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Best telescopes for beginners: Top budget-friendly picks for viewing the planets, galaxies and more

Observing through beginner telescope
(Image credit: Future)

We've scoped out all the best telescopes for beginners and put them in this handy guide. Searching for the right telescope can be a little daunting given the number of models, manufacturers and retailers out there, but we've come up with this guide to include the best telescopes for those without much astronomy experience.

There are also plenty of telescope deals, and we always keep our eye on the best offers to help save you money. One such example is the Celestron 114LCM computerized Newtonian telescope with 16% off its original price. It's worth noting the models in this guide will suit different astronomers depending on what they want to achieve from their stargazing experience. We've included something for every budget. 

Telescope glossary

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'll need to consider what you want from your stargazing experience when looking at telescopes from beginners. There are three main types of telescopes: reflector, refractor and catadioptric, all offering better views for different night sky subjects. Typically, reflectors are better for viewing faint, deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies whereas refractors are popular for observing objects like planets or moons. Catadioptric telescopes can give you the best of both worlds and can be a happy middle ground.

So, without further ado, if you want to check out all the best telescopes for beginners, read our round-up below. 



Best telescopes for beginners

Celestron Astro Fi 102

(Image credit: Celestron)

1. Celestron Astro Fi 102

Computerized mount for easy night-sky navigation

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Mount type: Computerized alt-azimuth single fork arm
Aperture: 4.02" (102 mm)
Focal length: 52.17" (1,325 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 241x
Lowest useful magnification: 15x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 16 lbs. (7.25 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
No tools required for assembly 
+
Controlled via smartphone/tablet
+
Database recommends targets

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs app to function

If you're comfortable with digital devices, then Celestron's Astro Fi is a great model that gives you more telescope for your money. It's a telescope with cutting-edge technology and superb support for anyone trying their hand at skywatching. 

Supplied with everything a beginner needs for great tours of the night sky, including 10mm and 25mm eyepieces (for magnifications of 132x and 53x), a smartphone adapter to dabble in basic astrophotography and a red dot finder, the Astro Fi is an excellent piece of kit for the price. What's more, the overall build is of good quality, especially given the sturdy aluminum tripod.

The Astro Fi 102's optics provide good views of the moon and is able to pick out the planets with ease. In our experience, pleasing views of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are achieved through the four-inch aperture as well as breathtaking sights of the rugged, chalky terrain of our moon. Beginners — and even the whole family — will be delighted with what the Astro Fi 102 is able to reveal. The Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) is also a pleasant sight, with its disk coming into view when playing with the magnification.

The attractive aspect of the Astro Fi 102 is the SkyAlign technology for simple alignment. Aligning your instrument is essential before you begin your observations as it reveals your orientation relative to the night sky and, with this information, the Astro Fi 102 is able to slew to your desired target at the touch of a button. 

The button in this case is your smartphone, skywatchers just need to download the Celestron SkyPortal app (opens in new tab) (from Apple's App Store or Google Play), which in our experience is quite intuitive. Follow the instructions and pick three bright stars to assist the scope with the alignment procedure. The beauty of the Astro Fi 102 is that you don't need to know anything about the night sky to enjoy it, but it does serve as an educational tool for you to learn.

If you're unsure of what to observe on your first night, then the Celestron SkyPortal app recommends objects for you. A great feature that's useful for beginners.


Celestron StarSense Explorer 130

(Image credit: Celestron)
GPS enabled and good solar system and deep-sky views

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 5.11" (130 mm)
Focal length: 25.59" (650 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 307x
Lowest useful magnification: 19x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 18 lbs. (8.16 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to assemble and align
+
Suggests targets to observe
+
Good intro to astrophotography

Reasons to avoid

-
No motor drive

The development of the smartphone has revolutionized how we interact with technology, and Celestron's StarSense series of beginner telescopes take full advantage of that. In our Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ review we found it owes its ingenious design and ease of use to the Starsense app, combined with the magic of GPS.

Ordinarily, a GoTo telescope user would have to align their telescope on one or two bright stars for the onboard computer to figure out what direction it's pointing. This could be a bit daunting for newcomers to the hobby who just want to start observing amazing celestial wonders, without getting bogged down in the setting up, but Celestron's StarSense technology (opens in new tab) ingeniously does all of the calibrations and aligning for you in a matter of minutes.

We reviewed the StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ last year and found it to be an exquisite telescope for a beginner interested in astronomy or taking photos with one of the best cameras for astrophotography.

Once you have downloaded the StarSense app (Android or iPhone) onto your device, it will display a simulated view of the night sky along with menus from which to select objects (such as the planets or galaxies) to observe. Once you choose your target, screen arrows are displayed, directing you to nudge the telescope in the direction of your chosen object. Once it's in your instrument's field of view, the app will issue an alert — all you have to do is look through the eyepiece. You can use the telescope without the app, but the app is what adds a significant level of enjoyment to the experience.

Celestron's StarSense Explorer range includes a 4.5-inch aperture Newtonian (opens in new tab) and a 4-inch refractor (opens in new tab) so be sure to check out our Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ review which, because it boasts an aperture of 5.11 inches, we feel is the superior model. 

The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ comes with two eyepieces, 25 mm and 10 mm, which will provide magnifications of 26x and 65x, but as with all mass-produced budget telescopes, we recommend purchasing additional bespoke accessories to make the most of this instrument's optical system. 

It has to be said that this isn't a particularly heavy-duty telescope and you'll have to move it around manually to see the night sky because of a lack of motor drive. That being said, it does offer integrated smartphone technology and as a starter telescope, you'll be hard-pressed to find an instrument that is as good in quality and easy to use in this price range. 


Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ

(Image credit: Celestron)

3. Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ

Lightweight and easy to assemble for a 'grab and go' experience

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 4.02" (102 mm)
Focal length: 2.98" (660 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 204x
Lowest useful magnification: 14x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm & 20 mm
Weight: 14.1 lbs. (6.4 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Adjustable tripod
+
Easy to assemble
+
Very portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Color fringing around bright targets

The Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ is an easy-to-use, no-frills, classic-looking refractor telescope. It's the perfect choice of telescope for those wanting to learn their way around the night sky without the use of technology. Celestron's AstroMaster 102AZ is quite simply a must-have for beginners especially as it's easy to assemble and use. 

It's the longer version of the Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ which we liked in our review because it gave no false color. The telescope is attached to a single-arm alt-azimuth mount and features a slow-motion control for fine movements — from left to right as well as up and down — during navigation. Sweeping the night sky, we found that locking onto a target is simple with the Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ using the panning handle. There is no slippage and our chosen object remained in the center of the field of view.

A waning gibbous moon was visible using our observations. While the cratered surface could be seen in exquisite clarity and contrast, there is a degree of blue-purple fringing around the lunar limb. The same could be said when observing planets like Jupiter and Saturn, however, with the stunning views of the atmospheric bands and the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings, this minor flaw in this portable refractor's optics is soon forgotten. 

Like most beginner telescopes, the AstroMaster 102AZ is fully equipped for a successful night under the stars. As well as a good quality mount, skywatchers are treated to a StarPointer red dot finder for star hopping, an erect image star diagonal for comfortable viewing, Starry Night software as well as a 10 mm and 20 mm eyepiece. The duo will offer magnifications of 66x and 33x, which is ample for observing the solar system and a selection of bright deep-sky targets.

The Celestron AstroMaster is also available in apertures of 2.76 inches (70 mm), 2.99 inches (76 mm), 3.15 inches (80 mm), 3.14 inches (90 mm) 4.48 inches (114 mm) and 5.11 inches (130 mm), but for a budget-friendly telescope that's able to observe a wider variety of targets, the AstroMaster 102AZ is highly recommended.  

For those who'd like to try a great alternative to the Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ (opens in new tab) check out this great deal on a NexStar 102SLT computerized telescope:


Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P telescope – Sky-Watcher telescopes

(Image credit: Sky-Watcher)

4. Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P

Picks out faint galaxies and nebulas with ease

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Mount type: Dobsonian
Aperture: 7.87" (200 mm)
Focal length: 47.24" (1200 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 406x
Lowest useful magnification: 29x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 58.64 lbs. (26.6 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Picks out faint galaxies easily
+
Collapsible, so very portable
+
Built to last

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires frequent mirror adjustment 
-
Quite heavy

A great choice from Sky-Watcher's telescopes, Dobsonians are considered by astronomers to be observing powerhouses — huge tubes on simple alt-azimuth rocker mounts that don't require the need for a tripod — but they can often be bulky and cumbersome for travel. Sky-Watcher's line of Skyliner Dobsonians solves problems of portability by manufacturing the tube so that it splits in two, allowing it to extend along a truss or collapse into a more compact form.

Because of their design, Dobsonian mounts can comfortably hold larger apertures, usually at far less of a cost than the equivalent tripod-mounted reflecting or refracting telescopes. The Skyliner 200P, with its 7.87-inch (200 mm) diameter aperture, is a great bargain for the price — especially given the superb views it offers thanks to its light-gulping ability: if you've ever wanted to see some of the furthest galaxies and nebulas up close, then this is the telescope for you.

There is a problem with the Skyliner 200P though, and it's that the telescope needs frequent collimation — the process of aligning the primary and secondary mirrors, using tiny screws that hold them in place. Even a few small jolts can knock the mirrors out of alignment, so be prepared to tinker with this instrument.

The aperture size presents another issue: although the truss-tube design makes the setup more compact and portable, the tube and mount still weigh over 50 lbs. (22.7 kg) together. It’s not quite a grab-and-go telescope, so we advise being mindful of this before traveling to dark-sky sites.

The Skyliner 200P comes with a 10 mm (120x) eyepiece, suitable for presenting wide fields of view that can encompass entire galaxies or the full moon, and a 25 mm (48x) one for more detailed work on, say, a close-up of the rugged lunar surface or the planets.

Sky-Watcher's Skyliner series also includes the larger 9.84-inch (250 mm), 11.81-inch (300 mm), 13.78-inch (350 mm) and 15.75-inch (400 mm) models, but for a beginner wanting a little bang for their buck, the 200P is a great place to start.  

If the Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P is out of stock in the U.S  you could try these great alternatives instead:
 


Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor

(Image credit: Celestron )
Very good views of planets, stars, galaxies, stars and nebulas

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 3.94" (100 mm)
Focal length: 25.98" (660 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 241x
Lowest useful magnification: 15x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 20 lbs. (9.07 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Great range of accessories
+
Easy to assemble
+
Good intro to astrophotography

Reasons to avoid

-
Slight false color in optics

The Celestron Inspire 100AZ (which features the largest aperture in the Inspire family) is a top, top choice of telescope for beginners. It offers great ease of set up and use, and it comes with a far greater selection of accessories than most other starter telescope bundles. We think it's the complete package for those trying their hand at astronomy. There is a also a choice of the Inspire 80AZ (opens in new tab) which has a focal ratio of f/11.3 or the Celestron Inspire 70AZ (opens in new tab) with a focal ratio of f/11. Take a look at our in-depth Celestron Inspire 80AZ review for more information. The focal ratio for the 100AZ is f/6.6 thus letting in much more light.

The optics are of a good enough standard to reveal some enjoyable targets in the night sky, providing fair views of the moon, planets and brighter deep-sky targets such as nebulas and galaxies. 

During our review of the Celestron Inspire 80AZ, we did detect a degree of false color and blurring in the field of view. The latter is easily resolved with a careful selection of eyepieces, so we recommend investing in further eyepieces to make the most of the Inspire 100AZ's optical system. False color, on the other hand, is to be expected in telescopes at this price point but it did not ruin our observations.

The Inspire 100AZ comes with a 90-degree erect image diagonal with a 1.25-inch fitting that makes the telescope suitable for terrestrial and celestial views, a pair of eyepieces (20 mm and 10 mm), red LED flashlight, accessory tray, StarPointer Pro finderscope and a smartphone adapter for basic astrophotography.

There are loads of beginner telescopes out there that come with flimsy optical finders that limits star-hopping or navigation to the brightest stars in the sky. But that isn't the case with Celestron's Inspire 100AZ telescope, the StarPointer is actually a pleasant surprise. Even under moderate light pollution, it's able to pick out faint stars making for an accurate skywatching experience. 


Orion StarBlast II 4.5 telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

6. Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

Good overall build, with clear and crisp wide-angle views

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Mount type: Equatorial
Aperture: 4.5" (114.3 mm)
Focal length: 17.72" (450 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 228x
Lowest useful magnification: 16x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm & 2x Barlow lens
Weight: 20.72 lbs. (9.4 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Very good overall build
+
Handy add-ons included
+
Good optics

Reasons to avoid

-
Mount could be a struggle for some beginners
-
Tripod needs an upgrade

The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is an all-arounder for those hunting for an all-inclusive piece of kit. Be warned though: the equatorial mount can take a bit of getting used to compared to the simpler alt-azimuth and the computerized telescopes on the market. We recommend having a play with the setup during the day to get used to the counterbalance and fine-tuning controls. The overall build is very good, but the 'lightweight' tripod could do with an upgrade.

The telescope is simple to assemble, we'd go as far as saying intuitive, but a manual is supplied for those who feel that they need more guidance. Included with the mount, tripod and optical tube assembly, the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is supplied with two eyepieces — a 10 mm and 25 mm, which offer magnifications of 18x and 45x — a 2x Barlow lens, Orion's Star Target Planisphere and Telescope Observer's Guide for planning your observations, a moon map, a red LED light to preserve your night vision and a red-dot finder. This all-inclusive reflector is a very good starter telescope at an unbeatable price.

Once you've mastered the mount (and we have to admit, it doesn't take long), the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is easy to slew from one target to the next. The red-dot finder is able to pick up some of the fainter, low-magnitude stars, making star-hopping a breeze as we navigated the heavens. We didn't suffer with an undriven instrument, although if you're looking to try your hand at astrophotography then we recommend choosing a motor drive such as the Orion AstroTrack Drive (opens in new tab).

With a focal ratio of f/4, the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is a fast telescope, meaning that it offers large fields of view compared to a telescope with a longer focal length. Views are bright through shorter optical tubes and this reflector was of no exception.

Jupiter was visible in the southeast during our observations, dazzling at a magnitude of -2.7. Conditions were fair, allowing us to pick out the gas giant's atmospheric belts and largest moons. We did detect a small amount of coma, causing our images to appear as if they were 'falling inwards' near the edge of the field of view. However, with this telescope in particular, we had to look hard for the distortion. It didn't affect our views of the night sky.

Given the telescope is better suited to wide-angle objects, we turned the tube to the Pleiades (Messier 45), which dazzled in the field of view. The major member stars were pin-sharp, like white jewels. Around them, and using our peripheral vision, we were also able to pick out the Merope Nebula, a reflection nebula surrounding the 4th-magnitude star, Merope. 

This is a top choice telescope for beginners, even if it takes a little getting used to. The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 benefits from a selection of accessories with the stand-out being the eyepieces to maximize the magnifications. With those, it's the complete package, and a great choice for novices until they're ready to upgrade their equipment. 


The Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 against a white wall backdrop

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
A basic refractor telescope that's great for viewing the moon and also comes with its own backpack

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 70mm
Focal length: 400mm
Highest useful magnification: Unstated
Lowest useful magnification: Unstated
Supplied eyepieces: 20mm
Weight: 2.95K kg (6.5 lbs)

Reasons to buy

+
Suitable focal length for lunar viewing
+
Light and easy to transport

Reasons to avoid

-
Ships with only one eyepiece
-
Tripod isn't great

The SVBONY 501P 70 is astoundingly and cleverly basic. It's a 70 mm refractor that sits atop a lightweight tripod that's easy to travel with. For anyone looking to pare things back with their first or next telescope this is the one to go for. It contains the optical tube and a very simple 5x24 finderscope but also includes a 45 degree image diagonal so you don't have to crick your neck to view the night sky.

It comes with a single 20mm eyepiece that attaches to the 400mm refractor and so makes this ideal for lunar viewing but not that much else. The tripod (which reaches 41.5-inch / 105cm, or 50-inch / 127cm with the central column extended) is a little on the flimsy side so that may be an item worth upgrading in the future. But we found in our Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 review that, for the money, it's a good entry-level telescope.

 the package's optics comprises the optical tube and a very basic 5x24 finderscope that attaches to it, as well as a 45º image diagonal that makes it easier to see through its medium power 20mm (20x magnification) eyepiece supplied. It has a focal length of 400mm, which is more than enough to get a good view of the moon. The tripod reaches 41.5-inch / 105cm as standard, but a central column can be extended to take it to 50-inch / 127cm.

How we test the best telescopes for beginners

In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best telescopes to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every telescope through a rigorous review to fully test each instrument. Each telescope is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.

Each telescope is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each telescope and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 10-inch Dobsonian to a 2.76-inch refractor wouldn’t be appropriate, though each telescope might be the best pick in their own class.

We look at how easy it is to set up, whether computerized or motorized mounts are reliable and quiet, if a telescope comes with appropriate eyepieces and tripods and also make suggestions if a particular telescope would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best experience possible.

With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on telescopes, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.

If you're curious to see what the best telescopes of 2022 are, we've got a guide for that. Similarly if you already know what brand of telescope you want to purchase, we've got you covered there too. Be sure to check out our brand-specific guides for Celestron, Meade Instruments, Orion and Sky-Watcher.

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Gemma Lavender
Content Director, Space.com

Gemma is content director of Space.com, Live Science, science and space magazines How It Works and All About Space, history magazines All About History and History of War as well as Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) kids education brand Future Genius. She is the author of several books including "Quantum Physics in Minutes", "Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual to the Large Hadron Collider" and "Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual to the Milky Way". She holds a degree in physical sciences, a Master’s in astrophysics and a PhD in computational astrophysics. She was elected as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2011. Previously, she worked for Nature's journal, Scientific Reports, and created scientific industry reports for the Institute of Physics and the British Antarctic Survey. She has covered stories and features for publications such as Physics World, Astronomy Now and Astrobiology Magazine.

With contributions from