The 2.4-inch Refractor
I always recommend binoculars as a good way to start observing. However, if you’re a kid who wants a telescope, binoculars might be a disappointment. Many astronomers would scoff at the old 2.4-inch standard but I think this is a fine telescope to start with. It’s the lowest cost beginner scope and you can use it to see the beginner objects.
My first telescope was a 2.4-inch (60-mm) refractor from Sears with a 700 mm focal length making it an almost an f/12 focal ratio. Mine had a 25-mm eyepiece for 28x, a 12.5-mm for 56x (still okay) and an absurd little 4-mm eyepiece for an unusable 175x. These were inexpensive 0.965-in “toy” eyepieces.
Orion has the nicest 2.4-inch (60-mm) I’ve seen with serious accessories and a very reasonable price, $100.
The telescope takes serious, full-sized 1.25-in eyepieces and comes with the typical 10-mm and 25-mm giving very nice 28x and 70x magnifications. It has a solid wood tripod. If you’re on a budget, this is probably the best bet and I’m sure it’s better quality and less expensive than a similar telescope you could walk into a store down the road and buy.
Be sure to read my post about observing experience, coming soon.
The Dobsonian 4.5
I think the Dobsonian is the ideal amateur, visual observing telescope. Invented by amateur telescope maker John Dobson, and achieving hobby-wide popularity around 1980, the Dobsonian changed everything. Suddenly, large-aperture amateur telescopes became affordable.
The Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic 4.5-inch Dobsonian which is, in my opinion, the perfect beginner telescope. It’s portable, even for kids, a super-sturday mounting, and has a nice, large aperture that will allow you to see anything the typical amateur would look for. Beginner telescopes are usually 2.4 to three or four inches. This is 4.5! It has a very nice 6x26 finder scope and two perfect eyepieces, a 25-mm and 10-mm giving magnifications of 36x and 91x. The focal ratio is about f/8 which is classic for a Newtonian reflector like this. At the time I’m writing this the price is $240 including standard shipping.
Dobsonians are easy to maneuver, stay where you point them, and they’re just a joy to use. The only thing this telescope isn’t really ideal for is any type of astrophotography. There’s not a clock drive so the telescope won’t follow the objects in the sky as the earth rotates. For visual observing (looking through the telescope) this isn’t a problem.
If I was going to recommended just one telescope, this would be it.
The 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain
If you have a significant budget and want a telescope that will do it all but is still portable, I recommend the 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT). These telescopes have fine optics, perform well, and typically make an excellent platform for astro-imaging. The 8-inch is still not too heavy so it’s still reasonably portable.
I grew up with the Celestron C8 and I have a used one now with the most-solid, locked-triangle tripod from the 70s and 80s. I have to confess that I’m not up to date on what the current crop of 8-inch SCTs are. Celestron and Meade are the famous names in this arena. There may be others now.
One nice thing about most of these telescopes is how the the eyepiece tailpiece is mounted solidly to the back of the telescope. That means any camera or equipment you attach will be similarly solid. The telescope focuses by moving the whole primary mirror forward and backward along the baffle tube. It’s a clever design and makes it all very solid and stable.
These telescopes range in price from $1000 to $2000 roughly, and probably beyond.