Computerized telescopes have been around for long time even though they consistently enter the consumer market at high prices.
Most will still have the same interface as a cheaper alternative that has been in use for 20-something odd years, although firmware updates are continually released to fix bugs and issues.
Therefore, it’s essential to recognize that when you’re considering a computerized telescope, overall quality still includes the optics and mount.
So, zooming in on not only the computerization of telescopes, but the overall quality of the entire setup, here’s what you need to know.
Researching Computerized Telescopes In 2020
A computerized telescope is a telescope and motorized mount that comes together in one package. Any telescope can be made “computerized” if they’re paired with an electronic system that includes a mount with motors, digital setting circles, and additional features that provides the automatic slewing and tracking.
So, what is “computerized” in this context?
It’s a term used to imply that a telescope has some form of electronic/digital assisted technology. This can be in the form of Push-To and GoTo. They both come with a computer interface that allows assisted use with push-button control from a remote called the hand controller.
The controller has a pre-loaded interface with data and features that tells the scope what to do. Most GoTo mounts will allow connection for use with applications and software to run the mount directly from a smartphone, tablet, or computer, or to simultaneously use image processing, planetary, and other types of software.
With that definition down, you should have a better idea of what is entailed in this lineup. Time-honored and new scopes listed here are ordered from most expensive to the most affordable.
Let’s get down to business.
Best Computerized GoTo Telescope Reviews
1. Best Overall: Orion SkyQuest XX16g GoTo Truss Tube Dobsonian
The Orion SkyQuest XX16g is a truss rod Dobsonian with a massive aperture. With GoTo in the mix, it’s a king of king’s type of Dobsonian.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ 16” aperture
✔️ Collapsible Dobsonian
✔️ Servo motors
✔️ Wi-Fi enabled
Don’t expect such a design to be affordable. The aperture, collapsible truss rod design, and GoTo makes for an expensive package indeed. But when you can see DSOs that no other scope can resolve, it pays for itself – figuratively.
The XX16g has the works. Servo motors with dual encoders complete the closed loop electronics system so that you can slew manually without affecting GoTo alignment. Although it comes with the SynScan hand controller, the giant Dobsonian is WiFi-enabled to be connected to a computer and used with software for remote control.
The primary mirror has a specialized design to provide faster cool-down time, and secondary mirror obstruction by diameter is only 22%. You can fit large-degree, wide-field DSOs into view and see wispy and fine structural details and more resolution from any target within view.
But, even with its collapsible design, it’s still very heavy. You can mobilize this setup with additional equipment to make it easier, but if you have an adequate, permanent location, you won’t have to lug it around which is a valid concern for strength-challenged hobbyists.
While it’s not a replacement for your entire fleet of telescopes, it will likely be your largest. Enjoy the benefits of owning a 16” GoTo Dobsonian!
2. Best for Astrophotography: Celestron Advanced VX800 RASA
The Rowe-Ackermann Schmidt Astrograph. Expert engineering, specialized, and unbelievably fast. The RASA 8 is a telescope mounted to Celestron’s well-known Advanced VX mount. Imaging possibilities are wide open now.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For astrophotography
✔️ 8” astrograph
✔️ Specialized optics
✔️ GEM mount
❌ No visual use
The RASA series of telescopes can fairly be described as one of the fastest imaging telescopes in the market, if not the fastest, in its original state without accessories to modify it.
There are many things that contribute to its high performance and ultra-fast optical speed. A lot of it has to do with its inherent design for a camera to be placed at the front of the tube to engage the focal plane. To ensure things are up to par optically and to eliminate the need for a secondary mirror, a 4-element rare earth lens group sits in the secondary mirror position.
Because of this, you cannot use a DSLR camera and you cannot use this scope visually. It has a Feather Touch focuser, brass ball bearings on both axes, and a custom-designed LPR-style filter that fits the setup because all other filters won’t.
In the package buy, the RASA is paired with the Advanced VX mount which is an equatorial GoTo mount. If you’re already familiar with the NexStar+ platform, you’ll feel right at home.
This is no ordinary scope for new and timid hobbyists. This is an extraordinary telescope for the advanced astronomer who wants to add an astrograph to their setup. Serious imaging capabilities equals serious imaging results.
3. Explore Scientific First Light AR152 w/Exos 2
Been on the hunt for an f/5 refractor with a 6” aperture? The ES First Light AR-152 may be it. Pair it with the Exos 2 GoTo mount, and you have a motorized setup with all the attractive benefits of observing with a large aperture refractor.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ Achromat doublet
✔️ 2.5” hexagonal focuser
✔️ Exos 2 GT mount
✔️ 270,000+ database
152mm is big for a refractor and it’s an attractive size for aperture hunters who don’t want to limit their seeing with the central obstruction of a Newtonian or SCT. But even though you have a nice 6” objective lens, it’s only an achromatic doublet that could be concerning with its f/5 optical speed, but it can be a solvable problem.
The OTA comes with a large 2.5”focuser that features dual speed, drawtube tension adjustment, and a 1.25” compression ring. A polar finder with an illuminated reticle is included with the scope along with a smartphone adapter, Plossl eyepiece, and 2” 90-degree diagonal.
The mount is a Bresser Exos 2 GT mount with equatorial movement, DC servo motors, and dual bearing systems. Friction pads at the bottom of the 2” tube legs come standard with the tripod, the mount slews at a max speed of 2-degrees per second, and the entire mount/tripod feels beefy and robust with zero play and movement in its build.
As an entry-level series, it has the works of a mid-range setup, but it’s the price that gets you. Only those that are after the specs of this refractor on a GoTo mount will see this as a worthwhile buy.
4. Best for Under $2000: Celestron Advanced VX6 Refractor
It’s not the Advanced VX6 SCT but the refractor version. If a refractor appeals to you, this is the model within the series you want.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 152mm aperture
✔️ Advanced VX mount
✔️ Low maintenance
The Advanced VX 6 Refractor is a 152mm achromat doublet on the Advanced VX mount. The refractor is a great option for those who want a large 6” aperture from an optical system that doesn’t require collimation, has a closed tube, doesn’t suffer from secondary mirror obstruction, and the eyepiece and finder are always in a convenient position so you don’t have to rotate the tube.
Because its an achromat, there is the possibility of experiencing chromatic aberration. In that regard, the VX6 handles it exceptionally well partly due to the double element objective lens and longer focal length. These same features make it slightly less demanding on cheaper eyepieces too.
With the Advanced VX mount, you have equatorial movement with GoTo. The NexStar+ hand controller comes standard with the package, the tripod has 2” legs, and the mount has a 30 lb payload capacity. Conveniently, it has a USB port for modern connection to a laptop via a USB cable.
If a refractor is your telescope type of choice, go large and motorized with one of the best setups in the consumer market with the Advanced VX6 refractor.
5. Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo
It’s an expensive buy for a beginner, but it could serve you well if you want color-true, large aperture, tracking benefits of a Newtonian on an EQ mount.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ SkyView Pro EQ mount
✔️ Good accessories
❌ Light-duty mount
The SkyView Pro 8 is a Newtonian with an f/5 optical speed and a big 8” aperture. Newtonians offer better value per aperture versus refractors but they require more user maintenance like collimation, the risks associated with exposed optics, and the need to rotate the tube to get the eyepiece in a favorable position on an EQ mount.
Fortunately, you can work around those issues since it comes with a collimation cap and you can loosen the rings to rotate the tube. There are risks to bumping it out of alignment, but this is not a unique problem of the SkyView Pro.
The GoTo mount offers equatorial movement with stepper motors and a max slew speed of 3.4-degrees a second. The hand controller can get you aligned with a simple two-star alignment and it will know where you are to seek out objects within your area.
With an 8” aperture, you have the potential to see a more especially in light-polluted areas. Increased contrast, no chromatic aberration, and improved resolution is guaranteed.
6. Orion SkyQuest XT8i Intelliscope
The Orion SkyQuest XT8i is not a GoTo but a Push-To telescope setup. It’s still computer-assisted technology, so let’s see what that’s about.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ 9V battery
❌ Not GoTo
So, you love Dobsonians, but what can make them even better for helping you find all the deep space objects you want to see? Computerization. The 8” Newtonian has the easy-to-use rocker-box-style mount and no motors. It still has electronic tech via the hand control. This makes it different to GoTo but it still provides some level of “GoTo” assistance.
The hand controller provides directional arrows to help you know where to manually push the tube into place to find a target. It’s a very convenient technology because you’re still required to engage with tube positioning that provides enjoyment and learning at the same time.
Because there aren’t any motor drives, you’re not consuming as much power, so you can scratch having to buy a 12V DC power supply as an accessory. Expect a decent amount of observing time from a single 9V battery.
To computerize a Dobsonian without taking all the hard work and fun out of it, a push-to system is what you need.
7. Best Computerized Telescope for Beginners: Celestron NexStar 5SE
SCTs are planetary performers, lightweight and compact, and less demanding on cheap accessories. To lighten the load for traveling astronomers, the 5SE should be a serious consideration.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ 5” aperture
✔️ GoTo alt-az mount
❌ Need a 12V power supply
GoTos are hungry power hippos and the 5SE is no different. It may be small, but it has an appetite to the point where the 8x AA batteries just won’t be enough to satisfy it for an observation – let alone any imaging. You’ll need to budget another $75 or so for a battery bank.
The NexStar is an SCT and one of the smallest in this series. But with its smaller aperture comes a lighter weight and increased portability. This is must-have for the strength-challenged and for those who travel a lot but want more than 70 mm refractor.
It comes with GoTo via its computerized single fork arm mount with dual motors and the NexStar+ hand control. SCTs usually always come with fork arm mounts and so they are not EQ mounts by inherent design. But it does have a built-in wedge that will provide crude polar alignment.
Even though it’s an entry-level GoTo SCT, intermediate users will enjoy the lightweight platform for observing on the go. It’s what the 5SE has over its larger alternatives.
8. Best Under $500: Celeston NexStar 130SLT
The NexStar 130 SLT is a cheap GoTo setup and is extremely popular among new GoTo hobbyists on a budget. Are you new to GoTo and want to spend as little as possible? Listen up.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For visual
✔️ 5” Newtonian
❌ Light-duty mount
The NexStar 130 SLT is a Newtonian on a motorized alt-azimuth mount. Although it has GoTo, it’s a very basic system with some issues to be aware of. Regardless, you’re likely not doing any astrophotography with it, so some of its limitations do not apply when you’re using it for visual purposes.
To make it so affordable, it has a smaller aperture for a Newtonian, but it’s also what helps to keep this setup as lightweight as possible. The entire telescope system weighs less than 20 lbs fully assembled. Traveling with your telescope anyone? This may be the setup for you!
With great optics in the boot, you can observe more detail, do away with chromatic aberration that refractors are prone to having, and enjoy the sharp focus a parabolic mirror provides.
For the price, you can see why the NexStar 130 SLT is such a hit. If you want to learn how to collimate with a Newtonian, learn the night sky with GoTo, and keep everything at a manageable weight for travel, the Celestron SLT fits the bill.
What to Look for in a Computerized Telescope
In this section, we will focus on the mount and GoTo features as it’s what determines the computerized capability. Putting aside optics for now, this is what you should be looking for.
Optical Telescope Tube
Brief word to give you a head start in choosing the right OTA for your needs.
To pursue imaging, you can pair a GoTo mount with an astrophotography telescope. There are specific requirements to consider such as cost, optical speed, and additional accessories needed to get it done.
You don’t need GoTo to observe and even image planets, but it can keep them within your field of view and find them if you don’t know how. Planetary telescopes have the specs necessary to largen the image scale and bring more details into view. But computerized scopes will really shine when it comes to stargazing for DSOs or imaging them.
Computerized telescopes usually start around $500 and run up in cost into the thousands. There are some cheaper GoTos in the market, but you tend to get what you pay for.
Cheaper GoTos have smaller aperture OTAs, flimsy tripods, and low-quality worm gears that causes inaccurate tracking errors.
But to see if spending more is worth it, look for a higher quality OTA, specific motor types, worm gear quality, weight capacity loads, and other various features.
Manual VS GoTo
Manual telescope setups lack motors and digital tech that allows it to be used for any automatic or motorized benefits. Vibrations from manual slewing can also ruin the enjoyment of observations. However, they’re fun to use because they require the hobbyist to learn the night sky by star hopping, interpreting star charts, and understanding what it visible and in your part of the sky at that point in time.
Computerization benefits allow you to home in on targets and share it with others at observatories, stargazing parties, and with friends when productivity and time is of the essence.
While a beginner should learn the night sky with as much practice and research as they can, GoTo can be a great benefit in learning the night sky. You can understand setting circles and why accuracy is essential, locate DSOs that you would never have found on your own, and minimize scope vibrations and movement since the motors are doing the slewing for you.
Most importantly, computerized scopes can provide the performance you need to get into astrophotography, but not all GoTos are made equal, so not all computerized scopes are made for imaging.
Alt-AZ VS GEM GoTo Mount
The mount type can tell you a lot about potential performance and uses. A motorized alt-azimuth mount will still move in alt-azimuth – up/down, left/right. It’s completely adequate for visual-only use especially when it’s lacks GoTo, but it cannot track like an EQ does, so it cannot compensate for field rotation and cannot provide the performance needed for long-exposure astrophotography.
Alt-azimuth mounts are best for visual-use, and with the benefits of GoTo, you can do short exposure, unguided photography including some amateur planetary imaging.
German Equatorial Mounts (GEM) are like an alt-azimuth mount but on a tilt. That tilt provides movement that allows the scope to track a target while compensating for field rotation. With GoTo, it can locate a target and track it by keeping it within the field of view without the user having to manually adjust the RA axis.
GEM mounts with GoTo pick up where alt-az mounts leave off. They are best for deep-sky imaging and long exposure astrophotography.
Mount Load Capacity
The primary complaint with a computerized GoTo telescope package is that the OTA and mount are often mispaired. Quite commonly, the OTA is too undermounted with a light-duty mount. This is an immediate sign that it will not be a good choice for astrophotography. Vibrations tend to occur, weight loads are too low, and the gears in the motor are often strained by heavy loads causing inaccurate tracking.
To determine if an OTA is suited to the GoTo mount and the mount is suited to imaging is to get the weight specs of the OTA, have decent knowledge of the additional must-have accessories, and know the load capacity of the mount. The common advice is not to exceed 50% of the load capacity for imaging, although some very robust mounts and tripods can allow for up to 75%.
But not everyone is imaging. So, does weight still matter for visual-only use?
Yes. Some mounts can handle the entire weight of a load capacity if you’re only using the scope for visual. Flimsy mounts cannot and you will eventually get frustrated playing the waiting game as vibrations that occur from strong breezes, accidental bumps and nudges, focusing, changing out accessories, etc. will be seen through the telescope.
Light-duty mounts usually have a weight capacity of 20 lbs and less. Heavier-duty mounts can be 30 lbs plus. But it all comes down to how heavy your OTA and accessory load is.
You can have a 30 lb weight capacity mount which is great, but a 20 lb refractor telescope with a 1 lb finder, 1 lb dovetail, 1 lb tube rings, 1 lb focuser, and 0.5 lb eyepiece will almost max you out. Fine for visual, but add autoguiding, a DSLR camera, and any filters and you’re at or over max capacity causing strain on the mount which means possible inaccurate tracking and other issues that will mess with your exposures.
There are two types of motor drives on a computerized telescope: single or dual axis.
Single-axis drive are mounted to control only the right ascension axis while the declination axis is left non-motorized for manual up/down movement. This is adequate for casual observation.
Dual-axis drives are mounted on both the right ascension and declination axes. Adequate for visual and astrophotography. Simply having dual-axis motors on a telescope doesn’t make it a GoTo system even though most of us usually refer to it as GoTo anyway.
GoTo means that a telescope setup should have dual-axis motor drives and digital setting circles. These are the types of computerized telescopes that provide multiple benefits that have made this setup highly-desirable by imagers and serious observers.
Computerized telescopes need a power source to operate, after all, they are using an electronic system. You can skip this section if you’re only ever observing from home where you can run an extension cord to get plugged in.
GoTo requires a battery source that can vary between AA, D-cell, and 9V batteries. While battery life varies depending on usage, GoTo systems tend to suck them dry very quickly. When you add to that autoguiding, USB ports for other devices or topping up your smartphone, connection to a laptop, and perhaps a wireless module, you risk being left in the dark rather quickly.
Many setups come with car battery adapters – but who wants to suck the battery dry when you’re out in the middle of nowhere?
The best way to provide power to your GoTo system is with a separate purchase of a power supply such as a lithium ion battery bank or even a deep cycle battery. It does mean having to budget for an extra expense and may decrease portability benefits, but they last longer and provide the power you need to keep on powering through the night.
GoTo features are convenient and can cut down on tedious procedures. However, many GoTos don’t offer these features, and if they do, they’re more expensive than others.
- Backlash Compensation – The play, lag, and delay seen in telescope movement that stems from the drive gears. To compensate for backlash, the GoTo firmware allows for rewinding in the opposite direction to re-engage the gears and remove slack for accurate and smooth tracking.
- Encoders – There is much on this topic as there are different types, but to be brief, the encoders that most amateurs are interested in are encoders on both axes that allow for manual slewing without ruining the GoTo alignment. This is not typically a standard feature on most GoTo systems.
- Digital Setting Circles – Setting circles allow users to understand the right ascension and declination of where the telescope is pointed. Most mechanical setting circles on manual scopes are used for décor and offer no real value. Digital setting circles can be extremely accurate and are provided on an LCD display on the hand control of a GoTo telescope. With this type of setup, the mount can provide computer-assisted benefits in locating objects, especially hard to find ones.
- GPS – Allows you to achieve much faster initial alignment. You won’t have to realign every time you power on or change locations as it will know where you are in the world. This is almost always a separate purchase.
- Internal clock – Will automatically provide time and date for the location you set. Manually doing this can be a tedious step every time you power on the GoTo. Some computerized telescopes have it, but most do not. It’s an inexpensive upgrade to purchase separately.
- PEC – Periodic Error Correction. It corrects for the repeatable and predictable mechanical errors in tracking rates from a drive gear in a motor-driven telescope setup – a GoTo. This is essential for long-exposure astrophotography. Periodic error is worse in imprecise, low-quality, misaligned bearings. PEC corrects for PE by allowing the user to modify the rate of rotation of a worm gear usually by calculating a target’s drift over a number of worm gear revolutions, taking an average, and then correcting for it where and when it needs it.
Can you Connect a Telescope to a Computer?
You can connect a telescope to a computer in two ways. You can use the appropriate cable on the mount/hand controller to tether the telescope to the computer and gain control through software.
You can also use a camera in the eyepiece position to gain computer access, but it will not provide mount control as it only provides an image on the computer of what the telescope is seeing.
Do both and you have complete remote control of your telescope through your computer and you can bypass the hand controller. An RS-232 cable is usually required for this type of setup, but a mount with a USB port is the more up-to-date feature.
How do you use a Computerized Telescope?
You will learn as you practice with your setup, but it’s not difficult to get started for observation and you don’t have to have WiFi, computers, or cameras.
Set up the telescope and mount, provide the power, and turn it on. The hand control is how you gain access to all GoTo features.
You will use it to align the GoTo as the hand control will have different alignment procedures you can take advantage of. Use the directional buttons to access the menu and object database for automatic slewing to a specified target, slewing speeds, and more.
How can I Control my Telescope Remotely?
You can connect your mount to a computer to bypass the hand controller or get a wireless hand controller. Either way, you will need to connect it to a computer like a laptop.
You will also need to add a camera to the telescope, use a WiFi module or run an Ethernet cable, and you must have the right software.
Some people also incorporate another computer at a remote location to control the laptop with the telescope.
Should I Buy a GoTo Telescope?
It depends on what you’re doing with it and how you want to go about larning the night sky. GoTo telescopes are not usually recommended for beginners because many tend to think of them as a crutch.
While manual scopes have their advantages and are engaging to learn with, GoTo can make the learning curve easier, faster, and will provide enjoyment when you’re seeing objects that you can’t find on your own.
However, GoTo is expensive, and there is a lot to consider when you’re undecided on what features of GoTo are right for you. Fortunately, there is quite the variety of computerized telescopes in the market with varying levels of complexity and quality, and they can be a great option for a beginner as a first-time scope. If you’re wanting to get into astrophotography, a GoTo telescope setup is a must-have.
Computerized, motorized, GoTo. They’re all terms that we use interchangeably for the same thing – assisted telescope use.
To gain an understanding of what type of computerized telescope is right for you, evaluate your needs and your telescope intentions. With that, you can explore if a single-axis motor drive is all you need or if you need the works from a GEM mount to start long exposure astrophotography.
Either way, computerized scopes come at a greater cost than manual models. You will often trade aperture for high cost and motorized capabilities. If the pros outweigh the cons, your next observation may look very different – enjoy!