Man has stared into the stars and wondered what they mean since the dawn of time. It’s a fascination that’s driven us to explore the galaxy, and while the opportunity to pilot a rocket may be outside most peoples’ reach, telescopes allow us to get up close and personal in ways that are ancestors would have never thought possible. A good telescope can transport both kids and adults to a place of imagination, and there are enough affordable options that anyone can live out that adventure.
We’re excited to help you find the best telescope for your needs. The following guide offers reviews for 10 of the best telescopes of 2020 as well as all the resources you need to shop like a professional astronomer.
- 10 Best Telescopes
- 1. Gskyer Travel Refractor Telescope
- 2. Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope
- 3. TELMU Telescope Refracting Telescope
- 4. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
- 5. Emarth Refractor Telescope
- 6. Meade Instruments 209006 Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor Telescope
- 7. SVBONY SV25 Kids Telescope
- 8. MESIXI Astronomical Telescope
- 9. ECOOPRO Refractor Telescope
- 10. AW Astronomical Refractor Telescope
- Telescope Buyer’s Guide
10 Best Telescopes
1. Gskyer Travel Refractor TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Gskyer has produced what may be the best gateway telescope for beginners with their AZ70400. It combines together a respectable focal length, aperture, and magnification at a price of just about $100, and it's one of the least intimidating telescopes in the price range. The whole thing can be assembled in half an hour or less. If there's one complaint we could levy against it, it's that the tripod is a little short, but that's a small issue for a telescope that does so much so well.
And that's not even taking into account the cool modern features here. This is a compact telescope designed for travel, but it also incorporates both a camera remote and a smartphone adapter into the interface so you can see everything without having to stare right down the eyepiece. All in all, it's an impressive telescope with an accessible but expansive learning curve.
2. Celestron NexStar 8 SE TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The Celestron Nexstar 8SE costs over a grand, but if you're confident in your passion for astronomy, this is the best beginners telescope your money can buy. It's easy enough for amateurs to grasp the fundamentals, but the functionality here will continue to be of value to you even as your experience grows. It's a telescope that can reasonably stand beside you for an entire lifetime of astronomy.
Especially cool for beginners is the entirely automated GoTo mount. It can draw from its database of tens of thousands of celestial objects and automatically zoom in on them so you don't need to spend all night hunting for a planet or constellation. This utilizes the well loved Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope design that's been alive since the 1960s, and it's one of the easiest telescopes to set up as well as being a highly portable model you can bring with you anywhere.
3. TELMU Telescope Refracting TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
In terms of raw specs, this TELMU telescope looks pretty much identical to the Gsyker AZ70400. These are both telescopes tailored to the needs of amateurs and kids, and they're both refractive telescopes with the same focal length and aperture. They're both easy to assemble and disassemble in a matter of minutes, and they include a mount for your phone. In fundamental terms, they're the same telescope, but there are some distinctions that make them both worth evaluating on their own.
Both those distinctions are fairly slim. No camera remote is available here, but the app does allow you to share your photos of the stars with friends and family with just a single click. And while the tripod isn't quite as good on this telescope, and it sports a lower magnification level. Whether or not that's worth a significantly cheaper price tag comes down to your unique needs.
4. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The 09007 Spaceprobe from Orion isn't nearly as expensive as the Celestron Nexstar, but it still occupies a comfortable hobbyist space between that serious professional telescope and the more beginner friendly options at the $100 and under price point. It's one of the best telescopes you'll find for under $500, combining an impressive 5.1 inch aperture with a very lightweight and portable frame that's also incredibly easy to deconstruct and put back together.
The sturdy mount is complemented by two high-quality eyepieces that provide you with more precision when you're trying to zoom in on a celestial object as well as the proprietary Starry Night SE software you can use to properly plan your star viewing ahead of time. It's not as impressive as the automated tracking you'll find in the most expensive models, but it has the advantage of immersing kids more directly in the experience of discovery.
5. Emarth Refractor TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
This telescope model from Emarth hits on all the best and expected features you could expect to look for in a beginner telescope. That includes the more or less standard 70 millimeter or 2.75 inch aperture, but this model telescope also boasts a focal length that's somewhat above the standard for most telescopes that market for less than $100. And it can be set up easily without having to make use of any tools.
Portability is a main selling point here. The entire telescope can be broken down in a matter of minutes, and the lightweight aluminum means that even kids can carry it without too much effort. It even includes a bag for simple transportation. The azimuth mounting rotates smoothly and precisely, allowing you to more accurately zoom in on the subjects you want to focus on, and the lenses are treated with a glare reducing coating.
6. Meade Instruments 209006 Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The 209006 from Meade Instruments may not have the power of a $500 model, but it offers a nice step up from our beginners models that offers some of the best value around. A combination of great focal length, magnification level, and aperture offer some serious power that should meet the needs of more advanced hobbyists, and the quality of the optics ensures that this serious telescope provides you with a clear view of planets and other heavenly bodies.
But there's a ton of features here to help both budding astronomers and more experienced users may the most of the telescope. You receive both software for more advanced tracking and viewing of objects in the night sky and a tutorial DVD that can help you understand the basics and navigate the telescope like astronomers. And the azimuth mount moves slowly and precisely for a superior and adjustable field of view.
7. SVBONY SV25 Kids TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
If you come in with the expectation that the SV15 is built for kids, you'll actually find a lot to love about this telescope. In fact, the ease of use makes it one of the best telescopes for beginners, and it's been rated for use by children as young as three years old. And while its power may seem like a hindrance to some, it does a nice job of offering both terrestrial and celestial viewing options.
And just because this is a telescope oriented towards children doesn't mean that it's cut rate in terms of manufacturing. The optics are especially good, offering impressive image quality due to the quality of the coating. And as your kid grows, they can make use of the adjustable viewing angle to extend the life of this telescope. It also comes with all of the essential accessories at no extra charge.
8. MESIXI Astronomical TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
If you're looking for a telescope that's well suited to the needs of astrophotography, one of the best options available is this MESIXI model. It sports the sort of specs you'd expect to find in a telescope underneath $100, but it also packs in most of the best and fundamental features you'd need for astrophotography. This telescope includes both a phone mount and a Bluetooth remote for shooting with your camera.
The high-quality FMC lens produces a crisp and clear image, so you don't have to worry about this cheap telescope compromising the fidelity of your expensive mirrorless or DSLR camera, and the mini tripod is incredibly compact, making this telescope an appropriate choice if you're looking to go out camping for the perfect spot for shooting photos.
9. ECOOPRO Refractor TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The ECOOPRO can be set up entirely without tools, and it's a great way to teach your kids the fundamentals of how a telescope works (just be sure to check out the guide below so you know what you're talking about!). The two different lenses included allow you to achieve magnifications of either 51x or 128x. The aluminum design of this model is easy to carry around even for smaller children, and it even comes with its own bag for easier transport.
And the quality here is no slouch here either. The well coated lenses promise to deliver 99% of light directly to the viewer, and a simple crosshairs finder lets you zero in more easily on whatever celestial objects you're looking to track down.
10. AW Astronomical Refractor TelescopeRead Amazon Reviews →CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
You'd have to search far and wide for a more affordable telescope than this model from AW. But despite being available for less than $50, it hits all the standard expectations for a beginner telescope in terms of magnification, focal length, and aperture. The tripod is well balanced as well, and it can be raised to a maximum height of 50", so it can work comfortably for both children and adults.
That said, this isn't a telescope with a lot of legs. If you find yourself falling in love with astronomy, you'll eventually want to upgrade to a beefier model. But this is still a great choice for checking out more terrestrial subjects, and the incredibly low price makes it an exceptional teaser for the larger hobby of astronomy.
Telescope Buyer’s Guide
There’s a lot of showmanship going on in the marketing of telescopes, and that’s why it’s important to exercise caution when shopping. While a telescope can be one of the best windows into the world of astronomy for kids and beginners, most of the telescopes you’ll find at department stores are essentially toys that can only provide a shallow introduction. But you can find a quality telescope on a beginners budget it you know where to look. The following guide can lead you through the process of buying a telescope.
Key Specs and Features
While shooting with most of these best telescopes is easy, the terminology that distinguishes a great telescope from a simply decent telescope requires a bit more extensive knowledge. Luckily, we’re here to run down both the basic and advanced information you need to know so that you can shop for the best telescope like a pro. Many of the fundamentals here are the same as they are for photography, but this technology is executed in sometimes dramatically different ways to suit the needs of astronomers.
The science that goes into constructing the best telescope can be pretty complicated, but it’s worth knowing because the type of telescope you get can have a dramatic impact on your viewing experience. Whether you intend to use your telescope to practice astrophotography or just check out the planets in the night sky, either type should suit your needs, but they both come with unique advantages and disadvantages.
Like a DSLR camera, a reflector telescope makes use of a mirror to reflect the image of objects projected through the lens and display it through the eyepiece. First invented by Isaac Newton, it’s built around the notion that a concave mirror can reproduce an image without chromatic aberration. Of course, accomplishing that is more complicated than just pointing a curved mirror at the planets. Instead, the light from the night sky bounces off of the concave primary mirror, reflects off a flat mirror (hence the names) positioned at 45 degrees, and redirects the image of the objects to your eyes.
The Newtonian reflector still remains largely unchanged for most modern models. And while the optics behind a Newtonian reflector telescope may be fairly simple, it comes with a few major advantages that results in some of the best telescopes around.
- The simplicity of constructing mirrors means that the limitations for reflector telescopes are pretty vast. A larger primary mirror is easy to produce and more durable than a comparable refractive lens, so that makes it a good choice for children or travelers who might be concerned about damage to their telescope.
- The larger potential for a primary mirror on a Newtonian reflector also allows it to offer superb light gathering, letting you seem more objects in the night sky and creating an experience of viewing those objects with greater clarity.
- The ease of manufacturing mirrors also means that they’re cheap to produce. On average, they cost significantly less than their refractor counterparts. While there are plenty of cheap refractors on the market, the value in terms of the viewing experience tends to be better, pound for pound, with a reflector telescope.
If reflector telescopes were all upside, they’d unequivocally be the best option for everything from astrophotography to simple viewing, but there are some things that a reflector doesn’t do perfectly.
- If you’ve ever been driving at night and seen street lights in the night sky manifest as lines, crosses, or other exaggerated shapes, you understand the biggest disadvantage of a reflector. Unless the mirror is perfectly curved, objects may be distorter. That’s why, despite reflectors being cheap, opting for more expensive models is the best choice for hobbyists and serious astronomers.
- The act of reflection means that some light is lost via the mirrors in a reflector model. That can result in partially obstructed objects and a more limited field of view, especially on particularly dark nights.
A refractor telescope eschews mirrors entirely in lieu of solely using lenses for its optics. First conceived in the 17th century, refractors still follow the basic fundamentals of when they were first created. Both a concave and convex eyepiece are used in conjunction with one another to both magnify the objects on the other side of the eyepiece and make sure that the results aren’t warped. In other words, the far lens gathers far away objects into a single point of light which is then magnified by the smaller lens (the eyepiece itself).
The simplicity of design inherent in a refractor telescope also lends it some distinct advantages, and that makes these some of the best models for younger, budding astronomers.
- Ease of use is one of the main advantages of a refractor telescope. They’re more tightly sealed than reflectors, so they rarely need to be cleaned or maintained. They also typically only need to have their optics calibrated once, whereas you might need to adjust a reflector model on a semi-regular basis.
- The use of lenses instead of mirrors means that refractors are more compact and lightweight than reflectors on average. It’s much easier to just toss a refractor in your bag and take it with you on a camping excursion as a result.
- Changes in temperature can severely distort a reflective telescope, but that’s not the case with refractive models. If you want to shoot astrophotography in extreme conditions, a refractor will likely be the best choice for you.
The biggest weaknesses of refractors come from their lack of simplicity. Lenses are far more prone to displaying abnormalities than the simple reflection you get from a reflector telescope.
- Chromatic and spherical aberrations are the most common issue with a refractive telescope. Chromatic aberrations happen because the simplicity of a single glass lens limits the wavelengths they can produce. This can be avoided by investing in more complex compound lenses, but it will cost you more. Spherical lenses are naturally the result of spherical aberrations, which can cause objects to be slightly blurred.
- Lens sag can cause distortion due to a lack of inconsistency across the surface of a lens, but it’s usually only an issue with larger refractor models that employ larger lenses.
If you have any background with photography, chances are you’re already familiar with the concept of an aperture. This is the hole at the end of the telescope (opposite the eyepiece). While refractors and reflectors employ different technologies, the lenses and mirrors behind the aperture serve a single purpose, collecting light and projecting it down the optical tube. Naturally, the larger an aperture is, the better the light gathering capabilities. In short, a larger aperture size is always going to be better because it allows objects to appear brighter, clearer, and more distinct. A lower inch aperture will produce poorer optics all around.
70 millimeters is the most common size for an aperture in models designed for amateurs, but some of the best telescopes on our list offer apertures nearly three times that. While magnification may seem like the most important spec to consider at first blush, it’s easier to produce a high magnification than a large aperture. For that reason, we suggest you avoid manufacturers that tout their magnification levels while sporting apertures that are far less than the best.
Focal Length and Magnification
The focal length and magnification of telescopes are two metrics that come to the same results. Focal length can be measured in millimeters or in f/#, though you don’t need to concern yourself with the technicalities behind them. Suffice to say, a higher number is always going to be better for focal length. An optical tube with a longer focal length is going to be able to deliver a higher magnification level when you take other factors out of the equation. If you want to understand focal length in greater detail, you can check out our ultimate guide to mirrorless cameras.
Magnification is derived from focal length, but it also takes lenses and the aperture into consideration. In short, the magnification level we have listed under our specs is a factor of both the focal length of the telescope and the lenses that come packed in with it. Any telescope can hypothetically reach any level of magnification, but the spec we have listed for magnification refers to the max magnification while the optics are still worth your time.
Any of the telescopes on our best of list are going to come with a couple of lenses that you can use to adjust to different situations, and there are typically two major considerations to keep in mind when looking at the options available to you: magnification and field of view. You can find out the magnification pretty simply by just dividing the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of the lens. The field of vision depends on how the lens is designed and tells you what kind of perspective you can expect. 45 degrees is typical, but wide angle lenses can offer up to 60 degrees of coverage.
If you want more variety, you can always invest in new lenses for telescopes, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, make sure that the lens is the compatible size for your telescope. Also look at the construction of the eyepiece. The best eyepieces offer coatings that reduce the glare and provide a more consistent image. Professional astronomers will almost always use a more advanced compound eyepiece for this reason.
The above specs are the most important because they have a tangible effect on the quality of your astronomical viewing, but there are some secondary features you should definitely consider when looking for the best telescopes.
- If you want to practice astrophotography, you’re going to need a way to direct your camera down the eyepiece of your telescope. The best telescopes come with either a phone mount, a camera remote, or both. These allow you more flexibility to focus your attention on picking your subjects without having to keep your hands full.
- You can find a secondhand viewer and attach it to telescopes, but many of the best telescopes come with viewers built right in. Without a finder, you’ll have trouble identifying all but the largest celestial objects. These can take the forms of simple crosshairs or a red dot. In either case, the offer greater brightness, allowing you to see a more advanced vision of your subject than you’d find with the naked eye.
- In the earliest days of telescopes, astronomers had to rely on star charts to identify their subjects, and while that’s still a skill anyone who’s serious about telescopes should know, advanced software offers the best way to navigate the night skies without getting lost. Many telescopes come with software as part of the package.
- The tripod is there to keep telescopes stable and safe, but it also serves as your primary means of navigating telescopes. Azimuth tripods are most common, as they’re both lightweight and easy to maneuver. But whatever model you choose, you should look for a tripod that’s stable, durable, and suited to how often you intend to travel with your gear.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Telescope to View the Planets and Stars?
Whether you’re looking to view celestial objects like the planets or stars, the viewing experience is largely going to be the same. The best features and specs are the same on that front, and for that reason, we recommend the Celestron Nexstar 8. This may be an expensive telescope, but it’s arguably the best one on our list, and it really benefits from the exhaustive database that automates the process of identifying planets, stars, and other objects in the night sky.
What is the Most Powerful Telescope You Can Buy?
If you’re looking for the best of the best and aren’t afraid to pay for it, the Celestron NexStar 8 by Nexstar blows all the other telescopes on our list out of the water. Not only does it offer the best combination of magnification, aperture, and focal length, but it also comes with an onboard computer that can essentially guide you on a tour of the stars and remove the need for star charts entirely.
What Makes a Good Telescope?
While there are a variety of specs to consider, three stand head and shoulders above the rest. The best telescopes combine a high aperture for a brighter and crisper image with a high focal length for better zoom. They also come with lenses (preferably compound) that help make the most of those two specs. If you want to know more, we’ve broken down these important factors in greater detail earlier in the guide.
We live under the night sky for half of our lives, and that means the wonder of astronomy can sometimes be easy to take for granted. But rediscovering the fantasy doesn’t have to be hard. Whether you’re serious about pursuing astronomy more seriously or simply looking for a fun toy, we’re certain you can find what you’re looking for on our list.