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How to Choose a Telescope

Excerpt from an old “Frequently Asked Questions” resource on the Internet (FAQ), “Purchasing Amateur Telescopes FAQ”, 1997.

(Here is a link to the full FAQ.)

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 asĀ  follows:Orion Telescopes, Meade, and Celestron, but you have to be careful with what you buy from even these companies,as they ALL are selling telescopes which are coming from prison factories in ‘Red China’ and are the same as the Junk department store telescopes. There are other smaller companies that make good scopes too.

Televue has a very good reputation, at a somewhat higher price.

Tasco is sold at Toys R Us, K-Mart, & Wal-Mart. Waste of Money.

Simmons: Another waste of money worse than Tasco.

Bushnell: I have looked at this company’s telescopes 1st hand and I do not believe 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!

There are now a lot of smaller companies popping up that are selling the same ‘Made in Red China’ telescopes under names never seen before it would be a good idea to stay away from them too.

There are some companies importing telescopes from Russia, I have not seen these scopes first hand, but have read some good reports of them.

6.2. 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 telescope.

This does not apply to department store telescope, 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 7×50 or 10×50 Observer (17mm and 14mm eye relief respectively)) for $109 specifically designed for astronomy. The Bushnell “SportView” are a possibility as well.


Under $300

Orion has a 60mm Refactor for under $200. For just under $300 Stargazer Steve has a 4.5in Newtonian DOB that comes as a kit, and is very easy to do and is also a fine telescope and Edmund Scientific Co. has one for around $230. There are some others on the market now, but once more you have to be careful, for a lot of them are still the ‘Made in Red China’ junk scopes.


>From $300 to $500

Edmunds Astroscan 2001 ($290 – $340). It is a very 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 has both 6″ f/8 and 8″ f/6 and 10″ f/4.5 DOBs along with their 4.5″ Skyview Reflector and 90mm Refactor telescopes. If you go bare bones, you can even get one of their 12.5″DOB’s for just under $900.

I’ve not seen them up close, but Meade also makes some DOB’s 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 Refactors too. You have to find a Dealer that handles Meade as they do not do mail order like other companies.

The next company is Celestron, they now have 2 DOB’s under the ‘Star Hopper’ name, a 6″ f/8 and a 8″ f/6 model, they both are in this price range. I believe that Celestron has a Refactor or two in this price range.

Another company is Murnaghan instruments, now making the Odyssey line of DOB telescopes. They range from 8inch f/4.5 to 13.1inch f/4.5 The price range is :


SIZE Improvements [in brackets] now apply to COMPLETE




6 in. 48 X 8 in. Double-Strength Sonotube, 37 lbs. $279.95

f/8 [Rock-Solid Dob mount, big Teflon bearings,

Improved Micro-Focuser]


8 in. 37 X 10 in. Ultra-Compact-Deep Space, 39 lbs. $399.95

f/4.5 27 mm Coated eyepiece. [Easy-Adjust Rear

Cell, Provisions for Cool-down Fan option]


8 in. 57 X 10 in. Lunar/Planetary Scope, 59 lbs. $399.95

f/7 27 mm Coated eyepiece. [Improved stability,

Mount points for optional Finder Scope\par

and Balance Kit installation.]


10.1 in. 45 X 13 in. Extremely portable, only 65 lbs. $499.95

f/4.5 Large Aperture, Wide-Field, 1-person setup.

[Improved low-obstruction spider, secondary.]


13.1 in. 59 X 16 in. a BIG scope for LESS! 97 lbs. $799.95

f/4.5 Better Optics, Large Aperture and Improved

Mount System for Maximum Big-scope Stability.


Coulter Optical ™, 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


There are now some smaller companies that are marketing telescopes that are in this price range. See the list.



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.

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.


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


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

The TeleVue Genesis (? – $1600) and Systems Mount (? – $900). A 4″ Fluorite Refractor, which many people rave about. The Genesis II has been designed to fit into an airline overhead rack.

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 ment 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.




APO (Apocromatic) refractors, have special objective lenses that

produce images essentially free of false color, with very high





Astro-Physics makes some of the finest APO refractors in the world.

Their telescopes are made in the U.S.A. Their objective lenses are

multi-coated triplets with Super ED glass. Astro-Physics offers a

full line of accessories for their telescopes.


You should call Astro-Physics Inc. for current prices (815) 282-1513.


Optical Tube Assemblies by Astro-Physics:


Aperture / f ratio tube length O.T.A weight

dew cap retracted


105mm f6 EDT APO 19 inches 9 lbs

130mm f6 EDF APO 28.5 inches 15 lbs

130mm f8 EDT APO 36 inches 16 lbs

155mm f7 EDF APO 41 inches 23 lbs

155mm f7 EDF APO * 41 inches 23 lbs

180mm f9 EDT APO 60 inches 35 lbs


* astrograph with 4 inch focuser and 4 inch flat field lens (the

other Astro-Physics OTAs have 2.7 inch focusers)


Astro-Physics mounts:


All Astro-Physics can be used with JMI NGC-MAX computers.


400 German Equitorial Mount

Refractors up to 5.1″, reflectors to 6″, Cassegrains to 8″

Weight of equitorial head, 20 lbs (9.1 kg).


600 German Equitorial Mount

Refractors up to 6.1″ f9, reflectors to 8″, Cassegrains to 10″

Weight of equitorial head, 27 lbs (12.3 kg).


800 German Equitorial Mount

Refractors up to 7.1″, reflectors to 10″, Cassegrains to 12″

Weight of equitorial head, 45 lbs (20.5 kg).


900 German Equitorial Mount

capacity not listed

Weight of equitorial head, 38 lbs (17.3 kg).


1200 German Equitorial Mount

capacity aprox. 90 lbs.

Weight of equitorial head, 72 lbs (30.9 kg).




Takahashi makes some of the finest APO refractors in the world.

Takahashi uses fluorite rather than ED glass to achieve excellent

color correction. The three listed below are fluorite doublet APOs.


Takahashi makes a number of different types of telescopes and

accessories. They are imported in the U.S.A by Texas Nautical Repair

Company/Land Sea and Air (713) 529-3551. Call your local

Takahashi dealer for current prices and specs.


Optical Tube Assemblies by Takahashi:

call dealer for current prices.

Aperture / f ratio tube length O.T.A. wieght


78mm f8.1 FS-78 APO 28 inches 6.5 lbs

102mm f8 FS-102 APO 36 inches 11.5 lbs

128mm f8 FS-128 APO ? about 22 lbs


Takahashi mounts:


Listed below are only two of several mounts available.


EM-10 German Equitorial mount refractors to about 15 lbs.


EM-200 German Equitorial mount refractors to about 25 lbs.


“High End” Dobs Telescopes:


Obsession Telescopes.


You should call Obsession for current prices and specs

(414) 648-2328.


Aperture f ratio primary mirror maker


15″ f4.5 Nova

18″ f4.5 Nova/Galaxy

20″ f5 Nova/Galaxy

25″ f5 Nova/Galaxy

30″ f4.5 Nova




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. Comes with protective travel bag.


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



Weight: aprox. 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:


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:


A Store

Yes, the obvious-you find a store (NOT a department store) which

sells telescopes and write a check (or, if they won’t give you a

cash discount, use a credit card that offers buyer protection, or

gives you bonus miles, or some such).


The advantages of this method is that you have someplace to return

the telescope to if you have problems with it. Some places even

offer your money back if you change your mind within some grace



The disadvantage is that you generally pay more for the telescope

itself, and you pay sales tax.


Mail Order

There are two sorts of mail order: the discount stores that sell all

sorts of stuff through the mail, and telescope stores that sell

through the mail in addition to selling from their store.


The advantages and disadvantages of mail order are obvious: you

cannot take the merchandise back easily if something goes wrong, but

it’s cheaper and you probably pay no sales tax.


Other People

You can find some great deals in used telescopes. Many people buy

expensive telescopes, use them two or three times, get bored and

sell them. The advantage is strictly monetary: you pay significantly

less (and,of course, no tax).


The disadvantage is that you are buying something “as is” which you

may want to think twice about doing if you are buying an expensive

telescope. Also, both Meade and Celestron offer (limited) lifetime

warranties on their optics, which are not transferable.


All that having been said, here is a list of places you can buy

telescopes, with comments as applicable. Note that all will sell

director will ship.


Orion Telescopes

P.O. Box 1158\par

Santa Cruz, CA 95061

(also San Francisco and Cupertino)



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. If you need technical

assistance when you call, ask for Steve or Eric. They have a very

good service and support record.



2111 Research Dr. #5



While I have not had any dealings with this company,the messages

I’ve seen on have all had good things to say about them.



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



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.


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.


Then 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 going on the web with

look-up keys and a search engine. It is the best way to buy and sell

used astronomy stuff.


-=> A S T R O M A R T <=-

Your Free InterNet Astro Classified MarketPlace



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