What telescope should I buy? How to choose your first telescope

26 March 2024  |  Admin

“This is the question we get asked most at PicStop. Read on for advice to help you choose the right telescope.

The perfect telescope for you will depend on what you most want to look at, your lifestyle and, of course, your budget. There are telescopes for beginners designed specifically for planets and the moon while others are better for ‘deep sky’ objects like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. Sizes differ drastically and so do the way telescopes are operated; just like cars, there are manual and automatic telescopes and, more recently, Celestron StarSense Explorer telescopes that use a smartphone as a ‘satnav for the sky’. You can rest assured that PicStop has the right telescope for you. 

However, like asking what camera, car or house you should buy, deciding to buy a telescope means doing some research and getting to know what’s available. Happily, there are some relatively simple answers to some of the most frequent questions we get asked that can lead you straight to a telescope that could be right for you. 

What is the best-value all-rounder telescope?

A Newtonian reflector with an aperture of 100-150mm (4-6 inches) is best.

Recommended examples:

BEST SELLER
Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Newtonian Reflector Telescope
£238.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

Dock your smartphone on the award winning app-enabled Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ Newtonian Reflector Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm & 10mm eyepieces and the Celestron Starry Night software.

Check Smartphone Compatibility - Click Here

£238.99

Sky Watcher Explorer 130PS AZ-GTi WiFi Parabolic Newtonian Telescope
£470.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Sky Watcher Explorer 130PS AZ-GTi WiFi Parabolic Newtonian Telescope can be controlled by your smartphone or tablet wirelessly. It has an aluminium tripod with adjustable legs, and alt-azimuth mount

£470.99

Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerised Telescope
£526.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Celestron NexStar 130SLT is a Newtonian Reflector. The mirror gives fully colour-corrected views that are best suited for astronomical use. It comes with a 2 year warranty

£526.99

What’s the best-value telescope for observing galaxies, star clusters and nebulae?

A Dobsonian Newtonian reflector with an aperture of 150-200mm (6-8 inches)

Recommended examples:

Celestron StarSense Explorer 8'' Smartphone App-Enabled Dobsonian Telescope
£655.99
Awaiting Stock<span class='category-hidden'> - More Units Expected</span>  Awaiting Stock - More Units Expected

Dock your smartphone on the award-winning app-enabled StarSense Explorer 8" Dobsonian Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm eyepiece, StarPointer red-dot finderscope and the Celestron Starry Night software.

£655.99

Celestron StarSense Explorer 10'' Smartphone App-Enabled Dobsonian Telescope
£826.99
Awaiting Stock<span class='category-hidden'> - More Units Expected</span>  Awaiting Stock - More Units Expected

Dock your smartphone on the award-winning app-enabled Celestron StarSense Explorer 10" Dobsonian Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm eyepiece, StarPointer red-dot finderscope and the Celestron Starry Night software.

£826.99

What’s the best telescope for observing the moon and planets?

A refractor with an aperture of 100mm/-125mm (4-5 inches).

Recommended examples:

Celestron Inspire 100AZ Refractor Telescope
£269.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Celestron Inspire 100AZ Refractor Telescope is the ultimate telescope for the novice to intermediate astronomer, and has the easiest setup of any entry level scope. Comes with two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), erect image star diagonal, a red LED flashlight, StarPointer Pro red dot finderscope, and an integrated smartphone adapter.

£269.99

Celestron Astromaster 102AZ Refractor Telescope
£252.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

If you're looking for a dual-purpose telescope appropriate for both terrestrial and celestial viewing, then the Celestron Astromaster 102AZ Refractor Telescope is for you.  A finderscope, an upright image diagonal, two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm) and Celestron Starry Night Software are all included.

£252.99

Celestron NexStar 102SLT Computerised Telescope
£484.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Celestron NexStar 102SLT is a large, powerful 4" telescope and is designed to be an affordable entry level to mid-level computerised GoTo telescope. It comes with a 2 year warranty

£484.99

What’s the best telescope for portability?

A refractor with an aperture of 76-100mm (3-4 inches)

Recommended examples:

National Geographic 50/360 Refractor Telescope AZ with Table Tripod
£62.69
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The National Geographic 50/360 Refractor Telescope with table tripod is compact for younger astronomers, with a focal length of 360 mm (up to 60 x magnification) gives excellent views of the moon, planets and distant stars. Includes 5-year warranty offer.

£62.69

Celestron Travel Scope 70 Telescope
£92.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Celestron Travel Scope 70 Telescope offers a compact and portable design with coated glass optical elements for clear, crisp images. Comes with a mount and tripod, 2 eyepieces, erect image diagonal and a back to store your scope and accessories.

£92.99

Bresser Classic 70/350 Refractor Telescope
£108.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

The Bresser Classic 70/350 Refractor Telescope is a compact, lightweight, easy to setup and use telescope, it comes with a tripod, an upright view correcting-prism, x3 eyepieces and tripod carry case.  Complete with a 5 year extended warranty.

£108.99

What’s the easiest telescope to use?

A telescope from Celestron StarSense Explorer range is hard to beat

Recommended examples:

Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Refractor Telescope
£385.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

Dock your smartphone on the award winning app-enabled Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ Refractor Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm & 10mm eyepieces and the Celestron Starry Night software.

Check Smartphone Compatibility - Click Here

£385.99

BEST SELLER
Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Newtonian Reflector Telescope
£398.99
Awaiting Stock<span class='category-hidden'> - More Units Expected</span>  Awaiting Stock - More Units Expected

Dock your smartphone on the award winning app-enabled StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Newtonian Reflector Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm & 10mm eyepieces and the Celestron Starry Night software.

Check Smartphone Compatibility - Click Here

£398.99

BEST SELLER
Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Newtonian Reflector Telescope
£238.99
In stock<span class='category-hidden'>, immediate despatch</span>  In stock, immediate despatch

Dock your smartphone on the award winning app-enabled Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ Newtonian Reflector Telescope and quickly navigate the night sky, ideal for beginners, it includes 25mm & 10mm eyepieces and the Celestron Starry Night software.

Check Smartphone Compatibility - Click Here

£238.99

What you need to know before you buy a telescope

Nobody likes jargon, but it’s really helpful to know what’s important – and what isn’t – when buying a telescope. 

1. Optics

There are two main types of telescopes for beginner: refractors (which uses lenses) and reflectors (which use mirrors). Whichever you choose it’s always a case of getting what you pay for, with the price of the telescope the biggest factor in determining the quality of a telescope’s optics. Better optics mean sharper and brighter images. 

2. Aperture

The most important specification to consider when choosing a telescope is the aperture – the size of its lens or mirror. The bigger a telescope’s mirror or lens, the more light its collects and the deeper into space it will see. Light is the raw material of all astronomy. The higher the aperture, the brighter and more detailed its images will be when used with any given eyepiece. Aperture is expressed in both inches and millimetres, with backyard telescopes for beginners ranging from 76mm-200mm//3-8 inches. There’s a trade-off because the bigger the aperture the bigger the physical size of the telescope. 

3. Focal length

The length of a telescope tube matters. A short focal length will give a wide field of view and low magnification with an eyepiece (ideal for star clusters, galaxies and nebulae) while a long focal length has a narrower field of view and can offer higher magnification with an eyepiece (better for the moon and planets).

4. Magnification

Magnification is not as important as a telescope’s aperture. How much a telescope can magnify an object without it being blurry is a product of the telescope’s aperture, its focal length and the eyepiece you put on it. You’ll see all kinds of wild claims about the magnification offered by telescopes, but you can – and should – do the maths yourself. Divide the telescope’s focal length by an eyepiece’s focal length and you’ll get the answer. For example, the Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ has a focal length of 900m and comes with two eyepieces with focal lengths of 25mm (low power) and 10mm (high power), respectively. So it achieves a usable magnification of 36x and 90x. 

5. Focal ratio

This ‘f-number’ tells you how ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ a telescope is. ‘Fast' telescopes are better for observing deep sky objects while 'slow' telescopes are best for planets and the moon. Divide the telescope’s focal length by the aperture and you’ll get the focal ratio. For example, the Celestron Astromaster 70AZ’s focal length is 900mm and its aperture is 70mm, meaning a focal ratio of f/13. That makes it a ‘slow’ telescope, meaning it’s great for planets and the moon. A ‘fast’ telescope has a focal ratio of about f/5 or lower.

6. Mounts

Altazimuth

Telescopes move in different ways. For beginners, an altazimuth mount is the way to go. It moves up and down and 360º around. It’s simple and it’s easy to use. Manual altazimuth mounts dominate on telescopes for beginners, but make sure the one you choose has a mount that’s sturdy and solid. 

GoTo

You will also find more expensive computerised and motorised GoTo mounts that automate everything, though they do require the user to align the telescope to (typically three) bright stars. A modern and good value alternative is the Celestron StarSense Explorer range of telescopes, which have manual altazimuth mounts, but use a smartphone app to align with objects. 

Equatorial

You’ll also see equatorial (EQ) mounts, which are aligned to the rotation of Earth so allow a telescope to move exactly how stars appear to move. An EQ mount is essential for deep-sky astrophotography, but it’s expensive, complicated and best avoided if you’re buying your first telescope.

7. Accessories

While the optics on modern telescopes generally impress even on very affordable models, the accessories often do not. In the box, you’ll typically find a mount, a tripod, a variety of eyepieces, a finderscope for helping to aim a telescope, and slow-motion controls for getting an object exactly in the crosshairs of your telescope. Accept that you’ll probably want to upgrade some of these accessories over time.

Now you’re an expert it’s time to go choose your first telescope!

Recent Posts
18 January 2024  |  Admin
Set up & use of the Browning Recon Force Elite HP4 Trailcam wildlife camera
15 January 2024  |  Admin
Best stargazing telescopes

Read our how-to-guide to find out which telescope is best for stars, planets or galaxy views.

2 January 2024  |  Admin
Reviewed: Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130 AZ telescope

An in-depth review of the Celestron StarSense DX 130 AZ, including set-up, features, the StarSense app and performance.

22 December 2023  |  Admin
Top 10 beginner telescopes for 2024

Discover the best telescope for you with our top 10 beginner telescopes suggestions.