Scoping out Telescopes




Ever taken a telescope camping?


These are, more-or-less, “department store scopes.” Made in China, but likely lower quality than those made by Synta, another Chinese company that owns Skywatcher and Celestron.

The optics might be decent, but the build quality, particularly in the mounts, is likely poor. Everything will feel loose and rattly… Generally speaking, you want a mount which is as sturdy as possible. Every vibration is magnified as seen through the eyepiece, after all.

The price is also hardly what could be considered a discount. It’s about what one would expect to pay for these particular scopes.

If I had to pick one, I’d go with the RP-200 80mm refractor. It has the simplest mount and and the shortest tube, and will therefore be sturdier than the rest. I would then add a decent-quality 90-degree mirror star diagonal, and probably a red dot finder as the included finderscope is useless. After that, it wouldn’t be half bad as a travel scope.

The RP-100 has a wobbley yoke mount which will cause nothing but frustration. The 300 will be unstable on its mount as well. The 400 is probably okay, but I’d rather save my money.


I love astronomy. In fact I justpurchased yesterday’s woot: Celestron SkyScout, even I may not even need it.

Having said this, I advise anyone interested in astronomy spending your 200 dollars on something else. Either a 6" DOB or a pair of binocular is a much better choice than department scopes. In this shopping season, there are lot of choices 200 can do.


These are some cheap 'scopes, but that’s not to say they can’t be made to work well. Here’s a neat trick I learned from my perpetual-grad-student physicist friend: An astonishingly good telescope vibration damper* can be cobbled together with a buck or two’s worth of hardware: Buy a small short eyebolt with two matching nuts, and a 4-6in length of small welded link chain. Drill a small hole in the tube housing for the eyebolt. The hole should be at the bottom of the tube as it sits parallel to the ground, right in front of the objective lens of the telescope (not the mirror cell or back end of a reflector). Install the eyebolt (with the eye outside) using two nuts tightened together, one on each side of the housing. Attach the chain onto the eye so that it hangs down and swings freely.

Yes, this makes your telescope look like it has a metal goatee, but you’ll be surprised how clear pics will come out when using a camera eyepiece adapter. While this won’t make up for a totally flimsy mount, it will make it possible to turn a wobbly beast (like a couple of these woot scopes) into a serviceable and fun scope.

(*Damping has to do with reducing vibration. If you want to “dampen” it, get a wet washcloth and make yourself happy.)


I love telescope marketing pictures where they show people looking through them -during the day-.

I encourage everyone to look up at the sky with a telescope at least once but I’m not sure these cheap numbers are the way to do it. Lack of tracking means the object you’re looking at will zoom out of the field of view pretty quickly. Finding the object in the first place can be hard too. Really the best object to look at with scopes like this is the Moon. Large and bright and easy to find. Planets are next but besides Jupiter and Venus you need a little bit of skill to locate them if they’re around at all. Bright globular clusters are fine targets for scopes like this but will be hard to find for beginners and then once found will not stay in the field of view.

It’s a pretty tough hobby to get into. I started with a Meade DS2090 which is a cheap 90mm refractor on an automatic alt-az tripod. $200 at Costco I think. A bear to align but would at least somewhat track a painfully found object. My current setup is orders of magnitude more expensive :slight_smile: