There is one question that we're asked more than any other: "I want to begin astronomy, what is the best telescope to buy?".
If you check out the Cloudy Nights beginner's forum, you'll see a similar question asked on there almost daily.
And, if you are asking yourself that very question, rest assured, you are not alone!
Unfortunately, the answer "what is the best telescope for me?" is...
Thankfully, we've designed a way to make it really simple to answer that question: Love the Night Sky's Telescope Picker.
What is The Best Telescope for Me...?
The answer to that question very much depends on your personal circumstances. So, we've decided to stop ducking the question and help you answer it really easily in the comfort of your own home.
We've designed a very simple worksheet which asks just seven questions. You pick the answer which closest matches your actual situation and *BINGO*!
The Telescope Picker instantly tells you which is likely to be the best kind of telescope for you.
Click on the image above or click this link to open the Telescope Picker in another tab. This page will stay open so you can read how to use it.
How to Use the Telescope Picker Worksheet
Discovering which is the best type of telescope for you is as simple as answering seven questions. Read on to see how to do it...
1) Opening the Telescope Picker
When you first click here to open the Telescope Picker, you'll be presented with simple instructions on how to use it. More details are on this page, just keep reading.
When you're ready, click on the Telescope Picker tab at the bottom to open the main page.
2) The Telescope Picker Described
Once you've clicked on the 'Telescope Picker' tab, you'll see the main spreadsheet, which looks like this:
You can click on the image above to get a larger version.
Let's break down what it is you're looking at.
3) How to Answer the Seven Questions
You'll notice that the sheet consists of just seven questions listed in the left-hand column.
What you need to do is answer each one by picking one of three or four options from a drop-down menu.
To select an answer, first, click on the small 'down arrow' in the pink box.
When you click on the arrows, you'll be given a list of either three or four different pre-set answers to choose from. In each case, pick the one most relevant to your personal circumstances (after all, this is about finding the right telescope for you)
Below, you can see the menu of choices in response to the first question, which is: "What would you prefer to use the telescope for?".
You can see that the answer choices are:
- A little bit of everything
- Deep sky, such as galaxies and nebulae
- Planets and solar system
Let's see what happens once you've chosen an answer to a question.
4) What the Scores Mean
Each answer you choose generates four scores and some notes to help guide your telescope-buying decision.
The scores run from 0 to 3, and this is what they mean:
- 0 = Not at all suitable
- 1 = Somewhat suitable
- 2 = Good choice
- 3 = Ideal choice
In the next picture, you can see the scores given to each telescope type by selecting 'A little bit of everything' as your answer to question one.
You can see that refractors and compound telescopes score '2' with that answer, which means they are a good choice. However, reflectors and Dobsonians score '3', which means they are an ideal choice. You can also see that the '3's are colored green, which makes them easier to see.
As well as the scores, each answer also generates a note in the final column, which could help you with your buying decision.
In the example above (which you can click on to make it bigger), you can see that Dobsonians have scored '0'. This is shown in red and means "not at all suitable".
The note in the final column explains you need a motorized mount to track an object and this is not feasible with a Dobsonian. The note also explains
- The low score of '1' for compounds: they often prevent you from manually slewing
- A score of '1' for refractors: the cost of a motor seriously reduces aperture.
Pay close attention to these notes as they should help with your final choice, especially if you're total scores are tied.
5) Which is Your Best Telescope
Once you've answered all seven questions, you'll be given a total score for each of the four telescope types.
The highest score from the four is shown in green. This is the best type of scope for your all round needs.
There will be times when a simple score doesn't separate out one best type of scope, i.e. you have a tie.
In the extreme case, like the one above, you could end up with a three-way tie. In one way, that's great, it means a lot of scopes will work for your circumstances. But, it's not helping you to narrow down your choices very much.
That's when the two lines below the 'Total Scores' row become helpful.
You see, not all equal scores are created equally!
In the example above, reading from left to right, refractors, reflectors and Dobsonians all score 14. However, the number of threes and zeros they score are different. Because 3 = ideal and 0 = not at all suitable, you can use this to settle the tie.
Staying with the above example, you can see that Dob's have one red zero counted. So, for at least one of the answers, Dob's are not at all suitable. Let's discount Dob's on this basis.
Now we're left with refractors and reflectors. You can see that refractors got two scores of 3, whilst reflectors only got 1. Based on this, you might decide that refractors are the most suitable choice for you.
And, don't forget, you also have notes at the side of every answer you give to help refine that choice.
6) Saving Your Telescope Picker Results
To make sure nothing happens that could break the Telescope Picker, it is not possible for you to edit it.
You can download your results as a PDF of Excel document, though.
Click on the File menu at the top of the page ('1' in this picture).
Select 'Download as', which is number 2 in the picture. This opens up another menu, 3, which gives you a list of options for downloading the document.
If you are logged in to a Google account of any description, select 'Make a copy' from the File menu and save the whole worksheet to your own Google Sheets folder.
7) Choosing Your Telescope
Once you've finished the sheet and decided which is the best type of scope for you, it's time to go and pick one.
To help you with that, the telescope picker sheet makes a recommendation as to which is the best review page for you, based on your answer to question 6 about your budget.
Just to the left of the 'Total Scores' box, you'll see a clickable link. It will take you to one of the following review pages on Love the Night Sky:
- Best Telescopes Under $300
- Best Telescopes under $500
- Best Telescopes Under $1000
- Best Telescopes of 2017
Now you know which is the best kind of telescope for you, take that information to the relevant review page and see if you can find the perfect model.
Remember, the Telescope Picker can only help you make a decision as to the best telescope for you. It is not a substitute for your own judgement.
We also recommend you join your local astronomy club and seek the advice of members there (at the very least, visit them on an open day).