How to choose a telescope

How to choose a telescope

SkyWatcher Skyhawk-1145P

SkyWatcher Skyhawk-1145P

We hear this question frequently from our customers:

“This will be my first telescope, but there are so many to choose from, so I would need some advise about how to choose a telescope…”

Then I would ask couple of questions to make sure we go into the correct direction… The question, “what sort of budget you have” or “how much were you planning to spend” might be not that easy to answer, once you know that some telescopes might not serve you as well as others for a certain purpose…, never-the-less it’ll give me an idea about what types of telescopes to discuss with you…

Another important question is whether you want to do any astro photography or not. Most people would want to, but not everyone… Also, you might have a serious approach to astro photography, especially if you’ve been an enthusiast photographer already, or you might just consider it as a side-effect, a rare, but possible event…

“I am not planning to use the telescope for photography, what telescope should I choose?”

The following telescopes would be good for visual observations and can be used for limited astro photography with compact cameras, but not for serious astro photography…
We would recommend that an adult should supervise children below 13 to make it safe for both the child and the instrument. Special attention needed when observing the sun. For solar observations see descriptions of our products. We’ll also have a special solar section on this website soon.


SkyWatcher HERITAGE-76 MINI Dobsonian Telescope

SkyWatcher HERITAGE-76 MINI Dobsonian Telescope

Around £50
For children (for 5-10 years old) we would recommend something simple to start with, like Celestron’s 76mm Firstscope Telescope or Skywatcher’s very similar Heritage 76. These are very easy to set up and use. Bear in mind that it is a table top type of telescope. If your environment or circumstances won’t allow to use this then you’d need one that is (or can be) installed on a tripod or telescope mount.  Another nice little telescope is Celestron’s Travelscope 70 that comes with a tripod and even a backpack.

Around £100
For children aged 8 and above  we would recommend a Celestron Astromaster 70EQ that is a great beginner telescope for observing the planets. Or if you are more interested in deep sky objects, a Celestron Astromaster 114EQ Newtonian Telescope could be a better choice or its Skywatcher alternative is the Skyhawk-1145P. Or if you prefer a more simple Dobsonian telescope with easy setup and handling, than we have the Skywatcher Heritage-130 Flextube Dobsonian Telescope, the big brother of the Heritage 76… You can even take images with all these above mentioned, mostly very short exposure images with compact cameras via the eyepiece, but Newtonians usually have short back focus, so imaging can be done with a compact camera only. Digital SLR cameras might work here with some modification or special adapter, but these are not motorised telescopes and the mounts are not sturdy enough to carry serious photographic equipment, so look further down where we’ll write about better choices for photography…

SkyWatcher SKYLINER-150P 6

SkyWatcher SKYLINER-150P 6″ Parabolic Dobsonian Telescope

Around £150 – £200
For children aged 8 and above and beginner amateur adults with this sort of budget the best value gives the Skywatcher Skyliner-150P Dobsonian telescope. Although this is not very heavy, still this is not really something that your child should carry, so an adult should be around to help to bring it into the right spot… This is simply placed on the ground, nothing more should be done to start using it… But of course, as all Newtonians, this might need collimation as well time to time, that can be learned quickly…

 Around £300 – £600
One of the best sellers is the Celestron Nexstar 127 SLT Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope or the extremely similar Skywatcher Skymax-127 AZ GOTO Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. The main differences between these telescopes are the design, the somewhat easier and more sophisticated alignment procedure of the Celestron Nexstar and that Celestron telescopes come with two year warranty opposing Skywatcher’s more standard one year warranty.

Bear in mind that these are Alt-Azimuth mounted telescopes, so can be used for mainly astrophotography of the planets and only with limitations for deep sky imaging, therefore I should mention the equatorial version of the same Skywatcher telescope, the Skywatcher Skymax-127 EQ3 PRO SynScan GOTO Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope that is a better choice for beginner astrophotographers if planets, small deep sky objects like planetary nebulae, double stars and star clusters are the main objects of the photographer. For widefield deep sky astrophotography refractor telescopes with short focal length would be more suitable though. Alternatively you could also consider buying a Skywatcher Explorer-130PDS that was specially designed for astrophotography, plus add a Skywatcher EQ3-2 PRO Synscan GOTO equatorial mount. This combination is a very good start for those more or less serious about astrophotography, but don’t want to spend a fortune on the equipment from the start, plus conscious about the weight and mobility of their equipment as this kit will be still quite light and manageable.
Celestron NexStar 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Celestron NexStar 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

An interesting alternative is the Celestron 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain GOTO telescope that is although a slightly smaller telescope with 4″ aperture, but it comes with a somewhat sturdier mount and tripod, plus the main advantage is that the mount includes a built-in wedge, with the help of which it can be turned into an equatorial mount in seconds for longer exposure astrophotography. It is still not as good as a heavy-duty German Equatorial Mount or a Celestron CPC, but the price is only a fraction of those…

Around £700 – £800
The big brother of the above mentioned Celestron Nexstar 4 SE is the Celeston 5 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain GOTO telescope that comes on the same mount with the convenience of that great built-in wedge that makes it so easy to convert it into an equatorial mount, plus its aperture is 5 inches, so it’s a good compromise between size, portability and features. Although lacking a built-in wedge, but if you don’t want to start below 6 inches, here is another bestseller, the Celestron Nexstar 6 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that is easy to set up and comparatively lightweight telescope and it is a good starter size. It is also a computerised GOTO telescope, so after an initial alignment by the user it can go to a chosen object on the sky for observation or imaging, but at the moment we have a very good promotion for a Celestron Skyprodigy 6 that is practically the same telescope, but comes with a different mount/tripod that is the cleverest mount in the world… it takes images of the sky (not for enjoyment by the user though…) to use them for astrometry to calculate its position and align it fully automatically. Practically no user input, no knowledge of the sky necessary.
So basically the main difference between these two telescopes is the Starsense technology that is now also available separately as an add-on accessory and can be used even with the above Celestron Nexstar 6 SE turning it into a fully automated telescope , but it does cost nearly £300 (SRP £349, we sell it for £299 at, whilst the price difference between these two telescopes is a mere £70 at the moment due to this current special promotion of the Skyprodigy 6. (as of 4 July 2013)


To be continued soon…

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Posted on April 3rd, 2015.