Do you find the price of telescopes daunting?
If so, you're not on your own.
Many people are put off even starting a hobby in backyard astronomy because a telescope can be so expensive. However, NOT all of them are.
In fact, telescope makers have gone out of their way to make cheap telescopes that produce some great results.
The four scopes reviewed in our list below are all popular models at a great entry-level price. We think you'll be shocked at what you CAN afford to buy!
Quick Comparison: Top 4 Cheap Telescopes
Celestron Astromaster 70AZ
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Orion StarBlast II 4.5EQ
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Orion SkyQuest XT6
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Meade Infinity 102AZ
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Buyer's Guide to Choosing the Best Budget Telescope
The great thing about cheap telescopes is that manufacturers save costs by focusing all their effort into the lens or mirror, which is the main part of the telescope.
This means that you can be sure you're getting just about as big a telescope as you can afford when buying off this list.
The downside is that compromises in quality get made in other areas of the telescope's design. For example, the Celestron Astromaster has a mount that is prone to vibration. That's because it is made of thinner and cheaper materials so that you can buy a telescope for a really low price.
(Thankfully, there are very cheap/free ways of dampening telescope vibrations).
Even though the focus of manufacturers is the aperture, these scopes are still small. You will see great views of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn with them, but dimmer objects like nebulae and galaxies are not going to be easy to see.
In fact, the SkyQuest offers a huge 6" mirror, which is a great size telescope for many years of astronomy, but it does sit at the very top of what might be considered a 'cheap' telescope.
One alternative you might like to consider, especially if just starting out with astronomy, is to invest in decent binoculars instead. They are also a great, cheap way to begin your stargazing adventures.
What to Expect from a Cheap Telescope
In our this review of four of the cheapest telescopes you can buy (that are still good for backyard astronomy), this is a summary of what you can expect your budget to buy:
- Apertures from 70mm to 150mm
- Mixed-quality eyepieces. Kellners are poor, Plössls are good
- Mounts of mixed quality - the Dob is much better than the AstroMaster
What You Can See Through a Budget Telescope
You won't get to see NASA-quality images through your budget telescope, but these are some of the sights that are open to you and you should enjoy with your new scope:
- The rings of Saturn
- Cloud bands of Jupiter
- Galilean moons of Jupiter
- Hundreds of lunar craters
- Andromeda Galaxy
- The Pleiades
- The discs and crescents of Mercury and Venus
- The disc of Mars (possibly more detail at favorable times)
- Orion Nebula
- Star clusters and double stars
There are many, many objects these telescopes can show you that you can't hope to see even with binoculars.
That's why even a telescope is worth buying, even if it is on a modest budget.
Ease of object tracking
Reviews of the Best Cheap Telescopes
These are our detailed reviews of the four telescopes which you can buy for very little money but that will deliver great views of brighter night sky objects, like the moon and planets.
Celestron's 70mm AstroMaster is an incredibly popular, low-price starter telescope.
This little refractor is simple to get up and running in minutes. It's a basic model, but that works in its favor for new backyard astronomers because it requires very little construction.
It's plenty light enough to take anywhere with you. A quick walk across a field, or a short drive to the edge of town for darker skies? Not a problem with this small scope!
The downside? At 70mm - less than 3 inches - this is the smallest aperture telescope on our list. Which means it collects less light than the others, so you'll be limited on what you can see and how much magnification you can use.
However, if you've never looked through a telescope before, you'll still be thrilled with your first views of the moon, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Just don't expect to see fainter objects like galaxies and nebulae.
The biggest drawback with this scope is the quality of its stand. To hit a price point of around $100 (click here for today's Amazon price), Celestron has cut quality corners here.
It is quite loose and wobbly, which will make for frustrating astronomy sessions without being made more stable - this article shows you some free/cheap ways of doing this.
Overall though, if you just want to try out astronomy and don't want to spend loads of money doing it, then this may be a great option... but be prepared to want to upgrade quickly!
- Very cheap telescope
- Easy to set-up
- Light and easy to move
- Very small aperture
- Wobbly/unstable mount
- Limited objects to see
Out of the box, this 4.5" (f/4) reflector comes with an equatorial mount and a free copy of Starry Night software for finding your way around the night sky.
The Orion StarBlast II 4.5EQ also comes with 25mm and 10mm Plössl eyepieces, which give 18x and 45x magnification. It's a great way to begin your eyepiece collection.
Unlike the AstroMaster, above, this Orion comes on a more sturdy and robust mount, which is great for dampening down vibrations.
Its aperture, at 4.5", is also 50% wider than the AstroMaster's.
On its own that's impressive, but it's the area of the aperture that's important, not the width. According to these measurements, this Orion will actually gather 2.7x more light than the Celestron (without paying 2.7x the money).
That light collecting power will make a big difference to your astronomy experience. You'll see bands on Jupiter's surface and you will get rewarding views of the brighter deep space objects, such as the Pleiades and the Orion Nebula.
On a good night, you may even see Andromeda Galaxy, some 2 million light-years away and containing around 1 billion stars.
The biggest challenge for new astronomers tends to be setting up a telescope with an equatorial mount, like the one which is supplied with this Orion.
Helpfully, Orion has high-quality set-up videos on its own website. You can access them, and instruction manuals for this telescope, by clicking this link.
You'll spend around $200 to own this telescope (click here for today's Amazon price), which keeps it firmly in the 'beginner' category, but you get a larger aperture, great support materials from Orion and the chance to see some of the brightest wonders of the night sky.
- Big aperture for price
- Sturdy equatorial mount
- Two Plössl eyepieces
- Equatorial harder to set up
- At this price, it's hard to fault
We'll admit it.
This 6-inch telescope is pushing the definition of a 'cheap' telescope. However, to grab such a large aperture for about $300 (click here for Amazon's current price) is amazing value and why we've ranked this scope in our best budget telescope list.
Not only is the XT6 a big scope for the money, but it's also a very well made one, so let's dig into a bit more detail.
This Orion is mounted on a Dobsonian base. The whole point of this design is to maximize the amount of aperture for the price, by making the base a simple 'point and shoot' box. The Dob's added advantage, over cost, is being much simpler to set up than any other telescope in this review.
It is also designed to be easily transportable to the dark location of your choice and the 6" mirror and 450mm focal length make this a 'light bucket' telescope. When you are set up, you'll find the Dob base has very low levels of vibration and is a much more enjoyable mount to use at this price point.
As many users say, this makes it one of the best telescopes for kids because of the views of planets and the moon it commands, and its ease of use. It's also big enough for you (or them) to see many deep space objects, like nebulae and galaxies, that the other scopes in this review just can't.
As well as the telescope itself, you'll get free access to Starry Night software and a 25mm Plössl eyepiece (giving 36x magnification) so it offers great value!
Overall, this is a fantastic telescope. It has a big aperture, capable of revealing deep space objects to you, is relatively cheap, easy to set up and can be used even by children.
We have no hesitation in making this a five-star telescope in our 'best cheap telescopes' review... even if the price stretches the definition of 'cheap' just a little.
- Huge mirror for the price
- Great value for money
- Sturdy, simple Dobsonian base
- Harder to transport
- Top end of 'cheap'
- Only one eyepiece supplied
The Meade is supplied with 6.3mm, 9mm and 26mm eyepieces, but these are all cheap modified achromats (an updated version of a Kellner) and nothing to get excited about. You will likely want to upgrade to Plössls very soon after you get hooked on astronomy.
The finder scope comes with the red dot viewfinder, which we're not huge fans of, but this video does a good job of explaining it. Again, this may be something you want to upgrade from quite quickly.
Finally, there is an astronomy software DVD which comes with the scope, but it is PC only (take note Mac users) and is not a patch on the Starry Night software or even Stellarium, which is free and works on a Mac!
Like the smaller Celestron we reviewed earlier, the mount is similarly flimsy and prone to vibration. We don't hold this against Meade, it's just a function of hitting this entry-level price point (click here to see Amazon's price today).
Remember, there are simple free and inexpensive ways to dampen vibrations through telescope mounts.
Remember, this scope didn't make it onto our list of best cheap telescopes by being shabby!
In fact, if you are looking for a decent starter refractor, then you could do a lot worse than this Meade, and this is a lot better way to spend your cash than the Celestron.
The joy of this telescope is in its short tube, making it easy to set up and use, even for children. The big aperture lens will give great views of brighter objects and, with upgraded eyepieces, it should provide many years of happy astronomy.
- Decent aperture for the price
- Simple set-up and use
- Light and easy to transport
- Still only a 4" aperture
- Mount prone to vibration
- Poor spec. eyepieces supplied
Best Cheap Telescopes Summary
In many ways, it is harder to choose a telescope on a small budget.
You need to work out how to get the best value for your smaller outlay, which means balancing the size of aperture versus usefulness in the field.
Orion's 6" Dob is the clear winner on this front. You get a huge aperture on a sturdy, vibration-free base. For those reasons alone it is clearly in front of the other three scopes on this list.
However, the Dob retails at a price many would not call 'cheap'.
For that reason, we also recommend Orion's Starblast 4.5" EQ telescope. There is still sturdy reliability here and the 4.5" aperture will reveal a lot of the night sky you've never seen before.
If you want to see more telescopes, then check out our guide to this year's best models. We review 16 different telescopes to match all budgets and capabilities.