I am just rambling and this post is a bit of a rant, but I really dislike it when I see or hear people give the advice… “whatever you do don’t buy a department store telescope.” Many people advise against the mass produced department/big box store/Amazon “beginner” telescopes, in my humble opinion these people are mostly wrong and I think they may have forgot where they started.
The advice I give to anyone looking to get their first telescope is to find one which they can easily afford and that is easy to setup. Mostly what I mean by one that is easy to setup is to get a telescope which is easily moved from where you store it to where you are observing. If the telescope is too hard to move and setup then you will make excuses to not look through it. Even a top of the line telescope with awesome optics and a sturdy mount is completely worthless if you are not looking through the eyepiece.
The first telescope I owned as an adult was an 80mm Celestron refractor on a Alt/Az GOTO mount which I got from big box store (I think Sam’s Club and I think is was around $150). In it I saw craters on the Moon, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s GRS and its large moons, Mars, Venus, the Orion Nebula, and countless other things in the night sky. Even picked up an inexpensive solar filter and was able to view sunspots through it. Was it the same as looking through my 8″ SCT today? No, but I looked through it often and I was never disappointed by it… And because of it I have invested a lot more in a hobby, that even though I took a break from for a bit, I still very much enjoy.
There are a number of decent beginner telescopes which can be found in big box stores and on Amazon. If you find one that is a Celestron or a Meade Instruments it is probably going to be OK for a first scope. If you are looking on Amazon Gskyer has some pretty good entry level scopes and Orion has some great beginner scopes as well.
Are these scopes going to come with the best eyepieces, the sturdiest mounts, or give you the best quality views? Um… nope, but they are easy to transport, setup, and use. If you put a little time into learning the scope and the sky they can provide some very rewarding observing.
Can these inexpensive beginner telescopes cause some frustration which may cause people to not further pursue the hobby? Maybe… but if that is the case they probably were not that into it anyway. If you enjoy finding objects in an inexpensive telescope and the views leave you wanting a bit more… well good, keep looking through it while you start looking for (and saving for) your next telescope.
More expensive telescopes have many (sometimes more) of the same challenges as their cheaper beginner cousins. Larger more expensive gear is usually harder to transport and more complex setup and use. I get frustrated with my equipment. Some nights things just click and my gear works great, other nights I spend more time trying to get things positioned and aligned than I do looking through the eyepiece.
It is my opinion (mostly based on my experience) that if you are into it the inexpensive beginner telescope will get you hooked on the hobby and if it does… well then start doing your research on gear, then start looking for you next telescope. If it doesn’t then well it probably isn’t the hobby for you.
Before you spend a whole lot of money on your next scope definitely visit a local astronomy club’s outreach program or star party to look through different scopes and talk to people about their experiences, but until then buy the telescope you are going to look through even if it is from a department store.
The best telescope you can buy is the telescope you are going to look through…
I still have that 80mm Celestron, I think I might set it up.