"Buy binoculars first" used to be good advice. A decent telescope was, in inflation-adjusted currency, a lot more expensive. Also, there were more valid uses for binoculars should the astronomy "bug" not bite. Sporting events did not have jumbo-tron screens that showed instant replays. Long focal length camera lenses were not the norm. A camera on every cell phone was just a gleam in Gene Roddenberry's eye.
As the holiday gift-buying season approaches (sorry, but there's already Christmas decorations in the stores near me), the question will get asked,
"Hey... you're into astronomy, right? What telescope should I get my spouse / child / relative?"
If not this year, sometime in the near future, you are likely to be asked. If you are looking to buy one for someone, you may be asking someone you know that question. You may receive the advice, "Buy binoculars first."
In addition to that, please don't buy or recommend the least expensive, "real-looking" refractor-style telescope. A table-top reflector telescope is probably a better option, such as an Orion Firstscope / Skyscanner / Astroblast, a Celestron Firstscope or an Edmund Astroscan (among others).
Today, a lot of the tripod-based offerings will be at the forefront of many people's gift giving ideas, because they "look" like a "real" telescope - lens at the front, eyepiece at the back. But any amateur astronomer who's been at this a while and helped a fellow, new stargazer with their <$100 scope knows the problems with these offerings: Shaky tripods, bad mounts, useless finderscopes, and sometimes, still arriving with 0.965" eyepieces (the standard these days is 1.25"). The main lens or tiny mirror may indeed be usable, but most of the rest of it will be an exercise in frustration for many people. And there's many different types of telescopes, and the eyepiece location is just a matter of the optical design.
So the call will go out from some of the amateur astronomers who have heard the advice all their lives: "Buy binoculars instead!" I have arrived at the belief that there are some significant problems with this advice now:
True, these small table-top scopes have an optical aberration called coma because they have "fast" mirrors and optical systems. True, in order to see planets, an additional investment of $30 or $40 for a barlow is needed for seeing the planets. But they are dead simple to use, and offer BOTH the wide field of views AND enough magnification to be able to see planets, albeit at small image scales, but still visible. I find many people are surprised at how small Jupiter and Saturn look even in an 11" Schmidt-Cassegrain style telescope or 10" reflector. But binoculars will never show those details like even the smallest, least-expensive 76mm tabletop reflector can with a barlow lens.
YES, binoculars are still incredibly useful for astronomy, and sometimes the MORE appropriate instrument for viewing some objects in the sky, and finding a stap-hop trail, or simply sweeping the Milky Way. But given gift-giving budgets, aren't we better off recommending the tabletop scopes first, and THEN saying, "Buy binoculars next" - or at least after the stargazer has whet their appetite and purchased a larger/better "upgrade" telescope?
I'd argue that, in most circumstances, we are. And the receiver of the telescope will be better off too.