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 that cost below $100 can do the same thing!
If you can’t trust Amazon and most of the telescope blogs, 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.
211 telescopes tested and compared
- Included all of the most popular telescopes, no cherry-picked units
- Unbiased comparisons and reviews
- Written by Zane Landers, a TIME magazine mentioned home telescope maker and Ed Anderson, an astronomy speaker at Custer Observatory
- Our experts’ recommendations overlaps with the consensus on the most astronomical forums
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!
Our comprehensive list contains the absolute best telescope for its corresponding price. Whether your budget is $100 or $2,000, we will cover for you.
Basic Guide On Choosing The Best Telescope For You
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 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. 8″ dobsonian is what we consider to be something that is perfect on the balance of portability and viewability.
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.
Some telescopes come with built-in computer assistance for tracking and identifying celestial objects. We don’t typically recommend these over the manual ones.
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 computerized 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. 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.
If you prefer to have the scope to find the targets, then look at PushTo or GoTo computerized packages.
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.
There are several different types of telescopes, with the most common types being 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. Unintentionally, most of the recommended scopes on this guide are reflectors.
- 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.
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.
You don’t have to be a technical engineer to buy an awesome telescope, but if you understand a few concepts and terms like the ones below, you’ll be fine.
- Optical Tube Assembly – this is the light gathering part of the telescope. Common forms are refractor, reflector, Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, SCT, and Maksutov-Cassegrain, MCT.
- Aperture – This is the diameter of the front lens or rear mirror of the optical tube. This is usually stated in millimeters, mm, or inches and may be noted as 150 mm or 6” in the specifications. This is the key specification for judging the telescope’s ability to show you dim and distant planets and deep-sky objects. In general, the more aperture the better.
- Focal Length – This is a measure of the optical path within the optical tube. Using this you can determine the magnification that will be provided by any given eyepiece.
- FL scope / FL eyepiece = magnification.
- Focal Ratio – This is simply the focal length divided by the aperture. It tells you about the physical size of the scope. A low focal ration optical tube will be shorter than a high focal ratio optical tube with the same aperture and of the same design.
- Focuser – This moves the eyepiece in or out along the light path to bring the image into focus. Common sizes are 1.25 inch and 2 inch which determines the size of the diagonal or eyepiece that can be accepted. Some are single speed and some are dual speed, having a quick focus and a slow focus knob that allows much finer adjustments which can be helpful when using high magnification.
- Diagonal – These are placed into the focuser and receive the eyepiece in refractors, SCTs, and MCTs. Common sizes are 1.25 inch and 2 inch which determines the diameter of the eyepiece that can be accepted. The diagonal turns the direction of the eyepiece either 45 degrees or 90 degrees to provide a more comfortable viewing angle. The 45-degree models are usually for daytime use when the optical tube is fairly level for use as a spotting scope. The 90-degree diagonals, also called star diagonals, are better for astronomy as the optical tube is usually pointing high in the sky.
- Mount – This is what holds the optical tube and allows you to point it effectively. Common types are Equatorial, AltAz which works similar to a camera tripod, PushTo, and GoTo. The mount is a critical part of the telescope system. If the mount is wobbly, the image will shake every time you try to focus or when there is a breeze. If the mount is wobbly it may be difficult to track your target as you move the optical tube to account for the rotation of the earth. A good optical tube on a poor mount provides a frustrating experience.
- PushTo or DSC Mount – There are sensors in the computer control system that track the position of the mount. An initial alignment procedure is done so the mount knows the date, time, and its location. After that you put your target into the computer, usually a handset, and it tells you where to point the scope to see that target.
- GoTo Mount – Similar to the PushTo mount, there are sensors that know the position of the mount. However the GoTo mount has motors that are controlled by the computer, usually a handset. After a quick initial alignment, so the mount knows the date, time, and its location, you put your target choice into the computer and the computer uses the motors to turn the mount so that the target can be seen in the eyepiece. As the GoTo mounts are motorized, the computer uses the motors to track the target as the Earth rotates where the other mounts require you to move the optical tube to track the target yourself.
- Eyepiece – This is an optical device that goes into the focuser or diagonal. The optical tube gathers light but it is the eyepiece that provides the magnification. Eyepieces come in various focal lengths, each providing a different magnification according to the focal length of the optical tube according to the formula Focal Length Optical Tube / Focal Length Eyepiece = Magnification. Therefore a 10 mm eyepiece will provide different magnification depending on the focal length of the telescope. Eyepieces are standardized on 1.25” and 2” diameters. Which size you can use is determined by the focuser and diagonal.
Overall Best Telescopes of 2020 (Table)
The Zhumell Z100 offers all of the basic features of a larger telescope but at the lowest price point of any telescope we recommend - a great starting point for any beginner.
$110 - $170
The Zhumell Z114 has collimatable optics and decent accessories with enough aperture to keep a beginner happy, but it’s compact enough to fit in a backpack! Even an experienced astronomer will enjoy the scope’s simplicity and portability.
$170 - $220
The Zhumell Z130 builds on the Z114 and Z100, with even more aperture allowing for brighter and more expansive views of the night sky but still in a plenty portable and easy-to-use package.
Orion SkyQuest XT4.5
$220 - $280
The XT4.5 is even better for planets than the Zhumell Z tabletop scopes, doesn’t necessarily require a table, and comes with fantastic Plossl eyepieces. A great choice for the scrutinizing planetary, lunar, and double star observer.
SkyWatcher 6" Traditional Dobsonian
$280 - $350
One of the highest rated telescopes for hobbyists. The Sky-Watcher 6” Traditional offers significantly more light-gathering power and resolution than its tabletop cousins, and is upgradable and versatile enough to last a lifetime.
$350 - $425
Only a slight decrease in portability vs. an 8” but significantly more light-gathering power and resolution, and upgradable and versatile enough to last a lifetime
$425 - $525
The Zhumell Z8 is one of the highest recommended telescopes for hobbyists, thanks to its fantastic value, included accessory bundle, and smooth roller bearings. It may be the only telescope you ever need!
Orion SkyQuest XT10
$525 - $650
The Orion XT10 offers humongous light-gathering power in a relatively portable and easy-to-use package. While it’s not as accessorized as some other offerings, you can’t beat its raw aperture for the price.
$650 - $1K
The Apertura AD12 offers some of the most light gathering power a portable, affordable telescope can provide with the same easy-to-use Dobsonian mount as some of our other recommendations.
Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8
$1K - $2K
The NexStar Evolution scopes offer a lightweight, portable, 21st-century telescope design with fully wireless GoTo capability, a built-in rechargeable battery, and comfortable ergonomics.
Recommended Scopes Individually Reviewed
If your wallet is a little tight, the Zhumell Z100 is the cheapest and best 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.
But still, 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.
Our best budget telescope pick for the price range of $110 to $170, replacing the Meade Lightbridge Mini 114 which has sadly been discontinued by the manufacturer.
The Z114 offers an extremely wide field of view, 2.1 degrees at 26x with the included 17mm eyepiece and up to 3.6 degrees with an additional lower-power wide-field eyepiece – big enough to fit even the largest deep-sky objects such as the Pleiades, and making it easy to find almost anything even with the included red-dot sight.
The Z114 also has fantastic optics, taking the 45x provided by the supplied 10mm eyepiece with ease and being capable of up to 200x magnification with a shorter focal length eyepiece like a 6mm goldline or a 2x Barlow (sold separately of course). Don’t feel bad about spending a lot on extra accessories – they’re worth it with this scope.
Unlike the Z100, the Z114 can be collimated for the sharpest possible views. It’s great for anything – planets, star clusters, nebulae, and even some galaxies.
And at only 11 pounds, the entire telescope fits in a backpack and can be brought on an airplane, much like its smaller sibling the Z100.
If you’re looking for a decent scope that won’t break the bank or take up your whole vehicle, say hello to the Zhumell Z114, the best telescope in its category.
3. Zhumell Z130
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 Zhumell 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.
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.
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 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 9×50 or Telrad would be a good investment to replace it down the road.
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.
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 bulkier 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.
The XT8 is rather lacking in accessories for its price, unfortunately. It comes with a single 25mm Plossl eyepiece (48x) and a simple red-dot finder. We would recommend some additional eyepieces such as goldlines to get the most the scope has to offer or alternatively considering the Zhumell Z8 instead.
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.
Maybe you somwhat liked the accessories that came with the 8” Skywatcher, but you wanted just a bit more? The Apertura AD8 is exactly what you’re looking for! It’s the most perfect 8″ Dobsonian offering available in the USA.
With an improved dual-speed focuser with a micro-adjusting knob, a quality 9×50 finderscope, and even an included laser collimator the Apertura AD8 is well worth the money. The AD8 even has a cooling fan for cold nights!
The AD8 comes with two eyepieces: a 2” 30mm SuperView (40x) and a 1.25” 9mm Plossl (133x). We would highly recommend an additional 6mm “goldline” eyepiece to get the best planetary views the scope can offer.
It is the best 8” Dobsonian available, and nothing beats the sheer value in its price range. If you’ve got the budget, it’s certainly worth it when compared to Skywatcher 8″ Classic which is our budget 8″ pick. AD8 is the telescope I most often recommend to beginners.
The XT10 is only slightly less portable than the Zhumell Z8 and other 8” Dobsonians, but offers you 56% more light-gathering power and 25% more resolution. While it’ll still fit in an SUV, however, keep in mind that the tube and base are big enough that they’re getting a bit awkward to handle – though nowhere near as much so as the Zhumell Z12.
The XT10 is relatively Spartan in its accessories – just a single 25mm Plossl (48x) and a red dot finder. We’d recommend obtaining eyepieces in the 6mm, 9mm, 15mm, and 35mm range to really maximize what you can do with the this best telescope in our list.
An upscaled version of the AD8, the Apertura AD12 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 AD12 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 AD12 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 Apertura AD12 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.
Unlike cheap computerized telescopes which have small apertures, cheap plastic gears, and hand controllers reminiscent of a pocket calculator, the NexStar Evolution telescopes have enough aperture to actually show you stuff, a solid all metal construction, and it can be controlled via a built-in 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.
The Evolution scopes come with two eyepieces: A 40mm Plossl providing 38x in the 6” and 51x in the 8” models respectively, and 13mm Plossl providing 115x in the 6” and 156x in the 8” models respectively. While these will be fine to start out with, we’d highly recommend obtaining a 2” diagonal and low-power 2” eyepiece as well as a 6mm “goldline” to get the widest vistas and the highest powers usable with these fantastic telescopes.
Almost all of the major telescope brands make great products - and unfortunately, they all market irredeemable garbage at low price points using their good reputations to fool newcomers. Brand loyalty or image should never be a factor in choosing a telescope or accessories.
Amazon, Agena Astro, High Point Scientific, Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope, Orion Telescopes & Binoculars, Oceanside Photo and Telescope, Omegon, and Tejraj are all trustworthy retailers of telescopes with excellent customer service.
A decent telescope can cost as little as $100, but we recommend spending at least $150 to $200 for something good with no compromises. You get what you pay for.
Any telescope can at least show you the Andromeda Galaxy, but the quality of your views and the number of galaxies depends on your telescope’s aperture, your light pollution and sky conditions, and your skill as an observer.
The most complicated things you’ll generally need to do to your telescope are collimate it (at least check every time you take it out) and clean the optics every few months or years. Collimation requires nothing more than a star and/or a collimation tool and is explained in our guide, while cleaning is generally little more than a rinse with distilled water (for mirrors) or cleaning with optical tissue and coating-safe lens cleaner or lens wipes (for lenses).
Dobsonian telescopes have smooth and simple motions - up and down, left and right with no complicated equatorial coordinates or locks or levers. Their simple construction means they’re also relatively lightweight, cheap, and easy to assemble, meaning you can put your money and focus on the telescope tube itself. The Dobsonian’s Newtonian reflector optical design also provides you the most aperture for your buck allowing you to see more of the Universe - and without the pesky chromatic aberration of a refractor.
Usually, when astronomers refer to amateur-sized telescopes, they lump them into several classes.
“Small” used to refer to telescopes of 6 inches of aperture or less, but the trend of larger and larger telescopes means that most astronomers today term “Small” to be 8 inches of aperture or less.
“Medium” usually refers to telescopes between 8 and 13.1 inches of aperture. Larger amateur telescopes (almost all of which are Dobsonians) pretty much require truss tubes to be managed by one person and fit in an automobile.
“Large” is a confusing term because there is no set definition as to where it ends. Some people would call a 30” Dob a “large telescope”. However, we would term it to be anything between 14” and 22” of aperture. A 22” is about the largest one-person scope you can buy.
“Very large” usually refers to telescopes above 22” of aperture. Telescopes above 22” (with the exception of some very exotic groundbreaking ATM builds) are simply not manageable by one person and seldom fit in a regular car or truck. They also typically cost over $10,000 so few tend to own them. The largest amateur-owned telescopes you typically see are 36” to 42” in aperture, but there are some 50-inch, 60-inch, and even two 72-inch amateur telescopes that either exist or are in development.
These are just a few things to keep in mind as you shop for getting the best telescope. 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 getting the top telescope there is for your budget.