While astronomy has been a life-long interest, it wasn’t until December of 2003 that I took an active role in the hobby. My own journey into Astronomy started out by not following the advice I had been given, instead I purchased a Meade NG-60 telescope, a small refractor. With it’s shaky mount and useless finder, I almost gave up on astronomy before I really got started due to the frustration of trying (unsuccessfully) to find objects in the sky. However I came across a web site specifically about these small (less than high quality) telescopes…http://bargaintelescopes.net/ctsg.php
I upgraded the mount (the old, flimsy one on the left, the rock solid one on the right) and rings. I also got rid of the finderscope (actually I think it’s at the bottom of my kids’ toy box where it belongs – the lens on that finder was plastic) and upgraded to a Meade 8 x 25mm right angle finder that I found on eBay. Here’s a great article on how to improve that little telescope of yours that’s collecting dust in the corner/closet/garage.
After all was said and done I spent a little more than $200 on my little 60mm refractor between the initial purchase price and upgrades. Compare that amount to the $80 I spent on a used Meade 4500 4.5″ reflector. The Meade 4500 came with the same sturdy tripod that I upgraded the 60mm refractor to. Additionally the Meade 4500 gathers 90% more light than the 60mm.
So lesson learned, albeit too late, stay away from small refractors for a beginner scope as there are better values out there. If I had to recommend a scope for a beginner I wouldn’t…binoculars are the best way to go to learn the night sky. However if you have made up your mind that you want a telescope, a 6″ or 8″ Dobsonian mounted reflector is easiest telescope to use, however you need to make sure you have the space to store this larger scope, in a convenient place. Having to navigate a set of stairs carrying a larger scope and a Dobsonian base can be a real chore and may end up deterring you from going out and observing. If storage and easy of portability are major concerns, a 4.5″ reflector (like the Meade 4500 or similar equatorially mounted reflectors) is the minimum size I would go with, however a beginner may find it a bit too difficult to use at first, since you must be polar aligned.
So after about 2 years of trying it out on my own, I joined the Raleigh Astronomy Club and took advantage of their Loaner Scope Program (a program that I now manage). For the next 2 years, I had access to various 8″ aperture telescopes without out having to buy one; talk about a great test drive!