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Hi all, I've just joined SGL and have a few queries about buying some equipment. I've had a look through quite a few posts but not found completely relevant information, but do point me in the right direction, as I'm sure these are very common queries!

So I'm getting into astronomy, although I did own a Celestron First Scope a few years back. Although this was ok, I'm not keen on a table top scope anymore. To put things in context, I live on the outskirts of London, so still a fair amount of light pollution, but not terrible. I have  a garden but pretty small (appprox 7x8 metres), with houses on two sides. However, I can get good views of Orion Nebula etc

Having  read around, I thought it best to get some binoculars

i) because they are relatively lightweight  (so I can take them to other parts of the country with better visibility)

ii) as starting out, seems to make sense rather than having a large telescope I may use less

Having tried a few binoculars I'm having slight difficulty telling much difference between them and wondering if this is a common problem?! I've tried the following: Olympus DPS I (10x50 & 8x40); Nikon Actions Ex (10x50 & 12x50); Nikon Aculon 7x50; Pentax SP WP 10x50; Celestron Skymaster  9x63.  I really wanted to like the Action EX, Pentax and Skymaster, as prefer waterproof elements. 

Apart from magnification I've struggled to see much difference at night between all of these. I had big hopes for the Skymaster as it had noticeably richer colours during the day with large aperture, but comparing to others by picking out faint stars at night, they all seemed equally good/bad. In addition, I tried to see a difference in the contrast, but not much difference here either (maybe there would be no difference with light pollution). Unfortunately I sent the lower magnification back before testing some of the other and they did seem brighter from what I recall, but at the expense of detail. 

As you probably know, the variety in cost for these is large (£50-£200). I'm now wondering if my best bet is to just get a cheaper and lower magnification binocluar (Olympus 8x40) which I can hold by hand and a cheapish telescope (Celestron 130EQ) for the amount I could spend on the most expensive bins on the list? I've been a bit resistant to getting large bins, as was trying to avoid a tripod, but maybe I need to take the plunge, so any suggestions on these appreciated.

Ideally I'd still have a slightly better binoculars if there are any recommendations out there, however I feel like I've pretty much exhausted the main options. I may still try the Skymaster 8x56.

Any advice or suggestions appreciated on bins, telescopes, and also if there's a better way to test difference between products. 

Thanks and apologies for the long essay!

Edited by Clowd
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Going against what is often standard advice for beginners, I'm going to binoculars aren't *that* great.

Now, I like binoculars, I own several pairs, but use them for wildlife, ships, aircraft, just general interest stuff. I'll point them up at night occasionally, and while a wide sweeping view of the stars is nice, it seems like quite a niche application to me. The point of a telescope is to gather lots of light. Any binoculars capable of being hand-held are going to in the region of 50mm aperture. Any binoculars of larger aperture are going to be heavy, and of necessity have higher magnification (to avoid throwing light away due to pupil size - most adults are wasting light with 7x50s), meaning you need some way of mounting them. An L-bracket on a decent photo tripod will do but then it can get awkward to point them at a high angle, and get your eyes to them if you do, as the tripod's legs try occupy the same space as yours. Yes there's ways round this, parallelogram mounts and such, but again quite a niche thing, and getting pretty expensive now.

It depends what you mean by transportable. Personally anything on an EQ can be a hassle to transport, you've got three elements at least, the tube, the tripod with mount and the counterweights. It also depends on your situation. Someone whose scope lives in the garage with their car and just needs lifting into the boot to transport to a dark sky site might consider a 16-inch dob as reasonably portable. Someone who's scope lives in a flat and has to down three flights of stairs, two tubes and a bus ride to get to an observing site would not.

Now there are those that are hugely into binocular astronomy and get a great deal out of it. Certainly get some binoculars, go out at night and point them upwards, they'll be handy for other uses too. But if you want a telescope, don't get them instead of one. You'll just end up buying both.

As for scopes you can do a lot worse than an 8-inch reflector on a dobsonian base. 


It's about chest height to a human, needs the floorspace of a kitchen chair. It's the most aperture for your money, easiest to set up, movable in two bits. Will show you a lifetime's worth of the night sky, and at around £200 for a 2nd hand it's unlikely you'll loose any money on it should you decide it's not for you.

tl:dr? Get an 8-inch dob

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I would never consider that one is an option in place of the other.

Jupiter is an example: It will be visible in the evening/night about March-April. In binoculars it will be a small bright disk with up to 4 dots around it that are the moons. But small bright disk is all it will be. In a small scope giving 40x-60x magnification it will be a small disk but with 2 or even 4 of the bands visible on it. The moons will still be dots but you will find each dot to have a different colour.

Consider M13 in Hercules, just about visible by eye, if dark enough but only just an impression of something there, in binoculars a definite patch of light, in a reasonable scope it is a globular cluster.

One way of putting it is: Binoculars are good for looking around, a telescope is good for looking at.

So if you want to look at objects get a scope, if you want to look around the sky then binoculars.

Just do not make the presumption that they do the same function. I use binoculars a lot, but they are not a scope and as such do not give the result that a scope does.

My other thought is if you expect to buy a scope why spend a proportion of your money on binoculars.

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4 hours ago, ronin said:

... Binoculars are good for looking around, a telescope is good for looking at.

So if you want to look at objects get a scope, if you want to look around the sky then binoculars.

I don't think I've seen it expressed so succinctly before. And unlikely to see it expressed more succinctly.

Well said, sir.


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Have a look at the website www.binocularsky.com and you will find plenty of good advice on how to choose binoculars.

Some of the less good ones are stopped down internally or have undersized prisms i.e. you don't get the full aperture.

Edge sharpness is another factor, how sharp the stars are off centre.

Chromatic abberation is often a problem with cheaper binoculars (and also more expensive ones), and is worth understanding.

Lastly I suppose the level of contrast and light scatter will vary.

Keeping the magnification down so you can hand hold them stably is important, so a good pair of 8x42s for instance can be very useful.

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I have a revelation 200mm dob and is fantastic and can see great things but a set of binoculars is defo in my shopping list, I actually feel like I'm missing out on something's I.e. seeing the whole Andromeda galaxy, getting the complete pleides into view etc.

I think if you have the option of both then defo go for it. If you have a preference of one over the other you can upgrade as and when you are ready.

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I think Ronin has put it very well. Bins and scopes serve different purposes. If you want widefield low magnifications of star fields, then bins are the answer. If you want to view fainter objects using higher magnifications, then it has to be a scope. Most of us have both, but if I was starting out again I would go for a scope.

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Quite torn on the subject of what to start with. Went for scopes first, don't regret it, but am enjoying the bins now so much that it makes me wonder. Using a mounted scope is fun, but it's work, too. Nothing wrong with that, but nonetheless.

A good scope is definitely worth it, but I use the bins more often. It has to do with the weather, of course. You can always pull out the binoculars to take advantage of a gap in the clouds. Observing style is indeed a factor, I really enjoy widefield surfing.

But I also notice that I have learned more about what's where in a shorter time since I have the bins. Combined with a Pocket Sky Atlas, or indeed Stellarium on your phone, you're a mobile observatory with a motorized tracking mount (you). Lie back on a comfy deck chair and it's all yours. Makes it easier to wear a sleeping bag to keep warm, as well.

Yes I cherish my scopes. Yes I enjoy observing Jupiter and Saturn in as much detail as I can get. Yes I love gear and tinkering with it.

But if I had to start over...? Glad I don't have to.


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I'm in the same boat as OP but am limited by cash. I realize I could put the money toward a scope, but I can also get decent bins for less than a decent scope and do some great things while also ensuring I have the commitment to astronomy. If it doesn't pan out or I just don't get out enough, bins are still handy in many settings. 

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Other than Canon's image stabilized line of binoculars, I wouldn't recommend using binoculars hand held to view the night sky.  I just can't hold them still enough to avoid stars dancing around like little dancing fairy lights.  It's maddening if you've ever used a quality telescope on a quality mount to try to use binos hand held at night.  The only comfortable mounting system I've ever seen for using binoculars at night involved putting the observation chair on a dobsonian type mount with the binoculars fixed relative to the chair.

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Binoculars are very useful when you're new to astronomy because a decent enough pair of 10x50s, a red torch and a star atlas will teach you an awful lot about the night sky; how to identify constellations, and find your way to prominent star clusters and galaxies. It will be more difficult to learn this with a telescope because the magnification is much higher, therefore you can see less of the surrounding sky to get your bearings from, also the view is a bit confusing as everything is upside down and back to front.

BUT you will struggle to sustain an interest in astronomy for the long term if all you have are some small binoculars and light polluted skies. Planets will look like bright stars or discs if your optics are good enough, and all but the larger star clusters and galaxies will be little more than smudges. A telescope will really open these up for you, and as others have said, you get an awful lot of power for not a lot of money with a 6-8" dobsonian. If it were me I'd get some binoculars to learn the sky, with the idea of getting a telescope somewhere down the line when I know more about what I want from astronomy and what instrument is best to deliver that. And a pair of 10x50 binoculars is never a wasted investment - some nights you just want a casual scan around the sky at low magnification. And they're useful during the day as well.

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In the long run, you'll have both, scopes and bins, as complementary ways to watch the sky. When I'm using my dobsonians, especially the 18", I often explore the area to view with some bins, just to get the feel for it, and to identify the stars in my 10x60 RACI finder (- some kind of half a bin, concerning field of view, and magnification). 

I have started many years ago with 8x30 Hertel+Reuss bins, and still use them, well worth the money. If I had to start again, I'd do it the same way.




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