Using a telescope to gaze towards the skies is no easy feat for a novice. The first challenge you’ll run into is picking the right telescope best suited for your needs and budget.
Not sure what that is yet?
You will by the end of this!
To help you navigate the starting process of buying a telescope, it would be helpful to know a few things.
What telescopes make it easy for beginners to learn?
What are the must-have features in a beginner telescope?
Learning the answer to these questions will provide a good sense of what will work for you.
Best Beginner Telescope
First, what defines a beginner?
There are no hard and fast rules, however, acceptable definitions would include a complete novice to telescopes or someone who has been using one for a while, but still considers themselves an amateur.
Telescopes designed for beginners are elementary in features and handling. This type of quality is what is often determined as beginner quality or entry-level. They should be easy to use, affordable, and of reasonable quality to provide reasonable results.
Are beginner telescopes kid’s toys or junk scopes?
There are products where manufacturers have taken shortcuts to provide a fast-selling, mediocre telescope that is no better than a small pair of binoculars. However, not all beginner scopes fall into this category, and seeking guidance in gathering your shortlist may be necessary to pick out the good ones.
Some telescopes in this list will be on the pricier end for those who desire better quality for their first-time buy or for those who still consider themselves beginners but have some, although, limited experience with telescopes. Others will be inexpensive to provide maximum cost-effectiveness for those who are on a tight budget or are undecided if they will stay motivated with the hobby and want to spend as little as possible.
The Best Beginner Telescope In 2020 Reviews
1. SkyWatcher Traditional 8” Dobsonian
For beginners wanting to start off big and strong, a Dobsonian will be the best way to go. You get more bang for your buck aperture-wise, and it comes with handling simplicity.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Easy to use
✔️ DSO viewing
Dobsonians are popular as first-time buys because they’re incredibly easy and simple to use with large apertures. With 8” of aperture, you’ll be able to see a lot more of the night sky including faint objects that you can’t see with smaller telescopes. Yes, you can see planets, galaxies, nebulae, and hundreds of star clusters with good seeing conditions.
Optically, it has great color fidelity, contrast, and crisp views. With a medium-fast focal ratio of f/5.9, the parabolic mirror is appreciated and proves to be a worthy feature. However, 8” Dobs are incredibly heavy and the base outweighs the tube. Consider the SkyWatcher Dobsonian if you have the space to store and transport it, and if you can handle carrying and mounting the tube alone or if you’ll have someone else to help.
While you will have to collimate the Dob due to the nature of its design, and it will be a learning process, it remains easy-to-use. It has alt-azimuth movement, so you can loosen a knob to move the tube up/down and swivel the base to move it left/ right. It doesn’t get easier than that – just the kind of telescope a beginner needs.
2. Celestron StarSense Explorer DX102 AZ
The StarSense Explorer telescope is a popular model among beginners. It’s a refracting telescope that uses smartphone technology to eliminate some of the most frustrating challenges for newbies.
Pros & Cons
✔️ StarSense tech
✔️ Slow-motion control
✔️ Limited astrophotography
❌ Need new accessories
First off, you have a refractor telescope, so you have the benefits of little to no maintenance with a closed tube. It’s on the larger end for a refractor with 102 mm of aperture that would be equivalent to an unobstructed 4” reflector through a scope with good, wide fields of view. As a refractor, you can use the scope for both celestial and terrestrial viewing.
The Celestron telescope has an alt-azimuth mount on a tripod with slow-motion controls for both axes. The StarSense technology allows you to download the app, dock your smartphone in place, and use app features to explore the night sky, know when an object is visible through the eyepiece, and more. This may be extremely helpful to you if you have no idea where to start looking and how to identify what you’re looking at.
The StarSense telescope is not an astrophotography telescope unless modifications are made. If you wanted to take photos with your smartphone, you must have another smartphone to use as you cannot remove your phone from the dock without disabling the technology.
Unfortunately, the included accessories aren’t the best. It’s likely you’ll be needing replacement upgrades very soon. If you’re dedicated to your newfound hobby, it will be a justifiable and worthwhile investment.
3. Orion StarBlast 6 Astro
The StarBlast 6 Astro is a fast telescope with good fields of view through a 6” parabolic primary mirror. It’s probably priced higher than what you were thinking of spending for a first-time telescope, so here’s why it’s worth considering.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 6” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ Tabletop design
❌ No collimation tools included
One of the best features about the StarBlast is the parabolic primary mirror with its f/5 specs. Viewing should be clear, crisp, and color-true as rays come to the same focal point after bouncing off the parabolic-shaped surface. This means no blurring and better focusing quality.
The Orion scope is extremely user-friendly because of its compact, lightweight, tabletop design. Additional portability benefits will depend on what you choose to place the scope on – you have control over that.
The mount and base come preassembled which takes some of the hard work out of the equation. Collimation tools are not included to collimate the scope which it will likely need at some point due to its design. So, put aside extra cash for a cap or laser.
With a good size mirror, total light weight of 25 lbs, and an easy-to-use Dobsonian-style tabletop mount, the StarBlast 6 Astro is well-suited to a beginner who has the budget and wants quality views out of their first-time buy.
4. Celestron NexStar 4SE
Are you looking for GoTo with both AZ and EQ movement? The NexStar 4SE offers a large aperture for beginners but restrictive fields of view. But, if you must have GoTo and want to take advantage of high-power with great imaging quality, this telescope should be a serious consideration.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Built-in wedge
✔️ Limited astrophotography
❌ Requires firmware updates
The NexStar is a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. In short, you get a short-tubed, high-powered, somewhat aberration-free optical system. It’s a “slow” telescope with a focal ratio of f/13 which restricts the field of view, but it provides better high-power quality since it’s paired with a decent-sized 4” aperture.
You’ll have a NexStar hand controller to control the mount in alt-azimuth motion for visual use. If you want to try tracking objects while experimenting with taking photos, use the convenient built-in wedge to achieve EQ movement and to polar align the scope.
The NexStar has portability under its belt. Much of this is thanks to its Mak-Cass design where it has a short tube length. Total weight of the setup is 23 lbs (approx.). There isn’t any place you can’t get to with the NexStar 4SE in hand.
But, if you want GoTo, you must be prepared to deal with firmware issues. They can be fixed by updating and downloading the latest versions online, but that takes preparation and time. Think of it this way – you can’t have GoTo unless you’re willing to do what’s necessary to make the most of it. You got this!
5. Meade ETX 80 Observer
If you already have a telescope, but you’re limited in skills because you’d like to try your hand at GoTo without spending too much money, you may want to test out the Meade ETX 80 Observer.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Wide fields
Now here is a good example of small-size refractors getting the job done. The ETX is easy to care for, even easier to setup, and ridiculously easy to transport. It’s small, lightweight, and the optical system is closed.
For a small-size refractor, it is a little pricier due to the GoTo. The ETX 80 comes with a dual-axis motor with the AudioStar hand controller. The scope can automatically point towards objects to eliminate the hassle of trying to find it yourself.
The mount moves in alt-azimuth, so there is no ability to eliminate field rotation from the equation when tracking sky objects. What makes this model desirable is its nice focal ratio of f/5, so you’ll be able to take some unguided, short exposure pictures with the right setup with wide fields of view.
The tripod is very lightweight which is good for portability benefits especially since you can pack it into a backpack. But, you compromise steady viewing during especially strong breezes which affects seeing quality. You’re not at a loss though since it can be mounted to a different tripod.
If you must have GoTo and you’re partial to refractors, the Meade telescope fits the bill – literally too.
6. Orion AstroView 90
The AstroView 90 is a complete package with an EQ mount with slow-motion control allowing for limited astrophotography capability. While this type of setup isn’t usually recommended for beginners, many want to dabble with taking photos anyway. Here’s a how a novice gets it done.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Achromatic doublet
✔️ EQ mount
✔️ Limited astrophotography
❌Not for serious astrophotography
What attracts buyers to the AstroView is the refractor design and EQ mount. The scope has a doublet optical assembly that helps to better correct for aberrations that refractors struggle with, such as chromatic aberration and it does a decent job of it.
When it comes to imaging/photography, things are a little more complicated. Even though you have an EQ mount that helps to track objects in the sky to counteract for field rotation, it’s a manual mount. You will be limited to short exposures with the moon and possibly planets.
The mount’s payload capacity is 12 lbs and the OTA weighs 5 lbs. So, this model is best suited for smartphone astrophotography or a very lightweight webcam-style CCD camera setup for the moon and planets.
As a beginner, you won’t be taking a lot of pictures, but limited capability is there. The EQ mount will be extremely helpful to keep objects within the field of view with slow-motion control. Views are great on a refractor at this price point and there’s little maintenance required.
7. Meade Infinity 70 AZ
Incredibly popular and known across the board, the Meade Infinity 70 earns a spot as a good beginning telescope. With a solid reputation regardless of its flaws, the Infinity is dependable, and you can get it for a good price.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Slow-motion control
❌ A lot of plastic
Either an experienced astronomer started with an Infinity or has at least had their hands on one. It’s a telescope known and used by many. The 70 mm model is a refracting telescope with a slightly faster ratio of f/10 versus the f/12 or f/13 of other similar models. It helps to make the field of view somewhat wider and reasonable for many types of astronomical viewing.
The Infinity comes with a bunch of accessories for your telescope. Of note, this includes a Barlow lens, Amici prism diagonal, and software DVD. The Amici prism allows you to have correct-orientation images for viewing land-based targets, and its 90-degree angle allows for angling comfort when viewing objects in the sky.
The mount is your simple AZ mount, and it comes with a slow-motion control rod to make fine adjustments. There is quite the number of plastic parts and accessories in this package, but that’s what helps to shave cost and weight for the buyer. With some TLC, there’s no reason you can’t use this as a family telescope for recreational observations when the mood strikes at home or out of the city.
8. Celestron AstroMaster 70 AZ
The AstroMaster 70 is one of the more reasonable buys in the market as a low-priced telescope. Staying budget conscious while finding must-have features is delivered right here.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Adjustable tripod
❌ Light-duty mount
Even though the 70 mm isn’t a large size, it is a refracting telescope. The closed optics, minimal maintenance, and dual-purpose land/sky viewing benefits may be exactly what a beginner is looking for. It can be used as a spotting scope for multiple land-based activities immediately because it comes with an erect image diagonal.
With 70 mm, only the brightest objects can be seen. Beginners should start with the moon and planets, and fortunately, the AstroMaster delivers good seeing with the compromise of a narrow field of view.
The tube is topped on an alt-azimuth mount with one panning handle. It’s very basic in function and suffices for elementary use, but you may want to consider an upgrade down the road if you’re not ready to buy a new telescope by then.
As it is, the entire setup is extremely lightweight weighing in at 11 lbs (approx.). Optical performance can be improved under dark skies. Since it’s an affordable and easy to use telescope, it can be used by the entire family because the tripod is adjustable in length. The AstroView earns recommendation from the masses.
9. SkyWatcher SkyMax 127
Why would a telescope that requires a beginner to purchase a tripod and mount separately be recommended to a newbie? Good question! While the SkyMax 127 may seem like it’s far out of a beginner’s skill level and budget, you may be surprised to find that you’re the type of “beginner” that may just pull the trigger on it.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Large aperture
✔️ Planetary champ
✔️ High power
❌ Requires self-motivation to learn
If you’ve had some experience with telescopes and are looking for that quality upgrade while you still consider yourself an amateur, this could be the type of investment you need.
As a standalone buy, you must purchase a mount separately, but this also gives you the ability start making independent decisions to acquire the type of scope setup you want. It has a Vixen-style dovetail bar, so it will fit many modern AZ and EQ mounts with this type of mounting base.
The SkyMax has an upgrade-worthy 5” aperture. It’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, so the tube length will be short compared to its focal length. Even so, it’s still a slow telescope that performs well for high-powered viewing and imaging, and the 5” aperture can certainly handle it.
You’ll find there’s a lot more to explore in detail with the SkyMax, but it’s primarily known for its excellent planetary performance.
No user manual is included and as a standalone buy, you must be self-motivated to learn all about the necessary components that are required to achieve the setup you’re after. As the type of buy that will take you from beginner to intermediate level, be prepared for a challenge that results in ultimate buyer and performance satisfaction.
What to Look for in a Telescope for Beginners
When it comes to the best starter telescopes you need to determine the appropriate features, budget, and quality when looking for a telescope for a beginner? It comes with learning the basics first. If you know the terms and features of a telescope, you can compare between models and finalize on which is best for you based on informed decisions. Here’s where you start.
Basic Telescope Terms/Features
This is a quick-start to some common terms you will inevitably come across while looking for your first telescope or your next upgrade. You should be aware that this is not a comprehensive list and manufacturer terms are not universal. To get started, check out this short list.
- Alt-Azimuth Mount – Type of mount that allows vertical/altitude (up/down) movement and horizontal/azimuth (left/right) movement. Simple design. Easy to use. Often seen written as Alt-az, AZ, or altazimuth. Lightweight, portable, and requires little to no counterweights.
- Aperture – The diameter of the primary mirror or lens. Size determines how much light-grasp is possible. Larger apertures have greater light-grasp allowing visibility of faint objects. Smaller apertures have less light-grasp allowing visibility of only the brightest objects. Large or small, they have benefits and drawbacks.
- Astrophotography – Photographing celestial objects. Also used interchangeably with astro-imaging and imaging.
- Celestial Viewing – Used to describe telescope use for seeing or imaging objects in the sky, i.e. moon, Sun, planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, etc.
- Dobsonian – Type of reflecting telescope mounted on a swiveling base in alt-azimuth motion. Can offer large size at better price in aperture per inch versus refractor telescope. Often referred to as light-buckets.
- DSO – Deep-Sky Object. Formally used to refer to deep space objects outside of the Solar System. Loosely used to refer to objects other than the sun and planets. Can include nebulae, galaxies, star clusters, etc.
- Equatorial Mount – Type of mount that has a tilt to align to the Earth’s axis. Movement is described with the terms Declination (Dec) and Right Ascension (RA). The Dec axis allows movement North and South while the RA axis allows movement East and West. This type of mount compensates for field rotation by allowing tracking of objects with one motion. Also called German Equatorial Mount or GEM.
- GoTo – Type of technology that incorporates a dual-axis motor drive, internal computer, hand controller, and/or software to provide automatic, motorized, computerized functions.
- OTA – Optical Tube Assemblies. Also used to refer to the just the tube or its optical system.
- Reflector – Type of telescope that uses mirrors for the optical system. Can be made larger in aperture compared to refractors. Often used interchangeably with Newtonian or Newtonian Reflector.
- Refractor – Type of telescope that uses lenses for the optical system. Usually smaller in aperture size. Glass elements, lens assembly types, and coatings can be combined to improve optical performance.
- Seeing Quality – Loosely used term to describe the quality of views when contending with light pollution, atmospheric conditions, and sometimes the optical system’s effect on how well you can see objects with clarity, sharpness, and brightness.
- Terrestrial Viewing – Used to describe telescope use for seeing or imaging land-based targets in place of a spotting scope with correct image orientation.
- Tube – This is the physical component that houses the optical assembly. It’s the long, cylindrical part of the telescope that is usually made from a lightweight metal or carbon fiber.
How much do you spend on a telescope for a beginner? The maxim of “you get what you pay for” is often true in the optics world. The more you spend, the more quality you get. Usually, someone sets a budget and looks for a scope that fits it. This is the recommended route for a beginner as you will find you will always want something bigger, better, and the latest model released.
It’s best to get your hands on a ready-to-go telescope to help you develop basic, essential skills and knowledge. You’ll determine what you like, what you don’t, and what you want to have next time. For your next upgrade, you can justify spending more on a higher quality telescope.
Telescopes under $100 are not recommended if you’re looking for a long-lasting telescope you want to grow with. While they are fine for amateur use or for kids, they will be very limiting in size and performance.
Provide a budget of $100-$500 for a beginner’s telescope. It’s not a strict rule, but it provides a good variety of telescopes with various features that would work well for a beginner.
Refractor VS Reflector
Which is right for you?
In short, a refractor uses lenses and a reflector uses mirrors. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of optical designs. What you want to determine is how you will be using these optical systems and which one best suits your intended use.
A refractor is simple to use, has closed optics, and the primary lens does not move so it has very little need to be recollimated. Even though they do not come in larger sizes compared to reflector telescopes, many users prefer the ease, durability, and compactness of a refractor versus the increased light-grasp of a larger reflector. However, it does mean you may not be able to see as much as you could with a larger beginner’s telescope like a 4”-6” Dobsonian.
Excellent sharpness and contrast
No secondary obstruction
Collimation/maintenance almost not necessary
More expensive per inch in aperture
Smaller aperture means less light-grasp on faint objects
Reflector telescopes are very popular among beginners and even expert users. They’re easy to make, many advanced astronomers tend to build their own telescopes based on this design, and they’re more affordable than refractors.
You can get a larger aperture with a reflector, but you must accept central obstruction as an inherent flaw. They do have another hand up over refractors as they suffer little to no chromatic aberration. However, spherical aberration and coma are common among reflectors due to spherical and parabolic mirrors used. Hyperbolic and parabolic mirrors are the better type you want to see in a reflector.
They also require more maintenance and collimation. The optics are exposed, and the primary mirror can be misaligned due to bumps, rough handling, and the like. You must become comfortable with proper cleaning techniques and collimation.
Large aperture equals more light grasp
No chromatic aberration
Requires collimation and maintenance
Must look at mirror shape and specs to determine optical quality
You may find yourself catching a case of aperture fever. This is the desire to go bigger in size and who doesn’t want the increased light collection of a larger aperture? However, while a bigger aperture has a lot to do with seeing faint objects, the additional aspects of it may not fit your needs.
Small apertures between 70 mm to 152 mm (around 2.75” to 6”) are generally considered highly portable and lightweight telescopes. The larger in size you go, the less portable it becomes. Convenience of transporting a telescope and ease of setup/take-down and the time it takes can either add or retract from the entire experience. A large aperture may provide worthwhile and satisfying views, but you must consider portability and setup aspects.
Larger apertures with use of high magnification are likely to show aberrations more noticeably unless the telescope has technologies, features, or accessories to reduce them which is often costly. They’re also more sensitive to atmospheric conditions and heat currents. Larger mirrors may also require more maintenance such as collimation as the primary mirror may misalign more often. Hence, models usually 10” and larger are not recommended for beginners.
Beginners are usually recommended to start off with a smaller telescope as they’re portable, easier to handle, and are affordable.
What is the Best Type of Telescope for Beginners?
The best type of telescope for beginners is a scope that is easy to use, provides good seeing quality, is portable, and fits the budget. While GoTo is a nice feature to play with, I would recommend it for a user who has some experience with manual scopes and wants to purchase an inexpensive GoTo as an upgrade.
A high recommendation for avid beginners would be a Dobsonian. Yes, they may require a little more maintenance, but the base is easy to use, the larger aperture with a parabolic or hyperbolic optical system could provide the type of views that will keep your passion for astronomy burning.
However, if collimation and weight concern you, a refractor would be the best option for a beginner as it requires very little user-maintenance, is lightweight and compact, and usually provides stellar optical quality with the compromise of chromatic aberration.
What is a Good Entry Level Telescope?
A quality, entry-level telescope must have a good OTA and an equally good mount/tripod. You may have excellent optics but if the mount isn’t up to par, you won’t be able to use your telescope to its maximum potential regardless if it’s a refractor or a reflector.
Since mounts can often be just as or more expensive than an OTA itself (for a standalone OTA), and then there’s the decision in which type of mount you want (AZ, EQ, GoTo), and dependability concerns over a tripod. A Dobsonian could be the simple solution. It has basic alt-azimuth movement with a base that sits on the ground. Super easy to use and depending on the size, it may already come preassembled making it that much easier for the beginner.
While many entry-level scopes are comparable in quality when they’re in the same budget range, you’ll want to look for a package that has quality accessories to allow instant viewing out of the box.
How Much does a Decent Beginners Telescope Cost?
A decent beginner’s telescope should not be less than $100 and that’s quite low, although, there are some gems that are the exception to the rule. The better telescopes that would provide excellent performance for a beginner will be around $300-$500 and that may very well be more than you’re ready to spend.
The middle ground is where you want to be if you want to get your taste buds wet without breaking the bank. If you can spend around $150-$400, you should be satisfied with your buy.
Telescopes aren’t toys!
They’re scientific instruments, so they’re not going to be as cheap as you may have imagined.
Invest in as much as you’re willing to get out of it with reasonable expectations since you’re new to using telescopes and you’ve yet to determine what you want and what features are important to you.
If you have the time and opportunity to do so, check out what your local clubs recommend and what other astronomers are using in your area.
If you can answer the question of what you want to look at, you’ll have a much easier time determining what it is you need that will allow you to do that.
As a result, it’s buyer satisfaction all the way.