The Best Telescopes for Beginners
Our Recommendation: Orion GoScope 80mm Tabletop Telescope
If you're in a hurry and you want to know the best telescope for beginners, check out the Orion GoScope 80mm tabletop edition.
For reasons we'll explain in depth below, the GoScope is the best combination of performance, portability and price for beginners. For our full in-depth review of the GoScope, click here.
Optics: Superb optics for the price. The GoScope outperforms even more expensive telescopes
Stability: Very good stability on a tabletop mount. Has an adapter so that it can be used on a tripod as well
Mount: Smooth operation for tracking objects across the sky.
Other Great Choices:
Things to Consider and What to Expect in Beginner Telescopes
It's important to note what this list is, and what it is not. First of all, this is not a list of the best telescopes overall. The telescopes here could be good options if you're just getting started.
What this is, instead, is a list of the best telescopes, all things considered, for those who have little experience in astronomy, and are looking to get in without spending an exorbitant amount of money. So the focus here is on value, simplicity, and effectiveness.
Some of the best telescopes under 500 dollars out there are also great values. So it's also important to clarify that when we say value, we mean value in terms of a beginners skill set and the quality of the optics and operation of the telescope. We want something that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but that has a suite of features that will match most closely with your goals as a beginning astronomer.
Most beginners aren't as knowledgeable about what features will be useful to them and which ones will not. Nor are they even always sure how much they'll enjoy astronomy, or how much time they will have to devote to it. For that reason, the cost of the telescopes discussed below reflect that calculus. They're cheap not just to be cheap, but they reflect a desire to do the most with the least outlay of money.
Simplicity can be good for a number of reasons. First of all, features cost money. The more bells and whistles a company adds to a telescope (all things being equal), the more that telescope will cost. In many cases, beginners don't even know how various features operate, nor do they have to experience to use them. So having too many features on a beginner telescope is just a waste of money. That fact is reflected in the list.
The other issue with an overabundance of features is that, in most cases, additional features increase the complexity and difficulty of using a telescope. I myself have fallen victim to the excessive complexity that arises from an excessive number of unhelpful features. There's that scope that was too difficult to use, and that I didn't have time to learn how to use, and that scope sat in the back of a closet until I sold it at a huge discount from retail.
Simpler telescopes mean less time spent setting up and learning how to use. That's more likely to be of help to the beginner astronomer.
Effectiveness is just a hybrid of value and simplicity. Does the telescope do all of the things that you're likely to need it to do, and for how long can you use it before your needs as an astronomer outstrip the telescope's ability to perform? You don't want a telescope that you outgrow within a few months. This needs to be something that satisfies your budget, but that also can do something more than just look at terrestrial objects. For that reason, though they might be inexpensive, you're not going to find any toy store telescopes on this list.
As with purchasing any telescope, there are a number of technical considerations that they beginning buyer should be aware of. Each of these plays a role in how much the telescopes costs, and what it can do once you get it out of that box.
Types of Telescopes
While there are many types of telescopes, there are a few varieties in particular that have distinct advantages for beginner astronomers.
As we've discussed before, reflecting telescopes are those that gather and transmit light to the eye of the viewer using a series of mirrors. In many cases, the main mirror is a concave mirror, which is really effective.
The benefit of a reflector for beginners is that only the surface of the mirror needs to be flawless to get a true image. Reflectors also avoid the problem of chromatic aberration encountered with refractor telescopes.
The big problem with reflectors when it comes to buying beginner telescopes is that concave mirrors can get pretty pricey pretty fast.
In order to reduce the price at the lower end, telescope makers often use a spherical mirror instead. Though cheaper, spherical mirrors can create the problem of spherical aberration, which is a type of distortion that requires another lens to correct. If the lens isn't of sufficient quality throughout, it can cause its own distortion. Luckily, in many cases these small distortions aren't a big deal when it comes to beginner telescopes because they're not often used for observing low-light deep-sky objects.
The other issue that beginners will want to consider is that, unlike refractors, reflecting telescopes often will need collimation, which is an alignment of the mirrors inside the tube of the telescope. This is a something that can be done with a little bit of knowledge and experience, but it can be intimidating to the beginning astronomer.
Refracting telescopes are those that use a series of lenses to gather and transmit light to the viewer's eye. Refractors were the original telescopes, and the simplest refracting telescope designs date back several hundred years.
The beauty of a refractor is that it doesn't need a whole lot of maintenance. The lenses are fixed within the tube, and beginners can rest assured that they won't have to go mucking around with the alignment of the optics. The other benefit is that refractors can be purchased very cheaply. Making a lens tends to be less expensive than the process of creating concave mirrors.
However, this reasonable price comes with its own issues. Because light must pass through the entirety of the lens, in order for a lens to avoid distortion due to imperfection, a lens must be perfect throughout, unlike mirrors, which need only have a perfect surface. Perfection is expensive, so beginners have to be careful that the optics in the refractor they're buying are of sufficient quality.
The other issue with using lenses is the problem of chromatic aberration, which is a distortion due to interaction of different wavelengths of light as they pass through the material of the lens. This is usually corrected with mixed-material lenses or some other mechanism, which can introduce an element of complexity that can lead to additional cost.
Catadioptrics are those telescopes that use some combination of lenses and mirrors to gather and transmit the images to the viewer.
In practice, a lot of the "reflectors" at the beginner end of the telescope spectrum are actually this sort of hybrid telescope.
In some cases, catadioptric configurations are used to reduce the size of telescopes with greater aperture sizes. This makes them more portable and palatable to those of us who want a scope we can grab and take into the field. As always, with complexity can come cost and the additional possibility for error.
Aperture And Focal Length
In simple terms, aperture is the size of the objective lens or mirror. This directly affects how much light the telescope lets in. As a result, telescopes with a larger aperture will let more light, and thus will be able to view lower-light objects, especially when it comes to deep sky viewing.
All things being equal, a larger aperture means the ability to see more. However, larger apertures result in some consequences that are important when you're talking about finding a telescope for a beginner.
First, larger aperture means a longer focal length. Longer focal length presents a problem because, unless you find a way to "fold" or bounce the light around inside the telescope tube, a longer focal length will result in the need for a larger, longer telescope. This is obviously a detriment for those who want the flexibility of a scope you can take with you into the field and store when you're not using it.
Larger aperture also means greater cost. As we've mentioned, we've tried to stay withing what would be considered a reasonable, first-time budget for buying one's first telescope.
For these reasons, the telescopes here tend to fall into that 60-80mm sweet spot so often favored for basic beginner telescopes. The upper end of this will allow sufficient light for viewing even brighter deep sky objects, but will not put the price beyond the reach of the buyer for whom this article was intended.
Because it needs to be said: higher magnification is not necessarily a good thing when you're talking about a beginner telescope. In a lot of cases, inexpensive telescopes will advertise outlandish and excessive magnification as a selling point. The problem is that lower-cost telescopes tend to have a smaller aperture. Excessive magnification with too small an aperture can result in difficulties in locating objects, because the field of view is so small in relation to massive magnification. The other problem with too high a magnification is that it can overwhelm less-expensive optics. This results in really big, but not-so-clear views of objects. Not fun to look at. Skip the big, blurry blobs and stay with a scope, like the ones below, that have more reasonable and appropriate levels of magnification.
Just a note about computerized tracking and GOTO scopes. These features can render fantastic results, and they can make astronomy fun and easy, too boo. The problem is that they can cost a pretty penny, and they can quickly increase the complexity of using a telescope. For that reason, we've stuck to recommending telescopes that use manual tracking, and that do not have motorized mounts. This is a nod both to the beginner's budget, and their limited experience.
Other Practical Considerations
What we're recommending here is a series of telescopes that are easy to use. They can be set up quickly, and they can be operated without the user's having to navigate too steep a learning curve. They are stable enough to view objects without vibrating excessively, and they can be purchased by amateurs on a budget. They offer enough flexibility and features to give them enough of a useful life, but they aren't so laden with gewgaws and gadgets as to be difficult to use. Lastly, because it's likely the beginner will want to try out the telescope in a number of different locations and environments, all of these scopes exhibit excellent portability, at a size that won't make storage a difficulty.
Let's check them out.
The Candidates for Best Beginner Telescope
Our Favorite Beginner Telescope: The Orion GoScope 80 mm Tabletop
For our full review of the GoScope in depth, click here.
In some ways, the Orion GoScope 80mm is the telescope with the smallest number of features on this list. Even so, the reason we've chosen this as our recommendation for beginners is that, despite a small price tag, its optics pack a powerful punch.
The GoScope produces clear images of deep sky images than even a lot of more expensive telescopes. It is rare to find optics this good on this type of low-cost telescope.
Beyond the impressive optical performance, the GoScope just works. It's simple to set up and use, and its tabletop mount provides admirable stability.
While it has some quirks like the odd focus mechanism and the proprietary threading for attachment of accessories, it's just a good, basic telescope that will allow you some impressive views of the heavens, and I think that's what most beginners want.
Bottom Line: This is a really good, simple scope at a really good price.
Other Great Choices
Celestron PowerSeeker 70eq
For our full review of the Celestron 70eq, click here.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 70eq has the smallest aperture on this list. However, it offers a really good combination of features, power and quality in an inexpensive telescope for beginners with a limited budget.
Despite the smaller aperture, it offers good (but not excessive)magnification for observing deep sky objects.
While its lightweight tripod is really easy to set up, it does have some stability issues. We found the PowerSeeker to have the most vibration of the telescopes reviewed in this category. That having been said, the vibration doesn't impede ordinary viewing; it might present an issue with astrophotography, but in our opinion that's not going to be the most effective use for these beginner telescopes in the first place.
Despite the tripod issues, the PowerSeeker's German equatorial mount is really simple to operate and a really effective way to manually track objects across the sky. Truly an effective feature.
The other thing the PowerSeeker offers is standard erect-image optics, which means that, unlike a lot of other scopes, the image you see is the same as it would look to the naked eye or binoculars. This doesn't make a lot of difference on celestial objects, but it can come in handy when observing terrestrial objects.
Bottom Line: This is a basic beginner scope with some nice add-ons.
Celestron AstroMaster 114eq
For our full review of the Celestron 114 eq, click here.
The Celestron AstroMaster 114eq is an entry-level Newtonian reflector. It has a lightweight tripod and manual German equatorial mount with excellent stability. As you can tell by its name, the AstroMaster also has the largest aperture on the list so far, at 114 mm. Despite this, Celestron has done good job of making the AstroMaster compact and portable enough to go anywhere. It comes with several eyepieces to offer greater flexibility and magnification. Because of the size of its aperture, it is better positioned to take advantage of that magnification than many of the other telescopes on this list.
You might note some distortion in some images when using this telescope because of the Jones-Bird configuration that uses a spherical mirror instead of a concave one, but we didn't find the distortion to be a significant issue.
Bottom Line: This is a good portable scope with a little extra oomph than your basic starter.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127eq
For our full review of the Celestron 127 eq, click here.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127eq offers the largest aperture on this list in a Jones-Bird configured Newtonian. Because of the larger aperture, the PowerSeeker provides the brightest images and largest field of view of all of the telescopes we've mentioned here.
It also has a German equatorial mount and easy to setup tripod that offer excellent stability. Very little vibration on a solid German equatorial mount means this is probably the best option here for astrophotography, although we'll be talking later about the best telescopes for astrophotography, as that more advanced application falls outside the scope of the activities normally undertaken by beginners.
Regardless, if you're observing terrestrial phenomena, the moon, planets or brighter deep sky objects, the large aperture on the 127eq really makes finding objects easier, and it just generally makes observing more enjoyable, since you can see way more in one view.
Bottom Line: This is a nice choice for beginners looking for a little bit more power, good stability, and excellent portability.
Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope
For our full review of the Orion 07798 StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector, click here.
The StarBlast II 4.5 is an excellent telescope for beginners and even for experienced hobbyists. Because of its larger-than-usual aperture for a beginner telescope, it offers a much larger field of view and greater ease of use. The aperture size, coupled with its good magnification makes it a rich field telescope that will allow for more detailed views of larger swaths of the night sky.
One thing that really sets the 4.5eq apart from other telescopes in the same price range is the quality of its optics. The sharpness of images when viewing with the StarBlast is impressive and beyond what you would expect for its price.
Bottom Line: The StarBlast 4.5 eq is portable and offers crisp, clear optics with enough magnification to take advantage of a satisfyingly large aperture. This scope is just fun to use, and would be a good choice for beginners.
As you can see, buying a beginner telescope doesn't have to be an exercise in sacrifice. There are some really nice options that will do what you need them to do for quite a while. As long as you leave the toy store scopes alone and focus more on the quality of the optics and the viewing experience, these beginner telescopes will serve you in good stead.