Which Telescope Should You Buy a Second Grader?
It feels like at least twice a year, there’s a once in a lifetime comet, meteor shower or eclipse that beckons the use of a telescope. My family comes rushing in wanting to see it up close… and I don’t have my telescope ready to go.
Actually, I have a bigger problem…
I don’t own a telescope.
And I’ve been meaning to fix this little glitch…
Because the next time there’s an amazing object in the sky that won’t return for decades, I want to be ready!
I’ve tried twice over the past year to do my research under the pressure of an upcoming celestial event. Both times, I failed to come up with a decision by the deadline.
Now, it’s time to try again.
And I’ve adjusted the equation a bit.
I’ve decided to buy the telescope for someone else…
My seven-year-old son!
The holidays are coming up, and I think he would love getting one.
Hello, Meade Instruments!
In doing my research, I looked for suggestions focused on the eight to ten-year-old crowd.
(My second grader will be there soon enough.)
There are still a dizzying number of choices at different price points. You can pick up a starter telescope for kids for only fifty bucks. You can also find telescopes for older children or adult beginners at the $200 and $400 price points.
(And you can certainly spend a whole lot more…)
On my last attempt to get the ‘family telescope,’ I zeroed in on a manufacturer named Meade Instruments. This company kept getting mentioned by many of the reviewers out there.
(There are others well-regarded names like Celestron and Orion.)
But my deadline was too tight to get to the finish line.
Narrowing Down the Choices
Now, let’s pick up where I left off.
Meade Instruments… check!
I want a ‘refractor’ model, which is more durable and able to handle a little rough use.
(Just being practical…)
And this design is also usually good for terrestrial viewing.
I will try to cap my spend to the sub $100 market, which is a tough one, because I don’t want to end up with a toy. The telescope needs to sufficiently handle the moon and planets…and whatever else might be passing by.
(Deep galaxy exploration will not be among my son’s first missions.)
But as a parent, I don’t want to buy an overly complicated and delicate device either!
Otherwise, it will just become a one-time-use non-starter for him.
And if his first telescope does work out, I can always get him a more advanced model down the line…
Infinity 70mm Altazimuth Refractor
So, I reinitiated my research again and guess what?
One Meade telescope keeps showing up:
- Meade Instruments Infinity 70mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope
- Lists for $99.95
- $75 on Amazon
- It weighs 6.6 lbs.
This Infinity 70mm consistently gets called out on starter telescope lists for kids.
All right then. I’m done, right?
(There is where I start going down the research rabbit hole.)
There’s also the step-up Polaris line to consider:
- Meade Instruments Polaris 70mm German Equatorial Refractor Telescope
- Lists for $149.95
- $109.95 on Amazon
- It weighs 15.75 lbs.
So, it’s only thirty-five bucks more to upgrade to the next level telescope?
What’s the difference besides being heavier?
- Infinity has an Altazimuth mount.
- Polaris has a German Equatorial mount.
(Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant either.)
I’m still not 100% positive, but I know enough to say this:
The equatorial mount design is better to more easily track the planets that are always moving through a telescope’s field of view, but it’s harder to set up and use. If you know what you’re doing, it’s the only way to go,
…but I expect a lot harder for kids who’ve never done this before.
So, I’m sticking with the Altazimuth mount for my son.
Please cancel the Polaris option and forget I mentioned it.
Let’s move on.
So, now, we’re really done, right?
I’m getting the Infinity 70mm.
Portability and Ease of Break Down
One reviewer mentioned that it was difficult to break down the Infinity 70 to put away, because of the accessory tray. So, I downloaded the assembly instructions and took a look…
The accessory tray screws into the center of the tripod legs, indeed making it somewhat inconvenient when you want to quickly break it down.
(There’s unscrewing to do.)
The 80mm and 90mm models use a different accessory tray attachment design that just requires rotation to lock it in and then out of the tripod legs.
So, that makes it much easier to disassemble.
Infinity 80mm Vs Infinity 90mm
Okay, let’s spend a little more time with these two options that while more convenient to take apart are also more expensive…
- Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope
- Lists for $189.95
- $134.23 at B&H Photo
- It weighs 10.75 lbs.
- Meade Instruments Infinity 90mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope
- Lists for $219.95
- $160.44 on Amazon
- It weighs 11.75 lbs.
Both the Infinity 80mm and 90mm telescopes come with three eyepieces as opposed to the two that come with the Infinity 70mm.
Sure, the Infinity 80mm and 90mm models are more powerful than the Infinity 70, but that’s not so important to me as a first telescope.
Ease of use is what matters…
Who Am I Really Buying the Telescope For?
I think the Infinity 70mm would be totally fine as a first telescope for my son.
But it’s not as easy to break down, because of the way the eyepiece tray screws into the tripod legs.
If you don’t mind leaving the Infinity 70mm set up in a corner of a room, then I’d say you’re done.
But what if you’re like me and want to disassemble the telescope after every use and place in neatly away in a closet?
Then, the Infinity 80mm would do the trick. It’s smaller and a tad lighter than the Infinity 90mm, which I think would both be relevant factors for my son.
So, I should buy the Infinity 80mm.
How to Upsell Yourself
With the Infinity 80mm, I would shatter my $100 price barrier by over 30%.
Is it worth blowing the budget for more convenience and ease of use by little hands?
(We’re only talking $35.)
And parents…let’s be honest.
Wouldn’t it also be nice to also get a little better telescope for the whole family?
And by the whole family… I mean me.
(Not that my wife wouldn’t enjoy a clearer shot of Jupiter.)
I’m not going to give my kid the Infinity 80mm and then say, “Go have fun with it!”
I’m the guy who’s going to be there with him helping to set it up and operate. It’s going to be a group activity for a while.
So, for a ‘family telescope,’ I’m prepared to say that the Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm definitely hits the sweet spot…for my son…and me.
Hey, if I were shopping only for myself, I’d be looking at the
Meade Instruments StarNavigator 102.
(Recommended by David Brody on space.com.)
$400 on Amazon
Get the Bag
You should also consider getting the carry bag for this telescope so you’ll have something to store it in when you put it away:
- Meade Instruments Carry Bag for Infinity 80/90/102 Telescopes
- $39.95 on Amazon
Astronomy 101 Begins Now
Even though I’ve never owned a telescope… nor have I really operated one all by myself,
I’m ready to learn, and I’ve done my research.
And I’ve made a decision!
I’m happy to report that after a year of trying, I’ve finally landed on the Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm Refractor Telescope as our ‘family telescope.’
(That said, I’m still open to other thoughts. Any other recommendations out there?)
Happy planet and stargazing, and don’t forget your Tang!