As the title says, the best telescope for the money is the Dobsonian type telescope. If you ask any amateur astronomer what the best telescope for the money is, you will get this answer. But why Dobsonian telescope? And what really is the Dobsonian telescope? I will explain why is it the best and what it is in this article. Keep in mind that it is related only to the visual observing, not astrophotography. If you are looking for the best telescope for astrophotography, read my other article where I explain which scope is the best buy for beginners on a budget.
This article is focusing mostly on beginners and first-time telescope buyers. I got a question from my friend a few days ago after he saw my astrophotography pictures on the social media if he can stop by and look through my telescope to see it live. I had to tell him right away that what he sees on pictures is not even close to what he will see through the telescope with the naked eye. And I didn’t mean it in a good way.
You have to realize that all astrophotography pictures are very long exposure shots, sometimes up to 5 hours. You won’t be able to see it live, with so many details, through the telescope with your naked eye. He was shocked, but it is normal because many people think that you can see the same thing as is in the astrophotography picture.
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Anyway, he told me that he is interested in stargazing with the telescope and he is planning to buy something decent. What he read on the astronomy forums is that it is not worth buying the cheap telescope, which is true. But he also told me that he got a recommendation to buy $1500 telescope, and this is where I was shocked. I don’t know who was advising him on that, but it is completely not true. Your first telescope should not be very expensive but also not very cheap. You have some expectations, and if you buy something that is very cheap, it will crush your interest in astronomy and telescopes. So, you need something good for the money. I recommended him to buy a Dobsonian telescope because that is the best what you can have for your money. You can buy a decent Dobsonian telescope from $300 and sometimes it will show you more than $1500 telescope.
What is Dobsonian Telescope
John Dobson popularized Dobsonian telescope in 1965. This new design allowed amateur astronomers to own much bigger telescopes in their backyards. It features a simple mechanical design which is easy to manufacture. Dobsonian is a large, portable and low-cost telescope.
The term telescope is usually used in marketing circles for equipment which consists of two parts. The Optical Tube Assembly(OTA) and the mount where is the OTA mounted. The mount is usually more than 50% of the whole price. So, if you can build a cheaper mount, you can reduce the price drastically. This is what John Dobson did. The design of Dobsonian mount is so simple you can even build it at home.
Dobsonian mount is just a base on which optical tube sits. This mount is altazimuth type mount, so it moves in azimuth and altitude directions. Very easy to use “point and shoot” system. But the price is not the only advantage of this mount. The other big advantage is that it can carry very big and heavy telescopes. If you want to put a big and heavy telescope on a standard German Equatorial Mount, this mount needs to be very good built and expensive to carry a heavy load. Basically, all big telescopes in observatories around the world are mounted on the Dobsonian type mount.
Newtonian Reflector Design
Dobsonian telescopes are exclusively Newtonian reflectors. It is also another reason why they are the best telescopes for the money. The Newtonian reflector is using mirrors to produce the image in the eyepiece. The first telescope invented was refractor using lenses, and there was the problem to scale it up in size. It is difficult and expensive to manufacture a big lens. So, Isac Newton invented a reflector design, in which he started using two mirrors. One big primary mirror on the bottom of the telescope and one smaller 45 degrees tilted secondary mirror on the top. This allowed scientists to build big telescopes. All big telescopes like Hubble Space Telescopes, James Webb Space Telescope or any big ones used in observatories by professional astronomers are using mirrors. The large mirror is easier to manufacture than a large lens. But we are still using also telescopes with the lenses because they have other advantages that I’m not going to talk about here.
The one disadvantage of the Newtonian reflector design is that you have to collimate mirrors frequently. It may sound like a complicated process, and many people are scared of it, but it is really not so hard, and I wrote an article on how to do it without the tools, so please read it. You have to do the collimation or aligning the mirrors in the reflector to get the crispest image possible. Usually, when you buy a telescope, it comes collimated out of the factory. But it is a good idea to check it anyway before the first use.
The Size Matters
So why we need a big telescope to see more? Many people think that telescopes are big to get high magnification. But that’s not true. We don’t need big magnification to observe deep sky objects. They are pretty big in the sky. The problem is that they are very dim, so we need to collect as much light as possible to see them. That’s why we need big telescopes with huge primary mirrors. The bigger the primary mirror in the telescope is, the brighter the image is. Therefore, to observe faint objects in the sky, you need a bigger mirror. And the Dobsonian telescope is the best option here because it can be big for the affordable price. It is also the reason why it’s not recommended to buy very cheap telescope because you won’t see much through it and you will be disappointed. You need a so-called, light bucket, which Dobsonian telescope is.
Manual vs. Motorized
Dobsonian telescopes come in two configurations same as any other telescopes. You have the option of the manual mount and motorized one.
The manual mount is a simple, straightforward “point and shoot” system where you control the movements of the telescope manually with your hands. First, you have to find the object by yourself through the small finder scope mounted on the main telescope, and then look for it in the eyepiece. It requires the knowledge of the sky, but don’t be scared; it’s quite easy to learn from the star maps. Also, the feeling of accomplishment you get after you find your first object on the sky is unforgettable. Moreover, it is the cheapest option.
If you can spend some extra money, you can get a motorized mount called GoTo system. You will be still able to move your telescope manually, but you will also have the comfort of the GoTo system. The mount is equipped with electric motors and a computer. You can control the telescope with the handset. The best part of it is that after you properly set up and align the telescope by following the instructions of the GoTo system, you can tell the telescope to point at any object on the sky you want. You have to press few buttons, and the scope will slew to the object you picked. This will save you time to find the object. And because the earth is spinning and the sky is moving, the object in the eyepiece will always drift away from the view with the manual mount. You will always have to adjust the scope to compensate for the earth rotation but, it’s not an issue with the GoTo mount because it will do it for you automatically. GoTo will be tracking the object by making small adjustments to keep it in the middle of the view.
What Dobsonian Telescope To Buy
Now, when you know what Dobsonian telescope is and you want to buy one, it comes to two things that help you decide what to buy. You can choose the right Dobsonian telescope based on your budget and the mount you want. The bigger, the better so there is nothing to think about. Buy the biggest aperture your budget allows. However, if you want to have a motorized GoTo mount, you need to make a compromise. If you have a very limited budget, just go with the manual Dobsonian telescope. You won’t be disappointed because finding the deep sky objects on the sky is easy. You can see many of them with the naked eye under the dark skies.
Recommended Dobsonian Telescopes For Beginners
Let’s say you are just starting with astronomy and stargazing, and you have a limited budget. You can buy the smallest Dobsonian telescope with 4.5″ aperture. It will be enough to get you started in astronomy, and it is not gonna break your bank account. And still, it’s not some cheap toy, so you will have an amazing time with it. It is small, portable and perfect starter scope.
But if you truly want the best telescope for the money, you have to buy at least 8″ aperture. This is the size where the “wow” factor will hit you when you look through it. The one I recommend is Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope.
This telescope will show you almost every object in the sky with high details. You will see details of the Jupiter bands, Saturn rings, galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. It comes with the 2″ focuser which means you can upgrade it with wide field 2″ eyepiece for big deep sky objects. It is a balance between the size, portability and the price. This really is the best telescope for the money you can buy as a beginner.
It may sound like a bold statement to recommend Dobsonian telescope as the best telescope for the money, but I stand behind it. It is the best decision you can make when choosing your first telescope. By the way, you can also find some strange looking Dobsonian designs that are called flex tube. This is a very clever solution for huge Dobsonian scopes because the optical tube is made from two small parts connected with 4 rods. You can slide it down to make the tube smaller which is good for transport.
So, no matter what Dobsonian telescope you buy, it will open the door to astronomy for you. After that, you can try to connect the camera to your scope, and later on, explore the possibilities of astrophotography with another scope. But you need to have this visual astronomy experience first, trust me. I wish you clear skies!