Also the "permanent collimation" the Astroscan comes with probably isn't. One respondent's seems to have come slightly out of alignment; this is unnoticeable at low power (e.g., the 16x it gives with the eyepiece it comes with), but is noticeable and rather objectionable at about 100x. Since it's permanently sealed up you can't go in and tweak the mirrors the way you can with most reflectors; you have to send it off to Edmund so they can look at it. Even if you could tweak it yourself, getting it all aligned would be tricky; short focal-length reflectors (which the Astroscan is an example of) are much more sensitive to minor alignment errors than longer ones. Accordingly, your high power images may be on the fuzzy side.

$500 to $900

Now you are moving into the range were you will start to find a bigger range of telescopes.

Orion: Orion has both 6" f/8 and 8" f/6 and 10 f/4.5 Dobs along with their 4.5" Skyview Reflector and 90mm refractor telescopes. If you go bare bones, you can even get one of their 12.5" Dobs for just under $900.

Meade: I've not seen them up close, but Meade also makes some Dobs that fall into this price range too. Meade also has a line of equatorial reflectors that fall into this price range. They also have a line of refractors too. You have to find a dealer that handles Meade as they do not do mail order like other companies.
Editorial Note:Lumicon and Astronomics are two widely-regarded Meade dealers (addresses given in section 7 below).

Celestron: Celestron has 2 Dobs under the 'Star Hopper' name, a 6" f/8 and a 8" f/6 model; they both are in this price range. Celestron has a refractor or two (conventional achromats) in this price range.

TeleVue: TeleVue has two popular, widely-regarded small refractors in this price range.

Tele Vue Pronto: A beautifully made 70mm f6.8 ED doublet Semi-APO refractor. It is a small astronomical telescope that can also be used as a spotting scope. With very sharp optics it can easily show much lunar detail, banding on Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, as well as a number of deep sky objects. Weight: aprox. 6 lbs., length: 18 inches. Front cell can take a standard 82mm photo filter. It comes with protective travel bag. You can get the Pronto with 2" Tele Vue mirror diagonal or 1 1/4" diagonal or 1 1/4" 45 deg correct viewing prism.

Tele Vue Ranger: A beautifully made travel scope for astronomy or wildlife spotting with the same sharp optics as the Pronto. It is a 70mm f6.8 ED doublet Semi-APO refractor like the Pronto but it is lighter and uses a unique, silky smooth, in-line helical focuser. Weight: approx. 3.5 lbs, length about 18 inches. Comes with either a 1 1/4" mirror diagonal or 1 1/4" correct viewing prism.

For more info see Tele Vue's ad in the Astro-Mall at: http://www.rahul.net/resource/

Murnaghan: Another company is Murnaghan instruments, now making the Odyssey line of Dob telescopes. (Editorial Note: Murnaghan acquired the basic design and philosophy from Coulter Optical when that company went bankrupt.) They range from 8 inch f/4.5 to 13.1 inch f/4.5 Dobsonians. Taken from a recent Murnaghan advertisement:

Model #
Size
F-Ratio
TUBE (Length X O.D.) AND WEIGHT
Improvements [in brackets] now apply to ALL ODYSSEY (tm) SCOPES!
PRICE COMPLETE ($ U.S.)
ODYSSEY 6
6 in. f/8
48 X 8 in. Double-Strength Sonotube, 37 lbs.
[Rock-Solid Dob mount, big Teflon bearings,Improved Micro-Focuser]
$279.95
ODYSSEY 8
8 in. f/4.5
37 X 10 in. Ultra-Compact-Deep Space, 39 lbs. 27 mm Coated eyepiece.
[Easy-Adjust Rear Cell, Provisions for Cool-down Fan option]
$399.95
ODYSSEY 8L
8 in. f/7
57 X 10 in. Lunar/Planetary Scope, 59 lbs.
27 mm Coated eyepiece.
[Improved stability, Mount points for optional Finder Scope and Balance Kit installation.]
$399.95
ODYSSEY COMPACT
10.1 in. f/4.5
45 X 13 in. Extremely portable, only 65 lbs.
Large Aperture, Wide-Field, 1-person setup.
[Improved low-obstruction spider, secondary.]
$499.95
ODYSSEY I
13.1 in. f/4.5
59 X 16 in. a BIG scope for LESS! 97 lbs.
Better Optics, Large Aperture and Improved Mount System for Maximum Big-scope Stability.
$799.95

Coulter Optical (tm), a part of Murnaghan Instruments Corp. 1781 Primrose Ln., W. Palm Beach, FL 33414 U.S.A. Ph. 1-561-795-2201, Fax 1-561-795-9889, E-mail murni@bix.com

$1000

Orion, Meade, and Celestron all have telescopes in this price range.

You'll find some of the bigger Dobs and SCT's around this price.

Editorial Note: Higher-end (lower aperture per unit price, but often better optics and overall design) Dobsonians start showing up in this price range as well.

Around $1500

Now you are getting up into the range of telescopes that are either bigger or have more extras. This is the low end of the price rage of the Meade SCT's, like the one below.

Editorial Note: SCTs are among the most rapidly changing telescopes, in terms of features and accessories. The information below is up to three years old and should be taken with some caution. However, though the details have changed over time, the basic price range has not.

Meade: The Meade 2120B The cheapest 10" Schmidt-Cassegrain I could find, except for the 2120A, which appears to be the same scope, but without the coatings. The 2120A sells for $1500 from the discounters, so the B is almost certainly a better buy. The 2120B appears to be an f/10 scope with a fork mount.

Around $2000

Meade: The Meade 2120 model 40 ($2000 - $2150). A 10" f/10 Schmidt- Cassegrain system with "Smart Drive" and a hand controller. The motor works in the Right Ascension direction but not declination (the declination motor costs extra). Do not opt for the super wedge. It costs about $300 extra, and can be bought separately (ie., later when you decide you actually could use it) for about $300. The same logic applies to all the nice things you get with the model 50--it costs as much to buy them packaged as to buy them individually. The issue is that beginning astronomers do not need all the fancy equipment. The big disadvantage, which I did not appreciate until I bought this telescope, is that while the optical tube weighs only 45 pounds, it is unwieldy as hell in the case they give you. I find that I cannot maneuver it around corners in my house, so I either have to get my wife to help me,or I have to carry it by holding the forks, which do not give as good a purchase as one would like, given that one is holding a $2000 piece of very sensitive, and reasonably heavy, junk. It also takes up enough room in the back of the car that it won't fit if we are filling the car for a camping trip.

Around $2500

TeleVue: The TeleVue Genesis (optical tube assembly approx. $1600) and Systems Mount (approx. $900). A 4" Fluorite Refractor, which many people rave about. The Genesis II has been designed to fit into an airline overhead rack.

Meade: The Meade 10" LX200. Tons of wiz-bang features (see above), for not a lot more than the Premier 2120s. The finder scope looks like the feeble one that came with my 2120/40, but you can certainly live with that for a while.

Telescopes over $3000:

The following list is meant to be helpful information and not a sales pitch for any particular company.

Listed below are telescopes by three companies, Astro-Physics, Takahashi, and Obsession. Several of the optical tube assemblies are under $3000 but with a new mount most of the complete telescope assemblies cost more than $3000.

These are not the only telescopes costing more than $3000, but they are the ones I am more familiar with.

Ultra-Priced Scopes

David Smith contributes the following about the NGT (about $9000-not an inexpensive choice): I have spent a couple of evenings with an acquaintance who has an NGT-18. It is a very good scope. It's comparable in size to a Dobsonian, and I don't need a ladder to see into the eyepiece. I could see dim stars among the Trapezium which I couldn't see in other scopes nearby (4" refractors and 8-10" Newtonians and SC's). The rotating nosepiece works well, although it places increased demands on accuracy of physical and optical axes: the view was sharper from one rotation of the nosepiece than from another. Disadvantages of the NGT-18 are price, time to set up and take down, and lack of fine adjustments for polar alignment.

7. OK, Where Do I Buy My Telescope?

Well, there are three basic places:

All that having been said, here is a list of places you can buy telescopes, with comments as applicable. Note that all will sell direct or will ship.

Telescope and Binocular Center
P.O. Box 1158
Santa Cruz, CA 95061
(also San Francisco and Cupertino)
800-447-1001
sales@oriontel.com

Telescope and Binocular Center (nee Orion Telescopes) carries a wide selection of binoculars, telescopes,and accessories (Celestron, Tele Vue, and their house brand; they do not carry Meade). They have a 30 day "no questions, satisfaction guaranteed" refund policy, which they do seem serious about. A fair number of people (myself included) have bought at Orion and all are very satisfied with the way they were treated. This place is fairly expensive, and they have the unfortunate policy of charging a "stocking fee" if you buy from the store, which always seems to be the same as the postage and handling fee for mail ordering from their catalogue (which they will send you for free if you call them). If you need technical assistance when you call, ask for Steve or Eric. They have a very good service and support record.

Lumicon
2111 Research Dr. #5
Livermore,Ca.94550

While I have not had any dealings with this company, the messages I've seen on sci.astro.am have all had good things to say about them.

Astronomics
2401 Tee Circle Suites 105/106
Norman, OK 73069

Higher prices than Adorama and Focus (see below), but lower than Orion and Lumicon. Enthusiastically recommended by a couple of people on the net. As with all mail order, make sure the shipping price is included.

Pocono Mountain Optics
104 N.Plaza
Moscow,Pa.18444

Enthusiastically recommended by a few people on the net.Owned by Glenn Jacobs who goes to most of the astronomy get-togethers in the NY-NJ-PA-CT area so you actually meet him if you live in the area. Often willing to cut a package deal if you are buying big ticket items. No problems returning things with which you are dissatisfied.

Roger Tuthill
11 Tanglewood Lane
Dept. ST
Mountainside,N.J. 07092

Enthusiastically recommended by a person on the net. Not the least expensive, but top-notch service. Roger unpacks, inspects and collimates every scope he sells, and is very good about refunding your money if you are dissatisfied.

University Optics
P.O.Box 1205
Ann Arbor,Mi.48106

A few people have reported using University Optics, and all report receiving good service. I have heard no complaints.

Parks Optical
270 Easy St.
Simi Vally,Ca.93065

A couple of people have mentioned that shipment can be pretty delayed,but the quality of their equipment appears to be high, and improving.Salespeople vary from knowledgeble to bubbleheaded.

Adorama
42 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011
orders: (800) 223-2500
info: (212) 741-0052

Along with Focus Camera (see below), the lowest prices you will find.Expect no dealer support, and make sure you find out how much they will charge for shipping before placing your order. And pray that the optics arrive intact. I really would recommend that you not buy telescopes from these guys. Eyepieces and other accessories, however, are probably worth the risk if the price difference is significant.

Focus Camera
4419-21 13th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11219
orders: (800) 221-0828
info: (718) 436-1518

Refer to Adorama. Same comments apply.

Pauli's Wholesale Optical
Danbury, CT

A lot of bad reports, order at your own risk!

There are some exclusively electronic resources as well. For example, there is the AstroMall. From the AstroMall advertisement in the original FAQ:

ASTRO-MALL

One stop astronomy shopping and product information

See in-depth product information for such companies and products as:

Tele Vue Optics, Edwin Hirsch, Spectra Astro-Systems, Lumicon, Software Bisque, Astro-Cards, Astronomical Adventures, Bethany Sciences, Equatorial Platforms, Jim Kendrick Studio, Science Software, Celestial Products, Gnome Technologies, Custom Ophthalmics, Analytical Scientific, Galactic Images, Murnaghan Instruments, Crazy Ed Optical, Celestial Scripts, Deepsky 2000 and more...

http://Astronomy-Mall.com

ftp://ftp.rahul.net/pub/resource/products

or e-mail resource@resource-intl.com and request
AstroMall.txt for current information request form

7.1. What About Buying Used?

If you decide to buy used, get a subscription to The Starry Messenger and/or the E-Mail AstroMart.

It appears that most people want to get about 75% of list when advertising in the astronomy mags (Starry Messenger, S&T, etc). This is probably not enough of a discount to make it worthwhile. If you can find something at 50% of list, you might want to think about it. A used telescope is just as good as a new one if it's been properly stored, transported and used.

There is also the AstroMart Ad service.

Astromart is a free resource to the Internet community with 1,700 subscribers. It is strictly Astro Classified ads. All ads are distributed via electronic mail as well as on the web with look-up keys and a search engine. It is the best way to buy and sell used astronomy stuff around with 7,000 to 8,000 hits a week on the web pages.

To subscribe send a message to: Majordomo@lists.best.com.
In the first line of the message type: subscribe astromart

For the digest version type: subscribe astromart-digest

7.2. What About Building A Telescope?

This section was written by Andy Michael.

We just took a rather unusual approach to getting a beginning telescope: we took John Dobson's telescope building class and built an 8"and a 12.5" reflector on Dobsonian mounts (of course). We went this way for a few reasons: to get large aperture for seeing deep sky objects and higher magnification with good resolution when compared to small refractors in this price range, to keep the price down, and to soak up John's wit and wisdom. The down side is that these telescopes are not suited for astro-photography (at least not without building a different mount) but that didn't bother us. Also they are large. The 8" tube we broke into two pieces for easy portability, but the 12.5" one will probably go on the roof rack. These are about f/7 telescopes so the tube lengths are 56" and 7' respectively. Of course, when you build yours you can make whatever size you want. On the other hand you can pack your clothes in them; try that with an SCT. The cost was about $250 for the 8" telescope, $450 for the 12.5"er plus about 24 to 30 hours of work and 16 - 24 hours of class. It's a challenging project but the first time you focus on something with a mirror you ground is an incredible thrill. Another benefit is that we now know a lot about telescope design and if we ever have problems with them we know how to fix them.

If you don't have access to John's (or other peoples) classes then you can try building one by reading his book and by watching the video. Our class was the first to see parts of the video and had great success at finishing the telescopes fast and without needing to correct the mirrors very much. Coincidence? Class consensus was no.

The book (excerpted from the order form): "How and Why to Make a User-Friendly Sidewalk Telescope" by John Dobson with Norm Sperling.To appreciate why Dobson makes each factor just so, learn how he thinks about it. His philosophy of star-gazing perfuses his telescopes and his book. The book includes the only detailed biography;wonderful vignettes from the Sidewalk Astronomers'many expeditions;their own special way of describing celestial objects; and, of course,complete details for making a Dobsonian. 169 pages; 154 clear,friendly line drawings; 9 photos. Hardbound in plywood, Dobson's favorite material. Exclusive source. Send $39.95 + $5.00 shipping to Everything in the Universe, 185 John Street, Oakland, CA 94611.

The video (also excerpted from the order form): For the first time on video, John Dobson shows how you can build your own low-cost Dobsonian Telescope. The 90-minute video is a complete step-by-step guide, covering telescopes from 8 inches to 16 inches in diameter.$39.95 +$3.50 shipping. Converted to HTML: February 25, 1996

Last Modification: December 16, 2000