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First scope advice

Started by kiya21260, 06/15/2005 12:02AM
Posted 06/15/2005 12:02AM | Edited 06/15/2005 01:23AM Opening Post
I'm new to this forum and I'm looking into buying my first scope. Here is the info I have for you folks to chew on:

1. Total budget = ~$1200.00-$1500.00 including accessories (case, EPs, filters, Barlow, camera mounts, etc.)
2. Desires: Moon, Planets, any DSOs I can find (within my budget), astrophotography...I want to get the best shots I can with a very nice Digital SLR I have access to. I am proficient in CG software.
3. Also...any suggestions on a decent camera for any of the scopes listed below? Should I go webcam, digital, or film?. Either way can someone give me the pros/cons of each?

Currently looking into:
1. Meade ETX-125AT w/UHTC coatings & Meade ETX EP/filter accessory kit)
2. Meade LXD75 SN-8AT w/UHTC coatings & Meade LXD EP/filter accessory kit)
3. SkyQuest™ XT8 IntelliScope w/Object Locator & a Dob EQ plate for tracking

I might be willing to buy a used scope in the Automart classifieds but I have no experience on this site and have no idea if I should even look into used scopes. Advice would be appreciated here.

I will certainly be observing but I am anxious to get into astrophotography too so that I can savor the moments for forever and a day. Therefore, I'd like to get the best possible setup to meet all my needs that fits within my budget. Any other gadgets I might need to fit the bill (such as camera adapters, wedges, focal reducer, etc.) will be apprciated too...along with any links to help me do more research. Thanx a bunch my newly found stargazing buddies! More information is better than less...so pour it on me!!!
Posted 06/15/2005 06:33AM | Edited 06/15/2005 06:37AM #1
My thinking about what makes a good first scope and how to approach buying it are as follows:

1. It is good to have some real first hand experience with some telescopes and see what the different scopes are capable of. You have chosen a wide variety of scopes, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Without having actually looked through the eyepiece and set up the scope, one cannot really know how much difference there is between a 5 inch and a 8 inch scope or a scope that has a possible field of view of over 2 degrees vs. one that can only see 0.84 degrees.

2. It is nice to think of capturing those memories but one first must experience those moments and discover the sky. Astrophotography is not simple, it is expensive to do right and it is tedious and frustrating. The mounts you have chosen are marginal for serious astrophotography, even for a small scope a rock solid tripod and accurate mount are necessary, a good mount by itself would blow your budget. There is a steep learning curve for both visual astronomy and astrophotography, I think it is wiser to get ones feet wet by learning about the sky and how to operate a telescope and what you will actually see.

Here's a quick evaluation of the scopes you have chosen:

1. ETX-125. This scope has a 1900mm focal length, and a 5 inch aperture on a ALT-AZ GOTO mount. For visual observations, the 1.25 inch eyepiece format limits the field of view drastically, best possible is less than 2 moon diameters. Focusing and eyepiece position can be very awkward near the zenith. In my view one of the pleasures of owning a scope is the ability to just look around the night sky, wander about and scanning the heavens for interesting targets. With the poor finder and narrow field of view, this scope does not offer that sort of experience.

For photography a wedge will be needed and the F15 focal ratio means long exposures will be necessary for DSOs. There is a thread over on Cloudy Nights in the beginners section that might be worth reading.

2.. Meade LXD75 SN-8AT w/UHTC coatings & Meade LXD EP/filter accessory kit)

This scope is the exact opposite of the ETX=125, whereas the ETX-125 is a small scope best suited for planetary work, the SN-8 it has the virtues of a widefield scope but the disadvantages of a fast Newtonian.

For visual astronomy, at F4, this scope will be hard on eyepieces. The light coming from an F4 telescope produces a steep light cone and most eyepieces have a hard time dealing with this, only expensive eyepieces like Naglers do a decent job at F4. Collimation will be difficult because of the fast focal ratio and with its large central obstruction and SN design it will not be a great planetary scope.

For Astrophotography, supposed to be good for DSOs. But the mount will be the limitation as well as the focuser and such. Planetary photos are probably not in the cards for this scope.

3. 3. SkyQuest™ XT8 IntelliScope w/Object Locator & a Dob EQ plate for tracking

For visual work, this scope is your best bet, it has a nice F6 focal ratio and a 2 inch focuser which will allow for some nice wide field views and yet allow it to have decent performance with basic eyepieces like Plossls and Orthos. It will provide nice planetary views as well, it's central obstruction is reasonably small, unlike the other two scopes. Like the other two, cool down will be an issue, and like the SN, collimation will be required from time to time.

For astrophotography, an EQ platform that is affordable will only allow short exposures and not allow for guiding. Polar alignment will not be so straight forward. Inexpensive platforms are mainly designed for visual work and should work adequately for planetary photos with webcams.

=========

So, I have told you a few things about each scope that are probably not in the webpages and catalogs.

I have concentrated on the negative aspects, partly because the catalogs and webpages avoid discussing those issues but mostly because it is those negative aspects which determine what the actual experience of using a given scope will be like. For example that F4 seems nice because of the widefield possibilities as well as the short tube length but after a few views and one realizes that the roughness of edge of the field of view is distracting from the sharpness of the center and that the solution is a bunch of $200-$400 eyepieces it does not seem so great. Another example is the field of view of the ETX-125. A first look at the Pleiades will likely be disappointing because one can only see a small portion of the entire group at anyone time.
====

It is my belief that "it is not about the telescope." Any telescope or even no telescope is enough to spark interest.

So choosing a telescope does not make or break the hobby. Rather it is just an economic issue, getting a good telescope for a reasonable amount of money. I think a first telescope ought to be capable of providing nice views of a great variety of targets.

All the above telescopes are decent and can provide many hours of pleasure and joy. Each though has significant limitations, the ETX is small and yet has the narrow FOV, the 8 inch SN has that fast focal ratio and the XT-8 has the issues with the EQ-platform.

My suggestion would be to consider starting with the XT-8 as a purely visual scope and when it seems time to move on to photography, if that time arrives, then consider buying a tracking mount for it. The ease of setup and comfortable viewing position of the DOB is a big plus in my book.

Other options would be a used 8 inch SCT or a 8 inch F5 NEwt on an EQ mount.

jon
Posted 06/15/2005 09:34AM #2
The advice is appropriate and you should definitely weigh it. But if you're really set on those choices, here's my two cents.

If you're serious about doing photography and you're relatively competent, or willing to become so, on the technical aspects (i.e. can learn collimation, polar alignment, etc) and don't mind putting a bunch of work into it) you can do photography with the lxd75 and it's a fine visual scope as well; esp. for DSOs.
The others won't work so well for photography - you need Periodic error correction, an EQ mount (or a wedge) illuminated polar alignment scope, etc.
Among the ones you've listed, only the lxd75 has these. Plus it now comes with the little LPI and Autostar suite (essentially a webcam) for planetary imaging.

There are some decent pix coming from this type of scope. See http://www.neurohack.com/astrotourist/DSIIndex.html for some examples. It will never match some of the $4,000 rigs, but who has that kind of money?

PS, the lxd 75 mount has had lots of quality control issues so I'd buy thru a local shop. They can get it for the same price as the online dealers and will charge a setup/inspection/training fee that is well worth it.
Posted 06/16/2005 04:27PM #3
I am very impressed by the time and effort Astromarters take into answering questions and giving sound and educated advice.

I support the idea that an amateur astronomer must learn, refine and exhaust all of the skills necessary for visual enjoyment of the sky before seriously undertaking astrophotography. This is the route I am planning on following. I do not plan to do any serious astrophotography until the Summer of 2006.

The availability of computerized Go To mounts make celestial objects easy to find. By the same token, it is creating a new breed of amateur astronomers that barely know the sky. There is also something to be said for the frustration and the excitement of manually searching and finding objects, rating the seeing conditions, etc.

In the end, most of us will end up with at least two scopes. I have four scopes and 2 binoculars, and plan on acquiring another scope soon.

Gregory, my advice is to buy a used Celestron C5 Next Star and a nice pair of binoculars, and spend at least a year learning the sky before buying another instrument specifically for astrophotograhy. The beauty of the C5 is that it is an excellent all around scope for the beginner. It is relatively inexpensive, and holds its value in the market if you decide to sell it. Moreover, it can be used for simple astrophotography thus giving you the opportunity to start developing your skills before you decide to spend $2K on a high end refractor ota for photo work.

Any thoughts from the other Astromarters about this recommendation.

Gregory, must of all, don't get caught in all of the technical details. Many of us spend more time researching and discussing equipment than we do observing. Go out there and have fun.

Rey Cordero
Berkeley, CA
Tele Vue 60
Celestron C5 (non Go To)
Celestron Super C8+ (1986 Vintage)
Celestron C 9.25 on Advanced Series Go To CG5

Posted 06/17/2005 10:25AM #4
Greg,

The 8-10" Dob recommendation is a good one. However, it is very nice to have a mount that tracks the sky, and you can take wonderful wide field astrophotos by piggybacking a camera (old SLR or new digital SLR) on top of the main scope as it tracks the sky. This is a very good way to start out taking astrophotos from a dark sky location.

I'd suggest a used 8" SCT, either fork-mounted, or on a sturdy GEM such as the Super Polaris/Great Polaris mounts. These are quite readily available at very good prices on the used market (A-mart and the big auction site - though the former is more trustworthy). You could probably buy a whole set-up with eyepieces, diagonal, wedge (necessary for astrophotography with a fork mount), filters, etc. for $600-$800. If purchased from a reputable person (check feedback) you can generally have confidence in purchasing a used scope.

Also, I'd suggest a non-Goto scope to begin with, so that you'll be forced to learn the sky. Just my opinion on Goto though...

Buy a 2" diagonal, a camera adapter, a nice widefield 2" eyepiece (budget at least $150-$200 for this) and you'll be off to the races. If you get even mildly serious about astrophotography though, expect to double your investment very soon; astro accessories cost a lot, and astrophotography (particularly prime focus astrophotography) requires a lot of gear!

Anyway, good luck, and I'd definately recommend at least an 8" scope if you'll be in this for the long run.

Cheers!
Tim
Posted 06/17/2005 07:57PM #5
I'm fairly new to astronomy(3-4 yrs) and have no interest or experience with astrophotography but I'll share my opinion anyway.

You may want to consider one of the small refractors from Stellarvue (or similar respected high quality company) and one of their alt-az or eq mount packages.

because:

1. A small refractor is the most often recommended by the experts for beginners.

2. The stellarvue equipment is high quality and always gets great reviews. This company seems to have some of the best quality-control and finishing of the affordable refractor sellers.

3. I would say you need to put in about 6 months to a year of work into learning the equipment and the night sky even if your primary interest is astrophotography.

4. A heck of a lot of seasoned amateur astronomers always seem to end up with a good to v.high quality small refractor in their collection and often use it more than anything else. And if you end up not wanting it it will have a good resell value (to me hehe).

5. You can actually see alot thru it in your backyard and it will shine on moon, planets, open clusters and double stars. When you go to a dark site the low magnification views will be stunning.

6. Tons of resources for backyard viewing with small scopes, including an essential beginners book "Turn left at orion".

7. Portabilty.

9. Low maginification views -- often overlooked by beginners.

10. You can do some nice astrophotography thru it.

11. On nights of iffy seeing a small scope tends can be preferable as larger apertures as they tend to amplify the instabilty.

12. You can join your local astro-club, bring it along to the parties get respect; then spend your time looking through the other folks very expensive scopes wink

13. Robustness.

14. They're cool.

15. It suits your budget.

I'm sure there are other reasons too -- but thats what first comes mind.

(Oh -- and you sould get a nice 2x barlow and nice 5mm(or similar) e.p.) plus a good chart, red flashlight and all the other little essentials.

caveat -- this gear should be good for beginning astrophotography, BUT, I believe a polar alignement scope is important for this (other experienced astromarters can help here). Not sure if the mounts have that -- you can ask the sellers tho'.

As for the astrophotography, your best bet would be to join a club and hang out with the folks who are into that. You can probably join in on their sessions and help a bit or something. I find that most of the club-folks are MORE than happy to share their passion/obsession with interested newcomers. Then you can get an idea of what you like/need and how much it will cost in the future, also the club-folks are always selling/trading their equipment -- they even have meets for that, so you save big $$$s.

I sure you will throughly enjoy visual when you start getting into it with your own cool equipment tho'.

I'm in no way affiliated or anything with Stellarvue -- just heard some good things about them and the reviews are always very positive (check out www.cloudynights.com). I don't have one of theie scopes either sad. But I do have an orion st80 which is like a lesser quality version and I use it alot.(but you have rather a nice budget so you can afford better). I also have a 8" dob.

Hope this helps, and some of the other astromarts post their opinions of my recommendation.

But whatever you get, get it soon coz Summers coming and the skies are getting rich!!

Good luck and have fun!
Posted 06/17/2005 10:07PM #6
All right, all right. I will withdraw my recommendation for a 5" SCT and move to the camp in favor of an 8" SCT. Aperture is king in this hobby. Assuming that the optics are of high quality, the more aperture for the money the better. It will be difficult for a beginner to outgrow an 8" scope anytime soon.

Nonetheless, I want to share one aspect of my experience. The frequency of use of a telescope is often inversely related to its aperture - that is, a 3" refractor is likely to get more use than a 8" SCT. It is a function of ease of set up, cooling times and portability, not to mention that good collimation is a must.

It is one reason why I always have a small scope nearby that I can take outside without much planning.

Rey Cordero
Posted 06/18/2005 11:52PM #7
Sounds like you have way too many requirements, and too large of a budget for a first setup. The higher your expectations and the higher your initial expenditure, the more potential there will be for getting into something that may not be right for you.

First off, forget astrophotography, even if you're already good with photography. That will make your decision a LOT easier and reduce your almost guaranteed frustration...

(1) If you have little or no observing experience, I suggest either borrowing or spending the $150 on a good pair of binoculars (10x50 or similar), and borrowing/buying some good beginning observing books and basic star atlases from the local library (preferrably ones that don't get you obsessing over equipment) like Turn Left at Orion, Binocular Astronomy, Norton's Star Atlas, The Cambridge Star Atlas, etc. This way you've spent very little to discover if the subtle enjoyments of astronomy is for you. And when you do step up to a "real" scope, you'll appreciate it more, and will find navigating the skies a lot easier!

(2) If you have a little more observing experience or are really ambitious or impatient, then by all means go get a scope. But get a EASY non-computerized one like a 6" to 10" dobsonian (Orion XT8 is perfect - Only $349. And if this scope can't make you happy for at least a few months, I'll speculate that nothing can...)

(3) ... and if after a year of visual observing with your 6" - 8" dob, you're still having fun and excited about astronomy, then you can consider astrophotography desires...

I love astronomy and I love photography, but I have never started astrophotograhy. Maybe I never will...

I used to be REALLY BIG into photography once. Back then, in my photographic pursuits, I used to wonder why other people did't see or appreciate moments like I did. Its "magic light" hour, and all my friends are just sitting around. I would run around to find the best vantage points and find the best scenes to photograph and wait for the "perfect" light. I had to capture the "best" pictures. ... Later on, after my obsessions subsided, looking back, I think I missed fully appreciating the moments also - too much time and energy and focus on capturing the picture just right and letting the moment pass by without really fully appreciating it (not capturing it)...

Astronomy takes a lot more patience to appreciate (and much worst photograph) then dramatic sunsets, grand landscapes, violent weather, or even subtle patterns in closeup photography...

... Be patient. Don't jump in. Learn to appreciate first....