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Stargazing Telescope or Binoculars for First Astronomy Device?

  1. Jul 15, 2016 #1

    russ_watters

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    A recent short-lived member got me thinking about the issue of telescope vs binoculars for a first stargazing device again after a few years of the issue sitting dormant. I hadn't participated in the particular necroresurrected thread, so it didn't have my take on the issue. Here it is:

    It has been my perception that older folks are more likely to recommend binoculars than telescopes and manual telescopes vs go-to telescopes. I think most people's perspectives are colored by their experiences and not everyone has the same experiences....and these are probably based on age.

    I'm 40 and my first telescope was my grandfather's telescope, a bottom-of-the-line 1960s Tasco that probably went for $150 in the 1960s. That was probably a rare luxury then (metal construction?!): It would have been about the first in the long line of 60x900 alt-az scopes that were the standard first telescope for decades. I used it in the late 1980s and I'm sure got more use out of it than he did; it spent most of its life in its original box, in the packaging plastic. An entry level telescope today costs about the same $150, which is of course only about 1/4 as much money as 1960s $150. People lament that they are lower quality today and while they are right, they miss the point: being cheaper means they can be a throw-away toy, with a lower cost barrier, which is exactly what they should be to give to a kid.

    It is my guess/perception that 40 years ago when some of the people who today recommend binoculars were getting into astronomy, the cost barrier was higher, so people picked binoculars as lower cost subtitute entry point. And since that was their entry point, the same people recommend the same path today. I'm not/I don't.

    When you are 12 or 14, a telescope is a toy, not a real hobby. The instant gratification of go-to and the associated lack of depth of understanding is a positive, not a negative. Regardless of what telescope a kid starts with, if it catches-on, he'll start putting effort into it and learning about it and if it doesn't he won't. So requiring effort at the start is just an unnecessary and counterproductive barrier to entry.

    So if you can afford $150 on a toy that may or may not catch-on, do it! If your kid loves it, he'll have a hobby for life or maybe even a profession. If he doesn't, it goes for $20 in a yard sale with all of the other toys that eventually got abandoned and nobody cried over. No harm, no foul.
     
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  3. Jul 15, 2016 #2

    Chronos

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    A very nice bino [up to about 70mm objective] can be had for $150 or less. Its an ideal entry level instrument for the casual stargazer. and a great way to get acquainted with the night sky. I agree its a personal choice between a scope and a bino, but, people tend to get more use out of bino than a scope. If you are a hunter, fisherman, nature buff, or just nosey, a bino qualifies as a must have accessory. I guess my age is showing.
     
  4. Jul 15, 2016 #3

    sophiecentaur

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    Having recently bought myself a first scope, I can make a valid contribution here, I think.
    I bought Turn Left at Orion (book) which is very helpful for finding things by star hopping. Now, I am used to binoculars so my comparison may not be strictly fair but waving the binoculars around from one star to another and then to where the wanted object should be is very straightforward and natural; they are attached to the familiar end of your arms. The equivalent action with a (not cheap) right angle (right way up) finder and the mount on an 8" Dobsonian just doesn't come as naturally. I would say that, if you haven't a Goto controller, you need the bins in any case, as a beginner. There will be less frustration if you can see what you want to see but at low visibility in bins is than not being able to find the damned thing in the first place (plus the cricked neck, of course).
    Delayed gratification rules here, I think. A good pair of binoculars are a real joy (I am totally in love with my Steiners) and there is no endless list of possible bolt ons that goes with a scope.
     
  5. Jul 15, 2016 #4

    Bandersnatch

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    I suppose there's also the 'coolness' factor to take into account, especially if the advice is for what to get a young kid - you might be more inclined to take your awesome scope and play an astronomer, or show it of to your friends, or just admire it when it's standing there in your room, than you would with a pair of binoculars even if the capabilities are roughly the same. So the end result might be more actual observation, learning, and inspiration with the scope.
     
  6. Jul 15, 2016 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm probably an outlier, but when I recommend (or purchase as a gift) a 'toy' optical instrument- microscope, telescope, camera, whatever- is to recommend something that 1) has a low cost, 2) is easy to use, 3) the user will (likely) use often, and 4) serves as an 'learning opportunity', allowing the user to select their own upgrade if items #2 and #3 generated a long-lasting interest.

    For example, binoculars can be easily carried on a hike. A telescope requires clear nights- something that may not be a regular occurrence.

    So I would probably recommend either binoculars/episcope or a go-to enabled telescope for an initial instrument. And a stargazing book!

    This may be a good opportunity to 'plug' the episcope- it's a remarkable thing.
    http://www.haverhills.com/cgi-bin/store.cgi?&shop=city&L=eng&P=1062
    Please seriously consider this as an entry-level optical tool for kids aged 8 - 88 :)
     
  7. Jul 15, 2016 #6

    sophiecentaur

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    I have to agree there.
    I have a friend who bought a bicycle shop. When Dads came in with their boys, to buy them a new bike, the lads all went for the flashiest, worst value bike, despite what Trevor said. He gave up trying to help and made far more money!!
     
  8. Jul 16, 2016 #7
    I think the choice here is between a low-power wide field telescope, in the 4- to 5-inch class, plus 2 or 3 eyepieces, and a pair of high quality 8x50mm binoculars. In either case a tripod is a necessity; a moderate photo tripod with a simple pan head (and a mounting bracket for the binoculars) will allow for more long-range or careful study usage, which applies both to astronomical and terrestrial use. A 4" OTA can be had for a hundred bucks, and the eyepieces will cost another fifty to a hundred. A good pair of 80x50 binoculars can be had for a hundred and fifty to two hundred; the mounting bracket will be another twenty. A worthwhile tripod will cost another hundred. I would say that a minimum would be around US$300 or so. This is for a teenager, say 11 and up; if you're talking about someone younger, the fabled and oft-maligned $69.99 Tasco "300X !!!11!! See Saturn's rings!!" is definitely sufficient. My parents put down another $30 or so and got me a 4" reflector, though it had a plastic focus tube and one- or two-lens eyepieces that were probably better than Galileo or Newton had but not by much.

    But first of all must be a book; and the prospective astronomer must read it again and again, and it must be interesting enough that they do. Ideally they read many such books and own one or two. Then when they both understand what they are going to do and have demonstrated enough interest, it's time to plunk down the money. I can't emphasize this enough; without proper preparation a person will spend a few nights on it, then move on to the latest video game. When I first saw the Pleiades, I understood what I was looking at; it didn't matter that it was a cheap plastic thing, I could actually just make out nebulosity around them. And when I actually did see Saturn's rings, I knew what that was too. And I've been hooked ever since; I'm currently up above $30,000 in equipment, and I have an observatory in my back yard (a Sky Shed POD if you're curious). Not only that but I have versatile instruments that I can use both for astronomy and wildlife viewing, and I do.

    I'd like to make one other point: if you are an adult and really want to know if you would like to be an amateur astronomer, and you are affluent, plunk down US$2,500 or so on a good go-to system with an eight-inch class Schmidt-Cassegrain and four or five eyepieces, and then take it out to a decent dark-sky site several times. Meade and Celestron compete in this area, and definitely do not ignore Astromart.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2016
  9. Jul 17, 2016 #8

    Chronos

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    I'm arguing against beginners being lured into buying a cheesy ass scope right out of the chute. A good bino [~$100] will introduce you to the sky and makes more sense than blowing $500+ on some crappy reflector that fights you every time you reel it out. We all know someone who has gone down that road and felt disappointed.
     
  10. Jul 17, 2016 #9
    I prefer a telescope for hunting and general non astronomy use than bino. Binoculars are a pain to store in a pack and hanging them around your neck while moving through undergrowth is most impractical.

    A telescope is easier to keep stable without a tripod from a prone or standing position, easier to find a spot for in a vehicle and more robust due to its shape.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2016
  11. Jul 17, 2016 #10

    Chronos

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    it's a choice. Personally I find a bino easier- 2 lbs is no big deal. Driving around with a 6"+ scope would be a major pain for me.
     
  12. Jul 17, 2016 #11

    davenn

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    but we are really talking about scopes / bino's for astro use in this thread :wink:

    and none of them ( scopes) are going to be easy to use hand held
    a good solid mount is essential


    Dave
     
  13. Jul 17, 2016 #12
    Just responding to a previous comment re wildlife spotting. Point taken tho.
     
  14. Jul 17, 2016 #13

    russ_watters

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    That isn't a very accurate description of the dilemma. Something like this, for $160, makes an excellent starter scope (better and cheaper than what I got 25 years ago):
    https://www.telescopes.com/products/celestron-astromaster-114-eq-reflector-telescope
    My first scope was a ("fabled and oft maligned") 60x900 refractor that cost about the same in 1990 dollars, or in other words, about half what it costs today adjusted for inflation. They still exist, for half again (1/4 altogether, adjusted for inflation!) what my parents paid:
    https://www.telescopes.com/collections/telescopes/products/celestron-powerseeker-60-eq-telescope
    What is nice about these (either one) is they are pretty easy to set up (the alt-az even easier at first, but less easy to use once you learn a bit) and BAM! Saturn's rings.

    Binoculars can "get you acquainted with the night sky" but you can't actually see much that's different from what you see with the naked eye. That was always my reason for not being a big fan. You see more stars, but still just stars. You see more faint fuzzy things, but still just faint fuzzy things. IMO, everyone's first astronomy experience should be something totally different that can blow you away, like Saturn's rings or Jupiter's stripes.
     
  15. Jul 17, 2016 #14

    russ_watters

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  16. Jul 17, 2016 #15

    russ_watters

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    Yes, the book is definitely key. I don't remember if I got mine separate from the telescope, but I had a tiny "Field Guide to the Night Sky" that was indispensable.
     
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