If you’re looking for Hubble-like apertures and images, you’re in the wrong place, but there are affordable alternatives.
While there are Ritchey-Chretien telescopes available at decent price points, the amateur telescopes in this lineup are much smaller and obviously not as powerful.
Then again, they don’t cost over $10,000.
This is a realistic buying guide with powerful telescopes for their price points.
These exceptional options are dream telescopes that many of us have drooled over owning for longer than we care to admit.
If you’re ready to pull the trigger on a once in a lifetime buy, these scopes can relieve that overdue itch.
Best Premium Telescopes In 2021
Many of the telescopes in this lineup are expensive and might even be out of your budget.
You get what you pay for.
Spending this much on a telescope is an investment into a hobby that will last a lifetime, and your scope should last a lifetime too.
This list provides a variety of high-quality telescopes that may be better for one type of observation or perhaps it’s better for imaging with.
If you’re considering spending this much, it’s assumed you already know how to handle telescopes and how to identify what it is you need to achieve your astronomy goals.
With that in mind, scope out the telescopes in the lineup.
To refresh yourself on things to look for, our buying guide will get you up to date.
Best Telescope Reviews
1. Celestron CPC 1100 XLT GoTo
Is the CPC an outdated telescope? Nah.
If you want a solid telescope that’s going to last a lifetime, why not go big, strong, and powerful this one time?
The CPC 1100 XLT with GoTo answers that call.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 11” aperture
The CPC 1100 XLT is a planetary imaging expert. Yes, it’s still slow with capturing images, but the narrow field of view and reasonable secondary obstruction (for imaging) lends to its strengths. And yes, you should be taking photos with this amazing telescope especially if you’re willing to spend a fortune on it.
The GoTo mount helps to make that possible, and an equatorial wedge will up your game. If you’re already familiar with the NexStar+ hand control, you’ll find it easy to know how to work the CPC and may already have the necessary apps and software.
As we know, an 11” aperture telescope is not going to be as easy to haul out as an 8”. You may be apprehensive about its size and weight even though it is an SCT which promises compactness. The CPC comes in at a grand total weight of 84 lbs. Is it as bad as you thought? The heaviest combo of setting up will be the tube and mount as the tripod only weighs 19 lbs.
The CPC is a complete telescope package, but additional eyepieces should be the first thing on the list. This might deter you from the already expensive buy, but purchasing extra accessories is a standard expectation of any telescope buy. However, if you’re considering the CPC, it’s very probable that you already have some high-quality eyepieces to tack on.
With the possibilities of new astronomy goals coming to light with owning the Celestron telescope, it’s fair to say you’ll be busy with some sleepless nights ahead of you. Exciting, right?
2. Meade 8 LX200 ACF
The LX200 is a well-known and long-time series of telescopes that has been the object of many an astronomer’s dream scope fantasies. One of the more affordable models is the 8” LX200 ACF.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ ACF optics
✔️ General-purpose champ
I only mention price as a drawback because it’s still a good chunk of change. However, this is the whole package complete with a GoTo mount and accessories. After checking out the details, you’ll see that it’s actually a good buy.
The OTA is an SCT with a good 8” aperture. What makes it more impressive is the ACF (Advanced Coma-Free) optics. This entails a hyperbolic secondary mirror and optical coatings that when combined provides exceptional visibility and imaging quality. The hyperbolic secondary makes it a cross between an SCT and a Ritchey-Chretien. Alas, the primary is still a spherical, so it remains an SCT with fantastic upgrades.
The GoTo provides the computerized slewing and all those good features you’ll need for imaging with tracking accuracy. It is in alt-azimuth, but you can use a wedge to get that equatorial tilt.
With a focal ratio of f/10 and a very long focal length of 2000 mm, it can be manipulated with accessories to be a general-purpose telescope that’s good for seeing intimate details on planets as well as excellent clarity on DSOs.
While the LX200 series is often considered to be out of most people’s price ranges, they provided a loophole with the 8” model. Recognizing its optical greatness, you’ll see why it’s worth the price.
3. Orion Atlas 10 EQ-G GoTo
The Atlas is a renowned telescope series and is often the top choice when compared to many other telescopes within the brand and with other alternatives. Here is why this Atlas gets its 15 minutes of fame.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 10” aperture
✔️ EQ mount
✔️ Included accessories
The Atlas 10 tube has a 10” primary mirror, and yes, you can definitely expect that Newtonians at this price point can be collimated. This is especially needed since a 10” mirror may require more precision when it comes to alignment since you could be imaging with it.
Not only is the primary mirror a parabolic one, it’s made from Pyrex, so it will help with the cool-down process that is a drawback of large Newtonians. Since there isn’t a cooling fan that comes with the scope, this is an appreciated feature.
The GoTo with EQ movement is a dead give-away that it’s suitable for astrophotography. Looking closer at the mount, it has 2” steel tripod legs, computer features that are must-haves for imaging, and a 40 lb payload capacity. All this speaks to good experimentation with deep-sky imaging.
It does come with all fixings from two Plossl eyepieces, a decent 9×50 finder to a 2” Crayford focuser. While I don’t always like to include the extras as a consideration of overall value, they’re pretty good as far as included accessories go. Instant observing can be done as upgrades can wait till much later on down the road.
The Atlas is not a lightweight system – heads up here if you thought this was a travel scope. However, if you have the means to get out with it, you should. It’s a scope that should be taken out and shown off.
4. Explore Scientific CF ED 102 APO
The ES (Explore Scientific) APO telescope is a stunner in its own right. You may be shocked to find out how much it is when it lacks a mount and any accessories. Why the hype?
Pros & Cons
✔️ 102 mm aperture
✔️ APO w/ED
✔️ Carbon fiber
❌ Standalone tube
Standalone tubes, tube-only purchases, are expensive and they should be. Refractors as standalone tubes offer considerable improved optical quality that you wouldn’t see on a telescope half its price that comes with a mount. The hype about this ES APO scope is largely due to its APO triplet optical assembly with ED glass.
Lightwaves are brought to focus, CA is corrected, and sharpness and contrast is at its optimum in a refractor. Since refractors of this caliber have specialized coatings and precision-made glass lenses, they can make full use of the entire aperture to provide an image that larger Newtonians may find difficult to compete with.
The carbon fiber tube is another noted feature. Unlike metal, it does not expand and contract under temperature changes. Instant cooldown, weight shaving benefits, focusing stability, and aesthetic appeal is why carbon fiber tacks on a significant price jump to the overall price.
When it comes to mounts, you’ll have your pick of the lot depending on your budget. It has a Vixen-style dovetail, so it can literally be mounted to any modern AZ or EQ mount. The tube itself is incredibly lightweight and would make a good pairing with a light-duty mount. However, to make the most of its optical performance, a computerized GEM should be the pick.
To say the obvious, this scope is an astrophotography master. The question is, do you know how to use it?
5. Meade LX90 ACF 8
The 8” LX90 ACF is a telescope that might very well be your next upgrade. Beginners wanting to move into the serious territory may find it easier to do with the LX90.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ ACF optics
The LX90 ACF 8 is a very expensive buy for someone who still considers themselves an amateur, but it has all the hallmark features of a telescope that can help you develop and improve your telescope skills.
First and foremost, the Meade telescope is an SCT and has their famed ACF optical system. It retains the same Cassegrain optical light path but incorporates a full-size aspheric corrector lens behind the hyperboloid secondary mirror. This corrects for the coma that is often seen in SCTs and refractors while it also retains the CA-free benefits of a Newtonian. It’s no wonder that SCTs are great for visual and imaging.
With its GoTo mount, there’s only so much astrophotography you can do because it has alt-az movement. However, it’s not lacking in anything when it comes to mount features. It’s complete with SmartDrive, GPS, AutoAlign, and more.
The LX90 is pricey, but if it fits your needs and your astronomical goals, it fits the bill, doesn’t it?
6. Celestron CPC 925 XLT
The CPC 925 XLT had its heyday, but it’s still a solid and high-performing scope that has earned its place in the market. As an SCT, it has all the benefits and drawbacks of its type. But, if you’re into imaging and getting a closer look at the planets, an SCT is what you may want.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 9.25” aperture
✔️ Fastar/Hyperstar compatible
The CPC 925 XLT brings good balance between cost, performance, and weight against its larger sibling. If you want big but you don’t want to compromise portability and budget too much, this is the scope for you.
It’s a typical SCT, and since there is an upgraded HD model, this one does suffer some of the optical aberrations of an SCT like coma. However, this issue is solvable, and it does have a friendlier price tag especially when you still have imaging accessories yet to purchase.
Yes, imaging is possible even if the GoTo mount is an alt-azimuth one. It does have various features you’ll need for imaging correction, but there’s a whole more you can do with image processing especially if you get it working with a laptop or computer – it’s been done many times and is still being done.
So, you will need some extra accessories to get your ideal imaging setup, and fortunately, it’s also Hyperstar compatible if you want to speed up the process – nice!
Weighing in at almost 80 lbs, this is not your typical, portable setup. It’s been said that the tube is somewhat awkward to mount and handle and may require a helping hand. This may take some experimentation, but if you have a place to keep it while it works its magic for imaging, why move it at all? Got a dome?
7. SkyWatcher FlexTube 250P SynScan
The FlexTube is a unique series of collapsible telescopes from SkyWatcher. There is no removing of truss rods or manipulating of special parts – just collapse and extend the tube to take advantage of its space-saving benefits.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 10” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ GoTo w/dual encoder
❌ Possible need to collimate often
The FlexTube 250P SynScan is a 10” Dobsonian with a collapsible tube. To top that mouthful, it also has GoTo. Let’s explore this more.
The 10” primary mirror has a parabolic surface which proves necessary since it’s a fast f/5 (approx.) telescope. Wide-angles, DSO observation, and fast imaging is the result of this combo.
Instead of truss rods that you must remove or that are fixed in place, there are knobs, struts, and clamps that allow the rods to be extended, retracted, and secured. With this design, you’ll save almost a full foot in space which may prove helpful for transportation and storage.
However, these types of telescopes require collimation to be performed more often because the design can interfere with alignment. Needless to say, it’s essential that you are confident with collimation, or you better quickly get okay with it.
The mount is a GoTo with all the expected features you want to see with the bonus of built-in WiFi. An unexpected bonus is the dual encoder that allows manual slewing without interfering with your GoTo alignment.
If you thought you couldn’t image with a Dob, then you need to test out your theories with the FlexTube SyScan. Be prepared to be proven wrong.
8. SkyWatcher FlexTube 300P
If you’re not gung-ho about imaging and you just want to maximize the enjoyment of using an uncomplicated telescope design, this Dobsonian is worth it. But, is a collapsible tube for you?
Pros & Cons
✔️ 12” aperture
✔️ Included accessories
❌ Possible need to collimate more often
The FlexTube 300P is like its 250P SynScan alternative but without electronics. This may very well be an attractive feature if you’re not imaging and you desire simplicity for maximum visual observations.
As a telescope in the FlexTube series, it’s a Newtonian with a collapsible tube. Three metal struts can be extended and retracted in place to save space that makes it easier for storage and travel. The downside to this is the fact that you must collimate more often as the mirrors may come out of alignment due to the constant moving of the rods.
Even though it’s a large 12” telescope, it’s not too bad when it comes to travel. The entire setup comes to about 84 lbs – heavy, yes. Doable? You be the judge. But, it goes without saying that if you have a 12”, you owe it to yourself to observe under ideal seeing conditions and dark skies.
The FlexTube comes with all the accessories to get observing out of the box. As a scope that offers larger apertures with the best value, it’s a telescope that is very much worthy of being in this lineup.
9. Celestron NexStar Evolution 8
The NexStar SE is an incredibly popular series of scopes from Celestron, but the Evolution 8 brings a whole new level of convenience to the field. Why spend more? Ha, patience friend, it will all be revealed.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Built-in mount features
Yes, the Evolution looks pretty pricey on paper, and it’s not perfect as it does have its flaws. But, there are built-in mount features that many avid astronomers have been waiting to see on a telescope for decades.
To jump right into it, the Evolution telescope has a GoTo mount with built-in WiFi – awesome, but it’s not anything “new” that hasn’t been done before. You may find it convenient to use it directly with your smartphone while you leave the hand control out of the mix. Not a bad idea, right?
But, back to topic, what is new are the upgraded worm gears and the built-in battery. That’s right, it has an internal LiFePO4 battery that allows you to ditch the power tank and cables! It will last an entire night of observation before you need to charge it up again.
For an 8” telescope, its specs belie its physical dimensions. It’s very portable and easy to haul out with its 40 lb weight and 17” tube length. It’s clear that this scope holds true to its SCT roots.
What about the flaws? It’s called being picky, but it only comes with a 1.25” focuser and the mount lacks some imaging features that you may miss if you’re an expert in astrophotography. However, this scope is aimed towards those would find this an upgrade to what they already have. There’s a lot to enjoy with the Evolution 8, and its convenience features are very well worth the price.
10. Orion 8 f/8 Astrograph Ritchey-Chretien
Two words: Astrograph and Ritchey-Chretien. While small words to read on screen, it has a lot of weight behind it. The Orion Astrograph is a dream scope that only seasoned experts would have an eye for.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Fast-ish telescope
The Ritchey-Chretien (RC) is like the king of catadioptric scopes. The Hubble Telescope is an RC. But, unlike the beast that orbits in the skies, this is a very miniature version designed for serious astrophotographers who must have a portable and somewhat affordable setup.
Incredibly, it does have a low price tag for a scope of its kind, but still, it’s a tube-only purchase. To really test its limits, you must be willing to equip it with nothing but the best accessories and mount. This is not a cheap endeavor and is not a cheap scope to own. You should feel obligated to do its optics justice.
As an RC, it has two hyperbolic mirrors and no corrector lens. What you end up with is an excellent optical system that corrects for CA, spherical aberration, and coma. The trade off could very well be astigmatism. If you’re into pretty pictures, no big deal. If you’re into scientific research, this could be a problem.
Unlike SCTs and Mak-Cass scopes that have very slow speeds, this RC has a medium-speed f/8 focal ratio. There’s no reason you can’t take some deep-sky photos. But, we know that RCs are excellent for taking high powered photos of small objects and the Astrograph remains true to its design.
The Astrograph comes with multiple mountings points with two positions for a finder, a custom-designed Vixen for piggybacking, and a full-size, tube-length Losmandy dovetail for securing it to an EQ mount for the best, balanced position.
There are some very nice accessories included in the buy, but as far as the mount and eyepieces go, you’re on your own. If you’re wondering if an RC is for you, it’s likely that you already know the answer to that. Advanced users step up to the challenge and use this alongside your small, wide-angle, APO refractor to expand your photo album.
What to Look for in the Best Telescopes
If this is the first time you’re about to drop your savings into a high-performing telescope, you may need a little encouragement to acquire some confidence. Let’s do a little filtering.
If you haven’t had any experience with telescopes, it’s best to start off with a beginner telescope. If you’re looking for an upgrade and you’re still not sure what you’re interested in, consider buying a telescope for under $1000.
If you’ve owned a few scopes and you’re committed to finding “the one” that will take your observations or imaging to the next level, you may be ready to drop some serious cash. Before you pull the credit card out, question your commitment to what can be your lifelong hobby.
Telescope Commitment Meter
You are your own telescope commitment meter. When you’re looking for the best telescope by price point, features, or size, you must determine if it’s a good fit for you.
Sure, the largest, decked-out telescopes sounds perfect, but if you can’t transport it, have no where to keep it, or you can’t afford to buy the necessary accessories or imaging equipment, it’s of no use to you.
What you want out of your telescope and what you end up getting may look very different. To close that gap, ask yourself these questions to help narrow down the right telescope for you and if you’re truly ready to pull the trigger on a serious telescope buy.
- Are you a beginner or an advanced expert?
- Where will you be using your telescope most of the time?
- Can you transport and set up the telescope alone?
- Do you have an appropriate storage space for the telescope?
- What is your area of interest? Planets, DSOs, Eclipses, etc.
- Will you be observing only or are you mostly interested in astrophotography?
- What is your budget?
You may find it difficult to put together a budget when you’re looking for the best telescopes. That’s because telescopes vary in price for multiple reasons.
If you’re talking about the absolute best telescopes that exist, expect to take out a second mortgage. If you’re talking about the best affordable telescopes that a serious amateur would buy, it would be the high-end market with triple zeros. Here’s what to expect per price point
Buying a telescope under $100 is risky business, but there are some at the higher end of the $100 price range that are worth it. Of course, spending a little bit more will prove to be better in the long run. Know your stuff to filter out the junk from the gems in the $100-$500 price range.
You have somewhat of a range of better entry-level and mid-level telescopes at this price point. The better ones focus on optical quality. In this price range, you’ll see GoTo as a common feature. You’re putting half your money into the drive systems and tech, so they will usually be paired with smaller OTAs. Even so, many of the mounts in a complete telescope package will be light-duty and will offer some imaging capabilities. There will be many standalone OTA telescopes in this price range with ED doublets and APO triplet optical assemblies.
This is the beginning of high-end telescopes as far as what an average Joe would spend on a serious setup. Expect to see heavy-duty mounts, APO refractors, huge Newtonians with large apertures, Cassegrain telescopes, and many of these options with GoTo.
This is what I and many others would consider exceptional. These types of telescopes are usually aimed towards imagers and seasoned experts who may already have a collection of scopes and accessories. They likely have a space in an observatory or a personal dome ready for this type of setup. Heavy, big, and extraordinary is what you can expect from a scope that may cost this much.
Aperture: Small VS Medium VS Big Telescopes
Within the amateur and hobbyist community, telescope sizes generally mean the same thing. However, among professionals and scientists, our version of large could still very well be a miniature telescope in their eyes. In this context and for the majority of amateurs out there, we tend to judge size by these guidelines.
Small Telescopes: 60 mm to 127 mm/2.5” to 5”
Apertures between 60 mm to 2.5” (approx. 60 mm) to 6” (approx. 152 mm) are seen in the beginner and entry-level market with prices up to about $500. You may see some 8” apertures in this price range.
Refractors are smaller and more expensive. They may still only offer small sizes even when their price point is high. This is because of the extra glass elements and specialized coatings that correct for inherent optical flaws within the refracting design. However, like Newtonian reflectors of similar aperture, they are lightweight, easy to travel with, and are affordable.
What you can see will be limited when it comes to faint objects. So, just because it may be a fast telescope with wide fields of view for seeing deep-sky objects, you’ll be limited to seeing only the brightest ones. If you live in the city, keep reading as you’ll need a larger aperture.
Medium Telescopes: 150 mm to 300 mm/6” to 12”
Medium sized telescopes are usually deemed between 6” or 8” right up to about 12”. Even so, 12” is still pretty large. These telescopes are still somewhat portable, can offer good value for the money, and are often available with various features.
This aperture is mid-range with the 10” and 12” models as the largest of this group. With the increased aperture, you have increased light-transmission. Brighter, clearer, and bigger images can be achieved. These apertures really open the night sky and are excellent options for folks who live in light-polluted cities. If you can get out under dark skies, you can see thousands of astronomical objects with good seeing and visibility.
Large Telescopes: 300 mm+/12”+
For the average amateur, a 12”+ scope is pretty big. At this point, you need cooling fans, space to store it while it’s not in use, and appropriate transportation for traveling with the telescope. They are not very portable and yet they would perform considerably well under dark skies if you were to travel.
Type of Mount
Mounts are a serious consideration at these price points in the high-end market. They are largely responsible for “making or breaking” your entire telescope setup. Unfortunately, price isn’t always indicative of mount quality.
At $1000 and under with a complete telescope package with OTA and mount, mounts can still be manual and light-duty. Some of the best heavy-duty mounts will cost more than the OTA. Many high-quality tubes often come as a standalone buy where you must purchase accessories and a mount separately.
The question remains, what are you going to be doing with your telescope? What are your astronomy goals?
For visual only, a light-duty alt-azimuth mount would likely suffice if it can support the weight of the OTA. Pay attention to payload capacities as many manufacturers use the same light-duty mount within the entire telescope series regardless of aperture size. This could mean that an 8” on XYZ mount would be pushing it, but the same model in a 6” size would be well-suited to the pairing.
If you are wanting a larger aperture for only visual use, a Dobsonian telescope is an excellent way to go while getting the most bang for your buck.
GoTo for Visual
Not every GoTo system is equipped or appropriate for imaging. It simply means that it provides computerized slewing to objects in the sky. You can have alt-azimuth GoTo and equatorial GoTo. Many alt-az GoTo systems will have a polar alignment feature, but it requires that you purchase and use an equatorial wedge to achieve the tilt that EQ mounts have.
If you’re only observing with no imaging ambitions, you can consider GoTo systems to learn the night sky, locate objects via the hand control, and improve object tracking. Very light-duty systems can be found at the lowest price points of $400-$500. To determine if a $1000 GoTo is any better, look for any mechanical or technical upgrades, any weight increase in payload capacity, and what type of movement, features, etc. it provides.
PushTo is a cross between manual slewing and GoTo tech. There is no motor drive that is equipped with PushTo, but you will have some form of object locating assistance. This is usually in the form of an app on a smartphone or computer device that provides directions in where and how you need to slew your telescope to obtain the desired astronomical object within your eyepiece.
GoTo for Imaging
Astrophotography is a world of its own that requires many and different considerations. Generally, you will want a computerized GEM (German Equatorial Mount) for imaging.
There are different features that a mount can offer such as anti-backlash, periodic error correction, GPS, and more that help to improve object location, tracking, and accuracy for different exposures. There are also different types of astrophotography methods, guiding accessories, and more that will determine how successful you will be with your GoTo system. After all that, there’s also image processing with a computer that also brings life to your captured images.
With all that said, heavy-duty, highly-accurate, and high-performing computerized GEM mounts are expensive. If it comes with the OTA, it may very well be over a couple thousand dollars. If you buy an OTA and mount separately, expect to spend good chunk of change on the mount that may very well come to a total telescope package over a couple thousand dollars.
What are the Main Types of Telescopes?
You have a variety of telescope types available at the higher-end of the price spectrum of over $1000. Each has their own pros and cons, so one is not typically better than the other since your needs and area of interest will determine which type is best.
Refractors: Made with glass lenses, are small in aperture, and at high price points they can provide excellent control of optical aberrations. They are known to provide the best visibility for their aperture.
Reflectors: Made with mirrors, can be very large in aperture, and offers the best price per inch in aperture. Because of the large sizes, they offer great light-gathering and resolution for faint targets like deep-space objects.
Catadioptric: SCT (Schmidt-Cassegrain) and Mak-Cass (Maksutov-Cassegrain) telescopes are pricey and often combined with GoTo systems. They offer compact and lightweight tubes compared to other types. Due to their long focal lengths, they can be excellent for planetary observation and imaging.
Which Type of Telescope is Best?
There isn’t one best type of telescope since needs will determine what the best type is for that purpose. But, if there was one telescope type that offers plenty of advantages, it’s the Dobsonian.
The Dobsonian tube is a reflector, so it offers a large aperture for the money and most of the purchase price is dumped into the OTA. It is paired with a simple, laminated-covered base and the mount provides uncomplicated alt-azimuth movement. However, it does require user maintenance in the form of collimation, longer cool down time, and they can be heavy.
What is the Best Telescope for Deep Space Viewing?
Reflectors win out the deep-sky viewing competition against refractors. Not only do they come with larger apertures, they also offer larger apertures at a cheaper price per inch versus refractors. The trade off is the maintenance required of a reflector.
Fast Newtonians will need additional accessories to reach focus for imaging or to remove coma. Long focal length Newtonians can be difficult to transport, setup, and use. For visual, Dobsonians can be incredible DSO telescopes.
What is the Most Powerful Telescope You Can Buy?
The most powerful amateur telescopes you can buy will have apertures larger than 22”. These types of telescopes are unwieldy, very powerful, and incredibly expensive. There are larger apertures of 36”+ that are owned by some very enthusiastic astronomers.
If you’re like most people and are unable to spend a small fortune on such a telescope, you can opt for a telescope that’s 11” and larger. If portability and setting up alone is a concern, any of the telescopes in this lineup would make for a suitable and powerful option.
It’s not every day that you buy a telescope of this caliber. Knowing exactly what you need will help you find what you’re looking for.
With our combined knowledge of telescopes and identifying your demands out of a telescope system, you’ll be well-informed to choose right without buyer’s remorse and money down the drain.
Whether it’s your first “real” telescope or your tenth, take the time to educate yourself with some research, fine-hone your goals, and make a confident decision.