As anyone who has ever peered through a telescope knows, there are few sensations quite like your initial, firsthand look at another astral body. For many, this begins a lifetime devoted to the hobby. Thankfully, there are hundreds of quality telescopes on the market to choose from.
For those seeking a telescope to observe the Moon and our closest celestial neighbors, a budget model will suffice. However, seasoned enthusiasts will likely desire the more sophisticated, cutting-edge devices. Here are our six favorite telescopes for any budget and proficiency level.
At a glance
- The best telescope: Orion 10019 SkyQuest XT1oi Intelliscope
- The best portable telescope: Celestron 5SE Telescope
- The best telescope for auto-tracking: Celestron NexStar 130SLT
- The best telescope on a budget: Celestron Astromaster 130EQ
- The best telescope for beginners: Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ
- The best telescope for your phone: Celestron StarSense Explorer 102AZ
The best telescope: Orion 10019 SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope
The Orion 10019 SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope is a top-of-the-line Dobsonian reflector telescope. The model incorporates one of the largest apertures you’ll find for under a grand, which allows the lens to gather more light for the brightest views of the cosmos.
Its most outstanding feature is the computerized Object Locator tool: Simply select the astral body you’d like to observe and then follow the arrows on the display to quickly align with one of more than 14,000 celestial objects. Would you like a tour instead? Well, you’re in luck. The tour setting automatically allows you to choose from 12 pre-programmed astronomical tours, each of which is available on a monthly basis.
Moreover, the wooden base and adjustment controls ensure the telescope is perpetually balanced at all viewing positions. The SkyQuest XT10i even comes with a 2 inch Crayford focuser and two 1.25 inch Sirius Plossl telescope eyepieces — a 25 millimeter and 10 millimeter — not to mention a 9×50 finder scope, an eyepiece rack, and a collimation cap.
The real knock with this guy is the overall bulkiness of the telescope. Dobsonians are more cumbersome than other tripod-mounted models, though the SkyQuest XT10i does feature a handle that makes lugging it around a little less of a nuisance. The push-to alignment tool is really just a plus for those who prefer more manual control.
The best portable telescope: Celestron NexStar 5SE
The Celestron NexStar 5SE is an astronomer’s dream, and comes at a fair price. The portable device features a 5-inch aperture that houses supreme light-gathering capabilities within a sleek, modern build, allowing you to take in some of the more fantastic highlights of our solar system in stunning clarity. The telescope also does the more meticulous work on your behalf, courtesy of Celetron’s patented tracking technology. The telescope’s automated tracking device can easily locate more than 40,000 objects in just moments. A built-in GPS lets you simply aim the telescope at any three bright objects in the sky to position the device.
Unlike some of the bulkier telescopes on the market, the Celestron NexStar 5SE weighs only 17.5 pounds, which makes it perfect for those family trips to the countryside. There are telescopes capable of gathering and focusing more light for less money, but the sleek design of the NexStar 5SE and its on-board computer are enticing additions. That said, the NexStar 5SE is better suited for seasoned astronomers than the occasional hobbyist.
The best telescope for auto-tracking: Celestron NexStar 130 SLT
The Celestron NexStar 130SLT is a solid option for those who’ve already exhausted the benefits of their first telescope. The 307-times magnification and 5-inch aperture allow the device to match the performance of any model in the same pricing bracket, though Celestron’s offering also incorporates the company’s SkyAlign technology whereas others do not. This takes the meticulous scanning and alignment out of your cosmic hunting. Simply align the telescope with any three objects in the sky and the device will position itself on its own, taking into account more than 40,000 celestial objects as it does.
An internal battery powers the unit, allowing for untethered functionality. On top of that, the device utilizes NexRemote, which lets you control your telescope directly from your computer. Anything done using the on-board hand control can be accomplished remotely once you connect to your PC. You can also quickly assemble the unit without any tools, rendering it more portable than other scopes on our list.
The bundled eyepieces certainly do the trick, but to get the most bang for your buck, you may want to upgrade to something more powerful. As for drawbacks, the only thing really working against this model is its limited battery capacity, something you’ll notice even more when using the “auto-tracking.” Nonetheless, the NexStar 130 SLT is about as cheap as it gets when it comes to models with automatic tracking and a 5-inch aperture. It represents the apex for those considering performance and affordability.
The best telescope on a budget: Celestron Astromaster 130EQ PowerSeeker
The 130EQ PowerSeeker is one of the more popular telescopes on the market, namely because of the price. This Newtonian-style reflector telescope is equipped with a 130-millimeter glass objective lens and 1,000-millimeter focal length, adjustable by way of the AstroMaster mount’s precision-control knobs. The scope also comes with both a 20 and 10-millimeter eye piece, foldable tripod, and a Starpointer red dot finderscope for locating your favorite planets in a snap.
Every device in the PowerSeekers lineup also comes with coated optics and “The Sky,” industry-lauded software that lets you locate an array of objects using your computer. The telescope’s smooth, slow-motion manual tracking allows you to easily keep objects in the viewing area. There aren’t many other drawbacks, though, you may want to eventually upgrade from the slightly lackluster eyepiece to something a bit more capable. That being said, for the range of features, price, and lightweight size, the 130EQ PowerSeeker is a hard scope to beat.
The best telescope for beginners: Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ
The AstroMaster 70AZ is hard to top if you’re looking to spend less than $200 on a telescope. The three inch aperture allows for exceptional glimpses of the moon and nearby planets, thus allowing you to whet your Newtonian whistle, and the bundled tripod is easy to assemble. Better yet, when fully assembled, the telescope and tripod weigh just under 18 pounds. The AstroMaster also comes with multiple eyepieces and three coated lens, eliminating focusing issues.
The biggest drawback to the AstroMaster is the lack of an automatic or more sophisticated manual tracking system, meaning you’ll often have a short window of time in which to view objects before they escape your viewing area. The tripod is a tad on the short side, too, so taller astronomers may want to opt for a different tripod.
Other models on our list come with greater base performance than this refractor model. However, with 165× magnification, the AstroMaster 70AZ is a solid option for kids or other budding astronomers.
The best telescope for your phone: Celestron StarSense Explorer 102AZ
The Celestron StarSense Explorer 102AZ is one of the coolest telescopes for any iOS or Android smartphone owner (iPhone 6 and up, and most of the newer Android phones). The Celestron Starseeker app powers the actual stargazing. Connect your phone to the scope and open the app to begin tracking stars.
The app will give you guidance on what to look at and where to position the scope. It even tells you which objects will have the best viewing on the night you’re stargazing and where in the sky you can find them. If you’re inclined to dig even deeper, the app displays additional info like what kind of celestial body you’re looking at (planet, moon, etc.), what time it rises, and when it sets.
The scope’s four-inch XLT-coated lens and brilliant aperture work together to illuminate celestial bodies perfectly. With a weight of only 15 pounds, the StarSense Explorer 102AZ is easy to unpack and set up. The only drawback is that the app can sometimes be a bit fussy, but re-calibrations and slow response speeds are more the exceptions than the norm.