Telescopes come in an overwhelming variety of sizes, shapes, and prices. To make sense of this embarrassment of riches, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions using this guide.
How much are you willing to spend? How portable does your telescope need to be? Do you plan to do astrophotography? Why are some telescopes made with mirrors,others with lenses, and some with a combination of the two? What is the difference between a 25 mm eyepiece and a 10 mm? What is a finder scope for? What is Go To, and do I really need it? And what do you hope for and expect from astronomy?
Questions like this can be daunting, especially if you don't know any amateur astronomers yourself. This guide can answer these important questions to help you start out on the right path when selecting your first instrument to choose the right one to fit your needs and interests: some telescopes are better suited to observe, say, the planets more so than observing galaxies and nebula.
If you shop really carefully using this telescope buying guide, you can buy a good telescope for $100. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend a telescope costing $2,000 or more to a beginner who is really committed and knows exactly what he or she wants. For most people, the best first purchase might not even be a telescope; a good pair of binoculars will serve you much better when starting out in observational astronomy. And the binoculars will still be handy when you do move up to a telescope.
For a quick overview of what telescopes are all about, see our article Choosing Your First Telescope.
For a more comprehensive discussion of astronomical equipment, download the article What to Know before You Buy from the 2010 issue of our annual SkyWatch magazine.