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

Best telescopes under $500: Image shows man using telescope at night with blurred city lights in background
The best telescopes under $500 help broaden the access to astronomy. (Image credit: Getty images)

The best telescopes under $500 open the wonderful world of astronomy up to those who are shopping on a tighter budget. Astronomy can be an expensive hobby but our reviewers have scoured the market to bring you a list of the very best affordable telescopes that will suit beginners, kids or those looking to save money. Any of these budget telescopes will give you a great chance to try out stargazing for yourself without the huge initial outlay. 

All the telescopes in our guide can be bought for under $500, with some coming in at under $100, so you're sure to find something in your price range. We've assessed all the telescopes on this list on the basis of their optics, build quality, technology and overall value for money, so you can be sure you're investing in a quality product at an affordable price point. 

If you're new to astronomy and looking for models that are straightforward and easy to use, check out our guide to the best beginner telescopes, and if you're looking to get your kids involved, we also have guides to the best telescopes for kids and best binoculars for kids

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 that allows 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 really doesn't mind spending time setting up their telescope. 

You're an absolute beginner: this telescope is 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. ★★★★

The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ easily tops our list of the best budget telescopes thanks to its generous aperture and beginner-friendly design that will make anyone's entry into stargazing a breeze. You can even use it to try your hand at a bit of basic astrophotography with your phone while you're at it. 

Aperture: This telescope offers a 5.1-inch (130mm) aperture, which absorbs an excellent amount of light for the money. It's a fast telescope with a focal ratio of f/5 and a focal length of 650mm, enabling you to view planets, galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. 

Optics: It has a Newtonian reflector design with mirrors that will need to be collimated before use (which you can do using the clear and simple instructions). In our Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ review, we were very impressed with the bright optics on this scope. With the help of a Barlow lens, we were able to get very sharp views of Mars, and could even pick out its polar ice caps. 

Technology: The StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ comes with an alt-azimuth mount with dual-axis slow-motion controls for precise maneuvering. We loved the convenient StarSense app that comes with the telescope; it can be downloaded on iOS and Android and easily guides you to your desired targets. Simply plug your phone into the docking station on the telescope and the app will tell you where to move, making it really easy for beginners to get to grips with. 

Accessories: You get a full package with this scope, including a red dot finder, star diagonal, tripod, accessory tray and two eyepieces: one 25mm offering 26x magnification and one 10mm offering 65x magnification. The only thing we'd recommend adding is a good quality Barlow lens to really let you eke out the details you can achieve with this aperture. 

Quality of build: We found the tube and mount to be sturdy and well-built. The whole kit takes around 15 minutes to assemble and is lightweight and portable, making it a good choice for taking out in the field with you. 

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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 want to stargaze outside of your yard, this is a great choice.

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 isn't a bad choice if you were an absolute beginner, but there are other, cheaper models in this guide that are better suited for beginners.

You want to view more distant targets: 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 an intuitive telescope to navigate the night sky, then the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ may be the right choice for you. It works seamlessly alongside the StarSense app to help you choose and locate different objects of interest, and it's also fairly light to transport out in the field.

Aperture: The clue is in the name: the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ has a 102 mm aperture. It's not the largest aperture on the market, but it's wide enough to achieve bright images of the Moon and planets within our solar system.

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 means it provides a wide field of view and bright images while remaining fairly compact. While that aids transportation, we should note ot 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: The telescope also comes with a StarPointer red-dot finderscope, a star diagonal, and a tripod. Two eyepieces, 25mm and 10mm, offer 26x and 66x magnifications. 

Quality of build: In our StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ review, we found the overall build quality of this telescope to be very good for the price. It's well built, and features a number of useful details like the plastic covers for the eyepieces. There's a bit of stiffness when controlling the telescope, however, especially in the clutch that holds the telescope in altitude. 

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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: thanks to the tabletop design, you just need to place it on a flat surface to be able to stargaze. This is perfect for beginners as they won't get frustrated with a complicated setup.

Your priority isn't deep space: given its smaller design and the fact 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 if you want to stargaze outside of your back yard.

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 for those wanting an easy stargazing experience of views within our solar system. It's ready to use out of the box, so long as you have a flat surface to rest it on. ★★★★½

While there aren't many great telescopes under the $500 price point, there are some options out there that don't compromise on quality. The Orion Starmax 90 is one of those: A quality tabletop telescope which is portable while offering decent optics, it's a great choice for newcomers to astronomy.

Aperture: The Orion Starmax 90 is so-called because it has a 90mm aperture. It's fairly narrow compared to other telescopes on this list, and as a result it's not a great choice for viewing deep sky objects. But if you're primarily interested in viewing objects in our own solar system and the Moon, it's perfectly adequate, especially given its price point.

Optics: This 1250mm focal tube features an internal focuser, which moves the primary lens backward and forward.

Technology: The Orion Starmax 90 is not a high-tech telescope: It doesn't come with GoTo technology or an accompanying app. It's more of a traditional model, but that's not a bad thing; beginners might find it a great way to learn more about setting up telescopes.

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

Quality of build: We're generally impressed with the Orion Starmax 90's build quality. It's sturdy, and the optics combined 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

The best telescope for enthusiasts and beginners looking to upgrade

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Mount type: Equatorial
Aperture: 5" (127 mm)
Focal length: 39.37" (1,000 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 300x
Lowest useful magnification: 18x
Supplied eyepieces: 4 mm, 20 mm, 3x Barlow
Weight: 22 lbs. (9.98 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value package
+
Decent optics, with collimation
+
Very good overall build

Reasons to avoid

-
Accessories not best quality
-
Supplied 4mm eyepiece isn't practical
Buy if

You're a novice astronomer: this is Celestron's flagship model for entry-level telescopes, so definitely worth considering if you're starting out.

You don't want a complicated setup: while it's not exactly ready to use out of the box, when we tested it we did find it could be set up in under an hour.

You're on a strict budget: this model comes in under $200, and while some components reflect that, it does perform well for its price point. 

Don't buy if

You're looking for quality accessories: the accessories included will enhance your viewing experience, but those included with other telescopes in this guide are of a higher quality.

You're not starting out in astronomy: this is very much a beginner's telescope and other models in this guide offer a little more.

You are willing to spend more on your next telescope: by this we mean more than what this telescope is worth, as there are other scopes in this guide that offer more but come with a higher price tag.

The bottom line

🔎 The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ is Celestron's flagship entry-level telescope. If you're starting out and on a budget, this is worth getting. However, if you've got experienced and a larger budget, other telescopes might offer you a little more. ★★★

The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ is a budget-friendly choice for beginners who are looking for a telescope with an equatorial mount and large aperture, though we'd recommend upgrading the eyepieces for the best optical experience.  

Aperture: This telescope offers a 5-inch (127mm) aperture, which is decent for this price point. That said, it does somewhat limit the use of the included 4mm eyepiece, which requires a bit more light-gathering ability for best results. 

Optics: Although it works fairly well for beginners, we found ourselves a little disappointed with the optics on this telescope in our Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ review. It features a Bird-Jones Newtonian design, which means that it uses a spherical primary mirror with additional elements to correct the resulting distortion. The plus side of this is that it means it can fit 1000mm of focal length into a 400mm tube. But that also means it sacrifices some of the optical quality, especially when combined with an erecting eyepiece.  

Technology: Those looking to upgrade their stargazing experience will enjoy the German equatorial mount on this scope, which needs to be aligned to the celestial pole prior to use. It also comes with a basic edition of Starry Night software, though this is only compatible with PC and Mac rather than with smartphones. 

Accessories: Along with this telescope, you get a 20mm erecting eyepiece offering 50x magnification, a 4mm high-power eyepiece with 250x magnification and a 3x Barlow lens, as well as a lightweight aluminum tripod. In reality, the aperture and optics on this scope can't cater to the 4mm eyepiece combined with the 3x Barlow lens, so we'd recommend investing in 15mm and 9mm Plossl eyepieces and a more realistic 2x Barlow lens to get the best out of this telescope. 

Quality of build: The German equatorial mount is well-engineered and we found the movements to be nice and smooth even with the slow-motion controls. The tripod also felt reassuringly stable, but some of the more minor elements like the accessory tray felt a little flimsy for our liking. 

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Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
AttributesNotes
DesignBird-Jones Newtonian design.
FunctionalityCan be used for terrestrial viewing, eyepiece gives sharp views.
PerformanceGood, lightweight finderscope but color can be muted through the glass.

The best budget telescope under 100 dollars

Best for young stargazers — easy-to-use, portable and robust

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Aperture: 2.99" (76 mm)
Focal length: 11.81" (300 mm)
Focal ratio: f/3.95
Eyepiece 1 focal length: 20 mm (15x)
Eyepiece 2 focal length: 4 mm (75x)
Total kit weight: 4.3 lbs. (1.95 kg)
Mount type: Dobsonian

Reasons to buy

+
Portable and robust
+
Easy to use
+
Fast focal ratio for easy observations of wide-angle targets

Reasons to avoid

-
Loose focuser
-
Some observations lack clarity and detail
-
Finderscope not supplied
Buy if

You're looking to buy for a budding astronomer: It's portable, robust and easy to use. It won't give you the most spectacular views of deep space but it will capture the imagination of young astronomers. 

You want an easy viewing experience: It's easy to use and ready straight out of the box. The tabletop design means you just need a flat surface to view the stars. 

You're looking for a low-risk purchase: As this telescope comes in at under $100, it's among the cheapest quality telescopes you can get. So if you're not totally wowed by your stargazing experience, you haven't broken the bank in the process. 

Don't buy if

You want to view deep space: This telescope is best suited for viewing the moon and the stars, thanks to its wide field of view. However, the design and the optics aren't suitable for stunning views of far-out galaxies and nebulas.  

You want crystal clear views: The views from this telescope aren't pin-sharp, but at this price point, you can't expect a telescope to compete with the very best models. 

The bottom line

🔎 The Celestron FirstScope 76 is ideal for young stargazers or absolute beginners, as the name suggests. It's easy to use and robust, which is about as much as you can ask for under $100. The views can lack clarity but overall, it's a good choice at this price and because of that, it's a low-risk purchase. ★★★

As its name suggests, the Celestron FirstScope 76 is designed for younger astronomers, but we'd also venture to recommend it for adult beginners with a tight budget. 

It's a great telescope for hobbyists who aren't looking to spend a lot of time or money on stargazing. Of course, given it costs under $100, it does not compete with leading models in terms of power, technology, quality and optics, but it does have plenty of merit and decent specs.

Aperture: This telescope has a 76mm aperture. While that doesn't let in enough light to view distant, deep-sky objects, it's good enough for getting great views of the moon and nearby stars.

Optics: In our Celestron FirstScope 76 review, we remarked it was a little difficult to collimate (i.e. aligning the mirrors within the tube) which is unfortunate, especially on a telescope aimed at beginners. But once you get past that, you'll find a fast focal ratio and a 300mm focal length, allowing for excellent views of the night sky, particularly the moon's surface.

Technology: You won't find advanced technology here, but that's not a bad thing. As this scope is aimed at beginners, there's nothing complex to learn: it's simply a case of looking through the eyepiece and finding your target. We should add that it has a pleasingly fast focal ratio.

Accessories: The Celestron FirstScope 76 is pre-assembled and ready to go out of the box, so there aren't many additional accessories included. You do get two eyepieces (4mm and 20mm), but there's no finderscope. You'll need one to make the most of using the telescope, and thankfully, they're inexpensive to buy separately.

Quality of build: Considering its price point, this is a surprisingly sturdy telescope. We expected it to be quite flimsy but it feels nicely solid, giving the impression it's more expensive than it actually is. Since it's an ideal telescope for younger stargazers, it also means it can withstand the odd bump and knock.

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Celestron FirstScope 76
Attributes Notes
DesignTabletop Newtonian reflector.
Functionality"Wow" factor for young viewers, loose focuser tube.
PerformanceOptics can struggle to pick out detail.

Best for deep space observing

Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

Great for viewing entire constellations at once, and it comes with everything you need to get going

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Aperture: 4.5-inches (114.3mm)
Focal length: 450mm
Focal ratio: f/4.0
Eyepiece 1 focal length: 10mm (18x)
Eyepiece 2 focal length: 25mm (45x)
Total kit weight: 20.72 lbs (9.4kg)
Mount type: Equatorial

Reasons to buy

+
Deep Space observations
+
Plenty of good quality accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
Mount could be a struggle for some beginners
-
You'll probably want a better tripod
BUY IT IF

✅ You want an EQ mount: Though difficult at first, an EQ mount will reward you with better tracking. 

You want to see deep space: This is one of few telescopes at this price point that will let you.

DON'T BUY IT IF:

❌ You don't want a learning curve: EQ mounts take a bit of getting used to.

THE BOTTOM LINE

🔎 Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ: Outstanding value for an extensive piece of equipment, this versatile EQ mount is a brilliant all-rounder. Though it may take some time for beginners to get the hang of it, the initial setup is a breeze. ★★★★

The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is a versatile telescope that even allows for deep space observations. We wouldn't recommend it for complete beginners, or at least not for those who want to avoid a steep learning curve, but we found it really easy to set up.

Aperture: The aperture of the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is, unsurprisingly, 4.5 inch. It's a plenty big enough aperture with lots of light-gathering power, so you'll be able to view most celestial objects with ease. It's a good choice for viewing objects in our solar system or gazing further afield.

Optics: This is a reflector telescope, with a 450mm focal length. We've been impressed with the optics quality in general in the Orion StarBlast II 4.5, giving bright and clear views of the night sky. That's largely down to the high-quality glass used in the primary mirror, and the fact the secondary mirror is aluminum-coated and features a special, reflective film.

Technology: There's not much technology involved since this isn't a GoTo telescope; there's no app support or motorized mount, for example. However, it does feature a fast focal ratio, meaning it can collected a lot of light in a shorter amount of time — an ideal function for deep-sky viewing.

Accessories: You'll find everything you need to begin in the box: The telescope comes with 25mm and 10mm Plossl eyepieces (giving 18x and 45x magnification). There's also a smartphone adapter, a red dot finder, a 2x Barlow lens and and adjustable height tripod. Last but not least, it comes with some really useful educational tools: A DeepMap 600 star chart and MoonMap 260.

Quality of build: Considering the price point, we're pleasantly surprised with the Orion StarBlast II 4.5's build quality. It's solid, will last for several years, and we're pretty sure it can withstand the odd knock.

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Orion StarBlast II 4.5
Attributes Notes
DesignOverall very good build quality.
FunctionalityImpressive optics for the price.
PerformanceCollects lots of light, ideal for deep space observing.

Best for backyard moon and planet gazing