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 with seeing a few craters on the moon and spotting the 4 moons of Jupiter. Yet they probably don’t know that any decent pair of binoculars that cost under $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 the best 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! Our comprehensive list contains the absolute best telescope for its corresponding price.
Best Telescopes Overview
- Below $150: Orion SpaceProbe II 76mm EQ Reflector
- $150-$200: Zhumell Z100 Tabletop Dobsonian – 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.
- $200-$250: Zhumell Z114 Tabletop Dobsonian – 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!
- $250-$300: Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P Tabletop Dobsonian – Even more aperture than Z100 and Z114, allowing for brighter and more expansive views of the night sky but still in a plenty portable and easy-to-use package.
- $300-$450: Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Tabletop Dobsonian
- $450-$550: Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 150P Computerized Tabletop Dobsonian
- $550-$650: Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian – Only a slight decrease in portability vs 6”, but significantly more light-gathering power and resolution, and upgradable and versatile enough to last a lifetime
- $650-$900: Apertura AD8 Dobsonian – The Apertura AD8 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!
- $900-$1200: Apertura AD10 Dobsonian – The Apertura AD10 offers humongous light-gathering power in a relatively portable and easy-to-use package. It’s one of the best valued 10′ dobsonian telescopes available.
- $1200-$1500: Apertura AD10 Dobsonian – 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.
- $1500-$2500: Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8 – 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.
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″ dobsonians are what we consider to be perfect in terms of the balance between 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 telescope for a child, remember to choose something they can manage on their own.
Recommended Best Products Individually Reviewed
1. Best Cheap Telescope: Orion SpaceProbe II 76mm EQ
The Orion SpaceProbe II has a mere 76mm of aperture and thus, for deep-sky views of targets like star clusters and large nebulae, a pair of 50mm or larger binoculars wins. It’s also the only telescope on this list that isn’t a Dobsonian, being instead mounted atop an equatorial mount and tripod. However, the SpaceProbe II has sufficient quality optics to deliver pleasing images of the Moon, planets, double stars, and a few bright deep-sky objects, without the shoddy optics or plastic Huygens eyepieces many cheap telescopes are provided with.
The SpaceProbe II 76mm comes with two 1.25” Kellner eyepieces providing 28x and 70x magnification, and you can, of course, purchase more eyepieces for higher magnification if you desire. The EQ-1 equatorial mount is a little tricky to set up but sturdy, and aiming the SpaceProbe II 76mm is easy with the included red dot finder.
2. Best $150-$200 Telescope: Zhumell Z100 Tabletop Dobsonian
The Zhumell Z100 is really the minimum we’d actually recommend for a beginner, provided it fits within your budget. The tabletop Dobsonian mount is easy to use, the scope is easy to carry in one hand or even a backpack, the field of view at low power is massive, and the 100mm aperture is enough for not only good planetary views but for “faint fuzzy” deep-sky objects too.
The Z100 has a parabolic primary mirror for truly sharp images – though it cannot be easily collimated by the user – and comes with two 1.25” eyepieces: a 17mm Kellner providing 24x magnification and a 10mm Kellner for 40x. The Z100 can handle up to around 100-140x or so, and such magnifications are optimal for viewing the planets, so be sure to budget for an extra eyepiece or two if you can.
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.
3. Best $200-$250 Telescope: Zhumell Z114 Tabletop Dobsonian
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.
4. Best $250-$300 Telescope: Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P
The Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P has a collapsible tube, making it just as portable as a smaller instrument, but its 130mm aperture is a significant gain compared to a 100mm or 114mm tabletop telescope. The Heritage 130P comes with two 1.25” eyepieces—25mm and 10mm “Super” Konigs yielding 25x and 65x magnification, which are just fine to start with—though you may want more eyepieces such as a 6mm “goldline,” which would provide 108x, more appropriate for viewing planets and other small targets like globular star clusters.
You can just barely start to resolve globular clusters into stars with the 130P on a good night, and it’ll show you dark markings on Mars and the shadows of Jupiter’s moons a bit better than with a smaller scope.
The Heritage 130P weighs significantly less than a solid-tubed scope of its size (think Zhumell Z130), which makes finding a sturdy table, bar stool, or crate to set it on a bit less of a challenge.
5. Best $300-$450, Budget 6” Dobsonian: Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P
The Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P is pretty much just an upscaled version of the popular Heritage 130P, with 20mm of additional aperture providing 33% more light gathering power and and 15% more resolution. The 150P features the same collapsible tube as the 130P allowing it to fit in even the smallest of spaces, and works best when situated atop a surface such as a bar stool or milk crate. With a 6” telescope you can start to resolve globular star clusters into individual components, see dust lanes in galaxies, and spot Neptune’s large moon Triton, among other things.
The Heritage 150P includes 1.25” diameter, interchangeable 25mm and 10mm focal length eyepieces providing 30x and 75x – and it can handle up to around 300x magnification, so some shorter focal length eyepieces for higher power on clear and steady nights would be appropriate. Aiming the 150P is accomplished with the provided red dot finder.
6. Best $450-$550, Best Computerized Telescope: Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 150P
The Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 150P uses the same tube, optics, and tabletop Dobsonian mount as the Heritage 150P, but adds Sky-Watcher’s unique GTi GoTo system to the mix. The Virtuoso GTi mount can be used as a manual Dobsonian exactly like the standard Heritage 150P, or powered on for full automatic GoTo and motorized tracking controlled by your smartphone, with either the free SynScan app or another app like SkySafari. You can even aim the scope manually while the mount is powered on with no ill effects on the tracking or pointing accuracy of the motorized GoTo features. As with the Heritage 150P, you get two 1.25” Super eyepieces (25mm/10mm providing 30x and 75x respectively) with a red dot finder, and the scope is meant for tabletop use.
7. Best $550-$650, Budget 8″ Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic
An 8” telescope will show even more than a 6”. The entire Messier catalog is relatively easy to access 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 Orion XT8 is not a tabletop unit, but rather sits on the ground on its own, with a tube about 48” (1.2 meters) long. The scope is certainly a lot less compact than a 6” or smaller tabletop unit, but you’re rewarded with double-that’s right, double-the light gathering ability, 33% more resolving power, and a sturdy, freestanding telescope that can last a lifetime. The XT8 can also handle 2” eyepieces thanks to its 2” diameter single-speed Crayford focuser. A single 25mm, 1.25” Plossl eyepiece, yielding 49x magnification with the XT8, is provided, along with a red dot finder.
The average person can handle an 8” Dobsonian, and the gains over a 6” are certainly worth the price and inconvenience. An 8” telescope will last you a lifetime.
7. Best $650-$900, Best Value 8″ Dobsonian – Apertura AD8 Dobsonian
If you liked the XT8, the Apertura AD8 is even better. For just a bit more money, you get more accessories and a bunch of upgrades with essentially the same image quality and form factor. It’s much cheaper to buy an AD8 than to even get an XT8 with a single nice eyepiece like what’s included for free with the AD8.
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. Apertura AD8 is the telescope I most often recommend to beginners.
8. Best $900-$1200, Best Value 10″ Dobsonian: Apertura AD10 Dobsonian
The Apertura AD10 is only slightly less portable than the Apertura AD8, 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 Apertura AD12. The AD10 has the same features, accessories, focal length, and, of course, great value for the money as the AD8; the only difference is the slightly wider tube and larger aperture.
The AD10 will easily reveal Pluto and the moons of Uranus under dark skies. You’ll be able to start resolving spiral arms in galaxies like M51 or M33, and most of the objects in the Messier catalog are downright easy to see. A 10” is a serious telescope and a size that many people choose to stop at. You’re unlikely to run out of interesting things to see with it if you have access to good skies, and transporting the AD10 in most vehicles isn’t much of a problem.
9. Best $1200-$1500, Best Value 12″ Dobsonian Telescope: Apertura AD12 Dobsonian
An upscaled version of the AD8 and AD10, the Apertura AD12 offers colossal light gathering power. A generation ago, only a professional or very rich amateur could own a telescope this large!
A 12” Dobsonian easily shows Pluto, resolves even fairly dim globular clusters, and shows incredible detail in many galaxies, even from the suburbs. Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may even show a slight dark marking called Galileo Regio. Uranus’ moons are fairly easy to spot.
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 when it isn’t worth hauling the big scope out. But if Apertura AD12 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.
10. Best High End Computerized GoTo Telescopes – Celestron NexStar Evolution 6/8
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 they 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 a 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 NexStar Evolution telescopes.
A Few Frequently Asked Questions
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, Orion Telescopes & Binoculars, Oceanside Photo and Telescope (OTPCorp), 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 to 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” as being 8 inches of aperture or less.
“Medium” usually refers to telescopes with an aperture of between 8 and 13.1 inches. 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” in 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 and 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 to get the best telescope for beginners. 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.