Affordable telescopes – Buying guide & Comparison
If you’re short on time and you just want to find the best cheap telescopes, this short paragraph should help you get exactly the model you need. In order to compare various products, we looked at product surveys, expert review sites for scientific instruments and actual owner feedback. Based on our research/findings, the Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ 21037 is the best because of its easy and fast tool-free setup, which allows you to start observing the heavens in less time so you won’t miss anything spectacular going on up there. The slow motion controls ensure smooth tracking, making this instrument perfect for learning and mentoring. Producing erect image optics, this model delivers upright images directly, making it suitable for terrestrial and astronomy applications. Equipped with fully coated glass optical components, this device comes with high-transmission coatings that help ensure spectacular image clarity and brightness. If the Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ 21037 is unavailable, your second option should be the Orion 10034 GoScope II.
Telescopes make great gifts for birthdays, the holidays and any occasion. There may have been a time when telescopes were available only at high-end prices, but in this day and age, you can find affordable telescopes in department store shelves. It may surprise you, but the best budget astronomical telescope is not easy to find in brick-and-mortar stores but direct from the manufacturer through reputable online retailers. Here’s how to tell if you have the best product on the market in your hands.
The best cheap telescope boasts a sufficiently large aperture
The aperture is considered the most essential element of any telescope. The aperture refers to the diameter of the mirror or the instrument’s light-gathering lens. You will find the dimension of this element on the packaging, at the front part of the tube or near the focuser. The mirror’s diameter or the aperture is commonly expressed in millimeters, or inches in a small number of units. An inch is equivalent to 25.4 mm. You want an aperture of at least 70mm or 2.8 inches or greater in a good telescope.
With a larger aperture, the mirror has greater capacity to gather light, allowing easy viewing of more detail plus fainter objects during observation compared to telescopes with smaller apertures. However, you might be able to sight plenty of celestial objects if you live far from city lights that can interfere with the light-collecting capability of your instrument’s optical components. You may be able to view a variety of faraway galaxies extending beyond our own Milky Way if you use a telescope with an 80mm or 3.1-inch aperture in a dark location. This may be doable in a typical suburban setting where you have a 6- or 8-inch telescope for use. In addition, no matter how obscure or brilliant the night sky is, with a scope boasting lots of aperture, you get more spectacular views compared to when you use a small aperture device.
Do not be fooled by the common ploy manufacturers use by blowing up magnification in their packaging, such as when they say a product comes with 700X high power. In truth, the maximum useful magnification of a telescope is its aperture in inches multiplied 50 times, or the equivalent of twice its aperture in millimeters. Therefore, to get genuine 700X magnification, you’d have to use a 14-inch wide scope and the night should provide perfect viewing conditions.
When it comes to scope type, you want the best budget refractor telescope you can find
The most familiar type of telescope is the refractor type, which has a lens at the front of the tube. Refractors are frequently low maintenance but do get pricey with larger apertures. When discussing refractor scopes, bear in mind that an apochromat provides better quality images and thus costs more compared to a similarly sized achromat.
On the other hand, a reflector telescope is characterized by the lens or mirror being found at the rear of the primary tube. The least costly type for a given aperture, a reflector scope needs frequent optical alignment adjustments especially when it gets bumped out of position. This process, called collimation, is simple to do.
Catadioptric or compound scopes employ a combination of mirrors and lenses and feature compact tubes along with a comparatively low weight. The two most popular compound scope architectures are Maksutov-Cassegrain and Schmidt-Cassegrain.
The telescope’s power or magnification is determined by the focal length of its objective. Mathematically, this is determined by taking the focal length of the objective and dividing it by the eyepiece dimension, which is indicated on the barrel. To illustrate: a 30mm eyepiece and a focal length of 600mm yields a 20X magnification, which is 600/30. Most devices include a single or a pair of eyepieces to allow you to change the magnification by simply switching eyepieces to obtain a different focal length.
Pay attention to every product’s mount when looking into the best telescope reviews and ratings
Inarguably the most underrated aspect of a telescope, the mount provides the support to keep the instrument stable. Fortunately, plenty of scopes are packaged with mounts or tripods, with some smaller devices often just having a mounting block that enables attachment to a standard photo tripod via a single screw. Bear in mind though that a tripod that works pretty well when taking family photos may not be stable enough for the more sophisticated application in astronomy. Telescope-specific mounts typically have no single-screw attachment blocks and instead, come with stronger and larger plates or rings.
On some mounts, you can swing the device sideways both ways, as well as up and down, much like how you operate a photo tripod. These types are called altitude-azimuth or alt-azimuth mounts. Dobsonians are reflector scopes with a stylish yet simple wooden platform, which is a novelty form of the alt-az mount. A more elaborate system, an equatorial mount is engineered to track stellar motion through rotation on a single axis. Heavier and larger than alt-az mounts, equatorial mounts can only be properly used if they are aligned at the onset to the North Star or Polaris.
Some models feature small mechanized systems or motors to allow them to follow the movement of objects across the sky with keypad button simplicity. The more sophisticated devices are outfitted as Go To scopes that feature a miniature computer integrated into the hand control. The setup process may be too complicated for some users, so Go To scopes are not popular among astronomy enthusiasts. They need the current time, date and location entered so the instrument can find and track any one of the myriads of heavenly objects. Plenty of newer Go To scopes no longer require that extra step prior to use.
Top cheap telescope reviews in 2018
Due to the interesting aspects of astronomy, the market is now crowded with options on telescopes. To help ease the stress when buying this type of instrument, we offer the buying guide above. We have also showcased the best products below for even more shopping guidance.
Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ 21037
Designed with quick and easy tool-free assembly and setup, the Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ 21037 offers a fun and exciting means of exploring the night sky. Boasting erect image optics, this model enables you to view faraway objects easily in their proper orientation instead of upside down. This feature makes this scope suitable for both celestial and terrestrial observations.
You can enjoy smooth tracking of objects as they move across the sky thanks to the instrument’s slow motion controls. This way, you enjoy a more exciting night sky viewing experience suitable for teaching young astronomers about stellar movement or behavior.
Equipped with fully coated glass optical components, this model uses high-transmission coatings to deliver enhanced image clarity and brilliance. The magnifying capacity of every eyepiece is tripled thanks to the 3X Barlow lens.
The accessory tray provides easy access and storage of optical accessories to effectively avoid misplacing your scope essentials.
This telescope is shipped to the buyer virtually ready for use. It comes with a tool-free setup and only needs minor assembly for immediate deployment after it is unpacked.
The erect image optics in this instrument makes it easy to view terrestrial and celestial objects at the upright orientation so you can enjoy comfortable visuals.
The scope features slow-motion controls that facilitate its hassle-free use while allowing the smooth tracking of celestial targets as they are in motion across the expanse of the sky.
Enjoy superior image clarity and brightness thanks to the fully-coated glass optical components that gather plenty of light for exceptionally vivid details due to the high-transmission coatings.
The magnification power of the eyepieces gets amplified by the supplied 3X Barlow lens, which triples the capacity of the optical components.
Not all customers consider the smaller eyepiece to be a critical component in the package but it could serve a purpose for beginner astronomers.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($89.99)
Orion 10034 GoScope II
The Orion 10034 GoScope II is an exceptional grab-and-go day and night refractor telescope best suited for lunar and planetary observations. Kids and families will love the lightweight aluminum altazimuth mount that provides steady support for the device.
The 70mm telescope comes with a rugged, specially designed backpack for ease of storage and transport. Its 400mm focal length is ideal for daytime birdwatching, wildlife and scenery viewing as well as casual planetary and lunar viewing. This model comes with a 5×24 finderscope that simplifies aiming and light gathering to deliver bright and clear images that are a delight to behold.
The 45° correct-image diagonal conveniently provides bright, properly oriented daytime views of objects as well as nighttime views of the planets and the moon.
The supplied Orion Moon Map 260 provides an interesting learning experience about the Moon, showcasing the fantastic lunar features that can be viewed using the scope.
This refractor telescope can be used for day or night observations of terrestrial and celestial objects, respectively, to give up-close views of distant targets.
The telescope comes with a host of add-ons to enhance and increase its functionality and the extras include the specially-designed, rugged backpack to hold everything well, the tripod, a 5×24 finderscope, two 1.25-inch eyepieces, and the Orion Moon Map 260.
The lightweight aluminum tripod provides support to the scope during use and also serves as a steady platform to hold the instrument in place.
The finderscope enables you to aim the scope in the direction of the celestial object you want to view to eliminate the tedious and error-prone guesswork.
The telescope comes with a portable, easily packed design that facilitates problem-free storage and transport.
One customer says the tripod is a bit short for taller people to use and can be tricky to setup for complete stability.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($79.99)
Celestron 21063 AstroMaster
Designed with quick and easy tool-less setup, the Celestron 21063 AstroMaster offers dual purpose functionality, as it can be used both for terrestrial and celestial observations. This model offers tool-free setup thanks to its quick-release dovetail adjustment, so it can be up-and-going in less time.
The permanently mounted red-dot StarPointer finderscope adds point-and-look functionality to the scope by keeping the sky right side up to ensure easy viewing of correctly-oriented images. This adjustable red dot feature enables day or night viewing thanks to its adequately distinct brightness. To ensure accurate and smooth object seeking and pointing, this model comes with pan-handle alt-az control with clutch.
The rugged tripod with 1.25-inch steel tube legs ships to you pre-assembled so you can optimize a rigid and stable platform that supports the instrument for enjoyable viewing.
Get crisp and clear images with the fully coated glass optics of this scope. The deluxe accessory tray provides convenient storage plus easy access to accessories during your viewing adventures.
This is perfect for people who love both astronomy and terrestrial pursuits such as golf, hunting, or birdwatching because it is a dual-purpose instrument that serves as a telescope and spotting scope.
The fully-illustrated quick setup guide makes the telescope superbly easy to put together to deliver out-of-the-box functionality.
The device comes with all the components needed for a successful viewing experience and they include a high-power and a low-power eyepiece, a helpful astronomy software for use with your PC, and an erect image eyepiece.
The sharp optics deliver an erect image for comfortable, distortion-free viewing.
The scope is geared with a top-quality optical system that lets you enjoy great views every night so you can have great visuals of the constellations, nebulae, the Moon, and the planets.
The supplied star pointer may not be that easy to use for people who have no experience with this kind of device.
The manual altazimuth mount is not able to do smooth tracking of moving celestial objects in the sky.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($199.95)
Meade Instruments Infinity 209005
Shipped to you complete with all you need for night sky viewing, the Meade Instruments Infinity 209005 is a 90mm refracting telescope geared for novice astronomers.
This scope features a manual alt-azimuth mount that is height adjustable and has an altitude lock plus slow-motion controls to support the precise tracking of viewed celestial objects as they move across the sky.
This model ships with three eyepieces that deliver the exact magnification you need. Choose from 23x, 66.5x and 95x magnifications. The 2x Barlow lens enhances the magnifying capacity of every included eyepiece for double the light gathering power to make images brighter and more detailed, ensuring a wider range of viewing potentials.
The supplied 90-degree erect image diagonal enables more comfortable use of the scope, which is most essential when you aim the device toward the zenith. Images are corrected both vertically and horizontally by the prism of the diagonal to enable use of the telescope for terrestrial observations as well.
Ideal for the observer who views both astronomical and terrestrial objects, this refractor telescope offers a large-enough aperture of 3.5 inches to gather as much light as possible from targets to deliver crisp and clear images.
The telescope has an aluminum altazimuth mount equipped with slow-motion controls for the convenient tracking of heavenly bodies across the sky as they move from end to end. It is an adjustable component so you can fix it to the correct point on both the vertical and horizontal axes.
You get not one, not two, but three 1.25-inch modified achromat (MA) eyepieces measuring 6.3, 9, and 26 millimeters for a variety of magnification options.
The 90mm aperture of the scope enables the instrument to deliver sharp and bright images when viewing objects on land and in the sky.
Helping you discover more, this telescope provides right side up images thanks to the erect image prism that allows for the comfortable viewing of images.
The manual altazimuth mount has a certain learning curve that might make it more difficult to operate in the two axes, unlike EQ mounts that adjust according to the rotation of the Earth.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($160.44)
Meade Instruments Infinity 209001
Engineered for novice astronomers, the Meade Instruments Infinity 209001 allows users to view the planets, the Moon and spectacular meteor showers.
The height-adjustable manual altazimuth mount enables you to raise and lower the viewing platform using slow-motion controls that also enable precise tracking of viewed objects. This model ships with three eyepieces that provide 30x, 50x, and 150x magnifications, which can also be doubled using the supplied 2x Barlow lens. This enables you to make the most of a wide range of viewing possibilities.
Looking through the instrument is easy and comfortable thanks to the 90° erect-image diagonal that comes in the package. This inclusion makes it easy to aim the scope toward the zenith.
The prism of the diagonal provides horizontal and vertical image correction to enable use of the instrument for terrestrial viewing too. The built-in dew shield helps protect the external surface of the objective lens from condensation while serving to block excess peripheral light from making celestial viewing more difficult.
Pointing this telescope in the direction of the celestial object you want to observe is easy because of the altazimuth mount.
You get three eyepieces with varying magnifications to provide the exact level of viewing you need from low (20mm) to medium (12mm) to high (4mm). What is even more incredible is the supplied 2X Barlow lens that amplifies the magnification of each eyepiece twice so you can see greater detail and have more clarity in images.
The included Astronomical Software and Instructional DVD provide useful information for the various objects you are bound to see in the night sky at any given time of the year.
The 5X24 ViewFinder simplifies the search for your favorite celestial object and also works for targets on land. No need for guesswork or intensive research.
The accessory tray on the mount allows you to store other eyepieces you might have, keeping them handy and within easy reach.
The thumbwheel that holds the scope to the mount tends to come loose from time to time so it is imperative that it gets checked regularly for tightness.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($39.15)