Best Telescopes to See Planets – Your Complete Guide

Sometimes the beauty of the planets just grabs you and won't put you down.

If you have a love of observing Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the rest and are looking for the best telescope for viewing the planets in all their splendid, detailed finery, then...

This is the perfect review for you!

In a hurry? Here’s our top-rated telescope for planet hunters:
Celestron NexStar 4SE Maksutov-Cassegrain
Ideal for serious planet hunters wanting the convenience of a go-to mount with high quality lenses and a very slow focal length.
Specifications:
  • Telescope Type: Maksutov-Cassegrain
  • Mount: Motorised 'go-to' tracking
  • Focal Length: 1325mm
  • Aperture: 102mm
  • Focal Ratio: f13
  • Check Latest Deals on Amazon →

    Do you know what those qualities are?

    No?

    Well, keep reading and all will quickly become clear and you'll be choosing the best planet watching telescope for your circumstances in no time!​


    Our Top Five Telescope for Seeing the Planets

    This table of our best five telescopes for seeing the visible planets will get you started. Click each telescope for the latest price on Amazon.com, or scroll down the page for detailed reviews and specifications of each model.

    Best Telescopes for Seeing Planets

    Picture (click for Amazon price)

    Ideal For...

    Our Rating

    Budget conscious or for children wanting to see planets through a telescope.

    Beginners wanting better quality views of planets, but still with a limited budget.

    Serious planet-hunters wanting a go-to mount, high quality lenses and very slow focal length

    Ultra-serious planet watcher looking for a very high-end, quality refractor

    When money is not your first consideration, but high quality and magnification is!


    Our BEST TELESCOPES OF 2018 have been chosen - Click HERE to see all 16


    What Makes a Great Telescope for Seeing Planets?

    We can see at least five of the planets in our solar system with our naked eyes, and so it follows that every telescope can see them too, but...

    There are qualities that make a perfect telescope for viewing planets, and we've listed them out for you here.

    A 'Slow' Telescope is Best for Observing Planets

    The planets (and moon) are the brightest objects in the night sky, which means light-gathering power is not always the most important thing for a good telescope to see planets.

    All the light from a planet is coming from just a small patch of the sky (even the full moon is only half a degree across). If you only need to fill your eyepiece with the planet you're looking at (and not lots of surrounding black sky) you only need a very small field of view.

    Where is planet Jupiter tonight?

    Mighty Jupiter is just 0.25° wide in our sky (credit below)

    To get a smaller field of view, you need a longer focal length, which is the distance the light travels from mirror/lens to the eyepiece.  

    Telescopes with a longer focal length generally have a higher focal ratio (the focal length divided by the aperture in mm).

    So, when shopping for a good telescope to see planets, you need to be looking for a higher focal ratio, also known as a 'slow' telescope.

    Anything with a focal length around 8 and above is known as 'slow' and is much more suited to planet observation than a wide-field, high low-ratio, 'fast' telescope.

    Magnification thoughts for Viewing Planets

    We can use a telescope's highest magnification for viewing planets because of their brightness.

    A telescope's magnification is calculated by dividing its focal length by that of the eyepiece you're using.

    For example, take telescope with a focal length​ of 600mm. Insert a 25mm eyepiece and you'll have a magnification of 24x (i.e. 600 / 25).

    If you now but a 6mm eyepiece in the same telescope, you'll have a magnification of 100x (i.e. 600/6).​

    However, although in theory this could go on for ever (e.g. 600x magnification if we use a 1mm eyepiece) there is an upper limit to a telescope's magnification​ and it's determined by how much light it collects. We are also limited, sadly, by the amount of magnification we can usefully use due to out swirling atmosphere.

    When looking at a manufacturer's claims on magnification, keep the following points in mind:

    1. The air quality (seeing) has a bigger impact as magnification gets higher. Jupiter can look almost like ​its underwater if viewed at very high magnification because of air turbulance. You should assume that only rarely will you be able to make use of more than 200x magnification
    2. Aperture size has an impact on how much magnification is theoretically possible with your telescope. A rule of thumb is your maximum magnification is 2x the diameter of your aperture in mm.
      A 100mm refractor, for example, is going to have a theoretical maximum magnification of 200x.
    3. The last thing to take into account is quality of optics. If you purchase a cheap telescope to see planets, assume a usable maximum magnification of around 70% the theoretical maximum.
      Using the example from point 2 above, 70% of our 200x magnification is actually 140x usable magnification.

    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.

    Best Optics for a Planet Viewing Telescope

    In common with all scopes, better optics make for a better experience.

    Saturn will be more stunning with better optics (credit below)

    Generally speaking, the best refractors for seeing planets will give a better view per mm of aperture than a reflector. This is because there's no secondary mirror to obstruct the light, and the light focussing power of top-end lenses (those known as apochromatic, or APO) is more effective than from a reflector's mirror.

    APO refractors are shorter in length than lower quality achromatic refractors and so are more expensive.

    But...

    They are so much better for viewing planets as the detail they bring out at higher magnification is not subject to chromatic aberrations.​

    Indeed, the difference is so marked that one site says an 80mm refractor of high quality optics will show you more than a 150mm reflector of low quality.​

    Good Mounts are Essential for Planetary Detail

    You've already seen that we can look at planets with a small field of view.

    The downside to that is a scene moving very quickly through your eyepiece. Trying to keep up with that movement without an equatorial mount will prove very frustrating!

    The Orion StarBlast is the only telescope in our list with an alt-azimuth mount which keeps the price low for a wide-aperture refractor scope. However, it's included in the list because it does have fine controls which make it easier to keep the planet you're looking at centred in your eyepiece.​

    Ideally though, if your budget can stretch to it and you want to see those finer planetary details, make sure to get an equatorial or computer-controlled go-to mount.​

    Maksutov-Cassegrain: the Ultimate Telescope for Observing Planets?

    Maksutov-Cassegrain (MKC) telescopes are perhaps 'the daddy' of telescopes for viewing the planets.

    They are a variation on the Schmidt-Cassegrain ​design (which combines both a mirror and lens in a sealed unit) with a very long focal length - but in a much shorter tube.

    This makes them very 'slow' and perhaps the best kind of telescope for studying the planets.

    Now you know the features which make a telescope an ideal planet-watcher, it's time to share with you our review of five great models which range from a cheap telescope to see the planets at one end, all the way to a high quality MKC that will cost over $1000!


    Five of the Best Telescopes to See Planets

    We've reviewed five telescopes for seeing planets to match every budget from below $200 to around $1000.

    They are:

    1. Celestron 21037 PowerSeeker 70EQ
    2. Orion AstroView 90mm Refractor
    3. Celestron NexStar 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain
    4. Sky-Watcher ProED 100mm Doublet APO Refractor (tube only)
    5. Meade LX70 6" f/12 Maksutov-Cassegrain

    For the current price on Amazon, click on the telescope's picture below or the links above.


    Telescope Type: Refractor

    Mount: Equatorial with slow motion controls

    Current Price: Click here for current price

    Focal Length: 700mm

    Aperture: 70mm

    Focal Ratio: f10

    Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 140x (5mm eyepiece)

    Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 98x (7mm eyepiece)

    Click Picture for Price

    Pros

    • Low price planet views
    • Tried and tested scope
    • Easy to set up and go!
    • Very slow focal length

    Cons

    • Not apochromatic lens
    • Low quality eyepieces (replace with a decent Plössl, like this)
    • Poor quality mount

    Our Rating:

    Ideal For: Those wanting a cheap telescope to see planets, or for children wanting their first taste of seeing planets through a telescope.


    Telescope Type: Refractor

    Mount: AltAzimuth with slow motion controls

    Current Price: Click here for current price

    Focal Length: 660

    Aperture: 90mm

    Focal Ratio: f7.3

    Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 180x (4mm eyepiece)

    Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 126x (5mm eyepiece)

    Click Picture for Price

    Pros

    • ​Wide aperture for price
    • Easy to set-up
    • Good to transport
    • Reputable brand

    Cons

    • Slightly fast focal length
    • Low quality eyepieces (replace with a decent Plössl, like this)
    • AltAzimuth mount

    Our Rating:

    Ideal For: Beginners who want a better quality, more versatile telescope but to still see the planets within a limited budget.


    Telescope Type: Maksutov-Cassegrain

    Mount: Motorised 'go-to' tracking

    Current Price: Click here for current price

    Focal Length: 1325mm

    Aperture: 102mm

    Focal Ratio: f13

    Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 204x (6mm eyepiece)

    Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 241x (5mm eyepiece)

    Click Picture for Price

    Pros

    • Quality lenses
    • Very slow focal length
    • 40,000 object database
    • Motorised tracking

    Cons

    • Will need a dew shield
    • Long cooling time
    • Batteries expensive (consider this power pack)

    Our Rating:

    Ideal For: Serious planet hunters wanting the convenience of a  go-to mount with high quality lenses and a very slow focal length


    Telescope Type: Refractor

    Mount: None - optical tube assembly (OTA) only

    Current Price: Click here for current price

    Focal Length: 900mm

    Aperture: 100mm

    Focal Ratio: f9

    Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 200x (4mm eyepiece)

    Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: As above - due to very high quality lens

    Click Picture for Price

    Pros

    • Apochromatic glass
    • Best lens of all scopes reviewed on this page
    • Slow focal ratio
    • Wide aperture lens

    Cons

    • No mount - scope only (you'll need one at least as good as this one)
    • Great lenses cost a lot of money

    Our Rating:

    Ideal For: Ultra serious planet watchers, photographers and astronomers looking for a very high quality refractor scope


    Telescope Type: Maksutov-Cassegrain

    Mount: German Equatorial

    Current Price: Click here for current price

    Focal Length: 1800mm

    Aperture: 150mm

    Focal Ratio: f12

    Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 300x (6mm eyepiece)

    Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: As above - due to high quality optics

    Click Picture for Price

    Pros

    • Huge aperture & focal length
    • High quality optics and equatorial mount
    • Massive magnification of planets. You're only limited by atmospheric quality!

    Cons

    • Price! This is not a scope for the faint-hearted.

    Our Rating:

    Ideal For: When money is not your primary consideration, but high quality and high magnification of the planets is!


    The Best Telescopes for Seeing Planets?

    It's a really close call on which is best,because it depends so much on our budget constraints.

    If you can possible avoid it, don't go for the cheapest Celestron on our list. It's ok for kids or if you only want a cheap telescope to see planets, but there is so much that's not good about it that you'll likely be turned off astronomy for life if you buy it.​

    If budget is a serious constraint, then you could do much worse that the Orion AstroMaster, which was the second scope on our list. The biggest issue with that one is the alt-azimuth ​mount, which isn't great, but the fine controls mean this is acceptable for the cost and you are getting a decent aperture.

    In well-deserved first place on our list is the third most expensive scope: the Celestron NexStar 4SE. It's the first example of the Maksutov-Cassegrain model and represents a ​wonderful telescope for seeing the visible planets in more detail than you've ever managed before. 

    With go-to tracking, great optics and a decent mount, balanced with a not-too-dramatic price point, the Celestron NexStar has to be the winner on our list.​

    The second most expensive scope of the five we've reviewed is the Sky-Watcher 100mm APO refractor. Without a doubt this is a beautiful telescope and the perfect tool for planet watching. It's only downfall is being supplied without a mount and - for a website focussed on helping you get the most from the night sky - we couldn't award it first place when you'll need to spend a couple hundred dollars more to use it!

    All that said, if you do already have a decent mount, you are probably not going to get a larger aperture and better quality lens for this much money!

    Finally, we had another close contender for the winner of Best Telescope to See the Planets: The Meade LX70. Another Maksutov-Cassegrain, this time with a much longer focal length (almost half a metre longer!) and an almost-crazy 6" of aperture.

    Mounted on a fantastic German Equatorial mount, it is no surprise this beast commands a high price. Its ability to carry off 300x magnification will make it a phenomenal planet seeing telescope, limited only by the atmospheric conditions. The only reason it didn't quite command 5 stars was the price.

    We hope you've found a winner for your budget amongst these five planet-watching scopes!



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