1. The list in brief
2. Best overall
3. Best under $500
4. Best under $300
5. Best under $200
6. Best under $100
7. Best for deep space observing
8. Best for backyard moon and planet gazing
9. Best for children
10. Best for smartphone astrophotography
11. Best EQ mount for youngsters
12. Further analysis
13. Best budget telescopes FAQ
14. How to choose
15. How we test
The best telescopes under $500 make the world of stargazing and astronomy more accessible to those on tighter budgets and can also be a great way of introducing kids to the hobby. We're seeing some fantastic deals so keep an eye on our telescopes deals page too, to make sure you're getting the best price available on your chosen scope.
When buying a budget item, it can be hard to know what is good value and what is just not up to the job. Our expert reviewers have tried and tested all the telescopes on this list so that you know you're investing your money in a quality product. We've categorized them under different price brackets and by their best features, including models for viewing the moon, planets and deep space and even models that work alongside your smartphone.
If you can afford to spend a little more or you're looking for a more advanced scope, we have guides to the best telescopes and best telescopes for deep space. And if you're just starting out and need something that's simple and straightforward to use, we also have a guide to the best beginner telescopes to get you started.
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).
Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ:
was $479.95 now $298.99 at Amazon.
Save $180 on this amazing budget telescope, ideal for viewing galaxies, nebulas, planets and star clusters. It's easy to set up and use and is ideal if you don't have much experience, and the StarSense app locates targets in the night sky for you.
Best budget telescopes under $500 we recommend in 2023
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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.
Best overall telescope under $500
This is a telescope with a 130mm aperture that allows for ideal viewing of galaxies, nebulas, planets and star clusters. The StarSense app locates targets that are visible in the night sky so astronomers can view them with ease. The telescope is easy to set up and use so it's ideal for those without much previous experience.
Best under $500
Best under $500
The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ is similar to the DX 130AZ you will see at the top of this list. However, it has a smaller aperture. Despite this, it might be preferable for absolute beginners and we loved using it alongside the app when we tested it out. It's lighter and easier to transport than the DX 130AZ too.
Best under $300
Best under $300
The Orion StarMax 90 Tabletop offers all-round value at this price point. It features optics of decent quality, it's ready to use out-of-the-box, it has a decently sized aperture and the Maksutov-Cassegrain design means that there's no color-fringing. The tabletop design makes it an ideal choice for those who don't want a complicated setup.
Best under $200
Best under $200
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ is the stand-out budget option from Celestron. It features a large aperture and is great for setting up in a remote location and viewing the stars. The only real drawbacks we could see here is that the mounts might take a little getting used to and it's supposed to be portable despite its 22 lbs weight. A top choice for beginners.
Best under $100
Best under $100
The Celestron FirstScope 76 is usually priced comfortably under $100 and it's ideal for younger stargazers. It's sturdily built and is ready to use out-of-the-box. However, the primary mirror isn't adjustable so, it's good for viewing the lunar surface and broader views of the night sky, but not much more than that.
Best for Deep Space
Best for Deep Space
The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ is the best for crisp, wide-angle views. It has a really solid build and it comes with a host of accessories from Barlow lenses to eyepieces to a moon map and more. It's f/4 focal ratio also means that wide-angled views is where this telescope excels and the EQ mount allows you to keep moving targets central in your eyepiece with slow-motion controls. At this price point, it offers pretty good value.
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Best for backyard moon gazing
Best for backyard moon gazing
The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ is an excellent choice for both intermediate and beginner stargazers on a budget. It offers a hassle-free viewing experience and works excellently with the StarSense app. It also comes with accessories, which help planets and distant star cluster become more visible. This is a great choice at this price point.
Best for children
Best for children
The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ is a great choice for budding astronomers and absolute beginners. It's easy-to-use mount allows for a pleasant viewing experience and it comes with numerous accessories that make it straightforward enough to view the moon and planets.
Best for smartphone astrophotography
Best for smartphone astrophotography
The Celestron Inspire 100 AZ is well suited to adult beginners and even offers a nice introduction to astrophotography. It comes with accessories including a smartphone adaptor and eyepieces which help with viewing the lunar surfaces as well as other planets.
Best EQ mount for young skywatchers
Best EQ mount for young skywatchers
The Orion SpaceProbe II 76 is an excellent choice for younger skywatchers. It's well made and it comes with a good range of accessories too. On top of that, it's lightweight and easy enough to transport around, making it a great choice for such a low price point.
The best budget telescopes we recommend in 2023
The best overall telescope under 500 dollars
✅ 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.
❌ 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.
🔎 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. ★★★★
We've touched upon why it's a top choice of telescope in our Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ review, not just for its optics, its aperture and being an entry-level choice for astrophotographers, but this telescope offers more than just that. So, without further ado, here's what makes the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ the best overall budget telescope under $500.
Aperture: The 130mm aperture of this telescope gives it a great ability to gather a lot of light. This results in brighter and, in this case, clearer images. This makes it perfect for observing not only the moon but also galaxies, nebulas, planets and star clusters.
Optics: This telescope features a five-inch primary mirror with highly reflective coatings, allowing night sky targets to appear clear and bright, given the size of the aperture.
Technology: This telescope stands out thanks to its StarSense app technology. With this app, it can locate and identify the objects visible in the night sky, and then guide you to them. This creates an easy and enjoyable experience, making it ideal for beginners who perhaps don't have much prior experience.
Accessories: With this model, you should expect to find a tripod, a smartphone dock, a finderscope and eyepieces as included accessories. While we wish the eyepieces provided more powerful viewing, considering the price, the quality and included accessories still make this a worthwhile product.
Quality of build: It's both reliable and sturdy, offering quality views of the night sky that don't leave you with a sense of it being cheaply made. The mount and optical tube are well-designed, and despite the large aperture, it remains lightweight and portable. However, it's worth noting that this guide also includes the DX 102AZ model, which is even lighter and more portable.
- Read our full Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ review
|Functionality||Easy-to-use for navigation.|
|Performance||Large aperture and good optics, performs well.|
The best budget telescope under 500 dollars
✅ 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.
❌ 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 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
Aperture: Its pretty sizeable 102mm aperture allows ample light to pass through to your eyes, enabling clear, visible views of celestial objects near and far.
Optics: The Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ comes with fully coated glass optics, ensuring that the nighttime celestial subjects look sharp and clear.
Technology: Like the DX 130AZ (also in this guide), this telescope is best when paired with the StarSense app. The app identifies visible night sky objects and guides you to your chosen target. That said, it is still possible to use the telescope without needing the app.
Accessories: In addition to the optical tube and the preassembled tripod and mount, this telescope package includes two eyepieces, a finderscope, an accessory tray, and a convenient smartphone dock, so you can enjoy not only stunning celestial views but also capture beautiful astrophotos with ease.
Quality of build: We're splitting hairs, but when we reviewed the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ, we found that at times some of the controls can feel a little stiff, the optics a little delicate and the accessory tray can be a little fiddly, but overall it's made well enough. Given the price, it's clear you're not getting the best telescope ever made but it doesn't feel cheap or poorly assembled, and we think you'll be happy enough with the build quality.
- Read our full Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ review
|Functionality||Intuitive push-to system for finding objects.|
|Performance||Good app and good optics lead to a good experience.|
The best budget telescope under 300 dollars
✅ 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.
❌ 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 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
We're moving further away from that $500 mark and exploring more budget options. Already it's evident that there's less technology on offer, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice quality views, just because you're spending less.
The Orion Starmax 90 features a tabletop design so it's perfect for inspiring budding astronomers as it's compact and lightweight, will fit well on any flat surface around the house and is easy to use — it has decent optics too.
Aperture: At 90mm, this telescope's aperture falls on the smaller side compared to others in this guide, but it's still quite respectable, especially considering its low price. While it lets enough light through to observe the planets in our solar system, it will struggle to view anything further like deep-space objects.
Optics: Inside the 1250mm focal tube is an internal focuser, which moves the primary lens back and forth.
Technology: Unfortunately, this is where the telescope lacks. While its Maksutov-Cassegrain design effectively eliminates color fringing, it lacks the convenience of a motorized mount, a dedicated app or smartphone connectivity to automate much of the tracking and imaging work for astrophotography. That said, some people prefer this!
Accessories: The accessories included here do make up somewhat for the lack of technology, with eyepieces, a reflex sight and a moon map all included. While it's not groundbreaking, they enhance the stargazing experience, and it's hard to ask for much more at this price point.
Quality of build: Generally good. The aperture and optics combine to give you a surprisingly wide field of view for such a compact instrument. The fact that you can get good views of our solar system at this price point and from a telescope of this size demonstrates that it's a well-made model.
|Functionality||Ready-to-use with internal focuser.|
|Performance||No color fringing, deep space targets will be a struggle.|
The best budget telescope under 200 dollars
✅ You're a novice astronomer: this telescope 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, while some components reflect that, it does perform well and especially for its price point.
❌ You're looking for quality accessories: the accessories included will enhance your viewing experience, it's just that the accessories 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 telescopes 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, they also cost more.
🔎 The Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ is Celestron's starring light for entry-level telescopes. If you're starting out and on a budget, this is worth getting. However, if you're not just starting out or you have a larger budget, other telescopes might offer you a little more. ★★★
The Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ is ideal for beginners and boasts some decent specs and accessories to enhance your stargazing experience, as we found in our Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ review. Costing less than $200, it's a very tempting option for those trying their hand at astronomy.
In the specs below, you'll see what makes it worth getting and what lets it down. Unfortunately, as the price point gets lower and lower it becomes increasingly unlikely that you'll find a telescope to compete with the very best. Having said that, it doesn't mean you can't get something decent without having to break the bank.
Aperture: unsurprisingly given the name, the aperture of this telescope is 127mm and allows plenty of light to pass through with reasonable economy.
Optics: Celestron typically delivers quality, and the optics here are no exception. This telescope has a Bird-Jones Newtonian design, utilizing a spherical primary mirror instead of a parabolic one, and there are additional components in the secondary mirror to help achieve a focal length of 1000mm within a compact 440mm tube. However, the trade-off of this design is slightly dimmer images.
Technology: This telescope lacks both an app for guiding you to specific night sky targets or a motorized mount for tracking them. Its technology is quite basic, relying mainly on the optics and eyepieces we talk about below. Overall, it's a no-frills telescope, so it doesn't score particularly high here technology.
Accessories: the standard package has two eyepieces (20mm and 4mm) and a 3x Barlow lens. Unfortunately, these eyepieces don't quite have the desired impact on your stargazing experience that you would hope for; you'll probably want to upgrade them.
Quality of build: generally good. It has a sturdy tripod and mount and it gathers plenty of light. Given that you can get clear enough views of the moon and stars, you can't ask for too much more at this price point. However, some plastic components feel cheap and the eyepieces fall short of what you'd hope they could deliver.
- Read our full Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ review
|Design||Bird-Jones Newtonian design.|
|Functionality||Can be used for terrestrial viewing, eyepiece gives sharp views.|
|Performance||Good, lightweight finderscope but color can be muted through the glass.|
The best budget telescope under 100 dollars
✅ 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 is ready to use out-of-the-box. Its 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 in the cheapest price bracket you can realistically get for a telescope. So, if you're not totally wowed by your stargazing experience, you haven't broken the bank in the process.
❌ You want to view deep space: unfortunately, this telescope is best suited to 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, which is unfortunate but you also have to bear in mind that at this price point, you can't expect a telescope to compete with the very best models.
🔎 The Celestron FirstScope 76 is ideal for young stargazers and absolute beginners alike, as the name suggests. It's easy to use and robust, which is about as much as you can ask for at under $100. Sometimes 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 the name suggests, the Celestron FirstScope 76 is made with younger astronomers in mind. It's also suitable for absolute beginners who may not want to get too serious straight away. The price point for this (coming in at under $100) is suitable for those groups too as it means they don't have to break the bank to get into a new hobby.
Naturally, telescopes that cost under $100 probably won't compete with the top models for power, optics or technology. But, that doesn't mean you can't have fun without spending a fortune. It also doesn't mean you have to sacrifice a fulfilling stargazing experience just to save some money. Below, you can take a closer look at the specs that this telescope boasts.
Aperture: as the name suggests, it has a 76mm aperture. While this might not let in enough light for bright images of distant night sky objects, it's good enough for decent views of the moon and nearby stars.
Optics: when we reviewed the Celestron Firstscope 76, we found it quite tricky to collimate, which is unfortunate, but it does have a fast focal ratio and a 300mm focal length, meaning views of the lunar surface and the broader night sky are achievable and enough to wow younger or beginner astronomers.
Technology: unfortunately, this telescope lacks advanced technology, but that's okay. For a telescope designed for kids in this price range, adding too much tech could make it unreliable and frustrating for young stargazers. However, it does have a fast focal ratio.
Accessories: again, this telescope is ready to use out-of-the-box and is very much a no-frills scope. However, that does mean that it lacks accessories and unfortunately, that also means a finderscope is not supplied.
Quality of build: Surprisingly, this telescope is quite sturdy, which is unexpected since it didn't score well in terms of technology and accessories. Given its price, you might have expected something flimsy. However, it boasts a solid build and can likely withstand bumps and knocks when used by younger stargazers.
- Read our full Celestron Firstscope 76 review
|Design||Tabletop Newtonian reflector.|
|Functionality||"Wow" factor for young viewers, loose focuser tube.|
|Performance||Optics can struggle to pick out detail.|