Top 10 Tips for Buying Your First Telescope

Stare into the night sky often enough, admire it for enough nights, and a fuse will be lit. It'll only a matter of time before you buy a telescope. What are the criteria for making a selection? Here are 10 tips to get you started.

Published by Tony Darnell on 23rd Apr, 2018


Stare into the night sky often enough, admire it for enough nights, and a fuse will be lit. It'll only a matter of time before you buy a telescope. What are the criteria for making a selection? Here are 10 tips. In fact, here's a "pre-tip" before we proceed.

Before going shopping for your first telescope, learn the stars. Acquire a sky map and find the constellations. Locate the visible planets and the Milky Way. Know the night sky so that when you come home, box in hand, you'll already have a list of heavenly bodies to observe and a pretty good idea of where they are.

10 tips for your first telescope

1) All other things being equal, bigger is simply better. Bigger telescopes can collect a greater abundance of light than small ones. As a practical matter, this means that dim objects will stand out more clearly. By the way, the part of the telescope that collects light is called the objective.

2) When planning your purchase, remember that there will be additional expenses. Filters and eyepieces will be necessary, but their price isn't necessarily enfolded into the telescope's price. Eyepieces typically come in a set. Be sure the set you select not only gives you as high a level of magnification as possible, but lets you observe as great a breadth of the sky as possible.

3) Some telescopes come with a computer-controlled mount that should stay in place without wiggling or wobbling whenever you adjust its focus on some planet or star. Experiment with it at the store to make sure the mount is maneuverable, stable, and to be certain its optical quality is satisfactory. Also, before you open your wallet and head towards that investment, make sure to check as many online reviews as possible. Websites such as Telescope Reviewer can help you compare different products and give you an extensive description of any telescope you may be interested in.

4) Understand whether you're going to be using your telescope for stargazing or for photographing the night sky. For stargazing, a firm altazimuth or mount will let you enjoy your new hobby without being annoyed by constant, small adjustments. If, however, you want to take pictures (engaging in astrophotography), you'll need a you'll need a mount with a clock drive to compensate for the Earth's rotation and allow you to track the stars for longer exposures. With this, the telescope can track any objects you wish all night long while adjusting for the Earth's constant rotation. From your perspective, the object you intend to photograph will appear to be held still in the night sky, allowing a long exposure. If you bought a goto telescope as mentioned in #3 then you're set.

5) Yes, bigger is better, but size needs to be balanced against ease of transport and simplicity of setup. This is particularly important if you're purchasing it for a child.

6) With this in mind, don't rule out simply purchasing a good, powerful pair of binoculars. Not only do they give fine, detailed views of planets and the Moon, but many other objects actually look more beautiful through binoculars. Binoculars provide the optimum in ease of setup, and you can take them anywhere and look at anything - including the neighbors!

7) Buying binoculars, or a smaller telescope for a child, might tempt you into thinking you can shop just anywhere. Resist that impulse. This isn't a toy and shouldn't be bought at a toy store (unless you actually do want a toy telescope). You can find good products online, but because it's best to "test-drive" it first your best bet would be a camera store or electronics store.

8) We would all like to save money. But a telescope regularly-priced at $300 (or less) probably isn't just inexpensive. It's probably just cheap (or hot). Buyer beware.

9) Accordingly, a telescope isn't the sort of thing one ought to buy used. Let yourself enjoy that "new telescope smell." It'll make space smell better!

10) There are three general categories of telescopes: Refractors use lenses. Reflectors, as the name suggests, collect light with mirrors. A compound telescope uses both. The fact that all three are still on the market suggests that each variety has advantages and disadvantages. There are several candidates for a budding stargazer's first telescope. Choose one that provides the best combination of stability, magnification, and price. There is no substitute for trying out several varieties yourself, though there does seem to be a general consensus that you should start with a reflector.


Even before making your purchase, it's a good idea to frequent the local observatory. It's also a good idea to find a local astronomy group. There's no reason to let amateur astronomy be a lonely pursuit, and it's the sort of hobby you're not likely to be able to talk about with others outside of a small band of enthusiasts. If you can find the Andromeda galaxy, you can probably find your town's amateur astronomy club. Once you've found your new friends, you can all share notes about your new telescopes.

Image source: Deposit Photos

Published by Tony Darnell

Tony Darnell Profile Picture

Tony Darnell is the creator of Deep Astronomy, LLC, a company dedicated to sharing the wonders of the universe and providing perspective of our place in the cosmos. For most of his life, Tony has been interested in science communication and education and has dedicated the best part of his life towards that interest. While embarked on that mission, for 30 years Tony has also worked as a software engineer and worked on writing code for telescopes, astronomy data pipelines, image processing and data analysis. His last gig was the goal of a lifetime: working on data from the Hubble Space Telescope.