James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beginner Advice

How often do we read on forums and in magazines the recommendations of others about various things. Whether it is what we view, what we use to view with, or what is best for us.
I recently got into a discussion with a new amateur about choosing their first instrument. You know, so often the books today recommend that people begin with binoculars. Then the books go into a long spiel about which binoculars are better suited for astronomy. This recommendation is not carved in stone, but because people read it over and over it has become ingrained in their heads that this is the answer.
The recommendation came about because most people allready have binoculars in their home. If they don't, the recommendation does not say to go out and purchase binoculars although some will want to do them.
So this advice is for the newcomer. Binoculars are very small aperture instruments with fixed magnification generally. Their performance is only slightly better than a similar sized scope. There is no special magic in binoculars today that improves much over yesterday, although some would have you believe that. There is no pair of binoculars that will exceed the performance of all but the poorest 6 inch reflector telescope on a good mount.
So I am going to go on my 35 years or so in this hobby. I feel qualified to offer a new recommendation to beginners, or as qualified as anyone else who has made qualified remarks. Skip the binoculars for now, and invest the money in a telescope. Begin with something 6 inches or more in aperture. Skip the apochromatic refractors and binoculars for now as these are more specialized instruments. For the most bang for your buck, the good old fashioned Newtonian reflector of 6 inches or more in diameter will open the entire cosmos to you. Down the road, you may wish to upgrade. Telescopes like this are easy to sell later on. They are portable enough to go anywhere, large enough to see abour everything, and serious enough to do real astronomy. They are also one more thing, an excellent value.

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