Beginner’s Telescope Guide: What You Can Buy For $500

“Can you recommend a good telescope for a beginner?”. It’s a question we get a lot here at One-Minute Astronomer. So here’s the first of a series of articles that gives you quality options for astronomy gear for a range of budgets. Today, an example of an outfit you can get for less than $500.

The Basics

Telescope. An 8” (200 mm) Dobsonian-type reflector like the Orion SkyQuest XT8 gives you the best balance between aperture, portability, ease of use, and optical quality. With a 1200 mm focal length, it’s a great all-round scope for lunar, planetary, double-star, and deep-sky visual observing. This scope is “powered by you”… there is no go-to and no tracking. Just give the tube a push to track keep the object in view. Total cost: $300

Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Orion SkyQuest XT8 Telescope (click image to learn more…)

Eyepieces. Most scopes come with one or two eyepieces. The above scope has a 25 mm and 10 mm eyepiece to give you 48x and 120x. Not bad. But get a short-focal length eyepiece for higher-power views of planets and double stars. Here’s a 6.3mm Plossl eyepiece that gives you 190x with the above scope. Total Cost: $55

Books and Maps. The best telescope in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use it or where to point it. Get a guidebook like Star Watch and a simple star map like this Sky Atlas. The Pocket Sky Atlas by Roger Sinnott is also superb.  Total cost: $31

A Deeper Look

Accessories. A red LED flashlight helps you see your maps and hardware in the dark. Red light ensures your eyes remain dark-adapted and sensitive to faint light. And if there’s a lot of ambient light where you observe, try an eyepatch to keep your observing eye at peak sensitivity. Total Cost: $20

Notebook. Use a notebook to record your observations and drawings. You’ll get a sense of accomplishment as you see your observing log grow to include ever more elusive deep-sky objects. Total Cost: $3

Filter. This one is optional. But if you like to look at planetary and emission nebulae, get a filter that reduces the effect of light pollution while passing most of the narrowband light from nebula. The improvement in contrast is amazing. This filter won’t help with stars, galaxies, and planets… only nebulae. Total Cost: $90.

Grand Total: $499.00 (Note: Prices here are approximate, are listed in U.S. dollars, and don’t include shipping and taxes. Prices in your country might be a little different).

Good To Know

Twenty or thirty years ago, a good 8-inch telescope was beyond the means of most people. Now, with mass manufacturing techniques used by Asian suppliers, telescope prices are lower in real dollars than they’ve ever been. Still, if you have less than $400, I suggest you save a little more money. It’s worth the wait to get a good instrument. Whatever you do, stay away from cheaper department store telescopes, or really any new telescope that sells for less than $250.

Personal View

I was an amateur astronomer for nearly ten years before I looked through a telescope with a mirror larger than 6 inches. Such a scope was just too hard to find back then. The choice and value available today are truly amazing.