Shopping for a backyard telescope can be a nightmare. There are more brands and more types of telescopes today than ever. The good news is that there's one out there that's just right for you. The nightmarish part is wading through a seeming ocean of possibilities. How do you pick the right telescope? This section leads you safely through the telescope-buying process.
|Key 1: Magnification is Not Very Important|
There are a four keys to being a smart telescope shopper. The first is that magnification is not nearly as important as a telescope's light-gathering power. Many cheap scopes are advertised for their 500X magnification. The reality is that even good instruments are often useless at such high powers. The first key is to ignore magnification.
|Key 2: Aperture is Important|
The second key is that aperture determines the view you'll get with a particular scope. Aperture is the size of the telescope's primary mirror or lens. It's usually measured in inches but you'll also see aperture listed in millimeters (mm). Each inch of aperture equals 25.4 millimeters. As an example, a 60 mm refractor has an aperture 2.4 inches. Think of light as information. The more your telescope collects the better the view.
|Key 3: There Are Only Three Choices|
The third key to shopping telescopes is that you can immediately narrow the list of candidates to three choices: a refractor, a Newtonian reflector or a catadioptric. These are the three most popular kinds of telescopes. About 99% of all the commercial models available fit into one of those categories. (Isn't this great? In just three paragraphs, we've narrowed the choice down from over 100 to just three!)
|Key 4: Know Your Wants and Needs|
The final key to finding the right scope is to know your wants and needs. There is a saying in this hobby, "The telescope that's best for you is the one you'll use the most." It's become a cliche but there is still truth in those words. Time spent figuring out how you will use your new telescope will save you anguish and money.
Layout, design & revisions © W. D. Ferris
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Revised: February 11, 2002 [WDF]