Choosing a telescope is the biggest decision we make as backyard astronomers.
Never fear! Our comprehensive guide to the best telescopes of 2021 will help you make the perfect choice for your needs and budget.
We’ve reviewed 16 telescopes aimed at four levels of astronomer. Click on a link below to see our selection of this year’s best scopes:
- Astronomers on a Budget (upto $250)
- Amateur Astronomers ($250-$500)
- Serious Astronomers ($500-$1500)
- Professional Astronomers ($1500+)
Astronomers on a Budget
These budget, entry-level models cost no more than about $250 and help you get started with amateur astronomy.
Click the button for pricing on Amazon or Telescope.com, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models.
If you have a little more money to spend on your first telescope, but you don’t want to go crazy, then these telescope reviews are for you.
Click the button for pricing on Amazon or Telescope.com, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models.
At this level, you’re either upgrading from a cheaper scope, or you’re keen to enter backyard astronomy with the best telescope you can afford.
Click the button for pricing on Amazon or Telescope.com, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models.
This is our pick of the best professional telescopes of 2021. These amazing telescopes are serious pieces of astronomy kit and only worth the money for stargazers with plenty of experience.
How to Pick the Best Telescope for You
Choosing the best telescope in 2021 for your needs is no easy task, especially when you’re new to astronomy. A poor user experience can put you off astronomy before you’ve even begun, which is why we’re keen to deliver expert telescope reviews.
Over the next few paragraphs, we make it easier to understand the pros and cons of each type of scope.
If you’d like more detailed help, use our telescope picker. Click this link to open a new tab and discover your perfect model.
A Telescope’s Aperture is the Most Important Element
Amateur astronomers consider light gathering power above all else. Aperture size is the consideration when buying a telescope!
To see fainter objects in greater detail you need to collect more light and the way to do that is to have a bigger aperture, which is why this is usually the main consideration of a telescope purchase.
(It’s also why we can’t see much with the naked eye, out pupil’s aperture is just 5-7mm and too small to gather much light.)
Modern consumer telescopes come in four varieties. The first, Dobsonian telescopes, offer the most aperture for your money. Known as ‘light buckets’ and with no frills attached, Dob’s offer just pure, unadulterated viewing power, and are often viewed as the best telescope for beginners.
Other types of scope either cost more for the same sized aperture – or you get a smaller aperture for the same price – because some of the manufacturing cost of non-Dobsonian telescopes goes into mounts, tracking, lens quality, etc.
Depending on the type and quality of astronomy you wish to carry out, it can be worth sacrificing some aperture for better quality equipment.
Over the next few paragraphs, we look at the pros and cons of the other three different telescope models:
- Newtonian Reflectors
- Compound (Catadioptrics)
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Refractor
Refractor telescopes are the only type which do not contain a mirror. They use only a glass lens(es) to focus the light entering the telescope tube.
That fixed lens is a big pro for some users because, especially with higher quality lenses, there are fewer optical distortions than with mirrors. This makes higher end refractors great for astrophotography, however, these tend to be more expensive ‘apochromatic’ lenses which are generally out of budget for new starters.
The downside of refracting telescopes is their cost versus size. Making lenses is only cheap when they are small, which is why so many entry-level telescopes are refractors. As lens size increases, they quickly become expensive to manufacture, especially as the quality of glass used to make them improves.
Refractors make great entry level scopes (where they are much cheaper) and are arguably the best telescopes at the top end of the quality scale, especially for astrophotography. However, in the mid ranges, you run the risk of having the worst of both worlds: smaller aperture and inferior quality glass.
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Newtonian Reflector
Named for Sir Isaac Newton, who invented the design, the Newtonian reflector works by collecting light to a mirror mounted at the end of a long tube, known as the primary mirror. The primary reflects collected light up to a secondary mirror which, in turn, focuses it towards an eyepiece mounted on the side of the telescope tube.
Newtonians are the workhorse of the telescope world. They can turn themselves to planetary and deep sky visual observing, as well as astrophotography when used with an equatorial mount, which is fantastic. The downside of this general use capability is they tend not to be amazing at any one thing.
For most new astronomers, this is not an issue. If you don’t choose a Dob, you are almost certain to grab these reflector telescopes on an equatorial mount and enjoy the versatility it offers.
Newtonian reflectors come into their own at the mid-price ranges, say $300 – $1000, where you’ll get a decent aperture and a good mount. At the top end of that price bracket the mounts can also be motorized at a future date to give go-to and tracking functionality.
More expensive reflectors will also have larger apertures and better quality optics. Their primary mirrors are shaped and coated to defeat inherent optical defects.
A Newtonian is a great way into the hobby of astronomy if you’ve never tried it before, so pay close attention to them in the telescope reviews below.
The Pros and Cons of Compound (Catadioptric) Telescopes
Catadioptrics (or cat’s) pull off a very clever trick: they combine lenses and mirrors to create a long focal length in a much shorter tube. The Maksutov Cassegrain style of scope (to give it its formal name) uses a corrector plate lens sits at the front while a series of mirrors inside the tube makes the light travel further to your eye.
For example, in a Dobsonian with a focal length of 1500mm, the tube will be around 60 inches (five feet) long! That same 1500mm squeezed into a cat might need a body of only two feet in length.
The obvious advantage of this is you get as much light-gathering power (aperture) and magnification as a Dob in a significantly smaller, lighter and more transportable package. The downside of a compound scope is that, inch for inch, it will cost you a lot more than a Dobsonian or Newtonian reflector, in fact, only high-end refractors are more expensive per inch of aperture than compound scopes.
These smaller-bodied telescopes are easy to motorize. As computerized telescopes, cat’s are a good choice for astrophotography. However, Celestron’s famous NexStar range (See our Celestron NexStar 8SE review) is supplied with an altazimuth mount, which means you need an addition wedge to carry out astrophotography.
Cat’s are the best telescope for you if you want to look at planets and outer space objects and you’re happy to let a computer find and follow your evening’s targets. You might also benefit from the go-to capabilities of a motorized catadioptric scope if you live under heavily light-polluted skies because they find objects that are to find otherwise.
For more detail on picking the best telescope for you, click here.
2021’s Best Budget Telescopes – Full Reviews
All of the recommended telescopes in our budget range cost no more than about $200. For the current price, please click the ‘view on Amazon’ button below the individual reviews. These are good entry-level telescopes and are more than enough to get younger children started with their astronomy journey.
Click here for our Best Budget Telescopes full guide.
In entry-level telescopes you’ll find that the makers put as much of the cost of manufacture as possible into the aperture. This means that you can get a good-sized scope, e.g. the 6″ Orion SkyQuest Dobsonian or the 5″ Celestron PowerSeeker, but you can expect the rest of the equipment provided to be less robust.
Telescope mounts tend to be weaker and suffer from more vibration. Any eyepieces supplied are more likely to be lower quality Kelner-type and the finderscope may be a simple red-dot variety.
At this price astronomy is all about the brighter and more accessible celestial objects. Solar system sights like the moon and rings of Saturn, as well as the brightest deep space objects like the Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades will be the limits of what you can usefully see with these smaller models.
That will be more than enough to get you addicted to the night sky whilst you save up for something bigger…
Refractor: Meade Infinity 102mm AZ
Our best budget refractor telescope is Meade Instruments Infinity 102AZ. It’s size makes it a great travel scope and useful for vacations and camping weekends.
The scope itself has the same aperture as the Celestron Omni below, but can be bought for less than half the price! In fact, you should expect to pay around $200 for this little scope (click here for today’s price on Amazon), which is a significant saving on the Celestron.
The reason Meade can sell a similar quality beginner telescope for a much lower price is the telescope mount, which is the cheaper to make and less sturdy alt-azimuth mount.
With an aperture of 102mm (4 inches), the Infinity matches the Celestron but it has a shorter focal length of 600mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/5.9, compared to the Celestron’s f/9.8. The result of this is lower magnification in the Meade with the same eyepiece. That’s not a bad thing because most astronomy takes place at relatively low magnifications.
Lower magnification power means you get a wider field of view (you’ll see more of the sky) in your eyepiece through the Meade than the Celestron. If you want to explore outer space objects, like galaxies and star clusters, then wider fields of view and lower magnification are better. For the best viewing experience, aim for the darkest skies you can find.
Keep in mind that a 4″ aperture reflector will never give great views of DSOs, so this easy to use scope (like all budget scopes) is best suited to observing the solar system’s brightest members, which will be rich in detail with a scope of this size. This a great little starter telescope to get started in amateur astronomy.
- Large primary lens for the price
- Simple to get started
- Wider field of view
- Altazimuth mount
- Low quality eyepieces
Reflector: Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ
5″ / 127mm
The best budget telescope in the reflector category is the Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker scope.
This five-inch aperture Newtonian reflector telescope is supported by an equatorial mount and is a very, very popular telescope for beginners. Expect to pay around $150 (click the view on Amazon button, below, for today’s price), which is great value for the aperture and scope.
Five inches reveals a huge number of celestial objects under a dark sky. As with any smaller scope, brighter objects in the sky work best, so the moon, rings of saturn and brighter objects such as Andromeda Galaxy and Orion Nebula are the ones you’ll have most success with.
Even though the value is impressive, make sure to save some money back for better eyepieces than those supplied – it will make all the difference to your first astronomy experiences!
The Celestron 127eq PowerSeeker has a 1000mm focal length, giving it a mid-speed focal ratio of f/7.9. This fits in nicely with the main characteristic of the equatorially mounted Newtonian, i.e. it is a great ‘all rounder’ model for beginners and a useful home telescope for the family.
We’ve compiled a thorough, dedicated review to this model which you can read here.
- Amazing starter price
- Good for moon and planets
- Strong entry point scope
- Eyepieces will need replacing
- Mount suffers from vibrations
Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT6
6″ / 150mm
We’ve cheated a little here, Orion’s SkyQuest XT6 doesn’t quite fit inside our ‘budget’ cost of $250, but its price tag is not far over over and since it’s only a few dollars more than the XT4.5 at the time of writing, it makes sense to include it.
Read our full-page review of the XT4.5
Grabbing a full six-inch aperture mirror for less than $300 is a great deal that shouldn’t be overlooked. Click the ‘view on Amazon’ button for today’s price.
Like most Dob’s, this one has a long focal length of 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/8. It provides easy to use, quality viewing for the moon and brighter planets in our solar system and, with its 6″ aperture, you’ll be able to see a decent amount of star clusters and fainter deep sky objects like Andromeda Galaxy.
With any Dob telescope the payoff is always light gathering power against control. This is a ‘point and shoot’ scope – there’s no fancy equatorial mount and no prospect of tracking celestial objects with a motor or using the telescope for astrophotography.
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However, as amateur telescopes go, this is a great option. If you just want to get started with amateur astronomy, have a limited budget and want the best view of the night sky possible for the price, then this is the scope for you!
- Biggest aperture at price point
- Simple ‘point & shoot’ mount
- Easy to use for novices
- Long and bulky to move
- Collimation required from time to time
- Cheap finder and eyepieces
Compound: Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop
3.5″ / 90mm
Catadioptric telescopes (also known as compound scopes, or ‘cat’s’) are the most expensive per inch of aperture. This is why there are no ‘proper’ cat’s available to buy at budget price point.
Since we do want to provide an option even at this entry-level, we’ve chosen the Orion StarMax 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain as our best telescope of the year in the budget compound category.
In reality, this is a travel scope, rather than a fully-fledged backyard scope. As such, it comes with a table top stand instead of a telescope mount, a reflex sight for finding objects and weighs just 6.5lbs.
Find out more about reflex sights in our Telrad finder review
The big drawback is the aperture, which is 90mm or a little over 3.5″.
It pulls off a wonderful trick of hiding a focal length of 1250mm within its tiny body (more than the Dob, above) which gives it focal ratio of f/13.8 and means it can magnify well. However, without much light gathering ability there’s no use for large magnifications.
You can expect to pay around $200 for this telescope (click the button below for today’s price) and it would make a fun second scope for vacations or teaching young children about the solar system.
Ultimately, our view is that if you’re buying this to get into astronomy, your better options are to pay a few dollars more for the XT6 Dob, above.
If you really must have a catadioptric, save up a bit more for all the benefits of the NexStar 4SE which will bring you much better enjoyment for a longer period of time.
- Small and portable
- Simple to use
- Very small aperture
- No mount
2021’s Best Amateur Telescopes – Full Reviews
In this section of our best telescope 2021 reviews you will land a decent beginner-level telescope. You will see some trade-offs between aperture and equipment quality. Most manufacturers will sacrifice accessory quality – e.g. telescope mounts and eyepieces – in favor of giving their scope as much light-gathering power as possible.
Big apertures, as found in the 6″ Orion AstroView and 8 inch Sky-Watcher Dobsonian are not to be sniffed at. If the ‘go-to’ capability of a compound scope is your preferred choice, the you’ll find the NexStar 4SE to be the classic and very popular choice in this price range, and with good reason.
Refractor: Celestron Omni XLT 102mm
4″ / 102mm
Our best amateur refractor telescope of 2021 is Celestron’s Omni XLT 102. Celestron is one of the biggest telescope brands, and they know how to make a popular telescope.
The ‘XLT’ part of its name comes from the optical coatings used on the 102mm (4″) objective lens.This gives better light transmission through the lenses, which is why it costs about $50 more than the Meade Infinity – winner of the best budget refractor, above.
This refracting telescope itself is a very competent intermediate model. Lenses are decent quality, although you should expect some chromatic aberration at this price point (but owners say it doesn’t disturb the viewing) and, if you’ve never looked at planets through a scope before, you will be blown away when you see the rings of Saturn and jupiter‘s bands through the Omni’s 4″ lens.
The objective lens tube has a 1000mm (39 inch) focal length giving a focal ratio of f/9.8. This makes it a long scope but gives it the skills needed to make great work of planet watching. The decision you need to make is whether you need to spend 50% more on this scope than you would for the very similar Meade?
- Great optics for planets
- High standard equatorial mount
- Decent value for money
- Long 35″ tube
- Too much of price is in the mount
- Only one eyepiece supplied
Reflector: Orion AstroView 6″
6″ / 150mm
The Orion AstroView 6″ Newtonian is our choice for the best amateur reflector telescope this year and will set you back about $450.
Click for our full review of the Orion AstroView 6 Telescope
Its 6-inch aperture primary mirror sits at one end of an optical tube with a focal length of 750mm giving it a focal ratio of f5, which is quite ‘fast’ for a telescope and lends itself to astrophotography, although you will need to invest more in a better telescope mount and motorized tracking for that.
It has a wide field of view, making it useful for seeing objects like galaxies in our night skies, and a 6″ aperture means you’re collecting a decent amount of light, so theoretically you can see objects in the sky down to magnitude 14 with great seeing. Dark skies, of course, give the best viewing experience.
However, 6″ of reflector aperture is best used for brighter objects in the solar system and brighter Messier objects. If fainter deep space objects are your thing – and astrophotography is not – then you’ll be better rewarded by going for the Sky-Watcher 8″ Dobsonian, which is reviewed below.
The supplied aluminium mount is the perfectly acceptable AstroView EQ-3 which can be upgraded to house electronic guidance at some point in the future.
Like all Newtonians, this six-inch reflector telescope from Orion is a decent ‘workhorse’ not designed for any particular type of stargazing. it’s an ideal model if you want to get a feel for amateur astronomy on a medium budget, but be prepared to want something bigger once you’ve found your way around the sky!
- Solid ‘Jack of all trades’ scope
- Ideal for starting out
- Two Plössl eyepieces supplied
- Not a specialist at anything
- Good but not great mount
Dobsonian: SkyWatcher Collapsible 8″
Our award for best telescope in the amateur Dobsonian category goes to this collapsible model from Sky-Watcher which delivers no less than 8″ of aperture for your viewing dollars!
Compared to a six-inch aperture, 8 inches gathers over 70% more light which lets you see those fainter, deeper sky objects like nebulae, clusters and galaxies. Like most Dob’s, being a light bucket is the secret to success with this scope.
See our dedicated SkyWatcher Collapsible Dobsonian review
Expect to pay around $450 for this easy to use 8″ collapsible (click the button below to see today’s price on Amazon) which will show celestial objects as faint as magnitude 14 and details like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
The Sky-Watcher’s party trick is collapsing for easier transportation and storage. In its ‘built’ state, it has a focal length of some 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/6, great for wide-field views of star clusters. The tube rests on a rocker-mount base with Teflon bearings and a tension clutch for simple ‘point-and-shoot’ guidance.
Keep in mind that this Sky-Watcher is a beast, weighing it at about 70 lbs, but it is simple to collapse and rebuild as needed – just three separate knobs release/fix the scope.
Keep in mind that you won’t get go-to tracking, slow motion controls or be able to do astrophotography with this scope. Instead, this is all about the pure thrill of finding and seeing elusive deep sky objects.
This is a great scope if you’re tied to a budget but still want some amazing deep sky viewing. Getting 8″ of aperture for this price tag is a steal and delivers a fantastic stargazing experience!
- Huge mirror for the price
- Easy to setup and take down
- Simple to use
- Heavy kit at 70lbs
- Possibly overwhelming for newbie
Compound: Celestron NexStar 4SE
The Celestron’s NexStar 4SE is the baby model in the SE range. This computerized telescope, with its four inches of aperture on a single fork arm, is the smallest ‘proper’ Maksutov-Cassegrain, which is why we’re calling it the best compound telescope for amatuer astronomers.
It’s an ideal beginner telescope for the backyard astronomer who wants the convenience and speed of a ‘goto’ database and guiding motor.
Read our full-length review of the NexStar 4SE
Be wary though, you’re paying around $450 for a motor and database, not a big aperture. Sure, you may have a selection of 40,000 objects in the sky you can point the 4SE at, but it is just too small to see many of the fainter ones.
What’s great about this scope is it makes everything easy (as does its big brother, the NexStar 6SE, for a few hundred extra).
Use the computerized hand control to point it in the direction of bright objects like the moon and planets and, honestly, if you’re brand new to astronomy you will not be disappointed as it tracks their motion across the heavens.
Similarly, if you’re thinking of introducing kids to the hobby, then the NexStar 4SE is a great model to begin with as they can easily type into the controller any object they want to look at and it will find it.
The big watch-out for the entire NexStar range is they have a short battery life and need additional power to be useful for more than an evening’s viewing.
What compound telescopes like this one do very well is offer a light and compact telescope package. This is small enough to store just about anywhere and light enough for any adult to move around on their own.
This is one of the best telescopes there is, and with good reason – it is a versatile little scope. The NexStar 4SE is an easy way to get into amateur astronomy without having loads of disappointing evenings being unable to see the celestial object you’re looking for, especially if you remember that 4 inches will limit what this scope can physically show you.
- Great introductory scope
- Easy to move and store
- Track moon and planets
- 4″ won’t show DSOs
- Short battery life
- High cost per inch aperture
2021’s Best Serious Telescopes – Full Reviews
This is still a great budget (think high-hundreds to low-thousands of dollars) and will buy you 8 inches of aperture in a Newtonian Reflector, or 10″ if you are happy to have the basic functionality of a Dob.
Your budget will also stretch to an incredibly high quality 100mm (4″) refractor, but a telescope mount will cost you extra. If you’d prefer a motorized compound scope to do your astronomy, you’ll be able to buy the incomparable NexStar 6SE.
Scroll down to see a detailed review of each of our four best telescopes for serious astronomers in 2021.
Refractor: Orion Sirius ED80
3.4″ / 80mm
Orion’s Sirius ED80 refractor is, in our opinion, the best refractor for the serious backyard astronomer who wants to step into astrophotography. Be warned though, you are unlikely to get much change from $1500 for this computerized telescope.
Read our detailed Orion ED80 Refractor Telescope review
Unlike the much more expensive SkyWatcher ProED (see professional scopes further down this page), the Sirius refracting telescope comes with a high quality equatorial mount with computerized hand control and motorized tracking and a 42,000 item database.
This scope’s fully coated lens is an 80mm (3.14″) apochromatic, air-spaced doublet. The focal length is 600mm, giving a mid-range focal ratio of f/7.5. The lens is made of extra-low dispersion glass for superior light transmission.
As with most refractor telescopes at this price point, Orion’s Sirius ED80 is ideal for astrophotography enthusiasts, which is the only good reason for investing in a limited aperture.
Astrophotography lives or dies on the quality of the mount. The sturdy tripod on this model is made of 1.75″ stainless steel knitted together with a metal accessory tray for added stability. It is strong enough to house all the photography gear you’ll need to take amazing images.
See our best astrophotography telescopes
The motorized database has periodic error correction to further improve object tracking for photography. Should you wish to look through this with your own eyes instead of a camera, it is supplied with a 1.25″ 25mm Sirius Plössl eyepiece and an 8×40 finderscope.
- Professional doublet lens
- Great astrophotography setup
- Very expensive
- Not suitable for visual astronomy
Reflector: Orion SkyView Pro8
8″ / 200mm
Although a Newtonian and a Dobsonian at the same price will never match apertures, this Orion SkyView Pro8 telescope still offers a respectable 8 inches of mirror on a decent German equatorial mount (GEM).
Eight inches just about qualifies for ‘light bucket’ status and will gather in 73% more light than a 6″ scope can manage. Its primary mirror sits at the end of a tube with a focal length of 1000mm giving it a fast focal ratio of f/4.9, great for star clusters and the Orion Nebula.
The SkyView’s dimensions make it ideal for outer space objects from galaxies to open clusters and nebulae to globular clusters. Add in a motorized 42,000 object database and you have a complete all-rounder instrument to last a lifetime for around $1000 (see today’s price on Amazon by clicking the orange button below).
Unusually for a new scope, it is also supplied with two telescope eyepieces: 10mm and 25mm Plössls, as well as a collimation cap (although you might prefer the ease and accuracy of a laser collimator). The Plössls are high and low magnification eyepieces, providing 100x and 40x magnification respectively.
This reflector telescope also comes with a perfectly sound, if a little basic, 8×40 finderscope. With the motorized go-to database, this is less of an issue. Select your celestial object of choice from the controller and watch as the internal stepper motor slews the telescope around to get it perfectly centered in your eyepiece.
The SkyView Pro 8″ is our best telescope in the ‘serious reflectors’ category because it is superb. Under dark night skies it’s handy for deep space, presenting great views of Andromeda Galaxy. It has a focal ratio which also presents great images of solar system bodies. This versatile scope is a good investment which will please the serious backyard astronomer who likes to see a little bit of everything.
- Light-bucket sized mirror
- Easy setup and use
- Versatile for solar system and deep space observing
- Heavy, weighing in over 50lbs
- Finderscope is a basic 8×40
Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT10
Our best serious Dobsonian telescope is the Orion’s SkyQuest XT10.
As its name suggests, this is a genuine ‘light-bucket’ of a telescope, offering a large aperture of 10″ on its primary mirror. Under clear and dark skies you will theoretically see objects as faint as magnitude 15, which even puts tiny, distant Pluto within reach!
Of course, Dob’s are famed for offering great value as well as massive apertures. This SkyQuest does not disappoint, your ten inch aperture will cost only $650 or so and deliver an amazing viewing experience.
As you’d expect, the base is a classic ‘point and shoot’ design but Orion has used their ‘CorrectTension’ technology which uses friction to keep the telescope perfectly balanced no matter which angle you have it pointing. There’s also the option to spend an extra few hundred dollars to grab the motorized version.
Astrophotography is not available to you with this telescope, but the celestial objects you’ll be able to find for yourself should be breathtaking compared to the average 6-incher at the local astronomy club.
See our dedicated Orion SkyQuest XT10 telescope review
However, with aperture comes bulk. The XT10 has a focal length of 1200mm and weighs over 50lbs, which makes it a beast to move around, although it does readily separate to make transporting it easier.
At this budget you will not find a bigger aperture in a new telescope. It will make light work of the solar system – details on Jupiter and mars are stunning! And, if deep space objects are your thing, but deep pockets aren’t, then add this telescope to your wish list now.
- Huge 10″ mirror
- Easy ‘point-and-shoot’ mount
- Amazingly low cost per inch of aperture
- Large and heavy
- Tight fit in car trunk
- Motorized version much more costly
Compound: Celestron NexStar 6SE
6″ / 150mm
Celestron’s NexStar range of catadioptric (compound) telescopes is perhaps the most popular on the planet, and the Celestron NexStar 6SE is the best selling of all the ‘SE’ computerized telescopes.
The NexStar 8SE would have taken the best telescope spot in our professional category if it were not for Celestron’s superior, bigger – and more expensive – CPC 1100.
Read our full, detailed review of Celestron’s Nexstar 6SE telescope by clicking here.
The 6SE certainly deserves its spot in our list. First off, six inches is not a small aperture and, mounted on a single fork arm with some clever electronics, it will help you see far more than you are likely to achieve with a reflector of the same size.
The telescope body is mounted on a single arm, motor-driven alt-azimuth mount with a computerized hand control containing a database of 40,000 night sky objects. Select any one of them with the handheld, integral controller and the motorized tracking will center it in your eyepiece and keep it there as it moves across the sky.
But, the 6SE is subject to the same limitations as every other 6″ telescope: it can only see celestial bodies to a certain magnitude, so be prepared to discover that not all 40,000 objects on the database are actually viewable with this telescope, especially if you don’t enjoy a very dark sky.
There are two types of astronomer, generally speaking, that buy into the SE range. The first lives under light-polluted skies and struggles to locate faint objects in the sky because the viewing is poor. The motorized telescope gets around that problem by pointing directly at the celestial object you select from the database.
The second group of astronomers that love the SE compound telescopes range are those who would much sooner spend their time outside in the dark looking at objects rather than finding them. Computerized telescopes like the 6SE do the hunting for you, and the sky tour function will pull out recommended features for that evening’s viewing.
As with any altaz-mounted telescope the NexStar 6SE is not a great choice for astrophotography (although it is possible) and – like all Celestron guided scopes – you’ll need to invest in additional power because of its short battery life.
If you want to skip the difficulties of learning your way around night sky viewing in favor of seeing some stunning sights within and beyond the solar system, then the 6SE is a great choice.
- Great package for the money
- Easy object finding and tracking
- Simple to setup and use
- You will need to spend more on power supply
- Aperture is sacrificed for motors
- Supplied eyepieces aren’t great
2021’s Best Professional Telescopes – Full Reviews
These are big-budget telescopes, so we expect a very high quality piece of equipment and / or incredibly large apertures.
For example, the Orion EON 130 ED is the best refractor but is still ‘only’ 120mm (4.5″) of aperture. However, its triplet, apochromatic lens is incredibly well made and it costs a lot of money to manufacture 5 inches of glass to this level of quality.
By comparison, if you’d like your cash to go into light-gathering capability, then it’s the 14″ Dobsonian which you should be investing in this year. This telescope is a real whopper and will reveal details the like of which we mere mortals with our 3″-8″ scopes can only dream of.
Scroll down to see a detailed review of each of our four best telescopes for professional-level backyard astronomers.
Refractor: Orion EON 115mm ED Triplet
4.5″ / 115mm
The Orion EON 115mm ED Triplet ProED refractor has the best lenses of any telescope in this review, and by some distance.
This refracting telescope is the only model of our 16 that comes without a mount, and yet it will still set you back a whopping $1,800. The reason for this is twofold, it has a huge, fully coated 115mm (4.5″) objective lens, which is incredibly hard to do well, and it is manufactured to phenomenally high quality.
The lens is apochromatic, which is one specially manufactured to reduce aberrations and spherical image distortions than standard (and cheaper) achromat lenses.
The lens is also a ‘triplet’, which means it is actually made of three simpler lenses aligned with each other in a way which improves the image quality.
APO lenses are more expensive to make – dramatically so as they get bigger. At over 4 inches, the 115mm lens on this Orion is an engineering marvel.
You won’t be surprised to learn that this model is primarily aimed at the astrophotographer but a 4.5 inch aperture means you’ll also get exceptional views of the moon and planets using this scope with your own eyes.
As refracting telescopes go, this is one of the best available in 2021. In combining aperture with quality, Orion have created a refractor capable of seeing incredible detail with very little aberration. If money is not and issue for you, or you just want some of the best astro equipment available today, then this could be the model for you.
- Large triplet lens
- High quality APO glass
- Amazing tool for astrophotography
- Optical tube only, no mount
- Very long body
- Needs more equipment before it can be used
Reflector: Orion Sirius 8 EQ-G
8″ / 203mm
At the top of our chart for Newtonians is this Sirius 8″ model from Orion.
Sure, it’s not the biggest scope in terms of aperture (see the Dobsonian reviewed next for that honor) but it does present a good package deal because it is supplied with the robust Sirius EQ-G equatorial mount.
The EQ-G mount is supplied with a motorized autoguider with periodic error correction and a computerized hand control with 42,000 object database. With this 8″ mirror, you should be able to see most of those objects under a dark sky.
Expect to pay a little over $1500 for this top end reflector telescope, click the button below for today’s Amazon price.
The Sirius 8 is geared towards the astrophotographer. This computerized telescope has an 8″ primary mirror mounted in a tube with a focal length of 1000mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/4.9. This is considered ‘fast’ and makes it an ideal medium-cost scope for astrophotography and wide-field views of star clusters.
Its primary mirror is ground in a parabolic curve to improve light resolving quality, particularly around the edges of the image, which reduces chromatic aberration.
This Orion model comes with an 8×40 finderscope and one 25mm Plössl eyepiece, which you will almost certainly need to upgrade for better performance.
If you’re big on imaging the night sky, then the camera will do the light gathering for you and an 8″ aperture is ample for amazing results.
However, if you’re looking to use this scope only for naked-eye observations, then we’d suggest putting your dollars into a model that either lets in more light (see the Dob, below) or is easier to manage, such as the NexStar 8SE.
- Parabolic 8″ mirror
- Excellent mount
- Ideal setup for astrophotography
- Not a huge aperture for the price
- There are better choices for visual astronomy
Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XX12i
12″ / 305mm
The whole point of owning a Dobsonian telescope is to get as much light-gathering aperture as possible for the price, and Orion’s 12″ truss tube does not disappoint.
It is an absolute monster of a light bucket with an unbelievably large aperture and will pull more detail from night skies than you’ve ever experienced.
It happily earns its place at the top of this list as the best professional Dobsonian ‘simply’ by being a computerized telescope with a whopping a foot of light-gathering power for a little under $2000 (for today’s price, click the orange button below).
If you had the 12″ mirror on this Orion in your backyard, you could expect to see celestial objects down to magnitude 15, putting the (dwarf) planet Pluto within your grasp!
Compared to a mirror size of 10″, this Orion Dobsonian telescope collects 44% more light. The result of this power is the ability to resolve significantly fainter night sky objects and details within their structure.
What’s more, and it’s unusual for a Dob, this model comes complete with a 14,000 object database accessed with a computerized hand control. Connected to the scope by motors, the database slews the massive mirror to center any celestial object of your choice in its viewfinder.
As you can see from the picture, the Intelliscope has an open truss design to keep weight down. The 8 trusses, held in four ‘captive pairs’ are treated with an anti-reflective coating so they do not interfere with your images.
It has a whopping 1500mm (59 inches) focal length, giving it a fast focal ratio of f/4.9. This is a beast designed for outer space, faint object observations – you’ll be the envy of everyone at your astronomy club as you pull faint objects from the NGC and dust lanes in nebulae with ease.
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To make observing easier it is simple to take down and set-up, with no tools needed. Technically, it can be transferred to any location by one person… although it does weigh in at 83lbs assembled, so you also need to get a wheel kart to stand any chance of doing it alone.
The focuser is 2″ Crayford dual speed (11:1) which is supplied with a 1.25″ adapter. The XX12i comes supplied with a 2″ 35mm low power DeepView eyepiece and a higher powered 10mm Sirius Plössl.
The long tube may mean that shorter adults, teens and younger children will need a step to see through the eyepiece when this scope is pointed towards the zenith.
Undoubtedly, this brute is a worthy champion of best telescope for deep sky observing; the stargazing experience is phenomenal. If you have deep pockets and an undying love of even deeper space, then this huge, motorized Orion Dobsonian may be all the telescope you ever dreamed of.
- Large aperture for <$2000
- 14,000 object database
- Motorized tracking
- Very heavy
- Long tube means high viewing height at zenith
Compound: Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100HD
The Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright 11″ is a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope which carries the top spot for compound scopes in our Best Professional telescopes list.
Almost as large as the Dob, above, but the major benefit of compound telescopes is a much smaller body and longer focal length. This smart science explains why you should expect to pay around $3000 on this telescope (for today’s price, click the orange button below) making it the most expensive one on our list.
Celestron have equipped this top of the range computerized telescope with their best optics. The optical system is a mirror/lens combination that corrects aberration and curvature for fantastic imagery and pinpoint stars to the edge of the field.
What else is it you get for the money?
See our complete review of the CPC Deluxe 100HD Telescope
First off, you’re getting a considerable 11-inch aperture. That is going to let you see celestial objects to magnitude 15, which includes Pluto on its best day and countless faint and exceedingly distant galaxies.
The large mirror comes with premium coatings to improve image quality, so you should also expect to see more detail in brighter nebulae and galaxies, like Andromeda galaxy Orion Nebula than you ever have before.
The mirror is housed in a relatively short tube which, thanks to the clever Schmidt-Cassegrain design, provides a focal length of 2800 mm (110 inches), giving a slow focal ratio of f/10.
The computer tracking system on this 11″ model comes complete with Celestron’s NexStar control technology and GPS alignment, i.e. the telescope knows where it is and what time it is, so removing any chance of user input error!
Astrophotography is possible with the addition of an HD Pro Wedge, and the motors are setup for all-star polar alignment and programmable periodic error correction.
As with all the motorised Celestron models, you’ll need additional power to run it for any useful length of time. But your considerable financial outlay brings as added bonus: this model’s computerized hand control comes with a ‘hibernate’ function, which means it remembers its star alignment from one night to the next, so no need to do it every time you go outside.
The telescope body rests in dual fork arm mount. This is a distinct (and required) improvement on the single fork from the NexStar SE models on this list, and lends the 1100 CPC StarBright 11″ telescope the stability such a beefy model needs as it slews around the sky on its computerised altazimuth mount.
Its size is manageable, but its 84lbs weight mean it is not possible to move this around as a single unit. It is transportable in sections for set-up in the backyard or dark sky location of your choice, but not as a one-person job.
With its 40,000 item database – all of which are in reach of this telescope’s 11 inches under a dark sky – the Celestron CPC 1100 is a great choice for the backyard astronomer with a big budget who wants a massive aperture, amazing optics, ease of use and relatively simple setup.
- Massive mirror in a short body
- Easy setup and use out of the box
- Simple object location and tracking
- Needs additional power
- Not suitable for astrophtography without additional wedge.
Last update on 2021-09-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API