So you've finally gotten the bug to get a telescope and really start seeing what is up there in the night sky. I know the feeling. But now you've got to decide what kind of telescope you want and what you can afford as well. Of course, a good quality telescope is the best choice for the serious amateur astronomer, but it is a big investment and maybe you aren't quite sure. There are so many options to choose from, each option adding to the price tag. Perhaps you might consider using a good quality pair of astronomy binoculars, rather than an entry level telescope instead to start your hobby.
Usually we think of binoculars as only to be used for bird watching or for hunting or for trying to see your favorite rock star at a concert when you are in the nose bleed section, but these are not binoculars that are designed mainly for astronomical viewing. If you are just starting out, do your research and evaluate your options and I believe that you will see that a good quality astronom binocular beats out an entry level telescope of similar optical quality every time. The following are a few advantages and disadvantages of buying an astronomy binocular.
Budget - You can usually buy a pair of good quality astronomy binoculars for around $250. To buy a telescope of similar optic quality you would need to spend around $500. To buy a good quality telescope your investment will most likely be in the thousands. You may decide at a later date that you desire more observing power, but you can get a great start with astronomy binoculars.
Portability - Unless you live in the Boonies, you will probably have to transport your telescope to a more remote area where there is less human light (city lights, street lights, etc). Anyone who owns a quality telescope knows what a pain it can be to transport, and if not done correctly, the alignment can be off and your viewing disrupted. Binoculars on the other hand can be transported easily and gives you more viewing time without set up and tear down.
Learning Curve - To operate a telescope takes some trial and error. You have to learn how to set it up correctly, tune it for optimum viewing and how to diagnose problems and fix them when they happen. All of this takes away from your stargazing time while with a pair of astronomy binoculars; you just put them up to your eyes and start looking.
Versatility - Binoculars are lightweight and easy to use for almost anything. Although they are designed for use in stargazing, they can be used for most any activity where you want to see images closer up - even Bon Jovi.
Magnification - Of course, a telescope will have a much greater ability to magnify objects than will the binoculars. Astronomy binoculars tend to have a static magnification of around 20X, while telescopes can usually magnify up to 100X or more depending on your options. This will limit the detail that you will be able to see.
Light Gathering - A telescope will be much better at light gathering than will the binoculars and that is due to the aperture size. A larger aperture will allow more light to enter your instrument. Binoculars, even those designed for astronomy usually have an aperture of around 10 cm while telescopes can go up to 30 cm and more - but you will pay dearly for that ability.
GPS Technology - Many telescopes these days come with standard GPS technology that will help you to know exactly what heavenly objects will be in your viewing range. It will also let you program exactly where to move the telescope to see certain objects. Obviously, the astronomy binoculars will lack this feature, but again, it all depends on budget.
Viewing - Since your objective lens will generally be smaller with binoculars, you may not be able to orient yourself to what you are seeing as easily as you would with a telescope, meaning that you may spend more time consulting your star chart at first than actually viewing objects.
So let's say you've decided that maybe a pair of astronomy binoculars is in your future. How do you know what to look for to get a good pair? Here are a few tips to get you started. Binoculars always are rated with 2 numbers. You'll see things like 10X20 (pronounced 10 "by" 20) in their product descriptions. The first number refers to the ocular lens closest to your eye which will tell you how much magnification you will get - in this example - 10X.
The second number represents the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters at the far end of the binocular - in this case 20 mm. The larger the objective lens, the more light that will be gathered and the better the viewing, but this will also determine the physical size and weight of your binoculars. There are tripods available for larger astronomy binoculars though, so don't let size be the only deciding factor.
As with any purchase, you will have to take all factors into consideration before making your decision. If you are not sure how serious you will be with this hobby, or are starting out on a shoestring budget, astronomy binoculars can be a great alternative to an entry level telescope for you.