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Is a motorized telescope worth the cost?

Skywatcher skyliner 200p synscan telescope product image
(Image credit: Skywatcher)

Buying a telescope can be a bewildering decision at the best of times and opting for a motorized telescope can confuse things even further. With so many different options to consider choosing the right one can become somewhat of a lottery, especially for the beginner. Cost is typically the prime consideration for most, and even a quick look over most telescope adverts will show that motorized/computerised telescopes typically cost more than ones that are not (due to the sophisticated electronics required).

In more recent times, the worldwide supply issue of semi-conductors has had an impact on manufacturers of motorized telescopes with the supply of some models delayed or out of stock. It's also resulted in price increases on certain markets. Within the UK especially, consumers are feeling a tighter squeeze on their finances than perhaps ever before with a 'cost of living' crisis underway. Disposable income for expensive luxuries such as telescopes is likely to be more limited.

Given the supply issues and tightening budgets, we examine just how crucial it is to have a motorized or go-to telescope, and if it is really worth the expense over cheaper, less sophisticated options.

Motorized Telescopes

Pros

  • Tracks the motion of the night sky keeping objects within the field of view
  • More expensive motorized telescopes have go-to slewing
  • Easy and fast object location
  • Long exposure astrophotography is possible

Cons

  • Much more expensive
  • More complex to use
  • Features are not essential if you are just observing visually

By far and away the massive bonus of having a motorized telescope is its ability to track the motion of the night sky. Some models, known as GoTo telescopes, automatically slew to celestial objects. These features open up the world of long exposure astrophotography to the user. With a GoTo system, objects that are difficult to find can be located in seconds saving a huge amount of time in hunting down hard-to-find targets.

Telescope tracking is perhaps the most important feature since it keeps objects centered within the telescope field of view making visual observing or photography far easier. Even a telescope with a simple Right Ascension (RA) motor drive will be of huge benefit, especially to the beginner wanting to try their hand at astrophotography.

Manual and lower cost telescopes

Pros

  • Much less expensive
  • Larger aperture sizes for the money
  • Often easily available from most suppliers
  • Great for visual observing

Cons

  • No tracking or go-to
  • Long exposure photographic work is not possible
  • Requires good knowledge of the night sky to find and locate objects manually

With the aforementioned cost of living squeeze and supply issues of electronic components, some may have no option but to look toward alternative options than motorized, GoTo telescopes. Luckily, there is a wide range of equipment available, and better still, much of it can give the user just as much enjoyment to use.

The main drawback of lower-cost manual telescopes (such as Dobsonians) is that most have no motor drive or GoTo functions, meaning any object must be located manually. They also do not track the motion of the night sky, so objects must be constantly re-centered rendering long exposure photography impossible.

Using manual telescopes requires the user to have at least a reasonable knowledge of the night sky. Finding fainter targets can take time, even for the experienced observer. Fortunately, there are a good range of smartphone apps available to help users quickly navigate around the night sky. Alternatively, traditionalists might even prefer a good, old-fashioned star atlas.

Our top three recommendations:

Celestron astromaster 130EQ-MD newtonian telescope product image

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron Astromaster 130EQ-MD Motorised Reflector

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Aperture: 130mm
Focal length: 650mm
Focal ratio: f/5
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): x33 and x65
Finderscope: Built-in star pointer
Mount: Equatorial with R/A motor drive
Limiting stellar magnitude: 13.8
Highest useful magnification: x300

Reasons to buy

+
Larger aperture
+
Good motor-driven equatorial mount
+
Suited to long exposure astrophotography

Reasons to avoid

-
More complex to set-up for a beginner

Skywatcher skyliner 200P synscan telescope product image

(Image credit: Skywatcher)

Skywatcher Skyliner 200P SynScan GoTo Dobsonian

A fully motorized GoTo version of the popular 200P Dobsonian

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Aperture: 203mm
Focal Length: 1200mm
Focal Ratio: f/5.9
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): x48, x120
Finderscope: 9 x 50 optical finder
Mount: Dobsonian motorized GoTo mount with full tracking
Limiting Stellar Magnitude: 14.8
Highest Useful Magnification: x400

Reasons to buy

+
Large 203mm aperture
+
Full go-to system with object tracking

Reasons to avoid

-
Considerably more expensive than the manual version
-
More sophisticated set-up

Celestron 5SE telescope product image

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron Nexstar 5SE GOTO Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope

High quality optics with a multitude of advanced features. A full GoTo system and easy alignment routine

Specifications

Optical design: Schmidt Cassegrain
Aperture: 128mm
Focal length: 1250mm
Focal ratio: f/10
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): x50
Finderscope: Star pointer
Mount: Alt-Az GoTo with object tracking
Limiting stellar magnitude: 13.8
Highest useful magnification: x300

Reasons to buy

+
Superb user-friendly design
+
Full go-to system
+
Many accessories available

Reasons to avoid

-
Not well-suited to long exposure astrophotography

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