Telescope experiences to help with a first purchase

I had the advantage of being at a Naval College …
I’ll check it out.

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Hi Dozey,
Quality binoculars, but the price is 125 pounds odd. Chris5 might have to buy the bins and wait for the boys to get older while saving for the scope! These are real binoculars though and very different from the toy binoculars and telescopes about.

Aldi and Lidl do binoculars sometimes, these can be ok, but be sure you can focus them as quality can be inconsistent between pairs. Again secondhand binoculars from a specialist shop can be worth a look.


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The budget limits anything I would have suggested, and I am inclined to think that at that level decent binoculars would be far better than a cheap telescope - and absolutely avoid high powers otherwise the poor image quality and, worse, difficulty tracking anything could prove a turn-off. Perhaps combine with a visit to a local astronomy club sky viewing night where they can look through good telescopes with motorised mounts - I suspect that will be more inspiring to them - and maybe make the binoculars more interesting than they otherwise would be.

High power binoculars can be good if good enough quality, and mounted on a tripod, and easy to set up pointing at something for others then ti look. I have a pair of Strathspey 20x80 that are big and heavy, but use a clamp on an old camera tripod. They were the best image quality I could find on a big trawl about 6 years ago. The 20x mag gives a reasonable compromise between magnification and sufficient field of view for easy locating objects and no need for tracking, while the 80mm objective gives reasonable light gathering.

On a budget secondhand is always worth considering.

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I got myself an ETX125 about 16 years ago - still have it. Good starter scope I think, especially if you want quick results. Setting up its “go to” mode is actually pretty easy. I got better eyepieces and a bino viewer, which made viewing more comfortable. I hanker after the larger versions, and would love a 16 inch though it is so expensive. Competes with hifi, and so far hifi has won!

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I often think I would buy another Meade, but on my nightly walks up here in the Cotswolds I bemoan the light pollution. It’s difficult to pick out the Milky Way, but I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed night skies in Africa, Australia and Canada, as well as the more remote corners of Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, I appreciate the awesome night sky wherever I am.

Of course, it could be that my spectacles just need cleaning.

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I live in a village and can get decent views if my neighbours turn off their security lights, but I’m aware when we first moved here 26 years ago the sky was far darker. We didn’t have street lighting! I can take my binoculars off down a field path or canal or wait until everyone has turned in to bed. Best sky recently was on the Lizard in Cornwall.

Like you I appreciate the sky when I can see it.

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I wonder how much the dimmer stars are our ageing eyes - I can’t see stars as clearly as much younger members of my family, though with my contact lens corrected) vision it is as good or better than theirs in standard optician eye tests - but they don’t test night vision.

Absolutely, My youngest age 16 now appears to see in the dark and said he detected colours in the Orion nebula! On Monday I have a cataract operation, so I have one functioning eye at the moment and bird watching has lost much of its appeal. Enjoyed the the night sky this evening despite clouds.

For the benefit of chris5 if you go the binocular route then 6x30, 7x40, 8x40 are the ones to look at. The first figure is the magnification and the second is the size of the objectives in mm. Anything over 10x50 needs a clamp and a tripod, because you can’t hold them steady.

IB’s mention of tracking means that everything moves round. Some telescopes are moved to track the object - planets move through the field of view quite quickly. (There used to be clockwork movements, but now many are computerised.) But to save money and to learn the sky I use a Dobsonian, here you have to nudge the mount to keep the planet in the field of view. People who take to dobs find this easy to do.

You might find this link to clubs useful.

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I do think that is part of the appeal, giving them a little life experience and setting up a telescope to allow them to see things they generally look at in books or on the tv would be a nice adventure on a dark night would be pretty amazing.

I hadn’t considered binoculars as either an alternative or a useful addition to a telescope, thanks that’s useful

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You don’t have to spend a fortune. But quality binoculars or scope are far better than the toys pushed by general shops at this time of year. Learning the night sky together to pick out the constellations never loses it appeal. Orion is rising in the UK winter sky now from about 9.30. You can recognise the shape of the constellation, find his sword belt and at the middle star of his sword there’s a misty patch. That’s the nebula. As the night progresses Orion moves across the sky. Some of the stars are different colours and binoculars or better, a telescope, will show that the misty patch is really thousands of stars.


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Some good advice given here and I agree with what others have said that binoculars are a good starter, there’s no substitute for optical diameter in terms of revealing detail and more distant objects.

After playing with binoculars for a while I bought a Bresser Messier N203 Newtonian (8") and then added a clockwork drive to keep things in the view for longer. Later I added a Gotonova computerised goto system which I love!

I would say that a Newtonian reflector or Dobsonian reflector will give you the biggest bang for the buck but a Newtonian will enable you more scope for expanding the system as I have with tracking and goto.

Personally I would say a 130mm Newtonian is really the bare minimum to be worth the trouble and Skywatcher, Bresser and Orion Optics UK are all good options.

It’s a wonderful hobby to get involved in with your children for sure! Even though you won’t see anything that resembles a Hubble picture the thrill of seeing Jupiter and its moons or Saturn’s rings or the Orion Nebula for real is huge and you will be absolutely staggered by the amount of detail you can see on the moon. In fact you will never look at the moon in quite the same way again!

This is the newer model of the scope I have - an 8 inch Newtonian like this will reveal rings on Saturn, cloud bands on Jupiter and polar ice caps on Mars plus lots of deep sky objects like nebulae, distant galaxies etc like Andromeda. The moon will be so bright through a scope like this you will need a neutral density filter or it will be dazzlingly bright!!

Pretty serious money but then it’s a serious scope with a huge amount of expansion potential and opportunity to grow your hobby with it.



Strictly speaking no telescope, no matter how good the optics, can resolve a star to a pinpoint of light.
Even in those with the finest optics, a star will present as a diffraction disk (otherwise known as an Airy Disk) with a series of concentric diffraction rings. In telescopes with less good optics you might just see a blur.

The Airy disk, ultimately, defines the resolving power of the telescope (eg: the smallest thing that can be resolved). Binary stars are a good test. Depending on the angular separation of the constituent stars, and the size of your primary objective (mirror or lens), your telescope may be unable to resolve the two separate stars.

The Airy disk is caused by interference between the different wavelengths of light as they converge at the focus.

The size of the Airy disc in your telescope is inversely proportional to the size of your primary mirror/lens.

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When you mention Professor Beet, do you mean E.A. Beet who wrote “Mathematical Astronomy For Amateurs” ? This book was invaluable to me when I was studying “O-Level” Astronomy when I was at school many many years ago. I wrote to him asking for some clarification on a number of queries. He wrote back a very kind and long letter explaining everything I needed with worked examples.

I did pass the exam.


Stragely I never ‘got’ the constellations, simply meaningless to me, and have never been able to pick out any other than the Plough and Orion. My own fascination is with planets, nebulae and galaxies…

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A word or warning… going this telescope lark can be like going down the rabbit hole. It can very easily spiral out of control… spending I mean. A few years ago I decided to resurrect this as a hobby I first had when I was a kid. So I go for a ‘starter’ scope (c. £600 ISTR). Then I decide that simply ‘looking’ at objects gets a bit boring, what you need to do it get into photography. So then it’s throw a load more money at the hobby. Quickly discover that’s not enough money so throw a load more! Within a year I’m up to c. three grand and on the cusp of spending a load more… on a new mount now. Then the summer came which pretty much means no night time viewing due to no truly dark nights - there are 2-3 months in the middle of the summer where it technically doesn’t get dark all night! Thankfully, by the time the dark nights started to creep back, I’d fallen out of love with the hobby… I think it was standing around in a freezing cold field that did it for me. :slight_smile: So it all went on ebay and I got about 2/3rds of what I paid.

Perhaps that’s the answer to OTT hifi spending… make it so you have to stand in a freezing cold field to listen to an album. I’m sure that would quickly kill the bug :wink:


Yes indeed. It can be every bit as demanding on the finances as a good hifi sustem.


Except, with a camera attached to a telescope, and computerised tracking, I believe that once set up you can go indoors and control from the comfort of your armchair, in the warm, and listening to music… So tine to buy it all back again!

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I was just at that stage… expensive camera setup, dedicated mini-PC for software and storage (with 5GHz wifi remote connectivity), and then I decided you need a tracker scope and more software (free but more learning). I then found that the standard mount wasn’t good enough so that’s when I reached the stage of just about to go for a better mount. Then the summer arrived and by the time the autumn came with it’s dark nights I decided it was either go for a proper observatory (and I used up many an evening doing research for that) or sell up and move on. Plus it was the hassle of relearning all the software again… I spent hours and hours, and several cold nights stood outside playing with the various software tools. Still it can be a very interesting pass time but it can quickly take over your life and get out of control :wink:

That’s more than I did! I had to make do with seamanship and navigation O levels.
Yes indeed a delightful chap … but too keen on the maths.


It was an extra-curricular subject. My physics teacher, having noted my interest in the subject, offered for the school to enroll and pay for me to take the exam. The proviso was that I had to study for it in my own spare time - no hardship for me as it was my hobby. Come the exam I was sat in a room all on my own apart from the proctor. But the E.A Beet book was my friend along with the “Astronomy For O-Level” book by Patrick Moore.

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