5 Best Telescopes Under $300 On The Market


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Are you a beginner or new to telescopes?

Are you looking for something that’s better than average?

Those looking to buy a telescope for around $300 are usually beginners buying a telescope for the first time.

But, the only way you’ll know if it’s worth spending this much is if you can spot key features that set it apart from a less expensive telescope.

Do you know what those telescopes or those features are?

Don’t worry! Here’s a list of scopes at this price point and a buying guide to get you clued-in.

Best Telescopes Less Than $300 In 2020

Best Telescope Under $300

To be completely honest, there’s not a whole lot of difference between $300 telescopes and cheaper models. Similarities will include aperture size, entry-level quality, and included accessories of mediocre quality. It’s sort of disappointing news, but there is a silver lining.

The good news is, there will be slight differences in quality and features that justify its price point, but it won’t be obvious to the brand-new buyer. This calls for a little research and self-taught education on the matter.

Here, you’ll learn what those features are and how optical quality in a $300 scope can be better than a $100-$200 one. It may make a difference in user satisfaction, but it will definitely make a difference in the way you shop for a telescope.

Before we jump the gun, here are some better considerations if you’re looking for a starter telescope with a little more quality than the average model on the shelves.

Best Telescopes Under $300 Reviews

1. Celestron AstroMaster 90 EQ

The Celestron AstroMaster 90 EQ is like a lot of similar telescopes in this lineup. It has an EQ mount, a 90 mm aperture, and some limited astro-imaging. Let’s get more specific about this model.  

Pros & Cons

✔️ 90 mm refractor

✔️ Dual-purpose

✔️ Slow-motion controls

✔️ EQ mount

✔️ Good for planets

❌ Mount limitations

The AstroMaster 90 EQ offers a large aperture for a refractor, and it’s standard for this price point. Considering that you can see DSOs with an 80 mm under dark skies, a 90 mm will improve resolution on smaller DSOs. But, this is more of a planetary telescope thanks to its slow ratio of f/11.

One difference to point out is the AstroMaster has a CG3 EQ mount and many in this lineup have EQ2 mounts. Performance and quality-wise, they’re pretty much the same out of the box. Many advanced users find that CG3 mounts are easier to modify especially when it comes to the tripod legs – and it very well may be needed with this model too.

You may be able to use a CCD camera on this setup, but if you do end up making upgrades to the mount, you can easily justify adding a motor drive and stepping up your observation and imaging experiences.

When you’ve mastered EQ movement, basic scope skills, and are ready to upgrade to a larger aperture, there’s no need to get rid of it. It would make a great backup scope or one that the entire family can use for casual observations.

2. Orion SpaceProbe 130ST EQ

Getting real, 130 mm is a big aperture for a beginner, and you can expect to see more with the added weight. Where should you aim your sights with the SpaceProbe? Globular clusters, nebulae, and more deep-space wonders!

Pros & Cons

✔️ 130 mm aperture

✔️ Parabolic primary mirror

✔️ Collimatable

✔️ Good accessories

✔️ EQ mount

❌ Light-duty mount

You start to see a trend with EQ mounts in this price range as there are a lot of EQ2 mounts. They’re good for visual and provide a decent amount of reliability for decent performance, but they’re unsuitable for serious imaging and heavy loads. But, it’s unlikely that a beginner is going to be dabbling in serious imaging anyway, so it will work great for a first-time buy for visual.

The Newtonian reflector is a fast telescope, so it has good, wide angles and with a 5” aperture, you’ll be pleased with its light-gathering ability to see faint DSOs and fit larger ones into the field of view. Even planetary observation will be somewhat satisfying because they’re so bright, and again, you have a large aperture to take advantage of high power.

Plossl eyepieces are included with the SpaceProbe and the included finder is better than a small 5×24. Like all good Newtonians at this price point should have, the Orion scope has a parabolic primary mirror and it can be collimated. Even better, it comes with a collimation cap to get it done.

The SpaceProbe allows you to see more and reach out further. If observing large DSOs is on your bucket list, you can check it off here.

3. Orion AstroView 90 EQ

The AstroView 90 is refracting telescope on an EQ mount. If it’s not the best for imaging with, then why have an EQ mount on a refractor? Let’s explore this more.

Pros & Cons

✔️ 90 mm refractor

✔️ Achromat doublet

✔️ Dual-purpose

✔️ Good for planets

✔️ Good accessories

❌ Light-duty mount

The 90 mm aperture from a refractor at this price point is expected. It’s an achromat doublet, so the seeing will be better than a cheap department store scope with a single element lens. Usually, you can use a refractor scope for terrestrial viewing with the appropriate diagonal, but the EQ mount may be difficult to achieve this without some compromise in balancing issues. So, the EQ mount is really suited for those who want a refractor to explore the skies with.

It has a slow focal ratio of f/10 that is good for getting more out of planetary views. With the doublet optics, you’ll have better seeing and a higher useful magnification to get more out of it.

It has good accessories, namely, the Plossl eyepieces, and you won’t have to upgrade immediately. As far as imaging goes, there will be some setback as the mount/tripod just may be too light-duty to support it. You could possibly get away with using a planetary camera, but don’t expect any long exposures on DSOs as it’s not made for that.

If you must have a refractor with an EQ mount, the Orion AstroView has a larger aperture to offer at a low price point with the ability to track stars.

4. Meade Polaris 130 EQ

The Polaris 130 EQ is one of the cheaper scopes is in this list, but it has quality where you need it. Let’s check out its foundational features.

Pros & Cons

✔️ Price

✔️ 5” aperture

✔️ Parabolic mirror

✔️ Collimatable

✔️ EQ mount

❌ Light-duty mount for imaging

This Newtonian has a huge aperture for its price point, a whopping 5 inches. That will get you a whole lot of visibility of faint DSOs that would otherwise be difficult to resolve with smaller apertures. Getting under dark skies will allow maximum satisfaction.

As a fast f/5 telescope, it is well-suited to wide-angle DSO observation. It also comes with the basics covered – a collimatable parabolic primary mirror. This will help with minimizing spherical aberration and keeping the optics in good check for every observation session.

What about imaging? While there are some astrophotography features on the tube rings and eyepiece holder to attach cameras, the tripod is the weak link and the mount doesn’t like heavy loads. Since it’s a Newtonian, you can always add additional counterweights, but the plastic 1.25” focuser may limit you there.

The EQ mount will work fine for visual but don’t expect to do any serious imaging with it. Since it’s on the cheaper end, the OTA is actually well worth the price by itself. It’s a good consideration if you know you may want to upgrade the tripod at some point.

5. Celestron Inspire 100 AZ

The Inspire 100 AZ is a refracting telescope with a very good 100 mm aperture – pretty big for a refractor in this price range. So, does it have the optical quality needed to take advantage of its large size?

Pros & Cons

✔️ 100 mm aperture

✔️ Built-in features

✔️ Dual-purpose

✔️ AZ mount

✔️ User-friendly

❌ Limited mount

The Inspire 100 AZ is one of those buys that may be expensive for a first-time buy for a child but may seem too unreliable for an adult. Let’s clear this up.

The Inspire telescope is a doublet refractor – good. It will have some visible CA, but not too severe to interfere with observation – good. As a refractor on an AZ mount and with the erect image diagonal, you’ll have instant access to terrestrial observation – good.

There are many, new features on this model. A built-in smartphone adapter, built-in focus micrometer, and a built-in flashlight. They’re neat perks, but of course we know that they don’t add to optical quality, however they add to convenience for sure – good.

The mount is a very basic alt-azimuth mount. Due to its simplicity, it’s very lightweight and easy to use. Surprisingly, it’s very steady and reliable. However, with the lack of slow-motion controls, there is some fine adjustment drawbacks. Drawbacks? Yes, but acceptable considering its stability and the telescope’s overall quality and features.

Have you caught on to the underlying theme? The Inspire is a good telescope for a child or adult.

What to Look for in a Telescope Under $300

When many entry-level telescopes look alike and seem to provide the same the same amount of quality, it can be hard to justify spending an extra hundred bucks for a $300 telescope. While there will be many that will be no different to one that’s $50 cheaper, there are some key features to look for that makes a $300 telescope worth the buy.

Here’s how you can spot the good ones.

Aperture

The aperture is the diameter of the primary mirror in a reflector or the objective lens in a refractor. This size determines how faint of celestial objects can be seen with good resolving power and can also be a determining factor in maximum useful magnification.

In this price range, you will see refractors with a 70 mm to 90 mm aperture. You may get lucky and see them come in larger sizes of 100 mm to 127 mm.

Newtonians will offer larger apertures for the money. They can start from 2.5” and get as large as 4.5” at this price point.

While aperture is important, it can’t make up for optical quality. With that in mind, let’s find out what else it is you need to determine if a $300 scope has upgrades that make it worth the price. 

Quality Optics

You can have a large aperture, but if it doesn’t have quality behind it, you’ll have a big picture of blurriness. What exactly does quality optics look like at $300?

Refractors

With a refracting telescope, you have lenses and those lenses need to be made right and have certain traits that help with aberrations or at least specifications that help to reduce it. At $300, it’s a stretch to see any ED glass elements, and it’s an impossibility to get a true APO refractor. So, what should you expect to make the most of your money?

Look for achromatic doublets at this price point. They’re refractors with a double lens assembly usually made with crown and flint elements. This should help to reduce chromatic aberration also known as color bleeding and color fringing. Like it or not, it’s an inherent flaw of refractors and it looks like a purple or blue tint along the edges of bright targets that negatively affects sharpness and clarity.

If the scope you like is a single lens refractor, then look for a longer focal ratio at or above f/7 or try out some colored filters to help minimize CA.

Reflectors

With a reflecting/Newtonian telescope, you have mirrors and those mirrors need to have special coatings. Reflector telescopes also need certain assembly qualities that help with scope longevity and optimal seeing quality. One such feature to demand at $300 is a parabolic primary mirror in a fast reflector with a focal ratio at or below f/5. There will still be some fast Newtonians with spherical primary mirrors, but since you have a good starting budget, skip those for a parabolic one to improve sharpness and clarity.

While we tend to pay a lot of attention to the primary mirror, some attention to the secondary mirror is also deserving.

The larger the secondary mirror, the larger the obstruction. Simply put, obstruction decreases contrast and light-gathering ability. One way to determine how secondary obstruction will affect you is to take the secondary mirror diameter from the primary mirror diameter in millimeters.

Example: a 203 primary mirror aperture minus a 50 mm secondary mirror diameter would provide a 50 mm detraction in aperture size effectively turning your 8” reflector into a 6” reflector. While it’s technically 8” in size, it optically performs like a 6”. Pay attention to the secondary mirror obstruction specification when looking for a $300 telescope.

At this price point, you must demand a collimatable primary mirror. The larger the mirror, the more important it is that you can collimate to realign the optics. This ensures you’re getting the most performance bang for your buck.

Visibility: What Can You See?

With the described features above, you’ll want to know what you can see with a $300 telescope. While much of it will be determinant on the aperture, quality, and the focal specs, minimum expectations on visibility include the following:

  • Moon and surface details
  • Mercury and its phases
  • Venus and its phases
  • Mars and various dark features during opposition and possibly polar caps
  • Jupiter, moons, moon’s shadows on Jupiter, cloud bands, Giant Red Spot
  • Saturn, rings, ring division, possibly four or five moons
  • Double stars, possibly faint ones down to mag. 12
  • Bright DSOs (includes star clusters, galaxies, emission nebulae, planetary nebulae, etc.)
  • Many of the Messier Catalog

You should note that while some deep-space objects can be seen through a $300 telescope, many may appear as fuzzy patches. It all depends on the specifics and quality of your scope. Of course, seeing conditions will influence what you can see on any given night as well. Getting out to a dark location will improve visibility regardless of aperture.

Mounts

You’ll have a variety of mounts available to you in this price range. Alt-azimuth, equatorial, and Dobsonians.

How do you choose between them?

Well, that’s the hard part. Even when you’ve decided on a type of mount, you must question if it’s good enough for your astronomy goals. There can be quality differences in bearings, accuracy, and stability between a $300 scope and a $200 telescope. Let’s break it down.

Alt-Azimuth

Alt-azimuth mounts are very simple to understand and use. Alt stands for altitude and this movement is achieved by moving the telescope tube up or down. Azimuth is horizontal movement and allows the scope to be moved in left-right direction.

Alt-azimuth is quite the mouthful, so it’s usually represented with alt-az or simply AZ. If you’re just starting out with an alt-az mount, you’ll be well-pleased with its user-friendliness.

Since many alt-az mounts of entry-level quality tend to be flimsy, short, and shaky, you’ll want to look for extra durability features at this price point. Look to see if it’s solid, sturdy, and if the tripod comes to full-height without compromising seeing quality and comfortable viewing. Slow-motion controls are a feature you should expect at this price point.

Determining if it will work for you will depend on what your goals are.

  • Terrestrial observation
  • Visual astronomy observation
  • Tracking along the meridian
  • Easy to use
  • Don’t necessarily require counterweights

Equatorial Mounts

Equatorial mounts are like alt-az mounts, but they have an axis that is on a tilt. The tilt allows the scope to be polar aligned to the North celestial pole. The Dec (Declination) axle must have counterweights to support the tube. The Dec axis allows the scope to be moved North and South while the RA (Right Ascension) axis allows the scope to be moved East and West.

These types of mounts are often called German equatorial mounts or GEM for short. Oftentimes, we just say equatorial or EQ mount.

Many prefer an EQ mount because of their ability to track celestial objects. This means you can follow a star and it won’t drift out of the field of view and it will stay within the eyepiece. This is essential for astrophotography goals.

However, at this price point, many EQ mounts will have a light payload capacity, meaning, it can only support so much weight on top before it will start to experience strain and tracking difficulties without additional counterweights. You’ll see a lot of EQ2 or CG-3 mounts at this price point, and you will probably gain slow-motion controls. It’s unlikely you’ll be doing any serious imaging, so mounts in this price range will be manual models for visual use.

Determining if it will work for you will depend on what your goals are.

  • Tracking celestial objects
  • Requires one motion to track
  • Good for imaging
  • Can be “beefier” or more stable than AZ mounts

Dobsonians

A Dobsonian-style mount simply provides AZ motion. A big, circular, and heavy wooden base swivels in place. This “swivel” motion is azimuth (left-right) movement. To slew the telescope in up/down motions, a knob is usually rotated to loosen the optical tube from the fork-arm mount to allow it to move in place.

As such, they provide the same benefits as an AZ mount on a tripod without the tripod. Dobsonian-style mounts are preferred because they come with large aperture Newtonian OTAs. At this price point, you can expect a solid and stable platform.

To make the most of your budget, try to look for upgraded mount features such as quality bearings and knobs.

Determining if it will work for you will depend on what your goals are.

  • Simple ease-of-use
  • No tripod setup
  • Tabletop or floor model
  • Comes with a Newtonian reflector

GoTo

What about GoTo?

It’s not typical to find a computerized mount in this price range. The more affordable ones will come in at just over $300. Even if you find a GoTo for this price, it will only be suitable for light-duty work, i.e. visual use – no astrophotography.

FAQs

What Quality Telescope Can I Get for a Budget of $300?

You can find quality refractors, reflectors, and Dobsonians in this price range. They’ll be smaller in size, easily portable, and provide good visibility on astronomical objects.

While many $300 telescopes won’t look much different to a $200 one, the difference in quality will lie with the foundational features. Look for upgrades in the optical system, a better focuser, and mechanical dependability in the mount.

While extra features are nice, they may just be a distraction from the overall poor quality of the telescope system. Real quality in a telescope at this price point will come down to the basics – the components that make a telescope a telescope.

What Can I See With a $300 Telescope?

Visibility will be determined by the telescope’s optical quality and aperture. However, with a telescope between $200-$300, you should be able to see all the planets in our solar system with Uranus and Neptune as tiny, slightly-colored dots. You will see the moon and surface details such as depressions and craters.

You can see DSOs even with a small aperture, but how much detail you can resolve will be better with a larger size. A larger aperture will also improve visibility of faint DSOs. However, you should be able to see most or all of the Messier Catalog, dozens of globular clusters, emission and planetary nebulae, double stars, and galaxies.

Conclusion

It’s worth it to buy a $300 telescope if you can afford it. While you may not be able to see the upgrades over a picture online or from the numbers in the tech specs, you can educate yourself about telescope features.

With that in mind, you’ll be able to identify key components of a scope that will prove whether it’s worth the buy and if it’s any different than a cheap one.

After learning the basic ropes and developing some essential skills, you’ll conclude that it’s worth the splurge to confidently spend a little bit more for your next telescope.

Further Reading

About Fern

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