Buying anything today with high technology components seems to be full of risks and unknowns. Starting out to buy new gear for amateur astronomy is no exception. I guess that I have made more than my share of miss-steps and poor decisions. I usually want to go for the best, but buying the best in amateur astronomy means two really negative things. First, the price of quality very quickly pegs the price needle deeply into the “red”. Secondly, and even worse, you just can’t buy what you want when you want it. The delivery lead-time for a new AstroPhysics 160mm refractor is currently running at least 6 years, for example. Essentially all high quality manufacturers are running multi-month product waiting lists.
So I did what I guess most new hobby astronomers do, I buy something that looks good and is affordable and available. I then proceed to learn the basics with the new equipment and I continue to read about the products and better understand the marketplace. As I feel the need for better quality, I then upgrade the equipment, and re-sell inferior equipment on the used equipment markets. This is a pretty expensive way to go, as I am continuously upgrading to higher quality and unable to recover the full price of the equipment I have previously used.
A more reasoned approach would seem desirable. Why not study the equipment and the markets more thoroughly, talk with others and buy the highest quality available for your particular price points, and do it the first time right, and only once? But this too breaks down. Until you really get into amateur astronomy, it would be particularly difficult to appreciate how much you and your family are going to enjoy the avocation. I suspect for some [maybe for many] astronomy will not really remain captivating for everyone, and if you have make the big jump on the 1st step you might end up with expensive equipment being unused and collecting dust rather than light.
My equipment comparison and recommendations presents my personal opinions regarding these key pieces of equipment:
Mounts I recommend both Takahashi mounts and Paramount ME mounts
Telescopes I strongly recommend Takahashi Telescopes
Support Systems I recommend Particle Wave’s Monolith portable pier
CCD Cameras I recommend Finger Lakes Instruments cameras, and digital focusers for Astronomy
I try to use my equipment as often as the weather and our other commitments permit. I have worked my way up both the quality and price curves, and I have sufficient time to permit me to enjoy astronomy even with its requirement for late nights spent with the equipment. You might want to stop short of my recommendations if your circumstances or interests are different.