Three major manufacturers account for most of the telescopes sold to amateur astronomers. We have broken down the “big three” in relation to each company’s history, price and quality of its telescopes and support.
Since its founding in 1972, Meade Instruments has been among the most dominant and innovative manufacturers of telescopes. Beginning as a one-person mail-order business that specialized in small refracting telescopes, the company soon gained a reputation for focusing on customized quality products. Throughout its history, the company has used advances in technology to help the amateur astronomer have a more easily-accessible and enjoyable experience with their hobby.
In 1976 the company began to manufacture its telescopes in-house. Soon, amateur astronomers began to appreciate the quality and affordability of its 6 and 8-inch reflecting telescopes. Until 2009, Irvine, Cal., was the site of all production activities. The company then transferred production to a plant in Tijuana, Mexico.
Manufacturing at the Meade factory includes some processes that distinguish the company from other makers of telescopes. First, the highly-specialized electron-beam coating system deposits optical coatings on both standard and optional equipment. Once a glass surface is finely ground, it’s polished to near perfection. This process takes at least 16 hours. Of course, each system is inspected for any defects or scratches that could affect the product’s performance.
Ranging from the compact Infinity 50mm Altazimuth Refractor for $49.95 to the LX600-ACF 16-inch f/8 Coma Free optical system for $16,899, there’s sure to be a telescope suitable for every amateur astronomer’s skill and budget. The company’s telescopes feature viewing ranges from the moon and bright planets to the powerful viewing of more than 145,000 celestial objects.
All the company’s telescopes and parts are warranted for one year from purchase date. Before a customer can return a product, they must obtain a Return Merchandise Authorization, or RMA, number from the manufacturer’s customer service department. All products or parts returned must include the customer’s name, address and phone number, a copy of the original sales invoice and a written statement describing the product’s defect. However, if the customer has modified the product in any way, the warranty is voided. In addition, after the warranty expires, the company will charge a modest price to repair a product.
The company also offers several spare parts that the customer can purchase to repair a broken product.
Customers can either call the customer support center weekdays 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time or send an e-mail to the center, to which they can expect a response within a day or two.
In his Santa Cruz, Cal., garage, Tim Geiseler founded Orion Telescopes and Binoculars in 1975. Geiseler was the company’s only president and CEO until Imaginova purchased it 30 years later. The company introduced its first catalog in 1980 and began offering online shopping in 1997. Orion attributes its ability to sell quality products at an affordable price to its practice of selling directly to its customers ever since its inception. The company is dedicated to sharing its “knowledge and passion for astronomy and astrophotography with the amateur astronomy community.”
Beginning astronomers appreciate the affordability of telescopes like the lightweight Go Scope II 70mm refractor travel telescope for the budget-friendly price of $89.99. More experienced astronomers will find the SkyQuest XX16g Go To Truss Tube Dobsonian telescope provides the ultimate in performance and astronomical viewing. Priced at $3,499.99, this telescope combines the convenience of portability and the precision of object location with a large aperture.
Telescopes feature viewing ranges from casual moon and bright planets to the powerful viewing of over 42,000 celestial faint-sky objects.
If a customer isn’t satisfied with a product, they may return it within 30 days for refund minus the charge for shipping and handling. The product, however, must be in new condition without any sign of dirt, blemish or wear. Customers can print out the handy pre-paid UPS label and take the package to a UPS location for shipment.
The company provides free technical support by phone or e-mail.
The Celestron brand began in 1960 when electronics and military components company Valor Electronics owner and president, electronics engineer Tom Johnson, created an astro-optical division of the company that had the sole purpose of manufacturing telescopes. In a March 1963 cover article, Sky and Telescope Magazine featured Johnson’s 18-inch Cassegrain telescope. In January 1964, the magazine ran Johnson’s first ad for the C20 telescope. In 1987, the company introduced the CompoStar 14, the first mass-produced computerized telescope and in 1996 offered the Ultima 2000, the first computerized telescope to run on AA batteries. Using its StarSense Technology, the company developed a telescope in 2011 that aligned itself to the night sky in less than 3 minutes. In 2014, the company introduced the COSMOS 90GT WiFi, the first telescope with built-in WiFi.
An important innovation of the company under Johnson was the method of producing Schmidt corrector plates, a type of aspheric lens, by using a vacuum to pull glass banks into a curve mold known as a “master block” during the process of polishing. This enabled the company to inexpensively mass produce uniformly-shaped corrector plates.
The company offers beginning astronomers the FirstScope, a high-quality entry-level portable telescope for $49.95. This Dobsonian-style telescope easily rotates as the operator moves the 76mm aperture reflector tube to view the night sky.
The intermediate astronomer will find the 14-inch CGE Pro 1400 computerized telescope provides the ultimate in astronomical viewing experience. The telescope’s 9 x 50 finderscope accurately locates more than 40,000 celestial objects within a 10 to 65-degree Northern or Southern Hemisphere latitude range. The astronomer can clearly see details on Mars’ and Jupiter’s surfaces and Saturn’s Cassini Division in the planet’s rings. Neptune, Uranus and Pluto are also within the telescope’s range. For $8,999, this observatory-class telescope is the largest in its class.
All Celestron telescopes come with a 2-year warranty. The company offers technical support through e-mail, live chat or phone, the latter two of which are open weekdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time. Customers can often get answers to their questions through the company’s website Knowledgebase, which they can find on the support tab on each product’s page.
Customers who choose to return a product must either submit a form online or call tech support to request a Return Authorization, or RA, number. The returned package must contain a copy of the original sales invoice and an explanation of the problem. All packages must be returned within 30 days of the RA date of issue. The product returned must be 100 percent complete.
Customers who need spare parts for their telescopes can check out the company’s spare parts webpage.