I’ve tried cheap telescopes and binoculars many times, and the results have been sufficient. That is: the items I viewed appeared larger than with the naked eye. But like any precision device, there is a leap in clarity and usability as you spend more.
Konusmotor 130 F.1000mm
First up, the chunky Konusmotor 130 reflector telescope [switch to english!] from Konus. A reflector scope like this one is ideal for night-sky viewing. It uses the same method as the gigantic domed telescopes you see on hilltops, (and the same as the Hubble telescope): a fat tube with a mirror at the bottom and a eyepiece in the side. The result is amazing light sensitivity and clarity. The photo at right is a very clunky image taken with my camera pointing into the viewfinder, using a 17mm eye piece. It really doesn’t do justice to the clarity and size of the moon as viewed in person. I sat for 30 minutes last night just staring at the moon, amazed at the visible detail in the craters and plains.
The scope is supplied with 17mm and 10mm eyepieces, which give 60x and 100x magnification. With a 1000mm focal length, the Konus can provide up to 250x magnification with a 4mm eyepiece. That would be more than enough to see Saturn as a small disc with rings (under the right sky conditions), but the field of view will require constant adjustment of the scope. Thankfully, this scope comes with a motorised mount with a speed adjustment to track objects as the Earth rotates.
You should be able to grab one for NZ$600 from any decent camera shop.
Leica Ultravid 10×42
If you want to view non-celestial objects, a pair of binoculars is often more appropriate than a telescope. These Leica Ultravid binoculars are the pure embodiment of “you get what you pay for”. It’s almost impossible to explain just how incredible these binoculars are, but perhaps “three thousand, three hundred New Zealand dollars” will go some way to doing so. That amount of money buys you some incredible Leica glass, a robust nitrogen-filled housing, precision focussing, and adjustable eye-relief cups; all precision-assembled by the undisputed leader in optics.
I’m not surprised at the anecdotes of hunters and spotters finding animals that simply aren’t visible to the naked eye using these binoculars. They appear to gather every photon emitted from your subject, resulting in incredible light sensitivity. Viewing at dusk or into shadow is no problem, and the clarity makes the subject look almost more 3D than reality, if that’s possible. I could put more words here that try to explain what looking through the Leica binoculars feels like, but I don’t have the vocabulary.