Should I Use Binoculars or Telescopes for Astronomy?
So can I really use Binoculars for Astronomy?
The short answer is Yes. Most people see astronomy as only being accessible if you have a telescope but the reality is that Binoculars are a fantastic option for star gazing at night. They provide a variety of advantages over telescopes and are definitely a good option to consider. Having said that however, telescopes are still the astronomy tool of choice for a number of reasons.
This guide is will weigh up the pros and cons of using binoculars instead of telescopes for astronomy. It will first list out the advantages of using binoculars instead of telescopes, followed by a number of areas where binoculars fall short compared to a quality telescope!
The following guide is by no means a "be all and end all" of guides on whether to choose binoculars or telescopes, but it gives you the main things to consider when purchasing your astronomy equipment!
Binoculars are better than Telescopes because....
There are 3 big reasons why Binoculars have an edge over Telescopes.
Binoculars are significantly more portable than telescopes and this is a huge advantage. Anyone who has ever used a telescope will tell you how much of a hassle it is to transport one. Getting the best results in astronomy usually requires moving to a remote location where there is minimal disruptive lights from buildings street lights etc.
Most astronomers do not stay in remote locations so they need to move and bring their telescopes around. Transporting a 30kg telescope is hardly much fun, although the results are worth the effort. Binoculars on the other hand weight on average about 3kg and transportation is easy! So if you find yourself needing to move regularly for astronomy nights, then binoculars will have an edge because of their portability!
Binoculars are very cost effective when compared to telescopes. On average a decent pair of binoculars for astronomy can be as little as $250. Telescopes on the other hand can start costing around $500 for a telescope of similar optic quality. People with a budget regularly choose to go with binoculars because they offer a lower price entry point and psychologically it does seem less daunting to buy a pair of binoculars compared to a full sized telescope.
A big advantage for binoculars is the fact that you can use binoculars for more than astronomy. They can be used for land viewing and a variety of other applications. Telescopes can be used for other forms of viewing outside of astronomy but because of the way they are made, the viewing experience can be very cumbersome.
Telescopes are not easy to maneuver especially if you are viewing a land object that is moving quickly (e.g Ships on the sea or yachts). Many users find telescopes just too difficult to operate for things other than astronomy so that is where they are normally used.
Binoculars on the other hand can still be used for a variety of applications. Binoculars are generally built for land viewing and its no different for astronomy binoculars. These binoculars work well for longer distance viewing with many users setting them up in holiday homes that overlook the sea, mountains or beaches!
Binoculars are NOT better than Telescopes because....
Now that we have highlighted some of the advantages for using astronomy binoculars we will look at the key reasons why telescopes are still the equipment of choice for many star gazers.
Light Gathering Abilities
Having a good Astronomy experience requires you to have an instrument that gathers as much light as possible. Astronomy is already done in such poor light conditions that you need as powerful a light gathering device as possible. To gather more light you need a larger objective lens. This is commonly referred to as aperture. Larger aperture means a greater capacity to see more in the night sky, viewing deeper sky objects.
Telescopes always have a bigger capacity for increased aperture. Binoculars may be more portable but they sacrifice on aperture and as a result you will not be able to see as much on a pair of binoculars. Telescopes on the other hand can come in sizes as large as 300mm compared to binoculars that are around 100mm.
It is without doubt that you will see more in the night sky with a a telescope compared to a pair of binoculars.
Telescopes are able to magnify objects much more than a pair of binoculars, improving the viewing experience of objects such as planets in the night sky. Astronomy binoculars tend to have fixed magnifications of around 20x zoom. A lower zoom means that they have a wider field of view and are not able to zoom in closer for detailed views of planets such as the moon.
Telescopes on the other hand can have magnifications over 100x. This equates to an enhanced viewing experience. Additionally telescopes can also have lower magnifications just by swapping around eyepieces. This flexibility of having different magnifications make telescopes ideal for astronomy.
One of the more recent developments for telescopes has been the rise to prominence of Computerized mounts. Computerized mounts are utilising GPS technology to locate the exact location of the telescope on the earth. From there it can actually recommend to users what there is to see in the night sky. Simple pushes of the button then automatically move the telescope to view those objects!
These computerized mounts have become extremely popular for beginners and even seasoned astronomers. For beginners the ease of finding something interesting to see is very attractive. On the same token, the computerized functionality that allows a telescope to track a night sky object as it moves is very attractive to seasoned astronomers who like doing long exposure astro-photography.
Computerized mounts used to be the domain of high end telescopes, but as technology improves and manufacturing costs reduce the prices for computerized telescopes has continued to drop year on year. Manufacturers such as Celestron, Mead and iOptron have a wide variety of computerized telescopes that fit within different budgets!
So what should I choose?
At the end of the day the key thing to take into account is that there are pros and cons for choosing binoculars or telescopes for astronomy. It all depends on what your key requirements are. What will work for one person will not work for another.
Generally speaking it is highly recommended that you go for a telescope when jumping into astronomy.
However having said that do take a look at buying binoculars to at least have a feel for what options are out there. Whatever you decide, there is no reason why you should not get plenty of joy from using either instrument for your star gazing expeditions!