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Beginners Guide to Stargazing | Finding the Best Telescope Under 200

Night sky viewing is a fascinating pastime that opens doors to new worlds. Tips on getting started will help you appreciate it more, a whole lot sooner. In this article, I include things to know for a beginner, features of telescopes to consider, and a buying guide suited to choosing the best telescopes for beginners.

In a hurry? See My Top Rated Telescope For Beginners

 

beginners stargazing telescopes
Orion is a constellation beginner stargazers will easily recognize. A good telescope will give you a deeper view of the night sky, close-ups of the moon, and a better view of stars and planets.

What’s So Good About Stargazing?

  • Makes your problems seem insignificant
  • It calms the chaos in your mind
  • It makes us kinder.
  • It will expand your imagination
  • Fuel your intuition
  • You will learn about our connected cosmos

In the Tibetan Bon, stargazing is a form of meditation.

It’s this ‘cosmic perspective’ that makes everything else look different – astrophysicist, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Where to Start

Binoculars for astronomy are a good place to start. They are not only great for viewing the moon and getting you acquainted with the night sky, but they are also a useful companion to a telescope.

Once you find constellations, stars, and planets using sky maps and your binoculars, a good telescope will help you get a greater appreciation of the celestial object.

Imagine…with a telescope, you will see billions of objects that you’d only faintly see with the naked eye, or not at all, otherwise. But how much is a telescope?

How Much Does a Good Telescope Cost?

You’ll find telescopes for sale from under 100 to a few 1000 dollars for the high end telescopes for amateur enthusiasts.

If you are just starting out, you’ll probably want the best cheap telescope to gain experience and confidence before making a larger outlay.

So, how much is a good telescope? The comparison table below includes some top rated telescopes around the 200 dollar telescope price range plus another that may interest you. You may want to invest in a little more if you want to get better viewing of the planets.

Beginner Telescope Buying Guide

Choosing a good beginner telescope can be overwhelming and so I’ve put together this guide to help. First, you’ll find a comparison table of some of the best cheap telescopes for entry-level enthusiasts as well as telescopes for children and for portability while traveling, then a summary of what to look for and finally, a list of telescope reviews.

Comparison of Best Telescope Under 200 dollars (or close to)

The below table compares different features of some best rated telescopes for beginners with a limited budget. The features include the type of telescope, the mount, the lens or aperture size, the focal ratio (f), and the price to help in choosing which telescope to buy in this range. You’ll find explanations of the features beneath the table.

ProductImageTypefRatingPrice
Celestron 127EQ
PowerSeeker
 5″  Newtonian type with equatorial mountf 7.9 3.7 starsView
Celestron 31042
AstroMaster 114 EQ
 4½” Newtonian type with equatorial mountf 8.8 3.6 starsView
Celestron 21035
70mm Travel Scope (good telescope for kids)
 2¾” refractorf 5.7 3.8 starsView
Celestron 21045
114 mm EQ PowerSeeker
 4½” Newtonian reflector with equatorial mountf 7.9 3.7 starsView
Orion 10015 StarBlast
4.5 Astro
 4½” Dobsonian reflectorf 4 4.5 starsView
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST 5″ Newtonian reflector with equatorial mountf 5 4.3 starsView

 

See the Top Rated Telescope for the Money Given in This Table

You’ll notice four Celestron telescopes in the above table. With headquarters in California, USA, Celestron is recognized as one of the best telescope brands on the market and has been making telescopes since 1960. Orion is another well-known brand, which has been around for over 40 years. >>> Go to the Orion and Celestron telescopes reviews.

What to Look For When Buying a Telescope

Knowing where to start, where to buy a telescope, and which telescope to buy is confusing for the beginner or anyone interested in the best home telescope for night sky gazing.

There are a few features to consider in what’s best, amateur telescope wise.

1. Three types of Optical Telescopes

The three basic designs of optical telescopes:

  • Reflector (mirrors)
  • Refractor (lenses)
  • Catadioptric (mirrors and lenses)

The reflector uses mirrors to gather light and reflect the image. Typically there is a mirror at the back that gathers and concentrates the light onto another smaller mirror which then sends the light to the eyepiece.

The refractor has a series of lenses to capture light and reflect the image. These have fixed collimation.

The catadioptric combines reflecting and refracting. A Maksutov-Cassegrain is a catadioptric type, as is the Schmidt-Cassegrain. These also have fixed collimation. The catadioptric are usually compact in size, which makes them good for portability.

There is also the Bird-Jones Newtonian which uses the mirror and lens design. That is, it has a spherical mirror and a Barlow (corrector) lens built into the tube.

2. Aperture Size

One main feature to consider in a telescope is the aperture size, which is the diameter of the main light-gathering lens or mirror of the telescope. The sharpness and brightness of the view will improve with the size of the aperture.

3. Focal ratio (f)

The focal ratio gives you an idea of the speed of the telescope’s optics. If it is not given, you can calculate it by dividing the focal length by the aperture size.

4. Mounts

For the best views, the mount needs to be sturdy to keep the optics stable and in this respect, a heavier one is better, though not suited for portability. Still, try to avoid flimsy plastic types.

There are two main telescope mounts: equatorial and altazimuth.

The EQ (equatorial mount or GEM) is a single axis mount that allows the telescope to follow a particular object with the Earth’s rotation. It has one axis tilted to your latitude and the other parallel to the celestial equator (a projection of Earth’s equator onto the celestial sphere).

The Altazimuth (or altaz) allows for manual tracking of objects with the Earth’s rotation on a two-axis basis (altitude and azimuth). What this means is that it allows altitude (up and down) and azimuth (left to right) movement to find the celestial object — it’s a bit like finding an address on a street map using an alphanumerical index.

5. Other Features and Options

Other features and options include a Barlow lens that increases the eyepiece magnification, a finderscope, the focal length, the highest and lowest useful magnification, and the limiting stellar magnitude.

A thing to remember about the limiting stellar magnitude (LSM – the faintest apparent magnitude of a celestial body):

The lower the apparent magnitude, the greater the brightness. Our sun, for example, has an apparent magnitude of -26.7 while Neptune has a minimum apparent magnitude of 8.0. 

So, the greater the limiting stellar magnitude of the instrument, the fainter the objects that the telescope can detect. This aside, there are factors that limit what you can expect to see, and these include atmospheric conditions and the human eye.

You can refer to our Important Features to Consider When Buying a Telescope for more details on these and other telescope features.

best telescope under 200, stargazing, telescope buying guide,

How to Choose the Best Telescope For You

What is a good telescope? What telescope should I buy? The following will help you in making that telescope purchase.

1. Your Budget

This is important when searching for a telescope to buy.

At the end of the day, you’ll probably want the best telescope for the price you are willing to pay. Whether you choose something at the low end, i.e., the best telescope under 100 dollars or the higher end of the range, you’ll almost certainly rate your budget high on your list of preferences.

If you are just starting out, you’re probably wanting the best cheap telescope to gain experience and confidence before making a larger outlay.

Here’s the deal…

Having the best telescope under 200 dollars or the best over 2000 won’t matter… if you don’t use it.

So, you should consider your intended purpose. That is, why do you want a telescope?

2. Your Main Objective

This is your intended purpose, your ‘why’ and ‘how’, or reason for buying a telescope.

Whether you’re looking for the best telescope for the money or not, consider your main objective…

  • Do you want to observe planets, binary stars, and finer details of the moon?
  • Are you wanting to view large faint objects like galaxies?
  • Or, are you thinking…What kind of telescope should I buy to see planets?
  • Do you want a telescope that is portable?

Are you interested in the planets? For a decent look at the details of planets, the best telescope is at least a 6-inch (150 mm) mirror in a reflecting telescope or at least a 4-inch refractor type …and, one with a focal ratio of f/6 – f/10. More on those here.

3. Location

Will you be viewing in light polluted skies? If yes, then you might want to forget the deep space viewing types.

Otherwise, do you have somewhere close that is reasonably dark? You can google for ‘the best stargazing spots {your location}.’ For example, search for the best stargazing spots in Victoria, Australia or look for stargazing in San Francisco.

Once you are confident, there are some awesome dark spots for stargazing enthusiasts that you might like to visit in your travels.

Nothing beats looking at a dark starry night to lessen the day’s worries.

But, for WILD stargazing…

If you need to travel, organize to be at your stargazing destination well before dark, to set yourself up.

Take a rug to lie on, some pillows, and a picnic basket with refreshments to make it an exceptional outing. If you have a family, involve the kids and make it a family outing.

You could also inquire with astronomy groups that meet up, and which you can join and find out about local information.

Lucky for you if you live outside major populated areas…your front yard could simply be your site for night sky viewing.

4. Astrophotography

Are you wanting the best telescopes for astrophotography? Not all types are suited to astrophotography. The Dobsonians, for example, are not recommended for this.

In some brands, you can attach your smartphone using special mounts as seen here to create a beginner astrophotography telescope. Alternatively, you might want to look for the best telescope for astrophotography at the high end of the range.

Either way, consider getting a good manual, like the Astrophotography Manual, which is a popular buy. This will instruct you on what to buy and how to best use your astrophotography equipment to capture the best images of the night sky. See it here.

5. Automatic or manual positioning

How much time do you want to spend looking for objects versus looking at them? Some telescopes can be programmed for automatic positioning. These are called Go-Tos, which require a bit of fiddling to use at first, but you don’t need knowledge of the sky for these. You’ll find these in my article that looks at telescopes for viewing planets.

For telescopes requiring manual positioning, you will need to know the sky in terms of the positioning of the objects at specific times.  This is worth attaining if you want to broaden your knowledge of astronomy and there are plenty of sky maps online and apps that can help with this.

Once set up…

You can start with some basic techniques, like…

Starhopping — this is just locating known landmark objects in the night sky. For this, you can start with binoculars or a manually driven telescope. Locate objects, using maps (or memory) or a phone app, and start ‘hopping’ between them.

Look out for unique cosmic events.

Even with the best telescope in the world, the greatest escape comes from knowledge and experience.

Using Binoculars in Astronomy

Binoculars have many uses in astronomy. A good set is the most cost-effective way for a beginner to get acquainted with the night sky, other than by way of the naked eye.

Three benefits of binoculars:

  • They are multi-purpose — can be used for terrestrial pursuits
  • They have a wide field of view
  • Their size makes them light and easily carried or moved

Cons:

  • Keeping them steady to avoid blurred views
  • Magnification only goes so far (about an LSM of 9.5 with a 7×50)

What are the best binoculars for stargazing? Popular ones for amateurs for cost and ease of handling are the 7 × 50, i.e., a magnification of 7× and an objective lens of 50 mm (2”) diameter. A wider lens is better if you want a wider field of view and you are not worried about a bigger and heavier item. A magnification of 10× or higher is also better but in both cases, you’ll need to keep the binoculars steady for a blur-free view.

Reviews of Beginner Telescopes Around 200

What is the best telescope to buy for beginners? More than likely, you’ll want the best affordable telescope to learn the technicalities of night sky watching before moving onto to something more sophisticated. I cover some inexpensive types in these best beginner telescope reviews.

#1. 127EQ PowerSeeker Celestron Telescope Review

This Celestron telescope can provide a lot of fun once set up in a balanced position.

The equatorial mount means you will be able to easily follow the objects as they move across the sky (actually as the Earth rotates). This means you can use the telescope for astrophotography.

The mirror size, at 127 mm (5″), is not as powerful as a 150 mm if you are wanting to see particular details of planets. Still, you should be able to see Jupiter’s amazing colors and the rings of Saturn. You’ll get an excellent viewing of the Moon and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 13 magnitude, which means on a good night you should be able to detect the quasi-stellar object 3C 273 located in the constellation of Virgo.

It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 4 mm (0.16″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 50× and 250×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 300×/18×.

Extras include a finderscope (5×24) and a Barlow lens 3×. Glass optics are fully coated.

With a focal ratio of 7.9, this one is in the high power range suited for narrower field viewing, which is best suited to observing planets and binary stars, and the small features of the moon, rather than deep space.

It has accessory storage with included tripod tray and a student version of “The Sky” astronomy software to help you find stars and planets (10,000 object database & images) making it a great buy as an informative beginner telescope for adults.

Pros: Includes a tripod. Great views for the price you pay. Comes with a 2-year limited warranty. The EQ mount means only one knob to turn to keep the night sky object in your view.

Cons: Lining up the included finderscope with the telescope can take a bit of time. The “Bird-Jones” design of this telescope makes it harder to collimate than others. It will need collimation (alignment) to remove aberrations from time to time (and possibly before first use). Instructions for eye collimation are included. (Tip: Reverse the tube all the way until you see both the secondary and primary mirror.)

Read reviews from real owners of the Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker on Amazon

Recommended Add-ons

  • Upgrading the eyepieces with a lens and filter kit with a 15 mm and a 9 mm lens.
  • A phone adapter mount to capture images of you views

Check out the Gosky Universal Phone Adapter on Amazon

#2. AstroMaster 114 Celestron Telescope Review

With the mirror size of 114 mm (4.5″), this Newtonian telescope will give you a decent view of hundreds of craters on the Moon. You’ll also be able to observe the brightness of Jupiter and other planets. In terms of planets, you’ll see the bright redness of Mars and Saturn with a ring.

Having an EQ mount means that you can more easily follow the objects of interest across the sky with the Earth’s rotation.

A focal ratio of 8.77 means it is best for narrow field viewing, for observing the moon and a magnified view of planets like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

A motorized version is also available.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.8 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 50× and 100×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 269×/16×.

Extras include a finderscope — a Build-on StarPointer and Starry Night astronomy software.

Pros: Inexpensive. Reasonably okay optics. Quick release attachment. Comes with accessories including software.

Cons: Collimation difficult with the integrated Barlow lens design. Light gathering and power of the instrument limit the sharpness of the view.

Read reviews from real owners of the Celestron 31042 AstroMaster Telescope on Amazon.

#3. 70mm Celestron Travel Scope

Entry level and best travel telescope as well as a great gift for a child…

(For more telescopes for kids — See my coverage on a telescope for a child.)

This refractor is a good cheap telescope suited to traveling and storage for an on-the-go sky gazer. The aperture is only 70 mm (2¾”) but will outperform a reflector of the same dimension. Great for viewing features of the moon and with your iPhone or camera you can take fairly decent photos through the lens.

It has a lower magnification than the previous two Celestron telescopes for beginners, but then it beats the others on price. It has limited capabilities for deep space observing.

This telescope can easily double as a scope for wildlife viewing —  possibly, it’s the best buy telescope for versatility, since not only would it make the best telescope for kids, but also the best telescope when you are in the field and on the move.

It is compact with a no-tool setup, making it a best portable telescope that’s great for hiking. Probably not for the serious stargazer except that it can make an economical guide scope for larger telescopes. Another way people use this scope is as a camera lens — much more affordable one than the normal type.

A focal ratio of 5.71 makes its midway in power. As far as good quality telescopes go — this one has no plastic lenses. The manufacturers boast “Smooth functioning altazimuth mount with easy pointing to located objects.”

Has a pre-assembled aluminum full-size photographic tripod, which ensures a stable platform.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to an 11.7 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 20×, 40× and 63.5×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 165×/10×.

Extras include adjustable tripod, a finderscope 5×24, and “TheSkyX – First Light Edition” astronomy software with a 10,000 object database, printable sky maps, and 75 enhanced images

A 50 mm version is also available.

Pros: Versatile. Portable. Low price. Comes with a backpack to store the telescope and accessories. Suited to use in photography.

Cons: Tripod is lightweight which means care is needed when adjusting. Not the sort for viewing details of planets.

Read reviews from real owners of the Celestron Travel Scope on Amazon

#4. Celestron 21045 114mm Equatorial PowerSeeker Telescope

This Newtonian reflector telescope has an EQ mount to allow tracking of objects as they move in the view with the Earth’s rotation. It has slow motion controls for smooth tracking and the mount makes it suitable for photography.

The mirror size, 114 mm, is less than the recommended 150 mm for viewing decent details of planets, but this telescope has reasonable good optics for the price and will give you clear magnified views of celestial bodies.

For reflector types, 3 – 6″ apertures are expected to give excellent viewing of the Moon, very good of binary stars and planets, and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas.

A focal ratio of 7.9 means it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing of planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.8 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm (0.79″) and 4 mm (0.16″) and magnifications of 45× and 225×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 269×/16×.

It comes with accessory storage with included tripod tray.

Other extras include a finderscope 5×24 and a Barlow lens 3×.

As mentioned in Celestron telescope reviews, though this one has a smaller aperture than the 127 model, the advantage is that it is easier to collimate. Unlike the 127 mm model, this one does not have a “Bird-Jones” design.

Pros: Comes with accessory storage in addition to the aluminum tripod. Affordable. Portable. Good optics for the price.

Cons: Not enough magnification for planetary viewing. Tripod is lightweight with feeble adjusters — consider investing in a sturdy tripod to avoid frustrations.

Read reviews from real owners of the Celestron 114 Powerseeker on Amazon.

#5. Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope

Could be regarded as the best budget telescope. Being a Dobsonian, you’ll get more bang for buck. And, Dobsonians are the easiest to set up and use and this makes them great for beginners and kids alike.

This compact Dobsonian telescope has a mirror size, 114 mm (4½”) and parabolic optics. The manufacturer boasts that it provides clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, and observation of planets, bright nebulas, and galaxies.

This particular scope is expected to see faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude.

This has a tabletop base providing smooth altazimuth motion for manual tracking of night sky objects. A focal ratio of 4 means it is best for wide field viewing of the night sky to see bright galaxies, distant cloudy nebulas, and sparkling star clusters.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 17 mm (0.66″) and 10 mm (0.25″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 26× and 75×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 228×/16×.

Extras include an EZ Finder II reflex sight. It comes with a One-Year Limited Warranty.

Pros: A telescope that focuses well and gives good views for the price paid. Takes only a few minutes to set up. Red dot helps with lining up the sight.

Cons: Can be a bit unsteady on the table – you could consider investing into a tripod and dovetail with mounting bracket. Could do with a padded carry bag.

Read reviews from real owners of the Orion Starblast 4.5 on Amazon

#6. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

This reflector telescope is over the 200 dollar mark. But you might want to stretch your budget some.

The EQ means it has slow-motion tracking of celestial objects as they appear to migrate across the night sky — good for photography.

The mirror size, 5.1″ (130 mm), is less than that recommended 150 mm for viewing details of planets, but you should still get clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, and observed the planets, bright nebulas, and galaxies.

Users report views of the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, Saturn’s rings and moons, and Jupiter’s moons.

The SpaceProbe 130ST is comparatively portable and lightweight.

A focal ratio of 5 indicates it is in the low power range for wider field viewing — useful for observing and photography of large faint objects like galaxies.

This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 13.2 magnitude. It comes with eyepieces with focal lengths of 25 mm (1″) and 10 mm (0.39″) giving eyepiece magnifications of 26× and 65×. The telescopes highest/lowest useful magnification is given as 260×/19×.

Extras include a finderscope 6×30 and the Starry Night astronomy software.

Pros: The sturdy mount. Easy to use. User reviews rate it as “Worth the money”.

Cons: Best to source video instructions on YouTube to help with set-up.

Read reviews from real owners of the Orion Spaceprobe 130ST on Amazon

In Summary

Again…what’s a good telescope to buy? Answer: One that you will use. Whether you are looking for the best inexpensive telescope for beginners or a telescope for kids, I hope the above has helped in your search.

Like traditional Australian Aboriginal groups, ancient peoples all over the world studied the skies. It is one of the oldest sciences and was used for guidance on seasonal hunting, gathering, cultivating and in living intuitively.

Connecting to the wild skies like this can help develop your intuitive mind and open you to possibilities that you may never have thought existed.

What have you found from stargazing?

We hope you’ve gleaned some value from this beginners’ guide to telescopes. Keen to hear your thoughts about the best telescopes for the money or what makes a good telescope for the beginner in your opinion. Or perhaps, you have a recommendation for the best telescope under 500 dollars.

Interesting Sky Facts

Imagine, our galaxy (the Milky Way) alone contains 200 – 400 billion stars and over 100 billion planets.

Then consider… the Milky Way is just one galaxy…there are 200 billion to 2 trillion or more galaxies estimated in the observable universe!! Note I wrote  ‘observable.’

We can quickly become engrossed in the grandeur of the cosmos.

And so, we no longer think of the ‘cave’ we call home, nor the regional, national, or even planetary scale issues.

A perspective can completely alter not only who you are but the civilisation you’re a part of ~ Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist.

Moreover, gazing at the night sky adds depth and balance to our world.

I’ve done this with wonder since childhood. The expanse of the universe is humbling.

Did you know, that Aussies and New Zealanders (Kiwis) see the constellations in reverse to that observed by star watchers of the Northern Hemisphere?

That’s why the ‘saucepan‘ is a landmark for them — the Archer (Orion) is on his head, and the belt and sword, together, looks like a saucepan (or pot).

Also, the Southern Cross is used for navigation by Aussies and Kiwis, just like the Northern Star (Polaris) for those in the northern hemisphere.

If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, look for these easy-to-find clusters and constellations:

  • the saucepan (the belt and sword of Orion),
  • the Seven Sisters (Pleiades), and
  • the Southern Cross (Crux).

Winter can be the best time in Australia for stargazing because of a higher frequency of clear dark nights.

Further Info Sources

  • https://www.spaceweather.com/
  • https://hubblesite.org/

Related:

Hi, Jeff Madden here. I’m an enthusiast of the wide open spaces with over 15 years experience in presenting spatial data. I like to research and compare the latest technology available. My writings are about helping others explore and capture visuals of the outdoors.

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