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Q: Telescope Recommendation ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Telescope Recommendation
Category: Science > Astronomy
Asked by: action-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 29 Dec 2002 13:43 PST
Expires: 28 Jan 2003 13:43 PST
Question ID: 134691
I am interested in purchasing a telescope for the family.  I have been
"researching" the best scope and I'm having a hard time deciding for a
couple of reasons.  First, the reading I've done always seems to base
recommendations on what we'll be viewing.  Lastly a salesman made me
second-guess my decision to buy a Meade. He recommended Celestron over

We will want to view a wide-range of objects from galaxies, nebulae,
planets, etc.  Being able to see detail of the Horsehead Nebula and
the rings of Saturn would rank high.  Myself, I would like to do some
photography of said objects eventually.

It must be portable (we have plenty of room in the suburban) and have
an accurate GOTO.

Request for Question Clarification by pinkfreud-ga on 29 Dec 2002 14:02 PST
It will be easier to recommend a telescope if we know what sort of
budget you have. Approximately what price range?

Clarification of Question by action-ga on 29 Dec 2002 17:26 PST
Sorry, that dropped off the end when I called away!  I would like to
keep it under $2000, prefer $1000-$1500.  Willing to buy used.  Thank
Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
Answered By: kutsavi-ga on 30 Dec 2002 08:10 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Action,

I’m an amateur astronomy fanatic myself and own a couple of
telescopes.  The first thing I always tell those who ask about buying
a family scope is to beware of tiny/tinny optics.  You know the type
I’m talking about, the “department store telescopes” that usually cost
less than $300 US, with the little 0.96” eyepieces.  With your budget,
you don’t have to worry about these particular annoyances, but I
figured I’d mention them at the outset to warn others away who may be
reading this.  Any telescope worth looking through will have at least
a nice 1.25” eyepiece.  The smaller, cheaper scopes always provide
only frustration and drive people away from viewing, rather than serve
as an introduction to astronomy.

That said, here is a great article that covers the basics of what to
look for in a telescope, and also warns against “paralysis by
“If you spend more than an hour a day reading telescope catalogs, you
are probably in this category.  Just get something; you'll feel a lot

Since you’re looking for something to see detail with, you will want
the largest light gathering capability possible.  For the money,
Dobsonian type scopes are the best value.  You can get a 10” or 12”
Dob for half the money you’d spend on the same size
Schmidt-Cassegrain.  Problem is the portability.  The Dobsonians,
while being “light buckets,” offer the portability of water heaters. 
My 10” Dob stays home when I go out.

For your budget and portability issues, that leaves you with the S-C,
which you’ve probably already decided upon anyway.  What usually
happens, by the way, is that the amateur astronomer will buy their
first scope, then in a few years will buy a complimentary scope in
order to compensate for the drawbacks of their first scope.

The website mentioned above also has a unique “Telescope Rating
Matrix” page, in which the author rates telescopes on a variety of
As he is not a salesman likely getting a kickback from one of the
larger manufacturers if he sells their product, I tend to put some
credibility behind his work.  That, along with the fact that the
author shares the same criteria for judging scopes as other
professional astronomers I have spoken with, and as far as my 20 years
in the “hobby” have instructed me.

Here are telescopes “Recommended” in the $1000 to $3000 range,
(“Telescopes designed and built with roughly equal considerations to
price and quality.  For most casual or semi-serious hobbyists, this is
all the telescope that is ever needed.  Telescopes in this category
include the reliable mid-aperture Dobsonians and Schmidt Cassegrains
from the Big Three, along with well-made older telescopes that show up
on the used market from time to time.”):

* Meade LX10, LX50, LX200, LX90
* Older Meade 2080, 2010 units (LX3, LX6, LX100)  (3-)
* Celestron SCTs (5", 8", 11", 14", includes NexStar 5 and NexStar 8)
* Orion StarMax Maksutovs

Here are the author’s picks for “Highly Recommended” scopes in the
same price range, (Telescopes built with quality and performance in
mind, with less regard to cost.  For serious enthusiasts.):

* Intes/ Orion Argonaut (some pre-1998 units have mechanical problems)
* Celestron C 9.25
* Meade 7" Maksutov
* Old 4" and 6" Quantums

For comparison, here are the “Highest Recommendations” in the $3000 to
$12,000 range:

* Takahashi SCT225
* Astro-Physics Maksutovs (Extremely rare and NA as of this writing)
* Questar
* Ceravolo

Used scopes falling under the “Recommended” category above can readily
be found used for under $1500 US on Astromart, the “classified
section” for any and all telescopes:

When you go to Astromart’s page, click on “Advanced Search” in the
left-hand column, and enter your criteria as follows:

Find:  <the brand you’re looking for>
Category:  Telescope – Catadioptric
Ad Type:  For Sale
User Rating:  All Ratings
Order By:  Submit Date

This will return you with a list of telescopes for sale matching your
input.  I searched for “Celestron”, with the other settings as above,
and was returned 24 ads and found a Celestron Fastar 8” package for
$1275 US.

Results for Meade returned 28 results with an 8” LX200 for $1700 US 

Each of the above also offer CCD imaging capabilities.  

Hope this helps you along in your decision.  I don’t feel I can
suggest a specific telescope here, but it looks as if both the
Celestron and Meade 8” scopes offer what you’re looking for.  My
advice to you is to ignore the salesman and go for the scope you like

If you need anything clarified, don't hesitate to ask by using the
"Clarify Answer" button.  Good luck and "Dark Skies!"


meade celestron
nexstar fastar

Request for Answer Clarification by action-ga on 30 Dec 2002 19:44 PST

I'm not sure how important answer ratings are so I'm asking before I

I liked your answer but I was later disappointed to find that there
were really only one link/source other than your own experience.  (One
was the classifieds listing.)

Your source and your experience are appreciated, however.  If I rated
now, I'd give it a 3.  Add Alien's response to yours, and I'd give it
a 4.5.  I'd round it up to 5 -- keeping in mind that I'm only paying
$10 for all this good advice. <g>


Clarification of Answer by kutsavi-ga on 02 Jan 2003 08:45 PST
Hi Action, 

I've been away for the New Year's holiday, hence the time lag, here. 
Sorry my answer wasn't quite what you wanted.  My experience in the
field told me one thing, but I guess you wanted another.  Thanks for
the 5 star, but thanks to Alienintelligence as well for picking up
where I left off.

action-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Great answer with even better follow-on comments.  Thanks.

Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: iang-ga on 30 Dec 2002 16:08 PST
I notice you've put the Horse Head Nebula as one of your "must see"
objects. Unfortunately, while it's spectacular in photos, it's next to
impossible to observe by eye. The best you can hope for will be
something just barely on the line between visibility and imagination.

You also mention wanting the 'scope to be used by your family. I don't
know if you're including children in that, but young children (less
than 10, say) don't usualy get on well with telescopes - they tend to
look across the eyepiece rather than through it, and they simply don't
have the patience to take in what they do see. With the exception of
the moon, views through a telescope are never as impressive as
pictures from Hubble, and kids are rarely impressed for long if at
all. There are exceptions, and it's wonderful to be with those
children, but I wouldn't start spending $$ on the off-chance!

My advice would be to find a local astronomy society, explain your
requirements and let them guide you. They'll know who the best local
dealers are and if there are any good used 'scopes available. At the
very least you should get the chance to look through a few 'scopes and
find out what presses your buttons.

Ian G.
Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: alienintelligence-ga on 30 Dec 2002 18:07 PST
I'm kinda glad Ian chimed in there.

I began to answer your question but
your wish to see the horsehead nebula
on a $2000 budget was a bit unrealistic.
I have spent several more thousand dollars 
on equipment of my own than that and I 
could barely make out the dark part of 
the HorseHead Nebula in the middle of 
the mojave desert on a perfect seeing
evening, with 100% eye acclimation
[ ]

Then, in addition to that... any serious
astro viewing will have you spending
nearly as much on eyepieces as you have
on the OTA (optical telescope assy). After
that, filters will be another financial
consideration. Filters are necessary to
see a wide range of nebulas.

Any scope suggestion above that mentions
a fork mounted (non-equitorial typical
of GOTO) unit, will not be satisfactory
for astrophotography (film or CCD). It is
possible to do but not worth the time
or expense. Speaking of expense... unless
you want to double the amount of money
invested, you might want to just enjoy
the countless images online instead of
trying to make your own.

[ ]
"Celestron C-11 at f/10
Hypered Fuji Super G 800 film
Two 60-minute exposures combined in the darkroom
Taken August 26, 1995 from Mt. Pinos, CA"

Looks alot more impressive and was easier
for me to obtain for viewing than

[ ]
I can tell you from experience =)

And I've been on Pinos in August... that's
not that fun :) Especially for 2 concurrent
60 minute exposures.

Saturn on the other hand should be very easy
to see. And any of the messiers should be great.
[ ]

But please don't expect to see colors other
than blues and greens, very few reds. Most
nebula you will see will be indistinct and
look like fuzz or cotton. I have been a host
for many 'star parties' where I have heard
numerous "Is that it?" from people who have
seen way too many hubble pictures. It tends
to be a disappointment to them to see wispy
clouds of grey. Alas the human eye.

My formula for a beginner astronomer is this.
If you don't want to worry about setup or
weight. Get a dobsonian. John Dobson devised
a great telescope setup. It's a project that 
you could even assemble yourself.
[ ]

Dobsonians allow you to place GOTO pointing
computers on them just the same as a SCT
or Schmidt Cassegrain on forks or a GEM
German equitorial mount. 

If setup isn't a concern catadioptrics
like Schmidts and Maksutovs are great
scopes for the money.

As suggested take a look at AstroMart
[ ]
That is where I got almost all of my
equipment, USED. Don't buy new. Astronomers
are usually big enough optics nuts that
they take great care of their lenses and
mirrors. Don't buy from a store either.
You're paying for employees and store

Don't spend more than $1000 for your first
scope. Maybe $1200 if it's a really nice
big SCT on a equitorial mount and it has
more than a (12.5mm and 25mm eyepiece).
Look for a good set of Plossl eyepieces
on astromart to go with the scope and
expect to pay a few hundred. 8mm, 10mm,
15mm, 20mm, 25mm, 35mm or 40mm should
be some of the common sizes for comfortable
viewing. Don't use barlows unless you
need to.

For computerized aiming to find the sky
goodies, a Lumicon Sky Vector can be
attached to almost any scope that I know of
[ ]
They are inexpensive too. 

Lastly... goto local star parties, even if
you have to drive a few hours, chat with
the astronuts... look thru their scopes.
Ask to see the same thing if possible in
each scope. I used to like asking for
NGC6888, just to see how good their optics
are. Try something simpler like M57 or
M31 or M51 for a good comparison though.
Do this before you buy.

Like any good hobby, it gets expensive
as you get more into it.

Clear skies, good luck

Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: action-ga on 30 Dec 2002 19:36 PST
Thanks Ian and Alien.  My question was quickly written and poorly
worded.  I pulled "Horsehead Nebula" out of thin air -- I had no
knowledge that it is so difficult to see.

I have more studying to do, Alien I appreciate the sources.

Is the Meade ETX-125 a waste of money?  I'm considering a used one as
a stop-gap and later letting the kids call it their own.

We went to a star party at the Grand Canyon and saw some incredible
sights with some big dobs.  I would probably go that route if they
have a computerized goto capability.  I've never seen one with this. 
Do you have any links for these?

Also you stated: "Any scope suggestion above that mentions a fork
mounted (non-equitorial typical of GOTO) unit, will not be
satisfactory for astrophotography (film or CCD)."

So what type of mount do I need, or is this where an "equitorial
wedge" comes into play?

Thanks again.
Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: alienintelligence-ga on 30 Dec 2002 23:35 PST
Hi again action,

It was a knee-jerk reply to the desire
to see "rich deep sky objects". It's not
the optics of the telescope that holds us 
back but our eyes. The photonic energy 
of objects are so weak that discerning
color is difficult in all but maybe a 
dozen or so items in the night sky.

The Meade ETX-125 is a catadioptric
assembly with a primary optic size of
125mm or around 5". It's an excellent
scope if someone has given it to you
with all of its accessories or you
have more of a disposable income than
most.  =)  That said, I have a C90 or
the 3.5" Celestron predecessor to that
125. I love it for what it is. Very
quick to set up, great for viewing
bright night objects (around 200 or
so worth viewing in it). I took it 
with me to photo the eclipse in '98.
[ ]
But it was also scope #4. Purchased
with the eclipse in mind. I paid $2
per mm aperture for it, with original 
accy's (this scope was made in the 70s
and I consider it a collector item)
including the sales slip and manual.
I think I got a great deal for a 
30yr old optically perfect scope 
without a single scratch on it.

For comparison... here's the
eclipse from this year... no scope,
just my digital camera. Olympus
[ ]

These are some pictures of my scope:
[ ]
The 90mm on top of the 8" The Lumicon
Sky Vector is the box velcro'd to the 8"
Very handy little device. This picture
does not show the encoders it uses.
The orange on the scopes mean they were
made back in the 70's.

[ ]
That picture adds my Celestron Comet
Catcher. Now that, is a nice astrophoto
scope. 500mm at F/3.65 The skies just
pop out at you. Not much power though.
Two of those strapped together and you'd
have the greatest pair of astrobinoculars.

This last picture has my 'deep sky' scope
in it:
[ ]
For portability everything except the poles
store down in the bottom box.

For a beginners' scope, nothing smaller
than a 8" should really be considered.
Less aperture has too little light gathering
power (or the F/#) My 8" Schmidt is F/10 but
I use a lens called a field flattener that
moves it out to F/6.3 and reduces the focal
length to 1260mm. Less power but alot more

The digital setting circles as they are
called (or GOTO computers, if they actually
move the declination and right ascension)
can be found in the 2 main astronomy magazines
Astronomy and Sky & Telescope, in the various ads.
[ ]

I bought mine new. I wanted a warranty on that for 
sure and didn't want to buy someone else's headache.
If you get a dobsonian mount telescope you just
specify the encoders for an (alt/azimuth) type mount.

What I was referring to about the fork mounts
that aren't equatorially aligned, such as this one:
is that you need a field derotator in order
to take images longer than a couple minutes.
Extra expense and more things to go wrong.
Fork mounts also have alot of vibrations in
them. I had to strap about 30lb of extra 
weight to dampen the wind and motor tremors.
This is with the SCT8" mounted on a wedge.

Forks are fine to view with the eye but A 
German Equatorial Mount is the way to go
for true astrophotography. Check this beaut:
I think that one is outta EVERYBODY's price
range, hehe. Well, that's what I was told
when I asked for one once. =)

Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: iang-ga on 31 Dec 2002 16:04 PST
Alien's absolutely right in what he (she? it?) says about
astrophotography, but that shouldn't stop you trying it out. Look up
instructions for building a Scotch or Barn Door mount (same thing -
different names). They're very simple, very cheap (<$10), produce
pleasing results and they get you outside enjoying the night sky!

Ian G.
Subject: Re: Telescope Recommendation
From: alienintelligence-ga on 01 Jan 2003 00:47 PST
I totally agree with Ian. If you would
like the experience of making an astrophoto,
you can very easily make any of a number of
small mounts to hook just a basic manual
camera to. No telescope really necessary,
if you have nice quality lenses on the
camera. It is a very satisfying and
inexpensive project that will make you
appreciate the time and patience required
for long exposure photos.
[ ://

[ ]

[ ]

[ ]

And a site from some old astro friends of mine:
[ ]

Their images can been seen credited
in many important astronomy books.

Oh and as long as I'm making a footnote, you 
will want to try some astro software also.
[ ]
[ ]
Those are my favorites. Both are unique in
their additional content and both are excellent

clear skies

(New moon in 2 days, try another star party)
[ ://

* and thanks for the verbal rating action

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