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Updated January 2024
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Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Celestron NexStar 6SE Telescope
Celestron
NexStar 6SE Telescope
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Best for Beginners
Bottom Line

A state-of-the-art computerized telescope that's suitable for both beginners and advanced users.

Pros

This telescope has an orange tube design and a large 6-inch aperture. It includes a database featuring over 40,000 stars, galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and solar system objects. The single-fork arm design and sturdy steel tripod keep it stable.

Cons

Some users find the tracking system challenging to learn how to use.

Best Bang for the Buck
Gskyer Astronomical Refracting Telescope for Kids and Beginners
Gskyer
Astronomical Refracting Telescope for Kids and Beginners
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Bargain Pick
Bottom Line

Easy-to-use refractor model that will foster an interest in astronomy among youngsters.

Pros

Simple yet effective and geared toward younger kids. Includes smartphone adapter and wireless camera remote. Travel bag included. Easy to set up, take down, and transport.

Cons

Intermediate and advanced users may find it too simple.

Orion StarBlast II
Orion
StarBlast II
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Trusted Brand
Bottom Line

Yields excellent images for a reasonable price.

Pros

Loaded with useful accessories such as a pair of Sirius Plossl eyepieces, an Orion EZ Finder scope that simplifies aiming, and an adjustable tripod, the StarBlast II is as functional as it is good-looking. A 4.5-inch aperture gathers light for brilliant viewing.

Cons

Users report that this telescope's tripod is not as stable as they would prefer.

Gskyer 130EQ Professional Astronomical Reflector Telescope
Gskyer
130EQ Professional Astronomical Reflector Telescope
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Easiest to Use
Bottom Line

Simple yet high-quality telescope ideal for enthusiastic first-timers or budding amateur stargazers.

Pros

Great light-gathering, magnification, and precise positioning with steady motion. A good entry-level refractor telescope with decent magnification. Includes smartphone adapter and Bluetooth remote. Easy setup.

Cons

Lacks power for more distant gazing.

Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
Orion
SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
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Best for Experts
Bottom Line

Dedicated stargazers will appreciate the crystal-clear views from this sturdy, portable, top-quality design.

Pros

Especially precise. Easy to adjust and track objects. Relatively lightweight. Simple to assemble. Durable mount. Wide field of view. Bright yet detail-rich views. Includes two eyepieces.

Cons

Novice star watchers may be intimidated by this professional-grade model.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 
HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best telescopes

Since the dawn of time, observing the night sky through a telescope has filled human beings with wonder, allowed explorers to navigate into uncharted lands and sparked the imaginations of scholars who would go on to formulate our very understanding of our place in the universe. While the tools that the pioneers of science used were cumbersome and difficult to see through, modern consumer telescopes are compact, powerful and simple to operate.

In fact, aspiring astronomers can directly observe the craters of the moon, Saturn’s rings and even deep space nebulae from the comfort of home using affordable telescopes that are quick to set up, portable and even compatible with smart devices and consumer cameras. 

We checked out a range of telescopes to find the best ones for all skill levels. Because of its excellent image quality and compatibility with add-ons and accessories, the Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope is our top choice for anyone interested in the hobby who expects to continue exploring the cosmos for years to come. For those not sure if they need a reflector, a refractor or something else, our guide below has the answers. 

Our list: The best telescopes

Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope

This compact telescope takes the guesswork out of finding your way around the cosmos, thanks to its SkyAlign feature that automatically locates and tracks more than 40,000 celestial objects. It includes a red dot StarPointer finderscope for easy aiming and a 25mm Plossl eyepiece. High-quality Schmidt-Cassegrain Optics and a 5-inch aperture provide exceptional light gathering at this telescope’s price point, making it easy for even newbie stargazers to get amazing views of the moon, constellations and other celestial bodies. 

It even allows you to attach a DSLR camera to it so you can take photos of the night sky. Compatible with a wide range of Celestron accessories and attachments, this telescope can grow with you if you want to take your viewing to the next level.

Gskyer Refractor Telescope

This refractor telescope is quick to assemble and includes an adjustable tripod, a carrying bag and two eyepieces. A smartphone mount makes it easy to view through the telescope’s lens without having to press your eye into it and also lets you take photos with ease, thanks to its included camera remote. A 3x Barlow lens offers excellent detail and lets you adjust the scope’s magnifying power to your liking. 

As this telescope is marketed to beginners, it's not as easy to fine-tune or as powerful as some other options. But for anyone interested in getting into astronomy, the price can’t be beat.

Orion StarBlast II Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Loaded with useful accessories such as a pair of Sirius Plossl eyepieces, an Orion EZ Finder scope that simplifies aiming and an adjustable tripod, the StarBlast II is as functional as it is good-looking. It includes a map of the moon that identifies the various surface features viewable on our nearest celestial neighbor as well as a DeepMap 600 star chart. 

A 4.5-inch aperture gathers light for brilliant viewing. You’ll find that it yields incredible views of everything from our moon to the moons of Jupiter, but it can be a bit unsteady and challenging to set up properly. 

Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ Refractor Telescope

This refractor telescope includes a 25mm Plossl eyepiece, a 2-inch Crayford focuser and a smartphone dock that puts the StarSense app at your fingertips for swiftly navigating the night sky. The app assists you in seeking out whatever stars or planets are most easily viewed from your location at that time. 

It mounts to an ultra-sturdy base to keep the scope securely in place. A 10-inch aperture is larger than most telescopes at this price point and buyers are impressed by its image quality, as they’re able to see Saturn’s rings and even Jupiter’s red spot. It's on the heavy side at nearly 50 pounds with the base included, but you’ll appreciate the rugged build quality and stability offered as a result.

Vaonis Vespera Observation Station

The Vaonis Vespera Observation Station is more accurately described as an astrophotography robot as opposed to a traditional telescope. Using your smartphone or tablet, it self-calibrates to determine your location and what is viewable around you. Incredibly easy to set up, the Vespera comes to life with the press of a single button and is controlled via the Singularity app on your connected device. 

Packed with technology, its ultra-sensitive Sony CMOS sensor makes visible what can’t be seen with the naked eye and even those living in the city can venture into the cosmos with the purchase of an optional light pollution filter. The Vespera comes at a premium price, but if you want a guaranteed look into space without the hassle of setup, it's an astrophotographer’s dream.

Celestron StarSense Explorer Reflector Telescope

Attaching your phone to this telescope makes finding stars and planets easy, as the StarSense app also displays arrows to help guide you while positioning your lens. When you’re on target, a green bullseye appears to let you know. Included is a 25mm Plossl eyepiece, a red dot finder scope and a smartphone mount. 

A heavy base keeps the telescope from shaking or changing orientation while you use it and a generous 10-inch aperture lets you view the night sky with tremendous clarity and detail. It's a great buy for novices and experienced telescope users.

Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Offering great value, this telescope from Orion comes with a smartphone adapter for celestial photography, a dust cover, a 25mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece and a red dot sight for aiming. Its base features the company’s proprietary CorrecTension Friction Optimization system, which securely attaches the scope to the mount and also maintains constant balance to keep it from drifting while you use it. Buyers are pleased with how easy it is to assemble and set up, making trips to remote areas for stargazing stress-free. You can capture highly detailed photos of the moon, colorful nebulae and more with this surprisingly affordable addition to Orion’s portfolio.

Sky-Watcher Skymax Large Aperture Compound Reflector Telescope

Buyers appreciate that this telescope gives them the ability to get an astoundingly close look at faraway planets within our solar system. It features a fully-baffled tube that keeps stray light from entering your field of view and obscuring your image. It includes a 28mm 2-inch eyepiece, a 2-inch 90° star diagonal and a straight-through finderscope. This telescope doesn’t include a tripod or the smart features that some competitors offer, making it a bit of a bare-bones purchase. What it lacks in accessories, however, it makes up for with its stellar image quality and durable construction.  

Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Reflector Telescope

Celestron’s Star Locating Telescope uses SkyAlign to bring you on a personalized tour of the night sky based on what celestial bodies or points of interest are viewable from your location. With a library of more than 4,000 stars, galaxies, planets and nebulae, you’ll always find something incredible to observe. Its hand controller lets you move the scope as needed without having to adjust knobs and dials, and its compact design makes it great for camping trips or drives to optimal viewing locations. It includes a steel tripod, a StarPointer scope and a free download of Starry Sky, Celestron’s interactive sky simulation app. 

How a telescope works

A telescope collects light from a scene and focuses the light, which in turn makes faraway objects appear closer. Light from the object at which you’re aiming the telescope travels through the telescope’s lens and into the tube. The aperture of the lens determines how much light travels through the lens; a larger aperture allows more light to enter.

The optics inside the telescope then focus that light onto a point, allowing you to see the object. Using a ring or dial on the telescope, you can adjust the focus and sharpen your view. Parts inside the eyepiece magnify the focal point, causing objects to appear closer than they really are. You can think of the eyepiece like a magnifying glass, as it works on similar principles.

Telescope designs

For amateur astronomers, five types of telescope designs exist: compound, reflector, refractor, Schmidt–Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain. Each has a similar look, but they all work a little differently.

Compound

The eyepiece in a compound telescope is in the back. This design has two mirrors inside the telescope: one near the eyepiece and one at the front. The mirror in the front is combined with a lens.

Reflector

This telescope design sets itself apart with an eyepiece that extends vertically out of the tube, usually near the front. A mirror at the front of the tube gathers light. It then reflects that light to another mirror, which reflects the light once more toward the eyepiece.

Refractor

This is the most common design found on consumer-grade telescopes. A large lens at the front passes light through the tube toward a mirror in the back of the tube. That light then travels into the eyepiece at the back of the tube.

Schmidt–Cassegrain

Schmidt–Cassegrain telescopes combine features of both reflector and refractor telescopes into a compact package that is suitable for a wide range of celestial viewing. They’re compact and powerful, but require more maintenance with regard to calibration and carry a higher price tag than the previously described telescope types.

Maksutov-Cassegrain

Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes are not as popular as other styles, especially in the beginner market. This is because they tend to be more expensive than Schmidt-Cassegrain models but offer less versatility.

Which telescope is best for your needs?

Clarity and sharpness

If clarity and sharpness sit high on your priority list, we recommend a refractor telescope.

Granted, refractor telescopes sometimes suffer from chromatic aberration due to their lens design. This usually manifests itself as a purple or green fringe around the objects. 

As long as you have a refractor design telescope with a large aperture (and minimal light pollution), you can get a great view of the stars and planets.

Size and weight

If you live in the city and must transport your telescope to locations where you can see the stars, the unit’s portability matters. A reflector telescope is the lightest design available, refractor telescopes are generally the heaviest and compound telescopes are typically the bulkiest of the three. 

Viewing earth objects

If you want to view “earth objects” (birds, wild animals) rather than the sky, a reflector telescope won’t work. We advise you to stick with a refractor or compound telescope design to view earth objects.

Viewing faint stars

Maksutov-Cassegrain are the best at viewing dim and distant objects, but most beginners will find that reflector or compound designs work well enough. Avoid refractor telescopes for this purpose.

Value

In general, reflector telescopes tend to cost less than the other types, which is one reason why they’re often the best choice for beginners.

Ease of use

Refractor telescopes feature an easy-to-use design with a well-placed eyepiece. A refractor telescope’s tube is fully sealed, which means it requires little to no maintenance.

Compound telescopes are also relatively easy to use, and they require little maintenance. And because you can easily connect a computer to a compound unit for aiming the telescope, you’ll enjoy immediate success in finding stars and planets.

Because reflector telescopes have an open tube on one end, they collect dust and require regular cleaning. Their optics can be bumped out of alignment easier than the other designs, requiring more maintenance.

Telescope terms

  • Aperture: In a telescope, the term aperture refers to the same thing as it does in a camera lens. The aperture is the opening in the lens through which light travels. A large aperture allows more light to enter the lens, meaning you can better see faint objects in the night sky.
  • Astrophotography: Astrophotography is a hobby that combines telescope use with a digital camera. You mount your camera to the telescope, allowing the camera to “see” through the eyepiece. The camera then photographs objects in the night sky. This is an expensive hobby that requires particular pieces of equipment that are compatible.
  • Earth objects: When telescope makers say their models are good for viewing Earth objects, they’re talking about birds or other far-off animals.
  • Eyepiece: The eyepiece is the portion of the telescope you peer through to see objects. You often can swap out eyepieces on a telescope to obtain a greater or lesser level of magnification.
  • Faint objects: Faint objects in the night sky are objects that are difficult to see, even with a telescope. Such objects are either extremely far away or they emit very little light.
  • Focal length: Focal length is another term that telescopes share with camera lenses. Objects viewed through a large focal length telescope look bigger than objects viewed through a small focal length.
  • Light pollution: This term refers to any artificial lighting in your area at night. Artificial lighting makes using a telescope difficult, as the light can wash out faint stars.
  • Magnification: If a telescope’s eyepiece has a large magnification measurement, objects will appear larger. The eyepiece and focal length together determine how much magnification you see when using the telescope.
  • Optical tube: This is the body of the telescope that holds the lenses and mirrors inside of it.
  • Software: Many telescopes, even beginner models, ship with software to help aim the telescope. If you seek more features, you could also purchase software separate from what accompanies the telescope.
  • Tripod: A tripod is a three-legged support device for the telescope. It supports the telescope’s weight while also allowing you to rotate its position. The tripods that ship with telescopes are often flimsy models. Many users choose to upgrade to a tripod with a sturdier support base.

FAQ

Q. How much should you spend on a telescope?

A. For someone with no stargazing experience, it’s probably best to start with an inexpensive telescope that costs under $100. After a while, if you find that you really enjoy astronomy, you can upgrade to a mid-range unit for a few hundred dollars. If your star-gazing gets really serious, you can step up to a high-end amateur telescope, some of which can cost a few thousand dollars. You may even want to purchase a telescope bag to carry it in. 

Q. How do I pick a great spot to use my telescope?

A. When viewing objects at night, you’ll want to move away from illuminated areas like cities or housing developments. Find an open field that’s free of trees, cell towers and telephone poles.

Q. How can I find objects to see?

A. The night sky is huge, making it tough to find particular objects without some help. Smartphone apps are available that can help you pinpoint common objects in the night sky, including planets. Some telescope models can also be connected to a computer and come with a software package to properly align the telescope, so you’ll find the exact object you want.

Q. I don’t see details in my telescope like the kind you see in space photos. Is my telescope broken?

A. Almost certainly not. Portable telescopes aimed at amateur astronomers cannot match the extraordinary quality you’ll find with huge, fixed-location telescopes. Using your own telescope can be a lot of fun, but you do have to temper your expectations a bit. Colors will be duller in the telescope than they are in NASA photographs and the magnification will be much lower.

Q. What’s the best way to get started with a telescope?

A. If you prefer the trial-and-error method of learning a new hobby, pick a telescope and get started! If you’d rather have a bit of guidance, seek out a local amateur astronomy club. Members there would probably be willing to share their experiences and advice on purchasing a telescope with you. Or, if you have an observatory in the area (like a local university) you might find some great informational programs there for amateur astronomers.

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