Recommended Best Products Individually Reviewed
1. Best Cheap Telescope – Zhumell Z100 Tabletop Dobsonian
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.
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.
2. Best $150 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.
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. Best Amateur Portable Telescope – Zhumell Z130 Tabletop Dobsonian
The Z130 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.
4. Best Cheap Dobsonian Classic Telescope – Orion SkyQuest 4.5 Dobsonian
The Orion 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 the long tube due to its classic dobsonian design, 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 (4.5″) tabletop dobsonians are worth it. For $30-$60 more, however, you could get a 6” Dobsonian, which is the next entry.
5. Best Beginner Telescope – Apertura DT6 Dobsonian
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 Apertura DT6, offering from the US’ largest telescope retailer HighPointScientific, includes a 25mm Plossl eyepiece providing 48x magnification and a 6×30 straight through finder.
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 Apertura DT6’s long focal ratio of f/8 also makes collimation easy.
6. Best Budget 8″ Dobsonian Telescope – Sky-Watcher 8″ Classic Dobsonian
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 8” Traditional(Skywatcher 200P Classic ) includes a 25mm and 10mm eyepiece, providing 48x and 120x respectively, and a 6×50 finderscope. This finderscope is a little uncomfortable to look through, but usable.
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. Best 8″ Dobsonian Telescope For Viewing Planets – Apertura AD8 Dobsonian
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. Apertura AD8 is the telescope I most often recommend to beginners.
8. Best Value 10″ Dobsonian – Apertura AD10 Dobsonian
The Apertura AD10 is only slightly less portable than the Apertura AD8 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.
9. Best $1000 Telescope – Apertura AD12 Dobsonian
An upscaled version of the AD8, 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, 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 Apertura AD8 from HighPointScientific 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 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 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 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 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 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.