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just getting started and thinking about first telescope


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Hello. I'm Steve and I am just starting to dip my toes into astronomy, having recently retired. I am about to enrol on an online GCSE astronomy course and also with some free online OU units.

I am looking to buy my first telescope and have a budget of around £550 and that is to include any accessory upgrades that might be required. 

Initially I will be into visual but at a later stage moving into imaging as well. I am interested in both planetary and DSO as well. I would like to get a telescope that is good for beginners but one that would grow with me as I progress a little.  I have a canon 800D dslr which if possible I would like to use at a later stage with any telescope I buy. 

I am looking for a telescope that is sort of grab and go - so can come with me in my motorhome; one tat I can carry in a backpack if need be to reach some sites away from roads. I will be mainly using it around Dartmoor, Exmoor and the far west end of Cornwall down Zennor way. But, as I said it will also accompany me on road trips around the UK.  I will also be using it, hopefully, out of my back garden, here in the Plymouth suburbs, as well. 

With this in mind, I have sort of come down to the following below but this is where I now need some help as to whether I have chosen wisely (or missed the point completely). I would welcome any comments about any of the telescopes below and also whether my choices are in the right area for what I require.

Thank you in advance for any help - as always being a newbie to anything is hard and as I was oft to reassure my own students - 'you dont know what you dont know' and so there is no such thing as as a stupid question.

 

the telescopes are

skywatcher startravel 102 AZ GTE Goto

Orion starseeker IV 130mm

Skymax 127 synscan AZ Goto

skywatcher discovery P150i wifi (the discovery P150 is the one I am leaning towards most - but I cant articulate why)

skywatcher explorer 150ps AZ GTi (would be my second choice but again can't articulate why) 

Appreciate any thoughts and help and thank you in advance

Steve  

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Hello Steve, welcome to SGL.

First of all although I understand you'd like a scope that would cover as many of your requirements as possible, sadly there is no such "do it all" model I'm afraid.

Your budget of £550 will be able to get you a decent setup for visual, but for DSO imaging you will have to spend a lot more.

The scopes you've listed are strictly for visual only with maybe some quick snaps of the Moon. If you get one of them and later on want to start imaging, you will have to buy a completely different setup. Therefore in order to maximise your current investment, I'd suggest something else. There are scopes that can get you started on visual for now and later on be adapted to imaging with some upgrades. Since you're doing an astronomy course, I'd recommend a manual mount over a GOTO. It will not only help you familiarise with the night sky, but also allow you to put more of your budget towards better optics.

Skywatcher 130PDS: https://www.firstlightoptics.com/reflectors/skywatcher-explorer-130p-ds-ota.html

Skywatcher AZ5 mount: https://www.firstlightoptics.com/sky-watcher-az5-deluxe/sky-watcher-az5-deluxe-alt-azimuth-mount.html

The AZ5 mount is compatible with any standard photo tripods, so if you've already got a heavy duty one with your Canon 800D you can opt for the mount head only rather than the mount/tripod bundle. This combo will leave you some spare cash for eyepiece upgrade and a cheshire collimation ep. When you're ready to dabble into imaging, you can simply buy a motorised EQ mount + t-ring + coma corrector and then move your 130PDS OTA to the new mount to start taking pictures.

There is also a much more portable alternative, the Skywatcher Evostar 72ED: https://www.firstlightoptics.com/pro-series/sky-watcher-evostar-72ed-ds-pro-ota.html. However you will have to sacrifice 60mm of aperture (significant) for the backpack portability compared to the above reflector.

Edited by KP82
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Hi @Plymouthwelshboy/Steve and welcome to SGL. :hello2:

All the 'scopes you have referred to I believe are on alt-az mounts, i.e. you will need to move/track the OTA in two directions, (up/down & left/right), to keep on target. For short exposures this is not a problem, but for longer exposures it may cause some, especially for DSO's. If you can afford to go for an OTA with an GEM/EQ mount the OTA you will only have one drive tracking once you are polar aligned, etc.

Catadioptric telescopes, (i.e. Maksutov's and SCT's), are good for planetary viewing and imaging, but require 30-60 minutes cooldown to acclimatise to the air temperature outside before use. A dew shield is a 'must have' accessory. Also an SCT may require a field flattener/focal reducer to shorten the exposure time. As far as I am aware. very few, if any, a field flattener/focal reducer for a Maksutov exist or commercially available.

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Hi Steve

In terms of choosing equipment, what I do is scour this forum for comments and also the Cloudy Nights forum and look for patterns. A bit like looking for constellations really. You will see certain recommendations keep coming up time and time again. I check out any negative comments but I am not afraid to purchase equipment on the basis of an occasional negative comment.

Using this method, I identified a telescope (Skywatcher 200P) and zoom eyepiece (Baader Hyperion Zoom IV and Barlow) and I am delighted with both.

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9 minutes ago, Spile said:

Hi Steve

In terms of choosing equipment, what I do is scour this forum for comments and also the Cloudy Nights forum and look for patterns. A bit like looking for constellations really. You will see certain recommendations keep coming up time and time again. I check out any negative comments but I am not afraid to purchase equipment on the basis of an occasional negative comment.

Using this method, I identified a telescope (Skywatcher 200P) and zoom eyepiece (Baader Hyperion Zoom IV and Barlow) and I am delighted with both.

That is just the approach that I've used over the years. It works ! :thumbright:

Being patient pays off though. If I've regretted a decision it is usually one that was made in haste.

 

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On 09/01/2021 at 15:32, Plymouthwelshboy said:

Hello. I'm Steve and I am just starting to dip my toes into astronomy, having recently retired. I am about to enrol on an online GCSE astronomy course and also with some free online OU units.

I am looking to buy my first telescope and have a budget of around £550 and that is to include any accessory upgrades that might be required. 

Initially I will be into visual but at a later stage moving into imaging as well. I am interested in both planetary and DSO as well. I would like to get a telescope that is good for beginners but one that would grow with me as I progress a little.  I have a canon 800D dslr which if possible I would like to use at a later stage with any telescope I buy. 

I am looking for a telescope that is sort of grab and go - so can come with me in my motorhome; one tat I can carry in a backpack if need be to reach some sites away from roads. I will be mainly using it around Dartmoor, Exmoor and the far west end of Cornwall down Zennor way. But, as I said it will also accompany me on road trips around the UK.  I will also be using it, hopefully, out of my back garden, here in the Plymouth suburbs, as well. 

 

Hi Steve, and welcome.

Your budget will get you a decent telescope for visual use, but I think you are going to need to rein in your expectations a bit !

For instance : the best 'scope in your budget for DSOs will not also be an ideal one for planets.

A mount and tripod suitable for astro photo use will not be portable in a rucsac , and may even be a pain to find space for in the motorhome ( and that's just the mount and tripod, without considering the actual telescope on top ... )

AZ (alt az) mounts are not the best for astro photography, those serious about the topic go for EQ mounts.

Good telescopes have large apertures , gathering more light than smaller apertures, Large aperture means large diameter tube , and either a heavy large diameter mirror, or heavy, large diameter, eye wateringly expensive lenses. Either way , bigger aperture = bigger 'scope= less portable .

The good news is, most telescopes and mounts come with a standard fitting ( often referred to as a synta or vixen dovetail ) and a similar general (but not universal) standardization makes most mounts fit on any suitably strong tripod with a standard photo thread. This means that, rather than thinking of buying a whole set up in a package, you can select what you want from a vast range of telescopes, mounts and tripods, and when you want to upgrade, if you've chosen wisely, you should be able to upgrade just those components which need improving on. The bad news is, that increases your choices enormously !

I'm not trying to put you off, honest , I own a mak127 on a simple az5 atop a heavy photo tripod and I love it for planets and the Moon, but for DSOs it's easily outdone by my heritage 150 dobsonian, and I'd never think of trying to carry either of them in a rucsac (and I have 35l, 45l and 65l 'sacs all with padded hip belts and internal frames ) it's too heavy, too awkward and too delicate.

Personally , if I wanted a compact , relatively cheap, relatively light, rucsac portable observing set up I'd probably go for two tools for two different jobs : for wide field DSOs binoculars, and for narrow field of view for the Moon and planets, one of the smaller maks (102 0r 90) on a photo tripod (no mount, I believe both have threaded holes for tripod screws)  . If you already have a DSLR camera you might be able to squeeze one of these into your budget  https://www.firstlightoptics.com/skywatcher-mounts/skywatcher-star-adventurer-mini-sam-wifi-astro-imaging-mount-bundle.html which would give you a portable photo option and could be used with the tripod.

If possible though, I'd reserve at least £100 of your budget for eyepieces and alternative finders, but not buy them until you have used your telescope for a while and really feel the need for them.

Heather

Edited by Tiny Clanger
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thanks all of you - your advice is really helpful  - interestingly other combinations have popped up on other forums and in discussions with members of various astronomical societies and specialist retailers - which does leave me confused more. I'm thinking that the astrophotography takes a back seat for a while and that I aim for a decent visual experience first.  I am sort of looking at repeat recommendations on this forum - which is very helpful. Thanks for all your help - appreciated. 

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Unfortunately the lead time on these is long but in your shoes (I use similar when in the caravan) I would go for this option. Portable and Easily used remotely via a smartphone and you will get pretty decent views. Attach a smartphone with a neat EP holder and you can get great Moon shots. For the price it’s excellent. You will have to pay a lot more to go APO so a little CA will be apparent. 
https://www.firstlightoptics.com/startravel/sky-watcher-startravel-102-az-gte.html

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Hi

I would suggest you keep your requirements in view when looking at different equipment. If something is too heavy or too bulky it won't help you see or capture anything other than the ceiling where it lives.

The az-gti (the azgte does not have daul encoders so no freedom find) does have a free firmware update that enables the mount to support EQ use with a wedge (there are members using this for imaging), but still keep altaz use when wanted for easy observing. I assume someone above has already covered the difference between planets and DSO observing. If you keep expectations manageable then imaging is achievable with less, even a static tripod can capture DSO (not all) as there are approaches that can be taken to help from capture to processing, just don't expect Hubble quality image.

To capture DSO a telescope is not essential as a camera can see more than our mkI eyeball. If you will do much of your observing from good skies then perhaps your visual observing demand might be less which would help with keeping it portable. There are some good threads on what people have been able to view with smaller telescopes like small refractors. Perhaps you might find in time a second hand light bucket for the back garden might be an option.

Enjoy researching your choice, the sky is going nowhere so no rush.

Any questions fire away plenty members willing to help.

 

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Astronomers Without Boarders reflector? There is a rather long thread about this over performing scope right here on this forum. My favorite, the C-90 Mak should also be mentioned, and another long thread exists about the “new version” right here (too lazy to look up and include links). I fully “get it” though, and picking a compact scope worth hauling around is a daunting task. If at all possible look at, and or through, actual examples before you whip out the plastic.

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1 hour ago, Plymouthwelshboy said:

thanks all of you - your advice is really helpful  - interestingly other combinations have popped up on other forums and in discussions with members of various astronomical societies and specialist retailers - which does leave me confused more. I'm thinking that the astrophotography takes a back seat for a while and that I aim for a decent visual experience first.  I am sort of looking at repeat recommendations on this forum - which is very helpful. Thanks for all your help - appreciated. 

OK, so for observing only (for the moment) you have plenty of options still !

When I said best 'scope for DSO vs best for planets/Moon was a conflicting pair of requirements it is because ideally the first needs a wide aperture to gather as much light as possible, whilst the focal length is less important. However, for planets and the Moon these are relatively bright objects, so less aperture is fine, but you want greater focal length to provide more magnification.

Big aperture=big glass , so many observers of DSOs go for a reflecting telescope , a Newtonian on a mount or in Dobsonian form on a simple wooden base. A big mirror at the bottom of a tube in a reflector is far cheaper to make than big lenses (actually compound lenses of two or more elements)  in a refractor.

Long focal length = long tube * , so you are going to find limitations in portability for many options there.

My journey (so far !) was

1) inherit Celestron 114EQ (the much derided 'Jones - Bird design) Use it a bit, hate the flimsy EQ and unsharp image

2) Lockdown #1, £200 spare cash from not leaving home , buy telescope .... I wanted something simple, reliable and cheap, bought a Heritage 150 dob ( the bigger brother of the one Theropod alludes to above, which in the UK is called the Heritage 130)  The heritage 130 and 150 close down to roughly half length for storage, and have table top bases. I'd not pop one in a rucsac (too big a diameter on the base) but the 150 is easy to store in my small house. Any reading of threads here on the subject will tell you I love it , it is great .

3) I reckoned my views of the planets and Moon , whilst good in the dob, were a bit less impressive after 5 months viewing Mars Jupiter and Saturn. The 150 has a wide field of view and gathers a good amount of light for Messier objects etc, but the focal length of 750mm means a 10mm eyepiece gives magnification of 75x . So I bought a skymax 127 mak which has a focal length of 1500mm, in that the same 10mm EP gives 150x magnification.

Which telescope I use depends on what I will be observing , horses for courses an' all that.

Which is why, given your transport limitations, I thought binoculars and a small mak on a photo tripod would be a good combo for you, altho' I'd agree with Theropod that a heritage 130 could be a better choice if you have space for it in the van .

If you go for a simple  mount, all your budget can go into the best possible optics, if you want a goto mount , less will be available for the bit you look through.

My modest £200 telescope has turned into about £800 of kit, none of it top of the range, but all good for my requirements : two telescopes, and alt/az mount, a couple of viewfinders, a better star diagonal, some better eyepieces ... it's shown me some fantastic things, and I consider it money well spent .

Heather

 

 

 

^ except in a cassegrain/maksutov which sort of folds the light path .

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thanks everyone - feeling slightly confused and overwhelmed so i need to simplify this considerably - i think that the astrophotography goes for now and i focus on the visual. As long as I can get the scope in and out of the motorhome ok then that will be fine. i'd be happy seeing the moon, planets and some dso's, nebulae and galaxies mixtures .  i understand that spending money on upgrading eyepieces would be sensible and a decent barlow lens. I know it makes sense to get some form of power pack as well.

As to which scope and mount, I'm no further forward in my thinking - as a complete beginner its just too much to take in and process - i was clearly naive in that i thought there might be some clear goto recommendations for beginners in each type of telescope - feeling bit stupid now.

these seem to be the ones that are being suggested to me via comments, suggestions etc : 

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/az-goto/sky-watcher-star-discovery-150i.html  but concerns over the focuser

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/az-goto/skywatcher-explorer-130p-synscan-az-goto.html

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/sky-watcher-az-gti-wifi/sky-watcher-explorer-130ps-az-gti.html

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/az-goto/skywatcher-skymax-127-synscan-az-goto.html

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/slt-series/celestron-nexstar-5-slt.html

As to which of these might be best - I have no idea although i am leaning towards the 150i or the 130ps-az gti 

Thanks everyone for the advice and your time - deeply appreciated. Back to drawing board and some more reading I think

 

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You seem set on the idea of goto though , it's the single consistent thread through your suggestions !

Sorry I can't help you with any of that, I'm firmly in the camp of folk who think finding things for yourself is a big part of the fun, and contributes hugely to the sense of achievement .

Heather

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horses for courses I guess - at a later date that may be so for me - but i also need to take into account that my wife will be with me as well. initially I think the goto approach will be best and then as and when i can alter things as my knowledge grows. the idea of having a dual decoder as well - was i thought to allow me to sort of move across to finding things myself but i think i may have got myself very confused. 

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My reasons for choosing a Dobsonian rather than a go to mount...

Speed = I want the minimum delay between seeing a bit of sky and looking through the viewfinder

KISS = I like tech enhancements but too much of it and I feel more divorced from why I wanted to enhance rather than replace my vision

Fun = I enjoy learning skills like star hopping and putting little circles on maps

Time =  I am in no rush and the pandemic has taught me to appreciate slow things like walking through a wood, listening to music, writing code or building a circuit

Money = I want to get the maximum bang for my buck 

Sustainability = See money. I want to minimise risk of having something that ends up on EBay

 

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Freedom find on some skywatcher mounts.

Can use the mount with no power and find stuff manually by choice or because your power supply went flat

Can use the mount to find and track an object and if the telescope was knocked etc. Can re ask the handset to find the object again without realignment.

The star discovery, az-gti and virtuoso mounts have freedom find. Not all mounts have it.

I have a virtuoso mount and it is very smooth and easy to use with no power, I haven't used the other two to know if they are as free and smooth. 

Edited by happy-kat
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If you're new to astronomy and travelling around dark sites in a motor home, then consider saving your cash, buy a reasonably priced pair of 10x50 binoculars and a good book.

Just about every amateur owns a pair of binoculars. The money isn't wasted, they compliment the telescope(s) owned.

You will be amazed at the number of objects one can observe from a rural viewing area using binoculars. For instance, I took a pair of 10x50s and a 102mm Maksutov to Kielder in Northumberland last September. The binoculars provided so many 'Wow' moments that the telescope stayed in the bag.

Once you have learned to navigate the sky a bit, and taken in some of its wonder, and had a think, go buy the gear you feel you need. There's no great rush.

Edited by ScouseSpaceCadet
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6 hours ago, happy-kat said:

Freedom find on some skywatcher mounts.

Can use the mount with no power and find stuff manually by choice or because your power supply went flat

Can use the mount to find and track an object and if the telescope was knocked etc. Can re ask the handset to find the object again without realignment.

The star discovery, az-gti and virtuoso mounts have freedom find. Not all mounts have it.

I have a virtuoso mount and it is very smooth and easy to use with no power, I haven't used the other two to know if they are as free and smooth. 

I'd agree with that (I have the Star Discovery).
I'd also add that, on a model with control via a wifi/smartphone rather than handset, I like the capabilities provided by the combination of Synscan and SkySafari working together. And if you use dual encoding as well, it's very convenient to slip the clutch, push the tube to the next target while watching progress on SkySafari, then re-engage and use goto for the last bit.

The dob enthusiasts make valid points too; only you can decide what's better for your circumstances. If mine were otherwise, I would probably have gone for a manual dob, but I think I made the right choice for me.

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thank you everyone for all your comments - i think I am still leaning towards the star discovery 150i wifi as a starter scope for now but take on board the getting of a new pair of binoculars and some good books - I've started with turn left at orion - fascinating stuff.  thank you everyone for all your help - most appreciated.  

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