In the world of stargazing, a telescope is the primary tool of an observer. Telescopes can reveal wonderful nebulae, galaxies, planets, and moons which would otherwise remain hidden. Telescopes not only magnify observable objects in the sky but also gather more light uncovering objects too dim to be seen with the naked eye alone.

Buying a telescope can seem overwhelming. With so many options and factors to consider it can be difficult to know what the best choice is for you is. But don’t worry; this needn’t be the case. This page is here to simplify the process of making sense of all this information and to allow you to determine what the best telescope choice is for you.

First on this page, for those who want their options laid out plain and clear, is an overview of five telescopes which I would recommend as good buys for those looking to purchase a telescope.

Second there is a detailed but concise telescope buyer’s guide which will help you learn all the things to consider when purchasing a telescope. The best telescopes aren’t exactly cheap so it is well worth it to ensure you select the best match for your needs the first time you buy so you don’t have to exchange it for something different later. The best way to do this is to learn the basics of the different types of telescopes out there today, and the important things to consider when buying a telescope.

The Best Telescope Choices

Below I have selected five different varieties of telescope and chosen a recommendation for the best model of each category. All of the models listed are well built, good quality for the money telescopes made by leading telescope manufacturers. I would consider any of these telescopes a “good buy” as long as they are a good match for what you are looking for in a telescope. I have also included a breakdown of each one’s respective strengths and weaknesses to highlight their differences in what they offer you the observer. Of these five telescope selections, I believe there is at least one good match for any of the needs a night sky observer might need from a telescope. All you have to do is determine what qualities are most important to get out of your telescope, then it should be clear what the best telescope match is for you.

>

The Orion SkyQuest XT8
- Best Mid Size Dobsonian Telescope -

This telescope is a mid sized Dobsonian telescope, which are great choices for first time buyers. This is mainly because they are a type of telescope called a reflector, which are very inexpensive for the aperature size they offer as well as their optical quality. Orion, without a doubt, offers the best quality mid-sized dobsonian telescope for a very reasonable price

  

This telescope is for you if you want:
-A low cost, easy to use telescope for beginners
-A telescope with large light gathering power (i.e. it can see dimmer objects)

  

This telescope is NOT for you if you want:
-A telescope which is small, compact, and lightweight, and therefore more portable.

Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope

The Celestron NexStar 8 SE
- Best Mid Sized Compound Telescope -

This compound telescope is the most well rounded option available. It offers good quality optics and light gathering power while still being compact and easy to transport; all without being overly expensive. This Celestron model one of the best selling and most popular telescopes of all time, for good reason. It offers quality a seasoned astronomer will appreciate without being several thousand dollars, and is easy enough for a beginner learn to use very quickly. This is a great choice if you want a balance of all the desirable telescope qualities.

  

This telescope is for you if you want:
-A telescope priced in the middle of the road
-A telescope with large light gathering power (i.e. you can see dimmer objects)
-A portable and easy to use telescope
-Go-To electronic star finding capabilities

  

This telescope is NOT for you if you want:
-A telescope priced in the low range
-A telescope specialized for a specific type of observation

The Meade ETX Maksutov-Cassegrain
- Best Small Compound Telescope -

The ETX series by Meade is a great low cost line of very compact telescopes. What it lacks in large aperture size it makes up for in portability and ease of use, ensuring it will get used often. This, along with its modest price tag, makes it great for beginners.

  

This telescope is for you if you want:
-A low cost telescope for beginners
-A very lightweight and portable telescope
-A very easy to use telescope
-Go-To electronic star finding capabilities

  

This telescope is NOT for you if you want:
-A telescope with large light gathering power (i.e. you can see dimmer objects)

Sky-Watcher 16" Dobsonian
- Best Large "LightBucket" Dobsonian -

This is an example of what amateur astronomers call a "light bucket"; a telescope designed to have as large of an aperture as possible, maximizing its light gathering power. This model is somewhat more practical than many other similar large dobsonians as it can be disassembled for more manageable transportation. This model is also the best priced 16" telescope I have come across. Before you think about buying this or other similar models make sure you understand how large they are; the 16 inch diameter aperture is the same size as a large pizza, and only really necessary for observing the faintest deep sky objects.

  

This telescope is for you if you want:
-A telescope with massive light gathering capabilities
-A telescope primarily for viewing dim deep sky objects on dark nights

  

This telescope is NOT for you if:
-A low or moderately priced telescope
-Are not willing to spend money primarily on aperture size
-An easy transport and set up telescope

Sky-Watcher PRO 120 APO
- Best Apochromatic Refractor Telescope -

Going in the complete opposite direction from light buckets are small apochromatic refractor telescopes. As opposed to being designed for maximum light gathering power, these are designed to provide the clearest, crispest, truest color images possible. In short they are the best telescopes available in terms of optical quality. They are great for observing planets and moons with the greatest possible detail, and less for observing deep sky objects. They are also great for those who don't live near ideal viewing conditions as they are better at handling light pollution. This category of telescope doesn't have as clear of a leader on top and there are many good options out there. I have listed this model as my favorite.

  

This telescope is for you if you want:
-The best quality opitcs available for the truest images
-A telescope which works well even in areas with moderate light pollution
-A telescope mainly for viewing planets and moons in great detail
-To get into astrophotography

  

This telescope is NOT for you if you want:
-A low to moderatley priced telescope.
-A telescope with large light gathering power for observing deep space objects

The Bottom Line
There is no 100% best telescope I can recommend to you; it all depends on your specific needs. But if your’e still having trouble deciding I can say this. If the Celestron SE 8 is in your price range, it won’t disappoint. I really think it is the best of all worlds; compact, easy to use, 8 inches of light gathering power, equipped with electronic star finding, and not overly expensive. If your’e not willing to spend that much get the Orion XT8 Dobsonian. It offers the same light gathering power at a lower cost, just without the benefit of being compact and easy to transport.

The Best Telescopes Buyer’s Guide

Table of Contents

1. About Selecting a TelescopeA Few Words on MagnificationAperture sizeFocal LengthOptical QualityPrice

2. Types of TelescopesRefracting TelescopesReflecting Telescopes –                    Compound Telescopes

3. 5 Priceless Buying Tips

 

About Selecting a Telescope

When you are looking at telescopes there are five main things you need to consider; aperture size, focal length, optical quality, the type of telescope it is, and of course its price. Before I get to these factors, you are probably wondering, “What about the telescope’s magnification?” Well…

A Few Words on Magnification

Many people who are new to the world of telescopes tend to focus mainly on the magnification. This is something that should be avoided. The primary function of a telescope is to gather light, and allow objects which are normally beyond visibility, to be seen. Magnifying and making the objects appear larger is only the secondary function of the telescope.
Also many people assume that more magnification is always better. The truth is the more a telescope magnifies the more its light gathering power is reduced. So in actuality you only want to use as much magnification as necessary.
In addition, telescopes don’t really have one set magnification but rather its magnification is determined by its focal length and the replaceable eyepiece that is being use currently. These characteristics are the ones that should be focused on.
So when buying a telescope, while it’s magnification is an important thing to consider, understand that there are more important things to consider when selecting a telescope and that its magnification can be adjusted with variable eyepieces.

Below are the relative powers of magnification and what you can expect to see at each level.

Low Power 35x to 50x: Will provided a wide field of view encompassing many stars. Good for large spread out objects as well as simply finding targets.
Medium Power 50x to 100x: Good for observing double stars as well as resolving star clusters and deep space objects such as galaxies.
High Power 100x-180x: Great for revealing high detail on bright nearby objects such as planets and moons. Not as ideal for dim objects as the higher magnifications reduce the brightness an object is observed.

Beyond ~180x-200x magnification the images provided by an amateur telescope will become blurry and dim no matter how good your telescope’s optics are. This is because the atmosphere acts a layer of air between us and our viewing targets which distorts our view. Nights with clear viewing above 200x times require ideal atmospheric conditions and are very rare.

Aperture Size

Aperture is arguably the most important factor to consider when buying a telescope. A telescope’s aperture size is the size of the objective lens or mirror and determines the light gathering power of the telescope. The larger the opening of the telescope that allows light in, the brighter objects will appear in the view finder. Aperture size is the best way gauge a telescope’s power, and the number of celestial objects it can see well. Thus aperture size is the number one best thing to put your money towards in order to get a more effective telescope.

While this is true, getting “aperture fever” should not blind you from other realities. By necessity a telescope with a larger aperture is a larger telescope. At a certain point this becomes a disadvantage when it comes to portability and ease of use. While I would love to say get as large an aperture as your wallet would allow, it is important to weigh other factors into the equation, such as size, type of telescope, and optical quality. So while I would say aperture size should be the main focus when determining a telescopes’s power, it should not be the only consideration.

For reference aperture sizes under 6″ are normally considered “small”, aperture sizes of 6″ to 10″ are considered medium sized, and anything over 10″ is usually considered large.

Focal Length

This diagram shows the focal length for a refracting telescope (above) and a reflecting telescope (below). – Source

The focal focal length of a telescope is the length from the primary lens or mirror to the point where it converges all the light it has focused. This specification is important because it is one of the factors that determines the magnification you will get from your telescope. The other factor is the size of eyepiece which is being used. A telescope’s magnification is determined by dividing the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of the eye piece being used. For example a telescope with a focal length of 2500mm used with an 25mm eyepiece will yield a magnification of 100x. This means that a telescope with a larger focal length with give higher magnifications for a given eyepiece. So be sure to look at a telescope’s focal length before you buy it and determine how much magnification it will produce with a a 25mm eyepiece (a very “standard” eyepiece size). Then from there you can determine the range of magnifications it can obtain by determining how your telescope will magnify with other eyepieces. See the eyepieces section below.

Optical Quality


Often times you will see two very similar telescopes, which are the same type and and same size, and yet they will vary greatly in prices. This is because of the quality of the optics, which include the various lenses and mirrors that may be in the telescope. Telescopes with superior optics are made with the best materials, have special coatings to prevent optical disturbances, and are simply constructed better. This is why you can come across a refracting telescope that is $200 and one that is $2,000. The old saying that you get what you pay for is accurate for telescopes. Optical quality is important if you want your telescope to produce the clearest, crispest images with the truest color. Many people who are beginners will find it is best to get low to mid range priced telescope to save some money while they are still developing an eye for amateur astronomy, while those with more experience, especially those who are involved with astro-photography, will want to invest in telescopes which offer a better quality image.

Price


Obviously price is an important consideration when buying anything, and especially true for telescopes as the best telescopes can be quite expensive. I recommend setting yourself a budget before you go looking around for suitable models, and also decide on what qualities are most important to you and make sure your dollars are going towards those factors. Do you want the largest aperture size possible or do you want a compact design? To you want to put your money towards the best quality optics or would you rather put it towards a telescope with computerized star finding capabilities? Determine what’s important to you and then select accordingly. I also suggest that if you can’t budget more than $250 dollars towards a telescope it is not worth getting one, and is instead more wise to spend them money on a pair of binoculars for stargazing. Cheap telescopes are practically useless as they are very difficult to get a good view out of, and ultimately a sure way to struggle unnecessarily with poor observations and kill budding enthusiasm.

Types of Telescopes

There are three basic types of telescope; the refracting telescope, the reflecting telescope, and the compound or catadioptric telescope. No one type is an all around superior design. Each one has their strengths and weakness which are outlined below.

Refracting Telescopes

A Refracting Telescope – Source

Refracting telescopes are what most people think of when it comes to telescopes. They are the long slim, straight bodied telescopes that have a simple design of a lens and an eyepiece at opposite ends of the body tube. These are the original telescope design dating as far back as the early 1600s. For a given aperture size it still provides the best quality image, with better image contrasts, due to its simple design. They are also the easiest to maintain, which make them a good choice for those who don’t want to spend lots of time taking care of their telescope.

The downsides of the refractor type telescope are mostly due to its size. Because it is the largest type of telescope, they are also the most expensive for a given aperture size. Also large telescopes are harder to pack up and set up, losing portability as the size increases. Another disadvantage of a large telescope is that if the mount or tripod it is secured on are not sturdy enough, the telescope can lose some of its stability when viewing, causing images to jump around or shake.

Advantages: Best quality images available in terms of clarity and contrast. Easy to maintain and amount of maintaince required is minimal.

Disadvantages: Has the largest bodies for a given aperture size, reducing portabilty, ease of setup, and overall stability.

Reflecting Telescopes

A Typical Newtonian Reflecting Telescope – Source

Reflecting Telescopes use curved mirrors to bounce light into an eyepiece and create an image. The most common type of reflecting telescope is called a “Newtonian Telescope” and provides the best price for a certain aperture size. The eyepiece is located on the side of the body of the telescope. The contrast quality of the reflecting telescope is comparable to refracting telescopes if they are made correctly, and because they have a much more compact design than refracting, they are much more portable, stable, and therefor easier to use.

The major downside to this type of telescope is that the mirror at the bottom requires occasional alignment (also know as collimation). This isn’t as difficult as it may sound but this type of toying around can be a turn off to many people. Additionally the design is more open to the surrounding air and therefore must be cleaned more regularly. Again nothing very difficult but some people desire a more hands free telescope maintenance wise.

Advantages: Best quality images available in terms of clarity and contrast. Easy to maintain and amount of maintaince required is minimal.

Disadvantages: Has the largest bodies for a given aperture size, reducing portabilty, ease of setup, and overall stability.

 

Catadiotropic (or Compound) Telescopes

Compound telescopes are the most modern design, utilizing a combination of reflecting light with mirrors, and refracting light through lenses, to create an ultra compact telescope that can offer the same magnifications and aperture sizes as much larger different type telescopes. For a given aperature size they are sightly more costly than a reflecting telescope but still less so that a refracting telescope. This type is a very popular choice because it offers the best of all worlds; large apertures, at a reasonable price, coming in a very compact and transportable size. Compounds are also the best  telescope for Go-To automatic star locating mounts. This can be a real benefit for those who don’t want to spend all the time mastering the skill of star location and want to spend more time simply observing.

The main downside of catadioptric scopes is that because the light gets folded up inside the body of the scope so many times, the inside becomes brighter reducing some of the contrast. Many people find this to be an acceptable trade-off for all of the aperture, price, and compactability benefits is offers.

There are two main types of catadioptric telescope that you will see out there; the Maksutov-Cassegrain and the Schmidt-Cassegrain. Both are very similar designs, the difference being in the type of secondary mirror that is used. There are some slight differences between the two, but for the most part the are very similar and the important thing to know is that if you see a telescope advertised under either of these two names, that it is a compound telescope.

Advantages: Are the smallest and most compact, allowing large apertures at small sizes. Less expensive than large refracting scopes. Very portable and easy to setup and use, most compatible type for Go-To systems.

Disadvantages: Won’t produce as clear and contrasty of an image. Not as cheap as Newtonian reflecting telescopes. Still some maintenance required.

5 Priceless Buying Tips

1. Shopping for Telescopes is best done online. Specialty stores are few and far between nowadays. Shopping at the mall, you’re most likely to run into a department store with one telescope on showcase and a salesman who knows little to nothing about it. I recommend Telescopes.com; they have a wide selection of the best telescopes and telescope accessories, and have FREE ground shipping on most orders. The one disadvantge of this site is they do not carry products from Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, but they can be purcased at their website, telescope.com. Also the ever popular Amazon.com is a good place to buy telescopes from and have a pretty good selection of telescopes available.

2. If you’re just starting out with your first telescope and your just not quite sure what you want, a moderately priced catadioptric/compound telescope with an aperture of 6 to 10 inches is recommended as the best telescope choice. They offer a variety of advantages, without many disadvantages that would be noticed by someone just getting their feet wet. Once you become more acquainted with your style of observing and what qualities you want out of a telescope, you can then upgrade to that more pricey fancy telescope suited to your exact needs.

3. Avoid cheap toy-like telescopes with small apertures like the plague. There are many cheap telescopes ($100 or less) that will hit the top of best seller lists (especially around the holidays) that boast large magnifications of 400x or more. Remember that it is important to have an aperture to support the magnification otherwise every thing will just look fuzzy. Also avoid buying a super cheap low quality telescope, thinking that you’ll upgrade later if your interest holds. A low quality telescope is the quickest way to kill any enthusiasm you or a child might have in astronomy and there are many reasonably priced options out there that offer much higher quality.

4. Buy according to your patience level. A telescope that doesn’t produce quite as clear an image, that gets used because it is easy to carry and operate, is always better than the telescope that collects dust in the garage because the owner doesn’t find it worth it to set up and maintain, no matter how good the quality.

5. Buy according to your needs. For some people, Go-To telescopes with high end electronic features are a must have. While for some, who have experience aligning telescopes themselves, find that they would rather spend the money on a larger aperture. Know what you want and put your dollars towards the things that are important to you.

Comments are closed.