Beginners regularly ask me, “What telescope should I buy?” or “What telescope do I need to see X with?”
Nine times out of ten, I recommend a Dobsonian telescope, and if you ask most astronomy clubs, websites, or observatories, they’ll probably respond in unison, “Get a Dob.”
Here’s the reason: a Dobsonian is simplicity itself. Dobsonian actually refers to the type of mount.
Dobs are great for large or heavy scopes because they effectively balance the scope so that moving it requires very little effort.
Dobsonian telescopes, consisting of simple optics set on a straightforward mount, are popular because they offer the most value for your dollar.
While they may not have the appealing look of what they imagine a typical scope to be for first-time buyers, they have had an enormous impact on amateur astronomy.
Another significant thing to say upfront is that Dobsonian scopes aren’t just for beginners. You can get a 10″ or 12″ professional scope at higher price points that will bring the universe to life before your eyes.
And some of these scopes are still reasonably portable with collapsible designs, so it’s easy to take them with you camping or to dark-sky locations.
Now, if you’ve been searching for a scope to help you observe deep space objects, here is a roundup review of the best Dobsonian scopes on the market.
Table of Contents
The Best Dobsonian Telescopes For The Money
#1 SkyWatcher Flextube 250 - EDITOR'S CHOICE
Our top pick, the SkyWatcher Flextube 250, is a Dobsonian on steroids; perfect for those who want it all.
It has everything you need for taking a tour of the heavens, offering a host of possibilities of what you can see or do with a scope.
However, it’s not a beginner’s option as there are more than a few things you need to know before taming this beast.
The SkyWatcher is a good value purchase for both serious and professional stargazers, and it will provide you with an excellent experience.
Features and Benefits
The SkyWatcher Flextube 250 is packed with numerous features, but one that really caught our attention is the collapsible tube.
The scope boasts a patented design consisting of three metal struts that allow the tube to be collapsed.
It compacts from its fully extended 44 inches to just 31 inches when retracted, thus saving you approximately 12 inches of space.
This is a great feature to have since it enhances the overall portability. For example, it’s easy to haul the scope in my Prius, either on the backseat or in the trunk.
Combine this compact scope with a weight of only 33 pounds, and you get an option that is easy to move around different stargazing locations. Of course, it’s not possible to backpack this scope, but compared with other scopes of its class, you’ll see it’s an ultra-portable device.
GoTo with dual encoder
Another feature on the SkyWatcher that stargazers will love is the SynScan technology.
The result is an automated system that removes all the hassle that comes with aligning manual telescopes.
With this option, it’s easy to track celestial and other objects smoothly and accurately.
It also can slew the OTA through hand control without interfering with the GoTo alignment.
And when you’re set for imaging or finding objects, you’ll benefit from the scope’s 42,900 object database to keep you entertained for a very long time.
When using the FlexTube 250, I can now see things I never thought I would be able to see with a domestic scope.
The large, ten inch (25.4cm) aperture and the 120mm focal length have excellent light-gathering capabilities to make your images optimally detailed and clear.
For closer planets, it’s possible to see Jupiter’s bands pretty well, and make out Saturn’s main ring features and also see the ice caps on Mars.
The SkyWatcher is also perfect for capturing deep space options, and while you won’t be able to clearly see the color detail, you’ll be able to view great clusters.
Keep in mind, though, that the scope is collapsible, so every time you collapse and then extend it, you’ll need to collimate again. This is because your alignment will be off each time. After all, you won’t be extending it to the same spot.
The base on the FlexTube 250 is like a typical Dobsonian base, as in weighing a ton and sturdy enough to counterbalance the heavy tube.
You rarely feel the scope wobble or like it’s going to topple with the slightest movement.
The base also hosts an Alt-az mount, which is flexible and smooth.
Using the mount is a delight, and you’ll love how it aligns and moves the scope effortlessly.
Like a true premium purchase, the FlexTube 250 comes complete with a host of accessories, which further add to this scope’s value.
These accessories include a Crawford-style focuser, two eyepieces, and a straight-through finder.
#2 Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian - Premium Pick
I have a fondness for eight-inch Dobsonians as they hit the perfect balance between being bigger than the average scope, yet still being portable and practical in all other senses.
The Orion SkyQuest XT8 is one of my favorite eight-inch options as it always gives me new targets to explore.
It is part of a series of Orion’s SkyQuest Dobsonian scopes and the perfect pick for those who need a solid, light, bucket Dob at a reasonable price.
Features and Benefits
If sights from the Hubble Space Telescope have inspired you to get into astronomy, you’re going to love the images the XT8 offers.
With a massive eight-inch aperture and a focal length of f/5.9, this scope gives you the perfect one-two punch of wide-angle wonder and ultimate power.
When we put the XT8 through a short observing session, we obtained great views of Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and the Andromeda Galaxy.
Then came the moon—wow! Videos and pictures online don’t compare when seeing it in real life with this telescope. There’s so much detail with just the included eyepiece, and it’s easy to make out the moon’s lunar craters.
Beware, the moon is intensely bright and can feel like, and have outcomes like, staring into the sun, so I would strongly recommend using a moon filter.
The scope is also quite clear, and considering that we live in an area with some heavy pollution, I can still make out the rings around Saturn, and the big spot on Jupiter and its four moons. The view of other Galilean moons is also quite a spectacle.
Major differentiators of Dobsonians from regular reflector scopes are the size of the aperture and the supporting base. You can get a larger reflector without a Dobsonian base, but the bigger the optical tube, the more unstable the entire assembly becomes.
Fortunately, with the XT8, you don’t have to deal with any of that. The solid wooden base housing the Alt-az mount is sturdy and weighty; the perfect counterbalance to the large optical presence.
The weight distribution is pretty much evenly split between the base and the optical tube, leaving this scope well balanced and stable.
At the same time, the mount is fluid and smooth to use, allowing you to easily control the equipment when searching for your favorite celestial sights.
You’ll also be surprised at how well the scope moves in your hand without much guidance or direction.
On top of offering spectacular sights and ease of use, the Orion throws in a great accessory kit on top of the optical tube and base.
The hand accessories are not only useful, but also add value to your purchase. Some of them are game-changing add-ons that will improve your overall stargazing performance.
The XT8 package comes with a host of accessories including a collimation cap, eyepiece, dust cap, finderscope, and a universally compatible Crawford focuser.
#3 Orion SkyQuest XT6 - Budget Pick
Traditionally, amateurs like to go for the larger eight- or ten-inch Dobs, but a classic six-inch, f/8 Dobsonian, like the Orion XT6, is still a great pick for those on a budget or people who are unsure of how much they want to invest when starting out.
The XT6, priced just a little over 100 bucks, is also cheaper than the larger and bulky XT8 and offers better value and performance than the smaller XT4.5.
But, is this scope the right model for you?
Features and Benefits
The XT6 has a wonderful combination of optical features that offer amazing views that many scopes within its class cannot.
It also offers something many Dobs do not—versatility. Dobsonian scopes are known for pure, deep space capabilities, but, with the XT6’s specifications, you can eke out a little bit more than that.
With a six-inch primary aperture along the f/8 focal length, the scope straddles the thin line between a regular reflector scope and a light bucket.
With this option, it’s possible to explore both deep and shallow space effectively.
Both the planetary and lunar performance are exceptional, and you’ll find it easy to get great detail even at higher magnifications.
Jupiter will show its many stripes, including the four Galilean moons and the Great Red spot. The rings of Saturn are also visible, including the gap between the rings, The Cassini Division.
Overall, the XT6’s planetary performance is comparable to more expensive comparable models due to its f/8 focal length.
The only are the Orion slightly struggles with is its deep space performance. It’s not bad, but we would have hoped Orion would have enhanced it with a two-inch focuser.
While it’s easy to get images of brighter Messier objects such as Hercules, Pleiades, Orion, and Andromeda, the field of view is narrow and the amount of detail isn’t the best.
It’s not a deal-breaker, though, considering it’s a classic six-inch budget option.
Is an upgrade to an eight-inch worth it?
Absolutely, especially if your priority is deep space performance; the images will get clearer, and the field of view will expand.
Classic Dobsonian base
The XT6’s base is weighty and durable, working as the perfect counterbalance to the large scope. You’ll rarely feel out of balance or off-kilter when using this option.
The base is also home to an ultra-smooth and fluid alt-az mount, which keeps everything aligned and makes the scope a breeze to use.
It’s easy and fun to use the Orion SkyQuest XT6, with the alt-az’s mount freeing design allowing you to utilize this model to the fullest.
This classic Dobsonian setup, combined with optical flexibility, creates a solid platform for stargazing.
The Orion XT6 comes with a modest handful of accessories that boosts its value even further.
Though already highly affordable, the XT6’s package comes with several add-ons, including a 1.25″ eyepiece, a dust cap, a collimation cap, a laser pointer, a 2x Barlow lens, and a copy of Starry Night astronomy software.
#4 SkyWatcher S11800 GoTo Collapsible - Best Computerized Dobsonian
Mating a high-tech computer system with a Dobsonian-style reflector makes for a dream scope, delivering a large aperture, practical portability, and the convenience of automatic tracking.
But, of course, there’s a cost!
Most of these models are premium and come at an exorbitant price.
This is why I was skeptical when I first met the SkyWatcher GoTo scope.
This equipment promises to deliver a computerized Dobsonian scope for nearly a quarter of the price of a regular motorized scope.
However, my fears were allayed the first night out as this scope delighted me by working perfectly.
Features and Benefits
The SynScan computerized hand control is the brain behind the SkyWatcher scope.
It’s an automation feature that removes the hassle of aligning your scope for perfect views. It lets you point your scope at a specific object or even tour the night sky at the touch of a button.
It also has an internal database consisting of over 42,000 celestial objects, enough to keep you entertained for a considerable time.
You can even let the scope take control and take you on a tour of all the best objects based on your location and time.
Overall, this scope’s convenience is awesome, with precision-engineered performance allowing you to locate and enjoy night sky treasures with relative ease.
The SkyWatcher has everything you would need to take a tour into the sky.
With an eight-inch aperture and a focal length of 1,200mm, this option has incredible light-gathering abilities that will provide detailed and clear images of your chosen objects.
Moon views are extraordinary, and, so far, Jupiter and its moons look ultra-bright and clear.
While it certainly doesn’t come close to NASA-like views, for my early 20’s daughters it’s worth every single cent I paid for this fine scope.
It’s a light bucket option, so it’s possible to see details in Andromeda. You can also see the awesome details of most of the planets, including the ring on Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.
I was also able to view great details of nebulae and comets and Uranus as a point of light.
As its name suggests, the SkyWatcher S11800 GoTo Collapsible features a patented truss system that allows easy and convenient collapsing of the scope for simple storage and transportation.
The collapsible design makes it easy for me to transport the scope in my Prius, either on the back seat or in the trunk.
And the good thing is dismounting the individual parts is easy and fast.
#5 Zhumell Z12 Deluxe - Deluxe Option
Zhumell brings quality and value to Dobsonian telescope shoppers.
This is an attention-worthy conversation starter if planted in your living room.
Sure, the Z12 is huge, but the performance-oriented features justify the heft and size.
Features and Benefits
The primary mirror is twelve-inch parabolic, but, as you know, they say “the bigger, the better.”
This scope has the biggest aperture on our list, and this translates to the best light-gathering capabilities.
Few scopes can ever get close to what the Z12 delivers, and photos don’t do the twelve-inch justice.
The views are much larger and several times more detailed than other scopes.
It’s a great option for viewing the moon, and even with some haze and pollution in the air, everything looks bright and sharp.
The 9mm eyepiece allows for some close-up views of the moon’s craters and surface detail like I’ve never seen before.
It’s also possible to clearly see Saturn and its rings, along with the Cassini division, Jupiter with its moons, and Mars.
You’ll also get awesome views of the Andromeda and Trifid Nebula.
The Z12 has a nifty feature than many telescopes lack—a cooling fan for the primary mirror. The fan, located at the optical tube base, cools down the cells very quickly for the best performance.
Cells on the Z12 are not at risk of overheating as the fan brings in cool air from the outside and ensures the scope performs at optimal conditions.
Traditional Dobsonian telescopes feature Teflon bearings against laminate and some tension adjustment consisting of either springs or knobs.
The Z12 maintains the laminate-covered particle board base, but the distinguishing feature on the scope’s mounting system is the presence of ball altitude, which doubles as the tensioning system.
Overall, the mounting system for this scope is easy to use, smooth and convenient. Using it is a joy, and you’ll love the seamless movement it offers.
Like most of our reviewed items, the Z12 package comes complete with a host of accessories.
Some of the included extras are game-changing options and contribute to the overall performance of the scope.
The accessories include two eyepieces, a focuser, a finderscope, a laser collimator, and a dust cap.
Size and Weight
The greatest drawback of transporting the Z12 is the large size and weight.
While the huge twelve-inch primary mirror lets you see plenty of objects, including those farthest away, the entire assembly weighs 75 pounds, and it’s bulky.
Moving the scope requires some elbow grease, and you’ll probably require a helping hand.
Best Dobsonian Telescopes Buying Guide
If you’re new to telescopes, or are not sure which Dobsonian to choose, then this section is for you.
Here, we shall explain in detail the critical elements to consider when purchasing your next Dob telescope.
We shall also briefly highlight some of the tradeoffs you’ll need to consider.
Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Dobsonian Telescope
Aperture is king
For any telescope, the size of the aperture is arguably the most important factor to consider.
Generally, the larger the aperture, the more light a scope can collect. And more light translates to greater detail and clarity.
A large mirror brightens images and creates more resolution for the objects, making it easier to make out details in distant galaxies and nebula that would otherwise be impossible with a lower light collection.
Additionally, a larger aperture lets you “zoom” more effectively. Even better, your magnified images will be less “grainy.”
Here is a very general guideline of what to expect with your scope’s aperture size:
- Up to 3”: Possible to view lunar detail, planets, and dozens of DSOs
- 5” to 8”: More lunar details, planets, some planetary features, and hundreds of DSOs
- 8” to 14”: Clear lunar detail, planets, and thousands of DSOs.
Focal length (a.k.a. focal distance)
After the aperture, the next vital element to consider is the focal distance, best known as the focal length.
The general rule is the long and narrow Dobs have a longer focal length, while those that appear “shorter and fatter” probably have a shorter focal length.
Choosing one over the other gives you several benefits and tradeoffs.
The first relates to how much “zoom” your scope has.
A short focal length presents a wider field of view, allowing you to view more widespread objects in the sky. Conversely, a longer focal length has a narrower field of view, but delivers greater magnification, allowing you to get up-close details of smaller targets.
The other tradeoff is the size of the scope. Dobs with a shorter focal length are more compact, while longer focal lengths naturally make your scope more lengthy for any given aperture size.
Portability and ease of set-up
A major benefit of the Dobsonian telescope is the ease of assembly and disassembly.
These scopes collapse easily, and they’re great options for camping.
While they’re not always super light, their portability and transportability are still fairly good.
But, always keep in mind that these scopes aren’t traveling options, so you’ll probably need a vehicle and strong hands to move them into different positions each time.
Benefits of a Dobsonian telescope?
Dobs scopes are a great option for getting started with astronomy and making your budget stretch as far as possible.
Here are the top three reasons why we think you should choose a Dobsonian as your first scope:
Dobs offer the best value for the dollar compared with other, similar scopes.
They utilize mirrors as opposed to expensive lenses, and the mounts are made from low-cost components.
If your number one priority is to see the brightest and most detailed images possible within your budget, the Dobsonian telescope is hard to beat.
Easy to point and view
With a unique, floor-based, friction-balanced Alt-Az mount design, a Dobsonian telescope is a piece of genuine “grab and go” equipment.
With this option you don’t have to fiddle with knobs and controls to point the scope in the direction of what you want to view.
The Dobsonian is super fun, easy to use, and can make a great option for beginners.
Learning the skies
A Dobsonian is a great pick for anyone who loves astronomy and wants to get a lot of experience navigating the sky manually.
It’s easy to set the scope up in your backyard or even take it with you to a dark-sky location, and you’ll quickly learn how to “star hop” and find various targets in the sky.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I use my Dobsonian telescope for astrophotography?
Dobsonians aren’t designed for astrophotography, and one obvious reason is the limitation of the box-rocker-style alt-az mount.
They’re not suitable for this task because there’s often not enough in-travel focus to allow DSLR cameras to focus on an object for imaging.
That said, they’re still handy for short-exposure astrophotography, especially for the moon and planets.
What can I see using a Dobsonian-style telescope?
Dobs are flexible in terms of objects that you can view in the sky.
It’s possible to see the moon in wonderful detail within the solar system, and also zoom in on the planets.
Both Saturn and Jupiter are gorgeous, especially with a decent-sized aperture Dobsonian.
With the eight-inch or larger Dobsonians you can even see more distant targets in the sky, including those beyond our solar system. These include globular clusters, open clusters, some galaxies, and nebulae.
How large should my telescope be to view Saturn?
Any Dobs with a minimum magnification of 25x should allow you to see Saturn and its rings with impressive clarity.
Your scope should allow you to distinguish details within the rings or even view the Cassini division at high magnification.
To calculate the magnification of a telescope, you simply divide the focal length of the scope by the focal length of the eyepiece.
So, for instance, a 1,200mm scope with a 5mm eyepiece gives a 240x magnification.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our list has some exciting options, but if we were to pick one above the others, we would recommend the SkyWatcher Flextube 250.
The SkyWatcher Flextube 250 is a true Dobsonian, with the addition of computerized SyncScan technology that removes the hassle of aligning the scope and targeting objects.
It also comes with a massive database that will keep you entertained for years to come.
The SkyWatcher Flextube 250’s optics are also fantastic and allow you to view planetary and lunar features in great detail and impressive clarity.