Binoculars vs telescope for stargazing. What should I choose?


binoculars vs telescope

Many astronomy amateurs or often said in other term, stargazers, may already have an optical device for astronomical observations but many others don’t; you may want to buy something but not sure what to focus on, a pair of good binoculars or a telescope for stargazing? What is the difference? Which should I focus on?

Should I buy binoculars or telescope for stargazing? Binoculars are more portable than telescopes, allowing you to observe with both of your eyes and can offer a greater stargazing experience for some people whilst the telescopes are high-powered optical devices more capable for astronomy and night sky observation than the binoculars.

Although there are major differences between having binoculars for stargazing and having a telescope, as I had both of them (and more), from my personal experience I’ve decided to write this topic, to shortly cover anything is to be known about these devices, the differences, pros and cons, and in the end to help you make a decision about choosing the right one for you.

Binoculars vs telescope for stargazing.

When you hear the terms “stargazing”, “observing the stars”, “seeing the planets” what is the first object associated with, coming to your mind? Binoculars or telescope? I observed the stars through… – In my opinion, most of the answers should be “a telescope” rather than “binoculars”. That is because the telescopes are better associated with astronomy than the binoculars.

Indeed, the telescopes are often more used in astronomy than binoculars, where the binoculars have a wider usage overall. But sometimes, in fact, most of the times, stargazing binoculars can be as good as with a telescope if not giving you a better experience.

When to choose binoculars for stargazing

Following one of my other posts ” how to choose binoculars for stargazing,” I am concluded to see and to promote the amazing experience you get when watching through binoculars, in special in astronomy.

In fact, to give you the most recent event which is actually from a few hours back of writing this post, I was in the break at my workplace (I am working night shifts) and I usually spend the breaks in my car. In my car, I do have my Nikon 10×42 binoculars with me all the time. I was sitting in the car, in the car park (with light pollution even) and I could see the Orion constellation – where I took out the binoculars and I could observe the extremely beautiful and bright M43 Orion nebula… through binoculars… from a car park… during my break at work.

Would be the above scenario even possible if I had a telescope with me in the car? Probably not. Not by far.

People are considering the binoculars to be low-powered and poor optical devices when compared to the big and bulky telescopes. I am not undermining the power of a strong and large aperture telescope, but neither the binoculars (as standard as they are).

How should be the above event if I had my other binoculars, the massive 25×100? Probably not a good time to stargaze through those binoculars in my break, but realisable. Now thinking about a massive telescope in my extremely small car? That may not even fit in.

Binoculars for stargazing – A quick guide

But now let’s talk a bit about how and what to look for and what are the best specs of a binocular to be good for stargazing.

There are 3 key points to look in special to understand the binoculars for stargazing and which are the good ones to look for.

1 – Objective lens diameter (or aperture) – The front lens element diameter. In general, I recommend the minimum for stargazing anything above 42mm. This is recognised to be the second number in any binoculars description (e.g. 10×42)

Larger the aperture is, more light it does captures and more details you can see on the night sky, in special when looking for deep-sky objects. When we get about 75mm, we tend to see a lot of details in the night sky, and to 100mm… That is something that cannot be described in a blog post and you must see with your own eyes.

2. – Magnification – The power of the binoculars – how many times see bigger than with your own eyes (the first number in binoculars description – 10×42 – 10x magnification). This, for deep-sky observations, does not matter too much as does the objective lens diameter.

Although it does have an impact on identifying and seeing closer some of the farther deep-sky objects, I recommend this to be around 8-10x (for a larger field of view) or 20-25x (for a selected area of observations), and for moon or planetary observations you can start seeing details at about 10x and hug the huge moon at 25x. Here, you need as much magnification as possible for the extra details. But from my personal experience, a 25x is something to be loved when watching the moon.

3. Exit pupils. If you came across my blog before, it is possible you may have met the term and description before, but now let me quickly translate it into this post: It’s the diameter of the light beam which goes out through your oculars directly into your eye retina.

Reflecting on this, the human eye pupil is open for about 2-3mm in daylight conditions and up to 7mm during the night. The exit pupils of the binoculars is calculated by dividing the objective lens diameter to the magnification. (Eg. 10×42 binoculars – 42/10= 4.2mm exit pupils).

For better low-light performances, the exit pupils of the binoculars should be as large as possible but not wider than your eyes pupils (e.g. your eyes pupils are open about 7mm in a dark night. Binoculars with 3mm exit pupils will have very poor low-light performance, 4mm average, 5mm good, 6mm excellent, 7mm perfect, 8mm… not good). These are just some general examples.

But in general, for better low-light performances, you need in astronomy/stargazing to have binoculars with wider exit pupils. To get wider exit pupils, the magnification should be lower where the objective lens diameter should be higher than the regular binoculars found on the market.

This does not mean that even on average exit pupils you may not be able to carry astronomical observations – yes you can just fine, but the image will look overall slightly darker (a good example is the Celestron Skymaster binoculars 25×100 which I have – a beast in astronomy, but the exit pupil is about 4mm only).

When to choose a telescope for stargazing

If your home location is in the countryside where you have a backyard and there is very low light pollution, then I need no other reason to say “BUY A GIANT TELESCOPE”.

Having a telescope is another story. This usually has interchangeable eyepiece oculars, allowing you to observe and study way much more that you will ever do with binoculars.

There is not much any limits on how giant a telescope can be. It’s all about portability and price. There is so much to know about telescopes but if your main target is to have a telescope over the binoculars for stargazing, I would recommend having a good read before you buy, so you know what to buy.

Telescopes for stargazing – power vs portability

Maksutov-Cassegrain, refractors, reflectors are just a few types of telescopes, the top of the iceberg of the industry. To match the binoculars for stargazing, you would probably like to go with a Maksutov-Cassegrain model (as I had one). They are the most portable telescopes which can also give you some power for observations.

Refractors are the long-standard telescopes you look through and their advantage is that they can have a lot of optical magnification without the need of a bulky reflector in order to get that. Their disadvantage is that you will probably have the objective lens diameter a lot smaller than any other telescopes (even smaller than the big binoculars), making these a bit impractical for deep-sky observations as compared to some other models (more for planetary and moon observations).

Well, with reflectors, is another story. Absolutely amazing for deep-sky observation because of the large mirrors, can withstand very high magnification and you can see what you never seen before on the night sky. But they are giant, heavy, and mostly, impossible to carry by yourself.

This just said, shortly covered 3 main types of telescope, but now, how is this compared to stargazing through binoculars?

This is not part of the research but from my personal experience I had with having binoculars and telescopes, you really have to think about portability and the location you live. How likely is for you to carry a telescope around when you want to perform astronomy observations? And how far do you have to go?

My Celestron Skymaster 25×100 is absolutely stunning for astronomical observations. The binoculars are big, bulky and heavy. And although these are not ideally the easiest one to carry for any stargazing sessions, they pale in comparison to some telescopes.

To get the best out of your stargazing experience, before you choose any practical telescope or binoculars, research as much as possible their weight, size and adapt to your situation where you have to carry them around.

Telescopes and binoculars for stargazing – pros & cons

When looking at the pros and cons of either having a pair of binoculars or a telescope for stargazing, we have to see first the similarities of both of the devices, in special not to forget the main key ever: both of the optical devices are amazing to carry astronomical observations.

Type of observationsPower RequiredObjective lens diameter Telescope or binoculars?
Moon observationsHighLowTelescope over binoculars for the extra magnification and to closely watch and study the crates on the moon. For a giant moon seen with both eyes, I would recommend binoculars (25x+)
Planetary observationsVery HighMediumTelescope over binoculars. You need a lot of magnification, as much as possible to be able to see the planets. That is a fact. Keep in mind that some aperture may help as the celestial bodies are faint.
Deep-sky observations (bright objects)Low to MediumMedium to HighBinoculars over telescopes. For bright messier objects such as Andromeda Galaxy, Orion nebula, the Pleiades etc., you don’t need much magnification and the objective lens diameter does not have to be very large to be able to perform these observations.
Deep-sky observations (far objects)HighVery HighTelescopes only. You may not be able to see any far and faint messier objects, therefore, you need giant big bulky monster telescope to be able to perform these observations.
Solar observationsMedium to HighLowBoth telescopes and binoculars can fill an amazing role. BUT BEWARE THAT YOU NEED SPECIAL SOLAR FILTERS TO CARRY ANY OF THESE OBSERVATIONS. With the binoculars you can see the sun giant with details on it, where with a telescope you can study much more but you will observe through one eye only.
SpecificationsBinocularsTelescopesConclusion
MagnificationUp to 25x. Rarely more (often found in cheap binoculars)Hundreds of time, depending on multiple factors.With a telescope you can magnify a lot more than with the binoculars. That is a pure fact
Objective lens diameterUp to 100mm. Rarely more.Unlimited (limited by manufacturer only)Most of the telescopes are having objective lens diameter of 70-80mm. Aiming for more, the prices drasically increases. In binoculars, is not unusual to find some with 80mm even 100mm aperture.
Size & weightNot that big, neither very heavy…Very big…Very heavyTelescopes are big and heavy. Compared to the binoculars, the telecsopes may need a second person to carry around in some cases. If portability is a problem, I recommend you going for binoculars only.
SpecialsCan offer you amazing experience as you can see through both of your eyes.Interchangeable oculars. Can have multiple magnificationsIf you love to stargaze through binoculars, you should look no further
Price rangeThe binoculars are relatively cheap compared to telescopesMore expensive, as larger glass is manufactured.If the money is a problem, the binoculars can offer you a better solution to invest into.
AccessoriesMay need a tripod but not alwaysNormally need a special mount for the telescopesBecause of the weight and size, the telescopes need a special mount. Usually the telescopes comes with it, whilst for the binoculars you have to buy separately.
Overall experienceWatching through binoculars is an unique experience that no telescope can give you.Through telescopes you can see objects on the night sky impossible to see through any binoculars.

Should I focus on having binoculars AND a telescope for stargazing?

This is up entirely to you and your budget. If this allows, you can have both a good pair of binoculars and a good telescope. In terms of binoculars, in this case, I would recommend you to go for portability over the power, as you already may focus on a powerful telescope to buy.

But if you have a limited budget only, I would definitely not recommend you to buy both of them, because you give up quality for two different products, when you can have one and good.

Related Q&A

Are monoculars good for stargazing?

In general, monoculars are very small versions of a telescope. They are not good for stargazing as the objective lens diameter is relatively small compared to telescopes and binoculars. But not always. I would recommend you check our other post here for more details.

Can you take photos to the night sky through the binoculars or a telescope?

It is more practical to take photos to the night sky through a telescope and a DSLR camera as this can be mounted using a special accessory. For binoculars, you may be able to take photos to the moon only, this I covered on another topic (check here for more info)

Do you need a tripod for your binoculars to stargaze?

In general, if the binoculars are below 10x magnification and not very heavy, you don’t need a tripod for stargazing. But if the binoculars are heavy, the magnification is above 10x I strongly recommend a tripod or mount for them.

A honest conclusion

Your budget may be limited and you need to know what to pick for stargazing. I had both of them, and now all I have for stargazing is my Celestron Skymaster 25×100. Amazing piece of art.

With the binoculars, you cannot go wrong for sure, in special if you are aiming for the special ones for stargazing. But if you are aiming for more, and the portability is not a problem for you, a telescope can fit your purposes.

You have to think it through and take your own decision. This topic is just a guideline to assimilate or differentiate both the binoculars and telescopes for stargazing.

I used to love to stargaze. But nowadays, with all the work and family, it is difficult for me to find the time or good weather (in the UK…) to be able to do that. But sometimes I do it. And I love it. Never give up your dreams.

I hope you found your answer between the rows of this topic. For now, I have to say goodbye and hope to see you around. Take care!

Gabriel Mihalcea

Passionate about binoculars, photography and blogging with years experience behind, I love to split my time and observe the beauty of this world with different eyes.

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