The most expensive telescope is the one you will buy twice

In times of a contaminated telescope market, where paper launches and low-quality products flood the world, the choice of the right equipment is a complex affair. I remember a greek epic story I have been told as I was a child. It was the Journey of Odysseus to Ithaca. Particularly because it takes years to settle on a type of equipment perfectly matching your needs.

It begins with you

Your location, your preferences in terms of what kind of celestial objects you mostly consider, the atmospheric seeing, the local seeing, the temperature changes, the wind conditions, your mobility, the light pollution, the grade of automatism you need, your free time, your endurance to stay awake until late at night, your willingness to split your photo session into several nights and finally your budget should be considered.

If you pay peanuts you get monkeys

Most of the factors listed above are difficult to manage. Ironically, the last one is the easiest to change. A tiny smart system may better fit your needs than a large one, although both of them could share the same price tag. There is no such thing like a free lunch and only good instruments are able to produce attractive results. Televue, Avalon, 10Micron, Astrophysics, Takahashi, TEC, Pentax, ATIK or SBIG are probably the right addresses to go. Outstanding mounts are rare like diamonds. Good eyepieces are 1€ per gram. Excellent astrographs may cost 1..2K€ per inch. Useful astro cameras start at 700€ per megapixel. These funny values are truly indicative.

It looks like scrap, it feels like scrap, … it is scrap !

Many beginners make the common mistake to initially buy inferior parts of unacceptable low quality in order to „save“ money. They get undersized wobbling tripods, weak mounts with high periodic error and unacceptable backslash. They invest on telescopes with bad color correction, high obstruction and bad focusers, cheap eyepieces, low-priced extenders, and consumer cameras. Inferior parts degrade the image quality of your system.

The development of every ambitious astrophotographer is a curve

The camera choice is a real challenge. Typically, many enthusiasts start making pretty pictures by adapting their compact camera on the eyepiece of their telescope. This so called „afocal photography“ is the very first step in the long way an astrophotographer will go. The next step upwards is inevitable; a DSLR camera. Unfortunately, cameras for advanced birthday photography are not capable to catch the stars since they lack light sensitivity, especially in the red light spectrum. An interim tuning step i.e. the removal of the internal filter to increase the camera’s sensitivity in the red spectrum, is filled with satisfaction.

Curves are made of milestones

Happiness does not last for ever. Soon, the desire for a better noise reduction and an accurate image calibration especially at warm summer nights make all initial positive impressions fall into oblivion. One shot color CCD cameras fill this gap being even more sensitive than tuned DSLRs. This third step can last for few years, but the next milestone is already in sight. The weak points of an OSC camera are doubtless its low resolution and the missing capability to make really good narrowband work. This is where monochromatic CCD cameras excel. This camera concept is almost perfect. Terms likes field of view, light sensitivity, resolution are now again considered but they are rediscussed in a higher level and a new spoiling perspective. This last step of astrophotography is both the most expensive and the most powerful one; Monochrom astronomy cameras define the point where most astrophotographers can stay for ever.

Reaching the goal

However, the direct jump to a high-end monochromatic astro camera is not really recommended for an absolute beginner. I think, the journey is the reward. Remember the journey of Odysseus to Ithaca. Gaining considerable experience from mistakes, doing the right things at the right time and sharing valuable knowledge with the astronomy community is the best way to go. The money spent for this journey is called „Lehrgeld“ in German. This is the money spent for learning. The grand prize is your experience. You can’t get something from nothing.

Made in Wall Street

Cheap telescopes flood the world. They are quickly produced in large series, in distant countries by incompetent resources working for peanuts to fulfil the offshore phantasies of their bosses. The main goal of these de-facto headless companies is the short-term profit. Since „Engineering Excellence“ and “Wall Street“ are mostly opposite terms, one can easily guess the quality of the telescopes coming out of these plants. As usual, glossy brochures cannot show you the stars. I know only a few American, Japanese and European companies being able to produce a good telescope, not a quarter of it.

The total mistake

A total mistake is the sum of all mistakes done. Is the mount or the telescope the most important thing of a telescope setup? Experienced amateurs agree in one point: Yes, it is! However, I think that all parts in a telescope setup play an equivalent role in terms of importance. But if you put a gun on my head, and I had to decide I would also say the same thing: „Go for the best mount you can afford!“

Metal and glass

The photos listed in this site are taken with many combinations of Takahashis and Televues. Although the perfect telescope has not been invented yet, I was always satisfied with their performance as these lovely instruments made my nights productive and enjoyable. Since ever, the lack of time is my main problem and even me can sometimes not explain how I have finally managed to go online with this internet site. /px

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