The Holidays are nearly here...and the telescopes are appearing in shops and box stores across the country! This is the time of year that I begin to hear daily the refrain "I want to buy a telescope for XXXXX; what should I get?". I don't intend to answer that question here--just toss out a few thoughts to keep in mind while shopping for an "optik tube" for the budding astronomer in YOUR life.
Essentially, I'd like to bore you with my three Tenets of Telescope Buying...if your new telescope doesn't meet these basic criteria then it is likely to be a great disappointment and either end up cluttering-up the den or serving as a centerpiece at your next yard-sale.
1) The Optics. This is the heart of the matter; if the mirrors or lenses in your new instrument aren't adequate to the task you are buying a giant paperweight/dust magnet instead of a means of exploring the Universe. While many inexpensive 'scopes have decent optics, you have to be careful.
2) The Mounting/Tripod. Nearly--but not quite--as important as the optics, the mounting and tripod support the optical system and include any drive motors (to compensate for Earth's rotation and keep the object being observed within the field of the eyepiece), computer systems (many scopes being produced these days have quite capable "go-to" systems...I posted recently on this category of telescope and the reasons why I don't think they are right for beginning amateurs) and a variety of other peripherals. The most important function of this assembly, however, is stability. If your telescope refuses to settle down, with the result that Jupiter jiggles and yaws chronically, you won't be satisfied long with the view.
3) User-Friendliness. I used to call this one "portability", but expanded the category to bracket the many reasons why you might not bother carrying your telescope out to the back yard or driving to a dark site. These include complicated mountings or control systems, too-heavy components such as counterweights, or simply that the darn thing is too big to tote outside. This is especially critical when dealing with kids, but even lumberjacks can be challenged by the sheer bulk of some telescopes and their associated paraphernalia! Also, keep in mind that getting it out to the observing site in the early evening is only half the battle--once the observing session is done you face the task of taking-down your equipment and hauling it all back inside--many of us pine for an observatory in the backyard for this reason...
Okay, dull lecture over! Any questions?