Buying a telescope for the first time can be quite daunting, right?
And while there are tons of other material on the internet that talk about this very subject, I thought that it would be a good idea to share our 2 cents as amateur astronomers.
So in this article, I'm going to be talking about what I believe are the best telescopes that you can buy right now from Amazon, for beginners and intermediates alike.
I've chosen Amazon purely because it's a familiar name to most people, but all in honesty, I would suggest looking at either Rother Valley Optics or First Light Optics for brand new astronomy gear, if you live here in the UK.
Additionally, I'd recommend looking at a small marketplace/community called AstroBuySell, where you can pick up 2nd hand equipment as well as pick up some tips and tricks from more experienced astronomers.
But let's not waste any more time, and get straight into it.
First up we have the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ, which comes in at very reasonable price of £209 at the time of writing this.
The reason why I recommend the AstroMaster so much to beginners is because it's a classic Newtonian Reflector but only weighs around 12kg all in (that's the telescope, the tripod, the finder scope, everything...).
Newtonian reflectors are always such good go-to telescopes for people of all levels of experience, purely because they're so much cheaper to manafacture than virtually any other type of telescope, meaning that you can end up paying a relatively small amount for a high aperture telescope.
But do I mean by Aperture?
Well, I've covered the fundamental features telescopes/lenses here, so I'd definitely advise giving that a read if you're unfamiliar with terms like aperture, focal length, and f/ratio, but the aperture is simply the diameter of the mirror or lens that's reflecting/refracting the incident light that then either travels directly or indirectly (depending on the design) to an eyepiece.
Reflectors like the AstroMaster use large primary mirrors at the back of the OTA (Optical Tube Assembly) to reflect incident light, where as refractors use lenses that refract incident light.
The trouble is, manufacturing a lens is much more expensive than manufacturing a mirror, and hence reflectors offer much more bang for your buck than refractors, or at least for amateurs they do.
So why would you ever buy a refractor?
Well, simply put, their peak potential is far greater than that of a reflector, but cost literally tens of thousands of pounds to get to that level.
Reflectors are much bigger, and heavier telescopes which usually makes them extremely awkward to carry, and for the most part, unpractical to put into the back of a car...
The AstroMaster 130EQ, however, hits the sweet spot in terms of being large enough to collect a lot of light, but small enough to remain mobile and easy to handle - all for a very good price.
Diving into the numbers, the aperture of the 130EQ is 130mm (hence the name), which is just over 5 inches, and the telescope has a focal length of 650mm, making it fantastic for both planetary and deep space observation.
Broadly, the higher the focal ratio, the better a telescope is for viewing the planets/the moon and the Sun*with the appropriate solar filter, and the lower the focal ratio, the better it is for viewing DSO (Deep Space Objects), such as galaxies, star clusters, nebulae and more.
For this reason, unfortunately, there is no single "catch-all" telescope, however, the AstroMaster hits the sweet spot of pretty much being straight down the middle, making it fantastic for someone who's not really sure which they'd prefer to observe, and just wants to mess around with different types of objects.
As I mentioned earlier, I do think it would be helpful if you had a thorough understanding of what aperture, focal length, focal ratio etc actually mean, since I won't go into any specifics here. Therefore, feel free to check it out here.
So we've talked about the aperture, and the focal length, but what we haven't yet considered is the f/ratio (focal ratio).
The 130EQ is a solid f/5, meaning that its optics are quick at collecting light. Not only is this super helpful for more distant, dimmer planets, but it also means that this telescope is amazing at collecting the light from DSO like nebulae and galaxies, which tend to be on the dimmer side, at least when compared to the luminosity of Venus!
So what else is great about this telescope?
Well, we've pretty much talked about everything to do with the telescope itself, but what we haven't yet covered is the equatorial mount and tripod that comes with it!
For £209.00, not only do you get the fantastic OTA, but an equatorial mount that allows you to easily track objects across the sky.
Equatorial Mount and Tripod
While you might not notice it if you just sat outside for 30 minutes or so, everything in the night sky appears to be moving due to the rotation of the Earth.
This can make tracking objects with your telescope a real pain if you've not got an equatorial mount that's designed to replicate the rotation of the Earth.
In more advanced mounts that can cost £300 at the cheap level, and anywhere beyond £3000 for more advanced ones (for just the mounts - no telescope!), this is achieved automatically, but since this entire package is only putting you back £209.00, this mount requires a person to turn the gears.
There's absolutely nothing complicated about it though, and after going through a straight-forward process of Polar Aligning, which broadly means pointing the mount in the direction of the North Star, you'll be free to point your telescope wherever, and track objects across the sky by manually turning the knobs.
Not only does this telescope also come with a mount and tripod, but also 2 eyepieces (10mm and 20mm) and a red-dot finder scope.
The two eyepieces will allow you to change your magnification to suit different objects and viewing conditions, and the red-dot finder scope will allow you to easily align your telescope so that when you look through the eyepiece, the object in the finder scope is centred in the eyepiece.
It would be completely impractical to use the eyepiece to find objects in the sky since the magnification is so high, so telescopes almost always come with finder scopes or at least brackets for them so that finder scopes can be aligned properly.
Typically, finder scopes have a much lower magnification, and hence your field of view is much larger, allowing you to easily pick out objects in the sky.
I think that just about does it for the AstroMaster 130EQ, but whenever I'm objectively reviewing telescopes, I always prefer to include at least one refractor and reflector, seeing as it's difficult to say that one is necessarily better than the other.
Specifically, I'll be talking about the Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ Refractor , but before then, I'll summarise the 130EQ:
Very well priced
5 inches of aperture, allowing you to see the rings of Saturn, the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter, the 6 inner planets, and the craters on the Moon
At f/5, you also have the ability to see some deep space objects such as the Orion Nebula, and the Andromeda galaxy (plus many, many more)
It comes with an equatorial mount that allows you to easily track objects in the night-sky, a tripod and;
A red dot finder scope, that allows you to easily locate objects in the night-sky, and 2 eyepieces that offer you the variation in magnitude, allowing you to zoom out for wide-field nebulae, and zoom in for clear views of Jupiter.
Being a Newtonian reflector, it's fairly large in size and weight, although still easily put in the boot of a car, allowing you to take it to darker skies for better observing.
The equatorial mount is manual, meaning that you have to physically turn the gears yourself via a knob that's located conveniently on the side of the mount
Since I've already gone through essentially what aperture, focal length and f/ratios mean, and how they affect your ability to view certain objects through the telescope, I'm just going to briefly go through the main elements of the AstroMaster 102AZ refractor, while hopefully remaining holistic enough to provide a solid overview.
Naturally, we'll start with the advantages.
Refractors like this one have many advantages over their similar reflector counterparts, in that they're a lot lighter, and almost always take up a lot less space.
The AstroMaster 102AZ is no exception to this, and is an extremely versatile, lightweight piece of equipment, weighing in at only 6.4kg for the whole package (tripod included).
I've said this before in my article reviewing the Celestron NexStar 8SE, but it really can't be said enough that mobility is a huge factor that, in my opinion, you should really take into account when deciding whether a telescope is for you or not.
Unless you have your own observatory, chances are that you'll be moving your telescope around a lot, at least to and from a storage place, but having a telescope that you chuck into the back of car and take to dark sky areas is a completely different experience from backyard astronomy!
Besides mobility, the 102AZ also boast 102mm of aperture (4 inches), which means that it's able to collect enough light from distant planets like Jupiter and Saturn to produce relatively clear images.
4 inches of aperture is honestly a lot for a refractor, and coupled with 660mm of focal length, means that you'll be able to clearly see the rings of Saturn.
Additionally, at f/6.5 you'll have the opportunity to dabble in both planetary and deep space observation - similar to the 130EQ reflector.
It's also very similar to the 130EQ in price, coming in at around £250 at the time of writing this on amazon. It also comes with a finder scope, 2 eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), a tripod and a mount.
However, the mount provided utilises an altazimuth design, as oppose to the equatorial mount that comes with the 130EQ reflector, and therefore you won't have the same tracking experience with the 102AZ as with the 130EQ, unfortunately.
Honestly, the main benefit of buying the 102AZ refractor over the 130EQ reflector, is it's portability.... It's far lighter, far less clunky, and can be moved around here, there and everywhere with ease.
Having said that though, that doesn't mean to say that the 130EQ is clunky, but it's large and heavy enough for you to need to be somewhat flexible and strong.
Well, the only really disadvantage of a refractor in general (assuming you've got average sized pockets), is that you don't really get a lot in terms of optics for your money due to the price of manufacturing a lens as opposed to a mirror.... Take these 2 scopes for example:
You get more aperture, focal length and a better quality mount with the 130EQ reflector, yet the 102AZ is still circa £40 more expensive!
The extra money really just come from the sheer portability and size of a refractor like the 102AZ - it really is a game-changer in certain scenarios, such as if you don't have a suitable storage place for large reflector.
Both the 102AZ and 130EQ are fantastic telescopes for both beginners and intermediates who require something more portable than a huge newtonian with a 10 inch aperture.
They're both very similar in terms of aperture, focal length and f/ratio, although the 130EQ reflector does take the cake on all 3.
They both come with eyepieces, finder scopes, and the appropriate mounts to attach them to, however the 130EQ has the advantage have coming with an equatorial mount that can track objects across the sky with relative ease.
They're both very portable, but it has to be said that the 102AZ refractor is still considerably smaller and lighter, making its versatility in terms of being taken to different places, unparalleled.
You can check them both out on amazon here:
Both of these are affiliate links, which means that at absolutely no extra cost to you, we'll receive a small percentage of the sale, ultimately helping us at Expansive to reach and inspire more and more people to invest their time into astronomy!
Thanks for reading!