What should I look for when I buy a telescope?
1] Join a local club. What you want is 1:1 advice.
2] Join this forum: http://www.astronomyforum.net/forum.html
3] Learn what you can with star charts.
Don't rush in to buying something.
Aperature is good. You can't get too much aperature. Optical quality is also good. Anything worse than 1/4 wave correction is... junk. f-ratio should not exceed 8 [maybe 10 for a cat]. You'll otherwise quickly tire of lugging the thing around.
Its probably safe to assume this would be your first scope, since you have to ask. i would advise a 6 or 8 inch dobsonian mounted reflecter from either Meade or Orion, these are widely considered the best beginner scopes especially for the price, under $400 for the 6 inch, and under $500 for the 8 inch. You will not find a better price for the same quality (An 8 inch dobsonian from Meade was my first real scope, and I still use it 6 years later. Its a very good scope). Both companies sell good beginner combo kits that usually include a number of plossl or super plossl eyepieces (good quality eyepieces, though not top of the line)
I have a dobsonian from hardin, the deep space hunter, a 6 in. It is my first scope and I love it! :!!) It is easy to use and I have alot of fun using it. It doesn't have the fancy computer thingamajigs though. I don't really mind though, its kind of fun to have to actually learnt the sky.
The lack of computerized tracking and other features is a shortcoming for astrophotgraphy purposes, but for a beginner scope that shouldn't matter. For beginners, who want to learn basic observing, how to find things, and enjoy the night sky, a 6-8 inch is by far the best setup (maybe even a 10-12 inch if you're willing to spend the extra couple $100, though I wouldn't advise it unless you really know its something you're into. After all, you can always resell the first scope and upgrade later if you catch aperture fever, and you prolly will if you stick with it).
The easiest thing to do with optical quality is stick with reputable manufacturers. Basically, anything that's got a full page advert in Astronomy Magazine, like Meade or Orion, and prolly a half dozen others that escape me for the moment.
Those are pretty much the reasons I bought it.
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