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As with any pursuit, you need the right tools for the job. When building a deck, you'll need a saw and hammer; when observing the stars, you need the right telescope. Amateur astronomer Carl Gilbertson shares his observations.
By Carl Gilbertson
Basic Telescope Designs
The job of a telescope is to collect light, not to magnify an image (the eyepiece does that job). The larger the objective (the part that collects the light) whether it be a lens, in refractors, or a mirror, in reflectors, the more light the telescope will collect. The more light you can collect, the more detail you will be able to capture, and also important for astrophotography, the shorter your exposures will need to be to capture this detail.
The type of telescope most people visualize when they hear the word telescope is the 'Refractor'. This is what Galileo used for his break-thru discoveries. A refractor has an objective lens at the front which passes the light straight through to the back of the tube, focusing this light at an eyepiece or for astrophotography a camera.
-No central obstruction (see more in the reflecting scopes), giving higher contrast.
-Due to the simple design they require little maintenance.
-Excellent for planetary and lunar viewing and photography.
-Excellent for wide field viewing and astrophotography especially in shorter focal lengths (more on this later).
-Because the objective is permanently mounted and aligned there is no need for collimation (again more on this in another article).
-Excellent color in apochromatic and ED (Extra Dispersion) designs.
-Costlier per inch of aperture (objective) than reflectors and catadioptric telescopes.
-Can become bulky and difficult to manage, especially in larger lens designs.
This design was invented by Sir Isaac Newton (he of the apple on the head fame). Instead of a lens at the front of the tube this telescope design uses a concave, parabolic mirror to collect light reflecting it back towards the front of the tube to a flat diagonal mirror which reflects the light out the side of the telescope to the eyepiece or camera for astrophotography.
-Lowest cost per inch of all the telescope designs.
-More light gathering power per dollar because of the lower cost design.
-Absolutely perfect color rendition.
-More compact design compared to a refractor of similar light gathering ability.
-Excellent contrast for planetary and lunar astrophotography and viewing in longer focal lengths.
-Can get excellent wide-field astrophotos and short exposures in shorter focal lengths.
-Slight loss of contrast due to the central obstruction (the flat secondary mirror) as compared to a refractor.
-Requires more maintenance, such as collimation (discussed in another article) which is vital for great results in your astrophotography, although you will learn how to do this quickly with practice.
This is a very popular design, with a high tech look. Also known as a CAT (Catadrioptics). They use a combination of lenses and mirrors to collect and focus the light onto the eyepiece or camera. The light enters the telescope through a thin 'lens' called a schmidt corrector plate, goes to the back of the scope to a spherical primary mirror which reflects the light back towards the front. Here the light strikes another mirror, the secondary mirror which is mounted on the corrector plate. This secondary mirror then reflects the light back towards the back where it is focused onto a hole in the primary mirror where the light is collected by an eyepiece or your astrophotography camera.
-Compact and portable.
-Low maintenance although once again collimation is required for top performance.
-Many, many astrophotography accessories available.
-Cheaper per inch of aperture as compared with refractors.
-Excellent all-round telescope, good to very good for both visual and astrophography.
-Very good for planetary and lunar viewing and astrophotography.
-Very good to excellent for DSO (Deep Space Object) astrophotography with a caveat (see the disadvantages).
-Very good to excellent optics, both Meade and Celestron are putting out excellent optics on a consistant basis.
-Costlier per inch of aperture as compared with Newtonian telescopes.
-Loss of contrast due to the central obstruction which is even larger than that in the Newtonian scopes.
-Due to their longer focal lengths the field of view is smaller and longer exposures are required for astrophotography, although a lens known as a focal reducer is available which minimizes or removes this problem. The longer focal length is actually an advantage in planetary and lunar photography.
The Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope design is basically the same as the Schmidt-Cassegrain design except it uses a meniscus lens at the front instead of a Schmidt corrector plate. The main advantage to the Mak telescope design is you will get sharper higher contrast planetary and lunar images when compared with the Schmidt design.
Carl Gilbertson has been involved in amatuer astronomy for over 30 years and astrophotography for over twenty-five years. Learn more at his site: Telescopes For Astrophotography
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