Thanks to eyeglasses and the desire to see distant and not-so-distant objects clearly, a Dutch spectacle maker named Hans Lippershey submitted a patent in 1608 to the government in the Netherlands for a refracting telescope. No one knows for certain the real inventor, but news of it spread throughout Europe and a year later Italian polymath Galileo Galilei built his own model and modern astronomy took off like wildfire. At the time, those early versions were the best telescopes available, allowing mankind to begin exploring and understanding celestial bodies for the first time. All telescopes are designed to collect light, some better than others, but each one we talk about has an attractive feature set.
If you are new to astronomy, this guide may help you decide what telescopes are the best for your needs and budget. There are many to choose from, which you will see from the list below.
The Best Telescope
One of the best refracting telescopes available right now, Meade Instruments’ 209003 Infinity 70mm telescope is not only user-friendly, but also comes with everything you need to start viewing celestial wonders as soon as it is set up. A regularly praised feature is its slow-motion control rod, which you can use to precisely track objects during the day or night time.
Targeted toward beginners, the 209003 has been designed with inexperienced amateurs in mind. Its 70-millimeter refracting lens is great for viewing celestial and terrestrial objects. Its size and ease of use make it a perfect companion for anyone spending time outdoors who wants to enjoy clear, crisp views of nature, wildlife, or natural or manmade landmarks. Its price point is family-friendly, too, making it a great birthday or Christmas gift for the budding astronomer. Clubs, groups, or charitable organizations will appreciate its value and features, too, as it could easily be transported for group outings and events.
Includes two magnification eyepieces: 26-millimeter and 9-millimeter.
70-millimeter refracting lens.
Includes Autostar®Suite Astronomy DVD.
Rack and pinion focuser mechanism.
- BrandMeade Instruments
- Weight7 pounds
Includes a red-dot viewfinder to quickly focus on objects you want to observe.
Package includes everything needed to enjoy night sky watching immediately after setup.
Geared toward beginners, when even those experienced in using telescopes will find its feature set impressive at this price point.
If you are on a budget and are looking for one of the best amateur telescopes available that is easy to use and get started with quickly, then look no further than the Celestron PowerSeeker 50 AZ Refractor. It comes with Starry Night astronomy software with a database of 10,000 celestial objects and 75 enhanced images, plus a 3x Barlow lens for triple the magnification power, erect image optics good for land or celestial viewing, and a full height tripod.
This telescope offers some impressive features for the price. The kit includes three eyepieces, a 5×24 finderscope for centering objects, and a 600-millimeter focal length. For parents or caregivers who want to introduce children to the wonders of astronomy, the PowerSeeker 50 AZ is a good place to start. The design allows it to be assembled and set up without the use of tools, while the features and components are not so technical as to be intimidating.
Includes three eyepieces: 20-millimeter, 12-millimeter, and 4-millimeter.
Manual Alt-Azimuth telescope mount.
Focal ratio: 12.
Resolution (Rayleigh) – 2.79 arc seconds; Resolution (Dawes) – 2.32 arc seconds.
- Weight3.6 pounds
You can set this up very quickly – no tools required.
Includes Starry Night Astronomy Software.
So easy to setup your children may want to use it all the time.
The Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope is undoubtedly the luxury entrant in the world of consumer-grade astronomical telescopes. Since its introduction in the 1970s, the iconic, 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain took casual astronomy to new heights – and still sets the bar for all competitors. Its distinctive orange tube has been upgraded over the years, and the telescope overall has kept pace with technology and innovations. Its 8-inch aperture provides spectacular views of the planets and the moon, plus makes deep space objects more accessible than ever before – including the Hercules Globular Cluster and the Whirlpool Galaxy. On the right night and with the best weather conditions, this telescope gets you as close to the wonders of space as you can get from the comfort of your backyard.
Meade has packed the NexStar 8 SE with all the features and technologies you would expect. This includes full automation, a GoTo mount and database of 40,000 celestial objects, SkyAlign technology for easy alignment, and a single fork arm design and mount which can be broken down quickly. This is one of the top telescopes for adults on the market. If you prefere stargazing in the wild, be sure to check out our reviews of the best compasses.
480x useful magnification.
843x light-gathering power.
Altitude-Azimuth single fork.
- Weight33.1 pounds
This is one of the most powerful telescopes available to consumers and amateur astronomers.
Huge optical tube diameter of 232-millimeters.
We would like the feature set explained more simply.
The BARSKA Starwatcher 400x70mm Refractor Telescope may be considered “entry level,” but do not let that fool you.Out of the box, it is a powerful home telescope and includes everything beginning or even more experienced astronomers will need to start viewing the stars and the planets. Its 3x Barlow lens is a nice touch, not to mention the inclusion of Barska’s Deepsky Astronomy Software, beginner’s version, for Windows-based computers. Because it is geared toward multiple skill levels, the 40070 as it is also called has a feature set that will make you think, “Wow, I’m really glad they included that …”
Some of the features you will appreciate include a finderscope, two eyepieces, 45-degree erect image diagonal to make daytime viewing easier, a convenient carrying case, and a tabletop tripod. Its 70-millimeter lens is capable of zooming up to 300x power, while the Barlow lens adds even more power when scanning objects.
Coated glass optics.
Deepsky Astronomy Software.
70-millimeter objective lens.
400-millimeter focal length.
- Weight1 pounds
Includes a tabletop tripod.
Very easy to setup.
Including a moon filter would have been a great addition to the overall package.
Slightly more feature-packed than some competing models, the Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope has earned impressive reviews from consumers because it is easy to use and, at just 27 pounds, is less bulky than some other telescopes. Gathering enough light while viewing objects is easy enough, thanks to its 5.1″ aperture reflector – giving you the ability to comfortably view the planets, moon, and other celestial objects like nebulas, star clusters, and galaxies.
As far as reflecting telescopes are concerned, this model has versatility that you will appreciate, as the telescope’s 24″ long optical tube is portable, while its f/5 focal ratio allows for the kind of wide-field viewing family’s with children will especially enjoy. Other budget and friendly features include two eyepieces, a tripod accessory tray, Starry Night astronomy software, and a collimation cap to help you line up the scope’s mirrors. A perfect telescope for family camping nights in a large camping tent.
Includes Star Target Planisphere and MoonMap 260 for stargazing.
Shortly 2x Barlow lens.
650-millimeter focal length.
6×30 finder scope.
Equatorial mount type.
- Weight24.2 pounds
Includes the Orion Telescope Observer’s Guide book.
We really like the RedBeam Mini LED Flashlight, which makes it easy to read star maps or swap out accessories when your eyes are already darkness-adapted.
You can take this telescope anywhere, with a little effort because of its solid design and weight.
A truly portable telescope – at little more than four pounds – aimed squarely at the beginner set, including kids, the MaxUSee F400x70 telescope is an introductory product and so much more. The nice thing about this telescope is its ease of use and setup. In fact, a child with limited supervision should be able to unbox this unit and get started on star gazing in no time at all.
Its feature set is impressive given the unit’s price. Consumers on a budget, or anyone else not wanting to spend a small fortune on a beginner telescope, will appreciate what you get for the money. Magnification goes from 16x to 200x, thanks to 4 interchangeable eyepieces, a 1.5x erecting eyepiece, and a 3x Barlow lens. This means you or your budding astronomer will be able to get “Wow that is so cool!” views of the moon and planets from the get go.
200x maximum magnification.
Includes a travel scope.
400-millimeter focal length.
Quick setup time – 10 minutes, maximum.
- Weight4.41 pounds
Portability makes this one of the best telescopes for beginners or children.
Includes four eyepieces: 1.25-inch H6-millimeter, H12.5-millimeter, H20-millimeter, Kellner K25-millimeter.
So easy to use and setup, you will never run out of things in nature to observe.
With a proud heritage going back to 1972, Meade Instruments offers its latest beginner telescope, the 209006 Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor Telescope. Marketed toward beginners or sometimes-astronomers, the telescope it as well built, sturdy, and functional as you would imagine from the world’s largest maker of telescopes. That means fully coated optics, a sturdy tripod that is pre-assembled and includes steel tube legs, and slow-motion controls for both axes.
Belonging to the company’s Infinity Telescopes line, the 209006 requires little setup or experience to get started. Its 102-millimeter refracting lens works as well viewing celestial objects as it does land-based objects, and three eyepieces – low, medium, and high-power magnification – give you amazing detail of just about any object you wish to observe. A nice addition is the included AutoStar Suite® Astronomer Edition Software on DVD for reference.
Includes Autostar® Suite Astronomy planetarium DVD.
Manufacturer 1-year warranty.
Lightweight – only 5.5 kilograms.
- BrandMeade Instruments
- Weight12.2 pounds
Great option for children or casual astronomers.
102-millimeter refracting lens is terrific for nightwatching.
Good luck viewing every celestial object described in the included DVD.
Telescope Buying Guide
How We Choose Our Selection Of The Best Telescopes
Thanks to constant announcements about the discovery of new planets outside our solar system, progress of the James Webb space telescope, and the first photographs of a black hole, interest in amateur astronomy has reached new heights. If you are interested in getting started, it is important to buy a telescope with high-quality optics and a solid, smooth-to-operate mount. For the average beginner, we would advise you to stay away from glossy, department store advertisements of the latest “500x power” telescopes, and instead focus on educating yourself. For this guide, we considered all those criteria, but also focused on two others:
Reviews – What do your fellow consumers think about a brand or model of telescope? Feedback from people who actually buy a product is critical in making an informed choice.
Price – This also is crucially important. For parents on a budget, some of the best telescopes available can be purchased for under $100 – making them an ideal choice for the beginner or buddy astronomer.
Before making your final decision, keep in mind that the best telescope to buy is the one that meets your needs and your budget. Make sure to consider the size of the scope and how long it would take to setup.
Features To Look For In Telescopes
Aperture–Simply put, this is the diameter of the area or region of your telescope that collects light. In astronomy, it describes the objective lens for a refracting telescope, and the primary mirror in a reflecting telescope.
Focal Length–If you are concerned about magnifying power before buying a telescope, then pay attention to focal length. This describes the number of millimeters, or distance, between a telescope’s reflecting mirror or refracting lens and the point at which light rays converge in focus.It is important to remember that focal length also defines the angular view of what you are looking at. A telescope that advertises a shorter focal length can “see” a wider field of view, while a telescope with a longer focal length takes in a narrower field of view.
Magnification–Think of this as the combination of the telescope itself and the eyepiece through which you view an object. By swapping out one eyepiece for another, you can decrease or increase the power or magnification of your telescope. For example, a telescope with a 1000-millimeter focal length that gets paired with a 25-millimeter eyepiece results in a power of 40x, which is simply 1000 divided by 40. If you took the same telescope and paired it with a 10-millimeter eyepiece, you would have a yield power of 10x.
Controls–There are two different kinds of Controls for a telescope. One of motor-controlled and is called a Clock Drive, which allows a telescope mounted along one axis to keep its aim synced with stars as they appear to move. The second, or GoTo control, also uses a motor and sometimes software to automatically point the telescope at whatever celestial object you select. The telescope may come with a “tethered” GoTo control panel, or the telescope’s GoTo functions may even be controlled by PC or a smartphone app.
Smartphone Connectivity–One of the neatest features you will find in newer telescopes is the ability of adapters which allow you to pair your smartphone and a telescope. Once paired, the smartphone app allows you to view the moon, stars, or planets on your mobile device. Most adapters work by physically clamping your smartphone on top of the telescope’s eyepiece.
Mount– Pivoting a telescope or changing the angle you use to view an object depends on the telescope’s mount. This refers to the base or tripod in combination with gears and attachments, providing the range of motion needed to view objects. There are four kinds of mounts to be aware of, listed in alphabetical order: The Alt-Azimuth Mount, The Dobsonian Mount, The Equatorial Mount, and the Equatorial Fork Mount. The Alt-Azimuth is the simplest mount, with the name being a combination of altitude (for up and down adjustments) and azimuth (left to right adjustments). The Dobsonian mount is always combined with a reflector telescope and is the least expensive. The Equatorial Mount, powered by a small motor, allows the telescope to track the stars because one of its axes is parallel the earth’s axis.
Types Of Telescopes
Yes, amateur astronomers have fewer types of telescopes to choose from compared to professionals, but they are still highly functional and fun to use. Here are the three main kinds to consider before making a purchase decision.
Refractor – If you need magnification to view the sun, moon, or stars, but are not worried about brightness, then this is the telescope for you. These pop up in retail stores worldwide, recognizable due to their distinct thin, long tube mounted to a tripod. The tube, of course, houses the refracting lens. What are some of the advantages of this kind of telescope? They are easy to use, reliable, a great option for terrestrial viewing, and the objective lens is normally permanently aligned and mounted. Other helpful information about refractors:
- Image contrast is better, due to the fact that nothing blocks light which passes through the lens. If you wish to spend time observing planets and double stars, then a refractor telescope is the best choice.
- Refractors do not need to be recoated like mirrors and are, therefore, low maintenance. Nor does the lens need collimation (also called adjustment) or alignment, unless it is damaged or falls to a hard surface.
- Today’s newer refractors are made from thin-walled aluminum and conduct heat, meaning they do not take long to cool down when exposed to warm temperatures. They also can be used in varying temperature degrees without needing time to adjust.
Reflector – For the amateur who wants to take it up a notch and gaze upon galaxies, nebulae, or star clusters that are faint, go with a reflector telescope. The tubes which house the mirror are larger, and these kinds of telescopes use something called a Dobsonian mount, one which is low and “rocker” style. These kinds of telescopes have their own advantages, too: They are compact and portable, less expensive to build and, therefore, cheaper than other kinds of telescopes. What else about reflector telescopes?
- A great feature of reflector telescopes is they do not display excess color, meaning you will not see any around the fringes of even bright stars.
- They are less expensive because manufacturer’s only have to polish a single surface, whereas an apochromatic lens has up to eight surfaces.
Compound – These are really cadioptric telescopes, a type which uses both a refracting lens and reflecting mirror in a reasonably compact form factor. They offer the best of both worlds for beginning or experienced astronomers. These are some of the best telescopes available and offer numerous advantages, such as: The best all-purpose, all-around telescope design; highly detailed images thanks to excellent optics; closed-tube design keeps air currents from degrading the view; easy to use; and they are probably the best telescopes with near-focus capability. Other helpful information before purchasing one of these telescopes:
- They produce sharp images because they use a combination of mirrors and lenses.
- They are very compact, an all-in-one design that is about one-quarter the size of reflector and refractor telescopes.