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Ultimate Beginner Package Contest

Discussion in 'Beginner's Corner' started by george, Nov 30, 2015.

Ultimate Beginner Package Contest

Started by george on Nov 30, 2015 at 2:54 PM

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  1. george

    george Developer

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    I've been tasked with coming up with 2 beginner telescope packages for this holiday season, so I decided to put it up for discussion/contest. For this contest I am tasking you guys to come up with the best beginner package based on two price points Under $500 and Under $1000. If you can find a way to also include the Meade Series 4000 Eyepiece + Filter Set along with your package you get bonus points on your designed package. All products should come from the current AgenaAstro.com catalog in order to be eligible.

    Things you should think about when designing the package are ease of use and complete package for someone who potentially has no experience and or is just starting out in the hobby. Think back to the time when you were a beginner and what you wished you had when you first started. Maybe someone may want to pair a package with a book or planisphere. As someone has pointed out maybe you may want to include a pair of binoculars for a beginner as well. What other accessories would help a beginner on their way to astronomical observations?

    We will select the best package in the next couple of week or so and the person(s) with the best package(s) will receive a $25 Agena Gift Certificate for the best Under $500 and the best Under $1000 package.

    Here are the packages which have been suggested thus var if you would like to discuss them below.

    Diogenes Package 1 ($500 Package) - $506.95
    Celestron Omni XLT AZ 130 Telescope # 22152 -$319.95
    David Chandler's First Light Astronomy Kit (Large) - $32.00
    Meade Series 4000 Eyepiece + Filter Set # 07169 - $155.00

    Diogenes Package 2 ($500 Package) - $491.95
    Celestron Omni XLT AZ 130 Telescope # 22152 -$319.95
    David Chandler's First Light Astronomy Kit (Large) - $32.00
    GSO 2" SuperView Eyepiece - 30mm - $65.00
    GSO 1.25" 2x "Shorty" Achromatic Barlow Lens # GS2BL - $25
    BST 1.25" 58-deg UWA Planetary Eyepiece - 6mm - $50

    Diogenes Package 3 ($500 Package) - $487
    Sky-Watcher 8" Traditional Dobsonian Telescope # S11610 - $315
    David Chandler's First Light Astronomy Kit (Large) - $32.00
    GSO 2" SuperView Eyepiece - 30mm - $65.00
    GSO 1.25" 2x "Shorty" Achromatic Barlow Lens # GS2BL - $25
    BST 1.25" 58-deg UWA Planetary Eyepiece - 6mm - $50

    Diogenes Package 4 ($1000 Package) - $986.85
    Celestron NexStar 6 SE Telescope # 11068 - $699.00
    David Chandler's First Light Astronomy Kit (Large) - $32.00
    The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide [By Pennington] - $28.95
    Celestron Lens Shade / Dew Shield for C6 and C8 # 94009 - $28.95
    Celestron Vibration Suppression Pads # 93503 - $42.95
    Meade Series 4000 Eyepiece + Filter Set # 07169 - $155.00

    Diogenes Package 5 ($1000 Package) - $952.35
    Celestron NexStar 6 SE Telescope # 11068 - $699.00
    David Chandler's First Light Astronomy Kit (Large) - $32.00
    The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide [By Pennington] - $28.95
    Celestron Lens Shade / Dew Shield for C6 and C8 # 94009 - $28.95
    Celestron Vibration Suppression Pads # 93503 - $42.95
    GSO Plossl - $32.50
    Celestron 1.25" 2x Omni Barlow Lens # 93326 - $38.00
    BST 1.25" 58-deg UWA Planetary Eyepiece - 9mm - $50.00


    Contest Ends 01/31/2016
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2015
  2. Diogenes

    Diogenes Active Member

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    Do the items have to be in stock?

    Off the top of my head, here are a couple that come to mind:

    Under $500 for the urban observer (with limited storage space):

    Celestron Omni Alt-Az 130 $320
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32
    The Meade eyepieces can slot in there, at $155 that brings the total over $500.
    To keep it under $500, I'd use a GSO 30MM 2" ($65), GSO Achro 2x barlow ($25), BST Planetary 6MM ($50), bringing the total to $492.

    Under $500 starter:
    Skywatcher 8" Dob $315
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32
    Same eyepieces as the Omni Alt-Az 130

    Go-To <$1000
    Nexstar 6SE $699
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32
    The Year Round Messier Marathon $28.95
    Celestron Dew Shield $28.95
    Celestron Vibration Pads $42.95
    You can slot the Meade eyepieces in there for $155, for a total of $986.85

    Alternatively, I'd add the GSO Plossl ($32.50), Celestron Omni Barlow ($38), and either the Celestron X-Cel LX 9MM ($68.95) or the BST Planetary 9MM ($50). That's a total of $971.3 or $952.35.
     
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  3. george

    george Developer

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    Even if you are over a little bit its still a good suggestion :) Thanks for suggestions. When more come in I'll probably compile them all together in some sort of document or new post.
     
  4. Frank Dutton

    Frank Dutton Active Member

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    As I am over in the UK I cannot offer prices only what would/might work.

    8'' Dob, punches well above its weight and is a good all rounder, also pretty forgiving on ep's.
    Add a decent pair of ep's (not Televue but more on the budget line) as the 10 & 20mm stock eop's supplied are rubbish

    If there is money to burn then the 8'' GOTO version.

    $1000: 6SE. Owned one and they are good 6'' scopes, add a focul reducer and it is good for DSO's.
     
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  5. george

    george Developer

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    I have just summarized and included links to the products of the packages presented thus far in my first post. Hopefully more people can submit their suggestions or feedback on what has been suggested thus far. I'll try to get a newsletter out today so we can get additional feedback.
     
  6. jgroub

    jgroub Well-Known Member

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    I'll bite. I'll start off and say that I am NOT in favor of recommending an 8" dob to someone as their very first scope. As their second scope, fine, but not their first.

    1) It's kinda big and kinda heavy. Oh, I know it's not "that" big or "that" heavy, but when I think of a first-timer, I think mainly of a kid, 9-14 years old, for whom lugging around an 8" dob would be a chore. Plus, there's plenty of other segments of the population for whom having an 8" dob would be tough - people living in apartments without space for a water-heater sized scope, people with finicky spouses who don't want to see a water-heater sized scope, and people (other than kids) for whom moving the two 20-pound pieces of the scope around would be a struggle.

    2) Collimation. Again, I know that it's not "that" difficult for the vast majority of people. But it is difficult for some, like myself, and I feel like something free shouldn't be a chore. For example, my good buddy gave me a watch for being a groomsman at his wedding. Well, the watch was busted. I told him so - nicely, of course - and he got it fixed so that the gift wouldn't have to be a problem for me.

    3) The best telescope is the one you use. Many are the days when you come home from a long, tough day at work or school, look over at the big scope sitting over in the corner, and sigh. So you just ease back in your recliner and watch TV for the evening because it's just too much trouble to take that big dog out. That's why I recommend to newcomers to buy their second scope first: the grab-and-go. A lot less sighing and a lot more observing.


    I also think that those eyepiece kits are kind of a waste. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the EPs themselves - they're all perfectly good for what they are. And the case is AWESOME! But the problem with those kits is that they're duplicative, plus they're giving you all sorts of other stuff you don't need.

    In that Meade 4000 kit you've got a Barlow, and it has 40, 32, 15, 12.4, 9.7, and 6.4mm EPs. First, the 32 and 40 will show you the exact same field of view, so there is no reason for both. Next, if you take the 32 and use the 2x Barlow, you get a 16. That's no different from the 15. Double the 12.4 and you get a 6.2, which is the same as the 6.4.

    Most scopes come with something like a 25 and/or a 10mm. Double the 25 and you get 12.5, which is the same as the 12.4. The 10 is the same as the 9.7. Plus, a 6.4mm Plossl is tough to use. Not impossible at all; I have a 4mm that I use. But it's tough, because it has limited eye relief - you have to hold your head very still to use it to get into the very short and narrow shaft of light coming out of the EP. So you've got at least 4 of the EPs in the kit that are duplicative of each other or what you already have or are tough to use. That leaves only 2 EPs worth getting.

    The kit comes with all sorts of filters. Only about two of these are of any use - the 80A blue filter and the moon filter. The others will end up in a sock drawer after you use them once and don't see any difference in what you're looking at.


    Having disposed with why I don't recommend dobs for beginners or eyepiece kits for anyone, let's get to what I do recommend. Like I said, I believe in grab-and-go portability to get a beginner out under the stars as much as possible. And since refractors don't require collimation and need very little cooldown time, it really is a good grab-and-go scope. 4 inches of aperture is just enough where the skies start to open up beyond just the moon and planets and starts showing some nice DSOs.

    $500 package - $492.40

    Meade Infinity 102mm f/5.9 refractor - $249.95 (comes with 26, 9, and 6.3mm Kellners and 2x Barlow)
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32.00
    Agena LED Dual Beam Astronomy Flashlight - $17.00
    The Year Round Messier Marathon - $28.95
    BST Variable Transmission Polarizing Moon Filter - $18.00
    32mm GSO Plossl - $32.50 (19x and 2.6 degree TFOV)
    Agena Starguider 18mm - $57.00 (33x and 1.8 degree TFOV)
    Agena Starguider 8mm - $57.00 (75x and 0.8 degree TFOV)

    For the $1000 package I like Diogenes' package #5.
     
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  7. Frank Dutton

    Frank Dutton Active Member

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    Totally agree with the above on the EP kits. Better to spend the money on 2 pair of good quality EP's and a 2x barlow.

    The EP kits generaly supply a nice range but they have poor eye relief and often the short focal length ones cannot be used as they overpowere the scopes optics even under the best conditions.
     
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  8. StaringAtStars

    StaringAtStars Administrator

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    Thanks to everyone who has participated so far. We look forward to more entries!
    The contest has been extended until January 31st, 2016.
     
  9. Kai'ckul

    Kai'ckul Member

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    Okay, I'm throwing in my first set of suggestion. I understand that some, or most may not agree with my pick but realize that I pick these with the eyes of a someone who wants portability, ability to see as much as possible even in a light-polluted sky, easy setup, full set of visual accessories, and something to read whilst waiting for dark, clear skies.

    Meade ETX-90 90mm f/13.8 MAK Telescope # 3514-04-15 $399
    Revolution Imager 1.25" Live View CCD Video Astronomy Camera System $299
    Meade Series 4000 Eyepiece + Filter Set # 07169 $155
    Celestron PowerTank 12V 7 Amp Rechargeable Power Supply # 18774 $69.95
    Optolong City Light Supression / Light Pollution Reduction CLS Filter - 1.25" $55
    Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars $14.5

    Total Cost: $992.45

    This sub-1K setup, IMO, would keep a beginner hooked for quite a while until he/she is ready for bigger, and better gears. The packaged camera would even allow him to share his images with others without having to wait to look into the EPs. As for portability, two of the items come with their own packaging; in one of them (Meade case) you can fit the Sky Atlas; and in the other (camera case) you can fit the the Optolong filter. The power tank gives the flexibility of going to a darker site for maybe 2-3 hrs.
     
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  10. jgroub

    jgroub Well-Known Member

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    Well, I've got a couple of problems with this as a recommendation, even overlooking the recommendation of an eyepiece kit, which I recommended against in my post, above. I hope to disagree with your post without being disagreeable.

    My basic problem is that with a thousand dollars to play with, the best you could offer is a 90mm scope? And a Mak, to boot? I put together a five hundred dollar package with a 102mm scope that can deliver both widefield views and high magnification.

    Don't get me wrong; as you can see by my signature, I am a Mak owner, and proud of it. I love my scope. But at this time of year, one of the first things a beginner is going to want to see is the Pleiades, and this scope's limited field of view will not be able to show it all in one view.

    And if you were going to go with a Mak, instead of the ETX 90 at $399, why not spend a tiny bit more and get the Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak, 5 inches of aperture, for just $439 or 429, depending on where you shop. The additional 30 or 40 bucks can be made up for by deleting your LPR filter. The field of view would be only slightly narrower (1540mm focal length as opposed to 1350), but that extra aperture would allow you to go almost a full magnitude deeper, opening up a significant additional number of DSOs for viewing.
     
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  11. Kai'ckul

    Kai'ckul Member

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    Jon, I don't find your response disagreeable at all. Well, maybe except for the possible tone of the bit about "the best you could offer is a 90mm scope?" But that's okay, and it may be just me (or not).

    Now I realized, and fully appreciate what you are saying about the ETX90. I did look into the 127SLT and I fully agree with you that the additional aperture would definitely capture significantly more light. But when I saw the current AgenaAstro price of $519, I knew I have to go a different route. Even if I were to delete the filter, I would not reach that price. (Makes me wish Celestron 102GT is still available in the market - still an inch short of the 127SLT, yet no central obstruction and more cost-effective too. But I digress.)

    Part of the condition by the OP is that all materials have to be sourced from AgenaAstro. So the $439 amount is out of the picture, unless this site's sponsor changes theirs.

    As for your 102mm scope suggestion in your package, it's riding on a manual alt-az mount. Would you agree with me that it's a rather challenging proposition to use the camera on manual alt-az? I am aiming for ease of use so unless that OTA is mounted on a mount that tracks then... you know what I mean?

    On a different note, I notice we have something in common - both of us are happy owners a 5-inch Bird-Jones!!! :mad::confused::eek:
     
  12. jgroub

    jgroub Well-Known Member

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    Ah, whoops! I forgot about that condition. You're right, and I apologize. I suppose you could get Agena's $519 127SLT under the $1000 cap if you did delete that Meade eyepiece kit, like I originally said . . .

    Not quite; yes, it's more difficult to take astrophotos on an alt-az mount, because of the limited exposure time before field rotation sets in. But I don't think it's difficult to just put up an image on an alt-az, especially a motorized alt-az - which is what the ETX 90 and the NexStar 127 SLT both are. As far as I know - and I really don't know - that Revolution Imager is what it says - an imager, not an AP setup, unless you include something else (i.e, a computer) in the package. I don't know if imagers - unconnected to a computer - automatically "stack" the image so as to go deeper. If they don't, then, no, I don't agree that it's more difficult to use an imager on a manual alt-az.

    But to be dead honest, all I know about imagers is in that last paragraph - next to nothing. So again, I really don't know.

    Maybe more to the point, although it's ambitious of you to create a package with this imager, the package is supposed to be for a rank beginner. Yeah, it's probably way cool to have an imager and all, but I think of any kind of non-visual astronomy as being more advanced than someone pointing the scope at the sky for the first time. Me, I'm observing form the whitest of white zones here in Manhattan, and I still do just visual, primarily because imaging just doesn't have any magic to me. I can see images of whatever DSO I want on an LCD screen anytime I want on my own computer. But I can't get the magic of having the photons travelling from 400 million miles - or 4 million light years - landing smack onto my retina. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but that's where I stand on that issue. I'd rather have the extra aperture than the imager.

    However, others will disagree on this. A guy I know through a different astronomy board who also lives in Manhattan who uses one of these imagers and gets amazing results - easily down to 14th magnitude. But I think imaging as a beginner very much puts you in the extreme minority of beginners. At least for now.

    AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! So you got suckered too? Yikes! :oops:
     
  13. george

    george Developer

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    As a beginner myself I rather like the idea of some sort of LCD screen and camera setup for me to connect to my computer. I've been suggesting for few years now the very concept of the Revolution Imager for beginners. Personally I think that one of things that draws younger people to astronomy is technology innovations and ease of use. Its sad to admit but I really do believe my generations seeks out instant gratifications and has less patience than previous generations.

    In terms of pricing on individual products if you are over the limit on items here or there I would still make the suggestions. Occasionally there is some wiggle room when it comes to some of the products pricing. Although many of the products from Celestron or Meade are MAP priced and we are already at the lowest we are allowed to offer the product.

    Personally from the younger people I talk to, many of which are already into photography, would be interested in astrophotography as a way of getting into astronomy. I think creating some sort of beginner imaging package that people can use their existing DLSR cameras.
     
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  14. Kai'ckul

    Kai'ckul Member

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    Hi Jon,

    While I could reach the $519 price point by dropping the Meade EP/Filter package, it would away a couple of things I want a beginner to have (that I never had until later) - flexibility and ability to determine which way to go, visual or EAA. Should he/she pick both, then it's already available to him/her, albeit as a "starter" pack.

    The camera package name can be a little confusing. It's a camera mainly for Near Real Time Viewing, from which you could also get snap shots of the images. Don't expect a Pulitzer from them though. The package is a collection of commercially off-the shelf items that the seller has decided to group and sell as a... package. Comes with the camera, an LCD screen (not computer needed), remote control, rechargeable battery good for 3hrs, a filter, and all associated cables. Granted that there are better begginer cameras out there (IMO) with longer warranty periods (AVS DSO-1 and Mallincam Micro-Ex), this is the only one that offers this tyupe of grouping that would not require a beginner to hunt down components individually. All these three cams have internal stacking capability as well.

    As for magnitude, I know AVS DSO-1 can get a Mag 12 object on a Bortles 6 sky.

    Regards.

    P.S. I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying this little conversation of ours.:)
     
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  15. jgroub

    jgroub Well-Known Member

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    Enjoying a conversation with someone who wants to overthrow my entire way of life with this digital nonsense?!? That's it, it is time for Crimson Jihad!

    Oh, wait, I'm not living in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Never mind.

    The guy I mentioned uses an ASI224 - whatever that is - right here in Manhattan, near midtown, which has gotta be Bortle 9+++. Like I said, he gets down to 14th magnitude from right here - I've seen his pics with the central star in M57. Impressive. His name is Rafael, and he posts on, um, well, another astronomy message board that one might use when the weather was bad. Ahem.

    But lemme ask you - you don't miss the magic of seeing it for yourself, with your own eyes, through the scope? I don't get what attracts people to EAA, when you can see those same things on the net much better. I mean, my experience with EAA is limited to about 10 minutes at outreach events when one guy had the moon, and another guy had M27. Sure I was amazed at the detail in both - I couldn't believe I was seeing both color and apple-core structure in M27 from Central Park! Are you freakin' kidding me? - but it just doesn't do it for me. Why does it do it for you? I'm not trying to knock your appreciation of EAA, to each his own, but I'm just honestly wondering and trying to understand why it grabs you.

    To answer your anticipated counter-question, "Why do you bother with visual when you can see the same stuff much better on the net?", I'd say again, that it's the magic of what I'm actually seeing with my own eyes. Those photons, those exact photons, travelling all that distance, all that time, to finally reach my eyes. That truly is magical to me.
     
  16. Kai'ckul

    Kai'ckul Member

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    Dio I miss doing visuals? Yes. I remember the first time I saw M57 on that Bird-Jones. What a joy and disappointment at the same time as I naively believed I would see it in color. Being able to see he Trapezium visually is like looking at four diamonds glittering in ether. I remember seeing M42 for the first time, and thinking, "Why is the shape different?" There are advantages in using just EPs among them is the feeling of just being one with the heavens. Not to be too sentimental, every so often, while peering through an EP, I would think of how insignificant mankind is, compared to what's up there (in relative terms), yet significant at the same time in the eyes of the Creator. Man, I tell you, that's magic.

    But there drawbacks. Our eyes simply cannot process all the information - no matter how many photon comes through your light bucket. We can't even see color. That's when EAA comes in handy. I can take a screenshot of the image and show it to whomever. Using cables of appropriate length, I could setup my goto scope outside, and be inside sharing the view with the family on TV. Seeing my daughter control the scope from inside and wait for the view on TV, then giggle as the DSO image begin to appear is magic for me.

    So here's the counter-question. Why do people bother jogging around Central Park, when they could bike around it? The view would be the same, and they could save a good chunk of New York minute. I guess it all depends on personal preference.

    Beginners, being beginners, would not have an idea which way they would prefer until they actually experienced both. That played a huge part in my suggestion. If they decide on going just visual, they can sell the camera package - at some loss, of course - and believe me there are many people who would go for it. The same could be said if they opt for purely visual observing. But if they are like me who enjoys both, then they don't have to get rid of either, until they are ready for upgrades. By then they would no longer be considered beginners.

    Not to get off tangent, but I'm gonna do this just once. PM me when you get a moment if you wanna know my experience with "Motor Fault" error. (Got a little assist from Dr. Clay.)
     
  17. Diogenes

    Diogenes Active Member

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    The only thing I'd worry about regarding the Meade ETX 90 is whether or not the camera can clear the fork mount with all its wiring and what not. I suppose you could mount it on the diagonal, I do for my 127 SLT, but I have a screw in diagonal because I'm not entirely confident the friction screws can hold the camera + wires when the scope is pointed at the zenith. You can shave off around 50 bucks if you go for the SLT 90. I do think it does add another (significant) layer of complexity to the process, I know the Revolution Imager is supposed to make things easier, but I'm not quite sure if they're "Plug and Play" ready quite yet. It took me a while tinkering around with my Mallincam to get it to work anywhere near efficiently.

    I think if I were to build out a beginner's guide to video astronomy, I'd go with:

    Nexstar 130 SLT $ 499 - Fast f/ratio,
    Revolution Imager $299 - only game in town
    Vibration Pads $42.95 - Celestron's the cheapest right now, and can help offset some of the flimsiness of the SLT mount.
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32 - Skymaps, even for go-to scopes, are mandatory.
    2" Agena SWA 32MM Eyepiece $90 - Yeah, you're going to get coma, but a 3.4 degree FOV for not much money is pretty nice!
    BST 5MM Planetary Eyepiece $55 - For high power visual work.
    Total: 1017.95

    Maybe swap out something the 2" 32MM Eyepiece for a 32 MM Plossl ($36) and a Cheshire ($29) for a total of $992.95

    OR

    Nexstar 102 SLT $ 459 - out of stock, some chromatic aberration, but fast f/ratio and no worries about collimation.
    Revolution Imager $299 - only game in town
    Vibration Pads $42.95 - Celestron's the cheapest right now, and can help offset some of the flimsiness of the SLT mount.
    David Chandler's First Light Astro Kit $32 - Skymaps, even for go-to scopes, are mandatory.
    32 MM Plossl $36 - Get that wide FOV
    Celestron X-Cel LX 7MM $ 65
    OR
    BST 7MM Planetary $55 - if it comes back in stock.
    Celestron Omni Barlow $36 - Double the eyepieces - now you have 32, 25, 16, 12.5, 7, 3.5, so you're well covered.

    Total: $969.95 or $959.95

    I think I'd still lean towards encouraging people to start with visual first, and bolt on the video astronomy stuff later, though, since that is only going to get cheaper as tech advances, and hopefully less finicky.
     
  18. jgroub

    jgroub Well-Known Member

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    So whatever happened here? Which packages won?
     
  19. george

    george Developer

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    We extended it to our newsletter audience as well to Feb 15th but there obviously hasn't been much action on this thread. I will compile and summarize the discussion and hand it over to the powers that be. Probably this weekend.
     
  20. george

    george Developer

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    Contest is close and I have compiled the information for Agena staff to make a discussion. Thanks again for those who have participated.
     
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