Best budget telescopes under $500 2024: Great telescopes that won't break the bank

Try out one of the best telescopes under $500 and discover the wonders of the night sky without breaking the bank. If you are new to star gazing, you will soon discover that kit can be very expensive, and when searching for affordable options, it can be difficult to know what is good value and what is subpar quality. Some of the best beginner telescopes offer a good starting point, but you might find that some edge into pricier territory.

While it's important to be careful when shopping for budget products, our expert reviewers have diligently assessed the options in this guide based on their optics, technology, build-quality and overall value for money. They've given their honest opinions, noting the benefits and drawbacks of each scope to help you make an informed decision. 

If money is less of an important factor for you when choosing your equipment, we also have guides to the best telescopes overall, best telescopes for seeing planets and best telescopes for deep space.

Best budget telescopes Frequenty Asked Questions answered by:
Josh Dury self portrait
Best budget telescopes Frequenty Asked Questions answered by:
Josh Dury

Josh Dury is a recognized landscape astrophotographer, presenter, writer and educator based near the Mendip Hills AONB in Somerset, United Kingdom. His work has been recognized by several photographic bodies, including The Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition, UNESCO, to major UK and international publishing and media outlets, including the BBC and ITV to name but two and photography suppliers Sigma and Benro. Josh has been recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as an active campaigner for Dark Skies. He also graduated with first-class honors from his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Photography at the University of the West of England (UWE).

Best budget telescopes under $500 we recommend in 2024

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The quick list

This is a quick overview of what's in the best budget telescopes under $500 in the guide below. The links allow you to check out the detailed review quickly.

The best budget telescopes we recommend in 2024

The best overall telescope under 500 dollars

The light-gathering aperture on this reflector telescope makes it a great choice for viewing galaxies, nebulas and star clusters.

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

-
Manual operation — no motor
-
Limited to basic astrophotography
Buy it if

You're looking to get into astrophotography: this telescope is a good entry-level model for astrophotography. There's a docking station for your phone on this telescope that will allow you to snap photos of what you can see through the scope.

You like the use of technology while stargazing: this telescope really shines when used alongside the StarSense app. The app has a huge database and will point you toward various visible night sky targets. 

Don't buy if

You're a purist: by this, we mean someone who doesn't want the aid of technology and either likes or really doesn't mind spending time setting up their telescope. 

You're an absolute beginner: this telescope is actually a decent choice for beginners but, if we're being picky, there are cheaper options in this guide that are just as good for those taking their first steps into astronomy. 

The bottom line

🔎 Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ is genuine quality on a budget. It offers a fun, easy stargazing experience and is suitable for intermediate and novices alike. It also offers a stepping stone for those getting into astrophotography. At this price point, you have to nit-pick to find anything negative about it. ★★★★

In our Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ review, we wrote in detail as to why this is an excellent telescope for those on a budget. It's a perfect entry-level choice for new astronomers, and it sports great optics and an impressive aperture. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's really delve into why the StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ is the best budget telescope under $500.

Aperture: A generous 130mm aperture means the StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ can gather a lot of light, resulting in bright and clear images. It's great for viewing the moon, sure, but also capable of gazing at further away celestial objects, like star clusters, planets and nebulas.

Optics: The telescope offers up pleasingly clear and bright images, thanks in part to its highly reflective coatings. It has a five-inch primary mirror.

Technology: We love the StarSense app technology that supports the StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ. The app allows you to identify which objects should be visible in the night sky, then will guide you towards them. It's great fun to use, even for more advanced stargazers, but it's an ideal way to introduce beginners to astronomy.

Accessories: The Explorer DX 130AZ comes packaged with multiple eyepieces, a finderscope, a tripod and a smartphone deck. If you want eyepieces with more powerful viewing, however, you'll have to buy them separately — but what's included still makes this a worthwhile product.

Quality of build: The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ doesn't feel cheap in the slightest. It's very sturdy, with a well-designed mount and optical tube. Despite its large aperture, it still manages to be lightweight too, without compromising on quality. If portability is a key issue for you, however, it's worth noting that this guide also includes the DX 102AZ model, which is even lighter and more portable — if not quite as good.

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Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ
AttributesNotes
DesignNewtonian Reflector.
FunctionalityEasy-to-use for navigation.
PerformanceLarge aperture and good optics, performs well.

The best budget telescope under 500 dollars

The best telescope to utilize smartphone technology that makes it a breeze to navigate the night sky.

Specifications

Optical design: Achromatic refractor
Aperture: 4” (102 mm)
Focal length: 25” (660 mm)
Focal ratio: f/6.5
Highest useful magnification: 240x
Lowest useful magnification: 16x
Total kit weight: 14.2 lbs. (6.44 kg)
Mount type: Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Very easy and quick to find objects
+
Intuitive push-to method of homing in

Reasons to avoid

-
Alignment procedure depends on a mirror, which collects dew
-
Instrument is stiff to move without slow motions
Buy if

You want to take your telescope with you: the DX 102AZ is lighter and more easily transported than the DX 130AZ so if you don't just want to view the stars from your backyard, this is a good option.

You like or want the help of technology: The StarSense app will locate visible targets in the night sky and point you towards them. 

Don't buy if

You're an absolute beginner: This wouldn't be a bad choice at all if you were an absolute beginner, but there are other models in this guide that are perfectly suited for beginners that cost less.

You want to view more distant targets: to put it simply, the DX 130AZ has a larger aperture which helps with seeing objects deeper into space. 

The bottom line

🔎 The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ works well for both beginner and intermediate astronomers and offers a satisfying and simple stargazing experience. The aperture isn't as large as the DX 130AZ but it is easier to transport around. ★★★½

If you're a relative beginner who's looking for something that makes navigating the night sky easy and intuitive, then the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ may be the telescope for you. It works seamlessly alongside the StarSense app to help you choose and locate different objects of interest in the night sky above you, and it's also fairly light to transport with you out in the field.

Aperture: As the name implies, you get a 102mm aperture with this telescope, and that's enough to offer bright images of the Moon and planets. 

Optics: The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ includes a doublet lens made from two different types of glass with a focal ratio of f/6.5. This allows it to offer a wide field of view and bright images within a fairly compact tube, which aids transportation but can lead to a little bit of color fringing at high magnifications.

Technology: The StarSense app makes is very easy to locate any objects you wish to view. Once you've selected your object of choice, a set of arrows on the screen tells you which way to move your telescope to get to your target object, making it one of the fastest finding systems we've come across.

Accessories: Alongside the telescope itself, you get two eyepieces: a 25mm and 10mm, offering 26x and 66x magnification. The package also contains a StarPointer red-dot finderscope, a star diagonal and a tripod.

Quality of build: Although we noted some stiffness all around, especially on the clutch that holds the telescope in altitude, it is generally well-built for the price, with thoughtful details down to the plastic covers supplied for keeping the eyepieces safe.

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Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ
AttributesNotes
DesignAchromatic refractor.
FunctionalityIntuitive push-to system for finding objects.
PerformanceGood app and good optics lead to a good experience.

The best budget telescope under 300 dollars

Orion StarMax 90 Tabletop

This grab-and-go telescope is great for views of the solar system and features decent optics for the price.

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Mount type: Dobsonian (desktop version)
Aperture: 3.54" (90 mm)
Focal length: 49.21" (1250 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 180x
Lowest useful magnification: 13x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 6.61 lbs. (3.0 kg) (desktop version)

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and easy to use
+
Sharp solar system views
+
Assembled out of the box

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks slow-motion controls
-
Narrow field of view
Buy if

You don't want to have to set up the telescope: this telescope is ready to use out-of-the-box and its simple design means it's easy to use too. 

You're a beginner: the tabletop design means you just need to place it on a flat surface to be able to stargaze. It's easy to set up and use design, so it's perfect for beginners as they won't get frustrated with a complicated setup.

Your priority isn't deep space: given its smaller design and that it carries less power (magnification), this telescope is best suited for views within the solar system. 

Don't buy if

Your priority is outdoor viewing: it has a tabletop design, so you'd need to carry a flat surface around with you, which isn't exactly practical for outdoor use outside of your backyard. 

You want technology assistance: this is ready-to-use out of the box and you will have to find night sky targets without assistance.

You want to view targets outside our solar system: as already mentioned, it's not the biggest or the most powerful telescope and is designed for views within the solar system. 

The bottom line

🔎 The Orion Starmax 90 Tabletop telescope is a fantastic choice of telescope for those wanting an easy stargazing experience of views within our solar system. It is ready to use out of the box and just needs a flat surface. ★★★★½

As we get further away from that $500 price point, it's becoming evident that there are fewer and fewer great telescopes available for our money. There are still some excellent options out there, though, and spending less doesn't mean you need to sacrifice on quality.

Enter the Orion Starmax 90. This is a solid tabletop design telescope which we think is perfect for newcomers to astronomy. It's lightweight, portable and has decent optics to boot.

Aperture: The Orion Starmax 90 has a 90mm aperture (hence its name), which is on the smaller side compared to other telescopes in this list — but it's still respectable enough, especially considering the price point it sits at. It might struggle for viewing very deep space objects, but it'll let plenty enough light through for viewing our solar system.

Optics: You're getting a 1250mm focal tube which features an internal focuser. It moves the primary lens backwards and forwards.

Technology: This isn't a GoTo telescope, and so you won't find smartphone connectivity, app support or a motorized mount here. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though: If you prefer the idea of more traditional astronomy, this might even be a positive for you.

Accessories: Orion has really gone to town on included accessories, which do seem to be compensating for the lack of technology. You have multiple eyepieces, a moon map and a reflex sight included in the box: It's everything you need to get started, and you won't need to buy anything else to start looking at the stars.

Quality of build: We're generally impressed with the build quality of the Orion Starmax 90. It's sturdy, and the optics combine with the aperture give good (and surprisingly wide) views considering its price point.

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Orion Starmax 90
AttributesNotes
DesignTabletop Maksutov-Cassegrain.
FunctionalityReady-to-use with internal focuser.
PerformanceNo color fringing, deep space targets will be a struggle.

The best budget telescope under 200 dollars