First, get to know the marketplace, and select a scope from a well-known manufacturer. Become familiar with manufacturers and their wares by, for example, browsing ads in the pages of Astronomy. Aside from getting the best quality scope for your money, purchasing from an established company assures you of good return and repair policies. Once you’ve found something you like, visit the manufacturer’s web site. This is where you’ll find the most up-to-date information on specific scope models.
Second, price is a factor. Even small refractors with multi-element lenses will take a big bite out of your budget.
Third, try to observe with the telescope you’ve selected before you buy. If you live in a large city, there’s probably an astronomy club nearby. Some of its members likely own the same scope, mount, and accessories that interest you.
Finally, listen to what other amateur astronomers have to say. Amateurs have a huge amount of experience. Many are members of astronomy clubs, and they love to share views through their scopes and chat about equipment. A good place to start is the Equipment section of Astronomy’s own on-line forum. — MICHAEL E. BAKICH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR