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Buying a Telescope as a Christmas Present

It’s that time of year again. Burnt turkey, chimney fires and family rows: Christmas can go wrong.

One common mistake you can avoid, though, is killing someone’s budding astronomy interest with the wrong telescope.

Having bought scopes for my daughter, run astronomy evenings at the local Cubs and star parties at a local dark sky site, I’ve got some idea what works in a beginner’s telescope. Here are some seasonal guidelines and recommendations based on those experiences.

I will work through some basics to let you make an informed choice. Alternatively, if you’re pushed for time, skip straight to my recommendations.

What Makes a Good Beginner’s Scope?

Six things:

1)    Wide field of view

2)    Good finder

3)    Simple, stable mount

4)    Good optics

5)    A smooth focuser that takes 1.25” accessories

6)    Quality eyepieces and diagonal

Let’s briefly look at each in turn.

1) Wide Field of View

A telescope’s maximum field of view (the amount of sky you can see) is not down to the diameter of its lens or mirror, but its focal length (same as a camera lens). You’ll find this somewhere on the tube or box.

Stick to telescopes with a focal length under about 700mm to show a large area of sky and make finding things easier.

2) Good finder

Simple red dot finders are best for beginners because they are easy to align and use. Avoid optical finders with plastic brackets: they never keep their alignment and are frustrating to use.


3) Simple, stable mount

A simple up-down (alt-azimuth) mount, preferably with slow motion controls, on a good, lightweight tripod is ideal for a beginner. Avoid fancy GOTO mounts, which can be frustratingly hard to set-up.

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4) Good optics

Stick to major brands like Skywatcher, Celestron and Meade. Avoid scopes under 50mm aperture and especially toy telescopes like these which can have plastic lenses:

5) A smooth focuser that takes 1.25” accessories

The focuser should have a metal tube and an opening of at least 1.25” (not 0.965”).

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6) Quality eyepieces and diagonal

Look for quality eyepieces, with metal barrels and proper coatings, that give low to moderate magnifications: 10mm to 40mm are ideal.


My Recommendation

That’s it for my six buyers’ guidelines. Let’s get specific (at last, I hear you say!)

This is my overall top recommendation:

Skywatcher Startravel-80 (or Startravel-102)

This is a small refractor (lens telescope) with a wide field of view on a simple alt-azimuth or basic equatorial mount. It comes bundled with quality accessories and meets all my six criteria. The 102mm version is even better, but not much more expensive. I’d enjoy using either setup myself. It should cost about £260.

Later on, it’s easy to start doing basic astrophotography and you can even use it for nature viewing/photography as well.


Other Recommended Options

On a tighter budget, I have heard good things about Celestron’s Travel Scope 70 (but absolutely not the Travel Scope 50, which has issues that I’ve described elsewhere on this site) and other similar small Celestrons, like the Power Seeker.

If you must have GOTO, I recommend Meade’s EXT80 (NOT the ETX90 which is a very different scope with a small field of view). But be prepared to learn how to align it yourself before you give it as a present.

Dobsonians (‘Dobs’) can be good for older children, perhaps those with a more serious interest from a previous smaller scope. Skywatcher’sSkylinerDobsonians (130mm, 150mm or 200mm) are all an excellent choice. The tiny Celestron Firstscope isn’t a bad budget choice – it’s a tiny Dob’.

Amazon can be a good place to buy thanks to their extended Christmas returns in case there’s a problem (I can recommend other major photo’ retailers like Wex too):

Buy Sky-Watcher Startravel-80 (EQ-1) Short-Tube Achromatic Refractor from Amazon here:



Buy Sky-Watcher Startravel-102 (AZ-3) Short-Tube Achromatic Refractor from Wex here:



For some good alternatives, check these out:



Merry Christmas 2022 from Scope Views!

(If you do head out after Christmas lunch to try out a new scope, be sure to check out planets Jupiter and Saturn, both low and bright the southern sky in late afternoon and Mars which is especially high and bright this Christmas!)