Strapped to a very tight budget?
Looking to get your kid on the astronomy kick with this budget?
Celestron has a fitting solution to your dilemma.
Enter here, the FirstScope TableTop telescope.
It’s a real Newtonian telescope on a Dobsonian-style mount.
It’s simple and easy to use, you can explore the night sky with it, and did I mention it’s inexpensive?
There is a drawback or two that comes with its low price, so here’s the good, the bad, and why it’s still a decent buy.
✔️ Best Feature: Good visibility
❌ Worst Feature: Spherical primary mirror
👌 Ideal For: Celestial Viewing, Terrestrial Viewing, Lunar & Planetary Observation, Bright DSO Viewing, Kids
- Optical Design: Reflector
- Aperture: 76 mm (3”)
- Focal Length: 300 mm
- Focal Ratio: f/4
- Eyepieces Included: 20 mm, 4 mm
Our Verdict: The FirstScope is appropriately named as it would make a great first-time buy for any young child that wants a telescope of their very own. Far from a toy, it’s a scope they can actually use and see sky bodies with. Better yet, the child won’t have to beg for one because it’s priced so low that no parent can refuse.
Who is the Celestron FirstScope Best Suited to?
The FirstScope is best suited to users aged 7-13. Usually, the primary concern for a buyer is cost since they’re unwilling to invest in an instrument if a child does not end up interested or sticking with the hobby. The next thing is, does the telescope have the optical ability to spark an interest in astronomy? Meaning, can a child find objects, see them, and use the telescope with little intervention from a parent? The answer is yes.
The FirstScope is a great solution for a buyer on a budget that wants to introduce a young, eager, and potential observer to astronomy. Adults can use the FirstScope too, and in fact, it’s highly recommended that you help your child and incorporate star charts and online apps to teach them about star hopping and other navigating techniques. But, if you’re purchasing solely for an adult, I would suggest at least tripling the budget or pushing it to $200 for improved performance.
How Does the Celestron FirstScope Perform?
Better than expected. This isn’t a toy telescope, it’s a real optic that provides visibility of sky objects better than you would have thought. As a fast telescope with a very short focal length and spherical mirror, it doesn’t provide sharp and clear quality at high power – that’s the truth.
But, a child that is navigating on their own will likely be aiming towards easy-to-find objects like the moon. With the single locking knob and manual movement, a child can easily make adjustments themselves. With some help from you, they may be able to locate the brightest DSOs.
The mount is ridiculously easy to use. The focuser is a simple 1.25” rack-and-pinion and the eyepieces are likely the first thing you’ll need to upgrade. Even though the spherical mirror is limiting, you can improve viewing with some good eyepieces and filters which will prove beneficial in encouraging a child’s interest in the hobby.
Features & Benefits
For a child’s telescope, the FirstScope delivers some decent visibility on local bodies and some DSOs (Deep Sky Object). Because there is a spherical mirror with the 300 mm focal length, high power will exaggerate spherical aberration and viewing quality will be blurry. The best viewing quality will be seen with low power, wide-angle viewing.
Your child will be able to locate the moon and view its disk and home in on its craterlets and mountainous surface. If you can find Saturn and Jupiter and view them under good atmospheric conditions, you’ll be able to see its satellites and possibly some of its features. Uranus and Pluto will look like bright dots through the eyepiece.
Reaching out further into space allows visibility of M45 The Pleiades, M42 Orion Nebula, M16 Eagle Nebula, and a few other DSOs including open star clusters and some close double stars. While the FirstScope has a limiting magnitude of 11.9, objects that you can find and identify through the scope will be visible but will lack the wow-factor. You’ll need a larger aperture for that and likely a finderscope to make “finding” them easier.
Dobsonian TableTop Mount
The simple mount makes it super easy for a child to use. With altitude (up and down) and azimuth (side to side) movement, it’s quick and simple to move the optical tube into place. The locking nut keeps the tube in position and can be kept slightly loose to make small adjustments to keep an object within the field of view.
The mount is your standard single fork arm mount and it arrives fully assembled out of the box. The only thing you need to do to get seeing is to install an eyepiece. The base is likely made from melamine with a laminate top layer, so it’s best not to leave it outside exposed to weather as it can warp. Obviously, the tabletop design is very convenient as it can be placed on any secure and flat surface for stable viewing.
Portable & Lightweight
When you head out the door with your large telescope for stargazing parties, bring the kids along with their FirstScope. The tabletop Dobsonian is small and lightweight and transporting it is a non-issue. The tube length is a very short 10.5” and total weight is just shy of 4.5 lbs. This telescope system can sit in your child’s lap as you drive to a remote location.
The tube body sports a decorative finish for a telescope that is noticeably different from a solid color that is typical with scopes. It has a black background with white lettering that encompasses the entire tube in a spiral design with the names of “history’s most notable astronomers and scientists.” The stylish finish is just one, small way that Celestron chooses to pay homage to those who have inspired us into understanding the universe beyond our small living space.
The FirstScope is so inexpensive that it’s a scope worth buying even on impulse. It might not have a parabolic mirror, a finder scope, quality eyepieces, or the fanciest optical coatings. But, it does provide visibility on the objects a young beginner will start off seeing and the mount simplicity needed for said user. With the low price comes compromise but it’s justified when its limitations are recognized and it’s used as intended.
Even if you buy additional accessories for the FirstScope, you’re still saving money. Additional accessories are almost always required for any telescope, and it’s best if you opt for quality accessories to make the most of your setup.
Spherical Primary Mirror
You shouldn’t be surprised to see the FirstScope Newtonian has a spherical primary mirror instead of a parabolic one. It would raise the price quite significantly and defeat the purpose of buying a telescope under $50. So, what should you expect with a spherical mirror? With a very short focal length, spherical aberration will run rampant. This will manifest with blurry images and perhaps an inability to achieve focus for sharp resolution and clarity when viewing with high magnification on planets and their features.
Can an Adult use the Celestron FirstScope TableTop Telescope?
With such a tight budget, the FirstScope is not a performing champ and will not produce the quality views an adult is looking for. The FirstScope is intended as a basic and entry-level telescope for a child. There are some things that will require an adult’s experience such as sighting-in for an object since there is no finder scope. In the hands of a child, the FirstScope provides good practice for lunar observation and perhaps some planetary viewing at lower power for best resolution and bright DSO identification.
Can You Take Photos with the FirstScope Telescope?
This is not an astrophotography telescope as it lacks quite a few things necessary to take decent photographs and to track an object. You can always use a smartphone for amateur photos of the moon. If you want to try attaching a DSLR, you’ll need a T-adapter specific to your camera to attach it and a Barlow lens to lengthen the focal length and allow the camera to come to focus. You’ll likely need quality eyepieces to get a good picture, and of course, exposures will be short as the optics and mount have limitations.
Is the Primary Mirror on the Celestron TableTop Telescope Collimatable?
The FirstScope TableTop telescope comes preassembled and collimated from the factory. Unfortunately, the primary mirror cell does not allow for manual collimation. It must be performed at the factory and trying to rig the assembly to allow for collimation may void the 2-year warranty. The secondary mirror which focuses the light to the eyepiece can be collimated with three adjustment screws.
Can the FirstScope TableTop be used for Terrestrial Viewing?
Although a Newtonian reflector is not designed for Terrestrial viewing, it can be done. The manual covers this section under Image Orientation. As is, what is seen through the telescope is upside down and mirror reversed. This is inconsequential when using it for celestial viewing.
The Celestron FirstScope is designed with simplicity and visibility in mind. It’s incredibly easy to use and a child will pick up basic skills in no time.
As a super lightweight and portable setup, a young observer will be on the verge of developing many habits you must be aware of.
The owner of the FirstScope will be pulling it out to tag along to stargazing parties, create excuses for sleepovers, and push bedtime hours on the weekends – all for the sake of astronomy.