With the majesty of the heavens above us, the wonders of the night sky should be accessible to all. At Sherwoods Photographic, we want to make this a reality, no matter what your budget is. It is important to remember that even a pair of binoculars can show the nearer planets in greater detail than the naked eye, as well as comets and other phenomena. Because the night sky is so vast, even beginner astronomers can train their sights on objects that the rest of mankind has never observed before. This brings up an important question, however: just how much do you want to see and what is your budget? These two aspects will really dictate what technology you should go for. Astronomical telescopes can vary in complexity, but they can yield so much when used properly. So another important question to ask is, how much time and effort can I dedicate to this?
For those with a casual interest and a focus on immediate observations, you might consider the Celestron 15×70 Skymaster. These are specially designed astronomical binoculars which come in at only £60. They offer a large aperture to gather as much light as possible, thereby increasing the ability to see objects in the night sky. They are also designed to be lightweight so your arms don’t start to tire from looking. The Celestron range goes all the way up to the premium option in the form of the 9×63 Skymaster. Again these utilise a large aperture and are dedicated for use on land. They produce sharp images even over very large distances and are designed for comfort. Being the top of the range Celestron, they are available for £235.
Celestron also make telescopes to suit a variety of budgets. The Astromaster range starts at £100 and rises to £180. They are perfect to set up since they do not require any tools. You can also begin observing as quickly as possible since it also has a permanently mounted StarPointer, although it can also be used for terrestrial objects as well. If you are observing an object then you will need to track the object as it moves across the sky. The Astromaster features a German Equatorial Mount with Setting circles which will allow you to track more accurately.
If you are looking for a more upmarket option with more automation and capabilities, the Advanced range can really help to bring the sky to life. These are GPS compatible making it much simpler to get to the object you want to observe. With this hurdle out of the way you can really start to enjoy the night sky. With a communications port, the telescope can be controlled with a computer while the Autoguider port can be used for long exposures of astronomical phenomena. With an object database providing access to more than 40,000+ objects, these scopes can provide plenty of breadth for those who are turning from very interested parties to enthusiasts. As you might imagine, these offerings are no small investments, but they do pay you back with staggering sights!
Never before have stargazers been faced with so many different choices of astronomical telescopes and associated accessories. This can make it more of a challenge, especially if you are just starting out as an astronomer.
First of all, it’s worth understanding some basic principles. One of the most important aspects of all telescopes is aperture, or the diameter of the main optical component, which may be a mirror or a lens. Essentially, the bigger the tube, the greater the aperture.
Aperture determines a telescope’s light-gathering capacity and its capacity for seeing fine detail in an image – this is also called resolving power.
As an example, with a six-inch telescope you can see lunar craters as small as just a mile wide, and, overall, a 6-inch telescope has four times the light-collecting area of a 3-inch version.
However, the aperture is not related to a telescope’s magnification or power. Instead this is determined by the distance between the lens or mirror and the point where it creates an image of a distant object.
Another important thing to understand is that larger apertures are more affected than smaller ones by “poor seeing” – or poor atmospheric conditions affecting visibility.
Other factors in your decision include portability of your telescope, budget, and whether you want to spend your time looking at the moon and the nearer planets or “deep sky” objects like dim galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.
Size is also a factor in that clearly a large telescope will need to be housed permanently in an observatory or assembled for each new viewing session. So bigger isn’t necessarily always better.
Finally, bear in mind that all telescopes are also divided further into three other classes:
Refractors can be expensive but can also provide some of the finest images available for each aperture when made properly. They are also very robust, with their lenses less likely to come out of alignment. So they could be ideal if you’re not one for playing around with the optics.
Reflectors or mirror telescopes uses mirrors to gather and focus light from the object being observed. The most commonly found version, the Newtonian, has been around for more than three hundred years. Want maximum aperture for your money? The reflector could well be the scope for you. Bear in mind however that the Newtonian in particular does require occasional maintenance.
Finally, the catadioptric or compound telescope uses lenses and mirrors to form an image, so that for many they offer the best of both worlds, with a large aperture and a long-focus, transportable telescope.
Optical Equipment from Sherwoods Photographic
At Sherwoods we specialise in all kinds of optical gear, whether you need night vision equipment or anything else. We’re a third-generation family owned firm first established in 1942 and offer extensive knowledge and expertise in our chosen field.
Visit our store in rural Warwickshire, or check out our wide online selection of products and eclectic gifts, all at prices that are anything but astronomical. There’s more online.
If you are thinking of buying a telescope for the first time, chances are you will have been doing a little bit of research online. Whilst carrying out your research you will have most likely discovered aspects which you aren’t familiar with and encountered terms which you don’t fully understand. This is quite normal. Indeed, part of the beauty of astronomy is that it often throws up as many questions as it does answers. If you have an enquiring mind then you will enjoy this aspect almost as much as scanning the Heavens.
However, when you’re first starting out, there are a few things which you really do need to have a good understanding of. And, when it comes to buying astronomical telescopes, nothing is more important than aperture.
Basically, a telescope’s aperture is the diameter of its main, light-gathering lens or mirror. (This lens or mirror is called the telescope’s ‘objective’.) The bigger the aperture is, the sharper and brighter your view through the telescope will be. As you have probably realised, a bigger aperture allows you to use more magnification. In fact, you can make any telescope provide any magnification you like, just by changing eyepieces. However, high magnification is worthless without large aperture (indeed, you’ll end up with a dim, blurry, mess).
A telescope which can only be pushed to 50 times magnification (50x) before the view goes blurry will enable you to see Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s rings, and some detail in the brightest star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. However, if you’re looking to explore surface features on Mars or see both members of a tight double star, you will need to have the sharp views which a telescope at 150x can deliver. Depending on optical quality (and observing conditions), you can expect to get anywhere from 20x to 50x of useful magnification per inch of aperture. Put another way, a four-inch telescope will manage 200x whereas a six-inch telescope will go as high as 300x, if they are both used under ideal conditions.
Another important feature of large aperture is that it lets you view fainter objects. This is different from providing magnification. In fact, the problem with most hard-to-see astronomical objects is not that they’re too small and need more magnification; it’s that that they’re too faint and need more light i.e. more aperture. For example, there are several dozen galaxies beyond our own Milky Way which can be distinguished through a 4½-inch reflector. Some of these galaxies are more than 50 million light-years away, so being able to see them with a telescope which can be comfortably tucked under your arm really is pretty good. Of course, it is worth noting that a 12½-inch Dobsonian telescope will reveal literally hundreds of far away galaxies, even when you use the same magnification!
If you’d like to find out even more about aperture and browse through a great range of beginners telescopes in detail, simply take a few moments to explore our pages further.
If you were lucky enough to receive a telescope as a gift for Christmas then now is the time to really enjoy it. Indeed, now that everything is back to normal and your weekends are once again free from the need to shop or decorate, you can finally spend some quality time getting to know all about your wonderful new gift.
Moreover, this time of year is a great period to be looking up at the stars. To be sure, the long nights which are part and parcel of a UK winter provide stargazers with plentiful opportunities to wrap up warm and enjoy a few hours of exploring the awesome splendour of space.
If this is your first telescope then you may well be a little uncertain about how to get the best star gazing experience from it. Fortunately, this can be easily rectified as there are some great little tips and techniques which can help you to quickly get the most out of your new telescope.
Below are some of the most notable of these tips and techniques:
Always put your telescope outside at least half an hour before you plan on using it (and take the covers off it). Doing so will enable the optics and the air inside the tube to adjust to the temperature difference between your house and the outside world. If you don’t give it some prep time outside then your telescope’s lenses will almost certainly fog up, thereby degrading the quality of your observations.
Effective Night Vision
When looking for a place to set up your telescope outside, try and put it in the darkest area you can find (preferably as far away from house lights as you can manage). The reason for this is that your eyes will need to adjust slowly; and this will make a big difference in what you see!
Sadly, the tripods which come with most introductory telescopes are not well known for being overly stable. This means that you need to be very careful about the surface you set it up on. Wooden decking areas are to be avoided as these surfaces shake whenever there is a single movement on them. Remember, astronomical telescopes magnifying things a hundred times or more so the tiniest shake will be magnified a hundred times. When looking through your telescope, give it a few seconds to stabilise after moving it (and try to get into the habit of not touching it as you look through it).
Avoid Full Moons
It is best to avoid observing the night sky during a full moon. Indeed, the light from a full moon will simply ‘wash out’ a lot of things which are normally easy to see. The best nights are those with thin slivers of moon as they provide you with clear dark skies as well as wonderful crater shadows on the moon itself.
So there you have it – now all you have to do is enjoy!
The UK may be equally worried about torrential rain and the cold snap, but let’s say for arguments’ sake a few weeks of winter wonderland style snowfall are on their way. Think more along the lines of Raymond Briggs ‘The Snowman’ than the grey slush of commuter nightmares!
1. Don’t rely on the auto-setting!
For reasons that shall remain known only to the Snow Queen herself, winter hates the auto-setting on your camera. The snow will do everything in its power to make your images exceptionally dark or glaringly bright (somehow both of these show little to no definition concerning your subject, making that snowman or your joyfully frolicking dog appear as nothing more than a shadowy smear or bright smudge!)
2. Learn to set your own white balance to avoid blue snow!
The white balance setting basically tells the camera how white the white of each image should be. In the face of a gorgeous snowy scene, most cameras will overcompensate for all the white by making the images too blue. To select the right white balance, you can usually look under the format settings of the camera and select “Daylight” or some variation on “Snow”. This will lock the white balance to minimise blue tones and keep the brilliant white of the snow nice and true. (It’s also a great way to make sunsets pop super red!)
3. Argh! Dark Pictures!
The dark is exactly what you want when you’re trying out your new night vision binoculars or one of our latest astronomical telescopes, but on a festive afternoon taking photos of the icing on your garden, you don’t want dark photos!
The light meters on most cameras automatically average around 18% grey. But with so much white in the frame, your camera is tricked into making the image much darker than necessary. Manually increasing the exposure value or selecting a specialist setting (e.g. ‘Snow Scene’ or ‘Snowy Landscape’) means you can brighten up white-heavy shots.
4. Get up early
You may have been up all night with your astronomy telescopes, but if you can soldier on until dawn you’ll see fresh snowfall at its most photogenic. The sunlight is softer, colours more vivid and the snow less trodden. The long shadows of dawn and soft light of the sunrise minimise the risk of blue tones (which become more of an issue closer to midday)
5. Avoid the snow!
There are plenty of colours in a snow-filled landscape – frost on a rich brown pinecone, fresh snowfall on a red letter box, etc – so consider avoiding the issues of snowy photography by focussing on colourful objects. A great tip is to use the fill flash of your camera to help the automatic metering be a little more accurate.
A huge part of successful winter photography is about trial and error. It can be a great idea to avoid auto settings entirely and really get a feel for how your camera works (and few conditions present more of a challenge than snow!)
It’s a cruel fact of the life of the astronomer and those in related disciplines that there’s more chance of being struck by lightning than of actually becoming an astronaut and travelling even remotely close to the stars and celestial marvels studied in the skies above.
But setting aside those little reveries when you gaze up at the night sky coming over all emotional and star struck, what does it really take to be a space man? A 2012 poll on LinkedIn ranked astronaut at no.5 on a list of dream jobs. So, should you have applied?
For one, most astronaut bios read like Tony Stark’s education and achievements! They almost always begin with a childhood obsession with all things celestial – watching the 1969 moon mission launch through their binoculars from their parents’ yard, decorating their bedroom ceiling with the constellations as seen through their astronomical telescopes, etc.
Canadian Astronaut, Jeremy Hansen, is a space newbie at age 36, having only joined the space programme in 2009 after a career flying fighter jets. He says there is no perfect recipe for what makes an astronaut, but nerves of steel and ‘operational skills’ are a must.
“You have to be able to learn, but you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world. We need to know that if we put you in a bad situation, you can handle the stress and pressure of it, and not freak out when things get tough. I flew fighter pilots but there are so many ways to get experience like that.”
Most astronauts have a speciality – communications, mechanical engineering, astrophysicist, biologist, etc. There are three typical categories that each astronaut falls into – payload specialist, mission specialist and pilot/commander.
Payload specialists are responsible for a highly tailored element of a mission. They’re often found outside typical astronaut channels, and are usually specialists in a field who are then trained for space travel in order to use their specialist skills in space. For example, Charles D.Walker was an American engineer who trained as an astronaut specifically to fly on three space missions in the late 1980s (he’d actually failed to gain entry to the ’78 astronaut school, so there’s always hope!)
The difference between a mission specialist and a payload specialist is that mission specialists are trained primarily as astronauts and secondly assigned a small field of operation on each mission. Most of the astronauts living on the International Space Station are mission specialists.
The commander/pilot is in charge of the mission. Depending on the size of the mission, there are numerous ranks and positions to be filled, e.g. pilot, command pilot, docking module pilot, etc. Pilots and commanders are responsible for the success of the mission and safety of the crew rather than a specific task like a payload specialist.
And here’s some great news for budding astronauts; as humankind looks to the stars and the first non-government space programmes quite literally get off the ground, the job prospects for those wanting a genuinely celestial career on the space end of their telescopes are only going to improve!
Telescopes and binoculars can reveal a natural world that was previously unknown to us. From the wonders of the universe to the wonders of your local forest, investing in pieces of technology like this can allow you to get closer to mother nature in all of her glory. At Sherwoods Photographic, we have gone all out to bring you the best viewing equipment to ensure that you get to behold the greatest sights on offer. It can literally be a life changing sight that brings home the often unfathomable place in which we live. Bird watching binoculars can reveal the hidden complexities of the world from a bird’s perspective. We have a wide array of instruments from some of the world’s best manufacturers including Vanguard, Celestron, Bushnell, Pentax and Minox. Each are adapted to the job at hand and will give you a high precision, true colour vision on the world in a waterproof design. These pieces of equipment are designed for rugged use and quick deployment. They should ideally perform well in many different light conditions, because you never know what you are going to face when stepping out into the wild.
Observing at night can reveal another world that was previously inaccessible. Night vision cameras have typically been very expensive, but because of the commercial sector adopting these capabilities, you can now use them to observe wildlife. We include products from manufacturers such as Bushnell, Cobra, Pulsar, Minox and Yukon so you have a good range to choose from. By using our site and reading everything we have to say about these products, you will hopefully have all the information you need to make the best decision for you.
At Sherwoods, we also offer astronomical telescopes for those who want to turn their equipment upwards. There are many sights to see above, not least one of the most obvious being the moon. With the right equipment you can make out craters on our closest neighbour. With more powerful equipment you can begin to uncover the secrets of the planets in our solar system including Mars, Venus, Jupiter and everybody’s favourite, Saturn. Being able to make out the rings of Saturn is a breathtaking experience, particularly when you realise that the image is live and that planet really is out there. You may also be able to see the many moons of Jupiter orbiting the huge gas giant, while perhaps also being able to make out the raging red spot.
Further afield there are many observable constellations that may have always been recognisable to you. Understanding that these points of light are all unique stars with their own unique properties is one of the joys of astronomy. Betelgeuse is a famous star in the constellation of Orion and is the eighth brightest star in the night sky. It has a distinctive reddish tint because it is a red supergiant. Betelgeuse is at a late stage of its lifespan and will explode in a type II supernova sometime during the next million years!