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 the table below, you’ll find our top five recommendations. Click the orange button to discover today’s price (which will open in a new tab) 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.
We’re staying focussed on good telescopes for viewing planets on this page. If you need a general purpose telescope, then head to our ‘Best Telescope of the Year‘ reviews instead.
You see, when deciding what telescope to buy to see the planets, you need a model particularly dedicated to the task. A telescope which has the special features making it ideally suited to observing the planets.
Do you know what those qualities are?
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!
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ Refractor
- Sky-Watcher Classic 6-inch Dobsonian
- Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Newtonian Reflector
- Celestron Omni XLT 102mm Refractor
- Celestron NexStar 6SE Compound
• Celestron StarSense LT 80AZ Refractor
Telescope Type: Refractor
Mount: Slow-motion AltAz with smartphone guidance
Approx Price: $190 (click here for today’s price in a new tab)
Focal Length: 900mm
Aperture: 80mm (3″)
Focal Ratio: f/11
Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 180x (5mm eyepiece)
Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 128x (7mm eyepiece)
The StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ uses Celestron’s unique StarSense technology to help you navigate your local night sky using nothing more than the power of your smartphone and its camera.
Download the StarSense app, enter your unique code and then attach your cell to the telescope in the special holder and you’re ready to go.
After a simple setup process (see the guide video, here) just enter any planet you’d like to see into the app and it’ll use your smartphone’s screen to guide you to the right place with pinpoint accuracy.
This is a small refractor, which is great for children to use and anyone who is content to enjoy the brightest objects in the night sky. Expect to see nice crater details on the Lunar surface, Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings.
There’s no need for collimation or polar alignment and StarSense means you’ll be successful without any previous knowledge of the stars.
- StarSense technology makes seeing views easy
- Easy to set up and go, even for total beginners
- Child- and budget-friendly
- Small 3″ aperture only shows brightest objects
- Mount prone to vibr
Ideal For: Beginners with a small budget who just want to enjoy the views without learning to navigate the night sky.
• Sky-Watcher Classic 6″ Dobsonian
Telescope Type: Dobsonian Reflector
Approx Price: $350 (click here for today’s price in a new tab)
Focal Length: 1200
Aperture: 152mm (6″)
Focal Ratio: f/7.8
Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 300x (4mm eyepiece)
Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 300x (4mm eyepiece)
This 6-inch Dobsonian has focal length of 1200mm, giving it a focal ratio of f/7.9. This is a great telescope for viewing the planets that won’t break the bank.
It delivers high-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.
Sky-Watcher’s large aperture for a relatively low price means you should expect to see Martian surface features like the polar ice caps and possibly even Jupiter’s Great Red Spot under good conditions.
Dobsonian telescopes are really simple to setup and use, and this is no exception. You will need to collimate the mirror from time to time to keep your focus sharp, but that’s easy to do with our guide.
You won’t find such a large, decent telescope for less money, which is why Dob’s are often the go-to model for backyard astronomers.
- Large aperture for a low price
- Easy to set-up
- Reveals lots of planetary details
- Bulky to move around
- Cheap eyepieces and finderscope
Ideal For: Maximising your budget! There is no better way to get more aperture for less money than with a Dob like this one.
• Celestron StarSense DX 130AZ Reflector
Telescope Type: Newtonian Reflector
Mount: Slow-motion AltAz with smartphone guidance
Approx Price: $400 (click here for today’s price in a new tab)
Focal Length: 650mm
Aperture: 130mm (5″)
Focal Ratio: f/5
Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 163x (4mm eyepiece)
Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 163x (4mm eyepiece)
This model combines features from the first two on our planet-viewing telescopes list: a big aperture and StarSense technology.
There’s no hiding from the fact that this is a slightly smaller scope than the Sky-Watcher Dobsonian (above), nor that it costs about $50 more but – and this is significant – it comes with Celestron’s patented StarSense technology built in.
With this model, you have a decent 5″ aperture and the ability to attach your smartphone to it so that Celestron’s SmartSense app will guide you to find each planet with ease.
Closer to home, you’ll be wowed with lovely views of Jupiter’s cloud bands and Galilean moons, as well as the crescent of Venus and Mercury (which is notoriously difficult to see), and the rings of Saturn.
The telescope is mounted on an altazimuth tripod with slow motion controls, which make it easy to track your chosen planet in the eyepiece as it moves across the sky.
If you choose to upgrade your eyepieces from the cheap 25mm and 10mm provided (which we recommend you do) it would be easy to see this as a telescope for life.
- StarSense technology to show you the planets
- Large aperture for good levels of detail
- Easy to use
- Low quality eyepieces
- Mount prone to vibration
Ideal For: Astronomers with a mid-range budget who want help to find the best views of planets available and to see more detail.
• Celestron Omni XLT 102mm Refractor
Telescope Type: Refractor
Mount: German Equatorial
Approx Price: $550 (Click here for today’s price in a new tab)
Focal Length: 1000mm
Aperture: 102mm (4″)
Focal Ratio: f/10
Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 250x (4mm eyepiece)
Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 250x (4mm eyepiece)
Refractors make for wonderful planet-watchers!
The downside of refractors is price. Making high quality lenses is more expensive than making the mirrors in a reflector so, inch for inch, refractors are more expensive.
However, unlike reflectors, they have no central obstruction coming from a secondary mirror, which means they deliver razor-sharp contrast, ideal for observing small planetary features.
In reality, this 4″ Celestron Omni XLT 102mm will deliver details that a 5″ reflector would struggle to match. Not only that but this model comes mounted on a German Equatorial mount so it can be upgraded for astrophotography in the future.
Read our full-page review of the Omni XLT 102mm
- High contrast planet observation
- Easy to setup and low maintenance
- Good quality mount
- Only one eyepiece supplied (25mm)
- Higher cost per inch of aperture
Ideal For: Serious planet watchers and aspiring astrophotographers looking for the high contrast and details that come from a refractor’s lens.
• Celestron NexStar 6SE Compound Telescope
Telescope Type: Schmidt-Cassegrain
Mount: Motorized Alt-Az
Approx Price: $900 (click here for today’s price in a new tab)
Focal Length: 1500mm
Aperture: 6″ (150mm)
Focal Ratio: f/10
Maximum Theoretical Magnification: 375x (4mm eyepiece)
Likely Useful Maximum Magnification: 300x (5mm eyepiece)
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.
This might give you a clue that it is a fabulous all-rounder telescope – which is true (see our full review, here) – but that includes exceling with planetary viewing too.
The aperture is 6″, the same as the Dob featured above but this model is a compound telescope, a mix of lens and mirror which is specially configured to give a long focal length in a small tube.
All of which means it has a slow f/10 focal ratio, ideal for high magnification and tighter fields of view which are what you need to see intimate details on a planet’s surface.
The other huge benefit of the NexStar 6SE is that is has its own database and motorized tracking. Just tell the computer you ant to see Jupiter and it will slew the telescope to exactly the right spot.
If you have the budget and want a telescope that does all the work of finding the planet so you can spend your time enjoying its views, then this could be the perfect model.
And, if you have a bit more cash available and want even more spectacular views of the planets, take a look instead at the NexStar 8SE. Click this link for today’s price (which opens a new tab) or click here for our full review.
- Large aperture & huge focal length
- High magnification for surface details
- Easy to use goto and motorized tracking
- Compound telescopes like this are expensive
- You’ll need a dedicated power supply for the tracking motor
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. That’s why we’ve listed the models in budget order.
With the two StarSense models from Celestron, you’re tapping in to a new technology that makes backyard astronomy more accessible than it’s ever been. Your smartphone accurately guides the telescope.
There are two options for price. The LT 80AZ is smaller and cheaper and a great way to get into astronomy on a tight budget.
The DX 130AZ is larger and comes with better equipment and (of course) a larger price tag. It has the same simplicity of use but you’ll see more objects and smaller features with this model.
In between these two, we looked at the Classic 6″ Dobsonian from Sky-Watcher. The big selling points for the Dob are a huge focal length, lending itself to high magnification, and a decent aperture for very low cost. Oh, and they’re also about the simplest scope to use, just point and shoot!
The Celestron Omni XLT 102mm is a good quality refractor on a very good German equatorial mount. These are ideal for planet watching because they have really high contrast and clarity, unlike the reflectors on the list. However, they are more expensive.
Finally we looked at the Celestron NexStar 6SE and its big brother the 8SE. These very popular compound scopes produce high magnification and clear views, which is ideal for planetary observations. They also have a huge object database and motorized goto and tracking to make finding and following objects a breeze.
However, all of these features bump up the cost, so these are not low budget telescopes, but they are very good.
We hope you’ve found a winner for your budget amongst these five planet-watching scopes!
Product images sourced from Amazon.com
Jupiter picture Credit: By NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) – http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1410a/ or http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2014/24/image/b/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32799232
Saturn Picture Credit: By NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute – http://www.ciclops.org/view/5155/Saturn-Four-Years-On https://www.nasa.gov/images/content/365640main_PIA11141_full.jpg http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA11141, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7228953
Links: Please note, some of the links in this article are affiliate links. You can find out more by clicking on ‘affiliate links’ in the footer.
Last update on 2023-02-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API