Best Telescopes of 2021 – 16 Models Reviewed for New or Upgrading Stargazers

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

These budget, entry-level models cost no more than about $300 and help you get started with amateur astronomy.

Refractor
Reflector
Dobsonian
Compound
Celestron Starsense Explorer LT 80AZ
Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ
Sky-Watcher Classic 6" Dob
Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop
Celestron's StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ telescope
Celestron's AstroMaster 114EQ telescope
Sky-Watcher's Classic 6-inch Dobsonian telescope
Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm TableTop...
Refractor
Celestron Starsense Explorer LT 80AZ
Celestron's StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ telescope
Reflector
Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ
Celestron's AstroMaster 114EQ telescope
Dobsonian
Sky-Watcher Classic 6" Dob
Sky-Watcher's Classic 6-inch Dobsonian telescope
Compound
Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop
Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm TableTop...

Click the button for today’s price, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models. If you make a purchase after clicking a button on this page, we may receive a small commission. This does not alter the price that you pay.


Amateur Astronomers

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. Expect these models to cost up to $600.

Refractor
Reflector
Dobsonian
Compound
Celestron Omni XLT 102mm
Orion AstroView 6"
Sky-Watcher 8" Flextube
Celestron NexStar 4SE
Celestron 22150 Omni XLT AZ 102mm Refractor (Blue)
Orion 9827 AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector...
Sky-Watcher Flextube 200 Dobsonian 8-inch...
Celestron - NexStar 4SE Telescope - Computerized...
Refractor
Celestron Omni XLT 102mm
Celestron 22150 Omni XLT AZ 102mm Refractor (Blue)
Reflector
Orion AstroView 6"
Orion 9827 AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector...
Dobsonian
Sky-Watcher 8" Flextube
Sky-Watcher Flextube 200 Dobsonian 8-inch...
Compound
Celestron NexStar 4SE
Celestron - NexStar 4SE Telescope - Computerized...

Click the button for today’s price, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models. If you make a purchase after clicking a button on this page, we may receive a small commission. This does not alter the price that you pay.


Serious Astronomers

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. These models will cost between $600 and $1000.

Refractor
Dobsonian
Dobsonian ($)
Compound
Orion ED80T CF APO Triplet
Orion SkyQuest XT10
Apertura AD12
Celestron NexStar 6SE
Orion's ED80T CF Triplet Apochromatic telescope
Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian...
Apertura's 12-inch AP12 Dobsonian telescope
Celestron - NexStar 6SE Telescope - Computerized...
Refractor
Orion ED80T CF APO Triplet
Orion's ED80T CF Triplet Apochromatic telescope
Dobsonian
Orion SkyQuest XT10
Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian...
Dobsonian ($)
Apertura AD12
Apertura's 12-inch AP12 Dobsonian telescope
Compound
Celestron NexStar 6SE
Celestron - NexStar 6SE Telescope - Computerized...

Click the button for today’s price, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models. If you make a purchase after clicking a button on this page, we may receive a small commission. This does not alter the price that you pay.


Professional Astronomers

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. You’ll be paying over $1000 for each of these.

Refractor
Dobsonian
Compound
Compound ($)
Orion EON 115ED Triplet
SkyLine 12" Dobsonian
Celestron NexStar 8SE
Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100
Orion 10087 EON 115mm ED Triplet Apochromatic...
SkyLine 12
NexStar 8SE catadioptric telescope
Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 HD Computerized...
Refractor
Orion EON 115ED Triplet
Orion 10087 EON 115mm ED Triplet Apochromatic...
Dobsonian
SkyLine 12" Dobsonian
SkyLine 12
Compound
Celestron NexStar 8SE
NexStar 8SE catadioptric telescope
Compound ($)
Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100
Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 HD Computerized...

Click the button for today’s price, or the ‘Full Review’ link to see why we recommend these models. If you make a purchase after clicking a button on this page, we may receive a small commission. This does not alter the price that you pay.


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!

All telescopes work by gathering in light and focusing it to a point. Eyepieces magnify that focussed image so you can see details of faint and distant celestial objects.

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:

  • Refractors
  • 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: Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ

Starsense Explorer LT 80AZ
Aperture

3.2″ / 80mm

Focal Length

900mm, f/11.3

Mount

Altazimuth

Other Sizes

102mm

Our best budget refractor telescope is Celestron’s StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ. It’s StarSense technology makes it an extremely beginner-friendly telescope.

The scope itself has an 80mm aperture, which is just over 3 inches and retails for around $200 (click here for today’s price, which opens in a new tab), but that is not the best thing about this model.

StarSense technology is Celestron’s patented system that couples your smartphone with this telescope to help you find any object within its grasp. Just download the app, use your unique code to get it setup, and the phone safely attaches to the telescope and uses your camera and its built-in star maps to work out exactly where it’s pointing.

After that, ask the app to show you any visible night sky object, and your own phone will guide you in moving the telescope so that what you’re looking for ends us dead-center in the eyepiece.

No more star hopping, no more technical alignment process, and no more guessing. This is the perfect way for new astronomers, young or old, to instantly access rewarding stargazing. See the short video below for more details about how StarSense works.

Keep in mind that this telescope is a beginner’s model. The 80mm lens doesn’t let in loads of light, so you’ll be spending most of your time looking at the Moon and bright planets. This Explorer model will also reveal brighter galaxies and gas clouds, and a host of double stars.

Its focal ratio of f/11 makes it a very ‘slow’ scope, meaning higher magnifications and smaller fields of view for any given eyepiece. This is ideal for a scope that will almost exclusively be used on the brightest and closest objects.

In the box are two eyepieces, a 25mm and 10mm. These deliver 36x and 90x magnification, respectively. There’s also a 2x Barlow lens, which doubles these magnifications for stunning views of Lunar craters, Saturn’s rings, and Jupiter’s brightest moons.

The one watch-out with this model is the tripod. Mounts are often used by manufacturers to save money on budget telescopes, and this one is no exception. The slow motion controls help reduce the problem but be prepared to learn to manage vibration when you move the telescope (here’s some cheap and free ideas – opens a new tab).

This a great little starter telescope for anyone on a limited budget and who just wants to see the best the night sky has to offer without learning manually to navigate the stars.

Pros

  • StarSense technology
  • Easy to set up
  • Ideal for beginners

Cons

  • Mount vibration
  • Low quality eyepieces

Reflector: Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ

Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ
Aperture

4.5″ / 114mm

Focal Length

1000mm, f/8.7

Mount

Equatorial

Other Sizes

76mm, 130mm

The best budget telescope in the reflector category is the Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ scope.

This four-and-a-half-inch aperture Newtonian reflector telescope is supported by an equatorial mount and is a very, very popular telescope for beginners. Expect to pay around $260 (see today’s price, which will open in a new tab), which is great value for the aperture and scope.

With a focal ratio of f/8.7, this model is slightly slow. Practically though, it’s been designed as a “jack of all trades”, equally comfortable with detailed, high magnification views of the planets as it is with low magnification, wide-field views of galaxies and gas clouds. All of which makes it ideally spec’d for the beginner stargazer.

This model 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 the crescent of Venus are all great candidates for study.

For deep sky objects (DSOs) the AstroMaster fares well, but is limited by physics: it’s 4.5″ aperture only gathers enough light to view brighter DSOs, but there are plenty of these to explore. Objects such as Andromeda Galaxy and the Great Hercules Cluster are well within its grasp, as are many others which we’ll help you to see with our DSO observation guides.

This AstroMaster comes with two eyepieces included, a 10mm and a 20mm, which deliver 100x and 50x magnification, respectively. There’s no Barlow lens, and the eyepieces are basic, so you will probably want to quickly replace or at least add to what’s supplied for more options. For inspiration, take a look at our telescope eyepiece reviews (link opens a new tab).

The one watch-out, as with most telescopes at this price point, is the mount. It’s sturdy and capable enough for the job it needs to do, and needs no tools to set it up, but it’s not exemplary. Expect to experience some vibration as you move the scope or alter the focus. There are cheap and free ways to reduce vibration (see here, opens a new tab) and, in reality, it is only a minor annoyance that you’ll quickly get used to.

Overall, this is a wonderful beginner’s scope with the ability to show you deep sky objects as well as planetary and lunar detail. It’s easy to setup right out of the box and intuitive enough for children to enjoy using.

Pros

  • Great starter scope
  • Strong for Moon and planets
  • Plenty of DSOs to see

Cons

  • Eyepieces will need replacing
  • Mount suffers from vibrations

↑ Back to Table

Dobsonian: Sky-Watcher 6″ Classic

Sky-Watcher's classic 6" Dobsonian telescope
Aperture

6″ / 152mm

Focal Length

1200mm, f/7.9

Mount

Dobsonian

Other Sizes

8″, 10″

We’ve cheated a little here, Sky-Watcher’s Classic 6″ Dob doesn’t quite fit inside our ‘budget’ cost of $300, but its price tag is not far over over. Models below this cost are tabletop design and hugely usable, so we’ve opted to break our own rules a little.

Don’t be too alarmed though, this model currently retails for around $350 (see today’s price, which opens a new tab) which is still fantastic value for a 6″ dobsonian – comfortably the largest aperture ‘budget’ scope in our list.

Read our detailed review of Orion’s more expensive XT6 Dobsonian

Like most Dob’s, this one has a long focal length of 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/7.9. 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 brighter 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.

That said, this does make it a fantastic model for learning your way around the night sky. It’s also incredibly simple to setup and use, even for a complete beginner.

The only pieces of maintenance you’ll need to keep on top of (which is true for all reflector telescopes) is aligning your finderscope and collimating your primary mirror. Both of which are straightforward enough with our simple guides.

Read our full-page review of the XT4.5

As amateur telescopes go, this is a great option. If you just want to get started with backyard astronomy, have a limited budget but want the best view of the night sky possible for the price, then this is the scope for you!

Pros

  • Biggest aperture at price point
  • Simple ‘point & shoot’ mount
  • Easy to use for novices

Cons

  • Long and bulky to move
  • Collimation required from time to time
  • Cheap finder and eyepieces

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Compound: Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop

Orion's starmax 90 tabletop telescope
Aperture

3.5″ / 90mm

Focal Length

1250mm, f/13.0

Mount

Tabletop

Other Sizes

n/a

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.

Pros

  • Small and portable
  • Simple to use

Cons

  • Very small aperture
  • No mount

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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

celestron omni xlt 102 refractor
Aperture

4″ / 102mm

Focal Length

1000mm, f/9.8

Mount

Altazimuth

Other Sizes

n/a

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. Click here to see today’s price (link opens a new tab).

See our complete review of Celestron’s Omni XLT 102mm Scope

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?

Pros

  • Great optics for planets
  • High standard equatorial mount
  • Decent value for money

Cons

  • Long 35″ tube
  • Too much of price is in the mount
  • Only one eyepiece supplied

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Reflector: Orion AstroView 6″

Orion astroview 6 telescope
Aperture

6″ / 150mm

Focal Length

750mm, f/5.0

Mount

Equatorial

Other Sizes

n/a

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!

Pros

  • Solid ‘Jack of all trades’ scope
  • Ideal for starting out
  • Two Plössl eyepieces supplied

Cons

  • Not a specialist at anything
  • Good but not great mount

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Dobsonian: SkyWatcher 8″ Flextube

skywatcher 8 collapsible dobsonian
Aperture

8″ / 200mm

Focal Length

1200mm, f/6.0

Mount

Dobsonian

Other Sizes

10″, 12″

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 Flextube Dobsonian review

Expect to pay around $575 for this easy to use 8″ collapsible (click here for today’s price, which opens in a new tab) 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!

Pros

  • Huge mirror for the price
  • Easy to setup and take down
  • Simple to use

Cons

  • Heavy kit at 70lbs
  • Possibly overwhelming for newbie

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Compound: Celestron NexStar 4SE

Celestron nexstar 4se
Aperture

4″ / 100mm

Focal Length

1325mm, f/13.0

Mount

Guided Altaz

Other Sizes

6″, 8″

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.

Pros

  • Great introductory scope
  • Easy to move and store
  • Track moon and planets

Cons

  • 4″ won’t show DSOs
  • Short battery life
  • High cost per inch aperture

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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 ED80T Apochromatic CF Triplet

ED80T telescope for astrophotography
Aperture

3.4″ / 80mm

Focal Length

480mm, f/6.0

Mount

n/a

Other Sizes

n/a

Orion’s Sirius ED80 refractor is, in our opinion, the best refractor for the serious backyard astronomer who wants to step into astrophotography.

This is one of only two recommendations on this page that are for the telescope only, i.e. this does not come with a mount, eyepieces, etc. And this is where you discover how expensive a highly engineered refractor telescope can be.

For just the optical tube assembly (OTA) you won’t get much change from $1000. To find out today’s price, click this link (which opens a new tab).

Read our detailed Orion ED80 Refractor Telescope review

If you’re already enjoying astrophotography, you’ll appreciate what it is that makes this telescope reassuringly expensive: high quality optics. The 80mm apochromatic triplet lens is made of extra-low dispersion glass. All of this results in pin-sharp images, with fabulous contrast and real color production.

As with most refractor telescopes at this price point, Orion’s ED80T is ideal for astrophotography enthusiasts, which is the only good reason for investing so much money in what is, at its heart, a sub-4″ aperture.

That said, this telescope delivers visual astronomy well. The optics make viewing brighter objects a joy, like ultra HD television for the stars and planets. However, there is no overcoming the physics and you won’t visually observe fainter DSOs with this OTA.

Couple this telescope with a DSLR or CCD amd you are in a different world. Mounted on an equatorial mount with motorized tracking, this small OTA packs a huge optical punch and has practically eliminated any sign of chromatic aberration.

The 80T is small and lightweight, making it practical for use in your backyard, or anywhere you care to venture to find a dark sky. When its retractable dew shield is closed, it measures just 14.3″ (363mm). The maximum length of the OTA, when the shield is in use, is 18.3″ (464mm).

A carbon fibre body not only makes this telescope look very ‘cool’, it also keeps the weight down to an impressive 5.5lbs (2.5kg).

The focuser is an 11:1, dual-speed Crawford for ultra-fine focusing of objects, and the included eyepiece adaptor means you can use 1.25″ eyepieces and camera attachments without any problems. The OTA has an integral dovetail mounting which fits any narrow, ‘vixen style’ dovetail saddle without need for any further intervention.

See our best astrophotography telescopes

Overall, this is a staggeringly good telescope for astrophotography. It also enables visual astronomy, but that’s not its main use, and there are better options on this page for that which cost less.

However, if you have a decent budget and are ready to leap into astrophotography, it’s hard to ignore this Orion ED80T CF Triplet Apochromatic refractor.

Pros

  • Exemplary triplet lens
  • Great astrophotography setup
  • Small and lightweight

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not suitable for visual astronomy

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Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT10

Orion SkyQuest xt10 telescope
Aperture

10″ / 250mm

Focal Length

1200mm, f/4.7

Mount

Dobsonian

Other Sizes

8″, +Motor

The first of our best serious Dobsonian telescopes is the Orion’s SkyQuest XT10. At this price point, Newtonian reflectors are hard to come across, so we’re recommending two Dob’s. The XT10 is the cheaper one, whereas the Apertura AD12 offers a lot more and is just about within budget (scroll down to see the review below).

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 around $800 (see today’s price, which opens in a new tab) 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.

Pros

  • Huge 10″ mirror
  • Easy ‘point-and-shoot’ mount
  • Amazingly low cost per inch of aperture

Cons

  • Large and heavy
  • Tight fit in car trunk
  • Motorized version much more costly

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Dobsonian ($): Apertura AD12

Apertura AD12. A 12" Dobsonian telescope
Aperture

12″ / 305mm

Focal Length

1520mm, f/5.0

Mount

Dobsonian

Other Sizes

8″, 10″

The second, more expensive of our two Best Serious Dobsonian telescopes is the 12-inch Apertura AD12. It just scrapes in to this budget, and may even push the boundary a little, but the value for money means we couldn’t overlook it.

Twelve inches of aperture more than justifies this scope for ‘light bucket’ status. The physics behind telescopes mean that this 12″ model collects 50% more light than the XT10, above. Not only that, but it comes with over $200 of accessories for free (see today’s price, which opens a new tab).

The AD12’s primary mirror sits at the end of a tube with a focal length of 1520mm giving it a fast focal ratio of f/5.0. Normally, we’d point out at this stage that fast scopes are ideally suited to high magnification and tighter fields of view. And, whilst that’s true, it’s not the whole story.

Read our full-length Apertura 8″ Telescope Review (opens new page)

Sure, the AD12 is going to show you views that most backyard astronomers can only aspire to. You’ll see details on the Martian surface, the two tiny Martian moons Phobos and Demos, divisions in Saturn’s rings – plus a selection of its moons, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and details on the Lunar surface like you wouldn’t believe.

However, this is a gigantic telescope. The light it pulls in from the deepest reaches of the universe means it’s going to show you some of the faintest deep sky objects (DSOs) you can imagine. Not only that, but you’ll glimpse extraordinary detail in the brighter galaxies and nebulae we have available to us.

Unusually for a new scope, it is also supplied with two premium telescope eyepieces: a 1.25″, 9mm Super Plössl, which delivers 169x magnification, and a 2″, 30mm Super View Eyepiece, which provides a 68° field of view and 50x magnification. The 9mm is perfect for solar system viewing, the 30mm ideal for DSOs because it delivers a whopping true field of view of 1.34°.

This Dob has a built in cooling fan for the primary mirror. The fan brings the huge tube to ambient air temperature much more quickly meaning you get superior viewing conditions without the extended wait. There’s also a laser collimator included to keep your stars pin-sharp in the eyepiece.

The Apertura AD12 is a professional-level Dobsonian telescope which you can lay your hands on for an unreasonably good price. Reviews are universally five-star from users (see here, open in a new tab).

If you’re looking for unbeatable night sky views and don’t need goto functionality or astrophotography capability, then you’ll struggle to do much better than this telescope.

Pros

  • Light-bucket sized mirror
  • Easy setup and use
  • Versatile for solar system and deep space observing

Cons

  • Heavy, weighing in over 85lbs
  • Not suitable for astrophotography

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Compound: Celestron NexStar 6SE

Celestron NexStar 8SE
Aperture

6″ / 150mm

Focal Length

1500mm, f/10

Mount

Guided AltAz

Other Sizes

8″

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, even given its almost $900 price tag (see today’s price – opens in a new tab). 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. An alternative is to buy the power as a package deal to save money on buying separates, such as this one from Highpoint Scientific.

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.

Pros

  • Great package for the money
  • Easy object finding and tracking
  • Simple to setup and use

Cons

  • You will need to spend more on power supply
  • Aperture is sacrificed for motors
  • Supplied eyepieces aren’t great

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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

Orion EON 130ED Triplet telescope
Aperture

4.5″ / 115mm

Focal Length

805mm, f/7.0

Mount

n/a

Other Sizes

n/a

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.

Pros

  • Large triplet lens
  • High quality APO glass
  • Amazing tool for astrophotography

Cons

  • Optical tube only, no mount
  • Very long body
  • Needs more equipment before it can be used

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Dobsonian: SkyLine 12″ Dobsonian Reflector

Aperture

12″ / 300mm

Focal Length

1500mm, f/5.0

Mount

Dobsonian

Other Sizes

8″, 10″

The whole point of owning a Dobsonian telescope is to get as much light-gathering aperture as possible for the price, and this 12″ SkyLine Dobsonian Reflector telescope 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 comfortably less than $1500 (click here for today’s price, the link opens a new tab).

If you had the 12″ mirror on this SkyLine 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 SkyLine 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.

The optics are first rate. The parabolic mirror delivers pinsharp, bright stars to the eyepiece. With so much light-gathering ability, you’ll see individual stars in the Wild Duck and Butterfly clusters, as well as a host of others. With a professional telescope like this, you should also expect to see other details like arms in the Andromeda Galaxy and dust lanes in the Lagoon nebula.

This Dob 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.

For monthly viewing challenges, join the Virtual Astronomy Club

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 (10:1) which is supplied with a 1.25″ adapter. The 12″ SkyLine Dobsonian telescope comes supplied with a 2″ 30mm low power Erfle eyepiece and a higher powered 1.25″, 9mm Sirius Plössl.

The Erfle is a fantastic eyepiece for low magnification (50x) wide field applications – which is just what you’d buy this telescope for. The Plössl gets you up close, with its 163x magnification, for astounding details from the Moon to the surface of Mars.

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 an undying love of even deeper space but don’t want to spend the bank, then this huge Dobsonian may be all the telescope you ever dreamed of.

Pros

  • Large aperture for <$1500
  • Simple construction
  • Great eyepieces included

Cons

  • Very heavy
  • Long tube means high viewing height at zenith

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Compound: Celestron NexStar 8SE

The NexStar 8SE telescope from Celestron
Aperture

8″ / 203mm

Focal Length

2032mm, f/10

Mount

Guided AltAz

Other Sizes

5″, 6″

We’ve chosen two different compound telescopes for our best professional telescopes list. This one, the NexStar 8SE, is in the list as a firm favorite for many astronomers. You’ll find our second, more expensive option, the CPC 1100 Deluxe from Celestron reviewed below.

This is the largest telescope in the NexStar SE range, with 8-inches (203mm) of aperture. Like the other sizes in the range, its supported on a single arm, computerized altazimuth mount. You should expect to pay around $1,300 for this telescope (see today’s price – link opens a new tab).

See the bundle deal, which includes charging pack, carrying case and eyepiece set, at High Point Scientific.

The NexStar 8SE is so popular because it has an enormous aperture that the attached computer effortlessly guides towards any of the 40,000 individual objects stored within its database.

Not only that, but the setup process is straightforward and can be completed in a few minutes before the telescope takes control and guides you around the night sky.

The big advantage of compound scopes like this one is the huge focal length wrapped inside a relatively short body. This 8SE has a focal length of 80″ but its body is only 17″ (432mm) long. The result is a slow f/10 telescope which is ideal for generating high magnifications and incredible details.

Primarily suited to lunar, planetary and double star exploration, this telescope reveals sights that need to be seen to be believed. Think of observing Martian polar ice caps, individual rings of Saturn, transits of Galilean moons across Jupiter, and awe-inspiring Lunar surface details.

Just because this scope excels at solar system observing, don’t for one moment overlook how powerful it is for deep sky objects (DSOs). An 8″ aperture pulls in a huge amount of light – enough to reveal amazing star clusters, colorful nebulae, and unimaginably distant galaxies.

Read our full-page review of the NexStar 8SE telescope

As glowing as we are about this telescope, you should purchase it with your eyes open to its quirks. For one, it only comes with a single 1.25″, 25mm eyepiece. This gives 81x magnification and is fine to begin with but you will need more eyepieces to make the most of this telescope.

You’re also going to need a power supply to run the controller and the computerized tracking. Technically, this can all run off batteries, but that’s not feasible for any length of time and no charging cables/devices are included.

We strongly recommend buying into a package deal like this one to make sure you can enjoy the 8SE from day one and save money on buying all the components you need individually.

If you’re looking to get started with astrophotography, the 8SE is not the best choice. It can be configured with a wedge to make it suitable (which costs another few hundred dollars) but our advice is to opt for one of these telescopes instead.

If you want a big aperture and easy-to-use goto capability with motorized tracking, there isn’t a telescope out there to challenge the dominance and experience of the Celestron NexStar 8SE. Make sure to purchase a power supply and any additional eyepieces you need, and you’ll be set for life!

Pros

  • Huge aperture & focal length
  • 40,000 object database
  • Perfect for enjoying the view without the hassle

Cons

  • No power supply included
  • Conversion for astrophotography is expensive

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Compound: Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100HD

Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100HD compound scope
Aperture

11″ / 280mm

Focal Length

2800mm, f/10

Mount

Guided AltAz

Other Sizes

8″, 9.25″

The Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright 11″ is a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope which carries our second top spot for compound scopes in our Best Professional telescopes list.

This model is 3″ larger than the 8SE, above, which is part of the reason you should expect to pay around $4200 on this telescope (for today’s price, click here, the link opens in a new tab) 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.

Pros

  • Massive mirror in a short body
  • Easy setup and use out of the box
  • Simple object location and tracking

Cons

  • Needs additional power
  • Not suitable for astrophtography without additional wedge.

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Last update on 2021-11-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API