With hundreds to choose from and it can be hard to work out what the best telescope for you to buy is.
In fact, the first telescope I bought turned out to be the wrong one for me – it was a great telescope but it was heavy, bulky and didn’t pack up easily. This was a problem when living in just a small apartment. Also, it was a manual telescope, rather than a computerized one, and as a beginner with little spare time, this wasn’t right for me.
To help you avoid the mistakes I made, below we cover 5 of the best telescopes available – ranging from low cost to a high budget – and cover the pros and cons so you can work out what is best for you and your circumstances.
In addition, a telescope buying guide can be found further below to give you what you need to know to understand the different types of telescopes and what the specifications mean.
1. Best telescopes 2018 summary table
|Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope||103 Reviews||$239.99||Buy on Amazon|
|Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Computerized Telescope (Black)||408 Reviews||from $329.95||Buy on Amazon|
|Meade Instruments ETX125 Observer Telescope with Tripod (205005)||6 Reviews||$699.00||Buy on Amazon|
|Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope||424 Reviews||$999.00||Buy on Amazon|
|Meade 8-Inch LX200-ACF (f/10) Advanced Coma-Free Telescope||5 Reviews||$2,699.00||Buy on Amazon|
Last update on 2018-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
2. How to choose the best telescope for you
What the best telescope to buy for you will depend on a number of factors that differ for each individual’s circumstances.
There are four things in particular to consider:
- Power: 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.
- Ease of use: Are you a beginner or experienced? How much time can 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 computerized telescope which makes it much easier to find objects to view in space.
- Practicality: 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?
- Budget: The big one – how much you want to spend. To an extent, the more you can afford the more you can expect from a telescope’s performance, but its best to work out what you are prepared to spend and then go for the one most suitable for you in your price range.
Below are five recommended telescopes – plus five alternatives at a similar price-range – to hopefully help you find the best telescope for you in 2018.
3. Best telescopes 2018 – detailed reviews
1. Orion SkyQuest XT4.5
The Orion Skyquest XT4.5 is the smallest in Orion’s line of Dobsonian telescopes and is the most suitable for beginners. It could suit a child (with supervision).
It has a 4.5″ aperture and 900mm focal length which could enable good viewing in the solar system from your back garden. It would also have the power to see deep sky objects but only places with darker skies away from cities.
Against the four factors to consider:
- Power: Very capable of viewing the moon and planets. It will enable you to see deep sky objects like galaxies and nebulae but only in dark sky areas (i.e. away from big cities).
- Ease of use: Suitable for beginners and easy to point-and-view. Is not computerized though, so takes more effort and learning to locate specific objects.
- Practicality: It’s fairly large – standing at about 3 feet tall. It may present storage problems for some and also means that it’s at a height where an adult will need to stoop quite a bit (although may be perfect for a child). It’s not so heavy or big though that it would not be able to be taken on trips in a car.
- Budget: An affordable but quality telescope. One of the best available in this price range.
Overall, the main pros are that it is:
- A high-quality telescope for the money and suitable for beginners
- Not too bulky or heavy.
The main cons are that:
- Its large size may not be perfect for all
- It is not computerized and may take longer to learn how to make the most of it
- It may struggle to see some far off objects when viewing from cities.
Find out more about the Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 on Orion’s website
Alternative option: Meade Instruments LightBridge Mini 130. This tabletop telescope from Meade offers slightly less in terms of power, but is a smaller piece of equipment which some may find suits them better.
2. Celestron NexStar 90SLT Mak Computerized Telescope
The first computerized telescope on this list comes from well-respected brand Celestron.
This telescope can be controlled by your computer (using software included) to find over 40,000 objects in space. It can then track these objects to allow for extended viewing and taking pictures.
This is designed to be an affordable entry level to mid-level computerized telescope that is small and compact.
- Power: Its viewing range is more than capable of great views of the planets in our solar system but can also capture deep sky objects in the right conditions.
- Ease of use: Easy no-tool setup and then simple to find what you want to see using the computerized database
- Practicality: The telescope is small and easy to pick up and pack away.
- Budget: One of the best value computerized telescopes
Overall, the main pros are that it is:
- It’s small, portable and easy to pack away – perfect for the casual user
- Easy to use the software for operating the telescope through your computer, tablet or phone.
- It computerized tracking capabilities mean that it can be used for astrophotography with a camera attached.
The main cons are that:
- Getting the alignment right for the telescope can be difficult for some
- It has a short battery life, which can be an issue if you want to take it to use on trips
- The tripod included is not the sturdiest
Find out more about the Celestron NexStar 90SLT on Celestron’s website
Alternative option: Celestron NexStar 4 SE. This similar-sized model from Celestron comes from their slightly more premium range of NexStar SE telescopes.
3. Meade Instruments ETX125 Observer Telescope
This next telescope from Meade Instruments is a more powerful computerized model than the above options but at a similar level in terms of practicality and ease of use.
If budget allows, this is one of the best options available for beginners as it combines all the qualities needed whilst still affordable to many looking to dabble (of course, this is very subjective to each person!).
In terms of measuring it against the main factors to consider:
- Power: A step-up from the above telescopes in terms of what it provides in viewing capabilities. It excels for planetary viewing and deep sky objects like galaxies.
- Ease of use: One of the best for a beginner or someone with limited time to be able to get to grips with.
- Practicality: Small, relatively lightweight and easy to pack up and move around. One of the best for those with limited space.
- Budget: The extra power that this provides comes across in the higher budget needed to aquire this telescope
Therefore, the pros are that it is:
- Small and lightweight
- Easy to use and learn
The main con is that it’s starting to get into a higher budget realm.
Find out more about the Meade Instruments ETX125 Observer Telescope on Meade Instruments’ website
Alternative option: Orion StarSeeker IV. For a different, but relatively similar option see the StarSeeker IV from Orion.
4. Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope
The Celestron Nexstar SE computerized telescopes are an extremely popular range of four different telescopes, with the 8SE being the most advanced of these.
This telescope offers the viewing capabilities combined with the computerized ease-of-use that many beginners will be looking for but, of course, comes at a cost.
- Power: Serious power provided gives genuine opportunities for seeing galaxies, nebulae, and far-off deep sky objects.
- Ease of use: This is a computerized telescope that can be operated via software that comes with it. There is always some work required it getting this set up right, but this is about as easy as it gets.
- Practicality: This telescope is of a good, manageable size and is not too heavy.
- Budget: Moving into a range where it is likely to interest those more serious about their stargazing.
Overall, the main pros are the combination of portability, ease-of-use and the viewing opportunities it provides. The main cons are the higher budget necessary and that extras are needed for certain things (for instance, an adapter if you want to attach a camera for astrophotography).
Find out more about the Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope on Celestron’s website
Alternative option: Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope.
5. Meade 8-Inch LX200-ACF (f/10) Advanced Coma-Free Telescope
The Meade LX200 is aimed at intermediate and advanced users who will be able to make the most of the serious astronomy viewing capacity that it provides.
The computerized telescope database can locate over 145,000 with great reliability. Alignment is taken care of via a GPS receiver.
- Power: The Meade LX200 provides serious, advanced power.
- Ease of use: This is not a beginner’s telescope. Not that it would necessarily be hard for a beginner to use it, but they would struggle to make the most of the capacity it offers and so is really aimed at experienced users. It is easy to set up and alignment takes little time.
- Practicality: It’s relatively small but it is a heavy telescope – 45 lbs, plus a 19 lb tripod. Therefore not one for easily moving around the house and transporting, but also not impossible. You’ll just want to be careful when moving it! Its weight can be a bonus in providing greater stability for astrophotography though.
- Budget: This is a high-end telescope for those with a serious budget only.
Overall, the main pro is really the power that it provides in terms of being about to enable you to see far-off galaxies and nebulae. The main cons are then really the cost involved and its heavy weight.
Find out more about the Meade 8-Inch LX200-ACF on Meade Instruments’ website
Alternative option: Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 EdgeHD. This is the most advanced of the Celestron NexStar range and a worthwhile consideration is you are looking at this Meade model.
4. Best telescopes comparison table
Last update on 2018-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
5. What to look for when buying a telescope
And now on to our guide to what you need to know when buying a telescope.
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. What are the best telescope brands? What type should I get – reflector or refractor? What telescope accessories do I need?
In order to help with this, it’s well worth learning a few basic things to help you understand the major differences and know what you are buying.
This guide gives you the basics of what you need to consider when buying a telescope. Covered here are four areas:
- What are the best telescope brands?
- What are the different telescope types? Reflectors vs refractor?
- Telescope accessories: what do they do and what do i need?
- Other things to consider when buying a telescope
1. What are the best telescope brands?
The leading brands known for producing reliable, quality telescopes are:
- Celestron (www.celestron.com)
- Meade Instruments (www.meade.com)
- Orion (www.telescope.com)
- Skywatcher (www.skywatcher.com)
This is not to say that every telescope made by these manufacturers will be great. Or that a telescope made by a brand not on this list will be poor, but these are the most popular brands that have been around for some time.
As such they are experienced in producing reliable equipment for different budgets and have reputations to protect and so all offer useful after-purchase customer service through their websites.
2. What are the different telescope types? Reflectors vs refractors
There are two main types of telescope:
- Refractor telescopes (or refracting telescopes)
- Reflector telescopes (or reflecting telescopes)
When most people think of a telescope they would usually be picturing a refractor telescope – where the light goes in one end and is captured by a lens which you can then see by looking into the eyepiece at the other end.
- Generally good quality and performance in relation to price
- Usually quite portable
- Easy to aim
- As you have to look in the lower end, you may have to bend or stoop when viewing
- Can suffer from something called chromatic aberration where some distortion in the form of a rainbow of colors appears around the image
- Can be large
Reflector telescopes (also known as Newtonian telescopes) differ in that the light collected hits a mirror at the bottom of the telescope and then is reflected back up, and then out the side, into the eyepiece.
An example of a reflector telescope is the Celestron 127eq PowerSeeker, which we review here.
- No chromatic aberration
- Higher performance in relation to price
- Can provide wider fields of view
- Can have issues to degrade performance as result of the mirrors
- Can be heavy and hard to store
- The eyepiece can be in an awkward position
There is also a third type of telescope which is less commonly known as a catadioptric (or Schmidt-Cassegrain, Maksutov-Cassegrain or compound) telescope. It combines features of both the refractor and reflector telescopes.
- Minimal viewing distortion
- Better capable of good light gathering
- Well-positioned eyepieces and more easily portable
- More expensive
- Greatest light loss due to multiple mirrors
- Requires time to adjust to outdoor temperatures or images are affected
3. Telescope accessories: what do they do and what do I need?
Telescope eyepieces attach to your telescope and are what you look through. The differences between different eyepieces determine the magnification and field of view of a telescope.
Different eyepieces are used for viewing different objects. For example, some objects, such as nebulae and star clusters, appear quite large and are best viewed at low magnifications (which give a wider field of view), whereas planets appear very small and are normally viewed with high-magnification eyepieces.
A common misconception is that magnification is the most important aspect of a telescope but actually the diameter (aperture) of a telescope determines its power and different eyepieces are used to get the best view of a given object with often the best view at a low magnification.
When buying a telescope it is worth looking at the comments made by other users as to the quality of the eyepieces that come with it as it may be that you’ll need to upgrade these. Doing so can have a great impact on improving what you see and so can be well worth it for a relatively low cost.
The size of the eyepiece refers to the diameter of the tube – and whether or not it will fit on the barrel of your telescope’s focuser. Make sure to check when buying, but the most common one is the 1.25-inch eyepiece which has become industry standard.
Barlow lenses are optional accessories that sit between your telescope’s focuser and your eyepiece.
They usually double or triple the magnification of any eyepiece (depending on whether they are 2x or 3x etc.) and therefore provide some greater diversity to your viewing options when combined with different eyepieces.
The downside of using a Barlow lens is that they can result in a slight degradation of the view via a slight blurring and as such are usually not recommended for use with astrophotography.
When selecting a Barlow lens, make sure you choose one with the correct barrel size for the eyepieces you have. As mentioned above, most eyepieces are 1.25 inches these days, but be sure to check.
A finderscope is a small scope mounted on top of your telescope that helps you aim at what you want to view. They have a much wider field of view than a telescope, making finding objects much easier.
Alternatively, a telescope may use a red dot finder. This is also a tool for aiming but has no magnification and works by superimposing the image of a small red dot onto the night sky.
An equatorial mount is a tool that works to automatically adjust where your telescope points in tune with the Earth’s rotation. This means that your telescope can follow what it is pointed at even when the earth moves.
This is particularly useful for astrophotography where you will typically be taking long exposure shots and so need your camera and telescope to be moving in harmonization with the earth.
A telescope will generally sit on a tripod to enable you to use it when standing (or sitting).
Look at the length of the tripod that comes with your telescope. Some can be quite short and would require you to stoop quite low (not good if you’re tall!).
There are also differences in the sturdiness of quality tripods versus cheaper ones. A good tripod will be strong and is another thing to consider with astrophotography as you will want to minimize any potential camera shake coming from things like the wind.
Some telescopes are tabletop models, which can be perfect for some people but consider where you will be using it and whether you might need to add a tripod to be able to use it in different places.
4. Other things to consider when buying a telescope
How to interpret the key specifications of a telescope:
The most important specification of a telescope is its aperture. This is the diameter of its main, light-gathering lens or mirror, and the bigger the aperture, the sharper and brighter the view will be.
As the aperture increases so do the details of what you see.
Focal length is an indicator of how powerful a telescope is. It refers to the distance between the lens or primary mirror, to the point where the telescope is in focus.
The longer the focal length of your telescope, the more powerful it is, the larger the image, and the smaller the field of view. For example, a telescope with a focal length of 1000mm has twice the power and half the field of view of a 500mm telescope.
Field of view
The field of view is the amount of sky visible through the eyepiece. Using higher magnification eyepieces results in a smaller piece of the sky, and therefore a smaller field of view.
Magnification is determined by dividing the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of the eyepiece.
Size, weight and storage space required
An important thing that can be overlooked when buying a telescope is its size, weight, portability, and how easy it will be to store.
If it is for a child, or you think you will be storing it in one place and using in another, then you should probably consider whether you want something that is smaller and lighter, and that can be moved around and stored easily.
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!
Another related thing to consider is whether you might like to take it on trips. If so, then portability is essential.
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 in order to be able to spot objects in the sky. For instance, you may be able to spot galaxies using 70mm telescope if you live away from major cities, but in a heavily built-up urban location you might need a 200mm reflector to get the same results.
6. Conclusion – what is the best telescope to buy in 2018?
In conclusion, there is quite a bit that any potential telescope buyer would benefit from knowing, but a beginner or first-time buyer should not be put off from this. There are plenty of telescopes designed to be easy-to-use and are great as a first step.
As mentioned briefly at the start, the first telescope I bought turned out to be the wrong one for me.
It was a great telescope and in theory, had what I was looking for – it was powerful and had the potential to work for astrophotography. But it didn’t fit my circumstances at the time.
In particular, it was heavy, bulky and didn’t pack up easily. This was a problem when living in just a small apartment.
Also, it was a manual telescope, rather than a computerized one. This meant that as a beginner I would have needed to invest a lot more time in learning how to make the most of it, and I just didn’t have that at that time.
I needed something that was easier to pick up and use infrequently and then neatly pack away so as to not take over the house.
We’ve covered here five of the best telescopes to buy in 2018 and also suggested five alternatives, to hopefully give you all the information you need to make sure you find the right one for you.
You may have noticed that all of these telescopes are made by either Orion, Meade Instruments or Celestron. This is because these are the most consistent and reliable astronomy equipment manufacturers and have all been around for some time. This means they have reputations to hold up and so offer guarantees and customer support.
Ultimately, you need to make a decision on what the best telescope to buy is based on all the four factors on which we have judged the above five telescopes.
If you are specifically looking to buy a telescope for a child or a beginner then check out:
Also, if the Celestron NexStar range interests you see our in-depth overview of this range of telescopes.
Lastly, let us know your views in the comments section below – what do you think are the best telescopes to buy in 2018?