Best Cheap Telescopes 2020 (Under $200 / $500)

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Used by amateurs and professionals, the best telescopes under $200 / $500 represent a unique learning opportunity. They lay the basis for further telescope knowledge. Used by kids, astronomy students as well as by adults, these telescopes are capable of offering some of the best images with planets such as Venus or Jupiter or even with other galaxies.

Features to Consider in Good Telescopes

Making the right choice is always based on the right information in the telescopes world. Most users have the freedom of choosing their products within the budget which can cover a wide spectrum of features. For example, magnification can be considerably different from one case to another.

Aperture

Aperture refers to the ability of the optics to gather light as well as to their ability to produce sharp images. In short, the bigger the aperture the better the telescope is. Those who want to deal with demanding low light conditions need to choose their telescopes based on the good aperture.

Magnification

Magnification is important, but it might not be as high on the list of priorities as aperture. Reduced magnification power is generally preferred for translucent objects which can be galaxies. Maximum magnification can be better for bright objects, such as the Moon or other planets.

Types of telescopes

Refractors, reflectors, and catadioptrics are the main types of telescopes. Most of them have a length at least 8 times longer than their aperture and they all have their unique advantages.

Refractors

A large lens in front of the main eyepiece in the back characterizes these telescopes. The main lens forms the image in the back. Their result is sharp images with impressive contrast and this is why they can be used for commercial purposes.

Reflectors

Also called the Newtonian reflector, these telescopes use a mirror to gather light. With these designs, the primary mirror sits at the end of the telescope. The light then travels to the top mirror which then deflects it to the eyepiece.

Catadioptric

These types of telescopes combine the lens of the refractor telescopes with the mirrors of the reflector telescopes. In a way, they combine the best principles from both worlds. One considerable advantage of these telescopes is their compact size.

Best Cheap Telescopes 2020 (Under $200)

Those on a budget can find impressive telescopes which get their foot in the astronomy door. The following telescopes are made to deliver good quality images, even if they need small tweaks to see the best results.

1. Celestron – PowerSeeker 127EQ Telescope

Why we like it
With simple collimation, this telescope can rise above its expectations and observe the moon, Saturn or Jupiter.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
Celestron’s telescope is one of the most popular designs in its cheap range. It offers sufficient features to see interesting details such as the two stripes on Jupiter. Even beyond Orion’s nebula, it can offer decent clarity, especially considering its low price range.

Starting with its design out of the box, the telescope needs a bit of help finding balance, as it won’t sit steadily on the tripod. This can easily be done with balanced counterweights. Given its size, it’s only normal to try and find the best balance on the tripod. For this purpose, the manual GE (German Equatorial) mount proves to be the best choice. With large slow-motion control knobs, users can find the right balance and even smoothly follow the objects on the nighttime sky.

The 127 EQ has the largest aperture (127mm) from the PowerSeeker line. But it is also portable, even if not to the extent of its 60 EQ smaller brother. This being said, users can simply carry it to any location which favors nighttime observation.

Convenient features
The telescope comes with 2 eyepieces of 20mm and 4mm. Both are removable and they can be upgraded in the future. The 3X Barlow lens triples the power of these eyepieces. In theory and practice, this means that users have a wider range of magnification to see a wide range of objects in the sky. From 150X magnification to 450X magnification, the telescope manages to offer a deeper versatility than many would expect from such an affordable design.

The fully coated glass of the cheap telescope recommends it for various needs as a result. It can work for terrestrial observation as it can also work for astronomical use. With reliable brightness and clarity, the telescope can be one of the options beginners consider for their newly-found hobby. This can be one of the reasons the manufacturer sends the telescope pre-assembled as it is ready to use out of the box.

Verdict
After short collimation, the telescope can be a tool to use for years to come on various objects based on its long focal range.

Pros
  • Needs no tools for assembly
  • Includes 3 eyepieces
  • Large magnification range
  • Supports collimation and weight balancing
Cons
  • Not stable on the tripod out of the box

2. Celestron – 70mm Travel Scope

Why we like it
Made to be portable, the telescope sustains terrestrial use and moon observation.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
The relatively compact design of the telescope is what gives sit such a desirable profile. Celestron offers the 70mm telescope at a highly affordable rate and those seeking portability have it high on the desirables list. Made to fit a backpack, this telescope travels with the user.

On occasion, users can’t rely on a telescope when living in busy cities. But taking the telescope out in open space without pollution is what makes the difference. The 70mm Travel Scope is worth the purchase in this case. It mounts in minutes and unlike other larger telescopes, it suits the busy traveler.

At 4.2 lbs, the telescope is the heaviest of the Travel Scope family at Celestron. But it is still considerably lighter than many others given its compact optics. With higher 40X magnification, it is also the one which goes furthest from its family.

Convenient features
At f5.7, the telescope gathers the most light out of all the Travel Scope releases. It is why many users see the moon and even further. Looking at Jupiter’s natural satellites or Venus is possible with this compact design. Even if it also supports terrestrial use, the telescope may still be able to zoom in on most planets of the solar system.

With 10mm and 20mm eyepieces, the telescope has plenty of versatility. It reaches a total focal length of 400mm which means it will be capable to look for details in the planets, even if not necessarily the sharpest in its class.

Verdict
This compact design is perfect for beginners and kids, offering hard to match portability.

Pros
  • Includes 2 eyepieces
  • Can be used for terrestrial observation
  • Includes a soft carry bag
  • Gives access to astronomy software
Cons
  • Poor tripod stability

3. ToyerBee Telescope 76mm

Why we like it
The refractor telescope is one of the highly-rated options in the affordable class.

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Design features
Made both for kids and adults, this telescope stands out with its simple use. Arriving in a box, it only takes up to half an hour to fully assemble it, following the manufacturer’s instructions. There’s plenty of room for adjustability as the telescope allows users to take full advantage of its 3 eyepieces. At 12.5mm, 10mm, and 20mm, the telescope stands out with its adjustability.

With a focal length of 700mm, the telescope can be used by kids, students, and adults. With 2 Barlow lens pieces, it offers plenty of magnification freedom and adjustability for any type of astronomy use.

Convenient features
The telescope is among the leading options for out of the box performance. It even sits well on the tripod, which is a major advantage compared to many other alternatives. The vertical fine adjustment rod allows the telescope to be installed in various positions.

With the help of 3 eyepieces and 2 Barlow lenses, the telescope is known for its versatility. However, it does has two small drawbacks. There’s no movement knob to adjust the telescope, which means users have to grab it and risk accidents. Secondly, the focus adjustment screw needs to be fine-tuned for a smoother experience.

Verdict
Offering straightforward installation, the telescope is great for beginners and hobbyists not looking to invest in additional accessories such as Barlow lenses.

Pros
  • Includes 3 versatile eyepieces
  • Made with 2 Barlow lenses
  • Includes fast installation instructions
  • Sits well on the tripod
Cons
  • Focus adjustment system needs to be smoother

4. Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope

Why we like it
As the little brother of the XT8, this reflector telescope is one of the first to offer f4 aperture at an affordable price.

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Design features
The ability to efficiently gather light has been a serious object for many lens manufacturers. In the telescope world, this ability has seen considerable improvements. However, it’s rarely the case to see a good f4 aperture telescope at an affordable price. Orion managed to create such as telescope with the 4.5 Astro Reflector.

As a result, the manufacturer offers it with no extras to keep the price further down or with a Barlow lens for those willing to spend a bit more. A moon filter is also added to a special deal. It can help new users see better details on the surface of the moon.

Made with Explorer II and Kellner telescope eyepieces, the reflector is ready for use out of the box or after collimation. The Starry Night software can help adjust it for the best performance. Beginners also need to know that even if the telescope gathers more light than others, it still needs to be used in an area with low pollution for the best visibility.

Convenient features
The convenience of this high capacity telescope is that it offers good magnification based on the proper aperture. This is why users can go beyond the Moon. They can see Jupiter’s orbiters as well as star clusters in detail.

Some photographs can be taken with this telescope as well. While they won’t win any photography prizes, they are sufficient for the average user. This is why the telescope’s balance performance works well for most users, especially when long exposure photography is not a priority. The 2 Barlow lenses can be used in tandem, one for finding planets and the other to take closer looks and the occasional smartphone photography.

Verdict
Easy to use out of the box, the telescope is an option for low aperture at an affordable rate.

Pros
  • Sold with or without Barlow lenses
  • Based on f4 aperture
  • Ships pre-assembled
  • Made with borosilicate glass
Cons
  • Needs better additional lenses

5. Celestron PowerSeeker 50 AZ Refractor Telescope

Why we like it
Made for beginners, this telescope features a full-height tripod and included accessories.

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Design features
As one of the simplest beginners’ telescopes to rely on, the telescope is a great gift idea for many users. With 50mm aperture and 600mm focal length, the telescope is suitable for terrestrial and astronomy use. It is a good gift idea or an inspired affordable choice for beginners.

At 5 lbs, it is the heaviest PowerSeekeer. But users can still easily carry it around or take it out into nature for the best visibility. Its 118X magnification makes the telescope reliable in a range of situations, which include observing the furthest planets.

Convenient features
The convenience of this telescope lies in its size. Unlike many others of its class, it is lightweight and for this price, users would struggle to find a better alternative. This being said, its low weight is also a weakness, especially when locking in on planets. Since it is so easy to move, it often loses its orientation quickly and users need to look for planets and starts from scratch again.

Other possible drawbacks come with the succinct instructions. While they’re sufficient for those who’ve used a telescope before, beginners find that instructions leave many things up to the imagination. Apart from these two drawbacks, the telescope offers value for what can be considered as the cheapest option to get into an inspiring hobby.

Verdict
Made with low weight, this telescope lays the foundations of good optics for astronomy beginners and kids.

Pros
  • Supports 600mm focal length
  • Magnification up to 150X
  • Based on real refractor principles
  • Included software for collimation
Cons
  • Very succinct instructions manual

Best Cheap Telescopes 2020 (Under $500)

Spending a bit more on a cheap telescope comes with better lenses. As a result of the improved optics choices, the clarity and the details are considerably improved. Here are the top telescopes which offer an improvement over the entry-level designs.

1. Gskyer Telescope, 600x90mm AZ Astronomical Refractor Telescope

Why we like it
Supporting different viewing positions, the telescope comes with a sturdy tripod, suitable for long-distance observation.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
The design of the telescope is an improvement over many entry-level alternatives. Made with an aluminum optical tube, it is one of the best for durability. Even the tube ring is considered sturdier by many users. An optical coating is also applied with success on the glass as it offers detailed images with most observations.

Even the tripod is seen as considerably sturdier than its alternatives. Its steel construction recommends it for better stability. Even compared to aluminum Gskyer alternatives, the telescope has some of the best results in terms of stability. From 31 inches to 49 inches, the tripod remains stable and reliable even in windy conditions.

Convenient features
3 Barlow lenses and 3 eyepieces are included in the pack. Rare eyepieces such as the 11mm make this telescope an interesting choice for beginners. Of course, more popular 10mm and 20mm alternatives feel familiar to many users.

With an included smartphone adapter and wireless remote control, the telescope offers one of the best solutions for those seeking to immortalize their favorite observations. As with the rest of the telescope, no tools are needed to install the adapter or the smartphone.

Verdict
With a high number of accessories, sturdy steel, and aluminum construction, the telescope feels professional and it is made for enthusiasts.

Pros
  • Includes 10mm, 11mm and 20mm eyepieces
  • Comes with 3 Barlow lenses
  • Made with an aluminum alloy tube
  • Included heavy steel tripod
Cons
  • Uncomfortable to use when tilted up

2. Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope

Why we like it
The computerized telescope offers users the ability to slew automatically to over 4.000 objects.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
Those new to astronomy or those who want to use a telescope for learning purpose can consider this computerized design. Its main advantage is that it manages to slew directly to any of its 4.000 objects. This includes 600 galaxies and over 300-star clusters.

Being a computerized design, it needs batteries to perform. However, users should always ensure they’re doing their best to stock on extra batteries, as the 8 AA batteries run out fast. But the good news is that the Star Locating Telescope is still easy to carry. Users need to take it to the best locations to ensure they get the best-unobstructed views.

Convenient features
Being the largest of the NexStar series, the reflector is recommended for its light-gathering abilities. At f5, it works well with all types of stars, planets, and galaxies and the coating of the lens improves the contrast on most objects very well.

One of the possible drawbacks, especially when used by kids, is the actual weight of the telescope. At 18lbs, maneuvering it is not too easy. However, its advantage is that it sits on a steel tripod way better than most alternatives.

Verdict
This release is mainly recommended for learning purposes with its thousands of stored object locations.

Pros
  • Includes over 4.000 objects
  • Constant f5 aperture
  • Focal length up to 650mm
  • Newtonian reflector design
Cons
  • One of the high weight Celestron designs

3. Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Why we like it
This qualitative telescope fits the budget and represents a suitable design for clear images of the planets.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
Available as a telescope only or as a kit with eyepieces, a moon filter, and other accessories, it is an option to consider for all types of users. Its price recommends it for beginners but its performance can see it as a suitable option for all types of users.

Inside the pack, users find 1.25in Sirius Plossl eyepiece of 20mm and one of 10mm. A 6X30 finder scope is included as well. All of these accessories may need collimation. But one of the most interesting design characteristics is given by the manual slow-motion tracking, perfect for various celestial objects.

Convenient features
At f5, this telescope is among the options to consider to view the moon, nebulas and star clusters. As a learning tool for kids, it can even be a bit too much. However, it’s reassuring to know it’s aluminum tripod is height adjustable to suit the entire family.

At 650mm, the telescope has the highest useful magnification of 260x. But the most convenient feature of the EQ design is that it only requires users to move it in one direction to counter the Earth’s movement when tracking an object. This can be one of the characteristics highly appreciated with long exposure astrophotography.

Verdict
Suitable for all users, this telescope can be used by beginners or by astrophotographers.

Pros
  • Available with multiple accessories
  • EQ movement for astrophotography
  • 260X useful magnification
  • Made with an aluminum tripod
Cons
  • Requires disassembly for transportation

4. Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Why we like it
Suitable for clear images without distortion, this telescope mounts directly on tables and desks.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
There are many unique elements about the telescope which make it desirable to many users. For example, it uses a parabolic mirror. This means it doesn’t suffer from chromatic aberration. Designed with a marked-center primary mirror, this telescope comes with easy collimation. For the best results, it does need collimation.

The 2 eyepieces are also designed to last. Furthermore, they can be based on the red to object finder which makes the entire experience simpler and recommends the telescope for beginners. The design of the telescope is also quite compact. It fits in cars and this means it can be taken to parks for the best views.

Convenient features
Being made with f5 aperture, the telescope is very bright. But this also means users should consider a filter when observing the Moon. With short length eyepieces, it offers clear and detailed results. A filter which reduced transition by up to 15% can be a good addition.

With a 13% filter, the telescope is best for photography. A good tip is to pair it with Orion’s own 13% Moon filter which is known to offer good results on large aperture telescopes. It keeps the color profile neutral, ensuring the telescope reaches its full potential.

Verdict
Suitable for learning purposes, this telescope is known for easy collimation and quick object localization.

Pros
  • Suitable for detailed observation
  • Reduced chromatic aberration
  • Suitable for astrophotography
  • Compact size fits car trunks
Cons
  • No collimation instructions

5. Orion AstroView 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Why we like it
Based on an EQ mount, the telescope is made for slow-motion object tracking.

Editor’s Rating:

Design features
Using reliable materials, the qualitative telescope is made to improve object tracking, based on its EQ design. Unlike many others in its class, it allows slow-motion tracking. This design favors long exposure photography.

Its optics allow some of the sharpest images of the Moon and planets. Even going closer to details such as the Crater Ptolemaeus is possible. Those into photography can easily consider it as an upgrade from entry-level telescopes or binoculars.

Convenient features
With 2 eyepieces the telescope can be versatile. All collimation is done easily. With these eyepieces, users get one 25mm design for extra reach and a popular 10mm addition.

The most convenient feature of the telescope is the Equatorial mount itself. With manual object tracking, it allows users to get a better perspective on how planets and stars moving. However, some still prefer using binoculars first.

Verdict
The Equatorial mount tracking is what makes this far-reaching telescope a better option than many more expensive alternatives.

Pros
  • Includes a 25mm and a 10mm eyepiece
  • Based on an Equatorial mount
  • Suitable for slow-motion tracking
  • Great gift idea for astrophotography fans
Cons
  • Some wobble on the EQ mount

FAQ

What is the best telescope for viewing planets?

Some of the best telescopes are only made for viewing planets. Terrestrial observation telescopes can also be useful at observing planets.

Which telescope is best for astrophotography?

Astrophotography has its benefits and requirements. It has both an educational purpose and an artistic purpose. Those seeking the best results in photography will need to purchase smartphone or camera telescope adapters.

Can I install a telescope myself?

Installing a telescope should not take more than half an hour. Some of them can be installed even quicker. A few tools can also be required for this reason and some brands don’t offer them in the pack. However, once a telescope is installed, it will be easier to move around as it will only be up to the user to find the right transportation method which can require some disassembly.

What is a Barlow lens?

Named after Peter Barlow, these lenses are added to a telescope to increase focal length. With some telescopes, it can increase focal length 3 times.

What does EQ stand for?

Equatorial EQ and alt-azimuth AZ mounts are popular designs which hold telescopes. Users can consider EQ mounts for their freedom of movement, even when only needing slow-motion movement.

Do I need a Moon filter?

Moon filters represent a great addition to any telescope. Such a filter improves contrast and it offers one of the best solutions to deal with extra glow. 13% filters are popular for the home user, at the moment.

Guide to Buying the Best Cheap Telescopes

Finding the best telescopes is not easy. With so many options at hand, it’s easy to get confused. At the same time, simply reading about some of the problems of these telescopes such as with collimation can put off many potential new users. However, one of the distinct advantages of modern telescopes is that they can be improved further and with the right adjustments, they can be used for years to come.

Lens and collimation

Focal length can be an indicator of the magnification capacity of the lens. From 50mm upwards, these lenses are made to offer considerable magnification, up to a few hundred times. But the magnification capacity of the lens is not the sole characteristic to look at. The aperture or the amount of light it can gather is also important for lenses. The more light it gathers, the better the lens is in difficult conditions. However, too much light can be just as disturbing as too little light. This is why using a filter proves to be a good idea with lenses which capturer a lot of light.

Collimation is needed with most lenses. It allows the user to find the right angle in which the lenses are sharp and in which the objects looked at can be seen in detail. There are a few popular collimation methods but not all of them as reliable as many would believe.

However, collimation instructions have been included with most cheap telescopes. This means that even adjusting the telescope angle is not complicated and users can do this at home, with minimum research. Lens quality is also considerably different from one telescope to another.

Focal length can also be important in astrophotography. Those seeking to take photos of the furthest stars, galaxies, and planets need the extra reach. Those only seeking to take a few more terrestrial photos of animals do not need lenses with such reach.

Tripod types and limitations

Tripods are often seen as an accessory for telescopes. They can be replaced at any time. However, most cheap tripods considerably reduce the overall experience with a telescope. For some users, it is not just about the optics but on actually how it is used.

Plastic telescopes have real problems to sit straight. Even slightly touching the telescope can see it tumbling to the ground. However, one of the biggest problems when it comes to the overall versatility of a telescope is with the height adjustability range of the tripod. Many kids’ tripods can’t be considered as versatile, as they don’t have sufficient height adjustability. At the same time, other tripods have the height but they lack the stability.
Materials generally vary from plastics, aluminum, and steel with tripods. It is not hard to see that steel designs are stable ones. Since wind speed can vary considerably, it is a good idea to purchase a steel tripod for some of the long focal range telescopes which are the largest.

Underlining their importance, tripods also need to be versatile. They should be the only part of a telescope which is completely folded for storage. A collapsing tripod can easily be placed in the car’s trunk. Other telescopes come with no tripods at all. Those with a flat support base are meant to be placed on tables. This is why there are a few alternatives to consider with each type of height-adjustable tripod and its alternatives.

Smartphone holders

Smartphone holders are truly versatile. They can be installed on most telescopes and some already include them in the pack. Some of them can be adapted for scientific purposes. They can work with astronomy binoculars, telescopes, spotting scopes as well as with microscopes. This is the main reason why they can be as good as many expect in terms of capturing unique moments and objects.

Since they can fit almost all smartphones on the market, their value is considerably higher than many would expect. It is often worth purchasing a telescope with a smartphone adapter to capture the different phases of the Moon, for example.

At the moment, only a handful of telescope manufacturers offer smartphone holders as standard. But users often need to share whatever they find and capture and this is the main reason why such an accessory needs to be a standard offering in the future.

Computerized telescopes and their advantages

Computerized telescopes might be more expensive than non-computerized releases. However, they have the main advantage of having pre-stored locations for multiple celestial objects, planets or stars. The debated between the computerized and the analog version of telescopes seems to be never-ending.

One of the methods to establish if a computerized telescope is truly needed is simply to meditate on the type of use the optics are going to get. Those who want to take thousands of pictures might not feel motivated to look for the planets themselves. On the other hand, those enjoying the chase can find plenty of versatile solutions with no computerized processors.

As seen with the examples above, some computerized telescopes can work with thousands of objects and saved locations. This is why learning about them or photographing them is considerably easier, based on the short time needed to find these objects.

Portability considerations

Not all telescopes of the moment are portable. Some have carrying holes in them while others are simple tools which are made to last for years only in a carry bag. This is important and the versatility of their design dictates the freedom of movement they give to the user.

One of the simplest solutions to find the best design is to consider backpacks and dedicated carry bags. Once out of busy cities, telescopes enter their natural habitat, free of pollution. It is in this habitat that they offer the clearest images. Furthermore, they are also among the products which do not confine learning to the office.

Filters and accessories

Various filters are available for telescopes. From UV filters to specialized Moon filters, they deal with issues such as glare. Some of the best filters are the ones which offer simple installation and the ability to see better quality images.

Contrast and details can be considerably improved with better filters. Most importantly, they can also deal with shiny objects such as the moon or various stars, reducing the luminosity to a degree that the human eye cans start comprehending details.

Final considerations

Some of the best cheap telescopes combine various construction principles. Some of them are only based on lenses and they are reliable, even when made in the premium range for commercial purposes. Other telescopes are made with mirrors, deflecting light using the same principles as those outlined by Newton.

Regardless of the chosen type of telescope, it is advisable to make the most of their lenses and optics and start to learn more about how to use them properly. Learning about the Solar system, celestial objects, planets, and stars is also necessary. The more a user knows about astronomy, the more importance the telescope gets.

Those planning to test out the telescope for other purposes can do so freely. Some of the compact telescopes above are also used for terrestrial observation. However, since all of them come with large tripods, observing the sky is worth the investment. From the simple height adjustable telescopes to the practical table-mount telescopes, there are plenty of options to consider. However, it can only be an issue of the user’s height in many situations, especially for kids.

Before using any telescope for the first time and even before assembly, it’s fully recommended to read the product’s instructions. Some of them might even outline specific information on updates. Parts such as the eyepieces can be updated to see the best results. Other accessories such as the tripod can also be updated. Some users might also want to add a camera mount to capture impressive moments. All this information should be available through the user’s manual.