Astronomy is a challenging hobby to get into, and it can even be downright frustrating if you start with the wrong scope.
Often, we see budding astronomers quickly getting caught up in the excitement of a new telescope, but they don’t stop to think about how practical it will be for their lifestyle.
It’s tempting to go for a cheap purchase or splurge on a deluxe computerized scope when starting out. But, without arming yourself with a basic understanding of different telescope sizes, types, and mounts, it’s easy to become disappointed with your purchase or even astronomy as a whole.
The right telescope for beginners should be practical, while offering sufficient power and quality without causing a large hole in your wallet.
It should include the same requirements as when buying a pair of binoculars, namely, a compact size, sturdy, and easy to handle.
It makes sense to avoid computerized options when new. As appealing as they may be, the computerized options are a challenge to set up, and you should only use them when you’ve learned a bit more about the sky.
But with so many options on the market, picking the right telescope for beginners can still be challenging.
Fortunately, we’ve rounded up the top five telescope options that will appeal to every beginner looking to dip their feet into stargazing.
Table of Contents
The Best Telescopes for Beginners For The Money
#1 Celestron NexStar 5SE - EDITOR'S CHOICE
Our top pick for the best telescopes for beginners, and also our favorite scope, is the Celestron NexStar 5SE.
We chose the 5SE as the best scope for most beginners because of its size, functionality, and cost.
Amateurs and beginners will love this option as it gathers enough light for you to view the best features of our solar system while giving you enough power to begin exploring deep-sky objects.
This model also features an electronic GPS database preloaded with almost 40,000 celestial objects, so this pick automatically scans the skies once it’s calibrated.
But, is it the right model for you?
Features and Benefits
The S5E operates on a fully computerized system with a handheld controller for guiding the scope across the sky.
While we are already going against our general approach not to recommend computerized options for beginners, we couldn’t resist the fact that this option saves amateurs the hassles of fumbling through a steep learning curve of reading charts and manually aligning the scope.
Instead, the computerized version lets you align and focus your scope on a myriad of celestial objects with the press of a button.
The Celestron has added a database of stars, planets, and other celestial objects numbering over 40,000, so it can keep you entertained for years.
And, make no mistake, the computerized feature is not difficult to use. In contrast to our experience with other competing models, this controller removes all the guesswork and works seamlessly, offering responsive tracking and micro-adjustments.
Even if a scope can find a distant galaxy on its own and point at it, that feature is useless if the optics are no good.
Fortunately, the folks at Celestron made a good telescope first and added the best features second.
The scope’s visual quality is good enough to view your typical solar system objects like the moon and the planets.
The 5-inch aperture has plenty of light-gathering ability, allowing light to flood into your scope without it being too large or unwieldy.
I was especially impressed that the scope allowed me to see celestial objects such as the Ring Nebula, Eagle Nebula, and Butterfly Cluster, even in considerably light-polluted conditions.
The scope can also clearly pick out the colorful views of Jupiter, showing all the reds and oranges of its cloud bands.
It can also deliver the stunning colors and light of star clusters and supergiant stars.
Overall, the S5E is a versatile and practical scope, with the ability to see a great deal. This is because of the decent but not massive aperture and the middling focal ratio.
The S5E isn’t heavy. At a mere 15 pounds it’s easy to move when seeking the perfect location for stargazing.
It’s not fragile either, and comes with a sturdy tabletop base so you can take it with you in your car without having to worry too much about it.
Overall, the ease of use, functionality, and portability of the S5E opens up plenty of options and the number of celestial bodies you can view.
#2 Sky-Watcher Classic 200 Dobsonian Telescope - Best Value Purchase
Our runners up choice is yet another fantastic option that appeals to beginners in several ways.
It’s a large, bucket-style scope with feet in both the past and the future. The scope combines classic designs with modern upgrades to create a powerful and functional Dobsonian scope.
The upgrade it offers over our editor’s choice is the larger aperture, which improves the overall light-gathering capabilities.
On the flip side, this option is substantially larger, weighing about 60 pounds including the scope and the base.
But, is the heftiness enough to make you want to look away?
Features and Benefits
Computerized or not?
Contrary to our top pick, this option, the S5E, lacks any computerized components to help you locate or track stars in the sky.
Is that a good thing?
Well, for beginners, the absence of a computerized system can either be a blessing or a curse. It’s really a question of personal philosophy and how you want to experience the stars.
For me, it’s not an issue, as I find computerized options more practical to use.
However, I find the Sky-Watcher’s superb optics cover the automatic limitation and work best for astronomers who yearn for a taste of a high-powered scope but don’t need the hassle of a computerized mount.
The Sky-Watcher is a Dobsonian scope, designed to be placed under the dark skies to feast on deep space objects.
I find the specifications decent, if not a little too basic for a Dobsonian scope.
The scope comes with a full, eight-inch diameter aperture, allowing plenty of light to flood into the scope.
This is double the size of smaller scopes and it translates to exponential light potential when compared with most of the basic scopes on the market. Thus, you get to enjoy some spectacular views that other scopes can’t.
Locating sharp and colorful nebula is easy with this scope, along with galaxies’ defined arms and structures.
The Orion Nebula popped right into my view in exquisite detail, and the Andromeda Galaxy was also spectacular to see.
And the farther you peek into the skies and deep space, the more visibly the stars begin to reveal themselves.
The image quality is further helped by mirrors which the manufacturer claims have been polished to be 94% reflective. I also found aligning the mirrors a walk in the park, and the mirrors’ stability is a big benefit.
It’s also possible to peel back the layers of the universe and explore it further with this scope, thanks to the decent magnification level of 400x and a focal ratio of f/5.9.
Design and portability
While breaking down this scope is easy, transportation starts becoming an issue due to the large size and bulky base.
Though it fits in the majority of trunks, it will require some planning to transport.
That said, don’t expect just to throw it in your trunk and head out for stargazing. We feel it works best for backyard or “sidewalk” viewing, where minimal transportation is required.
But while this scope is large, it’s operation is as smooth as silk. Even with me breathing, the Sky-Watcher’s images didn’t bounce and shake, as is the case with other telescopes. With the Sky-Watcher, it’s possible to smoothly guide it into position and make adjustments without losing focus.
#3 Celestron Astro Fi 102 - Best for Amateurs/Intermediate
Celestron has found a clever way of delivering much more telescope for your money.
But you need to be comfortable with computerized devices.
Meet the Astra Fi 102.
This digital scope comes with plenty of technology, yet it offers sufficient support for beginners just starting in sky-watching.
The Astra 102 package also comes supplied with everything you would need for great tours of the night sky, including twin eyepieces, a smartphone adapter, and a red dot finder.
Features and Benefits
The Astro Fi 102 is a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope that uses a combination of lenses and mirrors for options.
Now, if you know anything about telescopes, you’re aware that the Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope offers fantastic optics in a surprisingly compact device.
The Astra is no different, and you’ll instantly fall in love with its image quality, sharpness, and contrast; it’s perfect for both nearby and far-out celestial observations.
And while we would often recommend a Dosbnian scope for beginners, the Astro Fi is a wonderful pick for amateur astronomers who want to step up their observatories.
The Astro Fi’s optics offer good views of the moon and you can easily pick out the planets.
In our experience, rewarding views of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars are achieved via the 102mm aperture.
Sure, the aperture isn’t any bigger when compared with our previously reviewed items, but it still collects more light for detailed images than most beginner telescopes.
The scope’s optic design also makes the Astro perfect for high magnification rather than wide viewing. I find the scope good at cutting through city light pollution and making deep-space viewing possible regardless of your location.
The Astro’s aperture makes it possible to pick out the breathtaking sights of the rugged, chalky terrain of the moon. It reveals the pleasing sights of the Andromeda Galaxy with its disc coming into view with proper magnification.
The 1,325mm focal length is also decent and will allow good magnification, regardless of the eyepiece attached to the scope.
However, if you need to see galaxies and nebulae, the Astro might not be the best option for you. You’ll need an eight-inch scope like the Sky-Watcher. It’s not a deal-breaker though, since the Astro is affordable, and if you must view the galaxies, you can use the money saved to buy expensive accessories.
Another attractive element that beginners will love with the Astra Fi is the SkyAlign technology, which allows simple alignment.
Beginners will no longer struggle to align their instruments before beginning their observation.
Instead, the technology removes the guesswork and any fumbling with the device as it reveals your orientation to the sky, so you’re able to locate your desired target.
And the good thing with the automatic function is that it’s completely wireless. No physical wires or physical controller, but rather a simple, wireless connection with your smartphone.
Simply download the Celestron SkyPortal app, which is intuitive and easy to use, and learn how to navigate your way around it.
#4 Meade Instruments Infinity 102 AZ - Best All-round Option
The fourth pick on our list of the best telescopes for beginners is the Meade Instruments Infinity.
Part of the reason we chose to include this telescope is that it’s an all-rounder, working perfectly for all beginners.
It’s an easy and practical choice for beginners who want to start their adventures to the heavens.
At the same time it has pretty decent optics, especially for its price.
Other great aspects that beginners will love on this scope include a sturdy tripod and useful slow-motion knobs.
Features and Benefits
If you’re familiar with telescopes, you’ll appreciate the refractor design as it provides the Infinity 102 with spectacular performance levels, even in the most rugged conditions.
With this scope, you’ll never have to worry about your images or light path getting interrupted or there being stray reflections.
Infinity’s permanent optical alignment also promotes a maintenance-free experience, so beginners don’t have to worry about the hassles of maintaining the scope.
This scope’s optics aren’t the best, but are better placed than most competing models.
The Infinity 102 has the largest aperture in Meade Instrument’s Infinity line of refractors.
The four-inch aperture collects sufficient light, making it possible to illuminate celestial objects and planets with ease.
While the scope has color inaccuracies, the moon looks incredibly detailed and sharp. The craters and mountain ranges are astonishing, and if you’re looking to get a scope for moon observation, the Infinity will not disappoint.
The same can be said for its deep space performance. We love how this scope reveals the Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy, and Pleiades Star Cluster. In particular, the mid-range magnification brings a more detailed look, and the scope is fun to use.
The only way we felt the Infinity was weaker than other options was with the planetary performance. While it’s possible to see details such as stripes on Jupiter or even rings on Saturn, the short focal length (600mm) causes many chromatic aberrations. The colors start to become inaccurate, and for a detailed view of the planets, I would recommend a longer optical tube.
The alt-azimuth mount isn’t amazing, but it’s sufficient for a mid-range scope.
It’s mostly plastic and may not be the sturdiest mount, but it doesn’t invite any complaints for low to mid-range magnification.
The mount’s horizontal movement is smooth, but we find the vertical motion shaky. It’s also impossible to attain a completely vertical motion because the slow-motion knobs get in the way.
#5 Orion StarSeeker IV 130 - Easiest to Use
Our final pick, the Orion StarSeeker, is yet another powerful digital telescope designed with beginners in mind.
It offers a simple, practical, and convenient way to view the sky and all it holds.
I find the digitization element quite appealing, as it removes all the hassles and guesswork of setting up the telescope.
Features and Benefit
Setting up the Orion is a piece of cake with clever computerization helping to align the scope and guide you to bright views of everything from the moon and planets to Nebula and star clusters.
Even those with no knowledge of telescope operating systems will find it easy to align and even identify celestial objects.
The Orion has a huge GoTo database of over 42,000 objects that, along with the built-in tour mode, lets you enjoy great views.
However, it’s worth noting that the scope doesn’t pick out all the database targets.
Even better, aligning the scope is completely wireless and hands-free.
The scope uses a smartphone and Wi-Fi network, allowing you to control the handset conveniently.
For those who would rather not download the app or endure the inconsistencies of a poor network, the handset can be used for easier control.
Overall, the wireless technology combined with the ease of use, intuitive assembly, and auto-alignment make the Orion the perfect starter scope for beginners.
Orion’s five-inch aperture allows a decent collection of light into the scope, and this way, it affords users beautiful views of planetary objects, particularly Jupiter and its atmospheric belt.
The scope also reveals impressive sights of some of the largest moons and stars.
And for those who would like to get a view of Saturn, it’s easy to pick out the rings of this planet.
The generous light-collecting ability also helps beginners enjoy tantalizing sights of the lunar surface and deep-sky targets such as the Dumbbell Nebula and the Ring Nebula.
I was also able to view a selection of galaxies, and, despite the relatively short focal length, the Orion doesn’t suffer from optical distortion or defects in the field of view.
Like all our previously reviewed items, the Orion package comes with a host of accessories, including 23mm and 10mm eyepieces, a red dot finder, a handset, and a tripod.
Best Telescopes for Beginners Buying Guide
There are several essential features and factors beginners should consider before purchasing their first telescope.
But before I share the features with you, it would only be prudent that we first discover the popular types of telescopes.
Types of telescopes
There are three popular types of telescopes, and the best option for you will depend on how you plan to use it.
Refractor telescopes are one of the most common types of telescopes.
They have a large lens at the front that collects light from your target object. The aperture then directs the collected light through the scope to a mirror into the eyepiece.
Because these scopes don’t invert the image before reaching the eye, they’re useful for viewing objects that aren’t light-years away.
Reflector scopes don’t use a lens; instead, their two mirrors gather and direct light from the night sky.
They invert the image through reflection and so viewing objects on Earth is difficult.
However, the inversion helps with the focus and clarity of objects that would appear faint in a telescope.
The absence of a lens means it’s easy for dust and dirt to collect in the internal components, so users should clean this scope regularly.
Compound scopes, also known as catadioptric, combine reflector and refractor scopes into one, highly accurate product.
Rather than two mirrors, or a mirror and a lens, this option has two mirrors and a lens.
It allows users to view objects both in the sky and on Earth. It also has substantial magnification, which improves the overall strength of the scope.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Telescope for Beginners
Now that the scopes are out of the way, let us look at the critical factors to consider when selecting a beginner’s scope.
How you plan to use your scope is vital as each scope has different strengths.
- Live to view
Some scopes allow you to look through the telescope without worrying about videos or photography; almost every scope supports this function.
However, for strength beyond the human eye, consider an option with a magnification of at least a 70-mm aperture size.
- Live viewing and recording
Scopes supporting this option allow you to look through the scope and use your phone or any other device to record your sessions.
Astrophotography is the photography of astronomical objects. The ideal scope for this task should include an equatorial mount with slow motion or motorized controls to track specific celestial bodies as they move across the sky.
Experience shouldn’t be a factor preventing you from jumping into astronomy, but it’s good to keep it in mind when choosing your scope.
The best scope for beginners isn’t necessarily the most powerful, rather the one you will use the most.
Beginners are often attracted to scopes that are far too complex and expensive for their skill level.
Rather than splurging, beginners will benefit from smaller, more affordable scopes with an aperture no smaller than 70mm.
When selecting a scope, they should go with straightforward models with an easily adjustable mount allowing for more time viewing the sky than figuring out how to use the equipment.
Amateurs may have a few years of experience observing the stars and planets, but they may not yet be ready for advanced telescopes.
At this level, amateurs may benefit from an equatorial mount or GoTo mount, which allows them to move quickly between objects in the sky.
The size of the aperture is one of the critical components of any scope.
The aperture, the diameter of the scope’s lens or mirror, is known as the objective.
Larger apertures clarify fainter objects.
The magnification of a scope increases with the eyepiece’s parameters, so the specific magnification isn’t as crucial as people think.
Even with high magnification objects can remain dim and blurry. To solve this issue, it helps if the magnification increases along with the size of the aperture.
Larger apertures capture more light, and the flooded light helps with the clarity of dim and blurry objects.
To ensure your scope’s eyepiece has an appropriate magnification, we recommend that you compare the eyepiece’s size to the focal length of the scope.
Finally, it helps if you choose the right mounting system for your telescope for easy and convenient viewing.
Telescope mounts ensure that your viewing experience is seamless and free from the shakiness and wobbliness of your hands.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our list of the best telescopes for beginners contains some really exciting models, and it can be misleading to land on a single option.
However, we feel the Celestron NexStar 5SE has everything beginners could wish for in a starter scope.
First, the digitization element takes the hassle and guesswork out of aligning the scope. It’s easy to use, and beginners with no knowledge of stargazing won’t have to deal with charts or maps.
Besides the ease of use, it has decent optics, with the five-inch aperture allowing just the right amount of light to enter for high-quality image clarity and sharpness.
It’s also a portable option and will easily fit in your car’s trunk when taking your nighttime adventures to various locations.