How do you scratch the surface when there are so many types of telescopes in this price range?
You nail down what it is you like and what you want to see in your next telescope.
Once you’ve determined what type of scope you want, you can narrow down your search even more by area of interest by looking at the specs of the telescope.
$1000 is a generous budget for a quality telescope that will last a long time.
So, the question remains.
Do you know what it is that you want?
With the market in the palm of your hand, here are some great telescopes that you can afford with a brief buying guide on what to look for.
Best Telescopes Under $1000 In 2021
Spending between $500 and $1000 is not sound advice for a beginner looking for their first-time buy.
In the beginning, a newcomer to the hobby isn’t yet sure what they want to see in a telescope, and in all likelihood, they will want to test the waters with an inexpensive model.
Who is this price range for?
In this context, a beginner would be considered an amateur that has a little bit of experience and is looking for an upgrade for their second telescope buy to gain more seeing quality and further develop some skills.
Intermediate and advanced users will often buy at this price point because it offers a good aperture size without compromising too much on cost, portability, and features.
Fulfilling these needs can be done because you will see large aperture Dobsonians, semi-APO and APO refractors, standalone refractors, SCTs, and more. You’ll see more variation with heavy-duty manual mounts, PushTo, and GoTo.
Naturally, you have some self-evaluation questions to answer in order to determine which type of scope in this price range will work for you. To help out with the work cut out ahead, here is a lineup of notable telescopes.
Best Telescopes Under $1000 Reviews
1. Zhumell Z12 Deluxe
The Zhumell Z12 is an excellent Dobsonian with a monster aperture and tame price tag. The larger the aperture, the larger the price tag, but the Zhumell has great value and a ton of potential.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 12” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ Cooling fan
The Zhumell is a big telescope. It has a 12” mirror, so it’s not designed for portability in the same way a 6” or 8” is, and it’s not even in the same league as a 4.5”. Surprisingly, the entire assembly still weighs under 100 lbs. Really, it should be setup in a place where you can leave it specifically for observations while it’s sheltered from the elements. Think personal dome, perhaps?
As a Dobsonian telescope, it consists of a Newtonian on a swiveling base. The primary mirror has a paraboloid shape and is collimatable. If you’re transporting it, you’ll probably need to collimate it more often than not – natural consequence of a Newtonian and its large size.
Speaking of consequences of a large size, it’s prone to longer cool down time, so warm mirrors might be a problem with other scopes. This one? Not so much since it comes with a cooling fan.
Optically, it’s a fast scope with a ratio of f/5, so wide-angle observation is the name of the game. At low power, there is visible coma but nothing a coma corrector can’t correct.
With the Zhumell scope, you’ll soon understand why observing DSOs and seeing planets is an obsession. If you think you’ve been wowed before, you’re about to learn what the WOW factor really is.
2. Orion ED80T CF Triplet APO
There’s a lot going on with the Orion APO telescope, and it’s definitely worth the buy. Without an included mount or even cheap accessories, why the praise? Let the scope speak for itself.
Pros & Cons
✔️ APO refractor
✔️ ED glass
✔️ CF tube
✔️ Excellent thermal management
❌ Tube only
The Orion telescope offers a rather small aperture for the money, but this is not news. What you can see through the aperture is optical perfection from a refractor. The investment that you put into this telescope will be worth the cost. It’s a true APO refracting telescope with ED glass. Fantastic control of chromatic aberration is its primary benefit. This is the type of optical quality you want if you’re making serious moves into imaging.
Not only does the optical system promise and deliver a lot, the tube material itself says quite a bit about how it will perform and affect optical performance. The CF stands for carbon fiber and it’s more than just a pretty face for housing the optics. It has weight-shaving and thermal management benefits.
As such, it’s incredibly lightweight weighing in at under 6 lbs. It can be mounted to Vixen dovetail mounts, and of course, with an APO you’re pretty much obligated to top this baby on a GoTo GEM.
Since it’s a tube-only telescope purchase, you’ll need to have a very generous budget to acquire necessities to get observing and imaging. This is what commitment looks like at $1000 bucks!
3. Explore Scientific AR152
Are you specifically looking for a tube-only telescope to put atop a mount of your choice? Are you looking for exceptional viewing quality and not so much astrophotography abilities? The Explore Scientific AR152 may be for you.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 152 mm aperture
✔️ Achromat doublet
✔️ Wide field of view
✔️ Accessories included
❌ No ED glass
At first glance, this refractor is pretty expensive even as a standalone buy. It’s an achromatic doublet with low dispersion qualities, but it lacks ED glass that would bump it up a notch with semi-APO quality. What makes up for it? The large 6” aperture – pretty huge for a refractor.
It’s a fast telescope and provides wide fields as its shining benefit. Large DSOs can fit within the eyepiece, and if you can get past the CA (chromatic aberration) or use accessories to minimize it, you can even do some imaging.
Standout features of the AR152 are its included accessories which are actually very good – nice to see quality accessories for a change. Additionally, this refracting telescope is collimatable for the just-in-case times you find you’ll need to perform collimation.
The Explore Scientific telescope is a winner in many astronomer’s books. It may just be a winner for you too.
4. SkyWatcher EvoStar ED80 Pro
The EvoStar ED80 Pro is a what I call a standalone buy – you’ll only receive a telescope tube and will have to buy a mount separately. This is one of those catch-22 telescopes in this price range because you’re spending a heck of a lot on a telescope tube and you still have to shell out for a mount. Is it worth it?
Pros & Cons
✔️ Compatible with Vixen dovetails
✔️ Accessories included
❌ Tube only
Standalone tubes are usually aimed towards astrophotographers or those looking to customize their setup with a mount and other accessories of their choosing for their specific needs. This is one of those buys. They’re usually high-quality, offer semi-APO or APO optical assemblies, and provide excellent control of optical aberrations. Fortunately, all this is true of the EvoStar ED80 Pro.
It’s a refractor with an achromat doublet assembly but also with ED glass, hence the semi-APO terminology. It has good control of chromatic aberration and provides a fairly flat field for visual. Since it’s just an 80 mm refractor, it’s very lightweight at less than 10 lbs.
What makes this buy different to other similar alternatives is that it comes with a bunch of accessories. This helps to justify the higher price. It has a Vixen-style dovetail bar that is compatible with the same mount systems, so AZ or EQ is completely up to you.
Of course, as a semi-APO, it’s a great entry-level scope for getting started in professional imaging. You’ll need an EQ GoTo mount to provide computerized tracking, and since it’s a medium-fast speed scope, you can experiment with exposures. Add some additional accessories and you may be able to dabble with long exposures and autoguiding.
This SkyWatcher telescope is a good start into imaging with a refractor. If you’re ready to build your imaging setup, start with this scope.
5. Celestron Omni XLT 120
The Omni XLT 120 is a good example of a quality refractor at the lower end of this price range. With an EQ mount and a doublet optical system, what should you expect performance-wise?
Pros & Cons
✔️ 120 mm aperture
✔️ Achromat doublet
✔️ CG4 mount
✔️ Limited astrophotography
❌ Visible CA
The Omni XLT is a great refractor to own. As far as its optical speed goes, it’s sort of a general-purpose telescope that can get you good views of DSOs and planets. Since it’s a refractor, it has all the benefits of a refractor telescope that include a closed tube, little maintenance, and dual-purpose performance since it can be used to observe terrestrial targets too.
It’s an achromat doublet, so there is already some low dispersion benefits to help reduce CA, unfortunately, you’ll still see some of it since it lacks ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. Not a big deal at all for visual use but can be irksome for imaging.
There will be imaging limitations. It has a CG4 mount which is a great mount to have, and it’s a GEM with noticeable upgrades from the CG3 or EQ2 mounts seen in inexpensive models. But, since it’s a manual model, all the tracking adjustments will be left up to you and is not conducive with long exposure and guided astrophotography.
As is, the Omni XLT is a great buy. It has a good size aperture, a solid mount, and EQ movement to track targets. On the lower end of this price range, it’s a scope that is well worth consideration.
What to Look for in a Telescope Under $1000
If beginner budgets are somewhere around $100-$400, then we’re entering mid-level quality with telescopes under $1000 bucks. Scopes in this price range have great quality, large apertures, and offer additional features that can only be found at this price point and higher.
What are those features and how do you know if it’s worth it?
Enter here: Buying Guide.
Telescope Type Variety
There are a lot of telescopes types available in this price range. What should you expect by telescope type?
Refractors don’t get very large in size, so you’ll still see 80 mm scopes and possibly see them as large as 152 mm at this price point. They should have better quality glass coatings as a minimum. You will see achromat doublets, ED glass, and semi-apo refractors. If you see an APO (apochromatic) refractor for under $1000, it’s likely a standalone buy, meaning, it’s just the telescope tube without a mount and accessories.
Dobsonians provide the best value in this price range when it comes to reflecting telescopes. You will see them with apertures of 8” to 12”. You may also see Dobsonians with GoTo or collapsible tubes.
Reflecting telescopes have larger apertures than refractors and offer more value per inch in aperture. They should have higher quality mirror coatings, have parabolic primary mirrors, and the mirrors must be collimatable.
You can also judge overall value with the included accessories and expect a bit more in quality from them for the price point. They should come with solid and reliable mounts. Large apertures, usually around 10”+, should have cooling fans or a tube that is compatible for attaching a fan.
For $1000, you’ll see SCT (Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes) and Mak-Cass (Maksutov-Cassegrain) telescopes. They use a combination of lenses and mirrors and are categorized as catadioptric or compound telescopes.
They have much longer focal lengths with slow focal ratios, so they tend to be good for planetary viewing and imaging. They have many attractive benefits, and you must be prepared to see that they’re usually smaller in aperture than a reflector. If they can match aperture size to a reflector, they can be very expensive.
You should expect more from a mount system in this price range. You may be going up in aperture, and you’ll need a mount that can support the tube’s weight and length. You may also be attempting astrophotography, and a mount that can support imaging equipment and GoTo are legitimate considerations. Here’s what to expect.
Not every astronomer wants to image or deal with the hassles and expense of having additional features like GoTo. A simple mount with smooth motion may be all you need to acquire excellent visual observations through a $1000 scope.
Both alt-az (alt-azimuth) and EQ (equatorial) mounts in this price range should be smooth to use, have some good rigidity to them, and be rock-solid in stability and performance. Quality bearings, no plastic, and slow-motion controls are standard expectations.
Tripods should be at an appropriate height and should not wobble at full length. Typically, you’ll see 20 lb payload capacities at the cheaper end of this price point and this is okay for visual-only use.
Push To is a cross between manual slewing and GoTo intuitiveness. Instead of using a motor, you manually slew the tube to an object. How you find the object is with computer control, for example, a smartphone or other convenient device like a tablet or laptop.
A Push To kit can be purchased separately and installed on a telescope like a Dobsonian. Some systems use wireless magnetic encoders for the module to communicate with the electronic device. So, you get the benefits of knowing where to slew and aim the telescope from the device, but you also have the simplicity of manual movement.
To clear up some confusion, having GoTo doesn’t always mean that you can take photos. It simply means that the telescope comes with a computerized motor drive so that you don’t have to slew the scope manually. This can be helpful to beginners who don’t know where to look or how to find objects.
While many of the software and firmware applications may be the same between various models of the same manufacturer, most of the differences will lie within the mechanical functions and quality of the mount.
What is the payload capacity? Can it support the needs of imagers? Can it be polar aligned to track objects? Do you need an equatorial wedge? Can the telescope be slewed manually?
These are all things to think about when you’re considering GoTo mounts.
Know Your Specs
The specifications of a telescope and mount are incredibly important to know if you have specific astronomy goals.
If the aperture isn’t large enough, you may not be able to push for high magnification or see faint objects. If the focal length is too fast, it may not be a planetary performer.
You’ll also learn the dimensions of a telescope setup in the specs.
Is it short enough to fit in your car?
Is it too heavy to setup alone?
Do you need a truck or even a dolly to move it from point A to point B?
The specs vary in this price range as they do in other price ranges, so it’s less about price and more about user preference.
Area of Astronomy Interest
Knowing the specs goes hand in hand with identifying your area of interest.
Terrestrial: If you’re just scanning the landscape, observing wildlife, or spotting groupings at the range, you should invest in a quality spotting scope. If you want to go between the skies and land-based targets, a refractor is the best type of telescope to choose from. An erect image diagonal will provide correct image orientation.
Moon: Any telescope can see the moon. It’s a very bright object and you may need a moon filter to help dim the brightness to see surface details.
Sun: Any telescope can see the sun, and obviously you can’t look at the sun through an unfiltered telescope even if it costs $1000 bucks. Serious injury and even blindness can occur. You can observe eclipses and perhaps see solar features with the right, certified solar filters. They come in different versions, sizes, and are made for refractors, reflectors, and Cassegrains. Truss rod and collapsible Dobsonians also require use of a light shroud in addition to a solar filter.
Planets: Planets are bright objects, but some planets like Jupiter and Saturn have very faint features. This calls for a telescope that can provide high magnification (although, you won’t want to overdo it) and a slow optical speed. Typically, this means a telescope that has a focal ratio of f/11 or higher. Catadioptric telescopes are popular choices for planetary observation and imaging. You can even take short, unguided planetary images with a planetary telescope on an alt-az mount.
DSOs (Deep Sky Object): Star clusters, globular clusters, emission nebulae, planetary nebulae, galaxies, and more! If these are your area of interest, you’ll need a large aperture. The larger size allows you to see bright, faint, and dark DSOs more clearly and with improved resolution. A focal ratio of f/5 and faster is very good for seeing and imaging DSOs because of the wide fields of view and higher contrast. Newtonians are often the best choice for seeking out more DSO detail because of their large sizes.
Astrophotography: Many prefer APO refractors for imaging and then others like large reflectors or catadioptrics with some modification to achieve focus. You’ll want a GEM (German equatorial mount) with GoTo, and if you’re doing long exposures, you’ll need a guider scope and appropriate accessories.
You may be able to land a telescope ready for imaging out of the box in this price range, but more often than not, it’s likely going to be a tube-only purchase and you’ll end up spending a lot more to acquire the professional setup you want.
What Brands Make the Best Telescopes in This Price Range?
The most popular brands consist of Celestron, Explore Scientific, Orion, Meade, and SkyWatcher. Some of their higher-end models are in this price range, but they are likely standalone (tube-only) buys.
Renown brands, like TeleVue, Vixen, and StellarVue to name a few, offer their versions of “entry-level” at a much higher price point than $1000.
Most generic and entry-level brands don’t compete in this price range as higher quality telescope systems are not their expertise. However, some brands like Zhumell provide a few options in this price range with good value and quality.
What Quality can I Expect From a $500-$1000 Telescope?
There is a significant quality jump in a telescope that costs $1000 and one that costs $400. The same can be said of a $500 telescope and a $1000 one. Again, it can be true of a $1000 tube-only buy versus a $1000 complete telescope package.
Knowing how to identify the difference comes down to knowing a thing or two about telescopes in general. Mounts will be mechanically better with more quality parts and less plastic. Precise GoTo systems with improved tracking ability comes into play, and higher-grade optical components and coatings are used.
You can’t just trust that because you’re paying more, you will get more in return. This may be a setup for disappointment. Learn the specs, understand features, and research the telescope components, and you’ll be prepared to tell the differences in quality between telescopes.
What can I See With a $1000 Telescope?
You should expect to see a whole more of the night sky with improved resolution and color fidelity versus a cheaper model. Overall optical and mount quality is significantly better than cheaper models.
As far as what objects can be seen with a $1000 telescope will depend on the specs. For example, if it’s a telescope designed for planetary observation, you’ll see incredible detail of a planet’s surface and features. However, it will have a narrow field of view that isn’t very compatible for seeking out large DSOs.
Understand that price isn’t indicative of having every visibility benefit in one telescope. Many advanced users have multiple telescopes each with a suited purpose. What price is indicative of is aperture size and optical and mount quality.
The hard part isn’t in using a $1000 telescope, it’s in deciding between all the great options out there. You want them all!
To avoid buyer’s remorse and feeling like you chose wrong the first time around, don’t gamble with your money by not being informed.
Just like a beginner must learn the basics on using telescopes, all astronomers should look to what upgrades are expected in this price range. With that in mind, you can choose right the first time around feeling like it was money well spent.