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Worst Beginner Telescope to Buy?


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A hopeful beginner in astronomy walks into a department store with about £180 to spend on a telescope. The beginner tells the sales assistant that seeing everything interesting in the sky and possibly taking a few photos is the reason for the purchase.

There are plenty (!) of posts asking what would be the best scope to purchase, but what would be the worst, taking into account what might be available in a department store or low end telescope supplier?

Replies such as 'The one that isn't used." isn't relevant. The scope must perform to its spec i.e. not be faulty.

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When I started out in the early 1980's a secondhand 60mm refractor was all that was available unless I was prepared to save a couple of years paper round money for something from the USA or UK My

Any Bird-Jones design telescopes would be high on the list. 

Most of the "worst offenders" have been mentioned already. I've also seen folks coming new to the hobby who have had a really healthy budget so decide that this is a "Once in a lifetime" purchase

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Why would the hopeful beginner walk into a department store rather than look online? In the department store they'll most likely be told "We don't stock telescopes." And even if they do, the assistant won't know anything about astronomy.

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I'd steer a wide course away from any Department-Store telescope that has photos' of GIANT PLANETS (Saturn usually) and HUGE GALAXIES all over the box. As well as statements such as "995X POWER!" "KILLER ASTROYDS!" Etc.

That would make my red-lights in my head to start flashing and a GIANT GONG to sound.

"Warning, Will Robinson! Danger!"

Dave

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I think perhaps bobro's after things like 'one with eyepieces with an H on the side', or 'one with plastic lenses', or a heavy one on a tiny tripod etc.

A 'things to avoid' kind of list, to help people avoid wasting their money?

@bobro Sorry if I'm wrong!

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Okay then, Sir Goat, then how's this:

ANY telescope bought by someone who hasn't taken the time to read & learn about the different types of telescopes and optics - their strong points, weaknesses, maintainence, best uses, etc.

In other words: One bought blindly on impulse.

Dave

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47 minutes ago, Dave In Vermont said:

Okay then, Sir Goat, then how's this:

ANY telescope bought by someone who hasn't taken the time to read & learn about the different types of telescopes and optics - their strong points, weaknesses, maintainence, best uses, etc.

In other words: One bought blindly on impulse.

Dave

You can get one as a present.. I have Celestron114 Astromaster, got it as a birthday present. Jones-Bird design, flimsy equatorial, rough slow mo controls. And I think I got the best in the batch - could make out Jupiter bands (two and just). Some other "lucky owners" can't.  But, on the other hand, seeing the Galilean moons got me hooked. Spent lots of time trying even imaging with it. And you know what, I still have it in my balcony, for quick fixes when the Venus, moon o Jupiter is around at the same time as me having a cigaret and cup of tea. Still going somewhat after enduring rain, snow and -25 this winter, took some snaps of the Moon yesterday with my iPhone, seen worth with better scopes.. I guess it's not only the bike, but how you ride it that matters. But yeah, it's pretty bad :D  There are much better choices and I think you should have plastic lenses to do worth.

IMG_0227.PNG

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I haven't been an owner long, but think I  have seen posts from people who seem  have a reflector which doesn't seem to have a changeable/moveable finderscope.  This doesn't sound useful to me.  Just an idea.  

Also, one that is too big/too small for them considering where they need to use it and store it.  It is not easy to guage size from pictures.  I have seen posts from people who have thought certain scopes were both larger and snaller than they were expecting.  So I think I would have to say one that they Don't  know the size of.

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Any of the 2 or 3 that area Bird-Jones design. The principle if good and it works when implimented on a professional scope as the additional "barlow" is designed to operate with the system.

The problem with the ones available to people just buying a scope is that the barlow is simple a lens that is about right thrown in the focusr andd it is as likely to sit at the wrong location.

Owing to the very poorly components and implimentation they are just poor scopes and there is nothing that can be done - you cannot remove the barlow lens, collimation is difficult, another barlow cannot be used, mirror is a short spherical, usually a poor image.

I actually begin to wonder if the actual Bird-Jones used a barlow as is present on the ones sold to beginners. Can think of an alternative that would do the same, likely better and would allow the original scope to have the "barlow" removed and reverted back to original state and be operational. So able to switch between "Bird-Jones'd" and "non-Bird-Jones'd". This is because the original use was on professional scopes and you tend to add on to one of them and be able to revert back if required.

Trouble is people buy them as they appear good on paper, but the reality is otherwise and when they ask what can I do or improve it there is in reality almost nothing. They are the one scope I would like to see not sold by the astro retailers.

The 60mm department store scope may not be up to much but they basically do what should be expected. Recall one person commenting "They are not the ideal scope to start with, but there are what so many of us did start with." Bit like a first car, bet it very rarely is a BMW M5 or Porsche, but is a cheap Vauxhall, Ford etc.

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40 minutes ago, JOC said:

I haven't been an owner long, but think I  have seen posts from people who seem  have a reflector which doesn't seem to have a changeable/moveable finderscope.  This doesn't sound useful to me.  Just an idea.  

Also, one that is too big/too small for them considering where they need to use it and store it.  It is not easy to guage size from pictures.  I have seen posts from people who have thought certain scopes were both larger and snaller than they were expecting.  So I think I would have to say one that they Don't  know the size of.

Very true. Celestron Astromaster114, again, managed to incorporate small useless finder scope in the tube design. Broke it off and put a telrad, with original you would miss the moon.

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Most of the "worst offenders" have been mentioned already.

I've also seen folks coming new to the hobby who have had a really healthy budget so decide that this is a "Once in a lifetime" purchase and assume that buying the biggest scope they can get will give them a great start in the hobby. Sadly this often proves not to be the case and their expensive monster is then seen up for sale, usually at a 40% or so loss on the purcase price :undecided:

Scopes such as 12" equatorially mounted newtonians seem to fall into this catergory :rolleyes2:

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I guess ultimately it will be any scope which disappoints so much that it puts the person off astronomy for good. There are so many very cheap telescopes for sale on eBay which have been used once and then put away for good.

Problems are often around mounts that are so wobbly it is impossible to focus or keep the object in view without mega vibrations and finders that are very difficult to align and even harder to look through. Over promising on magnification and colourful pictures showing completely false representations of what you might see contribute too.

Regarding the Bird-Jones thing, I do agree that they are generally to be avoided, but..... the first scope I bought was a Celestron C150HD, a scope with a 1000mm focal length but in a short tube i.e. A Bird Jones design. I never knew this until I sold it, but it didn't stop me seeing Jupiter complete with GRS and also the Cassini division and Enke gap in Saturn's rings (it was much higher in the sky then) as well as polar caps on Mars. Yes, it ran out of steam at around x150 but the tube was manageable and I used the scope a lot. Put simply, yes it was a Bird Jones design but it did not put me off. Mind you it was £500 at the time on an EQ3-2 type mount.

The silly thing is, for £50 you can buy a great little starter scope which will give perfectly satisfactory views and get you into the hobby. It has a stable mount, a proper focuser and decent Optics.

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/beginner-telescopes/celestron-firstscope-76mm-telescope.html

Or, I can buy this off eBay and be frustrated by all the issues already outlined.

http://m.ebay.co.uk/itm/Celestron-PowerSeeker-60AZ-525x-Max-Power-Refractor-Astronomical-Telescope-/192161498549?hash=item2cbdb7c5b5%3Ag%3AvUEAAOSwa~BYSJ1L

Both from the same manufacturer. One looks like a 'proper telescope' but the other is far more likely to give good results.

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I recall my son being gifted a National Geographic plastic refractor on a flimsy table top tripod for Christmas 6 or 7 years ago. Of course he wanted to see what it was like. So we set it up on a flimsy table in our back garden and looked at Jupiter. The view was probably terrible. But seeing Jupiter and it's moons through that little, terrible scope is what led directly to me purchasing a scope. A Skywatcher ST102 on a goto mount. I was told this wasn't really a good scope by some members of this community yet I still had it up until a year ago, and it was replaced with a ST120. I have also had numerous other scopes and mounts over the years. But looking through that cheapo, terrible scope was the thing that initially got me into this hobby. 

Edited by Bobby1970
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I would always avoid anything that looks complex. GoTo or EQ mounts on cheap scopes; it can't be done well.

Then there are the dreadful packages that have a basically ok scope with hopeless eyepieces!

ie, Celestron 70mm travel scope. I bought one for £40. And after a quick look, was convinced that the best thing about the setup was the bag that is came in. But, after popping in a light weight quality Plossl, putting the mount on a table at its lowest level and accepting that anything other than a pastic focuser for £40 would be unrealistic, I got some really nice wide field views. Then I nailed it to the side of my Dob as a finder scope. Works a treat; And, is possibly the most over mounted scope on history!?

Paul

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Perhaps a better definition of the worst beginner telescope is one that, for whatever reason, fails to ignite the fire of interest in astronomy :icon_scratch:

 

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39 minutes ago, John said:

Perhaps a better definition of the worst beginner telescope is one that, for whatever reason, fails to ignite the fire of interest in astronomy :icon_scratch:

 

And that, for me at least, was a 130 Newt on an EQ.  Awkward to aim, awkward to look through - it gathered dust.  I later "took off" with a cheap 70mm frac on an AZ -  that got me fired up!

Doug.

Edited by cloudsweeper
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23 hours ago, Stu said:

I guess ultimately it will be any scope which disappoints so much that it puts the person off astronomy for good. There are so many very cheap telescopes for sale on eBay which have been used once and then put away for good.

Problems are often around mounts that are so wobbly it is impossible to focus or keep the object in view without mega vibrations and finders that are very difficult to align and even harder to look through. Over promising on magnification and colourful pictures showing completely false representations of what you might see contribute too.

Regarding the Bird-Jones thing, I do agree that they are generally to be avoided, but..... the first scope I bought was a Celestron C150HD, a scope with a 1000mm focal length but in a short tube i.e. A Bird Jones design. I never knew this until I sold it, but it didn't stop me seeing Jupiter complete with GRS and also the Cassini division and Enke gap in Saturn's rings (it was much higher in the sky then) as well as polar caps on Mars. Yes, it ran out of steam at around x150 but the tube was manageable and I used the scope a lot. Put simply, yes it was a Bird Jones design but it did not put me off. Mind you it was £500 at the time on an EQ3-2 type mount.

The silly thing is, for £50 you can buy a great little starter scope which will give perfectly satisfactory views and get you into the hobby. It has a stable mount, a proper focuser and decent Optics.

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/beginner-telescopes/celestron-firstscope-76mm-telescope.html

Or, I can buy this off eBay and be frustrated by all the issues already outlined.

http://m.ebay.co.uk/itm/Celestron-PowerSeeker-60AZ-525x-Max-Power-Refractor-Astronomical-Telescope-/192161498549?hash=item2cbdb7c5b5%3Ag%3AvUEAAOSwa~BYSJ1L

Both from the same manufacturer. One looks like a 'proper telescope' but the other is far more likely to give good results.

I started with the powerseeker 60AZ as it was a present. I agree it has many problems but at the end of the day it is still a telescope! With a bit of care you can still see alot. Observing the moon gives good results. I have seen two bands on jupiter and the moons, on two very good seeing nights i saw saturn and could make out a division between the planet and what looked like one ring.

So although it has many faults such as an unstable mount, comes with a 3x barlow that is useless, the box shows planets and nebula that even hubble could not show in such detail and states a magnification possible of something like 500x if i remember correctly it still got me that interested that i then bought a scope after a lot of research. 

Edited by Chefgage
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Chefgage, that is great. I'm glad it worked out for you and did not put you off the hobby. I suspect you are perhaps more determined and persistent than others? :) 

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18 minutes ago, Stu said:

Chefgage, that is great. I'm glad it worked out for you and did not put you off the hobby. I suspect you are perhaps more determined and persistent than others? :) 

My original plan was to save up for a scope i had researched but could not afford for quite awhile. In the mean time my girlfriend had been shopping and seen the powerseeker for sale and had bought it for me. I soon learnt all its faults and how to get round some of them. It allowed me to see more than i could with my own eyes. I still have this scope as when we go camping i take it with me. Its small enough to get it in the car with all the camping gear. My other scope is too big to take in the car with all the camping equipment. That way when we are sat out under the stars camping i still have a scope to look through :)

Edited by Chefgage
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When I started out in the early 1980's a secondhand 60mm refractor was all that was available unless I was prepared to save a couple of years paper round money for something from the USA or UK :rolleyes2:

My 1960's Tasco 60mm with it's wobbly alt-az mount and crummy huygens eyepieces showed me the rings of Saturn and Titan, Jupiter, it's main cloud belts and 4 moons, split some reasonably close double stars, Venus and it's phases, a glimpse of Uranus, a few comets, lots of open clusters, a few globular clusters, M42 and the Trapezium stars, the galaxies M31, M81 and M82 and lovely views of the Moon of course :smiley:

When I show the above sights to folks at outreach events today they seem pretty impressed so I guess a small and cheap scope can deliver enough to get somebody well and truly hooked on astronomy :icon_biggrin:

35+ years later and with a few £grand of kit I still struggle sometimes to re-capture the raw thrills of those early "discoveries" :icon_biggrin:

Edited by John
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A 50mm f/12 achromat...

59084cfe419f9_floatingachromat.jpg.8bed4c1cc40ca77b351662f30a5eced6.jpg

Although, being a refractor, and all that that entails, I wouldn't designate it as being THE worst.

Edited by Alan64
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I can personally vouch that this cheap telescope is frustrating to use and delivers very poor views.  At the local astro club's family night last year, they invited non-members to bring their telescope(s) to the observation field.  I could tell a young couple was struggling with their dubious telescope which was very similar to the one linked.  I stopped by their blanket they had set up on and asked how they were doing.  They admitted they hadn't been able to see anything with it all night.  I took that as a challenge. :icon_salut:

Since Jupiter was an easy target, I first tried roughly aiming the scope; but that was a struggle due to the herky-jerky tripod head and wiggly tripod legs.  I then tried to use the finder, but the eye relief was too short for me, FOV too narrow, and the image too blurry to be of any use at all.  I then sighted along the tube as best as I could given my old back and neck and managed to get Jupiter in the lowest power eyepiece that came with the scope.  Let's just say that the view was abysmal and unsatisfying.  Narrow, blurry, chromatic aberrations galore, you name it.  I managed to place Jupiter so they could each take a look before it drifted out of the field.  They instantly asked what they should do with the scope realizing it was hopeless.  I said that's up to them, but I suggested they should wander the observing field as newbies to see what type of scope appealed to them the most and save up for a scope of similar type.

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Department stores are NOT the place to look at or buy a telescope from. Avoid them like the plague.

Off the top of my head, i would say the ones to avoid are the yellow and black ones with the National Geographic branding on them. Shame really because Nat Geo is such a well established society and publish fantastic magazines and tv programs, yet they have put their name to rubbish,cheap low quality scopes.

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