Top 10 telescopes for 2019

Bill, Optics Central’s astrophotography specialist – and general all-round enthusiast – gives his opinion of the top 10 telescopes for 2019. See what he thinks!

My boss asked me to come up with a list of the top 10 telescopes for 2019. It’s a big ask, as they’re all so different, and have such a diverse range of uses. To manage this, I decided to split them into a series of categories, then choose my favourites in each category.

I’ll talk about the scopes and their mounts, the important things that come with them, and what you should see. All of them will see the Moon, and most of the telescopes make a pretty good fist at the larger planets, Jupiter and Saturn. The ones with the highest magnification can see other planets too. Scopes with good light gathering power will see the two large nebulas, Eta Carina and the Great Nebula in Orion. Getting a scope with more light gathering will show you even dimmer targets.

So let the awards ceremony begin!

Basic telescopes

Telescopes in this category are uncomplicated, but good quality optical instruments; they’re not toys. They don’t have tracking mounts, photographic accessories, or other things that you’ll need to learn about.

It’s just about you and the stars.

saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope

saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope

The Novo 909 is your quintessential refractor telescope. It’s got a 910mm focal length, meaning it will magnify a medium amount. With the 10mm eyepiece you will be able to get a small, but clear image of Saturn’s rings, or the cloud bands on Jupiter. With the same eyepiece, the Moon will fill the view. Swap the eyepiece to the wider angled 25mm, and the moon will be about one-third across the field. This eyepiece will give you much better views of wide clusters. The Pleiades will just fit in the view.

The scope comes on the popular AZ3 mount, which is a simple alt-azimuth (left-right, up-down) mount. It has slow-motion controls for tracking stars without having to move the scope by hand.

 

Saxon 1149EQ2 Reflector Telescope w/ Steel Tripod

Saxon 1149EQ2 Reflector Telescope w/ Steel Tripod

The saxon 1149EQ2 is a simple Newtonian reflector telescope. This means the eyepiece is at the side of the scope at the front. When it’s pointed at something high in the sky, you may need a stepladder or a chair for small people to reach the eyepiece.

The magnification of the 1149EQ2 is medium, having a focal length of 900mm. Being a reflector telescope means that, for the equivalent price, you can get a larger aperture, so light gathering is the scope’s specialty, and the images will be brighter than the equivalent price refractor.

The scope comes with three eyepieces: 4mm, 10mm, and 25mm. The 25mm will give a good view of the brighter (and larger) nebulas, and the 4mm will be best suited for bright planets.

The 1149EQ2 has an equatorial mount, which has the advantage of, when set up correctly, being able to track the stars with a single control as they move out of the field of view. Of course, the disadvantage of this is that you need to spend time setting the mount up prior to use, and some people can find it tricky.

 

Telescopes for viewing planets

The universe is filled with all manner of things to look at. These come in a range of sizes, from tiny but extremely bright planets to overwhelmingly large, but vanishingly dim nebulas. Sadly, because of this, there’s no one telescope that shows all of these.

Planetary scopes are good at the bright tiny things (including binary stars). They’ve got long focal lengths, giving them high magnification. The trade-off is that you won’t get a fantastic look at a galaxy or nebula. It’d be like using a telephoto lens to get a selfie. You’ll only end up photographing your nose.

 

Sky-Watcher Star Discovery 127/1500 Computerised Telescope

Sky-Watcher Star Discovery 127/1500 Computerised Telescope

This is a marriage of a 127mm Maksutov Cassegrain telescope and a Star Discovery computerised alt-azimuth mount. The Maksutov has a long 1500mm focal length, giving a high level of magnification. Using the higher-power 10mm eyepiece, this will be plenty to get a view of Saturn’s rings or cloud bands on Jupiter. The 5-inch aperture drags in a good amount of light, so, for example, the Orion Nebula will show a reasonable amount of detail in its brighter areas.

As an example of magnification being too great, however, the Pleiades is just a tad too large for this scope, even when using the 25mm eyepiece. Of course, other eyepieces are available.

The scope sits on a Sky-Watcher Star Discovery computerised alt-azimuth go-to mount. You can control the latest version of the mount with a hand controller, or you can use your smart device using the built-in wi-fi. Having both is new in the latest version of this scope, so it’s on the top 10 telescopes for 2019 list. Like the other SynScan controlled mounts, this has over 42,000 objects in the database. This means that once you are aligned, your telescope can find just about everything.

 

Celestron CPC 925 GPS (XLT) Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

Celestron CPC 925 GPS (XLT) Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

Here we have one of the big guys on the top 10 telescopes for 2019 list. The Celestron CPC 925 is a magnification monster. With a focal length of 2350mm, you have huge potential here. The scope comes with a single 40mm eyepiece, though, which will show you the Moon (and larger deep sky objects like galaxies and small nebulas). If you want to get serious with planets, you’ll need a shorter focal length eyepiece, but with the saxon Cielo 2.3mm you’ll get about 1000x magnification and an unrivalled view of the planets including Venus and Mars. Even Neptune and Uranus should be resolvable as a disc.

The mount is a computerised go-to, built large enough to support this massive scope. It’s controlled by the same hand controller as other Celestron alt-azimuth mounts and is just as simple to use. In fact, it’s even simpler because Celestron has included a GPS in the hardware, saving you the hassle of entering your time, date and location every time you set it up.

The whole thing is portable, just, if you have a large car. I’ve lifted the scope up onto its tripod myself and while it’s heavy, it’s doable for a relatively strong adult.

 

Telescope for viewing galaxies and nebulas

Carrying on the theme of “there’s no single telescope that does it all”, here we have a scope that isn’t designed for planets, but rather for “wide field” astronomy. While that planet will be a dot, this scope will show you star clusters, galaxies and nebulas that are (in my opinion) far more interesting.

Incidentally, I’d like to nominate the 1206AZ5 for this category, but it also wins in the terrestrial viewing category, so I’ll talk about it there.

 

saxon Hyperion 1021EQ3 Refractor Telescope

Saxon Hyperion 1021EQ3 Refractor Telescope

The Hyperion is a large refractor telescope. It has a 4” (102mm) aperture and a 1000mm focal length, giving it both more light and more magnification than the simple refractor I discussed earlier. It’s not as much of a magnification monster as a Cassegrain telescope. Instead, specialises in the larger objects that the Cassegrain can’t see, like large nebulas, galaxies and star clusters.

Of course, it’s great for the Moon, and with the supplied 10mm eyepiece, the Moon will just slightly more than fill the field. The 25mm eyepiece will give a clearer, brighter image.

The mount that this scope comes on is the versatile and stable EQ3. The EQ3 has an azimuth adjustment, meaning you don’t have to move the tripod legs when polar aligning. Later on, you can upgrade the mount to a fully computerised go-to mount, complete with a hand controller. This means you can get as far into astronomy as you like.

 

Short period astrophotography

Back in the day, if you wanted to take single-exposure astrophotographs, you needed to have a mount that tracked the stars for 10 minutes or more. These days, however, digital imaging means you can take lots of shorter exposures and process them in “image stacking” software.

 

Sky-Watcher 10″ Dobsonian Collapsible GOTO Computerised Telescope

Sky-Watcher 10" Dobsonian Collapsible GOTO Computerised Telescope

One of the best things about a Dobsonian scope is the cheapness of the mount means they can beef up the optics. With a standard Dob though, this means you have to push the tube around in order to find and track your target. This version, however, has a go-to system installed, so it can find and track your target.

The 10 inch aperture is the widest scope in this list. This means this monster will suck in enormous amounts of light. For visual work, this means you’ll be seeing galaxies and nebulas with the 20mm eyepiece. Careful when observing the moon, though. It’ll be so bright you will definitely need a filter.

For astrophotography, DSLR shots of the Moon will be excellent. You won’t need more than about 0.001s exposure, so tracking won’t be an issue. With the mount tracking, and some practice you will be able to stack a series of short exposures (say, 15 seconds). This will get some impressive deep sky objects. You will get detailed images of the larger planets if you use a small sensor astronomical camera such as an ASI120MC-S.

And… at about one third of the price of some the other large scopes in this list, this scope will get you there on a budget. It’s a worthy member of the top 10 telescopes for 2019 list.

 

Long period astrophotography

Anyone who knows me will know that this is my favourite area. Nebula photography is what I specialise in, and this takes good equipment, precision, and lots of practice. However, it’s as rewarding as anything!

Long-period astrophotography needs an equatorial mount that is capable of tracking the sky reliably. Magnification isn’t as important, as deep-sky objects come in a range of sizes. These three options will give you the equipment you need.

 

saxon 150DS Newtonian Reflector with GoTo EQ3 Mount Astrophotography Bundle

saxon 150DS Newtonian Reflector with GoTo EQ3 Mount Astrophotography Bundle

The saxon 150DS Newtonian reflecting telescope has a fast focal ratio (f/5) and a relatively short 750mm focal length. The field of view will be good and wide, so it is a specialist in photographing nebulas and galaxies. A must for astrophotographers, it has a dual-speed focuser so you can get those stars nice and small. If you’re interested in visual work, it comes with a huge 2-inch 28mm eyepiece. The focuser also has a t-thread, meaning you can easily and securely attach either a DSLR (via a t-adapter) or an astronomical camera.

The telescope comes on the saxon EQ3 mount, fully equipped with computerised go-to enhancements. This means you can use the computer assisted polar alignment, then find and track your target easily.

This will give you a great start in astrophotography without having to lay out vast amounts of money. Because it’s so upgradable, it found its way into the top 10 telescopes for 2019 list.

 

Celestron CGX Equatorial 925 EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

Celestron CGX Equatorial 925 EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

This is another one of the big ones in the top 10 telescopes for 2019. The 925 EdgeHD is a specialist astrophotographic telescope, which provides a flat focal plane that means your stars will be in focus from one edge of the photo to the other. Normal telescopes provide a slightly curved focal plane. This means stars at the edge of the photo will be slightly out of focus. The scope has a long 2350mm focal length, meaning you will be able to target small, distant objects. At the same time, you can also get very close up photos of the Moon and detailed images of the planets. This will handle everything but the largest deep-sky objects.

The scope comes on a Celestron CGX computerised equatorial mount, which is strong and stable. The CGX is simple to use, and can easily be adjusted for polar alignment while fully loaded. Celestron’s software is a breeze, and you don’t need to know the names of the stars you align on.

The CGX mount is easily connected to a computer using a standard USB cable or wi-fi dongle, and is designed to work with an autoguider. This will mean, with some practice, you will be able to achieve single exposures of up to 30 minutes. This really is professional-grade equipment.

 

Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 on EQ6-R

In astronomy, sometimes you have to buy the most specialised equipment separately. But this means you can choose the mount and telescope combination that suits your specific needs. Of course, I don’t know what your needs are, so this is just an example of what we can do. There are different size scopes and different types of mounts.

The telescope: Sky-Watcher Esprit Triplet 100/550 ED Triplet Refractor Telescope

Sky-Watcher Esprit Triplet 100/550 ED Triplet Refractor Telescope

Personally, I’m a refractor guy. I feel that the images I get from glass are crisper and clearer than those from a reflector. The Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 is an astounding telescope. One of the highlights of the year for me was to unbox one for a video and actually play around with it for a while. Wow. It has a triplet lens at the front, including Japanese Hoya FPL-53 glass. This will give you as close as you can get to chromatic aberration-free images. As well as that, the scope comes with a field flattener which gives you nice sharp stars all the way across the field.

There was no way this scope was going to miss out on being one of the top 10 telescopes for 2019!

The Esprit 100 has a focal length of 550mm, meaning your field is going to be wide. This is meant for images of dim but large nebulas, some of which can be enormous.

Incidentally, you can watch a video of me unboxing this scope.

The mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan Equatorial Mount

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan Equatorial Mount

For the Esprit 100, we would recommend a Sky-Watcher EQ6-R. The Esprit 100 is not a super heavy scope, and it could go on smaller mount. However, any astrophotographer will tell you that the best way of ruining a good photo is to go too close to your mount’s payload limit. The EQ6-R is not going have any problems hefting the Esprit 100. What’s more, it’s belt driven, so it’ll track better and be quieter about it.

Out of the box, the EQ6-R should give you exposures of over two minutes (depending on your polar alignment, of course). However, if you add an autoguiding system, you will be capable of exposures of 30 minutes or more. Just think…

Terrestrial viewing

Terrestrial viewing, such as ship, whale or bird watching, or generally taking advantage of your house’s view, is quite different to astronomical viewing. For a start, if you use a super-high magnification machine on a target on the ground, you’re likely to only see heat haze. The other problem is that you are likely to be viewing city lights in twilight, and a small scope isn’t going to gather much light under those circumstances.

 

saxon 1206AZ5 Refractor Telescope

saxon 1206AZ5 Refractor Telescope

The saxon 1206AZ5 is a combination of mount and telescope that ticks all the boxes for terrestrial viewing. The tube is wide – at 120mm you will bring in a lot of light. The focal length is a good 600mm. This gives you a good amount of magnification without being spoiled by atmospheric disturbances except on the hottest days. This gets it into the top 10 telescopes for 2019.

The AZ5 mount is saxon’s highest quality manual alt-azimuth. It gives you smooth slewing both up and down as well as left and right. This includes having slow-motion adjustments all the way around. It also has an innovative fork that you can install in two positions, enabling astronomical as well as terrestrial observing.

Astronomical binoculars

Yes, one of the top 10 telescopes for 2019 is a pair of binoculars! Sometimes you can’t have a telescope with you – particularly if you’re away from home. Have you peered up a telescope for hours at a time with one eye wedged shut? If so, you’ll understand the comfort that a pair of astronomical binoculars will give you. Also, although it’s an illusion, a binocular view appears more three-dimensional than a telescopic view.

saxon 20×80 Night Sky Waterproof Binoculars

www.opticscentral.com.au/saxon-20x80-waterproof-astronomy-binoculars.html

The saxon 20×80 waterproof astronomy binoculars give you a clear, comfortable, bright view of the night sky. Being binoculars, you can wander around the sky, investigating anything you encounter as you go. They will show you the Moon, star clusters, and bright nebulas.

Binoculars are particularly good at viewing comets. Comets, including their tails, are very large. Seen through higher-magnification optics, a comet will appear as a fuzzy blob. The binoculars will show you the tail as well.

The binoculars weigh close to 2 kilograms, and have 20x magnification. They’re not something that you can hold in your hands for long periods of time. They need a fairly heavy-duty standard tripod, such as a SLIK Pro 400DX Tripod.

 

Summary

Sky-Watcher Esprit Triplet 100/550 ED Triplet Refractor TelescopeSky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan Equatorial Mount

Category Instrument
Basic scope saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope
Basic scope Saxon 1149EQ2 Reflector Telescope w/ Steel Tripod
Telescopes for viewing planets Sky-Watcher Star Discovery 127/1500 Computerised Telescope
Telescopes for viewing planets Celestron CPC 925 GPS (XLT) Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope
Telescopes for viewing galaxies and nebulas Saxon Hyperion 1021EQ3 Refractor Telescope
Short period astrophotography Sky-Watcher 10″ Dobsonian Collapsible GOTO Computerised Telescope
Long period astrophotography Saxon 150DS Newtonian Reflector with GoTo EQ3 Mount Astrophotography Bundle
Long period astrophotography Celestron CGX Equatorial 925 EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope
Long period astrophotography
Terrestrial viewing Saxon 1206AZ5 Refractor Telescope
Astronomical binoculars Saxon 20×80 Night Sky Waterproof Binoculars

 

Trivia

Has anyone noticed that the Top 10 telescopes for 2019 is a list of 11? Let’s call it a Christmas bonus, shall we?

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