The year is already winding to a close, which means that Christmas, the time for gift giving, is just around the corner. So, if you're looking to buy a telescope for someone else or yourself, quality should be a prime consideration. So, how can one go about staying clear of the junk telescope blues?
It's easy by following these simple suggestions.
First, the source. Generally speaking, stores that don't specialize in telescopes/optics are not the best source to buy telescopes, or at least high-quality ones. Yes, while deals are a-plenty in those 'mart' stores, one should avoid the telescopes as the low prices are inherent of low quality. Instead, buy from a specialty optics store. Many camera stores also deal in telescopes, too.
Second, look at the box. Generally speaking, screaming advertising ploys of “see Pluto” and “600 power” are there to take advantage of consumer ignorance, as are colorful images. First, as a general rule of optics, 1 inch of aperture is good for 50x power so, to get 600x, one would need a 12 inch scope. The pictures? Many people new to astronomy assume that they will be able to see such things through scopes, which is completely untrue.
Size matters. In telescopes, 1 ¼ inch is the standard size for eyepieces. These same scopes, through adapters, can also be made to use 2 inch eyepieces, too. On the other hand, junk telescopes come with .965” inch eyepieces. Besides being similar to looking through peepholes (not easy), the small eyepieces are a red flag announcing that the telescope is junk.
Build quality/attention to detail. If there is a display model telescope set up, look at it. If either the scope or mount has a lot of plastic, skip it. Low build quality denotes junk. Also, if the scope is on a alt.-az. or equatorial mount, if it doesn't come with fine adjustment knobs, looking elsewhere is probably a good idea as high-quality scopes include these very useful items.
Computers are costly. Going to show that technology isn't always good, there are cheap telescope setups with computerization selling for around $250. Avoid these toys at all cost! A good computerized mount along (no scope included) will sell for around $600. When it comes to computer-controlled scopes, this is one case where you always get what you pay for.
As a last tip, trust the above tips, not manufacturer nameplate. At one time, the big three of American astronomy, Orion, Celestron, and Meade, were synonymous with quality. Not anymore. Everyone is selling cheap, sub $100 scopes targeted toward buyers who don't want to pay much. The companies get their money and the ignorant buyers get the shaft, showing the importance of doing your research.
Yes, there are a lot of telescopes and companies selling them but, with a little reading, avoiding the junk scope blues is an easy thing to do.
If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.
If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?
For something even better, follow this blog.