How do I choose a telescope for kids/beginners?

My wife has someone selling a used one at work for thirty bucks.  I also see them on Amazon new for a similar price.  I know nothing and they don't even list the specs the same so I can't just compare focal length or other criteria.

And is it just an exercise in frustration.  A friend in high school had an awesome telescope but it was big and had a concrete base in the yard.  They'd then attach the telescope to the base when using it.  It was oh, about six feet long and as big around as a dinner plate.  It was also motorized and computerized so you'd just punch in what you wanted to look at and the telescope would find and track it.

With a cheap telescope are we just going to be frustrated looking for and finding things?

Anyone know what we should do?

7 Answers

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  • 2 months ago

    "And is it just an exercise in frustration. "

    Probably!  To be fair, there are some surprisingly decent / cheap 'scopes out there, but an inexperienced observer would be underwhelmed - observing's a skill that needs practice, and a very small 'scope's not going to give good enough views to capture the interest of an adult, much less a child.  

    I'd start by contacting a local astronomy club and asking to have a look through some 'scopes.  Once your expectations have been set you can start thinking about buying your own equipment, and how much you're prepared to spend on it.  You'll also get lots of advice on how to spend it!!

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  • 2 months ago

    A beginner scope you can find at Walmart. near anything that works will do.

    My first was a 3.5 inch Newtonian on a not so great tripod with manual movement and thumbscrew lock. Learned a whole lot about star charts and finding stars. just could see the rings of Saturn and the moon craters were impressive, but no tracking meant the objects other than Polaris slid across view field.

    Your frinds scope is not a cheepie, not for beginners and likely cost as much as your car.

    I have had numerous scopes in my day, still have a small 6 inch Celestron I take to the field, an 8 inch Orion, very decent, these had all the bells and whistles.

    My good scope is 300MM RC design mounts to a pedistal, a pro grade scope and just short of 30 grand, cost more than my navigator. serious deep space and astrophotography with this one, rigged with a Nikon D-70 mount instead of the OEM $4000 camera made for it.

    For beginner, see what Walmart has to offer. Best bang for the buck is Dobsonian, the expense gone into the optics, not the mount and tube. A cheap eyepice can ruin a decent scope, no room to skimp there, just stay within reasonable power or lower power.

    Last thing you want is the novelty to wane and the scope collects dust in the closet.

    Get something good enough to wet the interest

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  • Nyx
    Lv 7
    2 months ago

    Start off by getting this book.

    https://www.telescope.com/Orion/NightWatch-Astrono...

    It's a great introductory guide to the hobby of astronomy, and includes a nice chapter on how to select a telescope that best fits your needs.

    And a key thing to remember is that telescopes are very much a "get what you pay for" item. Cheap telescopes have lots of little itty-bitty nuts, and bolts that you have to assemble in the dark, and they do love to get lost. And all those tiny bits love to become loose, and make the whole scope wobbly, and clumsy to use.

    As with the others, $30 dollars for a used telescope is a invitation to throwing your money away. This time of year, the department store telescope reigns supreme. Selling for around $100 - $200, they offer questionable performance at best. And unless you know what you are looking at, a yard sale scope isn't worth the trouble.

    https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-equipmen...

    https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-equipmen...

    https://www.telescopenerd.com/how-to-buy-a-telesco...

    The other thing to consider - get a pair of binoculars to start with. 

    Even low end 7x50's (7x = magnification, 50 = diameter, millimeters) that can be purchased at nearly any major department store, or spotting goods store will do. Then sit back with the book mentioned above, and learn the sky. 

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  • 2 months ago

    If this is for your kids remember that they are not likely to use it but for a short time. If it were me, I might opt for the used one to see how the kids take to it as a hobby before investing is an expensive one

    You might also look into assembling your own. That is what I did when I was in high school. 

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  • 2 months ago

    $20 is frustration waiting to happen.

    You want something with an "Equatorial mount" even if controls are manual. A mount simply points at the North Star and allows you to easily adjust for earths rotation. That movement is amazingly fast when using a scope. Might cost you $100 or so but it will be money well spent.

    • Iridflare
      Lv 7
      2 months agoReport

      Sorry, but getting an equatorial mount is a very bad idea if you've no experience of using a 'scope.  Getting a cheap one (assume fiddly and unstable) is even worse.  Stick with a simple alt-az to start with.

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  • John
    Lv 7
    2 months ago

    Stay away from wooden tripods, they shake too much.

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  • Tom S
    Lv 7
    2 months ago

    Yes, if you have a $30 budget you will be disappointed with what you will get for that. There are several out there for around $200 with an aperture of about 5", that would be a decent beginner scope.  

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