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Telescope FAQ

Buying a Telescope?

Here are a few tips to help you select the right one for you.

Don’t buy the cheapest telescope you can find as you get what you pay for.

A telescope that retails for under $100 will probably have inferior optics and a rickety mount – guaranteed frustrations the first time you want to get a good look at the sky.

Don’t buy the most expensive thing you can find either.

Astronomy does not have to be an expensive hobby. You should be able to find a quality telescope that meets your needs for $150 – $400.

Don’t buy a telescope at a department store.

These places will not have salespeople that are familiar with optics or optical equipment. Try going to a camera store – most quality camera shops also sell binoculars and telescopes.

Bigger is not necessarily better.

As an amateur astronomer, you will probably want a telescope you can easily put away at home or carry to the latest star party. Try a 60-75 mm (2.4-3 in.) refractor (a telescope that uses only lenses and is usually less expensive) or a 75-100 mm (3-4 in.) reflector (a telescope that uses lenses and mirrors and is compact, with better light-gathering power).

Check the magazines.

Magazines, like Astronomy and Sky & Telescope run ads for various companies that sell telescopes through the mail. This often lowers prices, since you can buy direct from the manufacturer. Companies with high quality and excellent customer service include Celestron, and Orion. A subscription to such a magazine also makes a nice companion gift! Check Barnes & Noble for current issues.

Short on cash? Buy used.

Used telescopes can be just as good as new. As long as the telescope has been properly cared for, you’ll be in good shape. Some camera shops carry used telescopes, or you can also check with local astronomy clubs, like the Virginia Peninsula Astronomy Stargazers.

Beware of the bells and whistles!

Many telescopes claim to include “expensive extras” such as solar filters. Usually these are low quality, and don’t really add any value to the telescope. Some of the “solar filters” turn out to be thin pieces of plastic which can melt in your telescope if used too long, damaging not only the telescope, but your eyes as well. Never use an eyepiece solar filter. Always be sure your solar filter fits over the opening of your telescope (end cap type).

Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you buy.

Any quality retailer of telescopes should be able to answer all of your questions and assist you in choosing a good telescope at a reasonable price. Feel free to contact us at the Abbitt Planetarium at 757-595-1900 x 256. We’ll be glad to help you with any questions.