Best Telescopes below $300

Best telescopes below $300 in 2016

I think you'll agree with me when I say:

It is NOT easy trying to find a great, low price telescope.

Or is it?​

Well, if you know where to look, you can find the perfect beginner telescope for under $300 and sometimes well under!

Keep reading and I'm going to share with you the five top telescopes available right now for less than $300 - including the highest ranked one which is way cheaper than that!


This table shows you the five best telescopes below $300 in 2016.

All available on Amazon.com, they're this year's top five beginner telescopes based on reviews left by actual buyers.

You'll find in-depth reviews of each top five telescope right below the table.​

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Telescope

Picture

Price

Our Rating

Score

Overall Best Telescope below $300

Celestron 21061 AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor Telescope

$

4.3

1917

Best mid-price Telescope

Orion 09798 StarBlast 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope (Green)

$$

4.2

542

Best high-price Telescope

Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

$$$

4.6

334

Best Average Star Rating Telescope

Orion 9851 SpaceProbe EQ130 Reflector Telescope

$$$

4.8

120

Best Refractor Telescope

Meade Instruments 209006 Infinity 102AZ Refractor Telescope

$$

4.2

180

Score is calculated from a combination of the product's popularity and our rating



Our BEST TELESCOPES OF 2017 have been chosen - Click HERE to see all 16


Below is an overview of the whole list, but if you just want the detailed reviews of the top five scopes in the chart above, keep scrolling down or click here.

Telescopes for Beginners

Because all of these scopes are $300 or less, they make great telescopes for beginners.

If you're considering one of these, you're either dipping your toe in the astronomy water or buying a present for a child to get him or her interested in your stargazing passion.​

What can you expect from this list:

  • ​Apertures in the region of 90-100mm for refractors, and up to 115mm for reflectors
  • Stands that are ok, but they will be prone to vibrate when moving the scope
  • Mixed quality of eyepieces, from Kellner at the lower end to Plössl at the top

What you should also be aware of is that the image quality that these smaller scopes can bring is much less than you are used to seeing in magazines and online.

Below, you get a sense of what might be seen through a smaller lens, although I have to stress that quality is aided by the camera, your eyes might see even less than this.

Jupiter through a 2" and 4" aperture telescope

Jupiter through a 2" and 4" aperture telescope (credit below)

What I can assure you of though, is that if this is your first scope, you and your children will be awe-struck at the sight of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn through it!​

Trying to pick your first telescope but feeling overwhelmed..?

CLICK HERE for our free beginner's guide to choosing the right first telescope for your needs.

Detailed Reviews of the Best Telescopes Below $200

Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor

We Award: 4.3 Stars

Sitting at the top of our review list, this is the run-away high scorer with nearly three times as many points as our second best scope.​

What makes it so good that it's the #1 best selling refractor?

​Well, this 70mm refractor is just really simple to take out of the box and have up and running in minutes.

It's plenty light enough to take anywhere with you. A quick walk across a field for darker skies? No problem!​

It will also let you see the moon, nearer planets​ and brighter messier objects in a way you (or your child) will be thrilled by if you've never looked through a telescope before.

Are there any downsides?

Well, yes.

At this price there are a couple of things you need to be aware of:

1) All the telescopes below $300 have small apertures, so don't expect get amazing views of planets​, (but if this is your first scope,  they'll be better than you've ever seen!) and it will be hard to pick out anything but the brightest deep sky objects.

2) The biggest drawback of this particular scope, which is mentioned in many of the reviews, is the quality of the stand which Celestron supply.​

Summary

For this price, the quality of the stand comes out as a niggle at the side of over 300 positive Amazon reviews left over the last six years.

If you're looking to upgrade from binoculars, have your first go at astronomy, or introduce young family members to their own first telescope, the AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor is a great value place to start!


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Orion 09798 StarBlast 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope

We award: 4.2 Stars

With a score of over 418, this Orion 'scope is the highest scoring '$$' scope on the list and the first of Orion's notable 3 entries on our top five recommended budget telescopes.

With 130 reviews under its belt, it's a good sign that over 80% of them are four or five stars.

Out of the box, this 4.5" (f/4) reflector comes with an equatorial mount which makes tracking stars and other objects much simpler, and a free copy of Starry Night software for finding your way around the night sky - which is retailing at the time of writing for between $49.95 and $249.95!

This Orion StarBlast also comes with 15mm and 6mm eyepieces from the Orion Expanse series, which makes this tremendous value for money as a package.

People who have bought this scope have commented on its sturdy and robust mount, which is great for dampening down vibrations (but, just remember this is a budget scope - the mount won't work miracles!).

This reviewer found the picture quality to be amazing, and their full and detailed review is well worth a read. 

There is a lot of love for the views that this scope can provide of Saturn and the moon (which are the best targets for a beginner telescope like this one) with this reviewer saying that they could not be happier and highly recommend it!​

But, as with any product with lots of reviews, there are always some negative experiences.

Looking through the very small number of one and two star reviews, the theme​ amongst them all is the quality of the instructions - many people said it takes a lot more that half an hour Orion says it will take to put together.

To combat this, Orion does actually have set-up videos on its website, which you can access by clicking on the image to the right. 

Scroll down the page, click on the video tab and then the guide video itself. For me, that does a good job of supporting the instructions that come with this scope.​

Click the image to visit the guide

Other than that, there really doesn't seem to be a lot bad to say about this Orion.

Just keep in mind (as I keep saying) the reality of buying a scope at this price point is you are firmly at the beginner end of the spectrum.

So, if you've never seen the moon, Jupiter or Saturn through a telescope before, I promise you will be blown away... but physics says you just can not get great views of faint objects like nebulae and galaxies with such a small aperture.

Let's wrap this one up with a great quote from a recent reviewer:​


Summary

For this price, you get not only a telescope and decent stand (for beginner level) but you also get nearly $50 of software and $100 of eyepieces!

Over 80% of people who have bought and reviewed this telescope have rated it as four or five stars, and most of them talk about the great images of the moon and brighter planets that you'll experience.

Buy the Orion StartBlast​ 4.5EQ Reflector Telescope to start your hobby and you are likely to be very happy with your decision.


Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

We Award: 4.6 Stars

This is Orion's second entry on the list with a very respectable score of over 300, which makes it the best of the budget telescopes over $250.

The best indicator of quality for me though is that across its ​73 Amazon reviews, it is averaging 4.6 stars, which is higher than the two telescopes we've looked at above.

In fact, a whopping 93% of reviewers gave this telescope four or five stars. There is only one review below three stars (because some screws were missing out of the box).

That, to me, is the sign of a great beginner telescope, so let's dig into a bit more detail.

Detailed features guide of the SkyQuest 4.5

Some of the reviews on Amazon.com say this one of the best telescopes for children, and it's easy to see why...

First of all, the scope is a dobsonian. ​

This means there is no complicated equatorial mount to master, instead this is an altazimuth, which is basically 'point and shoot'. This makes it so much simpler to set up for children than the StarBlast reviewed above.​

It is also designed to be easily transportable to the dark location of your choice and the 4.5" mirror and massive 900mm focal length make this a comparative 'light bucket' in this category.

As many users ​say, this makes it one of the best telescopes for kids because of the views of planets and the moon it commands it ease of use.

This reviewer in particular is blown away by what they've managed to see with their daughter through it, including all 110 of the Messier objects (although you have to accept that a scope of this size will need very dark skies to achieve this and, even then, most will likely be very faint with limited detail).

As well as the telescope itself, you'll get access to Starry Night for free and two Plössl lenses of 25mm and 10mm focal length (giving magnifications of 36x and 90x respectively) so it looks like great value!

With there being only one negative review, it is hard to find a downside to this telescope.

One consistent theme, even in the good reviews, is the height of the eyepiece for viewing:

​It is quite low, so reviewers are saying that either you'll need to stand this on a table if you're an adult, or see it as another reason that this is one of the best telescopes for kids to get into the astronomy hobby.

This excerpt from a recent review gives a good sense of the range on the SkyQuest:​


Summary

The Orion SkyQuest 4.5 is a stand out performer!

It's a great telescope for beginners and kids... especially as the eyepiece is so close to the ground.

Buy the Orion SkyQuest XT​4.5 Classic Dobsonian as a great beginner's telescope and your kids are likely to be very happy that you did!


Orion 9851 SpaceProbe EQ130 Relflector Telescope

We Award: 4.8 Stars

Orion's impressive third scope in this top five list makes it because such an impressive proportion of its reviews on Amazon are three stars and above.

Of the few 3-star reviews, the one from 'eye in the sky' is well worth a read as a balanced review of the capabilities not only of this scope, but of all good telescopes for beginners.

Turning to the SpaceProbe itself, it is a classic Newtonian style scope with a 5.1" mirror, 900mm focal length (f/6.9 focal ratio) and comes with an equatorial mount.

Just like the other two Orion telescopes in this top five, it comes with a free copy of Starry Night astronomy software, which retails for at least $49.95, but unlike them there is a downgrade from Plössl to cheaper 25mm and 10mm Kellner eyepieces.

What these specifications should mean (and is backed up by verified reviews) is that you can resolve some big details on planets (e.g. Saturn's rings and -at a push- Jupiter's bands), and resolve stars in globular clusters.

However, deep sky objects will be a stretch and you should expect detail beyond the biggest features in the darkest skies​ to be out of reach of this size scope.

One thing I do notice as I pulled this review together is that, even given great review scores, there is no single review that raves about this scope like they did about the SkyQuest above.

This is a fairly standard example of the kinds of things being said:​


Summary

The Orion SpaceProbe EQ130 scores really highly with people that have bought it, with not a single one- or two-star review.

But... the reviews are far from excited about this telescope and, if I'm honest, the price gap between this and the SkyQuest, along with the better eyepieces in the SkyQuest and the more compelling reviews would lead me towards spending a few extra dollars on that one.

All that said, there is nothing at all wrong Orion 9851 SpaceProbe EQ130 Reflector telescope, and the equatorial stand may be the deciding factor for you.


Meade Instruments 209006 Infinity 102AZ Refractor

We Award: 4.2 Stars

S. Brady 
Verified Purchaser

We finish our top five with the best scoring refractor (excluding the Celestron, which won overall), which is the Meade Infinity.

We've awarded it the lowest score of this top five, at 4.2. However, of the reviews on Amazon, there are very few 1-or 2-star, with a majority awarding the telescope four or five stars.

Out of the box, this telescope comes with an altazimuth (or 'point and shoot') stand, which is easy for astronomy beginners to get to grips with... although we'll come back to the quality of that shortly.

It also comes with 6.3mm, 9mm and 26mm eyepieces, but these are all cheap modified achromats (an updated version of a Kellner) and nothing to get too excited about.​

The finder scope comes with the red dot viewfinder, which has mixed reviews, with some saying it worked great and others saying they couldn't get it to work.

Finally, there is an astronomy software DVD which comes with the scope, but it is PC only (take note Mac users) and, I suspect, is not a patch on the Starry Night software or even Stellarium, which is free and works on a Mac!

Turning back to that stand.

Whilst I have already pointed out on this page that your hard-saved $300 will only buy you so much, there is a particularly negative review about this stand:

There is more to this review, please click on the text in the box above to read it all.

The stand is mentioned in a couple of the other reviews, but I'm not sure it's any worse than, for example, the Celestron's, which was the highest scoring scope of this list.​

But this scope didn't make it onto this list by being shabby!

The overwhelming number of positive reviews talk of ​it being a great telescope for beginners, easy to set up and use and providing much better images of the night sky than its users were used to.

This review from lwescott is particularly helpful if you're thinking about buying a Meade telescope and contains a picture of the moon taken with it.​

As with many of the telescopes on this page, there are a lot of reviewers who have bought them for their children:​

I think that sums it up very well!


Summary

The Meade Infinity rounds off this top five of beginners' scopes and comes in with the lowest average rating.

On the negative side are comments about stands and eyepiece quality (and these eyepieces are way below the standard of those supplied with the first two Orions on this list).

But... there are very many positive and satisfied customers who own this telescope.

Being a refractor on an altazimuth stand, it is really easy to set up and use right out of the box and it does give great views of the moon and planets, which makes it a good telescope for beginners and maybe a great telescope for children.

Buy the Meade Instruments 209006 Infinity 102AZ Refractor telescope as a great beginner's telescope and your kids are likely to be very happy that you did!


Love the Night Sky Recommends...

Having spent a lot of time researching the telescopes on this page and a lot of feedback on all of them, there is one clear stand-out winner for me.

If you have up to $300 to invest, then the size, eyepiece quality and ease of use mean that the Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsoninan​ has to be the overall winner of this category.

At the time of writing, that is the most expensive telescope on this list.

So, if money is a bit tighter, then your choice has to be that of (literally) hundreds of satisfied users before you.

For around $100 less than the Orion SkyQuest, you can have the Celestron 21061 AstroMaster ​70AZ Refractor Telescope and you will not be disappointed!

Whichever you choose, I hope you have dark skies and happy star gazing!​


Image Credits

Product images sourced from Amazon.com​

Jupiter though a 2" and 4" telescope, credit Brian Ventrudo


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