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GOTO telescopes for a new starter


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Hi everyone,

Brand new member here and I'm sure you're familiar with the post where the new guy asks for help.

I'm based in the north west of England and I've been looking at getting a telescope for some time. I'm just about to move house and I'll be living back to back with some serious green belt land so I think it's about time to get one.

A while ago, I was recommended a Sky-Watcher Startravel 102 SynScan AZ GOTO scope by a professional astronomer. But when I say a while ago, this is ten years ago! I'm looking for one that has a GOTO in order to help me get around the night sky as it is not something I'm too good with even though I know lots about about.

Would you recommend this telescope still or have better models come along, or am I completely not in the right ballpark with this kind of telescope?

Thank you for any and all advice. 

Dan

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9 minutes ago, DJT1984 said:

Hi everyone,

Brand new member here and I'm sure you're familiar with the post where the new guy asks for help.

I'm based in the north west of England and I've been looking at getting a telescope for some time. I'm just about to move house and I'll be living back to back with some serious green belt land so I think it's about time to get one.

A while ago, I was recommended a Sky-Watcher Startravel 102 SynScan AZ GOTO scope by a professional astronomer. But when I say a while ago, this is ten years ago! I'm looking for one that has a GOTO in order to help me get around the night sky as it is not something I'm too good with even though I know lots about about.

Would you recommend this telescope still or have better models come along, or am I completely not in the right ballpark with this kind of telescope?

Thank you for any and all advice. 

Dan

 

I am in St.Helens we could do with a bit more information what are you going to do with the set up try your hand at astro photography or visual only, do you definitely want a goto scope.

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2 minutes ago, wookie1965 said:

I am in St.Helens we could do with a bit more information what are you going to do with the set up try your hand at astro photography or visual only, do you definitely want a goto scope.

Small world!

Thanks for replying. I would like to try Astrophotography at a later date but for now I'm looking at getting to know the night sky and visuals of the planets.

I do think a GOTO scope will help me, I like the idea of entering some coordinates and getting the telescope to do the work for me, but if people think it's a bad idea I will of course listen as I am a total novice.

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The beginner to midrange GoTo offerings are generally not as easy to use as the advertising blurb leads people to believe.

Mount and telescope position are crucial before you start, then one to three alignment stars are chosen. Usually the user has to know if the telescope has picked out the correct stars, manually adjust and confirm. If choosing more than a one-star alignment, the position of those stars relatively to each other also affects goto accuracy.

These systems can even be a headache for experienced users, especially if one chooses the astrophotography route when accurate tracking plays a role in exposure times. Also bear in mind, commited astrophotographers will use an equatorial rather than an altitude azimuth mount.

Don't let the above put you off, but goto isn't a golden egg.

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Hi and welcome. The requirements for visual and photography are quite wildly different.

For visual use, you'd ideally want a large aperture - dobs are usually recommended as you get the largest aperture for your money. But for starting with photography the preferred option is a small refracter (say 60 - 80mm). An EQ type mount is also needed for long exposures, and these are not exactly beginner friendly (not to say they are difficult to use, but they do need a careful set up to get the best out of them).

If you already have a DSLR, then you could buy a camera tracking mount and try out a bit of widefield astrophotography. This would give you an opportunity to decide if astrophotography is something you want to get into before committing to a telescope and mount.

If, on the other hand, you've got enough disposable income (perhaps not right now if you're just about to move house!), by all means go ahead and get yourself a scope more suited to visual use and then maybe 6 - 12 months down the line buy some more kit better suited to photography.

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Hi, 

I have a Celestron 6SE Goto mount which I like a lot and find the goto works flawlessly (after using an external power supply, leveling the tripod first before adding mount, inputting all parameters carefully). I only use it for visual, lunar and planetary photography. The Alt Az mount is unsuited for long exposure deep sky photography. You can buy an expensive equatorial 'wedge' for it but by all accounts, you are better off with a German Equatorial Mount (GEM) for deep sky photography.

What I will say is I use the SE because of the light pollution I suffer from here. It's impossible to 'star hop' because of not being able to see so many fainter stars. (I also got it on offer from Amazon, not sure I would have spent the asking price from astro dealers here in Germany).

If you are moving to an area where Light Pollution is not a problem, I would question if you *really* need goto. If your budget is tight, you will be spending a chunk of it on electronics and the optics of the system will be of a lower standard. If you 'just' buy a fully manual mount initially, you can devote more of the budget to the telescope (aka Optical Tube Assembly aka OTA). The better the OTA,  the better it will retain value also. Just something to think about.

What is your budget?

 

 

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Hello Dan and welcome to the site 👍 As time goes by and you get more into the hobby you will find as we all do that no one telescope does it all. One of my favourite places here is to use the first light optics field of view (FOV) calculator, look for the resources - astronomy tools tab at the top of the page, input the startravel 102, pick a few eyepieces and have a look at different objects by adding each to the view to see what to expect. Hopefully I haven't worn the software out as I use it...a lot 🤦‍♂️ There is also an excellent topic in the "Getting started with observing" section called "what can I expect to see" thats well worth reading.

As did I, a lot of people start with a 150 or 200P dobsonian, amazing bang for bucks, add an app to your phone to locate a star and away you go. Only challenge is they are quite large and not very portable so there is always the option of the heritage type which use far less space and are far more manageable. Moving on to the goto type is a learning curve but once you are there, tremendous. Tracking is a massive bonus as you have time to change eyepieces  and spend time looking. So, as Peter_D says, think of your budget, add a few pennies for things like power tanks, leads, eyepieces etc and enjoy 👍

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Depends what you want to do.  The Startravel 102 is not really a general purpose scope -it is a wide field achromat that can manifest chromatic and other aberrations, and does not perform so well at high magnification.  I have one, and I use it mainly for EEVA (q.v.), not for visual observing.

By all means get a GoTo if you think it will suit your pattern of observing - you want to find faint objects, your skies are light polluted or you don't want to spend a lot of time 'learning the sky' or searching for objects.  Be aware that some GoTo systems are a lot easier to use than others.  I have the Nexstar GoTo with alt-azimuth mounts, which I found easy to learn and use - I got a result on my first evening with the Nexstar SLT.  I also have a Synscan equatorial GoTo and after several months I am losing patience with it - frankly I would not advise anyone to buy this system if they can find an alternative.

There has not been much innovation with GoTo systems of late, beyond periodic upgrades.  The most notable innovation has been in packaged plate-solving systems, eg Celestron's Starsense which can make your GoTo scope self-aligning.  The same technology is now available as a smartphone app sold with a range of beginner scopes.  You can also put together a plate-solving setup yourself, to confirm whether your telescope is pointing at the patch of sky you thought it was pointing at... 

If you want advice on what scope to buy you will get plenty advice here ... and then you will probably find it is out of stock because of the pandemic etc.

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Hi Dan I had a manual scope for less than a month before I went to a sky watcher goto , I know enough to get set up right with polar alignment and 3 star alignment , I check what stars are about for alignment with stellariaum on my mobile , your learning all the time in this hobby so it's been a year I find it second nature as I have only used sky watcher I have not really found it a problem,  if it misses targets I now know how to do PAE clear and  PAE training which gets it back on target , also wookie 1965 best mate gives me help if I get stuck 

It's a learning curve that can be  very steep but there is loads of help out here , so to hit the nail on the head, goto has really helped me get to know more about the night sky targets

I also went second-hand so my sky watcher HEQ5 pro and Orion optics VX8L only cost me £600 not £1500 so may be that away to go , it's nice to have new but you could get lots for your money second-hand

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for all the responses, I really appreciate it. For a little bit of context I am moving back to back with a green belt area and with a 5 minute walk I will be in almost complete darkness with no light interfering, so I do intend to buy in the next few months. As I am in the process of buying a house I can't really start swinging seriously big money round on a telescope but I do have in the region of £300-£500 available. This was (approximately) what the 102 SynScan was priced at, but having created this thread last night I clicked on a link I saved to my favourites a long time ago and it's suddenly £425 - this is no doubt pandemic related.

Whilst I intend to do some astrophotography in the future (I have a 7 year old Sony camera, the model of which I can't remember but know it is suitable for astrophotography) I am more concerned about getting to understand astronomy and using a telescope first. If I really take to it, and this is something I have always wanted to get into, then perhaps I could look at getting another telescope more suited for the photography side of things. 

Thank you for all the advice and for being so welcoming. Something I have always wanted to do and no clue where to start! And of course if it's an appropriate scope, I am completely open to a second hand purchase. 

Edited by DJT1984
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Been there Dan you can start learning the night sky now get stellariaum on your phone look at the bright stars in the sky stellariaum will tell you what they are and 99% of the time these are the stars used to align a goto scope so your be a bit more ready for when you do get your scope 

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Another tip if you are just starting (and lucky you, you have dark skies) is just go out with a pair of binoculars and an app on you mobile. A handheld pair like 10x50s or 7x50s can be used comfortably without the need for a mount. A lot of open star clusters and larger, dimmer deep sky objects can be seen really well in binoculars if you have the darker skies.

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After sitting back and reading the comments above ... and also reading yours , carefully ... i  was going to push you in the direction of a Dobsonian , but , if you are going to be in such dark skies the actually sky will be full of points of light ... this in itself ( whilst is everyones dream) actually brings a problem we would ALL love to have , ie  with a dark sky you will get the most from say a 200mm dob , but its not easy to transport , er , without transport . You mentioned a 5 minute walk .. well thats two trips  there and back as you will need to take the base and the scope separately . So , with that in mind and with the myriad of stars which you will undoubtedly be able to see maybe a lightweight GOTO system may be the answer .. What about something like a Skywatcher 150i on the star discovery mount . Its got a decent aperture and you won't have to worry about CA , Also the primary mirror is fixed so any adjustment only happens on the secondary mirror . Or even an AZ-Gti which can be "upgraded " to work in EQ mode when or if you want to start Astrophotography . By the way , you can take pictures in Alt- Az mode ( its not against the law) and you can obtain brilliant results . On that mount you would use a short tube reflector or a light weight refractor , maybe . These are great introductions into Astronomy . 

Look at buying second hand .. especially from people on this forum . People in astronomy generally look after their gear .And due to the honesty that exists on here will point out any bad points of their set up before parting with it . 

And finally ... as has been mentioned , Use a Star App , such as Stellarium or sky safari .. because if your skies are dark and clear you will find you need it to navigate the night sky if you are using a manual set up . 

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Hi Dan and welcome to the site! 
 

I am a recent acquirer of the Skywatcher AZ GTi mount and, after a bit of perseverance (and some sagely advice from SGL-ers!) have got the goto working beautifully.  Thought you might find my experience of getting started with this type of mount useful. 

I live in a suburban area - light pollution generally is about what you’d expect (about 5 on the Bortle scale where 1 is pristine dark, 8 is inner city whiteout) but worse in my garden.

As such portability is essential for me - I stick it all in a rucksack and trudge across the local park to get an open view of the sky and away from security lights etc. This also means that a Dobsonian isn’t really an option for me, so I have 2 ‘scopes both Skywatcher - a 127 Mak and a recently eBay purchased ST80 short tube refractor, the little brother of the one you’ve already been recommended. 
The refractor has a wide field which means that coupled with a low power eyepiece it’s great for finding stuff easily and familiarising myself with an object’s location & surroundings. It also gives lovely crisp wide field starscapes. The 102 you’ve been recommended would do all this + catch a bit more light & handle a bit more magnification. 

I can revisit objects with higher power using the Mak another time and pile on the magnification.  The Mak is amazing on the moon, tighter star clusters, double stars and I am eagerly awaiting summer when I can take myself off to Jupiter & Saturn with it & hunt down globular clusters. The trade off is narrow field of view but I haven’t found that overly frustrating just a bit trickier to get things in the eyepiece. 


Either scope sits well on the AZ GTi mount & it’s associated tripod is a good trade off between weight/portability and stability. It’s an easy carry on that 10 minute walk to the park. 

Once pointing at an open sky the SynScan based GoTo system is a doddle. An important advantage is that the mount is wireless - you connect your phone via Wi-fi then run the whole thing off a pretty self-explanatory app. This has the great advantage that the mount takes all the co-ordinate time & date details straight off your phone making for a quicker and human-error free setup. 

To align you point the ‘scope North & Level then pick 2 stars from a list  - generally speaking from the brightest and most obvious stars visible. It starts to move and gives you a countdown in terms of degrees left to target. Once it’s finished you use the arrow keys on the app to put the star in the centre of the eyepiece - what the instructions don’t accentuate is that this first slew is often miles off target - that’s ok but it does mean you should budget for a decent finder scope &/or reflex finder like a Telrad or Rigel (think WW2 gunsight...).

My problems with GoTo came when trying to align from a garden with quite restricted view - a lot of the alignment stars weren’t visible due to trees & houses so I’d be picking from a way down the app-suggested list resulting in less accuracy & occasionally eccentric performance. Also was advised to choose stars that have a reasonable separation both in terms of direction and azimuth. If you’re able to see the whole sky or most of it, this doesn’t matter as the top 2 suggested by the app will have factored this in. Also don’t be afraid to realign if you want to look at a whole bunch of targets at the opposite end of the sky from where you started, @ScouseSpaceCadet advised dividing the session  into two and doing a North facing alignment and look at the stuff in that section then realign on more southerly stars and cover that section - wise words...

Finding stuff for me has been a combination of GoTo & star hopping - the Telrad is my friend (for the narrow field Mak) & I’ve learned to enjoy the whole process! 
 

Personally I think your friend’s suggestion is spot on & if you can find one in stock crack on - whether this or another type of scope I wouldn’t agonise too much, if you like it sooner or later you are going to buy another anyway :) 

Final point - whatever you choose this forum is great, for advice, ideas, support, inspiration and general themed banter - enjoy your shopping & here’s to clear skies! 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Edited by SuburbanMak
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5 hours ago, DJT1984 said:

Thank you for all the responses, I really appreciate it. For a little bit of context I am moving back to back with a green belt area and with a 5 minute walk I will be in almost complete darkness with no light interfering, so I do intend to buy in the next few months. As I am in the process of buying a house I can't really start swinging seriously big money round on a telescope but I do have in the region of £300-£500 available. This was (approximately) what the 102 SynScan was priced at, but having created this thread last night I clicked on a link I saved to my favourites a long time ago and it's suddenly £425 - this is no doubt pandemic related.

Whilst I intend to do some astrophotography in the future (I have a 7 year old Sony camera, the model of which I can't remember but know it is suitable for astrophotography) I am more concerned about getting to understand astronomy and using a telescope first. If I really take to it, and this is something I have always wanted to get into, then perhaps I could look at getting another telescope more suited for the photography side of things. 

Thank you for all the advice and for being so welcoming. Something I have always wanted to do and no clue where to start! And of course if it's an appropriate scope, I am completely open to a second hand purchase. 

With a strict £500 limit, keeping in mind a £30-£50 power supply is purchased on top, there is one system I know of which will show you plenty under the darker skies you have, and allow you to use your camera mounted with an L+bracket for short exposure widefield photography. No telescope required to start taking astro photos.

The 102 Maksutov does have a narrow field of view compared to a comparable refractor or reflector, but its small size is great to carry and the long focal length is kinder on cheaper eyepieces.

The AZGTI mount is incredibly versatile, and should you wish to experiment, can be used as an equatorial mount with a firmware patch and the addition of a polar wedge.

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/beginner-telescopes/sky-watcher-skymax-102-az-gti.html

 

 

As also mentioned, under rural skies especially, a pair of approx. £60 10x50 binoculars will save you a load of money and offer stunning widefield views. A good way to learn about the skies. Binos, a book and a red torch for a total of £100 will keep you busy.

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3 hours ago, ScouseSpaceCadet said:

With a strict £500 limit, keeping in mind a £30-£50 power supply is purchased on top, there is one system I know of which will show you plenty under the darker skies you have, and allow you to use your camera mounted with an L+bracket for short exposure widefield photography. No telescope required to start taking astro photos.

The 102 Maksutov does have a narrow field of view compared to a comparable refractor or reflector, but its small size is great to carry and the long focal length is kinder on cheaper eyepieces.

The AZGTI mount is incredibly versatile, and should you wish to experiment, can be used as an equatorial mount with a firmware patch and the addition of a polar wedge.

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/beginner-telescopes/sky-watcher-skymax-102-az-gti.html

 

 

As also mentioned, under rural skies especially, a pair of approx. £60 10x50 binoculars will save you a load of money and offer stunning widefield views. A good way to learn about the skies. Binos, a book and a red torch for a total of £100 will keep you busy.

@ScouseSpaceCadet isn’t the StarTravel 102 an f4.9 wide field refractor not a Mak? if so it would be perfect 
 

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/startravel/skywatcher-startravel-102t-ota.html

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Thank you all so much for the tips and tricks here. My dad has a pair of pretty powerful binoculars that he never uses, I might borrow them and go for a walk around where I am going to be moving to and take a look around with them. 

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16 minutes ago, DJT1984 said:

Thank you all so much for the tips and tricks here. My dad has a pair of pretty powerful binoculars that he never uses, I might borrow them and go for a walk around where I am going to be moving to and take a look around with them. 

And so it begins :)) have fun! 

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SuburbanMak. The Startravel 102 is probably a nice low power widefield telescope. I had the 120 which fulfilled that requirement. The 102 Skymax was chosen because it fits into a small camera bag, is free of chromatic abberation at any magnification up to its 200x practical limit and is bundled with a Freedom Find© enabled AZGTi rather than the AZGTe. The Skymax is also a fantastic lunar and planetary scope given its size. With the addition of a cheap 45° diagonal and zoom eyepiece the Skymax becomes a sharp terrestrial spotter scope too. From what I've read and drawing on my own experience, these small Maks are more likely to be kept as handy spare grab n' go instruments should the user decide to collect bigger scopes in the future.

For now, @DJT1984 borrowing his dad's binoculars has made the right decision.

A couple of nice introductory articles:

https//www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/stargazing-with-binoculars-a-guide/

https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/tips-binoculars-astronomy/

 

Likely the best introduction to amateur astronomy:

Turn Left at Orion

 

A binocular specific book:

Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars

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On 02/03/2021 at 02:50, ScouseSpaceCadet said:

SuburbanMak. The Startravel 102 is probably a nice low power widefield telescope. I had the 120 which fulfilled that requirement. The 102 Skymax was chosen because it fits into a small camera bag, is free of chromatic abberation at any magnification up to its 200x practical limit and is bundled with a Freedom Find© enabled AZGTi rather than the AZGTe. The Skymax is also a fantastic lunar and planetary scope given its size. With the addition of a cheap 45° diagonal and zoom eyepiece the Skymax becomes a sharp terrestrial spotter scope too. From what I've read and drawing on my own experience, these small Maks are more likely to be kept as handy spare grab n' go instruments should the user decide to collect bigger scopes in the future.

For now, @DJT1984 borrowing his dad's binoculars has made the right decision.

A couple of nice introductory articles:

https//www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/stargazing-with-binoculars-a-guide/

https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/tips-binoculars-astronomy/

 

Likely the best introduction to amateur astronomy:

Turn Left at Orion

 

A binocular specific book:

Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars

 

I had in fact slightly mis-read your post @ScouseSpaceCadet  my apologies, thought you were confusing the 102 Skymax with the scope recommended to the OP, but of course you weren't!     

@DJT1984 Getting back into astronomy in lockdown I spent many nights last summer lying on a sun lounger in the garden with a pair of 10x50s & the basic SkySafari app on my phone -  tons of amazing stuff to see , I signed up to this newsletter that gives a great monthly guide to the best places to point your bins! 

https://binocularsky.com/newsletter/BinoSkyNL.pdf

 

Edited by SuburbanMak
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No probs SuburbanMak. I guessed so but used the opportunity to explain my reasoning a tad.

Binoculars really are underrated. Tbh if I'm off camping, the Mak is usually regulated to second place behind the 10x50s.

When up at Kielder last September, observing with the binoculars left me absolutely gobsmacked.

I should have remembered Sir Patrick Moore's sage advice - get binoculars first.

 

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