Telescope Buyers' FAQ - Part Six
Okay, so where do I buy my telescope?
Yes, the obvious - you find a store (not a department store) that sells telescopes and write a cheque (or, if they won't give you a cash discount, use a credit card that offers buyer protection, or gives you bonus miles, or some such).
The advantages of this method is that you have some place to return the telescope to if you have problems with it. Some places even offer your money back if you change your mind within some grace period.
The disadvantage is that you generally pay more for the telescope itself, and you pay sales tax.
There are two sorts of mail order: the discount stores that sell all sorts of stuff through the mail, and telescope stores that sell through the mail in addition to selling from their store.
The advantages and disadvantages of mail order are obvious: you cannot take the merchandise back easily if something goes wrong, but it's cheaper and you probably pay no sales tax.
You can find some great deals in used telescopes. Many people buy expensive telescopes, use them two or three times, get bored and sell them. The advantage is strictly monetary: you pay significantly less (and, of course, no tax).
The disadvantage is that you are buying something 'as is', which you may want to think twice about doing if you are buying an expensive telescope. Also, both Meade and Celestron offer (limited) lifetime warranties on their optics, which are not transferable.
All that having been said, here is a list of places you can buy telescopes, with comments as applicable. Note that not all will sell or will ship. For some you must go to a store.
Orion Telescopes carries a wide selection of binoculars, telescopes, and accessories (Celestron, Tele Vue, and their house brand; they do not carry Meade). They have a 30 day 'no questions, satisfaction guaranteed' refund policy, which they do seem serious about. A fair number of people (myself included) have bought at Orion and all are very satisfied with the way they were treated.
While I have not had any dealings with this company,the messages I've seen on sci.astro.amateur (newsgroup) have all had good things to say about them.
Higher prices than Adorama and Focus (see below), but lower than Orion and Lumicon. Enthusiastically recommended by a couple of people on the net. As with all mail order, make sure the shipping price is included.
This company also sells many types of telescopes. From SCTs to DOBs. Have seen both good and bad posted about them. As noted above this company is now owned by TASCO.
They make not only Dobs, but also equatorial reflectors and equatorial refractors too. So far I've seen good reports on them.
Mag 1 Instruments
Markets their 'Portaball' style DOBs in 8in and 12.5in size.
Meade Instruments Corps.
Markets many types of telescopes, from junk to high end.
They market a full line of DOBs. Note: There have been reports of people waiting for over 1 year for a scope and others not getting anything yet.
Markets Dobs from 15in to 30in!
Pocono Mountain Optics
Enthusiastically recommended by a few people on the net. Owned by Glenn Jacobs who goes to most of the astronomy get-togethers in the NY-NJ-PA-CT area so you can actually meet him if you live in the area. Often willing to cut a package deal if you are buying big ticket items. No problems returning things with which you are dissatisfied.
Enthusiastically recommended by a person on the net. Not the least expensive, but top-notch service. Roger unpacks, inspects and collimates every scope he sells, and is very good about refunding your money if you are dissatisfied.
Markets a 4 1/4inch DOB in both kit form and/or ready-to-use. Both under $300.00. Also a 6inch DOB kit for $424.00 with shipping.
Markets DOBs from 8in to 30in.
A few people have reported using University Optics, and all report receiving good service. I have heard no complaints.
A couple of people have mentioned that shipment can be pretty delayed, but the quality of their equipment appears to be high, and improving. Salespeople vary from knowledgeble to bubbleheaded.
Along with Focus Camera (see below), the lowest prices you will find. Expect no dealer support, and make sure you find out how much they will charge for shipping before placing your order. And pray that the optics arrive intact. I really would recommend that you not buy telescopes from these guys. Eyepieces and other accessories, however, are probably worth the risk if the price difference is significant.
Refer to Adorama. Same comments apply.
Pauli's Wholesale Optical
A lot of bad reports, order at your own risk!
Also there is the AstroMall.
What about building a Telescope?
This section was written by Andy Michael.
We just took a rather unusual approach to getting a beginning telescope: we took John Dobson's telescope building class and built an 8" and a 12.5" reflector on Dobsonian mounts (of course). We went this way for a few reasons: to get large aperture for seeing deep-sky objects and higher magnification with good resolution when compared to small refractors in this price range, to keep the price down, and to soak up John's wit and wisdom.
The down side is that these telescopes are not suited for astrophotography (at least not without building a different mount) but that didn't bother us. Also they are large. The 8" tube we broke into two pieces for easy portability, but the 12.5" one will probably go on the roof rack. These are about f/7 telescopes so the tube lengths are 56" and 7' respectively. Of course, when you build yours you can make whatever size you want. On the other hand you can pack your clothes in them; try that with an SCT. The cost was about $250 for the 8" telescope, $450 for the 12.5"er plus about 24 to 30 hours of work and 16 - 24 hours of class.
It's a challenging project but the first time you focus on something with a mirror you ground is an incredible thrill. Another benefit is that we now know a lot about telescope design and if we ever have problems with them we know how to fix them.
If you don't have access to John's (or other people's) classes then you can try building one by reading his book and by watching the video. Our class was the first to see parts of the video and had great success at finishing the telescopes fast and without needing to correct the mirrors very much. Coincidence? Class consensus was no.
The book (excerpted from the order form): "How and Why to Make a User-Friendly Sidewalk Telescope" by John Dobson with Norm Sperling. To appreciate why Dobson makes each factor just so, learn how he thinks about it. His philosophy of star-gazing perfuses his telescopes and his book. The book includes the only detailed biography; wonderful vignettes from the Sidewalk Astronomers' many expeditions; their own special way of describing celestial objects; and, of course,complete details for making a Dobsonian. 169 pages; 154 clear, friendly line drawings; 9 photos. Hardbound in plywood: Dobson's favorite material.
Author: Dennis Bishop