Have you picked up astronomy as your new hobby and now looking for the best telescopes for beginners? If that’s the case, you are at the right place. Here we not only provide you with a list of what we think are the best telescopes for you but explain how to choose one that suits your specific needs so that you can make an informed decision in the future.
How To Choose A Telescope
Optical telescopes (that gather light from the visible spectrum) are basically of three types; refractor, reflector, and catadioptric. What differentiates the three from each other is what type of objective (the light-gathering component) they use. A refractor or refracting telescope uses a lens as its objective, whereas a reflecting telescope uses mirrors. Catadioptric telescopes, on the other hand, utilize a combination of lenses and mirrors.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of a telescope is its resolving power (the sharpness of appearing images), determined by the diameter of its objective or aperture. In simple words, the larger the diameter of the objective, the more light it gathers, leading to crisper and more detailed images.
An optical telescope with an aperture 10-inch across allows you to observe distant planets and faint galaxies with more clarity than a much smaller 3-inch aperture telescope. The bigger, the better! By this rationale, we all should buy giant telescopes to enjoy astronomy. However, the problem with larger telescopes having outsized apertures is they are bulky and rigid. They are difficult, or in many cases, almost impossible to carry, position inside a confined space, and inconvenient to store when not in use.
The Right Aperture For A Beginners Telescope
For beginners, the recommended range of telescope apertures is between 2.8 inches (70 mm) and 12-inches (304.8 mm). As compared to a human eye, which has a maximum physical aperture of 7 mm, a smaller 70 mm telescope collects as much as 10 times more light. Similarly, a mid-range beginner’s telescope with a 5-inch (127 mm) aperture gathers nearly 18 times more light than the human eye.
Although less powerful, smaller telescopes are ideal for amateur astronomers. Not only are they economical (affordable), but also easy to use and effortlessly carried in backpacks for your stargazing expeditions.
The general rule of thumb is that you can progress from a smaller aperture telescope to a larger one (from 2.8 inches to 5 inches, 5 inches to 8 inches, and so on) after obtaining enough experience. With the increasing diameter of the scope, the planets and galaxies you observe appear more detailed.
A telescope’s magnifying power is an important factor you should consider while buying one. Magnification in a telescope is used to make target objects appear larger while reducing the image quality. In other words, more magnifying power allows you to observe the tiniest objects in your field of view but at the expense of quality resolution.
Theoretically, you can use as much magnification as you want on a telescope. However, using extremely high magnification powers of the telescope is useless. There is a certain limit beyond which telescopic magnification cannot be used productively. Beyond the maximum effective magnification, the image becomes blurrier without any useful detail.
The magnification of any telescope is determined by two things; the focal length and aperture of the telescope. The telescope’s focal length is the distance between the center of its primary objective and image point. It is the first and foremost determinant of a telescope’s magnification power.
To determine your telescope’s magnification limits, simply multiply the diameter (in mm) of its primary lens or mirror by 2. In practice, the desired magnification for a beginner’s telescope is 40x per inch of aperture.
Lenses and Eyepieces
Eyepieces of different diameters | Image Courtesy: Tamás Szőcs/Wikimedia Commons
Almost every telescope we mentioned here comes with auxiliary lenses of focal length between 10mm and 30mm. To obtain the magnification power of an eyepiece, divide the focal length of the eyepiece with that of your telescope.
For example, if your telescope has a focal length of 650mm and the focal length of the eyepiece is 25mm, the resulting magnification power it gives you is 650/25=26x. Using an eyepiece with a shorter focal length allows higher magnification.
5. Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ
Image Courtesy: Celestron
Aperture: 5.11-inch (130mm) | Optical Design: Newtonian Reflector | Effective Magnification: 307x | Total Weight: 18lbs (8.16 kg)| Mount Type: Alt-azimuth
Celestron StarSense Explorer brand of telescopes takes advantage of modern technology to make astronomy almost effortless for beginners. They utilize your smartphone for scanning through the night sky and calibrating itself for you in a matter of minutes.
To begin with, you first need to install and launch StarSense app on your smartphone (attached to the telescope). After a quick scan of the night sky, it will provide you with a list of celestial objects (stars, planets, galaxies, and clusters) that you can observe at present. Once the target is set, the app guides you towards its direction. All you have to do is observe.
Celestron’s StarSense Explorer telescopes have four variants; a 3-inch aperture refractor, 4-inch refractor, 4.5-inch, and 5.11-inch reflector. For better light-gathering power, StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ with a 5.11-inch aperture is the obvious choice.
The telescope comes with two eyepieces measuring 25mm and 10mm. They provide magnifications of 26x and 65x, respectively.
4. Celestron Inspire 100AZ Refractor
Image Courtesy: Celestron
Aperture: 3.9-inch (100mm) | Optical Design: Refractor | Effective Magnification: 241x | Total Weight: 19.84lbs (9kg) | Mount Type: Alt-azimuth
Celestron Inspire 100AZ is an ideal telescope for beginners due to its simplicity, ease of use, and range of accessories that are usually not found with most other starter telescopes.
The optics are powerful enough to reveal several interesting features on the lunar surface but provide a mediocre view of planets. Under suitable conditions, you can also observe some of the brightest deep-sky objects, including the Andromeda galaxy and Orion Nebula.
Accessories include a 1.25-inch erect image 90-degree star diagonal for comfortable viewing, a pair of eyepieces measuring 20mm and 30mm, a red dot finderscope to quickly center the target in your eyepiece, a LED flashlight, and an integrated smartphone adaptor.
3. The Meade Infinity 102 AZ
Image Courtesy: Meade Instruments
Aperture: 4-inch (102mm) | Optical Design: Refractor | Effective Magnification: 204x | Total Weight: 12.2 lbs (5.5 kg) | Mount Type: Alt-azimuth
Meade’s Infinity 102 Altazimuth telescope is a popular choice among amateur astronomers due to quality at its price range. The telescope has a 4-inch aperture objective with a fast focal ratio of f/5.9, meaning you will encounter optical aberration around the edges while observing brighter targets, such as the moon.
As an entry-level telescope, the Infinity 102 is well suited for wide-field observations. It can also be used for terrestrial viewing during the daytime. Although the mount is sturdy enough, you may experience vibrations during observation that may distort your view. It can be countered by simply adding more weight to the tray.
The telescope comes with three eyepieces with focal lengths of 26mm, 9mm, and 6.3mm and a 2x Barlow lens that further increases the magnification on each of the eyepieces. There is also a battery-powered red dot finder used to position the telescope in the direction of the target object.
Meade Infinity 102AZ offers fair observations of the lunar surface (minus the aberrations). It also provides decent views of most planets, including Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings. It is not suitable for deep-sky observations.
2. Sky-Watcher Dobsonian 8-inch Traditional
Image Courtesy: Sky-Watcher
Aperture: 8-inch (203mm) | Optical Design: Newtonian | Effective Magnification: 406x | Total Weight: 45 pounds (20 kg) | Mount Type: Dobsonian
Dobsonians, often referred to as “light buckets,” are compact and portable but inexpensive telescopes intended for use by the general public. Their unique design allows users to get more objective diameter at less cost compared to other designs.
Large objective diameter, combined with portability and compactness, makes them ideal telescopes for observing deep-sky objects (including galaxies and nebulas) that require high light-gathering power and access to less-polluted locations. The only trade-off is they are quite heavy.
The Sky-Watcher Dob 8-inch Traditional is our pick for the best Dobsonian telescope for a beginner. Its 8-inch (203mm) primary mirror is perfect for observing faint celestial objects that are further away from the earth. The maximum effective magnification (up to which any valuable data can be retrieved) is 406x, significantly higher than other telescopes we have mentioned here.
1. Celestron NexStar 5SE
Image Courtesy: Celestron
Aperture: 4.92 inch (125mm) | Optical Design: Schmidt-Cassegrain | Effective Magnification: 295x | Total Weight: 17.6 lbs (8kg) | Mount Type: Computerized alt-azimuth
Celestron NexStar 5SE is possibly the best telescope a beginner can have. The telescope’s five-inch primary mirror is powerful enough for you to observe things like Jupiter’s peculiar atmospheric features and Saturn’s rings.
Moreover, under suitable atmospheric conditions, it can introduce you to hundreds of deep-sky objects from individual stars in the Messier 13 cluster to the Whirlpool galaxy, located 31 million light-years away from the earth.
NexStar 5SE is easy to set up, and its fully computerized system makes the telescope almost effortless to operate. It comes with a handheld controller, known as NexStar+, that allows users to explore the vast night sky. You can either choose a particular astronomical object to observe (from nearly 40,000 objects in its database) or instruct it to direct towards the most prominent objects in your night sky.
Like all Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, Celestron NexStar 5SE is highly portable. The entire setup weighs slightly more than 17 pounds. For better handling, the telescope can be dismantled into several smaller pieces to be easily transported.
Most Expensive: Astro-Physics 92mm F6.65 Stowaway
Image Courtesy: Astro-physics
Aperture: 3.62 inch (92mm) | Optical Design: Refractor | Effective Magnification: 360x | Total Weight: 7.1 lbs (3.2 kg) | Mount Type: Equatorial mount | Estimated Price: $3,590
If you’re looking for something more expensive (really expensive) for your first telescope, then you might consider Astro-Physics 92mm F6.65 Stowaway telescope. Astro-Physics is a high-end telescope and accessories manufacturing brand known for its quality and craftsmanship.
The 92mm F6.65 Stowaway refractor is a lightweight and compact telescope with a retractable tube that makes it easier to carry on extended field trips. It comes with an optional Field Flattener lens that improves image sharpness and minimizes distortions. You can also buy advanced Barlow lens and solar filters at additional cost.
One of the key differences that separate the Stowaway refractor from other telescopes on this list is its German equatorial mount (GEM). Equatorial mounts are designed to rotate in exact sync with the apparent diurnal motion (i.e., the daily motion of celestial objects across the sky) and compensate for Earth’s rotation. It enables you to track stars across the night sky during observations and long-exposure astrophotography.
Equatorial mounts are, however, more expensive and complex than other telescope mount types. They are increasingly replaced by alt-azimuth mounts in large telescopes.
What is the best telescope for viewing the moon and planets?
You can observe the moon and most planets in the solar system with telescopes having at least 2.7 inches (70 mm) aperture. However, to study planets in a more detailed manner, you would need a telescope with an aperture of 5 inches (127 mm) or greater and as much magnification you can get.
Telescopes with an even higher aperture (8 inches and above) will enable you to peek at distant Uranus and Neptune with more clarity. You have a few popular options to choose from;
- Orion SkyScanner 100 mm (Reflector)
- Celestron Omni XLT 114 mm (Newtonian)
- Sky-Watcher 8 inch Collapsible Aperture (Dobsonian)
What is the most powerful telescope I can use at home?
As an advanced user, if you’re looking for a slightly more powerful instrument than beginner telescopes (we have mentioned) for home use, you can choose telescopes with higher aperture and magnification.
Celestron NexStar 8 SE, with an 8-inch (203.2 mm) primary mirror aperture and 81x magnification, is our pick for the most powerful telescope for home use. Keep in mind that advanced telescopes are more expensive than entry-level ones.
What are the best telescopes for kids?
Children’s telescopes don’t differ much from professional ones. They are just designed to be lighter, and more comfortable to use, and are less powerful.
A perfect telescope for children above age ten would be something that’s easy to set up and, at the same time, powerful enough to capture nearby celestial objects. The most popular options include Orion FunScope 76mm and Gskyer 70 mm Telescope.
What is the best telescope for beginner astrophotography?
Astrophotography (photography of celestial objects) is a bit trickier than simply observing them. First and foremost you need a portable telescope which can be easily transported to areas with less air pollution. As a beginner, you can use Celestron NexStar 5SE or Celestron Astromaster 130EQ for astrophotography.
However, advanced users require telescopes that can accurately track stars and other celestial objects across the sky. It is achieved by using equatorial mounts on telescopes.