Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Beginners’ Telescope Workshop at the NMM

January 23, 2007

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John Griffiths led a beginners’ telescope workshop on January 23rd in the NMM Neptune Hall.  The workshop was aimed at those about to buy their first scope, or trying to figure-out how to master a starter scope already in hand.  It saw an excellent turn-out with over 45 members and prospective members there — about 15 brought along their ‘scopes for discussion and advice:  quite an effort for those coming straight from work in the City etc., and much appreciated!  John covered the absolute basics of telescope types, set-up, and operation, with some general tips on planning and surviving observing sessions.  The scopes on display covered a good range of typical starter types with some excellent mid-range refractors also thrown in for good measure.  John demonstrated his points using two or three different starter types, and everyone then enjoyed the chance to browse the other scopes there and discuss pros and cons with the owners and the more experienced people present.

Newtonian reflectors appeared to be most popular with people who had already made a choice of budget starter types (under £200).  They were liked for their value for money — bigger apertures ‘per pound’ among budget scopes, shorter tubes so less tendency to shake, and pretty robust construction in some brands.

Dr John Griffiths at the Flamsteed Telescope Workshop by Mike DrylandFlamsteed Telescope Workshop at the NMM by Julie BevanDr John Griffiths at the Flamsteed Telescope Workshop by Mike Dryland

On the other hand, the simplicity and intuitive use of refractors was noted, and Malcolm pointed out that a very good mid-range refractor could be had for under £400 if you shopped around and bought at the right time.

John’s quick tour around the different types of mount was appreciated.  Most people had experienced difficulty in understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and price-performance differences of alt-az mounts v. equatorials v. gotos and GPS auto-aligns.  The Flamsteed dobsonian was also on display, complete with new finder, so it was easy to compare types of mount and ask about owners’ experiences.

There was very useful discussion about what could really be seen through the different types and about how image quality and range of targets varied with type and price.   Everyone would have appreciated the chance to try out the different types there and compare images, but the weather failed to cooperate (what a surprise!).


John’s presentation included the basics of light-gathering (aperture size), resolution, eyepieces and magnification, and optical quality (colour aberration etc).  There was a short discussion about types and prices of eyepieces and filters, and a very basic introduction to the possibility of astro-photography using a digital camera just held up to the eyepiece, at least for bright objects, particularly the Moon.


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The Flamsteed Dobsonian Telescope by Mike Dryland

“...and if you fling your arms about, you can demolish the whole lot” — John describes some of the pitfalls  (photo: Mike Dryland)

“I think it’s a nail.  A finger nail.”  Kim, John, & Peter examine their 6-in Newt.  (photo: Mike Dryland)

Some of the participants in the beginners’ telescope workshop discussing the scopes on display in the NMM, Neptune Hall

(photo: Julie Bevan)

The Flamsteed Dobsonian — home-made from Martin’s home.  Available for loan to Flamsteed members

(photo: Mike Dryland)