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Beginners Guide to Stargazing + Best Telescopes under 200 Dollars

Night sky viewing is truly wild. Whether you have the best telescope under 200 or the best over 2000 dollars, it will blow your imagination, fuel your intuition, and wash away your worries. This guide for novice stargazers includes a list of telescopes for beginners and info on how to get started with night sky viewing including what to look for and what’s right for you when buying a telescope.

In a hurry? Click for the best seller in our telescope recommendations for beginners.

Looking for a telescope for a child? Check out my coverage of telescopes for kids.

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

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

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.

Where to Start

You can stargaze with your naked eyes and look for constellations, stars, and planets using sky maps. Binoculars are great for viewing the moon, and star clusters.

Read more in our section on Using Binoculars followed by Things to Know.

The bottom line is that a good telescope will help you better appreciate the depth of beauty in the universe. You will see billions of objects that you’d only faintly see with the naked eye, or not at all, otherwise.

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.

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 from several places online.

If you are just starting out, it’s probably best to start with the best cheap telescope and 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 in the 200 dollar telescope price range and a few others that you can check out by clicking on the links. If you are looking for the best inexpensive telescope or a telescope for kids, I’m sure this guide will have something for you.

(Looking for a good telescope to see planets in more detail? Then check out our review of the best telescope for viewing planets.)

Beginner Telescope Buying Guide

Choosing a good beginner telescope can be overwhelming and so I’ve created this guide to help you in making that choice.  First up is a comparison table of some best starter telescopes for stargazing. Next is a summary of what to look for, followed by a set of reviews. The selection covers telescopes for entry-level enthusiasts as well as telescopes for children and one or two of these are portal and great for use while traveling.

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

The below table compares different features of some best rated telescopes for beginners. Features include the way the telescope gathers light (type), the lens or aperture size, focal ratio (f), and the look of the telescopes. Price-wise, if you are wondering which telescope to buy? You can see the latest prices by clicking on ‘View’ . This will also give you more details on any best rated telescopes. Definitions of the features are given farther down.

Product Image Type  Aperture f Price Rating
Celestron 127EQ
PowerSeeker
  Newtonian Reflector with equatorial mount  5″ 7.9 View  4.1 stars
Celestron 31042
AstroMaster 114 EQ
  Reflector with equatorial mount  4½” 8.8 View  4.0 stars
Celestron 21035
70mm Travel Scope (good telescope for kids)
   Refractor  2¾” 5.7 View  3.9 stars
Celestron 21045
114 mm EQ PowerSeeker
  Newtonian Reflector with equatorial mount  4½” 7.9 View  4.0 stars
Orion 10015 StarBlast
4.5 Astro
  Dobsonian Reflector  4½” 4 View  4.2 stars
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST   Reflector with equatorial mount 5″ 5 View  4.3 stars

See our suggestion for the top rated telescope for the money – click here.

You’ll notice that I’ve listed four Celestron telescopes. 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. >>> 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. But remember…the best telescope is the one that you will use.

1. Types of optical telescopes

There are three main types of optical telescopes: reflector, refractor, and catadioptric.

  • The reflector is a reflecting telescope. It uses mirrors to gather light and reflect the image.
  • The refractor is a refracting telescope. It has a series of lenses to capture light and reflect the image.
  • The catadioptric combines reflecting and refracting. A Maksutov-Cassegrain is a catadioptric type.

2. Aperture size

One of the main features to consider in a telescope is the aperture size. What is it? It is the diameter of the primary light-gathering lens or mirror. The sharpness and brightness of the view improve with the size of the aperture.

3. Focal ratio (f)

The focal ratio represents the speed of the telescope’s optics.

4. Mounts

Two different telescope mounts:

EQ (Equatorial mount)

A single axis mount that allows the telescope to follow a particular object with the Earth’s rotation.

Altazimuth

Allows for manual tracking of objects with the Earth’s rotation on a two-axis basis.

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.

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

You need to think of whether to restrict your purchase to the low end of the range, i.e., the best telescope under 100 dollars, or to spend that bit more. Again…what’s a good telescope to buy? You may want to go to the higher end of the range. But at the end of the day, 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?

In regard to the best telescope to see planets: 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 …and, one with a focal ratio of f/6 – f/10.

3. Location

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

4. Astrophotography

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.

Using Binoculars

Binoculars are the most cost-effective way for a beginner to start stargazing, other than with 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

What to choose? 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.

See More on the Nikon 8248 10×50 Binoculars

You can try stabilizing the binoculars using a table or a fence to brace yourself. A better way is to attach the binoculars to a camera tripod. There are a few options in mounts for with attaching these.

A universal mount that I like, Snapzoom, suits a wide variety of binoculars and is the type you need is you have binoculars without a threaded tripod socket. It has a standard ¼” screw thread. Find Out More and the Latest Price of the Snapzoom here. It might look like the binoculars will slip out but the base is padded and slip resistant and the strap will hold enough tension.

 

Things to Know

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? You can check out my article on the designated and best known dark locations for stargazing.

Otherwise, you can try and find a good spot by searching for ‘the best stargazing spots {your location}.’ For example, you might search for the best stargazing spots in Victoria, Australia.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Reviews of Beginner Telescopes

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 top buys in these beginner telescope reviews.

#1. Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope

Specs of this telescope:

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.

Possibly, the best telescope for beginners…

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.

Recommended add-ons:

A cell phone adapter mount, like this Gosky universal cell phone adapter mount:

Find out more about the cell phone adapter mount.

#2. Celestron 31042 AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector Telescope

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.

Specs:

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

#3. Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope

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

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 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.

A 50 mm version is also available.

Specs:

Type: Refractor
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

#4. Celestron 21045 114mm Equatorial PowerSeeker Telescope

Could be regarded as the best budget telescope.

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.

Specs:

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×

#5. Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope

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.

Specs:

Type: Dobsonian reflector
Aperture size: 114 mm (4½”)
Optics type: Parabolic
FL: 450 mm
f: 4
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

#6. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

This one is over the $200 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, 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.

Specs:

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

Final Thoughts

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. Or perhaps, you have a recommendation for the best telescope under 500 dollars.

Further info sources

https://www.spaceweather.com/

https://hubblesite.org/

Related:

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Hi, I’m Jeff Madden. I’m an enthusiast of the wide open spaces. I’ve had over 15 years experience in presenting spatial data and I find it valuable to research and compare the latest technology available. I hope you find my comparisons on the performance of technology useful for exploring and capturing visuals of the outdoors.

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