Whether you are wanting the best telescope for beginners, a telescope for kids, or simply the best telescope under 200 dollars, this telescope guide for beginners will have something for you.
What’s so good about stargazing?
✔ It mutes society’s ‘noise’
✔ Makes your problems seem insignificant
✔ It calms the chaos in your mind
✔ So, it’ll make you feel better.
✔ It will expand your imagination
✔ Fuel your intuition
✔ You will learn about our connected cosmos
And, according to researchers, stargazing “promotes altruistic, helpful and positive social behavior” …and… stargazing makes us kinder.
It’s this ‘cosmic perspective’ that makes everything else look different – astrophysicist, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson.
How to start stargazing
Start with your naked eyes and look for constellations, stars, and planets using sky maps. Binoculars are great for viewing the moon, and star clusters.
The bottom line is that a good telescope will help you appreciate the depth of beauty in the universe as you will see billions of objects that you’d only faintly see with the naked eye, or not at all, otherwise.
How much does a good telescope cost?
How much is a telescope?
You’ll find telescopes for sale from under 100 and up to a few 1000 dollars for the high end telescopes for amateur enthusiasts.
If you are just starting out, it’s probably best to start at the lower end of the scale for your first telescope to buy and gain experience and confidence before making a larger outlay.
So, how much is a good telescope? The following table lists some top rated telescopes in the 200 dollar telescope price range.
(Looking for a good telescope to see planets in more detail? Then skip below to the reviews of the best telescope to buy to see planets.)
Comparison chart: Best telescope under 200 dollars (or close to)
Choosing a good beginner telescope can be overwhelming. This comparison table has been designed to make it easier in choosing which telescope to buy.
You can easily compare the type, aperture size, focal ratio, and ratings as well as the look of six of the best telescopes under 200 (or close to that dollar range). Click on ‘View’ in second last column to find out more info.
AstroMaster 114 EQ
70mm Travel Scope (good telescope for kids)
114 mm EQ PowerSeeker
|Orion 10015 StarBlast|
|Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST||Reflector||5″||5||View||4.3|
Four of these are Celestron telescopes. Reviews of these and the other telescope brands follow. These include what could be the best telescope for children but also a telescope for adults at the entry level to stargazing.
Best beginner telescope reviews
What is the best telescope 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. Here are a few top telescopes to consider.
#1. Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope
Possibly, the best telescope for beginners…
Type: Newtonian reflector with EQ mount
Aperture size: 127 mm (5″)
FL (Focal length): 1000 mm (39″)
f (Focal ratio): 7.9
Eyepiece FL: 20 mm (0.79″)/4 mm (0.16″); Eyepiece magnification: 50×/250×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 300×/18×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13
Other: Finderscope 5×24; Barlows lens 3×, + bonus: Celestron “The Sky®” software (10,000 object database & images); fully coated glass optics.
An equatorial mount means with this reflector telescope you can easily follow objects as the Earth rotates (i.e., as the objects move in our night sky view). It provides for ‘smooth tracking of stars enabled by slow motion controls’, which is ideal for photography.
The mirror size, at 127 mm (5″), is not as powerful as a 150 mm if you are wanting to see decent details of planets. Still, you should be able to see Jupiter’s amazing colors. The aperture size suggests this will give you 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.
With a focal ratio of 7.9, this beauty is in the high power range suited for narrower field viewing. This means it is best suited to observing and photographing the brightness of planets and binary stars, and the small features of the moon, rather than for deep space viewing.
It has accessory storage with included tripod tray and a student version of “The Sky” astronomy software to help you find stars and planets making it a great buy as a beginner telescope for adults.
Add-ons include a cell phone adapter mount, like this Gosky universal cell phone adapter mount:
#2. Celestron 31042 AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector Telescope
Type: Equatorial Reflector
Aperture size: 114 mm (4.5″)
FL (Focal length): 1000 mm (39.4″)
f (Focal ratio): 8.77
Eyepiece FL: 20 mm (0.79″)/10 mm (0.39″); Eyepiece magnification: 50×/100×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 269×/16×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.8
Other: Finderscope Build-on StarPointer
With the mirror size of 114 mm (4.5″) you get a decent view of hundreds of craters on the Moon and observe the brightness of Jupiter and other planets but again is not ideal if you are wanting to observe the details of planets. For reflector types, 3 – 6″ apertures are expected to give excellent viewing of the Moon, very good view of binary stars and planets; and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas. This particular scope: faint stars expected to a 12.8 magnitude. A focal ratio of 8.77 means it is best for narrow field viewing, observing moon and planets like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The size of aperture limits deep space observing.
A motorized version is also available.
#3. Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope
Entry level best travel telescope and a great gift for a child…
Aperture size: 70 mm (2¾”)
FL (Focal length): 400 mm (16″)
f (Focal ratio): 5.71
Eyepiece FL: 20 mm (0.79″)/10 mm (0.39″); Eyepiece magnification: 20×/40×/63.5×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 165×/10×; limiting stellar magnitude: 11.7
Other: Finderscope 5×24; “TheSkyX – First Light Edition” astronomy software with a 10,000 object database, printable sky maps, and 75 enhanced images
This refractor is a good cheap telescope for ease of traveling and storage for an on-the-go sky gazer. The aperture is only 70 mm (2¾”) but will give you a decent view of the moon and outperforms a reflector of the same dimension. It has lower magnification than the previous two Celestron telescopes for beginners, but then, it is half the price. This particular scope is rated for faint stars to an 11.7 magnitude. 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, though, probably not for the serious stargazer.
A focal ratio of 5.71 makes its midway in power. As far as good quality telescopes — 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.
A 50 mm version is also available.
#4. Celestron 21045 114mm Equatorial PowerSeeker Telescope
Could be regarded as the best budget telescope.
Type: Newtonian reflector with EQ
Aperture size: 114 mm (4½”)
FL (Focal length): 900 mm (35½”)
f (Focal ratio): 7.9
Eyepiece FL: eyepiece 20 mm (0.79″)/4 mm (0.16″); Eyepiece magnification: 1/2: 45×/225×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 269×/16×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.8
Other: Finderscope 5×24; Barlow lens 3×
This 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 — which is good for photography. The mirror size, 114 mm, is less than the recommended 150 mm for viewing decent details of planets, but will still give you a magnified view 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. This particular scope is rated for faint stars to a 12.8 magnitude.
A focal ratio of 7.9 means it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing and photography of planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.
It comes with accessory storage with included tripod tray.
#5. Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope
Type: Dobsonian reflector
Aperture size: 114 mm (4½”)
Optics type: Parabolic
FL: 450 mm
Eyepiece FL: 17 mm (2/3″)/6 mm (1/4″); Eyepiece magnification: 26× /75×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 228×/16×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.9
Other: EZ Finder II reflex sight, One-Year Limited Warranty
This compact Dobsonian telescope has a mirror size, 114 mm (4½”). The manufacturer boasts that it provides clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, and observation of planets, bright nebulas, and galaxies. For reflector types, the 3 – 6″ apertures are expected to give viewing that is excellent of the Moon, very good of binary stars and planets, and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas. 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.
#6. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
This one is over the $200 mark. But you might want to stretch your budget some.
Type: Reflector with EQ
Aperture size: 130 mm (5.1″)
FL (Focal length): 650 mm
f (Focal ratio): 5
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm/10 mm; Eyepiece magnification: 26×/65×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 260×/19×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13.2
Other: Finderscope 6×30, Starry Night astronomy software
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, 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. This particular scope: faint stars to a 13.2 magnitude. For reflector types, the 3 – 6″ apertures are expected to give views that are excellent of the Moon, very good of binary stars and planets, and fair viewing of comets, galaxies, and nebulas. A larger aperture is recommended for deep space viewing in dark sky conditions.
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.Click here to see the latest prices.
Best home telescope for viewing planets
Looking for the best telescope to see planets? The following are three to consider and include go-to telescopes (i.e., computerized).
#7. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Computerized Telescope
Type: Catadioptric (Maksutov-Cassegrain)
Aperture size: 127 mm (5″)
FL (Focal length): 1500 mm (59 in)
f (Focal ratio): 12
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm (0.98″)/9 mm (0.35″); Eyepiece magnification: 60×/167×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 300×/18×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13
Other: Finderscope – StarPointer; Star diagonal 1.25; Includes “The SkyX” Planetarium software
A mirror size of 127 mm (5″) means this catadioptric telescope is in the range considered best for viewing planets.
For catadioptric types, the 3.5 – 5″ apertures are expected to give excellent viewing of lunar and planetary aspects, good views of binary stars, and fair views of comets, galaxies, and nebulas. A Maksutov-Cassegrain of this size is highly recommended for lunar and planetary viewing. This particular scope allows you to see faint stars to a 13 magnitude.
A focal ratio of 12 indicates it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.
Being computerized means it quickly gathers the sights for you automatically, so you don’t waste time hunting for them.Click to see the latest prices.
Options to buy:
An adapter that will let you power this scope from the cigarette lighter of your vehicle — Celestron 18778 AC Adapter (Black)
Eyepiece and filter kit: 14 Piece Telescope Accessory Set
#8. Celestron NexStar 6 SE Telescope
Type: Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Aperture size: 150 mm (6″)
FL (Focal length): 1500 mm (59″)
f (Focal ratio): 10
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm (1″); Eyepiece magnification: 60×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 354×/21×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13.4
Other: Finderscope – StarPointer; SkyAlign allows you to align on any three bright celestial objects, making for a fast and easy alignment process; Nearly 40,000 object database with 200 user-definable objects and expanded information on over 200 objects
Aperture is 150 mm on a catadioptric.
For catadioptric types Schmidt- Cassegrains, 6 – 8″ apertures are expected to give an excellent view of the moon, very good views of binary stars, and good views of planets, comets, galaxies, and nebulas. This particular scope: faint stars to magnitude 13.4.
An f of 10 indicates it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.Click here to see the latest prices.
#9. Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet APO Refractor Telescope
With this one, Jupiter will really stand out.
Type: APO Refractor with ED Schott glass
Aperture size: 120 mm (4.72″)
FL (Focal length): 900 mm (35″)
f (Focal ratio): 7.5
Eyepiece FL: 20 mm (0.8″)/5 mm (0.2″); Eyepiece magnification: 45×/180×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 283×/17×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.9
Other: Finderscope – 8×50 RA erect-image, Dual-speed 2″ Crayford-type focuser with 1.25″ adaptor; 20 mm and 5 mm 1.25, 2″ dielectric diagonal; Tube-ring attachment hardware; Aluminium carry case.
Expected to give excellent views of the moon; very good views of binary stars, planets, and comets; and good views of galaxies and nebulas. This particular scope: faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude.
An f of 7.9 indicates it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing and photography of planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.
Schott Glass, an FPL-53 ED glass element, and apochromatic ED doublet optics mean images are free of the annoying halo of unfocused violet light.Click here to see the latest prices.
You may find the below information will help you further in knowing what telescope to buy.
What to look for when buying a telescope
Knowing where to start and which telescope to buy is confusing for the beginner or anyone interested in obtaining a telescope for night sky gazing.
I had no idea of what telescope I should buy when I first bought a telescope on offer at the local post office. In fact, it became a dust collector. And, eventually found its way into the op shop bin.
I was frustrated more than anything with it.
So, here’s what I’ve since compiled — a list of telescope features to help with knowing the best telescope to buy.
By the way, if you are wondering: what is the best telescope to buy? It’s one you’ll use and get the best views for your budget. A small telescope that’s simple and easy to set up will beat a large one sitting collecting dust in the closet.
1. Types of telescopes
There are three main types of telescopes: reflector, refractor, and catadioptric.
The reflector type (also called a reflecting telescope) uses mirrors to gather light and reflect the image. The Newtonian reflector type typically transmits 77–80% of light collected.
The refractor (also called a refracting telescope) uses a series of lenses to capture light and reflect the image. They typically transmit 90% or more of the light they collect. The benefits of refractors:
- Low maintenance and long-lasting
- Spurious colors at times, like the pale violet halo around bright stars, the limb of the Moon, and the planets.
The last type is catadioptric, which typically transmits 64–75% of the light collected. Maksutov-Cassegrain is a catadioptric type.
- Compact and great for portability.
- Use both lenses and mirrors to capture light and reflect an image. T
- Ideal for lunar and planetary observation with large focal ratios.
2. Aperture size
One of the main features to consider in a telescope is the aperture size, which is the diameter of the primary light-gathering lens or mirror. The sharpness and brightness of the view improve with size. As a guide, the following gives an example of size advantage with different telescope types.
For a Newtonian reflector telescope: A decent look at the details of planets requires at least a 6-inch (150 mm) mirror, such as in the Orion 9827 AstroView 6 (you should be able to see objects like Jupiter in greater detail). This size is the minimum for any decent astrophotography as well.
For a refractor telescope: A decent look at the details of planets possibly requires at least a 4-inch refractor, such as in the Sky-Watcher ProED 100mm Doublet APO.
For a catadioptric (Maksutov-Cassegrain) telescope: A decent look at the details of planets possibly requires at least a 3.5″ catadioptric, such as in the Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Computerized Telescope (Black).
3. Focal ratio (f/x)
This is another key feature to consider in a telescope. It represents the speed of the telescope’s optics.
- f/3 to f/5 = fast, but lower power; best for wide field observing and deep space photography
- √ observing large faint objects like galaxies
- f/6 – f/10 = slow, but higher power; best for narrower field viewing, photography of the moon, the planets, and binary stars
- √ observing brighter objects like planets
- √ observing small features on the Moon
EQ (Equatorial mount): A single axis mount that allows the telescope to follow a particular object with the Earth’s rotation. Useful for astrophotography.
Altazimuth: Allows for manual tracking of objects with the Earth’s rotation on a two-axis basis. It moves in azimuth (about a vertical axis) and in altitude (about a horizontal axis) and thus, not for a simple following of a particular object in the sky. Altazimuth mounts are economical and simple to use and can result in a good cheap telescope.
5. Other features
Barlow lens: A concave lens that can increase the eyepiece magnification.
Finderscope: a low-magnification scope with a wider field that you use with the main scope to find an object in the sky.
FL (Focal length): The telescope FL divided by the eyepiece FL tells you the power (magnification) of the telescope.
Highest useful magnification:
50 or 60 times (20 times in practical terms with atmospheric turbulence) the telescope’s aperture in inches, or two times the aperture in millimeters (mm).
Lowest useful magnification:
Three to four times per inch of the aperture, or 6 to 7 times the aperture in mm, which is the size the image can get before light is lost outside the observer’s pupil (width of 6 mm for older adults and 7 mm for young adults). Thus, it is unwise to use an eyepiece providing less than the lowest useful magnification of the telescope.
Limiting stellar magnitude:
Indicates the faintest celestial object you will observe with the telescope (higher indicates fainter). It is dependent on the aperture size. Star brightness is measured in magnitudes with the brightest stars having the lowest magnitude. The higher the limiting stellar magnitude, the fainter the objects that the telescope can detect.
Moon filter: Placed on the base of eyepieces, to reduce glare and show more surface detail.
Star diagonal mirror or prism: Adds comfort with viewing from a direction that is at right angles to the usual eyepiece axis.
How to choose a telescope for you
What is a good telescope? How to buy a telescope that suits your needs? The following will help you in making that telescope purchase.
1. Your budget
You need to think of whether to restrict your purchase to the low end of the range, i.e., telescopes under 100 dollars or to spend that bit more. You may want to go to the higher end of the range. But overall, you’ll probably want the best telescope for the price.
2. Your main objective
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?
Will you be viewing in light polluted skies? If yes, then you might want to forget the deep space viewing types.
Otherwise, you can search online for ideal spots near you, like these great spots for stargazing in San Francisco.
Are you wanting the best telescopes for astrophotography? In some less expensive 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.
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. Others you will need to manually position and this can cause you frustration and take some time in achieving your objective.
How to get started with sky watching
I know that nothing beats looking at a dark starry night to lessen the day’s worries.
But, for WILD stargazing…
You’ll need a place away from light pollution and on a night when observing conditions are favorable.
You may need to travel to a suitable location if you live in a built-up area or major city.
If so, organize to leave home in time to be at your destination 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.
Looking for places to escape the lights for wild viewing?
For major cities, you can find a good spot, by searching for ‘the best stargazing spots <your location>.’
There are also astronomy groups that meet up.
Luckily for me, I live outside major populated areas. Our front yard is slightly elevated, and our street lighting is relatively dim.
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 (here’s a list of apps), and start ‘hopping’ between them.
Look out for unique cosmic events.
Gaining knowledge and experience
Even with the best telescope in the world, the greatest escape comes from knowledge and experience.
Images of nebulas, galaxies, and planets like Saturn with its rings look amazing.
Available from Amazon is this Astrophotography Manual that tells you in practical terms what you need in equipment and in capturing and processing the images. Certainly, a whole new world to escape into.
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 ~ astrophysicist, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson.
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.
I still like to find those same constellations that my dad showed me all those years ago:
- the saucepan (the belt and sword of Orion),
- the Seven Sisters (Pleiades), and
- the Southern Cross (Crux).
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 us — 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.
With stargazing, the importance of our problems lessens and the manner in which we solve them change.
Because…we lose sight of ourselves and our concerns become minuscule compared to the vastness and openness of the universe.
What kind of telescope should I buy to see planets?
One with a focal ratio of f/6 – f/10. For a decent look at the details of planets, the best type of telescope for you is at least a 6-inch (150 mm) mirror in a reflecting telescope or at least a 4-inch refractor type.
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.
Populations avoided famine because of their intuitive understanding of the night skies.
As well, the skies gave spiritual purpose, with the connection of celestial objects to significant events, lifeforms, and places on Earth.
Our wild ancestors and (not-so-distant) past mariners, farmers, desert explorers, gardeners, and common folk viewed the night sky for guidance.
Living by their wits and what they interpreted they learned to survive potentially devastating events.
Connecting to the wild like this is about opening our intuitive minds and finding new perspectives.
You can optimize your perspective on life with a decent telescope.
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.
Further info sources
- Cold Weather Survival Guide: 10 Essentials for Getting Outdoors
- Summer Weather Survival Guide: 10 Essentials for Getting Outdoors