Best Telescopes Under $500

Best Telescope Under 500 dollars - featured image

So, you've got the money and now you're looking for the best telescope below $500 so you can take your stargazing up a level.

We know from experience that the biggest challenge is often the overwhelming amount of choice​ facing you when parting with that much cash but, fear not...

...Many experienced telescope buyers have come before you!

A combination of their experience and our knowledge has narrowed your choice down to four models, one of which is identified as the Overall Best Telescope Under $500.

Read on to discover which...​


Winners' Table of Best sub-$500 Telescopes

This table shows the four best telescopes under $500, based on reviews by actual buyers.

In-depth reviews of each one are just below the table.​

GET THE LATEST PRICE: Hover your mouse over the pictures

Telescope

Picture

Price*

Our Rating

Score

Overall Best Telescope Under $500

Celestron NexStar 4SE Telescope

$$$

4.4

1047

Best low-price Telescope

Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Telescope

$

4.2

848

Best mid-price Telescope

Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian 

$$

4.8

206

Best Rated Refractor Telescope

Celestron 21088 Omni XLT 102 Refractor

$$$

4.3

56

Score is calculated by using popularity and our awarded rating

*Prices change daily, but expect to pay: $=$300-$350, $$=$350-$450, $$$= $450-$500 - click on the telescope name for Amazon's current price.



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


Mid-Range Telescopes

With up to $500 to spend, you are moving into the realms of good telescopes - you're likely thinking about one of these as a progression from your first scope, or you're serious that astronomy is for you and want to get started with a decent piece of equipment.

What can you expect from this list:

Please remember that what you see through a telescope will not match the quality of image you see in magazines or on my Facebook page, this is because our eyes don't gather either color or enough light when staring at the night sky as a decent camera does with its shutter left open.

Below is an example of the kind of detail you can see on Jupiter through different aperture sizes. It is just to give an idea, as quality of lens/mirror and eyepiece quality and magnification will all have an impact on the detail in your views.

Jupiter through a 2" and 4" aperture telescope

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

Jupiter in a 10

Jupiter in a 10" telescope (credit below)

In this price range, you can be assured of either better quality optics in the smaller aperture scopes, or much bigger apertures!

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 Best Telescopes Under $500

Celestron NexStar 4SE Telescope

We Award: 4.4 Stars

This scope was helped to the top of the under $500 list by sheer volume of reviews and the fact that most of them are positive.

It's a catadioptric scope, which means it has both a lens (where the light enters the tube) and a mirror which reflects the image to your eyepiece.

It comes with a database of almost 40,000 night sky objects to look at (although one reviewer reports that the 4" version of this scope is too small to see the fainter ones) and a computerised tracking motor.

Point the telescope at three bright stars to tell the database exactly where on Earth it is, select any object of your choice and the motor will move the scope to centre it in the eyepiece.

Many of the reviews for this telescope praise how well this works, and that the tracking motor keeps objects in the centre of your vision without having to manually track them!

The telescope comes with a 25mm plossl ​eyepiece, which gives 53x magnification and so great views of the moon and planets.

Although only 12% of reviews gave 1 or 2 stars, many of them had the same two points:

1) Learning to use motorised tracking takes some time. Even some 5* reviews mentioned that this takes time to learn - but it is a fantastic thing once you've 'got it'

2) The motor runs off batteries and very quickly drains them - you will be well served to buy the Celestron powertank to go with this scope.

Summary

The majority of reviewers have given this scope four or five stars, and there are well over 200 reviews for the NexStar range.

At the time of writing, the Celestron NexStar 4SE is retailing right at the top of our $500 limit and is, according to the vast majority of people that have bought it, a great scope to go for in this price range.


Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Telescope

We Award: 4.2 Stars

This Celestron is from the same stable as our overall winner, above.

It sits at the cheaper end of the below $500 price range, only just above the under $300 review class.

With our star rating of 4.2 and a huge number of reviews to the NexStar range's credit, it's earned its place as the best low-price scope with a score on our list of 848.

The 'Mak' in the name of this telescope is short for Maksutov-Cassegrain ​which is a variation on the Schmidt-Cassgrain catadioptric style of telescope I wrote about in this guide to how telescopes work.

This Celestron comes with computerized go-to tracking software and SkyAlign which means the telescope can figure out exactly where it is just by pointing it at three bright stars.

After that, you're good to go hunting any of the 4,000 objects it has stored in its database.

People who have bought this scope have commented on its ease of use, especially the three-star method of setting up the computerized tracking.

Whilst there's a lot of love for the quality of the optics, there are watch outs: the batteries will not be enough to see you through a night, so you'll need to invest in a power charger.

There's a reminder too that if you want to use a computer to control the tracking of the scope (or even an app on you iPhone) you'll need the relevant USB and serial cables, as these aren't supplied.

The 1 and 2 stars reviews for this telescope share three consistent themes:

  1. The star align does not work
  2. The batteries run out too quickly
  3. The mount is not very stable​

Star aligning the motorized computer can be a tricky old beast, but it does work once you've mastered how to do it.

On YouTube, this video does a great job of explaining the process, and is worth a view if you are thinking of getting this or any telescope with go-to.

Point number two, about the batteries, has been noted on the Celestron above. Buy with your eyes open and get either a separate power pack or a cable to run power from your car.

The mount is the last of the common comments, and actually does get picked up even in the five star reviews.

I hate to say it, but that is just the pay-off on price. To get great optics and computerized tracking for a little over $300, the mount's quality ends up being compromised.

You'll find that adding some weight to the eyepiece tray set within the tripod will help dampen vibrations nicely.​

The vast majority of people buying this Celestron are incredibly happy with it, and put all of the concerns above to rest, as this next quote shows:​


Summary

Expect to pay around $300 for this scope (click the button below for the current price) and for that great price point, you're getting fantastic optics and computerized tracking. 

Buy the Celestron NexStar 90SLS Mak Telescope as an amazing mid-range scope.

Whether you're coming into astronomy as a newbie or upgrading from binoculars or a very small 'toy' telescope, I suspect you'll be very pleased with your decision. 


Orion SkyQuest 27194 XT8 Classic Dobsonian

We Award: 4.8 Stars

That quote sums this sub-$500 scope up brilliantly.

It's pretty amazing to see a scope of over $400 with almost nothing but rave reviews.

A huge proportion of Amazon's reviewers have awarded this scope 5 or four stars, whilst barely any have given it less than three stars.

The overwhelming positive views are something quite exceptional in my experience!​

This telescope, with its huge 8" aperture is a dobsonian. ​

There is no complicated equatorial mount to master, instead this is an altazimuth, basically 'point and shoot'. Which makes it much simpler to set up than the StarBlast above.​

One of the reviewers of this scope (G. Hicks) says "the base is as stable as it gets, and does not shake. Ever." which is not what we hear about the tripod-mounted scopes we look at.

The biggest challenge with this scope is its size - it will need splitting into two parts to transport in a car, and each part weighs about 20lbs. The main scope is also a whopping 46" long and (of course) 8" in diameter.

Even at this size, it's a great telescope for kids, with Tiffany Clark reporting that "My son, 7, is able to use the EZ finder to zero in on the planets and stars with ease."

The EZ finder 2 is a red dot finder scope, which makes it simple to align the finder with the scope and then put it on exactly the object you are looking for.​

This Orion is supplied with a 2x Barlow lens and a 25mm Sirius Plössl eyepiece for 48x magnification. 

Other than that, there's not a lot to say - this is clearly a great scope and I'm struggling to find anything that goes against that.


Summary

The Orion SkyQuest XT8 is almost the perfect scope in the eyes of the people who have bought one, and sits firmly in the middle of this price range, at around $440 (click the button below for the current price).

There are only two questions you need to ask to make a decision on this scope:

  1. Do you want to do astrophotography now, or in the future (if yes - don't buy this scope) 
  2. Do you want/need/prefer go-to motorised tracking? (if yes, don't buy the XT8)

If you answered 'no' to both of those questions, and you have around $440, then you are going to be hard pushed to find a scope that brings in more light for that amount of money!

Buy the Orion SkyQuest XT​8 Classic Dobsonian as a light bucket telescope and you, like nearly of all its reviewers, will likely be thrilled that you did.


Celestron 21088 Omni XLT 102

We Award: 4.3 Stars

As I point out in this article, the price of a refractor rises very quickly with the size of the lens. At 4 inches, this scope has a big lens, so it's no surprise its price tag puts it at the top end of telescopes below $500 (click the button above for the current price). 

But...

Not only do you get great optics, you're also treated to a decent stand: a CG4 German equatorial mount which can cost up to $300 on its own!​

Perhaps the pay off for the price is that it only comes with one '25mm eyepiece' (the type is not specified), so you will quickly need to lay out more money for other lenses.

As you'd expect at this price there are fewer reviewers' comments, but nearly all of them award four or five stars, and most have glowing comments too.​

The common themes are ease of set-up and use and quality of seeing, even in heavily light-polluted city areas.

This telescope, our best refractor telescope under 500 dollars, is a real bargain considering the stand it's bundled with.

The eyepiece (according to reviewers) is good enough for planet seeing, but you'll need more variety - and perhaps quality - with time and experience.​


Summary

Overall this is a very impressive telescope.

It looks great, has fabulous optics, and delivers wonderful planet and moon views for a (relatively) low price.

As one reviewer (Raymond Hunter Pyle) comments: "Even with the low power 25mm, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, the moon and even some star clusters and nebula are beautiful. Add a few eyepieces and the sky opens up. I am very pleased so far."

Buy the Celestron 21088 Omni XLT 102 Refractor telescope if you want a high quality, long focal length refractor for great views of the moon and planets.


Review of Telescopes Under $500 - A Summary

There are some truly great scopes on this page and some  for quite a bit less than the $500 limit placed on this category.

The NexStar SE winner is a beautiful scope and you won't be disappointed. But, if you're looking for a light-gathering bucket that costs a bit less Orion's SkyQuest XT8​ Dobsonian takes  some beating!

Whichever you decide to buy, I wish you clear skies and happy hunting!​


Image Credits

Product images sourced from Amazon.com​

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

Jupiter though a 10" telescope, credit Roland Christen


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