If you look at the list of best selling telescopes on Amazon you’ll see low grade telescopes mostly reviewed by enthusiastic newbies who have probably never used another telescope in their life. Most of these newbies are content seeing a few craters on the moon and spotting the 4 moons of Jupiter … yet they probably don’t know any decent pair of binoculars can do the same thing!
If you can’t trust Amazon, how do you truly know what makes a great telescope?
That’s why we’re here. Here you’ll find all the information you need to buy a great telescope with confidence.
Some of these telescopes can be a lot of money, so you want to make sure you are investing in a great product … especially if this is your first one!
Editors Note :
This article is contributed by two experts in the field, Zane Landers and Ed Anderson. Combined together, they have 30+ years of experience in telescope field and the following recommendations stick with the consensus on some of the popular astronomical forums like CloudyNights and telescope subReddit.
- Zhumell Z100 Telescope – Cheapest Recommendation
- Meade Lightbridge Mini 114 Telescope – Best Below $170
- Zhumell Z130 Telescope – Best 130mm tabletop Dobsonian telescope
- Orion SkyQuest 4.5 Telescope – Best Beginner’s Telescope
- Skywatcher 6″ Dobsonian Telescope – Highest rated for hobbyists
- Skywatcher 8″ Dobsonian Telescope – Better than Skywatcher 6″
- Zhumell Z8 Telescope – Best Telescope Under $500
- Zhumell Z12 – Best Under $1000
- Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8 – Best For $1000+ Budget
Our comprehensive list contains the absolute best telescope for its corresponding price. Whether your budget is $100 or $2,000, we will cover the top telescope for you.
So, are you ready to look into the universe, Copernicus? Are you excited to see the moon and stars and planets up close, Sagan? Are you wondering what it’s like to get lost in the sky above, Galileo? Then read on! The universe is waiting for you to peer deep into its depths, so let’s get started!
Overall Best Telescopes of 2020 - TelescopicWatch's Picks
Cheapest astronomical telescope one can buy that is pretty decent!
Meade Lightbridge Mini 114
$110 - $170
Absolutely ridiculous value for its price range.
$170 - $250
A scaled-up Z100 and the only Amazon available 130mm tabletop Dobsonian in the US.
Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5
$250 - $285
Comes on a steady, easy-to-use Dobsonian mount, and with great accessories.
SkyWatcher S11600 6" Traditional Dobsonian
$285 - $350
One of the highest rated telescopes for hobbyists. Speaks for itself, outstanding product.
SkyWatcher 8” Traditional Dobsonian
$350 - $450
All the perks of the SkyWatcher 6,” but slightly bigger and better.
$450 - $550
One of the highest recommended telescopes for hobbyists. Lots of great included accessories.
$500 - $1K
An upscaled version of the Z8. Huge aperture for the money.
Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8
$1K - $2K
GoTo with the ability to control it using your smartphone.
Best Telescopes - Reviewed
1. Zhumell Z100 - (Best under $100)
If your wallet is a little tight, the Zhumell Z100 is the cheapest astronomical telescope one can buy. This telescope is well worth its low price. It may not have all the bells and whistles that other telescopes have, but if you can’t afford something more this telescope will definitely do the trick.
The Z100 is perfect for kids, college students, and other newbies who are interested in looking deep into the cosmos.
Eyepieces supplied with the Z100 are a 10mm and 17mm. The 17mm has a little too much magnification for a low power eyepiece. Don’t replace it with something else though … you would be spending just as much as on what could be a better telescope.
The Z100 weighs five pounds, and there’s a nice built-in handle attached to the side of the mount. When one needs an extremely portable and convenient telescope, the Z100 is your best bet.
The Z100’s primary mirror cannot be aligned (collimated). As a result, sharp images are hard to come by. We would certainly recommend spending a little more on a telescope with a collimatable primary mirror as it can make a world of difference in image sharpness.
The Zhumell Z100 is a great choice if you’re curious about sky watching, and has amazing value for its price. Whether you’re new to the field and not completely sure if you’ll become a fan or not yet, or your budget doesn’t allow for anything more, you won’t regret purchasing this awesome telescope and will definitely be getting a lot of use out of it.
2. Meade Lightbridge Mini 114 (Best between $110 - $170)
Our budget pick for the price range of $110 to $170. This scope has absolutely ridiculous value for its price range.
The Mini 114 offers an extremely wide field of view – 3 degrees with the included 25mm eyepiece and up to 3.7 degrees with an additional wide-field eyepiece – big enough to fit even the biggest deep-sky objects in the sky such as the Pleiades, and making it easy to find almost anything even with the simple included red-dot finderscope.
The included red-dot finder is the weak link of the scope, and you may want to replace it with a Rigel Quickfinder down the line.
The Mini also has fine optics, taking the 50x provided by the supplied 9mm eyepiece with ease and being capable of up to 200x with a shorter focal length eyepiece like a 6mm goldline, which you can buy separately if needed. Don’t feel bad about spending a lot on extra accessories – they’re worth it with this scope. The scope also includes a 26mm (17x) eyepiece.
The telescope’s optical tube comes with a Vixen-style dovetail with ¼ 20 holes, meaning it can be used on an equatorial mount or photo tripod if one desires – the latter does require some kind of slow-motion adapter for the precision necessary for astronomical use.
At only 10.8 pounds, the entire telescope fits in a backpack and can be brought on an airplane.
3. Zhumell Z130 (Choice between $170 - $250)
The Z130 is basically a scaled up and improved version of the Z100. It has a collimatable primary mirror and rotating tube rings. These tube rings allow you to rotate the tube to the most comfortable position for viewing and work well with heavy eyepieces.
The extra half inch of aperture is a noticeable improvement compared to 114mm scopes, but it comes at a cost – both financial and practical.
The red dot finder for aiming works pretty well, but with 130mm of aperture a more serious 9×50 finderscope or reflex sight might be something you’ll upgrade to eventually.
The Z130 comes with both a 25mm and 10mm eyepiece (both Kellners), providing 25x and 65x respectively, but we recommend you get another eyepiece. A 6mm Goldline would let you view the planets in high resolution, providing 108x … and trust us, you want to see that. But even if you can’t get that eyepiece right now, it’s not a dealbreaker. The Z130 blows its competitors away with or without the preferred eyepiece.
The Z130’s biggest drawback, however, is its weight – While twenty-one pounds isn’t a lot for a telescope, finding a table sturdy and wide enough to hold it may be difficult.
4. Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 (Best in the range $250 - $285)
The Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 comes with great accessories, and an easy to use Dobsonian mount.
Thanks to its long focal ratio of f/8, the XT4.5 will have a sharp view at the edge of the field at low power because of less coma. The secondary mirror is smaller, increasing contrast by a minor amount. The longer focal ratio also makes collimation easier.
The XT4.5 comes with two eyepieces, a 25mm and a 10mm Plossl, providing 36x and 90x magnification respectively. These are much better than the inexpensive Kellners and MA eyepieces supplied with cheaper telescopes on this list.
The XT4.5’s finderscope is a 6×30 straight through unit, which is basically a miniature telescope attached to the side, as opposed to a red dot sight. It’s somewhat less comfortable to use.
Due to its long tube the SkyQuest XT4.5 is better suited to sit atop a milk crate or tall box rather than a table. This can be a little annoying, but the improvements over a smaller 114mm tabletop scope are worth it. For $25 more however, you could get a 6” Dobsonian, which is the next entry.
5. SkyWatcher S11600 6" Dobsonian (Choice between $285 - $350)
One of the highest rated telescopes for night sky hobbyists.
Before the 1970s a 6” telescope was considered the pinnacle of what the average amateur astronomer could buy. However, light pollution and cost decreases have led to a 6” today being considered more or less the minimum for any kind of real and serious observations.
The 6” Traditional includes a 25mm and 10mm eyepiece, providing 48x and 120x respectively, and a 6×30 finderscope. This finderscope is uncomfortable to look through, but usable.
A 6” can show you a lot. I spent my first two years of astronomy with one. A 6” telescope can go up to 300x with good optics and collimation. It can show you Neptune’s moon Triton, and even see (in detail!) Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the spiral arms of M51.
While an 8” reflector is similar with regards to portability, a 6” is great for seniors, kids, or anyone who isn’t as capable of moving a heavy instrument around. The 6” Traditional’s long focal ratio of f/8 also makes collimation easy. The Skywatcher 6” Traditional is also the cheapest telescope on this list that takes 2” eyepieces.
6. SkyWatcher 8” Traditional Dobsonian - ($350 - $450)
An 8” telescope will show even more than a 6”. The entire Messier catalog is relatively easy from a suburban or dark site. Pluto may be spotted from reasonably dark skies, and many deep-sky objects begin to show fair amounts of detail. The moons of Uranus are possible sights on nights of steady air.
The 8” Traditional is no more bulky than the aforementioned 6” Dobsonian. The only difference is the weight. For older users or children an 8” may be too difficult to set up without assistance.
Apart from having a slightly larger finderscope (50mm vs 30mm) compared to the Sky-Watcher 6” Traditional, the 8” Traditional is basically identical, apart from a wider form factor and shorter focal ratio (f/6 vs f/8).
The average person can handle an 8” Dobsonian and the gains over a 6” are certainly worth the price. An 8” telescope will last you a lifetime.
7. Zhumell Z8 - (Excellent for $450 - $550 range)
Maybe you liked the accessories that came with the 8” Skywatcher, but you wanted just a bit more? The Zhumell Z8 is exactly what you’re looking for!
With an improved dual-speed focuser with a micro-adjusting knob, a quality 9×50 finderscope, and even an included laser collimator the Zhumell Z8 is well worth the money. The Z8 even has a cooling fan for cold nights!
Apart from the Meade Mini 114, the Zhumell Z8 is the telescope I most often recommend to beginners. It is the best 8” Dobsonian available, and nothing beats the sheer value in its price range.
8. Zhumell Z12 - ($500 - $1000)
An upscaled version of the Z8, the Zhumell Z12 offers colossal light gathering power. A generation ago a scope only a professional or very rich amateur could own a telescope this large!
A 12” Dobsonian easily shows Pluto, globular clusters, and shows incredible detail in many galaxies, or even suburbs. Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may even show a slight dark marking called the Galileo Regio. You can, if it’s a good night, even see Uranus and Neptune’s moons.
Weighing only 75 pounds the Z12 is not a lightweight telescope. Its 14” wide tube is rather awkward to carry too, but don’t fret! You can fix this with homemade or aftermarket straps. Or just put the whole scope on a hand truck or dolly. That being said, the Z12 will still fit in most sedans and SUVs, though compact car owners may be in trouble.
We’d recommend getting a smaller scope to complement the Zhumell Z12 just to make sure you’re hooked before bringing this beast into your home. A smaller scope would help too for nights where it isn’t worth hauling the big scope out. But … if this telescope is in your budget, and if you can get this scope to where you want it, do it. There’s nothing quite like the power of a 12 inch Dobsonian.
9. Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8 (Our pick for $1K - $2K range)
Celestron’s NexStar Evolution brings GoTo telescopes into the 21st century.
Unlike cheap computerized telescopes which have small apertures, cheap plastic gears, and can only be operated with controllers reminiscent of a pocket calculator, the Evolution has enough aperture to actually show you stuff, has a solid all metal construction, and it can be controlled via its own WiFi network with your smartphone or tablet. The NexStar Evolution is incredibly easy to operate, and even has its own built-in rechargeable battery for plug-and-play use.
Being a Schmidt-Cassegrain catadioptric design, the Evolution’s main drawback is the somewhat narrow maximum field of view compared to a similar sized reflecting telescope. However, the computer functions more than make up for this.
All of the following telescopes are also incredible options. Some of the telescopes here have features that may be more suitable for your use cases.
Orion StarBlast II EQ - (Another choice for $170-$250 Range)
The Orion StarBlast II EQ is similar to the Mini 114, but unique in that it has an equatorial mount. This mount might be a little challenging for a child or novice to set up, but having this mount does mean you won’t need a table, meaning you can bring it wherever you want.
One could buy a compatible Celestron motor drive, allowing the mount to track the sky, enabling lunar and planetary photography with a cell phone or webcam style camera. Long exposures with a DSLR camera would put too much strain on the lightweight mount. The drive is simply not accurate enough for a time exposure.
The StarBlast II also comes with Plossl eyepieces, and is supplied with the same Moon map as the Dazzle 4.5.
SkyWatcher Virtuoso - (Another choice for $250-$285 Range)
This is one of if not the most versatile telescopes!
The Skywatcher Virtuoso has no Amazon reviews as of now though, because the original listing was replaced (not sure why), but rest assured this telescope has many admirers and a lot of happy owners!
It also comes with a certified safe solar filter so you can observe sunspots during the day.
After a simple alignment procedure your Virtuoso automatically tracks the sky, with no adjustments needed. The long focal ratio and excellent optics of the Virtuoso shines best when it comes to lunar and planetary astrophotography. And don’t forget to use the included solar filter to photograph sunspots, too, of course!
The mount will also thread onto any photo tripod, the telescope tube can be removed, and the mount can connect to a DSLR for panoramic and time lapse photographs … in the daytime!
The included finderscope should be replaced with a Daisy red dot finder or Rigel Quickfinder if you plan on purchasing, as the included finderscope is more or less a cheap toy.
Orion XT6 Plus - (Second choice for $350-$450 Range)
The Orion XT6 Plus is only $10 more than the regular XT6, so I’m going to omit the regular XT6 and focus on the Plus.
The XT6 Plus is similar to the Sky-Watcher 6” Traditional, but has a red dot finder instead of the 6×30, has cutouts in the mount, a strip of white reflective material on the base, redone paint, a 1.25” focuser, and thumbscrews for the secondary mirror.
The XT6 Plus includes a Barlow lens, a map (the Orion’s DeepMap 600), and a solar filter, too! The Barlow is nice, but a better short focal length should be preferred. The DeepMap is great when you’re out in the field, but modern phone applications and free computer programs like Stellarium have greater utility.
The included solar filter is phenomenal for viewing sunspots and is a feature that makes this scope well worth the price alone. Without a 2” focuser you’re not going to have as wide a field at low power though, since you can’t use a 2” eyepiece. If you don’t need a 2” eyepiece though, which is sometimes the case, the included XT6 Plus is still a fantastic choice and will set you up with many nights ahead to explore the sky … in both the night and day!
SkyWatcher 8” Collapsible Dobsonian - (Our second pick for $350-$450 Range)
The Sky-Watcher 8” Collapsible Dobsonian uses the same optics and base as the 8” Traditional, but that’s where the similarities end.
The main difference is that the Collapsible’s tube is obviously, well, collapsible. It shrinks to a length of about thirty-six inches, compared to the 48” of a regular 8” Dobsonian. This allows it to rest upright in a car seat and fit across the back of most sedans.
The open tube allows dew to reach the mirrors far more easily and does let a little light to shine in however, which can reduce your view’s brightness and contrast. This can be solved with a shroud made of Lycra (or some other similar fabric). Various third party solutions are available, or you can make your own.
Collapsing the tube will tend to cause the telescope to lose collimation too, which is something to consider if you want your scope to be as low maintenance as possible.
If you need a slightly more portable 8” Dobsonian and don’t mind the inconveniences of the collapsible tube, the Sky-Watcher 8” Collapsible is for you.
How To Choose A Telescope?
Here are the most important tips for finding the right model for you so you can go ahead and unlock all of the night sky’s hidden secrets!
Select a Telescope Based on Your Needs
The first thing you want to do is to figure out what you really want out of your telescope. Consider:
- Where will you use it?
- Where will you store it?
- How much weight can you carry comfortably?
- How will you find the things you want to see?
- Is this for home use or will you frequently put it in your car?
- Will you want to take this on a vacation?
- Will you want to take it on an airplane?
If your observing location requires walking up or down stairs, or you can’t handle carrying something too heavy, or if you just decide you want to travel a lot with your scope, choosing a smaller one might be a better idea.
While it’s amazing to peer through a big scope, it’s useless if it isn’t used. This goes for kids too. If you’re shopping for a child, remember to choose something they can manage on their own.
Choose Your Model
There are several different types of telescopes, but the most common are refractor, reflector and catadioptric telescopes.
- Refracting telescopes usually provide the best image for their apertures, but are usually pricey. They’re seldom available with large apertures. Inexpensive ones do have a fair amount of chromatic aberration though, thanks to the achromatic lens design they use. Refractors seldom require maintenance and do not usually need to cool down before use.
- Reflector telescopes provide the most bang for your buck in terms of light gathering power and resolution, but requires frequent alignment of mirrors and may need to cool down before being used.
- Catadioptric telescopes are moderately expensive, but are much more compact than most equivalent sized refractors or reflectors. They do require periodic maintenance and need to cool down as well, but not as much as most reflectors.
Know the Basics
You don’t have to be a technical engineer to buy an awesome telescope, but if you understand a few concepts and terms like aperture, focal length, and maximum magnification you’ll be fine.
Do some research to learn what these things are and how they can help you when you’re looking for nebulae and comets, spotting craters on the Moon, or watching Jupiter’s moons orbit around the planet.
Consider the Tech
Some telescopes come with built-in computer assistance for tracking and identifying celestial objects. We don’t recommend computerized GoTo telescopes over the manual ones that are on our recommendation list, though.
Computerized telescopes can come with additional work and requirements. For example, they will need a power supply and can take longer to set up than most other scopes. Knowing what you can do with a good star chart is much more beneficial.
The money you’re spending on a telescope should be going as much towards the aperture (size of the objective lens or mirror) as possible. When you’re spending only a few hundred dollars on a telescope, half your money is going to go to the drive systems and controller, and as a result you get rather little actual “telescope” for your money.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the level of technology that you’re comfortable with though, and both kinds of scopes (tech-included or not) have their own pros and cons, so make sure to really think about what you want out of your scope before making any kind of purchase.
Read the Fine Print
It’s always a good idea to get your telescope insured, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with a high end telescope. You don’t want a shipping accident to leave you with a broken eyepiece and a big bill. Look at the product’s warranty and ask yourself the following questions:
- What accidents are covered by the policy?
- Does the policy include human mistakes as well as product defects?
- Who pays for return shipping if the device has to be sent back to the manufacturer?
- How long does the warranty last?
- Can that warranty in question be extended with an extra fee?
Stick to Your Price Range
Telescopes can range from a $20 toy to a $2,000 tool. Before you start getting starry eyed over a particular model or brand make sure to check your bank account first. Don’t go into debt buying a fancy eyepiece if you’re still new … you can always get it later, if you still believe it’s needed.
If you live in the city you’ll definitely want to prioritize aperture. A small telescope will show little under severe light pollution, but in general you’re going to want to get as far away from cities as you can when you sky watch anyways.
Roadmap or GPS?
When stargazing, make sure to plan your trip appropriately. This may include bringing a paper star chart if manual scopes are for you. If you prefer to have the scope to find the targets, then look at PushTo or GoTo computerized packages.
You Get What You Pay For
Cheap telescopes under $100 are almost universally toys. Below $300 consumer telescopes tend to have corners cut. Remember, a telescope is meant to last a lifetime; don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks if you’re able.
These are just a few things to keep in mind as you shop for telescopes. Whether you’re an avid astronomer at the local observatory or just a college student looking for something to poke out of your dorm room window, now you are prepared enough to make a smart decision about what telescope you want next.
Good luck choosing your telescope!