Christmas 2019 Telescope Buying Guide
It's true: deciding 'what is the best telescope' is the biggest decision we make as backyard astronomers.
Never fear! Our comprehensive guide to the best telescopes of 2019 will help you make the perfect choice for your needs... and budget. The 'scopes on this list range in price from the low hundreds of dollars, all the way to the low thousands.
Click on any telescope in the table below for its price and customer reviews. For detailed, individual reviews of each telescope featured, just scroll down the page.
Best Telescope of 2019 Comparison Chart
Below you'll find detailed reviews for each telescope, or click the links in the table for current prices and customer reviews on Amazon or Telescopes.com
How to Pick the Best Telescope for You
If you're not sure how to choose which is the best telescope for you, then follow these suggestions to make your decision.
A Telescope's Aperture is the Most Important Element
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 are used to magnify the focussed image so you can see details of faint and distant objects. To see fainter objects and greater detail you need to collect more light. The way to do that is to have a bigger aperture, which is why, after you have a budget set, this is usually the main consideration of a telescope purchase.
Dobsonian telescopes offer the most aperture for your dollars. Known as 'light buckets' and with no frills attached, Dob's offer just pure, unadulterated light collecting capability.
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. These offer benefits over a Dobsonian, depending on the type of astronomy you want to do.
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Refractor Telescope
Refractors are the only telescope type which does not contain a mirror. They use only a glass lens to focus the light entering the telescope tube.
That fixed lens is a big pro for some users because there's no need to collimate. And, especially with higher quality lenses, there's the added benefit of fewer optical distortions, such as chromatic aberration. This makes some refractors great for astrophotography, but they are generally the very expensive 'apochromatic' lenses and generally out of reach of new starters.
On the 'cons' side for refractors are 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 increase, they quickly become very expensive to make, especially as the quality of glass used to make them improves.
Refractors make great entry level scopes (where they are much cheaper) and are hard to beat 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 Telescope
The Newtonian reflector is simply a mirror at one end of a tube which gathers light entering at the opposite end. That primary mirror reflects collected light up to a secondary mirror which, in turn, focuses it towards an eyepiece mounted on the side of the telescope tube.
Generally speaking a more expensive reflector will have a larger aperture and a better quality mirror, in terms of shaping and coatings used to defeat inherent optical defects.
Newtonians are the workhorse of the telescope world. They can turn themselves to planets, deep sky, visual observing and astrophotography (with an equatorial mount), which is fantastic. The downside of this general usage 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 a Newtonian reflector 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.
A Newtonian is a great way into the hobby of astronomy if you've never tried it before.
The Pros and Cons of Catadioptric (Compound) 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.
For example, in a Dobsonian with a focal length of 1500mm, the tube will be around 60 inches (five feet) long! The same focal length squeezed into a cat might need a body of only two feet in length.
The obvious advantage of this is as much light-gathering power (aperture) and magnification (focal length) 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 Dob or Newtonian reflector (only high-end refractors are more expensive per inch of aperture).
Because they are smaller-bodied telescopes, compounds are easy to motorize. Connected to computer-controlled go-to and tracking, cat's are a good choice for astrophotography. However, Celestron's famous NexStar range - which features twice in this best telescopes of 2019 list - is supplied with an altazimuth mount, which makes astrophotography harder than if it were mounted on an equatorial tripod.
Cat's are ideal for you if you want to look at planets and deep 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 too hard to see, even through your finderscope.
Best Professional Telescopes of 2019 - Individual Telescope Reviews
These are our four best telescopes for professional astronomers in 2019:
- Best Professional Refractor: Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet
- Best Professional Reflector: Celestron Advanced VX8 Go-to Telescope
- Best Professional Dobsonian: Orion XX14i Intelliscope
- Best Professional Compound: Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright XLT GPS
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 is the best refractor but is still 'only' 130mm (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 16" Meade Dobsonian which you should be investing in in 2019. 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.
- 120 mm APO Refractor with ED Schott glass, 900 mm focal length (f/7.5), Dual-speed 2" Crayford-type focuser with 1.25" adaptor
- 20 mm and 5 mm 1.25, 8x50 RA viewfinder, 2" dielectric diagonal
- Tube-ring attachment hardware, Aluminum carry case
The Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet APO refractor has the best lenses of any telescope in this review.
It's the only telescope of our 16 best telescopes of 2019 that comes without a mount, and yet it is still comfortably a four-figure purchase (click here for the current price on Amazon) because its 120mm (4.72") objective lens is large - for a refractor - and made to very high quality.
The 'APO' part of its name stands for apochromatic. An apochromatic lens is one specially manufactured to reduce chromatic aberration and spherical image distortions than standard (and cheaper) achromat lenses.
The lens is also a 'doublet', which means it is actually made of a pair of 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 almost 5 inches, the 120mm lens on this Sky-Watcher is around double the cost of its 20mm narrower sister model.
This is a very special telescope, combining aperture with quality to provide a refractor capable of looking at bright objects like the moon and planets in high detail with very little aberration. To get a similar size scope of the 'triplet' variety might cost you double the price of the Sky-Watcher. As such, it presents good value for money.
The Sky-Watcher has a 120mm aperture, which is 4.72 inches.
Its focal length is 900mm, giving it a focal ratio of 7.5.
Supplied with mounting rings and aluminum carry case. No mount.
- Large, doublet lens
- High quality, APO glass
- Amazing for moon and planets
- Optical tube only (no mount)
- 900mm fl = long body
- 8x50 finder is basic
At the top of our chart for Newtonians is this V8" model from Celestron.
Sure, it's not the biggest scope in terms of aperture (see the Meade, reviewed next, for that honor) but it does present a great package deal because it is supplied with Celestron's wonderful VX mount.
The Advanced VX8" comes with motorised tracking, easy star alignment and a huge database of objects to look at. However, you will need to power it as batteries don't last long!
Expect to pay around $1200 to $1700 for this scope (click here for today's price).
The VX8 is geared towards the astrophotographer. The scope itself has an 8" primary mirror mounted in a tube with a focal length of 200mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/5. This is considered 'fast' and makes it an ideal medium-cost scope for astrophotography.
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 Celestron model comes with a 9x50 finderscope and one 20mm eyepiece, which you will almost certainly need to upgrade for better performance.
Then there's that VX mount we mentioned above. It comes with a lot of improvements over its predecessor:
- More rigid and less flexible
- Better aesthetics mean viewing across the meridian without the motor housing getting in the way
- Improved motors with better balance can cope more effectively with load imbalance
- Period Error Correction removes tracking errors from the worm gear
These are the features an astrophotographer will look for in a mount, making it the clear choice on this 2019 list if you are looking to start taking pictures of deep sky objects. The biggest impact of the focus on astrophotography is all that professional gear comes at the cost of the aperture.
Frankly, that's ok! 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 lets in more light.
The Celestron VX8 has an 8" aperture.
Its focal length is 200mm, giving it a focal ratio of 5.
Celestron VX GEM, redesigned and ideal for astroimaging.
The whole point of owning a Dobsonian telescope is to get as much light-gathering aperture as possible for the price, and Orion's 14" truss tube does not disappoint.
It is an absolute monster of a light bucket!
It happily earns its place at the top of this list as the best professional Dobsonian 'simply' by offering a whopping 14 inches of light-gathering power for a little over $2000 (click here for current price).
If you had the 14" mirror on this Orion in your backyard, you could expect to see objects down to magnitude 15.5, putting the (dwarf) planet Pluto within your grasp!
If you're wondering what 14" can show you that 12" won't, then you might be surprised to learn that the extra surface area gathers 36% more light! Compared to a 10" scope, this Orion Dobsonian telescope collects 96% 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 unusual for a Dob, this model comes complete with a 14,000 object database. Connected to the scope by motors, the database slews the massive 14" 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 1650mm (65 inches) focal length, giving it a fast focal ratio of f/4.6. This is a beast designed for deep sky, faint object observations - you'll be the envy of everyone at your astronomy club as you pull faint objects from the NGC with ease.
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 120lbs, 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 XX14i comes supplied with a 2" 35mm low power DeepView eyepiece and a higher powered 10mm Sirius Plössl. Maximum observing height is 63", or 5' 3", meaning no step required for most adults. However, 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 deep space telescopes. 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.
The Meade has a whopping 14 inches of aperture.
Its focal length is 1650mm, giving it a focal ratio of 4.6.
Dob, with go-to motorized database attached.
- Vast aperture!
- 14,000 object database
- One person assembly (kinda)
- Very heavy
- Long tube means high viewing height at zenith
The Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright 11" is a diffraction limited Schmidt-Cassegrain scope which carries the top spot for Cat's in our Best Professional telescopes list. Diffraction limited is the technical way of saying the optics in this scope are as good as it is theoretically possible for them to be.
In part, this explains why you should expect to pay around $3000 on this telescope (click here for today's price on Amazon) making it the most expensive one on our list. Which is why you should be asking what else it is you get for the money.
First off, you're getting a considerable 11-inch aperture. That is going to let you see 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 objects like Andromeda galaxy 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" StarBright model comes 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!
As with all the motorised Celestron models, you'll need either an additional power pack or AC adaptor to run it for any useful length of time. But your considerable financial outlay brings as added bonus: this model's computer 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. 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 92lbs weight mean it is not possible to move this around as a single unit. It is, however, readily transportable in sections for set-up in the backyard or dark sky location of your choice.
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 who wants aperture with the convenience of easy set-up and object finding / tracking. You do need to be prepared to pay a substantial sum for the privilege though.
This Celestron CPC StarBright has an 11" aperture.
Its focal length is a huge 2800mm, giving it a focal ratio of 10.
Motorised, goto altazimuth mount with 40,000 object database.
- Massive mirror in short body
- Easy set-up
- Simple object finding/tracking
- Needs additional power
- Not a cheap scope
- Not for astrophotography
Best Serious Telescopes of 2019 - Individual Telescope Reviews
These are our four best telescopes for serious astronomers 2019:
- Best Serious Refractor: Orion Sirius ED80 EQ-G
- Best Serious Reflector: Orion SkyView Pro 8" Goto EQ
- Best Serious Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT10" Plus
- Best Serious Compound: Celestron NexStar 6"SE
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 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.
Although a Newtonian and a Dobsonian at the same price point will never match apertures, this Orion SkyView Pro telescope still offers a respectable 8 inches of aperture 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 focal ratio of f/4.9.
The SkyView's dimensions make it ideal for deep 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 $1100 (today's price on Amazon).
Unusually for a new scope, it is also supplied with decent eyepieces: 10mm and 25mm Plössls, as well as a collimation cap (although you might prefer the ease and accuracy of a laser collimator). The SkyView also comes with a perfectly sound, if a little basic, 8x40 finderscope.
With the motorized go-to database, this is less of an issue. Select the object of choice from the controller and watch as it slews the telescope around to get it perfectly centered in your eyepiece.
The SkyView Pro 8" is a workhorse telescope. It's handy for deep space and has a focal length which will present great images of the moon and planets as well. This versatile scope is a good investment which is unlikely to disappoint the serious backyard astronomer who likes to see a little bit of everything.
The Orion SkyView pro has an 8" aperture on its primary mirror.
Its focal length is a full 1000mm, giving it a focal ratio of 4.9.
A CG-4 German equatorial mount is supplied with the telescope.
- Big, light-bucket mirror
- Easy set-up and use
- Versatile for planets and DSOs
- Large and heavy, over 50lbs
- 8x40 finder is quite basic
The model we've picked as 2019's best Dobsonian telescope for serious astronomers is the Orion 8946 SkyQuest XT10.
As its name suggests, this is a genuine 'light-bucket' of a telescope, offering a whopping 10" of aperture 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 your reach!
Of course, Dob's are famed for offering great value as well as massive apertures and this SkyQuest does not disappoint, your ten inch aperture will cost only $600 or so (click here to see what price it is today).
If yours is a limited budget and all you need to enjoy backyard astronomy is light gathering power, then you might just think this Dob is the perfect telescope for you. As you'd expect, the base is a classic 'point and shoot' design but Orion has used their 'CorrectTension' technology which uses friction to keep the telescope perfectly balanced no matter which angle you have it pointing.
Astrophotography is not available to you with this telescope, but the objects you'll be able to find for yourself should be breathtaking compared to the average 6-incher at the local astronomy club. Keep in mind though that with aperture comes bulk.
The SkyQuest has a focal length of 1200mm and weighs over 50lbs, which makes it a bit of a beast to move around although it does readily separate to make transporting it easier.
At this budget ($mid-to-high hundreds) you will not find a bigger aperture in a new telescope. If deep space objects are your thing and you're happy to not have fancy motorized tracking, then add this telescope to your wish list now.
The Orion SkyQuest XT10 has an 8-inch aperture.
Its focal length is some 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of 4.7.
Standard Dobsonian base and set up - simple but bulky.
- Huge 10" mirror for DSOs
- Easy to use 'point and shoot'
- Fantastic price point for size
- Large - tight fit in car trunk
- Weighs over 50lbs
- No astrophotography
Celestron's NexStar range of catadioptric (compound) telescopes is perhaps the most popular one on the planet, and the Celestron NexStar 6SE is the best selling of all the 'SE' models.
The NexStar 8SE would have taken the top spot in our 'best professional catadioptric telescope' if it were not for Celestron's superior, bigger - and more expensive - CPC 1100.
However, we are huge fans here at Love the Night Sky of the NexStar 8SE and you can read a full article dedicated to it by clicking this link.
Returning to the NexStar 6SE, which retails around the $800 mark (check Amazon for today's price), let's see why we think it deserved to take the best catadioptric telescope of 2019 slot in our 'serious astronomy' group.
First off, six inches in no shabby aperture size. Although considered to be the top of the 'beginner' sizes, this is mounted on some serious electronics that will help you see far more than you are likely to conquer with a Newtonian reflector of the same size.
The telescope body is mounted on a single arm, motor-driven altazimuth mount. Your purchase includes a database of 40,000 night sky objects and your telescope can be made to point at any one of them using the handheld, integral controller. But, the 6SE is subject to the same limitations as every other 6" telescope: it can only see objects to a certain magnitude, so be prepared to find that not all 40,000 objects on the database are actually viewable with this telescope.
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 because the viewing is poor. The motorized SE gets around that problem by pointing directly at the object based on computer-controlled directions, so no need to learn star hopping.
The second astronomer type that loves the SE range is one who would much sooner spend their time outside in the dark looking at objects rather than finding them. This telescope only needs you to show it two or three bright stars and set the time and, from then on, it will do all the hunting. So, if you want to skip the difficulties of learning your way around the night sky in favor of seeing some stunning galaxies, planets and nebulae then the 6SE is a great choice.
Before wrapping up this review, let us leave you with a couple of watch-outs: 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, either a powerpack or an AC adaptor for the motor as it drinks the juice from batteries in no time.
The Celestron NexStar 6SE comes with a 6" primary mirror.
Its focal length is 1500mm, giving it a focal ratio of 10.
Supplied with an altazimuth mount with motor drive.
- Great package for the money
- Easy finding and tracking
- Simple to move and setup
- You will need more power
- Sacrifice aperture for motors
- You'll want new eyepieces
Best Amateur Telescopes of 2019 - Individual Telescope Reviews
If your budget for a new telescope is somewhere in the low-to-mid hundreds of dollars, then we recommend the following four telescopes as your best choices in 2019:
- Best Amateur Refractor: Celestron Omni XLT 102mm
- Best Amateur Reflector: Orion AstroView 6" EQ
- Best Amateur Dobsonian: Sky-Watcher 8" Collapsible
- Best Amateur Compound: Celestron NexStar 4"SE
For this budget you will land a really decent beginner-level telescope. You will see some trade-offs between aperture size and equipment quality at this price point, with most manufacturers sacrificing equipment quality, e.g. mounts and eyepieces in favor of giving 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.
Our best amateur refractor telescope in 2019 is the Celestron 21088 Omni XLT 102.
The 'XLT' part of its name comes from the optical coatings used on the 102mm (4") objective lens. This makes it the same size as the Meade Infinity (winner of the best budget refractor, below) but, quite a bit more expensive (click here for today's price on Amazon.com).
So, what's the difference between the two?
Well, you're probably not seeing much difference in cost for the telescopes themselves, but with the Celestron XLT, you are getting a significantly better mount. The XLT is supplied with a CG-4 German equatorial mount, compared to the more basic altaz mount with the Meade.
If you don't currently have a telescope, then getting a mount like this with your telescope is a smart investment. It has slow motion controls, which make it easier to track objects as they move through your eyepiece, ball bearings in both axis for smooth movement and it's really simple to setup.
The scope itself is a very competent intermediate telescope. Lenses are decent quality, although you should expect some chromatic aberration at this price point (but owners say it does not disturb the viewing) and, if you've never looked at planets through a scope before, you will be blown away when you see them through the Omni's 4" lens.
The Celestron 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... and your answer mostly depends on the quality of mount you need.
The XLT Omni from Celestron has a 102mm (4.02") aperture.
Its focal length is 1000mm, giving it a focal ratio of 9.8.
The price includes a high quality CG-4 German equatorial mount.
- Great focal length for planets
- High standard GEM mount
- Simple to set up and use
- Long, 35" body
- A lot of the cost is the mount
- Only one eyepiece supplied
The Orion 9827 AstroView 6 Newtonian is out choice for the best amateur Newtonian telescope in 2019.
Its 6-inch aperture primary mirror sits at one end of an optical tube with a focal length of 750mm giving it a focal length of f5, which is quite 'fast' for a telescope and lends it to astrophotography, although you will need to invest more in a better mount and motorized tracking for that.
It has a wide field of view, making it useful for deep sky objects like galaxies, and a 6" aperture means you're collecting a decent amount of light, so theoretically you can see objects down to magnitude 14 with great seeing.
However, 6" of aperture is best used for brighter objects like planets, the moon and brighter Messier objects. If deep space, fainter 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.
You should expect to pay around $450 for this scope (click here for today's price) and you can upgrade the mount to house electronic guidance at some point in the future. As it is, the supplied mount is the perfectly acceptable AstroView EQ-3 which is not as robust as the CG-4 with the scope above but does mean your budget buys you a bigger aperture.
Like all Newtonians, this six-incher from Orion is a decent 'workhorse'. It can be upgraded with a go-to motor, it will take a camera for photography and the mount is decent, if not great (i.e. expect some vibration). The downside of being a great generalist is you're not brilliant at anything. So, this is recommended if you want to get a feel for astronomy on a medium budget, but if you know what you want to 'specialise' in with your observing, then there are better choices.
This Orion AstroView has an aperture of 6 inches.
Its focal length is 750mm, giving it a focal ratio of 5.
You'll get an AstroView EQ-3 German EQ mount supplied.
- Solid 'jack of all trades' scope
- Ideal for starting out
- Can upgrade later
- Not a specialist at anything
- OK, but not great, mount
- Short lifespan if you get hooked
Our award for best amateur Dobsonian telescope 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, cluster and galaxies.
And that is the secret to success with this scope: it works best for you if all you need to enjoy astronomy is light-gathering ability. Expect to pay around $450 for this model (click here for the current price) which will show objects as faint as magnitude 14.
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. 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 weighs about 70 lbs, but it is simple to collapse and rebuild as needed - just three separate knobs release/fix the scope.
This is a great scope if you're tied to a budget but still want some amazing deep sky viewing. Getting inches of aperture for this price is a steal! 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.
The Sky-Watcher has an amazing 8 inches of aperture.
Its focal length is 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of 6.
Collapsible Dobsonian mount with Teflon bearings.
- Huge mirror for price
- Easy set-up and take down
- Simple to use
- Heavy old beast - 70lbs
- No astroimaging / goto
- Frequent collimation needed
This is the baby in Celestron's NexStar telescope range - the 4SE. Coming in at 4 inches of aperture, it is the smallest 'proper' Maksutov-Cassegrain, which is why we're calling it the best Catadioptric telescope for amatuer astronomers.
This is the kind of telescope which is ideal for the beginner backyard astronomer who wants the convenience and speed of a 'goto' database and guiding motor.
A word of warning though - although the database has some 40,000 objects stored in it, the 4-inch scope is limited in what it will actually show you because it is just too small to see fainter objects. If you buy this model (check current price by clicking here) you'll see objects down to magnitude 13 at best, i.e. under a dark sky.
In reality, 4" does not gather much light at all and so you'll need to think long and hard before using your cash to buy this model.
What's great about this scope is its lightweight and easy-to-transport set-up. 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. 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 put into the controller what they want to look at.
The entire NexStar range comes with a warning about needing extra power - batteries will give up with less than an evening's use - so invest in a powerpack or adaptor. What it does 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.
However, if you've already had a go with telescopes at the local astronomy club and like what you've seen, then we'd recommend buying a model with a much larger aperture for the same price, either the 6" Newtonian or 8" Dobsonian reviewed above.
This is one of the most popular telescopes there is, and with good reason - it is a versatile little scope. The NexStar 4SE is an easy way to get into astronomy without having loads of disappointing evenings not finding the object you're looking for. However... be warned that 4 inches is an entry-level reflecting aperture and so you will be limited by what this scope can physically see.
The NexStar 4SE from Celestron has a 4-inch primary mirror.
Is focal length is 1325 mm (52 inches), giving a focal ratio of 13.
Single arm, motorised altazimuth tripod mount.
- Easy and light to move/store
- Great 'first' scope
- Moon and planets look great
- 4" aperture is entry level
- Additional power needed
- High aperture cost
Best Budget Telescopes of 2019 - Individual Telescope Reviews
In this section you'll see our four best entry-level telescopes for 2019. These are great scopes for a smaller budget and more than enough to get you or your children started (see our full children's telescope review):
- Best Budget Refractor: Meade Infinity 102mm AZ
- Best Budget Reflector: Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
- Best Budget Dobsonian: Orion SkyQuest XT6"
- Best Budget Compound: Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop
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.
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.
However, at this level astronomy is all about the brighter and more accessible objects. The moon, planets and the brightest deep space objects like the Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades will the limits of what you can usefully see with these smaller models. However, that will be more than enough to hook you on the night sky whilst you save up for something bigger...
Meade Infinity 102mm AZ
Our best budget refractor telescope is Meade Instrument's Infinity 102AZ.
The scope itself has the same aperture as the Celestron Omni above, but can be bought for less than half the price! In fact, you should expect to pay a little over $200 (click here for today's price), which is a significant saving on the Celestron.
The obvious question, then, is: why is the Meade so much cheaper than the Celestron? Thankfully, especially if you are very budget conscious, the answer is not that the telescope itself is worse, but the mount is.
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. What that means is you'll have a lower magnification with the same eyepiece in the Meade than you will in the Celestron. This is no bad thing, despite what you might believe, most astronomy takes place at relatively low magnifications.
As an example, the using a 20mm eyepiece in the Meade Infinity 102 AZ gives you a magnification of 600mm/20mm = 30x, whereas the same eyepiece in the Celestron gives 1000mm / 20mm = 50x. Because of this, you'll also get a wider field of view (you'll see more of the sky) in your eyepiece through the Meade than the Celestron.
This makes a difference if you want to explore deeper space objects, then wider fields of view and lower magnification are better. If most of your observing time will be spent with the moon and planets, they have enough light and detail that they work well with higher magnification and smaller fields of view.
As a beginner, the difference between the two is probably not enough to justify the huge price difference. The mount might be, though. With the Meade, you'll get a much simpler altazimuth mount, which means you move the telescope up, down, left and right to 'track' objects. The Celestron's GEM mount follows Earth's rotation and so only needs to be moved in one plane to keep an object in sight.
The other big difference between the two mounts is you upgrade the altaz mount with a sky tracking computer at a later date if you though that might be useful to you for go-to functionality or astrophotography.
In the end, we think the Meade is the much better option for the novice backyard astronomer wanting to dip their toe in the water and see how they enjoy it. The Celestron's higher price tag can wait for those who have decided which parts of night sky watching bring them the most joy.
The Meade Infinity has a four-inch aperture objective lens.
Its focal length is 600mm, giving it a focal ratio of 5.9.
The Infinity comes with an altazimuth mount.
- Large primary lens for the price
- Very simple to get started
- Wider field of view
- Altazimuth mount
- You'll want better eyepieces
- Lower quality to save costs
This five-inch aperture Newtonian telescope is mounted on an equatorial mount and is a very, very popular telescope for beginners. Expect to pay around $125-$150 for this reflector (click here for the current price), which is a great price for the aperture and the potential of this scope.
Whilst five inches is a little less than we recommend starting with (6 inches opens up a wider world if you can afford it) there are still a huge number of objects you'll be able to see and enjoy with this scope. As with any smaller scope, brighter objects work best, so the moon, planets and brighter Messier objects are the ones you'll have most success with.
The PowerSeeker has a 1000 mm focal length, giving it a focal ratio of f/7.9. This is a decent mid-range focal length and matches the main characteristic of the equatorially mounted Newtonian, it is a good all rounder scope for beginners.
Celestron's PowerSeeker 127EQ is ideal to get your first look at the moons of Jupiter, craters on the moon and the rings of Saturn. It doesn't have a huge aperture, so deep space objects won't be at their best but you will see bright objects like the Orion nebula and the Pleiades. Make sure to save some money back for better lenses than those supplied - it will make all the difference to your first astronomy experiences!
The PowerSeeker has a 5" diameter primary mirror.
Its focal length is 1000mm, giving it a focal ratio of 7.9.
The Celestron is mounted on an equatorial tripod.
- Amazing starter price
- Great for moon and planets
- Good entry-point to astronomy
- Smaller than ideal first mirror
- Eyepieces will need replacing
- Stand does vibrate
We'll be honest - the Orion 8944 SkyQuest XT6 only just sneaks into the category of best budget Dobsonian... but, since it does qualify, it has to be our winner!
Grabbing a full six-inch aperture mirror for about $300 is a great deal and shouldn't be overlooked for the beginner taking their first steps into backyard astronomy, click here for today's price on Amazon.
Like most Dob's, this one has a long focal length of 1200mm giving it a focal ratio of f/8. It will be great for the moon and planets and, with a 6" aperture, you'll be able to collect a decent amount of fainter, deep sky objects.
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 objects with a motor or using the telescope for astrophotography. However, if you have a limited budget and just want the best view of the night sky possible for the price, then this is the scope for you!
This SkyQuest telescope has a 6-inch primary mirror.
Its focal length is a big 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of 8.
Standard 'point and shoot' Dobsonian base.
- Biggest aperture for the price
- Simple 'point and shoot' mount
- Easy to use with no experience
- Long and bulky to move
- Will need collimation
- No tracking/go-to options
If you read the review of the NexStar 4SE above, you'll have recognised that catadioptric telescopes are the most expensive per inch of aperture.
You shouldn't be surprised to discover that by the time your budget drops to the low hundreds of dollars, there just aren't any 'proper' cat's available to buy.
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 budget catadioptric telescope of 2019.
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 mount, and weighs just 6.5lbs.
The big drawback is the aperture, which is just 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, being able to command large magnification is not much use.
You can expect to pay around $230 for this telescope (click here for the price on Amazon now) and it would make an ok 'grab and go' second scope.
Ultimately, our view is that if you're buying this to get into astronomy, your better options are to bay a few dollars more for the XT6 Dob, above. If you really have to 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.
The StarMax has a 90mm aperture, which is approx 3.5".
Its focal length is 1250mm, giving it a focal ratio of 13.8.
This is a travel/table top telescope and comes without a mount.
- Small and transportable
- Huge focal length for size
- Simple to use
- Small aperture
- No mount
- Poor first scope
Product images sourced from Amazon.com
Last update on 2019-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API