A versatile scope for beginner

For people new to astronomy who want to ask those questions that they were afraid to ask. Receive helpful answers here.
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A versatile scope for beginner

Post by haroldfock » Sat May 16, 2015 12:00 pm

Dear All,
HeIlo! I am new to astronomy. I have a plastic reflector telescope for years and managed to see the moon. Even used the iphone to capture the image. But I know that is a toy but it was the largest telescope I could find in a toyshop. Mistake obviously! I also bought the Celestron Skyscout a few years ago.

I am aware that this question is asked a thousand times hehe.. but no, my question is not what beginner scope to buy as there are already tons of postings online about this. I am hoping to get a versatile scope. And these are my specs - imaginary or otherwise, and I hope the seniors here can give me some advice. Some of my ideas are obviously impractical but hey that is the fun of it all.

1. I need a lightweight portable scope. Small enough to put behind my rugsack when I cycle to the East Coast's Bedok jetty (that is probably the only place I know that has less light pollution). Or I can drive to any of the darker carparks there and set up my scope on the car. So a tripod is nice but I think I can live without it for now. In future, the tripod should be light enough I can strap it to my back. Call it the Amateur Bicycle Astronomer. Exercise and yet see the stars :-)

2. I only want to see the Moon and planets. None of the deep space stuff. I am also aware of the limitations of a beginner's scope and budget.

3. I am a geek so the idea of a Goto scope is so appealing. I was told that the light pollution is so bad here that many goto scopes will have trouble locating the three objects required for alignment. Tech like Celestron Prodigy does not work all the time here. So my beginner scope will not have goto technology but I like the idea that I can upgrade it. So the question - is there a scope that is versatile and upgradeable. Say I start with a wooden table stand, then a tripod and then a goto tech. I am aware it is cheaper buying the whole setup in one go but it will conflict item 1 (too heavy) and I hate the "rusting golf club syndrome" if I use it a few times and lose interest. I am aware that not using a goto scope teaches you more about astronomy. But as a tech geek, a "robotic" scope is just too cool to ignore :-)

4. I thought of getting the Celestron Cosmos Firstscope or the Celestron Travelscope but they dont look like a big upgrade of my toy reflector scope which is more than a meter long. Obviously the optics for these proper scopes are far, far superior. I also found out there is a thing called the Skyscout scope in which you piggyback the Skyscount onto the scope but it looks like a Travelscope with attachment.

5. I saw this Orion Starmax 90mm. Price around SGD350 plus delivery. It is within my budget. The weight is slightly heavier than the Macbook Pro. Just a table top stand and I can upgrade to a tripod. And gosh there is another endless blackhole discussion on which tripod is steady etc etc etc.. but I am ok without the stand for now. Can i buy third party tech to make it a goto scope? I know the logical thing to do is to bite the wallet and get the Celestron SE4 but it will be too heavy to lug around. Is there a better sweetspot scope out there?

6. Terrestrial viewing will be nice. Not that it is a must have option but it will be a nice option just for fun.

7. Budget Max: SGD350. My CTO friend always warns me "Buy cheap, buy twice". If I get crazy about the hobby, sure I would invest in a monster scope but this is just wetting my feet. But I dont want to get a scope in which I regret every time i look into it and wish I got something bigger and better.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.
Is the Orion Starmax 90mm the best scope for my beginner's needs including the portability?
Can I upgrade it into a goto scope with third party modification? (Or maybe just get another when the time comes.)

Thank you.

Mun Hong

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by Bomia » Sat May 16, 2015 10:15 pm

I have started this lobby later than you (only about 2 months back)with quite similar plan, but after reading a lot(though far from enough) from a few forum, and also tried buying something from local shop, 2nd hand market and even Amazon, I think $500 is a more practical amount, and I am talking about getting all those stuff from resale section.

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by Hardwarezone » Sat May 16, 2015 11:30 pm


1) car have residual heat that negatively affects telescope viewing.

3) there isn't any motor+electronic upgrade kit to add goto for the tabletop wooden mounts

4) mount a cheap phone with sky navigating app onto the telescope and you can get similar result

5) 4se is one of the harder maksutov to troubleshoot if collimation goes off, the screws are blocked under the flip mirror rail mechanism and plastic cover.

6) 80mm F/5 achromat refractor is more fun than 90mak for terrestrial viewing. Lower mag, wider view , higher contrast at the center. The maksutov takes a few turn on the focus knob for different target distance.

I don't see the starmax90 at $350 as a good buy.

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by cloud_cover » Sun May 17, 2015 5:21 pm

With regards to a scope for $350: If you can stretch it a bit I'd recommend the Skywatcher 130p table top Dob: Its just under $400 and will provide significantly more aperture than the 90mm. It will, however require collimation and will benefit from some shrouding. I have one and when collimated and properly light-shrouded its a good scope. Easily done with a piece of black vanguard paper or art board. The only thing: Its not rucksack portable. Its easily hand-carried but the base is too heavy to be comfortable in a backpack. It will, however, be ideal for deployment on your car's boot or a small box (such as a car boot organizer or an ikea stool). This is a cheap scope and the parts are not premium but its very serviceable. I use it as a very light grab and go for my kids.
If the cycling bit is of utmost importance to you, then I concur with hardwarezone: Get an 80mm achromat. The Orion ST80 (or similar Meade/various china brand models) is a good scope to use. You can also try the Antares 80mm RACI Finder which is slightly cheaper but comes with a prism diagonal and eyepiece. To be sure, all these scopes will produce chromatic aberration (The 90mm Mak will not, being a mirror scope) so planetary views will be less pristine in that you will have some blue fuzz around the planets and the features will be less than completely crisp sharp at higher powers, but an 80mm ED or APO scope will be outside your budget. The finder with the prism diagonal will be less sharp than mirror diagonals (not supplied) with the ST80 but it has the advantage of being correct-image so you can use it for terrestrial viewing. Presumably when you use such scopes there is the understanding that your max power is limited and at lower powers, the sharpness difference between prism and mirror diagonals is less an issue.
Don't dismiss the consideration of a stable mount. Attempting to view anything at other than the lowest powers will become an exercise in frustration if your mount is wobbly or has significant backlash, which is when the mount continues to move after you lock it down so you have to aim off your target and hope it settles down on it. It will make observing a giddy, sweaty and occasionally, vulgar word-producing session.
Do consider buying used. Its often much cheaper and you'll be able to sell it off again (if well taken care of) at much less loss than buying new.
Oh, and do consider a pair of binos. I usually bring a 15x50 when I cycle out to the beach for some stargazing. I'd recommend 7x50 or 10x50 pair to start :)

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by Hardwarezone » Sun May 17, 2015 7:40 pm

For "serious" lunar and planetary observing with achromat refractor, you need the focal ratio at least 3x the diameter in inches. 5x for optimum.
That would put a 3inch at F/9.
Expect lots of chromatic aberration at ST-80 F/5 and Finderscope F/4
CA increases with magnification and the observer cannot change it with a barlow to pretend the F/5 scope is F/10.

There is a trick to unscrew the lens cell of travelscope70 and st-80 slightly to shake the lens into better position, but not every scope can achieve 100x mag after doing this.

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by haroldfock » Mon May 18, 2015 7:58 am

Wow! Thanks for all the comments and advice. So much data! It is a birthday present for myself so I can up the budget hehehe but let me do some more reading!

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by Great Red Spot » Tue May 19, 2015 1:33 pm

As Hardwarezone hinted, a short achromat is really not a good instrument for planets. It is ok for low magnification viewing, where chromatic aberration may not be intrusive. At low magnification Jupiter will appear as a bright white dot flanked by its moons. You may increase the magnification to see Jupiter's bands, but chromatic aberration will start to creep in, and the image may begin to look mushy. Perhaps barlowing may help.

Below is a link to Ed Ting's review of the ST80, where he said:

"...Well, and then, I got kind of bored. I'd seen everything the scope could show me, and Jupiter was not holding magnification well. At only 57X with the 7 mm Nagler, images were already starting to break down".


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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by Grievous » Tue May 19, 2015 9:27 pm

One of the best ways is to join us for a session and have a go at different kinds of scopes. A handful of us lives around Bedok area so if you're driving, it should a breeze.
The gentle light of a distant galaxy
must needs pour into mine eye.
Or i shall with bent and turned,
fall me down, distraught..To die.

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by antares2063 » Tue May 19, 2015 10:35 pm

Bedok north guy here too...if got session please jio and i will try my best to come with myscope setup;)
I miss the place where stars shine bright, to gaze upwards in awe of the sight

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Re: A versatile scope for beginner

Post by haroldfock » Thu May 21, 2015 11:33 am

Dear All,
Thank you for all the advice. Even as a techie, all these sound complicated. I think I wont buy a scope first. I made the same mistake in setting up a saltwater aquarium and now realized that all needed was to speak to hobbyists. Where is the website for the Bedok sidewalk session? Would love to join you guys. And thank you.

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