Best Telescopes Under $500

If you're looking for the best telescope below $500, that probably means you fall into one of two camps:

  1. You already own a cheaper telescope and are looking to upgrade, or
  2. You really want to get into astronomy and have decent starting budget

Either way, you can buy a telescope with a sturdier mount, better quality optics and, most importantly, a bigger aperture at this price point.

We've done the research, and this is our choice of the best telescopes under $500.

Quick Comparison: Top 4 Scopes Under $500

Telescope

Size & Type

Our Rating

4inch Catadioptric

4inch Refractor

8inch Dobsonian

6inch Reflector

*Below, you'll find our full reviews, but you can click the links in the table above to get current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.


Mid-Range Telescopes

Five hundred dollars is a good sum of money to spend on a telescope. You'll get at least a 4 inch aperture, and as much as eight inches. These scopes will show you views that the smaller starter scopes can't reach with their smaller diameters.

What also happens at this price point is the manufacturers can invest some value in other areas of the telescope. Generally, you'll get higher quality mounts and better optical performances.

Unfortunately, extras like additional eyepieces are still a luxury, so you'll only get one or two with any of the scopes on this list. Be prepared to have to buy some additional ones if this is your first telescope.

Let's dive into our four detailed reviews...

Reviews: Best Telescopes Below $500

The Celestron NexStar 4SE is perhaps the most popular of all catadioptric telescopes - and with good reason!

Catadioptric is just the fancy way of saying that this telescope uses a combination of lenses and mirrors to deliver its images.

The advantage of this is you can get long focal length squeezed into a smaller tube, making it easier to transport and handle than a reflector or refractor of a similar focal length.

The 4SE itself has a focal length of 1325mm (52 inches) but its body is only 343mm (13.5 inches), about a quarter of the size.

The SE range all come with a huge database of night sky objects - over 38,000 - and a tracking motor that will automatically point the telescope to whichever one you choose.

As with any tracking telescope, you will need to align the computer first - i.e. tell it where abouts you are - but that is very easily done by just pointing the telescope at two bright stars. The video below shows how it's done.

The downside of this telescope is that you do sacrifice aperture for convenience.

The motorised tracking computer and database do not come cheap, so your $500 will only buy four inches of aperture, but you'll get to see some good sights for that - although big chunks of the database will be too faint for this model. Instead, they are fully accessible by the NexStar 8SE, which is more than double the price.

What you have to weigh up is convenience of finding and tracking objects, versus seeing more and fainter ones. Later on in this review you'll see an 8" Dobsonian for around the same cost.

However, an eight inch mirror will show you far more, and in more detail, that this 4SE ever will. The downside is you will need to find locate them yourself because there is no computer on the Dobsonian.

User reviews are positive. Making your decision to buy the NexStar 4SE comes down to the kind of astronomy you want to do. If you want to spend most of your time seeing great views, then this is an amazing telescope. However, if part of the fun for you is finding those objects yourself, or seeing some of the faintest, furthest galaxies and nebulae, then your money will be better spent on a bigger aperture, and you should go for the Orion XT8 instead.

The Celestron Omni XLT102 is a beautiful four-inch refractor telescope which comes mounted on a sturdy aluminum CG4 equatorial mount.

The optics are high quality coated with StarBright XLT coatings which improves light transmission through the telescope, and each lens is hand selected for quality by Celestron.

The CG4 mount is a sturdy, professional mount that keeps vibration to a minimum. It has slow motion controls, so you can follow the object of your choice as it moves across the sky. 

The telescope itself has a focal length of 1000mm (39"), giving it a focal ratio of f/9.8. It comes supplied with a 6x30 finderscope (meaning 6x magnification and 30mm aperture) for easier finding of your night sky targets.

On the downside, this scope only comes supplied with one 25mm eyepiece, so you'll need to get additional ones to enjoy this scope to its fullest.

Being a refractor, it is a great choice if you plan to take up astrophotography in the future.

Users reviews of this Celestron are overwhelmingly positive and, if refractor is your telescope of choice, then you will not find a better option at this price point.

The Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS telescope is the biggest one in our review, and comes dangerously close to not fitting in this category.

The 'PLUS' model will cost you most (if not all) of your $500 budget (check price), but there is a cheaper alternative.

The original XT8 (i.e. not 'PLUS') is the same telescope but comes with fewer enhancements and extras. It also costs over $100 less than the plus.

Click this link to see how much the original SkyQuest XT8 is in Amazon.

The classic Dobsonian base on the 'PLUS' comes equipped with adjustable altitude tension knobs. Your $500 will also buy you an easy-collimation secondary mirror, i.e. no tools required and a 2" dual speed Crayford focuser.

The advantage of having a 2" focuser over the more normal (at this price point) 1.25" is you can get eyepieces that tend to have wider fields of view. With those, you can really get the most from the whopping 8 inches of aperture the primary mirror provides.

You also get a host of other accessories with this 'PLUS' model that make getting up and running with it really easy, including 2 eyepieces, a solar filter, a shorty 2x Barlow lens, a collimation cap, eyepiece rack and an EZFinder 2 Reflex Sight.

Dobsonians are the classic astronomer's choice. For relatively little money you can buy an absolute light bucket of a telescope. You will see some stunning views with 8 inches of aperture and will probably never need a bigger telescope.

However, the payoff is you do not get an equatorial mount or computerized tracking, so locating objects and keeping them in the eyepiece is all down to you. Some astronomers relish that, others not so much.

One final thing to consider is bulk. This is a big telescope, both long and heavy, so not the best buy if you need to carry it any distance - although it fits just fine in an average trunk.

If your priority is aperture, the Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS is the obvious $500 choice for you. You will not be disappointed.

The Celestron Omni XLT150 is part of the same Omni range that we saw above, but this time the model is a Newtonian reflector, not a refractor.

Your budget buys a very respectable 6 inch reflecting telescope mounted on the same CG4 equatorial mount that we saw earlier. It too comes with slow motion controls and gives easy tracking of objects across the night sky.

The legs of the mount are 1.75" heavy duty aluminum, and there is a bubble level integrated in the mount to give perfect set up.

Turning to the reflecting telescope itself, we get a 'hand selected' primary mirror with a diameter of 6 inches. This is the very top end of the 'beginner' level of scope, but the CG4 mount will give great low vibration images.

As with any reflecting scope, you will need to collimate the mirrors from time to time to ensure you get the sharpest views with them, but this is not difficult (read how, here) and with care you will not need to do this often.

Again, the optics are coated for better light transmission and you only get one 25mm eyepiece, which is frustrating at this price point. If you are upgrading this is probably not a concern but, if this is your first telescope, you'll want to get another one or two eyepieces for full use and enjoyment.

The focal length of this scope is 750mm (30 inches) and the telescope comes equipped with a 6x30 finderscope, giving you 6x magnified views of the heavens, which makes it much easier to track down the nebula, galaxy or planet you are hunting for.

This is another telescope at the top end of our $500 budget, and a big portion of that is going on the excellent mount. What you'll also get though is a wonderful 6 inch telescope that will show you quite faint objects for the first time and some lovely detail you won't have seen before on planets and other brighter objects.


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.

We've given the SkyQuest XT8 PLUS five stars, simply because it is a huge aperture for the money, but that doesn't necessarily make it the best one for you.

If you'd prefer to have a telescope that automatically finds and tracks the objects you want to see, then the NexStar 4SE is the perfect choice for you.

If you are looking for a middle ground, where there is great equatorial control, which makes it easier to manually find and track objects, and a bigger aperture, the six inch Celestron Omni XLT150 is the right choice for you.

Finally there's our best choice of refractor, the Celestron Omni XLT 102. Some people are pursest refractor users and they are the preferred tool if ever you turn your hand to astrophotography.

Whichever you choose, we wish you clear skies and happy hunting!


Product images sourced from Amazon.com