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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Choosing a First Telescope – Part 1

Recently I did some Google searching on this topic to see what kinds of articles a newcomer would read if they went out in search of some useful information to help guide them in the right direction. What I found instead was the usual advertisements for cheaper instruments, intermixed with some advice to newcomers on how to proceed into the hobby of amateur astronomy. What I found lacking were some real nice objective persuasive arguments for or against particular instruments, so I have decided to stick my neck out and offer up some perspectives on some equipment that I think would serve a newcomer well, both in the beginning and long term of this hobby. I feel qualified to do this after a number of years in this hobby and a whole lot of outreach and training with others in the field.
I want to offer the kind of advice that I think would always serve an amateur well, something that is not too heavy on the wallet, something that would hold it’s value well and re-sell quickly should they decide the hobby is not for them, and something that I think they will find easy to use, and most of all, enhances their experience, rather than frustrates them. To define some guidelines, I am going to limit the initial purchase to not more than $1000. By no means does one have to spend this much, but this defines some direction, as there is a whole lot of gear in this range, and not all of it really delivers for the money spent.

1. The Orion (Synta) ST-80
I was first introduced to this scope some time in the mid 1980’s when a friend of mine brought it along on an observing expedition. A variety of companies make variation of this scope and they are priced similarly, the general reference to it refers to it as the ST-80, made by Orion. This telescope is a true gem of an instrument. Although it is an achromatic refractor as opposed to a more expensive apochromatic unit, the views through it are still very nice. It is an 80mm f/5 refractor, and as such it gives very nice low power wide field views of the sky. The finder on it is a bit weak, but because it is so short of a focal length, it’s really not needed as the scope is it’s own finder. This unit will find it’s way into your equipment collection for years to come as it is small, lightweight and multi-purpose. It comes as an OTA only or you can get it on an equatorial mount for a bit more. It can be tripod mounted and used as a terrestrial spotting scope, or it can be piggybacked and makes a fantastic guidescope when you decide to venture into astrophotography. It holds its value well and many amateurs have one of these in their collection. While it is by no means a planet killing telescope, one look at the milky way, or M31 through one of these will show you why it is such a nice little instrument to own. You will never go wrong buying one of these, and even if you sell it, down the road you will find your way back to it. This scope on the EQ mount retails for $299.

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