* Prices may differ from that shown
This is supposed to be an entry-level reflector, and comes in a nice design (with scientists' names on the tube) and the price reflects it. We bought it for our daughter and I think it encourages interest in stargazing (''I have my own 'scope!'') and teaches about things like eyepieces, focusing and magnification. The FirstScope comes with a 4mm and a 20mm eyepieces.The actual results are so-so though, although the setup is easy, focusing is quite difficult (especially with glasses) and similar results, as somebody else said, can be achieved with binoculars. We bought it for around 60 GBP and I think at this price it was too expensive. At half of it it might be a good start, but if you/your child gets into astronomy, you'll need something better soon.
As I am always trying to get my nephew into astronomy, I was thrilled to hear he had been bought a 'small scope' recently for his birthday, that was, of course, before I had a chance to help him use it.
But when the cost of the telescope is less than the average eyepiece, you know you're heading for disappointment.
The idea is a good one, to produce a truly affordable scope that can be used by kids and beginners alike, but unfortunately it hasn't quite worked out for Celestron. First off, with an aperture of 76mm (just under 3") the scopes primary mirror is barely bigger than the single lens of a binocular, in fact, a £50 pair of binoculars would be a much sounder investment. Most binoculars will yield a similar magnification to the firstscope- which has a maximum useful magnification of around 60x owing to its 300mm focal length- but will have the significant benefit of allowing you to observe with both eyes.
The optical quality of the firstcope is very poor, with a focal ratio of F3.95 there is alot of coma as well as significant field curvature, becoming particularly conspicuous and unpalatable when viewing the Lunar surface (and unless you live under incredibly dark skies you will be limited to viewing the moon and planets only).
The focuser feels cheap and is unsteady and will simply not take heavy eyepieces or equipment (such as barlows or ccds). It's not even like you can make the case that 'well hey' at least it's portable, because it falls down even on this front. It's like someone took a cheap pair of binoculars, split them in half and attached a rocking chair to the remaining ocular.
There really isn't anything to redeem this cumbersome little dob. Celestron's idea was a commendable one, but they failed in the execution and what you're left with is a 4 and a half lb paperweight. There are infinitely better telescopes available out there, and while you may have to pay another £100 on top of the firstscopes asking price to get one, the difference in quality will be pronounced and immediately obvious.
I have always been in to stargazing. I can remember one term at school when we studied the stars and planets and we got to make these pictures of the constellations on black paper, using a cotton bud (Q-Tip) and white paint. I loved it, and since then have always remembered Cassiopeia, Orion and the Plough (or big dipper). Stargazing and admiring natural spectaculars (like sunset, sunrise, the phases of the moon) are part and parcel of being around me... When I met my partner and discovered that she was exactly the same, it was a perfect match (written in the stars? cheesy, awful I know!). One night whilst we were admiring a particularly stunning night sky, she told me that she had always wanted a telescope - I promised myself that I would be the one to get her one (as I did when she mentioned a Mr. Frosty Ice Maker too!)
However, at the time of making that promise to myself, I had absolutely no idea how costly it would be... My first port of call was my Dad, he bought a telescope and I thought he would be able to give me some advice on buying one, I mean I really didn't know where to start! He told me that there was a little camera store in Darlington in a little alley on the high street which is where he'd purchased his from. He said it would cost me around £100 for a decent beginners scope, well I was horrified by the price, with all due respect to my girlfriend; the Mr. Frosty cost me £35 from Ebay second hand after I discovered it was long discontinued by Hasbro, and to date (8 months after I bought it) has never been used once. I really was reluctant to shell out £100 for it to sit unused.
I set about searching the internet. On a gadget site I found a 'spotting scope'. This was £30 which I thought was perfect. In the item specification it raved on about how you could see stars and the moon, but that it was also great for wildlife too. I was about to click and buy it when I decided to see if I could find any reviews on it. I scoured the internet and soon came across many articles on beginners astronomy, and basically the message I got was if you're going to buy a spotting scope for astronomy, you are throwing money away - you would be better to purchase a good pair of binoculars. So I was a little disheartened and the search continued.
Next I found a National Geographic telescope. This was similar to the junior planetarium my girlfriend bought me which isn't particularly great. I was a little dubious therefore and I again searched for reviews. I found a few on Amazon; they told me that it was basically not worth my money again. At this point I sort of resigned myself to the fact it was £100 or bust and then I stumbled across a very helpful review of the National Geographic telescope. It said how poor it was, but it said that a much better alternative would be the Celestron First Scope. I had heard of Celestron during my quest, so I must admit I recognised the name and this drew me to the scope. I searched the internet and I found that Amazon was one of the main UK stockists, this was superb because it meant I could use my Dooyoo miles to purchase it. However, when I looked at the price, I was a little disheartened. It was on Amazon for £48.99 this was a little more than the spotting scope and National Geographic scope I had found, but this one had a recommendation and on further investigation, many decent reviews. Most of the reviews commented on the ease of set up and the capacity of the Celestron First Scope to view the Moon. There was one where a father had bought it for his son, who was 12, and he had been able to set it up himself, use it and see the Moon clearly. I decided that would be sufficient for my girlfriends requirements. Of course, I was however, more interested in her being able to see the stars so I looked all over the net for advice, eventually I found a forum with lots of astronomy fans and I soon learned that:
* When using a telescope, you can only see the stars a tiny bit better from Earth than you can with a naked eye, unless you have telescopic equipment similar to Nasa!
* Stars are so very far away that they will never show a real disk or ball shape in a telescope
* You can however see Star Clusters, Nebulae, Galaxies and Comets.
* You can comfortably see the Moon, Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, Venus and Mercury with an amateur scope
* Toy-like scopes in catalogues and supermarkets like Tesco (or like the National Geographic model) are not going to work. Full stop. They are a complete waste of money. Even if they claim high magnification they do not have the mount / base or stability or diameter to support that magnification. All you will see is blurry images - the magnification is too high and that compromises your clarity.
* Your eyesight improves after about 10 minutes of being in the dark. So wait until it's improved before you start to look through the scope - also, if you want to use a torch to see a book, instructions or notebook, etc then cover it with red cellophane. This wont interfere with your adjusted night vision!
Resigned to the fact that I was going to have to part with big bucks to get something great, and besides which, I was bewildered by the massive variety of telescopes on offer, I decided to buy the Celestron First Scope. When it arrived, I was surprised to see the aware sticker affixed to the box 'Official Product Of International Year Of Astronomy 2009'. Well, that seemed pretty great. I wrapped it up and gave it to my partner.
I also bought her an astronomy for dummies book to accompany her new hobby, but to be honest I think there is enough information on the web when you are just starting out, for buying one as well as using it; as even in the dummies series book, some of the concepts are quite difficult to grasp.
The first thing to comment on for the First Scope is the type of Base. It is a Dobsonian style base, which in astronomy circles is sometimes referred to as a Dobs. It is not a Telescope Dobsonian however, these are much more expensive. All this means is that the design is based on the design which John Dobson created to promote astronomy equipment to those on a low budget. Essentially, no expensive mount, no computers and no observatory. Just a portable, large diameter scope which could be set up anywhere. The First Scope is portable and lightweight, owing to the oh-so-simple set up, you could keep it in the car boot and just get it out to use it whenever you see something interesting in the sky.
The Optical Tube is 76mm which is also called the Aperture. The idea is to get as much 'aperture' as you can afford. When I was carrying out my research and visiting camera shops, for around a 70mm aperture you would be looking at paying around £60 so I was pleased with the aperture I got for less than £50.
There are two types of telescope on a small budget, these are reflectors and refractor; you can get telescopes which have a combination of the two types of optics, but these are generally too expensive for beginners. Basically, the refractor is a little more expensive and shows the image reversed from left to right, but the image is the right way up. Whereas a reflector has the image upside down and is a little cheaper per mm of aperture. The First Scope has a reflector optical tube. So images are upside down on it. The optical tube is easily moved because of the rotating base which makes focusing really simple and fluid.
The scope is black and white, with the names of loads of astronomers printed on the tube, in tribute to all of the great women and men who have shaped astronomy over the years. Including Galileo, Newton and of course as I mention, Dobson; to name but a few. There are two detachable eyepieces and in astronomy guides it suggests it is important to carry a range of eyepieces with you. Provided are a 4mm (75 x magnification) and a 20mm (15 x magnification). It is easiest to see the moon and basic constellations with the 20mm eyepiece, the magnification is too high on the 4mm one - however, we were looking at Orion one night with the 4mm eyepiece and we could see a cluster of stars below the belt which are not normally visable to the eye, unless the sky is super clear and dark. So I can see why you should have a couple of different eyepieces.
Focusing the scope is easy too. When she opened it and the squeals of delight subsided we set about reading the instructions. Now the instructions are a simple tri-fold leaflet. The telescope is ready assembled and is quick to set up - as I had read about in the reviews. It all seemed so easy. Once we had set it up she took it outside and soon shouted me to have a look at the Moon. At first when I looked through the detachable eye piece I couldn't see a thing. The telescope is mounted on a rotating base and I had knocked it out of alignment slightly. After a touch to the left and a nudge to the right I refocused and covered my non-viewing eye with my hand and WOW I honestly could see the Moon. Like I'd only ever seen before in pictures, all of the craters in it's surface; it was amazing! I have never seen anything like that before... All you do is turn the focuser until the image gets smaller to the point where the shadows and spider vanes disappear. This is your point of focus. Then you put in your eyepiece to enlarge and view the image. If you want the image to be larger, rather than turning the focuser, you just put in a higher magnification eyepiece, though as I say not too strong as it will just be a big blur.
Further accessories and specific eyepieces are available from Celestron, however, I have heard poor reviews on the specific First Scope accessory kit you can buy. I think that buying the separates you need is more suitable.
Overall this is exactly what all of the reviews told me and as the name suggests, a brilliant first telescope, suitable for someone who wants to dabble in astronomy and is not taking it seriously. If you are taking it seriously then be prepared to part with lots of money. This alternative to the rubbish toy scopes you see and to spotting scopes which quite frankly don't seem worth spending the money on for astronomy (ok probably for bird watching?) simply seems to be the most affordable and effective scope available on the market. I would recommend to anyone who, like my partner, sees this as a fun past time, not a serious hobby. Having said all of that, online there are pictures which have been taken through the First Scope and they look super professional!
5 out of 5 from me, and it's on offer in Tesco just now for £29.99 (reduced from £59.99 - they seem to have received a random batch of these because they never stocked them before Christmas!)