ROCKY'S TELESCOPE LIST
By Chuck Hawks
I first made this list when a personal friend, Rocky, who had long been interested in owning an astronomical telescope, finally decided to take the plunge and purchase his first scope. Since I am no longer a telescope dealer myself, I simply did some research online at the manufacturers' web sites to see what models were currently available and filtered the result, based on my own experience, to create the list you will find below. Since there is no telescope dealer near where he lives, whatever scope Rocky eventually chose would probably have to be purchased online, anyway.
Most of the astronomical scopes touted specifically for the beginner are so limited in either quality or capability (or both) that they will quickly be abandoned or replaced. Such telescopes are a poor investment. If you are reading this article because you are ready to move up from such a scope, you know what I mean.
I have tried to pick reasonably versatile, yet portable, telescopes of the "intermediate" type that would fall within what I consider the medium price class. (Well, okay, Questar and Tele Vue scopes are high-priced, but those listed below are the models they recommend for beginner/intermediate astronomers.) These are actually far better for the beginning or novice amateur astronomer than a department store telescope. I have included refractors between 76mm (3") and 102mm (4") of clear aperture and allowed CATS as large as 150mm (6"), due to their more compact external dimensions. Note that 6" CAT's are generally considered "advanced" telescopes, but because their German Equatorial mounts operate exactly like a similarly mounted 4" or 5" telescope and are no more difficult to use, I have included a couple of them here.
Rocky has plenty of storage space, so overall size was not a consideration, except as it affects portability. Like most of us, Rocky will have to take his telescope to a dark sky site to use it. If, for you, space is at a premium, you will probably find catadioptric scopes between 90mm and 127mm particularly attractive.
Although Newtonian type reflectors usually give the most light grasp for the dollar spent, I recommend refractors or catadioptric scopes with closed optical tubes and I use them exclusively myself. They are much easier to care for and keep clean. In addition, they are easier to transport and do not need the constant collimation required by Newtonian reflectors. I knew that Rocky would be dissatisfied with a telescope that was poorly made, required constant maintenance, or did not give good optical performance. I therefore tried to stay with recognized and widely available brands that have been around for a while. In this case, Celestron, Stellarvue, Tele Vue, Questar, Orion and Vixen. I also included a few used/discontinued telescopes that are a very good value if you can find one in good condition at a fair price. Obviously, earlier versions of all the telescopes listed below may be found on the used market at considerable savings.
Pay particular attention to the mount supplied with a telescope. The telescope and mount are a system that is only as good as its weakest link. Beginners tend to under-buy when it comes to mounts. They do not yet know that if a mount looks about right for a given telescope, it is probably too small. The mount must dominate the size and weight of the telescope if it is to provide a stable viewing platform. In this regard, Celestron's CG-4 German Equatorial Mount is the "gold standard" for small telescopes.
Computerized (often called "Go To") mounts are touted for beginners, but most of the more experienced astronomers I know don't have much use for them. They add a whole layer of complexity to what is often already a confusing hobby for the beginner and can be extremely frustrating to set-up and align. When they work correctly, the beginner doesn't learn the night sky nearly as fast as if he or she were "star-hopping" with a manual mount to locate objects in the night sky, thus denying them a major part of the enjoyment of amateur astronomy. While there are go-to mounted scopes on the list that follows for those who demand them, they are not my first recommendation.
Finally, I added some of the most common and necessary accessories, which I knew he would need almost immediately. The short list below is the result and, if you are contemplating purchasing your first telescope, I hope you find it helpful.
|Omni XLT 102||1000mm||102mm (4")||f/9.8||Achromatic Refractor||CG-4 Ger. Eq.|
|Omni XLT 102ED||900mm||102mm (4")||f/8.8||ED Refractor||CG-4 Ger. Eq.|
|Omni XLT 127||1250mm||127mm (5")||f/9.8||Schmidt-Cassegrain||CG-4 Ger. Eq.|
|NexStar 4 SE||1325mm||102mm (4")||f/13||Maksutov-Cassegrain||Go-To Alt-Az Fork|
|NexStar 5 SE||1250mm||127mm (5")||f/9.8||Schmidt-Cassegrain||Go-To Alt-Az Fork|
|C6-SGT||1500mm||150mm (6")||f/10||Schmidt-Cassegrain||CG-5 Go-To Ger. Eq.|
|C6-A-XLT Optical Tube||1500mm||150mm (6")||f/10||Schmidt-Cassegrain||None; use CG-4 or CG-5|
|SkyView Pro 80ED||600mm||80mm (3.15")||f/7.5||ED Refractor||SkyView Pro Ger. Eq.|
|SkyView Pro 100ED||900mm||100mm (4")||f/9||ED Refractor||SkyView Pro Ger. Eq.|
|SkyView Pro 150mm||1800mm||150mm (6")||f/12||Maksutov-Cassegrain||SkyView Pro Ger. Eq.|
|StarMax 127 EQ||1540mm||127mm (5")||f/12.1||Maksutov-Cassegrain||AstroView Ger. Eq.|
|Questar Standard 3.5||1280mm||89mm (3.5")||f/14.4||Maksutov-Cassegrain||Motorized EQ Fork|
|Sky-Watcher (Synta Optical) telescopes:|
|Pro 80ED APO||600mm||80mm (3.15")||f/7.5||ED Refractor||None, use CG-4 Ger. Eq. or equivalent|
|Pro 100ED APO||900mm||100mm (4")||f/9||ED Refractor||None, use CG-4 Ger. Eq. or equivalent|
|Maksutov-Cassegrain BK127MAKNEQ3||1540mm||127mm (5")||f/12.1||Maksutov-Cassegrain||EQ-3 Ger. Eq.|
|Signature Series BK150MAKSP||1800mm||150mm (6")||f/12||Maksutov-Cassegrain||None, use EQ-5 Ger. Eq. or equivalent|
|SV80ED Basic||560mm||80mm (3.15")||f/7||ED Refractor||None; use M1 or M2 (AZ)|
|SV80ED Raptor||560mm||80mm (3.15")||f/7||ED Refractor||None; use M1 or M2 (AZ)|
|SV102ED||710mm||102mm (4")||f/7||ED Refractor||None; use M2 (AZ)|
|Tele Vue telescopes:|
|Tele Vue-76||480mm||76mm (3")||f/6.3||ED Refractor||None; use Tele-Pod Mount (AZ)|
|Tele Vue-85||600mm||85mm (3.4")||f/7||ED Refractor||None; use Panoramic Mount (AZ)|
|A80Mf||910mm||80mm (3.15")||f/11.4||Achromatic Refractor||Vixen Porta II (AZ)|
|ED80Sf||600mm||80mm (3.15")||f/7.5||ED Refractor||None; use Porta II (AZ) or GP2 (Ger. EQ)|
|VMC95L||1045mm||95mm (3.7")||f/11||Modified Cassegrain||Mini-Porta (AZ)|
|ED100Sf||900mm||100mm (4")||f/9||ED Refractor||None; use GP2 (Ger. EQ)|
|VMC110L||1035mm||110mm (4.33")||f/9.4||Modified Cassegrain||Porta II (AZ) or SkyPod (go-to)|
|Used and Discontinued telescopes:|
|Celestron FirstScope 80||900mm||80mm (3.15")||f/11.3||Achromatic Refractor||AZ w/slow-motion controls|
|Celestron FirstScope 80EQ||900mm||80mm (3.15")||f/11.3||Achromatic Refractor||Ger. Eq.|
|Celestron C-90 Astro||1000mm||90mm (3.5")||f/11.1||Maksutov-Cassegrain||Motorized EQ Fork|
|Celestron C-5||1250mm||127mm (5")||f/9.8||Schmidt-Cassegrain||Motorized EQ Fork|
|Bosch & Lomb Criterion 4000||1200mm||102mm (4")||f/11.8||Schmidt-Cassegrain||Motorized EQ Fork|
Omni Plossl Eyepieces
Sirius Plossl Eyepieces
Astro Pier (Standing - 54" tall mount base for Questar 3.5" scope)
Tele Vue accessories:
NLP Eyepiece Kit with fanny pack
All 1.25" oculars, regardless of brand, fit all 1.25" star diagonals. At a minimum, you will need to buy two additional oculars (32mm Plossl and 8-24mm zoom for starters), star chart, moon filter and a flashlight with a red lens. (The Pelican MityLite flashlight kit is inexpensive and widely distributed.) If you must view from the confines of a city, a light pollution reduction (LPR) filter is recommended. Orion has a large selection of economical padded cases for telescopes and tripods to help protect your investment.
Most telescopes come with straight, inverted image finderscopes that are hard to use. Celestron, Orion, Tele Vue and Stellarvue offer Red Dot finders that will make it much easier to aim your telescope. Another option is a green projection laser finder/pointer. In a conventional right angle, correct image finder, Orion offers 6x30 and 9x50 models at a good price. Mounting both a red dot and a correct image finder on your telescope is the optimum set-up.
A good binocular in the 7x35mm to 10x50mm range can be very useful for locating objects in the night sky. Celestron, Nikon, Vixen, Leupold and others offer suitable binoculars.
Copyright 1999, 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.