Buying Guide for Telescopes
Why buy a telescope?
Studying stars and planets through NASA’s satellite and telescopic images online is one thing. The colors and shapes are dazzling. But by owning a telescope, you can be an astronomer. Just set up the telescope and operate the settings to zone in on your target star or planet. The rest is up to the universe! Buy a telescope for your child and watch their curiosity about the sky ignite and their knowledge grow.
But telescopes aren’t just for looking at the sky. If you’re into hunting, whale watching, bird watching, or even sports watching, a telescope can be a helpful and fun tool.
What should you look for in a telescope?
- Mount: The quality and type of tripod and mount are crucial to a positive viewing experience. The tripod should be made of quality steel or alloy—lightweight and sturdy. The mount type determines the directions and angles the telescope can achieve. There are altitude-azimuth and equatorial mounts. Altitude-azimuth telescopes move left and right, up and down, like a camera tripod. An equatorial mount is tilted, so the telescope can trace the paths of stars and other celestial objects.
- Optics: The size of the lens’ aperture (or diameter) determines how bright the objects will appear. Ideally, the bigger the better, though most beginner telescopes are between 70 to 80 millimeters. Look for the f-ratio, which is the telescope’s focal length divided by its aperture. Generally, the smaller the f-ratio, the lower the magnification, the wider the field, and the brighter the image. High f-ratios are better for narrow, high-power views. Also, fully multi-coated (FMC) lenses capture sharper images.
- Accessories: Accessories vary widely, from extra technical gear like magnifying eyepieces and 45-degree erect image diagonals to ensure objects are right side up and left-to-right correct. There’s also a Barlow lens, a diverging lens you use with an eyepiece to increase the focal length and strengthen magnification. Other excellent items to have are a carrying case or backpack, a smartphone adapter, and a wireless Bluetooth camera remote. Some beginner telescopes come with downloadable software with educational material about outer space.
How much should you expect to spend on a telescope?
High-quality telescopes aren’t cheap. However, not all users need fancy or even intermediate-level features. Some viewers are kids that just want to see the moon. You can get a decent, kid-friendly telescope for around $50. Quality goes up with the price, with some of the very best costing thousands. Most of the quality, entry-level telescopes we review average around $100 to $200.
Our Picks for the Best Telescopes
Discover with Dr. Cool NASA Lunar Telescope for Kids
A STEM-oriented lunar telescope with two eyepieces for wide and close-up viewing.
Pros: This NASA telescope comes with two eyepieces for low- and high-power magnification (18x and 90x) eyepieces, explicitly designed for viewing the lunar surface. With the finder-scope and eyepieces, your kid will be able to spot the moon and zoom in to view details of the moon’s craters. This Discover with Dr. Cool telescope is great for beginners. It makes a lovely opportunity for you and your child to experience astronomy together. This tabletop tripod telescope requires little space to measure 7.09 x 4.13 x 17.05 inches. It comes with a lens dust cap, an engaging information guide about the moon, and easy-to-follow instructions.
Cons: If you’re looking for a more advanced telescope quality, you may be disappointed with this product.
Bottom Line: All told, this lunar telescope has the technology and accessibility that makes it a great tool for novice astronomers. Plus, it’s a NASA telescope. How cool is that?
Celestron 70mm Travel Scope
A telescope with quality optics and a travel backpack for adventurous astronomers.
Pros: Are you a beginner astronomer with travel plans to view a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event? The Celestron travel refractor telescope features a quality 70-mm aperture, a focal length of 400 mm (f/5.700), two eyepieces (20 mm and 10 mm) for low- and high-power views, and a focal length of 5.71. The combined technology allows you to view celestial objects at night and terrestrial objects during the day. A manual altitude-azimuth two-axis mount telescope, the Celestron has a panhandle and 1.25-inch adjustable steel tripod for easy height adjustment. Also included are an optical tube, a 45-degree erect image diagonal, a 5×24 finderscope, and a travel backpack. The telescope includes the SkyPortal app, so you can view objects in space in real-time and educational software to advance your knowledge.
Cons: You may be disappointed with the stability of the tripod.
Bottom Line: You get a lot when you invest in this travel telescope for beginners: quality parts, technology, and accessories. It’s worth considering whether you travel by plane or by foot to capture the sights you’re after.
Gskyer 70 mm AZ Telescope
An affordable, high-quality telescope with superior magnification and optical capability.
Pros: The Gskyer telescope gets a thumbs-up for its high-quality optics and magnifying power for beginners relative to its low price. This telescope has a 70-mm aperture and 400-mm focal length, and f/5.7 for precise, high-resolution images. The high transmission, fully multi-coated (FMC) lens delivers sharp images while protecting your vision. You get two eyepieces (25 mm, 10 mm) plus a 3x Barlow lens for optimal magnification. Align the 5×24 finderscope to locate your celestial object, then apply the Barlow lens for a triple-magnified view. Plus, you get a smartphone adapter and a wireless Bluetooth camera remote for taking awesome images. The list continues to include an aluminum alloy tripod, a carrying bag, and more.
Cons: The telescope doesn’t come with an educational guide as many products of the same caliber do.
Bottom Line: This kid-friendly telescope has superior optical and magnifying capabilities for nighttime star-gazing and detailed daytime nature viewing. It’s hard to beat the quality and price ratio.
Evershop Monocular Telescope with Low Light Vision
This lightweight, handheld monocular offers stellar low-light vision for outdoorsy ventures.
Pros: Monoculars are smaller and lighter than traditional telescopes and use an optical prism rather than a relay lens to deliver an erect image. The Evershop monocular has a large BAK-4 prism with FMC lenses (20 mm eye and 50 mm objective) for low-light night vision with minimal distortion. It has 12x magnification for sharp images. Choose between holding it with your hand or setting it on the included tripod for capturing images, whichever is most convenient. The monocular is waterproof and shockproof for durability while you’re out in nature. It comes with a smartphone holder to fix onto the tripod.
Cons: You may be disappointed with the quality of the tripod and smartphone holder. It’s not the best for sky views.
Bottom Line: An often-overlooked binocular-telescope hybrid, the palm-sized monocular gives you the freedom to view nature with a single hand. This Evershop version features quality optics and accessories to create a fun exploratory experience for all ages.
Celestron PowerSeeker 80EQ Refractor Telescope
A lightweight beginner's telescope with superior optics for viewing Saturn's rings and more.
Pros: The Celestron PowerSeeker 80EQ has impressive features and power for such an easy-to-use, lightweight telescope geared toward beginners. The equatorial mount has two slow-motion controls to make fine modifications in the right ascension and declination axes to better locate and track celestial objects. The objective lens has an f/11 ratio and 80-mm aperture. Also included with the telescope are two eyepieces (20 mm and 4 mm) and a 3x Barlow lens to triple the magnification of each eyepiece. Used together, the eyepieces and Barlow lens magnify your target between 135x to 675x. Also included is an erect image diagonal, a finderscope, and a free download of Celestron’s Starry Night Software to learn more about outer space.
Cons: A few users report that the plastic knobs on the tripod are disappointing in quality.
Bottom Line: The Celestron 80EQ makes a great choice for beginner astronomers with strong motivation to master the optical power this telescope is capable of. The Celestron’s Starry Night Software sweetens the deal.
If you’re interested in the sky or the world around you, take in the view with one of these high-quality telescopes.