New to Astronomy
Selecting the right telescope can be a challenge for beginners. Here are some helpful guidelines to get you started in your new hobby.
First, let's review the types of telescopes you may choose from. There are three main types of telescopes:
1. Those with lenses (Refractors, below left)
2. Those with mirrors (Reflectors, below center)
3. Those with a combination of elements that use mirrors and lenses (Catadioptric Telescopes, below right)
The Refractor: Refractor telescopes have a lens in the front, while the eyepiece is located at the rear. Refractors are more expensive than reflectors because they have several curved optical surfaces that need to be precisely figured. High-quality refractors have high contrast, show extreme clarity, have sealed tubes, never need alignment, and are lighter (and more portable) than reflectors.
Stellarvue now builds just one kind of refractor: triplets (with three glass lens elements in front). The diagram above shows a triplet refractor.
Stellarvue wide-field refractor telescopes have specific advantages over larger reflectors:
A. When using a wide-field eyepiece, Stellarvue 70 - 80 mm telescopes become a "Richest Field Telescope." This means that Stellarvue 70 - 80 mm telescopes show an enormous amount of sky, which larger telescopes cannot do. Often, when customers decide to upgrade to a larger Stellarvue refractor or reflector, they keep the Stellarvue 70-80 mm telescope in order to still be able to observe the entire Andromeda Galaxy or sweep around the Milky Way with thousands of stars in full view.
B. A small, wide-field telescope is easy to set up and perfect for travel. Our 70 mm and 80 mm refractors come in an airline carry-on case (so that only the tripod needs to be checked).
C. 70 and 80 mm refractors can be used as a terrestrial or birding telescope by adding an erecting prism. The telescope is small and the eyepiece conveniently placed for using it as the ultimate terrestrial telescope.
D. Current models of Stellarvue telescopes are all Apochromatic. This means that they are extremely sharp, are free of annoying color fringe, have the highest contrast available, and provide a view comparable to high-end birding telescopes that cost over $2,000.
The Reflector: The most common and least expensive type of reflector has a mirror in the back with an eyepiece on the side of the tube. This is known as a Newtonian Reflector, named after its inventor, Sir Issac Newton. Newtonian reflectors are easier to make than refractors as they have only one curved surface. As such, they are usually less expensive than refractors. One problem with the design of this telescope is that it has an open tube, and air currents inside can distort the image. Additionally, reflectors are larger, heavier, and require periodic alignment. One benefit of reflectors is that they gather a lot of light (they are often called "light buckets"), making some objects easier to view. For this reason, you may eventually end up with a a large reflector and use it to study distant galaxies and nebulae, also known as "faint fuzzies".
There is a significant difference in performance between mass-produced and custom-made reflectors. Custom-made reflectors typically use a high-end mirror that is hand figured by a master optician. Mass-produced reflectors, however, tend to be of very poor quality.
To verify this, Stellarvue staff tested a mass-produced, 16" f-4.5 mirror from a reflector telescope, and found the optical performance to be very poor. Resolution was compromised and contrast was lacking. Stellarvue staff then tested a 16" f-4 mirror from Lockwood Custom Optics with the same conditions. The star test was perfect, contrast was high and resolution was outstanding.
Catadioptric telescopes: These are the short, stubby telescopes often used at star parties. They have names like Schmidt-Cassegrain or Maksutov Cassegrain. The advantage of the design is that they are short and portable. The disadvantages are that they have a very small field of view, and they lack the contrast seen in high-end refractors. This is because light is reflected back and forth, and there is a large secondary mirror in the middle of the light path.
What telescope we recommend to beginners: We recommend smaller apo refractors because they have highly accurate optics that provide razor-sharp images, no central obstruction, a wide field of view, and the ability to increase power to 100X-per-inch under very steady skies.
What will I see? As a beginner, you will not be able to see deep space objects in color (as seen in our StellarBlog or product pages). Newcomers are sometimes enticed into astronomy by the color images seen in magazines or web pages. Those images are used to illustrate what the telescope is capable of when fitted with cameras and CCD sensors. Digital cameras and sensors can gather much more light than the human eye can, and adding various filters isolate bands of light that our eyes cannot process. Stellarvue features beautiful images taken with our telescopes, by customers who have submitted or given us permission to share them. Most of these images take hours and hours to process with multiple computer programs.
Step-by-step guide for those new to the hobby:
1. Start by learning the night sky. You can download an inexpensive planetarium program like Star Walk on your portable device and this will show you in real time the sky above and help you learn the constellations. This program will point out where the planets and deep sky objects are above you.
2. Try binoculars. With your planetarium program you can now use binoculars or a wide field telescope to get a closer look at objects like the moon, nebulae and star clusters. Get out to a dark sky location. You will be amazed at how many stars are above and how awesome open clusters and the Milky Way appear in your binoculars. The advantage is, they are readily available. The disadvantage is you are limited to low power.
3. Purchase a wide-field refractor with good optics, a stable mount, and tripod: Having learned the night sky and many constellations, you are now ready to get your first telescope. The advantage of a good wide-field telescope over binoculars is that you can select different eyepieces to boost the power and see much more. It is possible to make out the moons of Jupiter with a good pair of binoculars but you will never see surface features on the planets or the rings of Saturn.
4. Which Stellarvue telescopes are recommended for beginners? The Stellarvue SVX80T-25SV is an 80mm f-6 apo triplet made using our deluxe 2.5" dual speed, rack and pinion focuser, hand figured in our own facility in Auburn, CA. This high Strehl instrument is recommended for those not ready to jump too deep into our other SVX refractors. This version of our 80 mm apo triplet is designed primarily for visual use. This telescope can be used with our SFF3-80 flattener when ready to begin your imaging path.
You may decide later to get involved in more serious Astrophotography. If this is the case you may want to consider buying one of our Premier SVX Apo Triplet Refractors. The finest and most accurate telescopes we have ever made.
5. So, you want to start taking pictures through your telescope? If you think that someday you will want to try astro-photography, it is recommended that you first enjoy the visual performance of your telescope for at least a year. This will allow you to learn the night sky and get to know the various objects in space. Learning how to take images can be a frustrating experience even with the best of equipment, so make sure you are ready before jumping off into the deep end. But when you are ready, make sure you get a highly accurate equatorial mount. While you may want to start off using your DSLR, eventually you will want to invest in a ccd camera dedicated to imaging the night sky. Astro imaging is not as easy as it looks and there is a long learning curve. Make sure you are ready and properly outfitted before you take the plunge.
We will provide more information on imaging soon. Look for our "New to Astro-photography" page, coming soon.
We also have an abbreviated Telescope-Astronomy Glossary to help you become more familiar with common terms used while discovering more about telescopes and Astronomy. We hope this helps you and inspires you to learn more.