At one time or another, we’ve all gazed at the sky with amazement at the vastness of the universe. For some of us, the amazement grows into a hobby. So what’s the best telescope to enable you to explore your sense of wonder?
If only we could give you one right answer! The best telescope for you is one that matches your level of interest in the cosmos, so the best answer to that question might be unique to you.
The market for telescopes reflects the fact that there are — excuse the pun — an astronomical number of interests in worlds beyond Earth.
From basic telescopes for children to more expensive scopes with precision optics and computerized controls, you’ll find choices to fit all your interests and desires.
Reflective or refractive, Dobsonian or traditional, we looked at all the options to help find the one that’s right for you.
Our journey to the stars begins.
How Do Telescopes Work?
Though they may look basic, telescopes contain an enormous amount of technology – some more than others.
As you seek out the best telescope for your needs, here are some basics on how the technology works.
A telescope is simply a giant magnifying glass that lets you look at distant objects. The telescope draws in light from a distance and focuses it so that you can view distant objects with your eye.
Today’s telescopes principally do this with lenses or mirrors. The better telescopes will have larger lenses or mirrors.
However, that doesn’t mean bigger is always better. Think of telescopes as a system. Find the system with the best balance of all the variables, and you’ll have the best telescope.
Reflecting? Refracting? Re-What?
Telescopes are placed into one of two categories based on whether they are built with lenses or mirrors, according to NASA.
Telescopes that use mirrors are described as reflecting telescopes. The second category, refracting telescopes, are made with lenses.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. In general, reflecting telescopes are much lighter. That’s because in a refracting telescope you need bigger and bigger lenses to see farther.
Whether lens or mirror, both require precise manufacturing. The slightest defect can render a telescope inoperable, as NASA discovered with the Hubble space telescope.
Mirror-based optics have allowed NASA to explore deeper and deeper into space, simply because they are so much lighter.
What to Look For
You can spend a lot or a little on a telescope. The best telescope, though, won’t necessarily have the highest budget, according to Sky and Telescope Magazine.
To make the best choice, you need to know some of the basics involved in determining a telescope’s performance. At a minimum, Sky and Telescope says you want a telescope with “high-quality optics and a steady, smoothly working mount.”
To evaluate the optics, you’ll need to know some of the basics about aperture, magnification, and mount.
Telescopes are all about light. It’s the aperture that determines how well you can see that light, whether from a distant landscape or on high from the universe.
The aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s opening. On spec sheets, you’ll typically see aperture expressed in millimeters.
As a rule of thumb, Sky and Telescope suggests that you look for a telescope with at least a 70 mm aperture. Other sizes can work, but that size diameter will generally give you the best experience.
Another key piece of data to help evaluate the best telescope is magnification. You’ll typically see it expressed with a number and an “X” – as in “50X magnification.” That means what you see is 50 times larger than it actually is. The higher the number, the more distant and clearly you can see — in theory.
Your instincts might tell you to pursue the highest levels of magnification. Resist. Higher magnifications come with more tradeoffs – images with less clarity, for instance, or one that is subject to shaking due to wind or vibrations, according to B&H Photo and Video.
The best advice from the experts: Stick with average magnification. It will give you the best overall viewing experience.
Climbing the mount
It’s right to pay close attention to the optical system in deciding on the best telescope. Yet, if you don’t also consider the mount, you could be disappointed.
The mount governs how well you’ll be able to track objects across the sky. As B&H Video reminds us, we’re not viewing static images when observing space. The Earth is moving — and so are the things you are looking at.
Mounts, according to B&H, generally fit into two categories: Alt-Azimuth (the most common) and German Equatorial. Depending on which you end up with, you’ll operate your telescope slightly differently.
Generally speaking, it takes more effort to learn the nuances of the Equatorial Mount, but both are approaches that can work for your needs.
How We Reviewed the Telescopes
Astronomy is an established hobby that shows no signs of tailing off. So opinions abound as to the best telescope.
To reach our list, we consulted specialists such as Sky and Telescope Magazine, Cloud Break Optics, and B&H Video. On top of that, we also studied opinions from more sources such as Popular Mechanics and Space.com.
In developing our list, we chose telescopes with a range of technologies and budgets. We wanted to raise our chances of finding you the best telescope.
Sky-Watcher ProED 100mm Doublet Refractor
- EXPERTLY MATCHED GLASS: The EvoStar series features a matched doublet objective including one synthetic fluorite...
- OUTSTANDING COLOR CORRECTION: Using the finest quality glass and proprietary Metallic High-Transmission Coatings (MHTC),...
- EVOLVES WITH SKILL: No need to replace this telescope as your skill set evolves. Whether you’re a seasoned...
We start with a telescope that should have you covered no matter how you intend to use it — almost. It’s not the cheapest around but has a good balance of the right specifications.
The Sky-Watcher ProED Doublet Refractor Telescope offers a 100-millimeter aperture with a focal length about nine times that. The focal length will determine how long a telescope is, which determines how easy it is to carry. That’s important because you’re not likely to only view the sky in one location.
Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic 174
- Compact and lightweight - a perfect Dobsonian reflector telescope for traveling or easy trips to the backyard at home
- 4.5" aperture and 900mm focal length provide clear views of lunar craters and plains on the Moon, planets, bright...
- Sturdy and portable Dobsonian base and handy navigation knob allow for effortless maneuvering of the reflector optical...
Your search for the best telescope won’t go far before you come across the name of James Dobson.
A chemist by trade with a personal fascination for space, Dobson is credited with developing telescopes that turned astronomy into an everyday hobby. His methods have been replicated in so-called “Dobsonian” telescopes.
The Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic comes with a larger 200-millimeter aperture and about 48x magnification. It’s also handy to move. The optical tube and the base separate easily for relocation or storage.
Meade Instruments 234001 Star Pro AZ
- 70mm Acromatic Refractor Telescope with Smart Phone Imaging Adapter
- Apeture 70mm/ Focal length 700mm, Focal Ratio f/10
- Low (26mm), medium (9mm), high (6.3mm) magnification eyepieces & 2x Barlow lens doubles the magnifying power of each...
A more affordable but still high-quality telescope is the Meade Instruments 234001 Star Pro AZ. It’s a 70 mm aperture refracting telescope with a bit of a twist. Meade includes an adapter that allows you to attach your smartphone to the telescope for picture-taking.
The telescope is very simple to assemble and quick to put into motion. However, some customers have complained that the telescope did not meet certain specifications as promised on the package.
Celestron 52306 Regal M2 100ED
- QUALITY ED OBJECTIVE LENS: Extra-low dispersion optical glass with special dispersion properties to dramatically reduce...
- XLT LENS COATINGS: Fully multi-coated with Celestron’s proprietary XLT optical coatings – the same coatings used on...
- PERFECT VIEWING ANGLES: Use your spotting scope with the included 22-67x zoom eyepiece or any 1.25” astronomical...
If your ideal for best telescope includes a unique look and feel, then consider the Celestron 52306 Regal M2 100ED Spotting Scope.
Celestron has built this telescope using a magnesium alloy, which the company says provides extra strength without adding extra weight.
This telescope comes with a rotating tripod that will allow you to view the sky from whatever position suits you best. Celestron marks the 52306 in 65 mm, 80 mm or 100 mm options. Following Sky and Telescope’s advice, stick with either the 80 mm or 100 mm.
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST
- This 5.1 inch aperture reflector telescope gathers an ample amount of light for great views of the planets and Moon, as...
- Short 24 inch long optical tube design for easy portability and fast f/5 focal ratio for pleasing wide-field performance...
- Sturdy EQ-2 equatorial telescope mount and adjustable tripod allows manual slow-motion tracking of celestial objects as...
If you’re looking for more advanced features for your version of the best telescope, consider the Orion 09007 Space Probe 130ST.
In addition to having the coolest of names, the Orion is a reflector telescope with a 130 mm diameter aperture — pretty cool in its own right. It still comes with a “short-tube” – a compressed focal length that makes the telescope easy to move around.
- 【BEST Telescope for Kids& Beginners!】 Toyerbee telescope meets all the needs of beginners, and the kids’...
- 【Large Aperture】70mm aperture and 300mm focal length provide more lights and clearer images, even beginners can get...
- 【Wireless Control】ToyerBee telescope set includes one smartphone adapter and one Wireless camera remote to explore...
Don’t be fooled by the name. While the ToyerBee Telescope is geared toward young users as well as beginning adults and it is not a toy.
The telescope opens to a 76 mm aperture with a magnification of up to 350x for delivering images from distant parts of the universe.
This telescope also comes with an adjustable aluminum tripod — as well as three eyepieces.
Celestron NexStar 8 SE Computerized Telescope
Maybe you’re past the newbie stage in astronomy and are looking for a very robust best telescope. For this, you should consider the Celestron NexStar 8 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Computerized Telescope.
Back in the 1970s, Celestron says this model was the “world’s most beloved telescope.” It’s now been updated into the age of technology.
Offering a 200 mm aperture, this Celestron telescope is computerized. You’ll be able to give the telescope instructions on what you want to see, and it will focus in.
- Quality Optics: 400mm(f/5.7) focal length and 70mm aperture, fully coated optics glass lens with high transmission...
- Magnification: Come with two replaceable eyepieces and one 3x Barlow lens.3x Barlow lens trebles the magnifying power of...
- Wireless Remote: Free includes one smart phone adapter and one Wireless camera remote to explore the nature of the world...
It’s not fully computerized like the Celestron NexStar, but the GSkyer 90 mm Astronomy Refractor Telescope nevertheless helps you take advantage of technology.
GSkyer includes a smartphone adapter that lets you attach your cellphone camera to the telescope for picture-taking. The telescope comes with a 90 mm aperture with a manageable 1000 mm focal length.
The Best Telescope
The sun, moon, stars, and planets visible in the night sky with a telescope provide joyful wonder about our shared experiences on Earth. The best telescope will take that wonder even further.
Shop carefully, and we bet you and your family will soon be carried away by the amazing things you’ll see.
Do you have a telescope yourself? Let us know how you got started in the comments!
Last update on 2021-05-12 at 13:05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API