Our Recommendation for the Best Telescope Under $100
If you're in a hurry and just want our top recommendation from the best telescopes under $100:
Our recommendation is the Orion SkyScanner 100mm Tabletop Telescope.
The Orion SkyScanner is a low-priced option that brings a lot of extra to the table. It's a great entry-level reflector with real glass lenses. Check out our full review of the SkyScanner here.
Its 100mm aperture is huge for this price point, and we've talked a lot about how important aperture size is. Whereas smaller apertures might only allow you to observe the brightest of objects in the night sky, a larger aperture like the one on the SkyScanner will give you a greater capacity to observe dimmer, more distant objects. It also makes clear focus more possible along the radius of the telescope's field of view.
Even if you want to use it for terrestrial viewing or closer objects like the moon, you can be sure the SkyScanner will provide great detail, even when you're viewing from bright urban locations.
Despite its big aperture, the SkyScanner is still small enough to store easily in the smallest of homes. There' s no need to dedicate space for it; just stow it and take it out when you need it. It's easy enough to use and set up that it will be ready to go at a moment's notice.
The tabletop mount is a fantastic way to save space and improve portability, while at the same time maintaining the flexibility to take the telescope just about anywhere. If you want to use a full tripod, you have the option, as the tabletop mount has an adapter that allows it to attach to a tripod.
Get Started Right: The Best Telescope Under 100 Dollars
Stargazing is fun. There's no denying it.
Even the simple act of walking outside after dark to look at the heavens with a naked eye is enjoyable.
There's also no denying that it's even more fun with telescope. Seeing more than the naked eye can see reveals a whole universe you might not ever have known was there.
But not everybody has a lot of money to spend on a telescope. A lot of us have had bad experiences with cheap telescopes constructed with bad optics.
Luckily, even an inexpensive telescope under one hundred dollars can get the job done and vastly expand your viewing capacity.
Here are the best telescopes under $100 that are actually worth it.
Things to Think About When You're Buying a Telescope for Under 100 Dollars
Cheap Telescopes Can Be Good Telescopes
Before we get started with the list, let's talk a little bit about the types of telescopes that are on this list and what to look for when you're looking to buy a telescope for less than $100.
Telescopes at this price generally aren't do-it-all telescopes with tons of features that can be used for observing the most distant and dim of deep-space objects.
These are good, solid telescopes that are very good at observing terrestrial objects and nearer celestial objects that don't need a huge aperture that lets in a lot of light. The best of them are quite capable of seeing brighter deep-sky objects like the Messier objects. These are the best cheap telescopes you'll find.
We should also point out that these telescopes feature simple mounts, many of them altazimuth mounts. You shouldn't expect to find any computerized scopes or GOTO scopes here, but you can expect to find a solid tri-pod or tabletop mount that will get the job done very effectively and will leave you with some cash in your pocket.
All of these telescopes are highly portable, and thus offer great performance, no matter where you might take them.In addition to their portability, all of these telescopes are really easy to use. They thus can very easily be set up and used by even beginner astronomers.
This is probably where you need to exercise the most caution. Bad optics on a telescope can fatally compromise its performance, but quality optics can cost money. Thus, a lot of telescopes you'll see that cost less than $100 use plastic lenses and mirrors.
One of the problems with low-quality optics is image clarity. Poorly manufactured lenses or mirrors can result in various types of light transmission problems that result in problems like chromatic aberration, in which the different colors in the image don't end up in their correct places because of inefficient transmission through a lens.
You see the problem. Luckily, the companies that make the telescopes we've selected have found a way to include real, quality optics for very reasonable prices, usually by keeping the telescopes simple and not including tons of accessories and features.
I think we all instinctively understand that a larger aperture is good on a telescope. Bigger is better right? But there are a few specific, technical reason why, all things being equal, a larger aperture is better.
First, larger apertures let in more light, which expands the viewing capacity of your telescope. More distant objects are often harder to see because they transmit so little light to the eye of the viewer. As the aperture size increases, you are able to see more and more objects in the night sky.
Second, aperture is directly connected to f-ratio, which is the ratio of the aperture to tube length. F-ratios can affect image clarity and focus along the radius of the mirror or lens. If you have too little aperture for your tube length, your images will not be as crisp at certain parts of the field of view.
Finally, aperture size equates to the size of the field of view. Viewing with a tiny telescope aperture at high magnification levels is unpleasant and usually results in poor-quality images. As the size of the aperture increases, the number of items that can fit into the field of view increase, and the viewing experience becomes more pleasant.
An additional aspect of the question of aperture size is the role of diameter. A lot of people think linearly about aperture diameters, supposing that each additional millimeter or inch of aperture diameter increases the overall aperture size in a proportional manner. The reality is that even a small increase in the aperture diameter will result in a significantly larger aperture area.
Think of it this way, to determine the area of a circle (which a telescope aperture is), you multiply the square of the radius by the constant pi (π). The result is that differences in the radius (and thus the diameter) are both squared and multiplied by 3.14. As a consequence, increasing the radius of the aperture by even 10mm will result in an additional 314mm of aperture area. That's a huge difference.
Think about that when you're comparing two relatively similar telescopes with different aperture sizes. Even if they aren't significantly difference in terms of diameter (or radius), one could provide significantly brighter images because those small changes can make a big difference.
Mounts at the sub-$100 level are usually not very impressive. In most cases, the best you can hope for (and indeed, what we think you should look for) is something simple and stable that will allow you to view without a lot of image vibration. You'll see that many of our recommendations are tabletop mounts or smaller tripods. Because the telescopes feature these smaller mounts, they tend to be more stable and easier to use.
A lot of people get lured by shiny accessories. While we don't mean to give accessories a bad rap (accessories like eyepieces can vastly increase the flexibility and functionality of a telescope), many telescope manufacturers include extra accessories with low-priced telescopes to make up for poor optical quality.
We recommend that you look for the telescope with the best optics possible, then see if you can fit some extra bells and whistles into your budget.
Now, let's check out some great telescopes for $100 or less.
Some Other Great Choices for the Best Telescope Under 100 Dollars
Celestron FirstScope 76 mm Reflector Telescope
Its name says a lot about it. The FirstScope is a great entry point for those looking to purchase their first telescope, but without breaking the bank or having to deal with a steep learning curve.
The FirstScope is a Dobsonian style Newtonian reflector with a 76 mm aperture, which means it allows in significantly more light than typical 60mm beginner telescopes. It's the ideal entry-level astronomical telescope for people who want a portable, lightweight telescope. Because of its small size and light weight, it is easy to store, transport and set up.
Reviewers love the fact that this one is ready to go virtually from the moment you take it out of the box. There's not a lot of set up required, so you can be observing within a matter of a few minutes.
Once you get it set up, the FirstScope is a minimalist's dream. It's super to easy to use, and even first timers will have no problem using it. Just point it where you want to look. There's not a lot of complicated setup and aiming to do.
Orion FunScope 76mm Tabletop Reflector Telescope
Check out our full Orion FunScope review here.
The Orion FunsScope is a great first scope for getting your feet wet in stargazing.
Whether this is your first telescope, or maybe you're on the lookout for a second scope you can take with you for observing on camping trips and in the field, the FunScope's ease of use and convenience will make stargazing fun.
The FunScope is especially good for observing nearer celestial objects. It's great for use in observing the surface of the moon. To complement lunar observation, Orion includes its MoonMap 260. MoonMap is a great tool for beginning astronomers that helps you find and identify the various parts of the moon. Because the 76mm aperture will admit a great deal more light than many beginner telescopes with 60mm apertures, you can see a lot more of the moon's features.
The FunScope is also impressive because of its portability. The FunScope comes mounted on lightweight tabletop mount, so it's easy to take with you and set up in the field.
In order to create greater flexibility, the FunScope comes with two eyepieces, so you can change according to what you're observing.
It also comes equipped with Orion's EZ Finder II finder scope, a red-dot finder that makes it easier to aim at specific objects in the sky.
Orion GoScope III 70mm Refractor
The Orion GoScope is billed as the ultimate grab-and-go scope. If you're looking for a versatile telescope that can travel with you into the field, this is a great option.
The GoScope is an inexpensive but full-fledged telescope for young stargazers, families and beginner astronomers alike.
Unlike a lot of the telescopes on this list, the GoScope comes mounted on a full tripod, as opposed to a tabletop mount. This means you don't need a surface to put it on to begin observing.
Bolstering its travel bona fides, it comes with a durable backpack for carrying it and its accessories, so you never have to worry about leaving something behind. It's all there in one convenient location.
The GoScope comes with its own finderscope, so you can be certain that you'll find what you're looking for when you point your eye to the heavens.
It also comes with two different eyepieces, a 16x magnification and a 40x magnification, so you can tailor your eyepiece to the needs of whatever you're observing.
The GoScope also comes with a 45-degree correct image diagonal prism eyepiece, so you can look at objects, both terrestrial and celestial, as they would appear to the naked eye.
Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ
Celestron bills the AstroMaster as a real beginner telescope, and it lives up to that billing with a number of quality features that make it a desirable option in the sub-$100 space. This is by no means a luxury telescope: it's a solid, basic scope that can handle both terrestrial observation and viewing of brighter celestial objects.
But what it does, it does well. The AstroMaster has full coated glass optics, so a lot of the issues that you often see with cheap telescopes are avoided.
Its tripod is a step up from the basic tabletop mount. It's a steel tripod with a pan-handle alt-az mount, so you can set up without having to find a separate elevated flat surface. The tripod is solid, although some users do report that changing positing isn't always the smoothest process.
The AstroMaster also boasts really easy setup. It's nearly ready to go right out of the box, and you won't need any tools to get started. The tube mounts to the tripod with a dove-tail attachment, so getting it on and off is simple and easy.
It usually comes with two different eyepieces, 10mm and 20mm, and it also includes an erect image diagonal so you can see terrestrial objects right-side-up without having to stand on your head.
Orion Observer 60mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope
The perfect telescope for kids and families, the Observer is an honest-to-goodness telescope for just a little bit more than you would expect to pay for one of those toy-store telescopes. It is a starter telescope, but this isn't some some piece of junk with plastic lenses. The Orion Observer has real glass lenses and two 1.25" eyepieces that offer beginner astronomers different viewing options.
The Observer also comes with a full aluminum tripod, which provides versatility that tabletop mounts sometimes can offer. The tripod is sturdy and lightweight, which makes this telescope easily portable. The whole telescope weighs only 5.8 lbs, so you can take it with you wherever you want to go.
Orion thought of everything on this one. The tripod even includes a handy tray for keeping your accessories wrangled.
The altazimuth mount provides smooth motion for tracking in the altitude and azimuth axes.
Because of its real glass lenses, the Observer provides crisp, bright images of the sky, making it especially effective for observing the moon and nearer celestial objects. It also includes a 90-degree mirror diagonal eyepiece for greater viewing comfort, so you can observe objects as they would appear to the naked eye.
As if all that weren't already a great value, Orion also includes its EZ Finder II red-dot finder and Starry Night Special Edition software. Starry Night lets you plan your viewing sessions and print out custom starcharts, so you'll know exactly what you're looking for, which will save you time and make your viewing sessions more enjoyable.
Gskyer 60mm Altazimuth Refractor
Like so many of the telescopes on this list, the Gskyer 60mm AZ Refractor is a telescope for the entry-level amateur astronomer. But unlike so many other cheap telescopes, the Gskyer has quality components and accessories that make it a worthwhile choice. The Gskyer 60mm is made with real glass optical components with high-transmission coatings to enhance the brightness and clarity of images. Gskyer has also equipped this telescope with a rack-and-pinion focuser for greater precision.
It also comes mounted on an altazimuth aluminum mount on an aluminum-alloy tripod. The mount has smooth slow-motion tracking in both the altitude and azimuth axes, so you'll have a much easier time tracking the things you're observing as you follow them across the sky.
To allow for more flexibility, the Gskyer 60mm comes with several eyepieces and lenses. These include two eyepieces, one a 25mm low-magnification eyepiece, and the other a 10mm high-magnification eyepiece. Supplementing those eyepieces is a 3x barlow lens to double magnification. The different possible combinations available with these accessories will allow you to get the greatest versatility out of your scope.
Gskyer makes its telescopes so they're easy to assemble with no tools required. That means you can get it out of the box and begin stargazing in a matter of minutes.
Celestron ExploraScope 60AZ
The ExploraScope's lenses are all glass, so you know this isn't some toy-store telescope with plastic lenses. This isn't just a cheap telescope; it's one of the best cheap telescopes around.
This is another good option that was designed specifically for beginners. The ExploraScope could be the right telescope for terrestrial viewing, as well as observing the Moon, planets, and brighter celestial objects.
The ExploraScope is easy to set up and use, although some users have pointed out that putting it together for the first time might take a moment.
In addition to its good-quality lenses, the ExploraScope 60AZ also comes with two additional eyepieces, one measuring 4mm and the other measuring 20mm. These allow for different fields of view, as well as different levels of magnification to suit your needs, whatever it is you're looking at. There's also a 3x Barlow lens included to increase the reach of your observations.
Its alt-azimuth mount and tripod are stable if not spectacular, so you can count on it not to wobble excessively.
The ExploraScope's red-dot finder isn't spectacular, but it's an effective way to aim. Just put the red dot where you want it, and your telescope will be pointed in the right direction. It's a simple way that's great for those just getting started.
TwinStar AstroMark 80mm 16-40x Portable Refractor Telescope
This offering from a lesser-known telescope maker is another good beginner telescope option that can be had for under $100.
Its 80mm fully-coated achromatic objective lens provides crisp images of terrestrial objects and nearer celestial objects. In comparison to a lot of telescopes at this price point, the 80mm aperture provides for much brighter images than you might expect. It offers fantastic views of the moon, and is even capable of observing most of the Messier objects. It does its best work on terrestrial objects and brighter celestial phenomena.
Like other great telescopes under $100, the TwinStar AstroMark offers increased flexibility and versatility by including multiple 1.25" eyepieces, one 25mm and the other 10mm. These insure that you can get the best configuration for the specific object you want to view.
Along with its quality optics and larger-than-average aperture, the TwinStar Astromark also comes with a portable "instant use" mini-tripod and a carry bag, both of which make this the perfect telescope to take with you on whatever type of excursion you choose.
It's a great option for taking camping so you can check out the stars in the great outdoors. In fact, it takes up so little space that you can keep it in your car so you have it available at a moment's notice wherever you are.
Vixen Space Eye 50mm Telescope
Vixen is a relative newcomer to the telescope arena, but the Vixen Space Eye 50 is a solid contribution.
The watchword here is "simple". The Vixen Space Eye 50 is super easy to set up. It takes no time to get it from the box and set up for observing.
It's super simple to use. Just point the 5x20 finder scope at the object you want to look at. Focusing is a snap with Vixen's rack-and-pinion focusing system.
For greater viewing flexibility, the Space Eye 50 includes two eyepieces, one 20mm and another 4 mm, so you can tailor your configuration to fit whatever it is you want to view.
The Space Eye's light weight makes it a good candidate for those who want a second grab-and-go telescope. The whole telescope, mount and tripod are light enough to take anywhere.
Celestron PowerSeeker 70eq
The Celestron PowerSeeker 70eq is a really good, inexpensive combination of features, power and quality for astronomers on a budget. It offers impressive optics and fantastic portability at the right price.
The quality optics give you good views of terrestrial objects and brighter celestial objects. Extra optical accessories like the 3x Barlow lens allow for greater flexibility and versatility, which means you'll be equipped to observe different objects as needed.
The erect-image optics are a great feature, in that they allows the viewer to see objects as they would appear to the naked eye. No more straining your neck or contorting into uncomfortable positions to get the right view.
The PowerSeeker's German equatorial mount is a real asset when you're tracking images across the sky. The smooth controls make tracking easy. Supplementing the mount is a solid tripod that gives you the flexibility and ease of use to set up anywhere at a moment's notice.
For more on the Celestron Powerseeker 70eq, check out our full review here.
These probably aren't the telescopes you'll be using when you discover new alien civilizations light years from Earth, but if you're looking for a solid telescope at a price that can't be beat, these are the telescopes for you. Check them out.