I took my small scope to the beach today. It wasn’t the best day for it, as it turned out, as it was a bit foggy, but still it was nice enough:
I took some pictures by putting the phone to the eyepiece, but the combination of stock eyepiece, hand and cheap phone, can only get you so far , and most of the images were “burned” or very blurry. Some of them were ok though:
Here is a boat passing in front of the lighthouse:
Here is the small village that can be seen in the distance on the left of the island in the first photo:
and here is a village on top of the mountain (on the right - it cannot be seen in the first picture, but there are previous pics of this beach I have posted, where it can be seen in the distance):
Next time I will get my DSLR that fits the optical tube, so the pictures will be much better. For now though, I think that it is worth mentioning that all this is just 20x magnification. “Toy level telescopes” might be utter junk for night sky observations (due to the wobbly and totally low-level mount - the scope itself is very decent), but when it comes for daytime observations they can be a lot of fun, since the mount is annoying, but not a deal-breaker
This is a 70/400 cheap scope and it costed less than 100 euros at the time, but it can still practically output 140x magnification. Those things are “toy level”, but in the daytime, they can still pack a punch.
I’m mildly interested in acquiring a scope as my kids enjoy stars and moons and planets, but it’s not something I’ve ever looked into before. Can you recommend any good resources to get started? Guides on what to buy getting started, how to find different objects, that kinda thing?
Yes, of course! I was a complete newbie as well, so I had to look into most of those things, so I still have the beginner’s approach (I haven’t had the time yet to go very deep into that rabbit-hole).
Here are some very basic things that might be a bit convoluted elsewhere (videos/guides) and they are good to know before you look into things (you know how advanced people can be sometimes, even in Go. They tend to overlook simple things because they’ve known them for decades and they assume that everyone knows what they are talking about - you will see below):
Before we begin, three important points:
a) Telescopes are one thing, mounts are another issue.
b) stargazing is cheap and relatively easy while astrophotography is hard and veeeeery expensive.
c) Do NOT expect to see through a telescope what you see over the internet or you will be disappointed. Those are extremely edited astrophotography photos where they can stack 100+ photos of 1minute exposure each to generate the image. Stargazing is what your eye can see live, which is not the same.
Let’s go to telescopes first (a beginner telescope package provides stock gear for most of the things that I will mention, so you do not need to shop/care for all of that separately. You can later upgrade your gear, of course.):
Basic things to know about telescopes:
- Aperture (which is the diameter of the lense) is what sets the maximum useful magnification. Double the aperture is the maximum useful magnification. In the example above a 70mm scope is considered “small” ( the smallest sold are 60mm iirc), so the max magnification is 140x times.
- The length of the tube in mm is what helps you calculate the magnification itself. Contrary to what we might thing, a telescope itself doesn’t magnify anything, we need an eyepiece for that.
- The eyepieces and their size in mm, combined with the length of the tube, will provide the magnification. The math is very easy Magnification = Length_of_Tube / Size_of_Eyepiece. In the little scope above the numbers are 400mm and the stock 20mm eyepiece, ergo 400/20 = 20x magnification.
- The same scope with a different eyepiece can provide an array of different magnifications e.g. with a 10mm eyepiece you’d get 40x, with a 5x eyepiece you’d get 80x and so forth. An other way to double your magnification is…
- … a 2x barlow lense which comes in between the telescope and the eyepiece an technically doubles the length of the tube. So, 400mm*2x barlow/20mm eyepiece = 40x magnification.
- Now here is one of the first thing that is obscure and more people/guides won’t mention. There is something called field of view both in the telescope and the eyepiece. If you opt for a narrow scope, let’s say a 90/900 (90mm aperture and 900mm tube), then the ratio of those two things is 1/10 (called an f ratio if you go shoping or it is called a “slow scope”). Slow scopes fill with light slower (because they are too long, compared with their diameter), but also tend to have a narrow field of view. This practically means that if you buy a 152mm/760 scope and a 152mm/1200 you want to achieve the same magnification with both of them, you are making a trade:
The first scope will need high-magnifications eyepieces to achieve that magnification, but it will offer a higher filed of view. The second one will need low-mag eyepieces, but it will default to a narrower field of view. HOWEVER, eyepieces are a league of their own and some of them can have a wide field or low field of view. The wide field eyepieces can be be very expensive. In general, a scope that has a wide field of view is better, since a small field of view scope is always limited by its specs, even if you throw the best eyepieces on it. So, in conclusion, a beginner-friendly choice is to get a balanced scope, not to long, not too stubby, so that you can be flexible (the really stubby scopes are mostly for astrophotography and they are hard to bring into focus, you might need focal extenders etc).
A LOT of beginners get what is called “aperture fever” which is the quest for larger aperture, better gear/eyepieces and higher magnification. This is rarely needed. If you watch more experienced people they will all tell you that they tend to use the eyepieces that produce the smallest magnification for most objects (initially you’ll mostly need high magnification for the moon, Jupiter and Saturn). That’s where I made a mistake, since I bought a 90/900 Skywatcher as my first beginner scope, but the 102/600 Skywatcher was only a few euros more.
There is also the issue of diagonals which is a small angle correction tool that is usually needed so that you can observe without bending your spine. Generally a telescope shows things upside-down and also horizontally flipped. A 90 degree diagonal keeps this arrangement and has no complicated optics, so it is best for astrogazing. A 45 degree prism has optics that correct the upside-down issue, but that costs some light so people want it only for day-observations (though between us, for our level both are ok)
Three different general types of telescopes exist. Refractors (like the ones show above and what we all picture when we hear the word “telescope”) and Reflectors which look like this and are known as "light-buckets. In general here are the main differences to refractors:
a) They have larger aperture and length and they are cheaper from refractors in terms of value for money.
b) They use mirrors instead of lenses, this means that there is a difference in how they depict things, but that is a complex topic.
c) The mirrors need frequent collimation, which in plain English means that they might get out of position and you need to fix their alignment. That is not a trivial process depending on the scope.
d) They cannot be used for day observations ( technically they can, but it is a combination of reasons that make them very cumbersome )
e) Larger and heavier than reflectors.
f) Smaller mount variety and if you want an automated GoTo Star Tracker system for a reflector, you need to pay a LOT of money, since it is so heavy.
e) That last thing also means that astrophotography is unlikely.
VERDICT: For a beginner, opt for a reflector. If you are intermediate, a dobsonian refractor like the one I linked is said to be “the holy grail” of telescopes striking the correct balance between cost, weight and utility. Personally I think that is a great telescope, but you have to know what you are doing.
The third kind of telescope is a combination of the above, in various ways and configurations (Maksutov, Schmidt-Cassgrain etc) … definitely not beginner stuff and some of them can be either good at anything (planets, deep space, astrophotography) or good at something very specific. Good telescopes, but not for beginners
There is also the finder scope which is either a very small telescope attached to your main scope that helps you locate your goal or it is a finder-dot, which is something like this. Either one is said to be good, it is a matter of personal preference which is “better”.
How light-polluted (or just polluted) is your sky plays an important role in deep sky objects, but even in the brightest cities you will be able to locate the planets, even if with the help of starmap apps like Skymap.
Basic things to know about mounts:
- There are two main types. Alt-Az mounts (which move the scope up and down) and Equatorial (EQ) mounts, which move the telescope in an arc, following the sky’s revolution. Alt-Az mounts are easy and fun to use (you just plonk it down and point it at the sky) and made for stargazing when you have beginner targets and for daytime. EQ mounts cannot be used in daylight practically, they need polar alignment (you have to align the scope with the North pole if you are in the northern hemisphere or the Southern Cross if you are in the southern hemisphere) which is not a hard thing to do, but it is not trivial especially if you are learning and you just want to have some fun. There is a learning curve to figure them out, but once that is done it is said that they are easy to use (I haven’t had one. I want to buy a simple one to learn how to use them).
- Do not buy cheap Alt-Az mounts. Those are known as hobby-killers. The scope I used stands on this silly photo-cam tripod which is very hard to position and make it “stay there”. It makes stargazing impossible and even daytime observations a bit frustrating. At minimum a mount needs to be steady when you let it be and flexible when you want it to move. This means that it cannot be made by flimsy plastic. Also it needs to have some “fine tuning knobs” since planets and the moon will leave your field of view very fast (especially at high magnification) and you need to be able to move the scope, without wobbly/powerful movements.
- There are GoTo mounts (those are always EQ mounts) that are automated of sorts. You have to polar align them and align them with three visible stars so that the computer knows where on Earth it is and then they are supposed to work automatically (there are apps and a “remote control” for it which make it work). They were said to be sketchy once, but now most of them are said to be ok, though personally I feel that it takes any sense of fun and accomplishment out of the hobby.
- The expensive GoTo mounts with computer support and whatnot are only for astrophotography.
- The Alt-Az mounts for Reflectors are called Dobsonian mounts.
Guides, channels to watch.
- SmallOptics is an obscure channel whose videos have no production value, but I will put it first because it is just some normal bloke that knows his stuff. Some veeeeery solid beginner videos that explain things in a great and simple way, plus he is often giving some pretty nifty tips.Here is his video on what telescopes NOT to buy.
- LearnToStargaze contains a lot of information for people that want to get into stargazing. The channel is not clickbait and it delivers a lot of good info, though it does contain a lot of videos that are for people that are already more into things. Also the people that make the videos sell books about stargazing and “what to look in the night sky and how to find it”. I haven’t bought them, but they seem well made.
- Ed Ting is the David Attenborough of telescope reviews. Whichever style of telescope you can dream of buying (and some you could never even dream of), he has probably reviewed it. Here is his video on how to spot “junk scopes” and how to avoid them
- NebulaPhotos is a great channel if you want to learn about astrophotography (lots of very detailed tutorials). Great presenter and maybe the best channel on the topic. His astrophotography tracker vs no tracker turorial/comparison is just amazing.
- AstroBiscuit is the “Top Gear” of astrophotography (just like Top Gear, even if you have no interest in the hobby, you will enjoy the video. He does have some technical tutorials about collimation and tips and tricks). Each year he usually outputs his best “telescope under 100 pounds” video which is always informative and fun and you can learn a lot of things while enjoying his efforts.
Where to buy. (Iirc you are in Australia but I will include links all over in case someone else reading this is interested)
It is always a good idea to try dedicated astro-shops instead of generic stores like Amazon that cannot answer any of your questions or do the slightest custom adjustment to what you want.
- If you are in the UK, FirstLightOptics is the ultimate astroshop. Fast, efficient, good prices and they know their stuff. I’d suggest it for the whole of Europe but I shopped once from there because “the price was right” and due to Brexit I had to pay customs and got a lot of delays.
- If you are in Europe, then Astroshop.eu is the place to go. They have an amazing array of products and you are bound to find something to your liking. They know their stuff and things arrive on time with no fuss.
- If you are in the USA, OTP Telescopes and Orion Telescopes are the places to go, in my best of knowledge. Orion even makes telescopes so they do know what they are talking about.
- For Australia I looked into some. Ozscopes, look bad. Optics Central looks very decent/good. Testar also looks good, but seems to have mostly the expensive stuff Sirius optics seems very serious and respectable to me, but they seem to not have too many options. I’d either shop there or OpticsCentral (which has more stuff and better prices I see).
In conclusion (for the time being, if you or anyone else wants more details on anything, just send me a message):
A good beginner telescope that is actually fun to use and it will not frustrate you at all is a decent (stable, flexible and with micro-movement ability) Alt-Az mounted telescope which is of “value-for-money” quality and comes with some basic stargazing and daytime gear.
In that regard, I’d suggest these, depending on your budget (the SkyWatcher brand seems to be sold as Saxon down under) and the aforementioned qualities ( a decent mount with micro-adjustment handles and basic gear/eyepieces/diagonals/finders) :
a) Cheapest option is this and with the 45degree diagonal it is good for daytime fun as well:
b) Middle option is this and with also a 45degree diagonal. This is practically the telescope and mount I have and it is very decent (the micro-adjustment knobs might have needed a better way to be set, but they work):
it also comes in an EQ mount version if you want to directly go for an astronomical mount only. I cannot vouch for it as I have not used any EQ mounts and you cannot always take the complains to purists too seriously. It might be a good mount or they are just quibbling, who knows?
c) The more expensive one which is the one I should have bought, but I didn’t (though it is quite more expensive over there - it seems it has a better finder and eyepieces as stock)
Though if those are Australian dollars I have to inform you that this scope costs as much as it does here in Greece, while the other two have better prices compared with the shop I am checking, so a) and b) are bargains in a sense.
If you want a dobsonian, this is the video to watch. Ed will explain everything:
Aaaand that’s about it for now … that took a few hours, but I had a lot of fun I hope this will be useful to you or any other fellow Go enthusiast that might want to see some actual star points hahaha
I forgot to say that since you live in a more civilised place than I do, you could visit an “astroparty” with your kids and see how they like it, before spending any money
Here are some links:
I’d just like to add that knowing all the limitations, I’ve been totally happy with my Celestron FirstScope and recommend getting something like that even if you want something fancier too. It has a big enough reflector and works well enough to capture Saturn and maybe some bands on Jupiter, but it’s extremely cheap, will definitely frustrate you, and has absolutely none of the “stable, flexible, and with micro-movement ability” kind of goodies that Jeth is talking about.
So you can fearlessly let the kids play with, try aligning it or modding it, or projecting a transit of Mercury and melting an eyepiece like I did, and even if you do get something better later (I have not done this), everyone should appreciate all the deluxe features so much more.
…and then I looked quickly through that video linked above on what “NOT to buy”. Sure enough, it’s in there, but as an example of what cheap one TO buy.
This is in fact a picture from my home
It’s one of the things I do in between coding and bed time (coding not conducive to sleep)
(Coloured pencil art: not too hard, draw what you see. Watercolour art: very hard, seems to need actual artistic talent !)
WOW! Those are … beau-ti-ful!
I’ve never really been motivated to visit Greece … until this thread!!
Just try to avoid the tourist traps (if you need any suggestions, just say the word)
I realised in my recent trip that I hadn’t taken the ferry out of the island since 2019, so here is how that looked:
Most of the island is empty and, despite the wilffires, still a nice place to live or visit (if you are into peace and quiet)