This beginner’s guide covers the ins and outs of choosing the best telescopes at entry-level prices. It covers things to consider when choosing a beginner’s telescope.
Best Telescope For Beginners Buying Guide
This telescope buying guide is suited to beginners. It is for those with a limited budget, e.g. under 200 dollars, and covers what to look for in choosing a telescope in this price range. It complements my beginner’s guide to stargazing.
The cheaper telescopes are often bought as gifts for kids and are generally compact and lightweight enough to suit travelers.
Looking specifically for a child’s telescope? Check out this article here.
Wanting more options on lightweight portable telescopes? Check out this article here.
You may want to invest in a little more if you want a telescope for detailed viewing of the planets. Also, it’s a good idea to consider buying extra eyepieces besides those that come with the telescope. Eyepieces are important and can make a huge difference to your experience when observing the night sky.
Telescopes In The Beginner Range
Celestron telescopes are a popular make in the US. Celestron, with headquarters in California, has been in this business for over 50 years – since 1960, giving them the reputation as one of the best telescope brands on the market. Orion is another well-known brand, which has been around for over 40 years. >>> Go to the Orion and Celestron telescopes reviews.
The main features to consider when buying a home telescope include the type of telescope, the aperture size, the focal ratio, and the mount. Below is an overview of the basics but you can find more on telescope features in this article on what to look for when buying a telescope.
1. Telescope Type
In our list, we have reflectors, a refractor, and a Dobsonian (a type of reflector).
Reflectors and refractors are the two main types here. Basically, reflectors use mirrors to gather light and refractors use lenses. Appearance-wise, refractor telescopes are long and thin and reflector telescopes are usually short and stout. The good thing about Newtonian reflectors is that they combat chromatic aberration (a distortion seen as a rainbow around objects in the view, which can be a problem with a refractor telescope) ¹.
The Dobsonian is a reflector type. Many amateurs recommend Dobsonians for beginners because they are a simple set up and have an aperture size that offers more value for money. See our review of the advantages and disadvantages here.
2. Aperture Size
The aperture size refers to the diameter of the primary light-gathering lens or mirror. The sharpness and brightness of the view improve with the size of the aperture. Though, the larger the aperture size, the more you will pay for the telescope.
3. Focal ratio (f)
The focal ratio is an indicator of a slow (f/6 to f/10) versus fast (f/3 to f/5) telescope. Put simply, one is better for wide field viewing, e.g. deep space objects such as galaxies (fast), and the other is best for narrow field viwing, e.g. detailed views of the moon and planets (slow), for example.
The EQ (equatorial mount or GEM) is a single axis mount that allows the telescope to follow a particular object with the Earth’s rotation. It has one axis tilted to your latitude and the other parallel to the celestial equator (a projection of Earth’s equator onto the celestial sphere).
The Altazimuth (or alt-az) allows for manual tracking of objects with the Earth’s rotation on a two-axis basis (altitude and azimuth). What this means is that it allows altitude (up and down) and azimuth (left to right) movement to find the celestial object — it’s a bit like finding an address on a street map using an alphanumerical index.
5. Other Features and Options
Other features and options include a Barlow lens that increases the eyepiece magnification, a finder scope, the focal length, the highest and lowest useful magnification, and the limiting stellar magnitude.
What Matters When Choosing a Telescope
What is a good telescope? What telescope should I buy? Knowing where to start, where to buy a telescope, and which telescope to buy is confusing for the beginner or anyone interested in buying a telescope on a limited budget.
1. Your Budget
This is important when searching for a telescope to buy.
You’re looking for the best telescope for the money you are willing to spend. It’s best to get something you’re likely to enjoy as you’ll get the most value from using it – it’ll be the best investment. This may mean spending more than 200 dollars. But if you’re budget limit is 200, then the following is about helping you choose that beginner telescopes under 200 dollars.
2. Your Main Objective
So, you should consider your intended purpose, your expectations. Why do you want a telescope?
- Do you want to observe finer details of the moon or planets?
- Are you wanting to view large faint objects like galaxies?
- Do you want a telescope that is lightweight and portable?
- Are you interested in astrophotography?
In the case of a limited budget, you might need to lower your expectations. Consider whether you want to outlay more to meet your expectations or start with something within your budget and gain confidence before making that larger outlay?
Not all telescope types are suited to astrophotography. The Dobsonians, for example, are not recommended for this.
In some brands, you can attach your smartphone using special mounts to create a beginner astrophotography telescope. The Gosky universal cell phone adapter is one such mount, which you can get at Amazon — See details.
4. Automatic or manual positioning
The telescopes listed here are manual positioning ones. If you are wanting telescopes that can be programmed for automatic positioning (Go-Tos), you’ll find these in this article that looks at telescopes for viewing planets.
The telescopes listed here require manual positioning. For these, get to know the sky for the positioning of celestial objects at specific times. As a beginner, this is a good way to broaden your knowledge of astronomy and there are plenty of sky maps online and apps that can help you out. Most of the telescopes sold for beginners include software or skymaps for this purpose.
Cheap Beginner Telescopes — Reviews
What is the best telescope to buy for beginners? More than likely, you’ll want the best affordable telescope to learn the technicalities of night sky watching before moving onto to something more sophisticated. I cover some inexpensive types in these beginner telescope reviews.
#1. 127EQ PowerSeeker Celestron Telescope Review
This Celestron telescope can provide a lot of fun once set up in a balanced position.
The equatorial mount means you will be able to easily follow the objects as they move across the sky (actually as the Earth rotates). This means you can use the telescope for astrophotography.
The mirror size, at 127 mm (5″), is not as powerful as a 150 mm if you are wanting to see particular details of planets. Still, you should be able to see Jupiter’s amazing colors and the rings of Saturn. You’ll get an excellent viewing of the Moon and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas.
Narrow Field Viewing
With a focal ratio of 7.9, this one is in the high power range suited for narrower field viewing, which is best suited to observing planets and binary stars, and the small features of the moon, rather than deep space.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 13 magnitude, which means on a good night you should be able to detect the quasi-stellar object 3C 273 located in the constellation of Virgo, which is visible in both Northern and Southern hemispheres during the same months, March to July.
This reflector telescope comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 4 mm (0.16″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 50× and 250×. The telescope’s highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 300×/18×.
Extras include a finderscope (5×24) and a Barlow lens 3×. Glass optics are fully coated.
It has accessory storage with included tripod tray and a student version of “The Sky” astronomy software to help you find stars and planets (10,000 object database & images) making it a great buy as an informative beginner telescope for adults.
- Includes a tripod
- Great views for the price you pay
- Comes with a 2-year limited warranty
- The EQ mount means only one knob to turn to keep the night sky object in your view
- Lining up the included finderscope with the telescope can take a bit of time
- The “Bird-Jones” design of this telescope makes it harder to collimate than others. It will need collimation (alignment) to remove aberrations from time to time (and possibly before first use)
- Instructions for eye collimation are included. (Tip: Reverse the tube all the way until you see both the secondary and primary mirror.)
A phone adapter mount to capture images of you views.
#2. AstroMaster 114 Celestron Telescope Review
Having an EQ mount means that you can more easily follow the objects of interest across the sky with the Earth’s rotation.
A motorized version is also available.
With the mirror size of 114 mm (4.5″), this Newtonian telescope will give you a decent view of hundreds of craters on the Moon. You’ll also be able to observe the brightness of Jupiter and other planets. In terms of planets, you’ll see the bright redness of Mars and Saturn with a ring.
Narrow Field Viewing
A focal ratio of 8.77 means it is best for narrow field viewing, for observing the moon and a magnified view of planets like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.8 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 50× and 100×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 269×/16×.
Extras include a finderscope — a Build-on StarPointer and Starry Night astronomy software.
- Reasonably okay optics
- Quick release attachment
- Comes with accessories including software
- Collimation difficult with the integrated Barlow lens design
- Light gathering and power of the instrument limit the sharpness of the view
#3. 70mm Celestron Travel Scope
The manufacturers boast “Smooth functioning altazimuth mount with easy pointing to located objects.”
This refractor is a good cheap telescope suited to traveling and storage for an on-the-go sky gazer. The aperture is only 70 mm (2¾”) but will outperform a reflector of the same dimension. Great for viewing features of the moon and with your iPhone or camera you can take fairly decent photos through the lens.
Narrow field Viewing
A focal ratio of 5.71 makes it suited to narrow field viewing.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to an 11.7 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 20×, 40× and 63.5×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 165×/10×.
It has a lower magnification than the previous two Celestron telescopes for beginners, but then it beats the others on price. It has limited capabilities for deep space observing.
As far as cheap good quality telescopes go — this one has no plastic lenses.
This telescope can easily double as a scope for wildlife viewing — possibly, it’s the best buy telescope for versatility, since not only would it make the best telescope for kids, but also the best telescope when you are in the field and on the move.
It is compact with a no-tool setup, making it a best portable telescope that’s great for hiking. Probably not for the serious stargazer except that it can make an economical guide scope for larger telescopes. Another way people use this scope is as a camera lens — much more affordable one than the normal type.
Has a pre-assembled aluminum full-size photographic tripod, which ensures a stable platform.
Extras include adjustable tripod, a finderscope 5×24, and “TheSkyX – First Light Edition” astronomy software with a 10,000 object database, printable sky maps, and 75 enhanced images
A 50 mm version is also available.
- Low price
- Comes with a backpack to store the telescope and accessories
- Suited to use in photography
- Tripod is lightweight which means care is needed when adjusting
#4. Celestron 21045 114mm Equatorial PowerSeeker Telescope
This Newtonian reflector telescope has an EQ mount so you can track objects as they move in the view with the Earth’s rotation. It has slow motion controls for smooth tracking and the mount makes it suitable for photography.
The mirror size, 114 mm (4.5″), is less than the recommended 150 mm for viewing decent details of planets, but this telescope has reasonable good optics for the price and will give you clear magnified views of celestial bodies.
For reflector types, 3 – 6″ apertures are expected to give excellent viewing of the Moon, very good of binary stars and planets, and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas.
Narrow Field Viewing
A focal ratio of 7.9 means it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing of planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.8 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 4 mm (0.16″) and magnifications of 45× and 225×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 269×/16×.
It comes with accessory storage with included tripod tray.
Other extras include a finderscope 5×24 and a Barlow lens 3×.
As mentioned in Celestron telescope reviews, though this one has a smaller aperture than the 127 model, the advantage is that it is easier to collimate. Unlike the 127 mm model, this one does not have a “Bird-Jones” design.
- Comes with accessory storage in addition to the aluminum tripod
- Good optics for the price
- Easier to collimate
- Not enough magnification for planetary viewing
- Tripod is lightweight with feeble adjusters — consider investing in a sturdy tripod to avoid frustrations
#5. Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope
Many amateurs will say how Dobsonians are the easiest to set up and use, and this makes them great for beginners and kids alike.
This compact Dobsonian telescope has a mirror size, 114 mm (4½”) and parabolic optics. The manufacturer boasts that it provides clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, and observation of planets, bright nebulas, and galaxies.
This has a tabletop base providing smooth altazimuth motion for manual tracking of night sky objects.
Wide Field Viewing
This is a fast telescope with a focal ratio of 4 meaning it is best for wide field viewing of the night sky to see bright galaxies, distant cloudy nebulas, and sparkling star clusters.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 17 mm (0.66″) and 10 mm (0.25″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 26× and 75×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 228×/16×.
Extras include an EZ Finder II reflex sight. It comes with a One-Year Limited Warranty.
- A telescope that focuses well and gives good views for the price paid
- Takes only a few minutes to set up
- Red dot helps with lining up the sight
- Can be a bit unsteady on the table – you could consider investing into a tripod and dovetail with mounting bracket
- Could do with a padded carry bag
#6. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
This reflector telescope might be over the 200 dollar mark, but you may want to stretch your budget some.
The EQ means it has slow-motion tracking of celestial objects as they appear to migrate across the night sky — good for photography.
The mirror size, 5.1″ (130 mm), is less than that recommended 150 mm for viewing details of planets, but you should still get clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, and observed the planets, bright nebulas, and galaxies.
The SpaceProbe 130ST is comparatively portable and lightweight.
Wider Field Viewing
A focal ratio of 5 indicates it is in the low power range for wider field viewing — useful for observing and photography of large faint objects like galaxies.
This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 13.2 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 25 mm (1″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 26× and 65×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 260×/19×.
Extras include a finderscope 6×30 and the Starry Night astronomy software.
- Sturdy mount
- Lightweight and portable
- Easy to use
- User reviews rate it as “Worth the money”
- Best to source video instructions on YouTube to help with set-up
Again…what’s a good telescope to buy? Answer: One that you will use. Whether you are looking for the best inexpensive telescope for beginners or a telescope for kids, I hope the above has helped in your search.
Like traditional Australian Aboriginal groups, ancient peoples all over the world studied the skies. It is one of the oldest sciences and was used for guidance on seasonal hunting, gathering, cultivating and in living intuitively.
What have you found from stargazing?
We hope you’ve gleaned some value from this beginners’ guide to telescopes. Keen to hear your thoughts about the best telescopes for the money or what makes a good telescope for the beginner in your opinion. Or perhaps, you have a recommendation for the best telescope under 500 dollars.
- Featured image by O12 from Pixabay