With hundreds to choose from it can be hard to work out what telescope to buy. I got it totally wrong with my first telescope – it was too bulky and too hard to use – learn from my mistake!
In this article, we provide recommendations on the best telescopes for beginners for a range of budgets and needs.
We also lay out a telescope buying guide so that you understand what all the specifications mean and can work out what’s right for you.
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Best Telescopes for Beginners
For a beginner, the best telescope for you will be the one that you end up using the most. This will likely mean that it will be:
- Easy enough to use to encourage you to use it often.
- Light and portable so that you will be able to set it up quickly, and pack and store it.
- Powerful enough to see some great sights (the best measure of this is the aperture).
Below we recommend our top models that fit these criteria for a range of budgets from around $50 to $500, plus one final splurge option (the eVscope at around $3000).
Read for more detailed information about each model below:
Best Small Telescope for Beginners
As the name suggests, the FirstScope is aimed at beginners looking to get started in astronomy.
It is a tabletop Dobsonian reflector telescope. This means that it doesn’t sit on a tripod like other telescopes, but rather has a built-in stand. Also, you see through it by looking through the eyepiece on the side, rather than at the bottom.
What you get with this is a good telescope at a budget price. The 3-inch aperture is not huge but will be able to give you great views of the moon and maybe far-off views of planets like Saturn if the conditions are right.
The tabletop design is easy to use but means you’ll need a garden table or similar to get the best from it and to sit for extended viewing periods. If you have to stand over it you’ll be stooping which may get uncomfortable.
This is something to think about if you are planning to use on trips as well, as a small telescope with a tripod (like the TravelScope below) may make more sense to use on the ground.
This is also a manual telescope, not GoTo. This may or may not be an issue for you – it forces you to learn about astronomy and no power source is needed, but it does make it harder to find things in the night sky.
You can watch a quick overview video of the FirstScope from Celestron here:
- Cheap – great value for the price.
- Small and light – easy to pick up and use at any time and easy to store.
- Easy to use – simple to get viewing with for all the family.
- Capable of smartphone photography with an adapter.
- Not that powerful at 3-inch aperture.
- Needs a good backyard table to get the best use from.
- Not ideal for travel as it has no tripod for different surfaces.
- Not GOTO/computerized. You’ll have to manually locate what you want to look at.
Overall, this is a great value budget beginner’s telescope and perfect for a beginner or child to use in the backyard.
- Type: Reflector / Dobsonian
- Aperture: 76 mm (3-inch)
- Focal Length: 300 mm (11.8-inch)
- Weight: 3.6 lbs (1.63 kg)
- Mount: Manual Newtonian
- Accessories: Two eyepieces
Best Portable Telescope for Beginners
As the name suggests, this telescope is intended to be a travel telescope. That means that it is easy to set up and packs away nicely in a backpack and so it’s also perfect for beginners as a regular telescope to have at home.
This is the 70mm (2.8-inch) aperture version – there are others larger and smaller in the same range from Celestron – see our article on the Best Travel and Portable Telescopes. This is about the very minimum you’d want in terms of aperture to be able to get good views of astronomical objects in the night sky.
It comes complete with a carry bag and tripod, as well as different eyepieces. You can add a smartphone adapter and take photos.
Here’s a video overview from Celestron:
- Portable and perfect for travel, but also for easy use and storage at home.
- All in one package, including backpack.
- Cheap and good value for the price.
- Easy to use, set up and store.
- The 70mm aperture is fairly small and will limit what you will be able to see.
- Not GOTO.
Overall, this is a great travel telescope, but also great for home use and perfect for those wanting something that packs up neatly and comes with all you need in one package.
- Type: Refractor
- Aperture: 70 mm (2.8-inch)
- Focal Length: 400 mm (16-inch)
- Weight: 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg)
- Mount: Manual Alt-Azimuth
- Accessories: Backpack, Tripod, Erect Image Diagonal, 2 Eyepieces (10mm and 20mm)
Best Reflector Telescope for Beginners
Newly released in 2020, this is halfway between a manual telescope and a computerized GOTO telescope.
Essentially, it is a regular, manual telescope that you operate by hand, but what makes it different is that you can attach your smartphone to it and, using Celestron’s app, it works out what you are looking at and gives you a map of the sky to see. Therefore it makes it much easier to find objects in the night sky.
You can watch a quick video from Celestron here to show how this works in practice:
This model is a 5.1-inch reflector. This means that it is substantially more powerful than the above models and will give great views of the planets and even deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae.
The downside is that it is much heavier and more cumbersome, and so it would suit someone that would have it set up in the same place at home, rather than moving around often or taking out on trips.
There are other models in the Celestron StarSense Explorer range that are cheaper and smaller but have the same smartphone connectivity – see Celestron StarSense Explorer Telescopes: Which Model is Best for You?.
- Innovative design gives you the positives of a manual telescope – in that you can learn the night sky, and that of a computerized telescope – in that it is easier to find things.
- Large aperture will give you truly great views of astronomical objects.
- Great value for the price.
- No need for a GOTO mount.
- More expensive than Celestron models that use the same telescope tube but lack the smartphone/app interactivity.
- Relatively heavy and large and so best used at home.
Overall, this is a great option for beginners looking for something more powerful – 5-inch aperture is pretty substantial, and tThe innovative smartphone interactivity is a fantastic feature and helps take some of the difficulty out of finding things in the sky.
The only thing to note is the size and weight, which make it far less portable than other options.
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 5.1-inch (130 mm)
- Focal Length: 25.6-inch (650 mm)
- Weight: 18 lbs (8.6 kg)
- Mount: Manual Alt-Azimuth
- Accessories: Two eyepieces, 2x Barlow lens, red dot finderscope, tripod.
Best GOTO Telescope for Beginners
If you have the budget, then you might want to consider a smaller catadioptric/compound telescope with GoTo functionality, such as this Celestron NexStar 90 SLT.
The in-built GoTo technology means that it will find whatever you want to see in the sky from a database of over 40,000 objects in space at the push of a few buttons on the keypad that comes with it.
See here in this video from Celestron:
It ticks all the boxes to be a great telescope for beginners but that also means it comes in a slightly higher price bracket due to the computerized GOTO mount.
Note that the “90” in the name refers to the 90mm (3.5-inch) aperture, and there are other models in the range with larger apertures you can upgrade in power to the 102 SLT, 127 SLT, or 130 SLT (see our article here comparing all the NexStar telescopes). Generally, they cost more as they get more powerful.
- GOTO technology automatically locates objects in the night sky for you at the press of a button on the hand controller.
- Very small and compact.
- More expensive than non-GOTO models.
- Aperture not huge and it is the smallest in the NexStar SLT range.
Overall, a computerized telescope makes a great option for a beginner and hugely speeds up the process of finding and viewing things.
- Type: Catadioptric (Maksutov-Cassegrain)
- Aperture: 90mm (3.5-inch)
- Focal Length: 1250 mm (49 inch)
- Weight: 12 lbs (5.4 kg)
- Mount: GoTo (Computerized) Alt-Azimuth
- Accessories: Red dot finderscope, star diagonal, two eyepieces (25mm and 9mm)
Best Smart Telescope for Beginners
Lastly, this is something quite different from the other options in that it is one of the new smart/hybrid/robo telescopes that have entered the market in the past year or so.
What this is is a fully automated telescope that you control with your smartphone. You literally just plug it in and it automatically works out where you are and what you can see in the sky above you at that time and you tell it what you want to look at.
What makes this different from a regular GOTO telescope is that it:
- Builds the views by gathering light over time and makes it much better for viewing objects in cities and towns that are light polluted.
- Has an in-built camera and so it takes images of deep sky objects that you are looking at and sends them straight to your phone.
See an overview here:
What is also great with the Equinox is that you take part in citizen science initiatives whereby owners of these telescopes around the world simultaneously hunt for exoplanets or astroids together. This can be great for encouraging a teenager’s interest in science.
It should be noted that this is significantly more expensive than the other options. Check live prices with different retailers by pressing the button below, but at the time of writing it sells for a price in the thousands, rather than hundreds.
If you want to read more about this telescope and the other options, see our article Best Smart Telescopes (Stellina vs eVscope Equinox).
- Great views from light polluted areas.
- Easy astrophotography and image sharing.
- Get involved in citizen science initiatives.
- No accessories needed other than perhaps the additional backpack that can be bought.
- Expensive when compared to regular telescopes.
Overall, this is really the best telescope for beginners and represents the future of telescopes, but comes at a higher price.
- Type: Smart Telescope
- Aperture: 4.5-inch (114mm)
- Focal Length: 450mm (17.7 inch)
- Weight: 19.8 lbs (9kg)
- Mount: GOTO Alt-Azimuth
- Accessories: Tripod
Telescope buying guide
It can be hard to know what to look for when buying a telescope – especially if it’s your first or you are buying for someone else.
There are many different brands as well as different types with all sorts of different specifications.
The right telescope for you will be the one that you end up using the most, so you need to consider your own unique circumstances.
Someone might recommend you the most powerful model in the world, but if it doesn’t suit you it might just end up being an expensive ornament.
In order to help you with this, this guide gives you the basics of all you need to consider.
Covered below are:
- Three different telescope types – reflectors, refractors, and compounds
- What the different specifications mean
After this, we tell you how to put it all together to choose the right telescope for you and provide our recommendations.
There are three main types of telescope: refractors, reflectors, and catadioptrics.
The main things you need to know about them are:
- Refractor telescopes are the easiest to use but can be awkward for astronomy.
- Reflector telescopes provide the best bang-for-buck in terms of power, but are big, heavy and harder to use.
- Catadioptric (compound) telescopes are small and portable, but are the most expensive.
In summary, catadioptrics are best (in my opinion) for beginners. Followed by refractors, then reflectors.
People are often tempted by reflectors as they seem the best value in terms of power to price, but they are often very hard to use and can crush your enthusiasm when starting out. Better to go lower power with a refractor or pay more for a compound model.
You can read more about this in our in-depth dive into reflectors vs refractors.
We also ran a poll asking this question and the results (as of February 2020) agree that compound telescopes are best:
Telescope specifications – what does it all mean?
Once you’ve got your head around the three telescope types you’ll also be faced with a range of other specifications that you’ll need to understand to some degree.
In particular, there are a few main things you will want to be able to interpret at least on a basic level. These are:
- GoTo functionality
- Focal length
- Focal ratio
This is the most important specification that you should pay attention to when buying a telescope.
The aperture of a telescope is the diameter of its main lens or mirror. Essentially, the bigger the aperture, the more light can be gathered and the sharper, brighter and more detailed the image will be.
The tradeoff is that higher aperture telescopes cost more.
A telescope with “GoTo” capabilities means that it comes with a motorized mount that is operated by a computer and can automatically point at astronomical objects that you choose from a database. GoTo telescopes are also known as computerized.
They are operated either directly by a keypad or similar interface on the telescope, or via a remotely operated interface, such as an app your phone, tablet or computer.
You can then command the mount to point the telescope to objects in space from a pre-programmed database, or celestial coordinates inputted manually by you.
Should I get a GoTo telescope?
It’s definitely a question worth thinking about when you are buying a telescope as to whether you want one with GoTo capabilities or a manually operated one.
Having the telescope be able to find objects you want to see in space without you having to understand locating astronomical objects via coordinates can be a huge positive.
This is really the one and only advantage. But it’s a pretty big one, especially for a beginner or for someone who is taking to astronomy casually and might only pull out their telescope a few times a year.
The disadvantages of GoTo are that:
- They are more expensive. So for the same money, you could get a more powerful manual telescope. Some models are offered both with and without GoTO at different prices.
- They can get in the way of learning astronomy. By allowing you to bypass understanding how it all works and skipping the educational aspects (this may or may not be a disadvantage in your eyes).
Our advice – especially for beginners or for casual users – is to go for a GoTo telescope if your budget can stretch to it. It’ll make it easier to get results and so less likely that you might give up out of frustration or the sheer amount that you have to learn.
In contrast, if you are already an experienced astronomer then you may prefer to get more telescope for your money by going for one without GoTo.
This is another measurement that is included with telescopes and it can be confusing as to what this means, especially versus aperture.
It is the distance between the objective (the lens or primary mirror of the telescope), to the point where it focuses the light (the eyepiece).
With a refractor telescope, it will be a linear measurement from the lens to the eyepiece, and so it is essentially the length of the telescope tube.
With a reflector or catadioptric telescope, it is based on how far the light travels inside the tube via the mirror system and to the eyepiece. This is why the measurement is longer than the tube length in these types of telescope and why they can be smaller but have similar magnification to refractors with the same focal length.
Focal ratio and f-number
The focal ratio of a telescope is the focal length divided by aperture. The resulting figure is known as the f-number and is written as f/10, f/15, etc.
Higher focal ratio means more magnification but the downside is that it also means a narrower field of view.
- A telescope with 100mm aperture and 1000mm focal length will have a focal ratio of f/10.
- A telescope with a 114mm aperture and a 450mm focal length will have a focal ratio of f/3.95.
The f-number can give you an indication of the size and portability of a telescope as smaller f/ratios equal shorter telescope tubes.
The f/number is the same as the f/number you would see on a camera lens and so is significant if you plan on taking photos through your telescope. Essentially, the smaller the ratio, the “faster” the telescope is. This means it gathers more light in a shorter period of time. This reduces exposure times and makes it easier to photograph the moving objects that you are tracking for your image.
Read our ultimate beginner’s guide to astrophotography to learn more about this.
Lastly, the magnification of a telescope is the number of times bigger an object appears when compared to viewing it with the naked eye.
A magnification of 10x means what you are looking at will look ten times larger than when viewed unmagnified.
Magnification is calculated by the focal length of the telescope divided by the focal length of the eyepiece you are using. So this can be altered by using different eyepieces.
For example, if you use a 25mm eyepiece with a 1500mm focal length telescope you get a magnification of 60x. Use a 10mm eyepiece with the same telescope and you get a 150x magnification.
As you can see, the longer the telescope focal length and the shorter the eyepiece focal length, the higher the magnification achieved.
One thing to note though is that higher magnification is not always what is best. For instance, with higher magnification, your telescope is much more sensitive to vibrations that can come from the wind or other factors and this impacts the images.
Should I prioritize aperture or focal length?
As mentioned above, the aperture is the key measurement of your telescope’s capabilities and this should be what you prioritize when making your choice.
However, the focal length will have an impact on what you will be able to see, essentially:
- For seeing the planets and the moon in the night sky, long focal length is best as you will benefit from the higher magnification to view details on these objects that are relatively close.
- For viewing galaxies and deep sky objects that are much further away, short focal length is better as it gives you a wider field of view and aperture is more important as it means more light is gathered to enable you to see these objects that would otherwise be very faint.
How to choose the right telescope for you
Let’s bring all this together then – type, specifications, brand – to work out how to decide on what the best for you is.
What is best for you to buy will depend on a number of factors that differ for each individual’s circumstances.
There are four things in particular to consider:
- What you will be able to see
- How easy it will be to use
- How practical it is for you
- How much you want to spend
1. What you want to be able to see through it
Obviously, you are going to get a telescope that allows you to see as much in the night sky as possible, but this will need to be balanced with other factors.
The key thing you are going to want is as high aperture as possible. This means improved brightness and detail of what you can see.
Please review the section above if you want to understand what the specifications mean.
2. How easy it will be to use
Are you a beginner or experienced? How much time can you dedicate to learning? Is it for a young child, teenager or adult?
You will have to decide if you (or the person using the telescope) are going to be able to invest a lot of time learning to use it or if it is more of a fun thing to have around and use occasionally.
If it’s the second option then you are likely to favor a GoTo telescope which makes it much easier to find objects to view in space.
3. How practical it is for your circumstances
Some telescopes are small and pack up easily, but others can be more heavy and awkward to store.
Do you have space for a large telescope in your house or would you need to be able to pack it way? Also, do you want something you can pick up and take on trips?
This is an important thing that can be overlooked – size, weight, portability, and how easy it will be to store.
For my first telescope, I went a bit ambitious and bought a large reflector telescope which was heavy and awkward to store. It was a great telescope but wasn’t really ideal for living in an apartment in a city. If I’d made that decision now, I would have favored a smaller, more portable model and then looked to upgrade to a larger scope later when I had moved out to my more grown-up home.
It’s worth noting that the performance of a telescope depends on where you are located and whether or not you have dark skies.
Those living in big cities may need to consider higher performance (high aperture) in order to be able to spot objects in the sky due to light pollution.
4. What your budget is
The big one – how much do you want to spend?
To an extent, the more you can afford the more you can expect from a telescope’s performance, but it’s best to work out what you are prepared to spend and then go for the one most suitable for you in your price range.
In our opinion, the perfect telescope (for an amateur user) will be:
- Small, light and portable,
- With a big aperture (so you can see well through it), and
- have GoTo functionality (so it is easier to use).
As you’ll see, those telescopes that put all this together will be more expensive. Typically, this is what you can expect in the higher range catadioptric telescopes covered in the intermediate models below.
Depending on your budget, you may want to work out what you are prepared to spend and then see what you are prepared to compromise on.
For instance, is size and portability an issue to you? If not, get a big reflector. If so, get a refractor or catadioptric telescope and sacrifice some aperture in exchange for a smaller size telescope.
Or if you want to learn how to locate stars yourself, then maybe skip the GoTo and save money that way.
There is no perfect answer, but there are plenty of great models and we recommend some of these above.
Beginners Telescope FAQs
What is the best telescope for viewing planets?
The best telescopes for viewing planets like Saturn and Jupiter will have a longer focal length – for good magnification and a narrow field of you – as well as higher aperture – which will improve brightness and the amount of detail you can see.
The narrowness is what you want with viewing the planets in our solar system because they are relatively much closer to the Earth than far off stars and much smaller than galaxies that need a wide field of view to observe.
You will also need a high-power eyepiece for magnification.
What is the best telescope for viewing the moon?
The moon is the closest, and therefore easiest, object in the night sky to see through a telescope. You can, therefore, do this with lower-spec telescopes recommended for beginners above.
Higher focal length will allow higher magnification and higher aperture will improve brightness and details.
What is the best telescope for galaxies and deep sky viewing?
You can see some deep sky objects with the naked eye, and so a quality beginner telescope will be able to improve on that massively.
However, if you want serious power for clear viewing of deep-sky objects you should consider a telescope with a large aperture of at least 8 inches (200+ mm) and above.
You will need to use a low-power eyepiece to give you a wide field of view.
What is the best telescope for a child?
A small tabletop reflector (like the Firstscope above) or a portable refractor (like the Travel Scope above) are great options.
See our guide to the best telescopes for kids for more on this.
Should I start with astronomy binoculars?
Astronomy binoculars can be great and have some advantages to telescopes, such as being smaller, easier to use, and cheaper.
However, even if you get a great pair of binoculars, you’ll almost certainly want a telescope to go alongside them eventually, so they are not really a replacement.
If you want to know more, read our article on The Best Astronomy Binoculars.
What accessories do I need (and what do they do)?
You may see a number of accessories mentioned that are included in the telescope packages:
- Eyepieces are essential and change your field of view.
- Barlow lenses are optional and increase the magnification of your view
- Finderscopes are optional and are used to help you locate objects in the night sky
What’s the Best Beginners’ Telescope?
I got it all wrong with my first telescope – it was too bulky and heavy for my small apartment. It was powerful but more than I needed as a beginner.
If I were to buy my first telescope today, I would get something smaller and easier to use. It then becomes much easier to grab-and-go and use in your backyard without too much planning.
From our recommendations there are a number of great choices to suit different requirements and budgets:
- The Celestron FirstScope for easy, budget viewing around the backyard table.
- The Celestron Travel Scope 70 for great portability and easy set up and storage.
- The Celestron Starsense Explorer DX 130AZ for great power and viewing capacity.
- The Celestron Nexstar 90SLT for budget GOTO for beginners and extreme compactness.
- The Unistellar eVscope Equinox for slick, modern simplicity, light-pollution resistant views from cities, and easy astrophotography.
We hope you found this useful. You can find more articles like it in our astronomy hub.
For the most high-powered models, see our guide to the Best Telescopes you can buy.
Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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