The Best Beginner Telescopes & Binoculars in 2020
If you are looking to buy a telescope, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the options out there. We know the feeling, and we’re here to help! Here at OPT, we are the largest telescope retailer in the world. We know astronomy gear like the back of our hand, and we sell equipment from over 125 different brands. Nothing gets us more excited than helping others enter the hobby of amateur astronomy with their first telescope or pair of binoculars. To help you find the right one for you or your loved one, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite telescopes and binoculars for beginners that are easy-to-use right out of the box.
Is this your first time using a telescope? Check out How to Use a Telescope for Beginners for a visual step by step guide on how to use the most basic types.
Telescopes for Beginners 2020
Giving the gift of a telescope is one that can not only make memories that last a lifetime, but inspire future generations to be more invested in astronomy and science. We’ve broken down this list of beginner telescopes by price and use, with tiers consisting of under $250, under $500, and under $1000.
While most items on this list are mainly intended for the visual observer, we’ve also included a couple of great products for those looking to enter the hobby of astrophotography on a limited budget. No matter which telescope you choose, we can ensure you’ll have memorable experiences at the eyepiece that you can share with your friends and family.
Best Telescopes For Beginners Under $250
Easiest Telescope to Use
Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ | Price: $179.95
Ideal for: Those on a budget but still want a modern, user-friendly telescope
Modernizing the telescope as we know it, Celestron’s StarSense Explorer series uses your smartphone’s camera to figure out where the telescope is pointed at in the sky. It can then take you on an observing tour by directing you where to aim the telescope, preventing some headaches for beginners trying to find faint objects in the night sky. This particular model, the LT 80AZ, is a budget-friendly option, comes with two eyepieces, a Barlow 2x magnifying lens, a red dot finder scope, and other accessories. For an even better observing experience, we recommend purchasing an additional eyepiece. Check out the Ultimate Celestron StarSense Explorer Guide for more information.
Best Portable Telescope
Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p Tabletop Dobsonian | Price: $210
Ideal for: Those who want a highly-portable visual performer without the bells & whistles
Only 14.5 inches long when collapsed, the Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p is a small telescope. Don’t let it size fool you, though — its 4.5 inches (130mm) aperture is the largest on our under-$250 list, leading to the brightest views of faint deep sky objects for this price. With a collapsible truss design, the Heritage 130p compacts down, making it ultra portable and easily storable. Though it lacks some of the bells & whistles of the others and will require occasional collimation (similar to calibration), the Heritage 130p is the best bang-for-your-buck visual performer in this price range. The Heritage 130p comes with two eyepieces and a red dot finder scope. For an even better observing experience, we recommend purchasing an additional eyepiece.
Best Value Telescope with Accessories
Meade StarPro AZ 102mm | Price: $249
Ideal for: Those who want a telescope with all the ideal accessories in one package
The Meade StarPro AZ sits near the top of the $250 and under range in our list, but the added accessories that come with this telescope make it worth its price tag. Unlike most other telescopes in its class, the StarPro AZ 102mm comes with three eyepieces instead of two. The extra eyepiece provides high-power magnification that is ideal for observing distant planets. It also comes with a smartphone adapter as standard, allowing you to easily connect your smartphone camera to the eyepiece and take images of the view.
Best Telescopes For Beginners Under $500
Best Automated Telescope
Celestron NexStar 4SE Go-To Telescope | Price: $499
Ideal for: Those looking for a great visual telescope that can automatically point itself at objects
Celestron’s NexStar SE series telescopes are some of the best-selling telescopes today, and for a good reason. The built-in computer and motors allow the mount to slew (point) to targets and keep them centered for minutes at a time with just the press of a button on the included hand controller. Although this NexStar 4SE model is the smallest telescope in the NexStar line, it features a long focal length that makes it especially great for observing planets and the moon. This telescope is a great choice for those who don’t want the trouble of manually finding objects in the night sky like most other telescopes in this price range.
Best Visual Performer
Sky-Watcher Classic 200p Dobsonian | Price: $445
Ideal for: Tinkerers who are willing to sacrifice automated capability for visual performance
Dobsonians are simple — just aim them up, down, left, and right to find and observe your target. With this all-manual design, Dobsonians can cut manufacturing costs on things like computers and go-to motors and just focus on the most important part of the telescope — the optics. This 8-inch Dobsonian provides the largest aperture in its price range, which translates to excellent views of all objects, including planets, the Moon, and even faint deep sky objects like galaxies and nebulae. By design, Dobsonians will require occasional collimation (like calibration) of the optics, similar to how you need to tune a guitar each time before you play it. Though this is a simple process once you get the hang of it, some may prefer a more hands-off experience. Overall, though, this Sky-Watcher 8-inch Dobsonian will provide the best visual views in its class if you’re willing to sacrifice automation.
Best Beginner Astrophotography Accessory:
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro | Price: $415
Ideal for: Those looking to get into astrophotography who already own a DSLR and lens
Our favorite telescope for astrophotography in the sub-$500 price range isn’t a telescope at all. Instead, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro 2i is a miniature equatorial mount, also known as a star tracker. The purpose of these star trackers is to carry a DSLR camera and lens to accurately track the stars as they move throughout the night. With a camera tracking the night sky, the possibilities for astrophotography open up immensely compared to just using a still tripod. With a modest DSLR and telephoto lens on this star tracker, it becomes possible to take photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula, and other large deep sky objects right from your own backyard. When you’re ready to grow with the hobby, you can even attach a small telescope like the Radian Raptor 61 for improved image quality.
Best Telescopes For Beginners Under $1000
Best Telescope for Astrophotography
Radian Raptor 61 F/4.5 Imaging APO | Price: $999
Ideal for: Those looking for superior astrophotography performance in a compact package
The Radian Raptor 61 is the ultimate portable astrophotography telescope designed specifically for imaging. The Raptor 61 telescope will not only produce stunning images of deep sky objects, but it is also lightweight enough (4 lbs/1.8 kg) that it can be mounted on a star tracker so that you can take it anywhere. Although this telescope does not come with a mount included like most others on this list, its imaging performance makes up for it. Despite its small size, it can be used with cameras as large as full frame so you can expect sharp stars throughout the image.
Best Telescope For Visual Observing
Meade Lightbridge 12-inch Dobsonian | Price: $999
Ideal for: Those looking for the best possible visual performance at this price range
One of the only 12-inch aperture telescopes under the $1000 mark, the Meade 12-inch Lightbridge Dobsonian is a fantastic choice for the serious visual observer. A 12-inch aperture telescope gathers a lot more light than smaller telescopes, allowing fainter objects to be observed, especially under dark skies. The Meade 12-inch Lightbridge is a large and heavy telescope, though, so this telescope will likely need to be disassembled for travel. If you do plan on traveling with it, the Meade Lightbridge is easy to take apart and reassemble for your convenience. This particular model comes with a 26mm 2-inch eyepiece, which is a nice addition so you can get great views out of the box.
Best All-Around Telescope
Celestron NexStar 6SE Go-To Telescope | Price $799
Ideal for: Those looking for a solid telescope that can automatically point itself at objects
We already mentioned that the Celestron NexStar series is one of the best selling telescope series of all time and for a good reason. The NexStar 6SE is no exception. By using a computerized go-to mount, it’s possible to have the telescope find any object you want to look at and stay locked on for long periods of time. The NexStar 6SE’s long focal length makes it an excellent choice for visual observing, particularly of the planets and the moon. With the success of the NexStar series and all of the included accessories to get you started, this telescope will provide many nights of observing entertainment.
Binoculars as Stargazing Tools
Binoculars can be fantastic starting points for anyone looking to observe the cosmos. Although they usually lack on the magnification front, binoculars are smaller, more portable, quicker to set up, and more versatile than most telescopes.
What Can You See With Binoculars
You might be surprised to find out that with a good pair of binoculars, you can observe craters on the Moon, Jupiter and its four main moons, Saturn and its rings, star clusters, comets, and even some of the brighter nebulae and galaxies. Unlike some telescopes, binoculars are also great for observing daytime terrestrial objects like wildlife and sporting events. Below, we dive into a couple of our favorite pairs of binoculars that will give great views of the cosmos and be more portable than a telescope.
The Best Beginner Binoculars 2020
Best all-purpose Binoculars
Celestron 8 x 56 SkyMaster DX Binoculars | Price: $215.99
Ideal for: High-quality optics that can be handheld in a budget-friendly package
The Celestron 8×56 SkyMaster DX Binoculars are one of our best-selling pairs of binoculars. These binoculars use high-quality components like BaK-4 prisms for sharper views, nitrogen-purged optics for better waterproofing, and a rugged construction. At just over 2 pounds, they are still comfortable enough to be handheld for short periods while still providing excellent views, but can also be attached to a tripod for longer observing sessions. They also feature a long eye relief, which is ideal for those who wear eyeglasses. These binoculars come with a neck strap, carry case, a cleaning lens cloth, and other accessories.
Best budget Binoculars
Celestron Outland X 8 x 42 Binoculars | Price: $72.64
Ideal for: Those looking to keep the budget under $100 but still get great binoculars
The Celestron Outland X 8×42 Binoculars are our favorite pick for those looking to keep the budget under $100. Don’t be fooled by the price, though. Despite the low cost, these binoculars are still great optical performers and are waterproof, fog-proof, and rubber-covered for rugged use. Weighing just over a pound, this pair of binoculars will be perfect for kids and travelers who need a lightweight and portable solution. As usual with Celestron binoculars, this pair comes with a neck strap, carry case, a cleaning lens cloth, and other accessories.
What do you plan on observing or imaging first? Let us know below. Clear skies!