Buying the best telescope that fits your needs without leaving a dent in your finances is a balancing act.
Aperture: Diameter of the primary mirror or lens, which allows a telescope to collect light.
Field of view: Area of sky visible through the eyepiece.
Focal length: A telescope's tube length. Short focal lengths offer a wide field of view and a small image.
Focal ratio: Also known as the telescope's speed. Small focal ratios provide lower magnifications, wide field of view and a brighter image.
Magnification: Relationship between the telescope's optical system and the eyepiece.
You can choose the telescope that does the most and with the highest price, but these can be overly complex for a beginner. Of course, the other extreme is that you spend so little on your telescope that you end up with a useless toy.
A good starting point is to know how much you want to spend and what you find most exciting about skywatching: is it seeing the planets up close, peering into deep space at galaxies and nebulas, dabbling in astrophotography or a bit of everything? It's also worth considering if an interest in observing or photography is going to stay with you for a good amount of time — if you're not sure, binoculars could be a great choice for you instead.
We have selected the very best telescopes for beginners, viewing the planets, astrophotography and all-arounders for a variety of budgets and from top manufacturers like Celestron, Sky-Watcher, Meade Instruments, Orion, iOptron and Explore Scientific.
Best telescopes for beginners
A decent-sized aperture and good quality optics for the price, the Orion StarBlast 4.5 is set-up to make astronomy easy for the beginner. You’ll be able to get very good views of the planets, the moon, nebulas and the brighter galaxies, and the f/4 focal ratio ensures bright images of the targets you choose to observe.
Also in the box is Starry Night software to help you choose your targets and pinpoint them in the night sky. Two eyepieces — a 17mm and 6mm — is supplied with the telescope, providing magnifications of 26x and 75x.
For a beginner's telescope, the sights were breathtaking and boast clarity and contrast. The surface of the moon and Saturn's rings are particular highlights, although due to the wide field of view, it is worth remembering that targets will be small through the eyepiece. The same is said of "faint fuzzies" like the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31), which appear as bright patches of light even under a degree of light pollution.
The Orion StarBlast 4.5 employs a sturdy desktop mount, which swings along the axes of altitude and azimuth, so skywatchers will need to ensure that they use a sturdy table for steady observations of the night sky. Slewing is a very smooth process with the StarBlast 4.5.
Orion has supplied a clear manual that explains how to use the reflector as well as attach and calibrate the EZ Finder II red dot finder. However, given that the telescope comes assembled straight out of the box, it's unlikely the skywatcher will struggle with assembling and using it.
While a great telescope for beginners, the Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114 can be enjoyed by intermediate skywatchers, too — especially those who want to spend less time setting up and more time observing. Assembly takes less than 20 minutes.
Built into this reflector is Celestron’s StarSense technology, which provides an easy option for aligning the telescope and enables the onboard GoTo system to work out which direction the instrument is pointing. To use the tech, all the skywatcher needs to do is download the StarSense app and take a smartphone image through the eyepiece and the app works out which stars are in the telescope's field of view to calculate the astronomer's orientation.
Moving to Jupiter, we made use of the 10 mm eyepiece to view the gas giant. Views are clear, but you'll need a selection of eyepieces and filters in order to pick out the coloration of the atmospheric bands. The planet's largest moons are visible as clear, sharp points of light. Views of the moon, Venus and the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44) are also pleasing, with good clarity.
The beauty of the Celestron StarSense series is that you can read up on the literature offered by the app for each target you observe. Slewing from one target to another, we found that the StarSense Explorer LT 114 is a sturdy piece of kit and operates smoothly. One minor drawback is that skywatchers need to manually push the telescope as a motorized mount is not supplied.
With a fair-sized aperture and quality optics typical of Celestron products, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a beginner's telescope as good and easy to use for the same price.
It’s fair to say, that if you’re a beginner, you do not want to be spending precious time assembling your telescope when you could be using those moments for observing. A great beginner's telescope is one that’s quick and easy to build and calibrate — iOptron’s SmartStar Cube-E R80 is certainly that.
This refractor is achromatic, meaning that its optical system is able to get rid of pesky false color during observations, and the iOptron SmartStar Cube-E R80 does so with bright views of breathtaking detail and contrast for the price — beginners will be impressed with the moon and fair views of Saturn's rings. The instrument is lightweight and, with its 3.2-inch (80 mm), doubles up for terrestrial views.
The telescope sits on a sturdy Cube-E GoTo mount, which in conjunction with the handheld GoTo Nova computer controller (containing a database of more than 14,000 astronomical objects) will get you up and running and looking at the night sky in no time. You will need to accessorize the iOptron SmartStar Cube-E R80 with further accessories to see the majority of the targets offered by the database.
A minor criticism is that the hand controller is difficult to read in low light — make sure you use a red flashlight to protect your dark-adapted vision.
The overall build is sturdy, a couple of eyepieces — a 10 mm and 25 mm — are supplied and we love that the telescope comes in a variety of colors (including blue, green and pink) so you can observe in style!
Best all-round telescopes
This great package from Celestron features a five-inch (127 mm) aperture telescope at a competitive price, making it perfect for those hunting for an instrument that allows the skywatcher to dabble in observing the solar system and deep-sky targets without investing a great amount of money.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127 EQ comes with two eyepieces: a 20 mm and 4mm, which work with the optical system to produce magnifications of 50x and 250x. There’s also a 3x Barlow lens for tripling the magnification on the eyepieces, though truth be told it really isn’t needed — the maximum magnification that the telescope is able to achieve is 300x, so using the Barlow with the 4 mm eyepiece, for example, causes images to become blurred.
With most budget telescopes these accessories aren't of the highest quality, so it’s recommended that you replace all these with your own selection of eyepieces and Barlow lenses, while being mindful of the PowerSeeker 127 EQ's optical limits.
Skywatchers will need to be comfortable with using an equatorial mount, the slow-motion controls and have polar aligning knowhow before considering the PowerSeeker 127 EQ. Once they are, this reflector serves as a reliable instrument for observing — and more so if the observer collimates the mirrors regularly. Once this is achieved, the optical system offers impressive celestial sights.
The manual equatorial mount is simple and does the job, but the aluminum tripod is a little shaky so we recommend steadying the instrument during your observations. For the money, however, the flaws with this reflector are minor given the low price point.
More and more telescopes are making use of WiFi technology for a fuss-free tour of the universe and Orion’s Starseeker IV is one such telescope and mount combination. Assembly of the 5.12-inch (130 mm) offering in the series is intuitive, along with its alignment.
By downloading the SynScan Pro app onto your smartphone, which then sets up a WiFi network with the GoTo mount, you can control the telescope and access data for more than 42,000 celestial objects. If you would rather not download the app though, there is a supplied hand controller that does the same job.
SynScan is simple to use, and you’ll be selecting objects, be they planets, stars or deep-sky objects in no time. The rings of Saturn, the atmospheric bands of Jupiter, wispy nebulas and bright galaxies such as the Pinwheel (Messier 101) in Ursa Major are all within optical reach of the 5.12-inch aperture. Views of all targets are of very good quality, with no major optical distortion or defects.
However, skywatchers should note that the Orion Starseeker IV 130 is unable to pick out each and every target to the same clarity and contrast listed in the GoTo's database. We recommend experimenting with a selection of eyepieces and filters to make the most of its optical system.
This apochromatic triplet refractor features multi-coated optics to eliminate false color and warping of the targets when viewed through the eyepiece, ensuring a high-definition view.
Whatever you’re looking at, be it a planet, nebula or galaxy, the Meade Series 6000 115 offers bright images that are characterized by high contrast. That means no straining your eyes to eke out the fine details of your favorite target.
The optics are also superb for viewing the moon, and we were treated to crisp and clear lunar views that lived up to the hype that surrounds this excellent instrument. No optical defects could be detected through the eyepiece (not supplied in the price), as promised by Meade Instruments.
The Meade Series 6000 115 is also versatile, adaptable enough to be used either as a grab 'n' go or an imaging telescope, or even as a guide scope for a larger instrument.
Apart from a retractable dew shield, the Meade Series 6000 115 doesn’t come with any accessories, mount or tripod. However, with optics this good, skywatchers will want to carefully choose the add-ons anyway.
Best Computerized or GoTo telescopes
As an introduction to the world of GoTo skywatching, the Meade StarNavigator NG 114 is a must-have for skywatchers on a limited budget. The AudioStar hand controller offers information on over 30,000 astronomical objects, as well as four hours’ worth of audio tours for 500 of the night sky's brightest objects — the planets, major nebulas and galaxies.
Assembling the instrument is easy and, given the weight of 14.7 lbs. (6.7 kilograms), the StarNavigator NG 114 is light enough to carry across the backyard without too much effort. Skywatchers have the choice of powering the 12V Servo Drive with 8 AA batteries or external power — with batteries having a tendency to drain quickly in cold conditions, we recommend investing in the latter for uninterrupted observations with the StarNavigator.
In terms of optical prowess, we don't have any complaints — especially given what's offered in the telescope's package. We can fit a waxing gibbous moon in the field of view and, after tweaking the focuser, brought its craters and lunar mare into sharp focus. A moon filter offered even better sights. Slewing over to star-forming region, the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), is also picked out with ease with the 4.5-inch (114 mm) aperture — it appears as a dusty patch of light with the Trapezium Cluster's member stars dazzling with brilliant clarity at the nebula's heart.
A minor niggle is the shaky aluminum tripod, so we recommend supporting the setup by hand while slewing and in windy conditions.
Celestron’s range of NexStar telescopes have a well-deserved reputation for great optics, user-friendly assembly and a plethora of features, and the NexStar 6SE exemplifies all of these.
The 5.91-inch (150 mm) aperture is a step up from the Meade StarNavigator NG 114 in terms of light-gathering prowess, while the more than 40,000 astronomical objects in the NexStar+ hand controller’s database means you’ll never run out of new targets to seek. However, skywatchers should be mindful that extra eyepieces will need to be added to capture them and, even then, the aperture won't show all targets listed in the database in great amounts detail.
The NexStar 6SE offers a tour mode, where the telescope will guide you to carefully chosen targets, whether in a particular constellation or across the sky — a fantastic feature if you can't decide which objects to observe or want to explore night-sky treasures you've never seen before.
The SkyAlign technology, which is a breeze to use, gets you pointed in the right direction fast, while the motorized mount has nine slewing speeds as well as sidereal, solar and lunar tracking rates. Be warned though: with such impressive technology, the NexStar 6SE drains batteries quickly, so we recommend powering the setup with an external power source.
Imagers may initially be displeased with its slow f/10 focal ratio, limiting the NexStar 6SE to being a planetary or lunar imager at best, but there is the facility for more advanced users to switch out the secondary mirror for their camera, with the smaller light path increasing the focal ratio to an astrophotography-friendly f/2.
The larger the aperture of your telescope, the more light it will gather, allowing you to resolve the finer details in astronomical objects, and see deeper into the universe. With a 12-inch (305 mm) objective, this collapsible Dobsonian from Sky-Watcher lives up to the tag of "light bucket".
Dobsonians are designed for their simplicity and, with its GoTo capability plus motorized rocker alt-azimuth mount navigated by a SynScan hand controller, getting great views of the night sky and calibrating the telescope has never been easier.
Over 40,000 targets are offered in the database and, we have to say, that seeking out faint fuzzies was our first port of call with the Sky-Watcher Flextube 300 SynScan. The Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) is an incredible sight, with some dust lanes visible and the bulge glowing brightly. Its satellite galaxies are also visible as points of light in the field view.
With a focal ratio of f/4.9, this Dobsonian is fast enough for imagers to make use of all the photons that it will collect. With a little skill, you'll be able to take some amazing images through this telescope.
Although the Sky-Watcher Flextube 300 SynScan is heavy, its collapsible design makes it easier for you to fit in the trunk of your car whenever the need arises to seek out dark-sky parks or attend star parties.
It has a hefty price tag, but given the aperture, imaging prowess and GoTo capability of the Sky-Watcher Flextube 300 SynScan, it's a must-buy for hobbyists.
Best telescopes for observing planets
Orion describes the AstroView 90 as a "planetary power-performer", and for the price and aperture, this refractor passes muster. Supplied with accessories, a simple equatorial mount and sturdy tripod, the instrument comes with everything you need for good views of the night sky.
The views of Jupiter with its belts and moons, Saturn and its rings, even the tiny blue-turquoise disks of faraway Uranus and Neptune all snap into crystal-clear clarity. The AstroView also shows the main surface features of Mars, when the Red Planet is at opposition and at its best for observing, as well as Mercury and the phases of Venus. A slight amount of false color is visible but expected from a telescope at this price point — our views are not spoiled by this optical defect.
Naturally, the moon is also breathtaking through the optical system with craters Copernicus and Tycho at first quarter phase being a highlight: views are pin-sharp with plenty of contrast. Although it is heralded as a planetary performer, the AstroView 90 can also reveal some of the brighter deep-sky objects, too. Magnified views of the Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45) in Taurus are breathtaking and a must for skywatchers peering through this instrument.
The supplied eyepieces are of reasonable quality, though as with all budget telescopes, you may want to purchase separate higher-quality accessories to get an even better look at the moon’s impacts — we also recommend a 2x Barlow lens to double the magnification, while being mindful of the AstroView 90's optical limits.
Celestron’s Omni XLT 120 is aimed at intermediate-level skywatchers, particularly those who have mastered setting circles and know how to use right ascension and declination coordinates on the supplied high-quality CG-4 German equatorial mount.
The Omni XLT 120 features high-quality optics, painted with Celestron's StarBright XLT coating to maximize light transmission. The optical system also makes use of aspheric shaping technology to minimize spherical aberration, a visual defect where incoming light is focused at different points.
As such, the Omni XLT 120, with its mix of aperture and f/8.3 focal ratio, is able to produce excellent views of the planets, from Jupiter’s atmospheric bands and moons, Saturn’s rings and craters on the moon, showing great contrast between areas in shadow and those bathed in daylight. While there is a slight amount of color fringing, views through the optical system are outstanding.
The refractor comes with a 25 mm eyepiece, 1.25-inch star diagonal, heavy-duty stainless steel tripod, accessory tray, spirit level, Starry Night Special Edition software and a 6x30 finderscope.
When you pay big money for telescopes, you’re usually guaranteed to get exceptionally high-quality optics that provide incredible views of a variety of astronomical targets.
Explore Scientific’s carbon-fiber 4.01-inch (102 mm) triplet apochromatic refractor certainly fits into this category. It sports Hoya FCD100 extra-low dispersion glass, made in Japan, which is able to comprehensively correct for the false color — also known as chromatic aberration — so commonplace in refractors. As a result, we are pleased to report that the images through the eyepiece are very sharp, and the quality coupled with the long focal length and f/7 focal ratio means it’s a superb planetary imager, too.
With telescopes of this price and calibre, there are usually no eyepieces include — it’s expected that the user will want to use their own eyepieces, or purchase specific eyepieces to suit their needs. Skywatchers should consider their budget before purchasing this refractor, but it's a worthy investment if they decide it's the telescope for them.
The 2.5-inch hexagonal focuser works reasonably well, capable of taking the weight of 10 lbs. (4.53 kilograms) worth of extra imaging accessories such as DSLRs, CCDs and filter wheels.
This focusing mechanism sometimes struggles to hold tension when several accessories are applied, however, so skywatchers may want to consider replacing it if they're looking to be doing some serious planetary imaging.
Best astrophotography telescopes
Designed specifically for astrophotography, the Sky-Watcher 200P Quattro Imaging Newtonian is a specialist's piece of kit and doesn't come with any eyepieces, mount or tripod — the skywatcher will need to choose and purchase these separately.
For the 200P Quattro, you’ll also need a coma corrector and, since it is a reflecting telescope, it will need to be regularly collimated to maintain pin-sharp images.
Without the coma corrector, targets are warped in the field of view, making decent astrophotography a challenge — however, with the f/3.9 optics, images are good for a low budget specialist telescope, if not reduced in brightness due to pesky vignetting. We strongly recommend acquiring the coma corrector for excellent views of the night sky.
Those with experience of being able to confidently collimate (align) the optics and have the other required accessories that the Sky-Watcher 200P Quattro isn't supplied with, then this optical tube assembly is a great instrument for astrophotographers on a tight budget.
For an 8.2-inch (208 mm) aperture instrument, the Explore Scientific N208CF astrograph is exceptionally light since it's constructed from carbon-fiber.
Weighing in at 19.1 lbs. (8.7 kilograms), the N208CF is suitable for most regular equatorial mounts — many makes and models will be able to take the load of both the telescope and extra accessories, including CCD or DSLR cameras, filter wheels and other such accessories. For versatility in the type of mount you choose, a cradle-ring assembly and Vixen-style dovetail plate are supplied for the moderate price tag.
The N208CF's optical prowess is outstanding, with no sign of optical distortion. The telescope is a great all-arounder, suitable for imaging everything from the planets to the faintest galaxies, while the fast f/3.9 optics are excellent: of course, as you would expect for a telescope designed for giving great images. As an added bonus, the instrument is a breeze to collimate.
The two-inch (50.8 mm) rack-and-pinion focuser is a dream to operate being lovely and smooth, while the carbon-fiber construction is temperature resistant: no expansion or contraction on warm or cold nights is evident. The N208CF keeps fine-focus once it's been found — vital for those long imaging sessions.
Celestron’s EdgeHD technology turns Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes into high-quality astrographs with perfectly flat fields. The way that the Schmidt-Cassegrain optics focus light usually means that the focal plane — where the light comes to focus — is curved, but if you are imaging, your CCD camera's sensor is flat. A curved focal plane on a flat CCD sensor results in field curvature, where stars at the edge of the field become blurry. An undesirable effect for astrophotographers.
The EdgeHD optics negate this, creating a perfectly flat field right to the edge of the frame for pinpoint sharpness right across the image. We are impressed with the optical performance that the Celestron Advanced VX9.25 EdgeHD delivers, with views being crisp and clear with no optical distortion or false color.
As an added bonus, the optical tube assembly comes packaged with Celestron’s Advanced VX mount, which is tailor-made for imagers, capable of photographing across the meridian without needing to do a meridian flip. The setup also performs periodic corrections to remove errors when tracking objects and also comes with an autoguider port.
The Celestron Advanced VX9.25 EdgeHD can carry a load of 30 lbs. (13.6 kilograms) too, so for the tube and all your imaging accessories are fully supported. Also included is the standard NexStar+ hand controller, a 25 mm eyepiece and access to Celestron’s SkyPortal app and Starry Night Special Edition software.
Telescope Buying Advice
The aperture is one of the most important things to consider when purchasing a telescope, then you should next consider the focal length. The main thing to remember here is that bigger isn’t always better.
It really all comes down to the targets you are wanting to view. Shorter focal lengths, say of about 20 inches (500 mm), will provide a field of view for you to take in large areas of the Milky Way and showpieces such as the Pleiades (Messier 45) and Orion Nebula (Messier 42). Meanwhile, high-power objects such as the moon, planets or double stars need a telescope with a longer focal length of about 80 inches (2000 mm).
If you can’t really decide, then there are plenty of compromises between aperture and focal length but you must be willing to make a few trade-offs in terms of the weight of your instrument, the field of view and its "power".