Well, most amateur astronomers will have their personal preferences, btu perhaps I can relay mine and it may help you in your search.
First of all it's quite prudent of you to seek as much opinion and guidance as you can before making a significant purchase like this. Kudos for
As a kid, I worked my way up through smaller refractor scopes until my parents got tired of "upgrading me" every other Christmas and I had to save
up to make the jump to my first 3" reflector. This was a good choice for me because it was still relatively easy to handle but had enough power to
pull in Saturn's rings, nebulae and galaxies, plus the never-boring moon with decent clarity.
As an adult, in college, I took my first formal observational astronomy course - something I highly recommend if it is available to you. Most larger
community colleges offer this course for a very reasonable fee. The advantage is that you get to learn how to use and manipulate larger scopes as
well as get a good handle on the night sky and all the wonders found there.
My class used 8" Celestrons. This is a decent scope, and with about ten to share among the class of twenty or so, the one night per week we were out
added up to lots of scope time.
When I finished that class I was ready to buy my first scope of that caliber. I scrounged around for lots of info and pricing - kind of where you are
now, I guess. I decided against getting myself a Celestron 8" because the trunk it came in, plus the wedge and tripod, and all the accessories was
just too cumbersome and heavy to lug around. It's ok if you can set it up and leave it up under cover, but to haul it around and go through the
heavy drudgery of set-up and tear down will discourage you from frequent trips or many viewing nights.
I settled on a Meade 90. It was easy to transport, had great optics, plus the astro-computer made finding celestial objects easy. I had a lot of fun
with that scope and it was well worth the money.
After a year or so, I wanted to have a bit more power and resolution, but still want to have relative ease in set-up and portability (so I could take
it along on trips to the mountains, desert, etc.).
My latest scope is a Meade ETX125PE, with UHTC (ultr-high transmission coatings). This is a superb instrument with incredible optics, a flawless
clock drive, reasonably easy 1-man set-up and portability, and lots of wonderful accessories you can add and enhance your scope with as you go along.
The ETX125PE can be found on eBay for about 6-800$ US, depending on condition and accessories. Retail new is over $1K. I got mine on eBay from a
user who bought it on a whim then shoved it into a closet after using it once or twice. Since then, I;ve gone back to eBay for eyepieces, camera
mounts, computer hook-ups (great because you can sit inside on a cold night and point your scope anywhere and look at the result on your monitor or TV
indoors - the family loves it).
Truth is, after all the extras I'm probably well over $2,000 by now, but that was over a couple of years and I pretty much have everything I need
now. I'm also having a wonderful time and the scope has a stellar reputation (no pun intended), excellent support, and is just an all-around
fantastic instrument. Plus - it looks cool just sitting in my office!
p.s. the red laser dot finder is a very cool feature that lets you 'eyeball' anything and center the scope on it with no guesswork - but the
AutoStar computer is the best way to 'explore' and check out the highlights for any given night or location.
1 more hint: forget the batteries for the clock drive - it goes through 8 AA's like nothing and it's a pain to remove the base to change the
batteries. Instead - go to the Meade site and buy a plug-in adapter with a 12'v socket. That way you can run it off house current or your car
battery if in the field. Works great.
Good luck - U2U me if you have any other questions... and have fun!