How Do I Choose the Best First Telescope?

There are many different telescope models on the market, each with distinct advantages and disadvantages. It can be easy for new buyers to be confused by the variety of options when choosing the first telescope. First time buyers should focus on the basic features of a quality telescope. The most important factors to considers are the optics, the magnification, and the type of telescope.

A significant consideration for beginning telescopes is the optical quality. Optics are the components inside a telescope that gather and focus on distant light. Every telescope has a lens or mirror that is used to collect light. The size of this lens is called the aperture. Generally, beginning telescope buyers should choose a product with a large aperture, in order to collect as much faint light as possible.

Many beginner telescopes advertise extremely high levels of magnification power. This magnification, however, is actually not very important and can often be misleading. The ability of a telescope to operate well is determined primarily by the aperture, not the magnification. Extreme levels of magnification can distort the image quality. Buyers should avoid choosing a first telescope that promises an unrealistic magnification level such as 500X or 600X.

Several different types of telescope are available. The three most common telescope designs are refracting, reflecting, and catadioptric. Refracting telescopes use in-line lenses to focus a distant image. This type of telescope is simple and usually does not require any maintenance. The large size and weight of a refracting telescope is a disadvantage, however.

Reflecting telescopes use several mirrors to create a visible image. This design is more compact and lightweight than other telescopes. A reflecting telescope is a good choice for viewing remote objects such as nebulae and galaxies, but the image is often not as bright compared to a refracting model. Unlike refracting units, reflecting telescopes are not effective for nearby targets or terrestrial viewing.

Catadioptric telescopes combine both lenses and mirrors. The combination of these two aspects makes catadioptric models a good all-purpose choice. This design provides crisp images of both distant and near space objects. Catadioptric models are compact and portable, but are often more expensive than other telescopes of compatible size.
All three of these designs are popular first telescope choices, and each can provide years of enjoyment for new astronomers. Buyers should consider the advantages of each design, and select a high-quality model that matches their intended use.