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You may think that you need to spend a lot to get a telescope that can unlock the natural beauty of the night sky. However, there are plenty of companies out there that make great equipment available at a low price.
Of course, shopping online for budget items can be frustrating. It can be hard to tell if you’re really getting a good product or getting ripped off.
Our reviews are designed to help with the shopping experience. We cover each model, warts and all, so you can be certain what you’d get before you buy. See the buyer’s guide to give you a leg up on the information you’ll need to get a telescope that you’ll use for a long time.
|Best Overall||Gskyer AZ90600||
|Best Value||Orion StarBlast||
|Best Value||Celestron Travel Telescope||
The Gskyer Telescope (AZ90600) is great for beginners or others who want an inexpensive telescope with good enough performance to get a feel for astronomy. It has a large, 90-millimeter lens, which lets in a lot of light, and is large enough to let you view distant planets and fine detail on the moon with the right eyepieces. Speaking of eyepieces, this model includes three of them, providing 24x, 60x, and 120x magnification, as well as a 3x Barlow lens that can be used in conjunction with the other eyepieces to triple the magnification.
It also comes with a smartphone adapter, which allows you to use the phone as a screen, or as a camera to take great pictures. Plus, this model is extremely easy to assemble and doesn’t require any calibration. If you’re a telescope beginner, you won’t have to worry about any tricky steps or complicated tests. The tripod sometimes shifts, even after it’s locked down, so it could be better, but that’s our only complaint. Overall, this is the best affordable telescope that provides value far above what you can get with other sets for the price.
The Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope is another good choice for beginning astronomers. It’s extremely compact and comes with a base, so it’s easy to take on the go. It also has a massive aperture that’s 4.5 inches across. That’s nearly 115 millimeters across and allows for very crisp, bright images. Also included is a high-quality spotting scope that makes it easy to find the sections of the sky or the area of the moon on which you want to focus.
What a lot of people will love most, however, is the fact that it comes pre-assembled. While you may still have to collimate it, since it’s a reflector telescope, the fact that you don’t have to put anything else together means you can get started faster. The only issue is that it comes with 17mm and 6mm eyepieces, which are at best okay. The good news is that you can buy better 1.25-inch eyepieces to expand what you can see in the night sky. For the price, it’s not a bad deal, but it would need better eyepieces to take the top spot on our list.
Celestron makes great telescopes, and that includes the Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope. What sets this kit apart is that it’s designed for travel. There’s an expandable tripod that folds down small for travel, and a backpack that’s designed to safely carry the telescope and the tripod. If you’re looking for a telescope to take on camping trips or other nighttime excursions, you’ll love what this one provides. It includes a large 70-millimeter lens, which is big enough to make out detail on the moon and some of the planets in our solar system.
Plus, it comes with 10mm and 20mm lenses, giving you more options for viewing the night sky. Since this kit costs less than half of what our top two models cost, it earns the title of “best value for the money” on our list. Unfortunately, the tripod isn’t always very stable, but the good news is that you can upgrade to a better one on the aftermarket, and still save money with this model. Overall, this is a great telescope, and its portability and low price take it to the next level making it the best cheap telescope on our list.
Related reads: how does Celestron compare to Meade telescopes?
The Emarth Telescope (TELE-01) is another very portable telescope. It has a tripod and a carrying case, though neither is as nice as the equivalent items in the previous set. However, this model comes with a 70-millimeter lens, which is just as large as the one found on the previous telescope. It will let in plenty of light, and allow for truly stellar images of the moon. This model is very easy to assemble, and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to set up. It also comes with two eyepieces, a 10mm and a 25mm, which are slightly better than most eyepieces included at this price point.
Unfortunately, the directions are poor. While assembly is straightforward for most, if you do something wrong, it can quickly spiral out of control. It’s nice to get directions that help you make the most of your telescope, and this one provides nothing in that regard. Ultimately, there’s still enough upside to this model to make it a worthy buy, especially if you already have some experience with telescopes. Still, you’ll be able to get better value for the price with a different one.
The TELMU 70mm Aperture Refracting Telescope is a budget entry that tries to set itself apart with the inclusion of a phone adapter. With this, you’ll be able to use your phone as a viewing screen with your telescope or use it to take incredible photographs. It also comes with a backpack that makes it easy to transport this telescope and the included tripod. This set includes two eyepieces. The 16x and 67x eyepieces have greater magnification than many eyepieces that ship with telescopes at this price point, which makes for some excellent value.
However, you should be aware of this model’s flaws. The shaky tripod makes it hard to dial in on your target in the night sky and get good images. It’s also tricky to assemble, and the instructions aren’t written well. Those flaws combine to create a situation in which most people won’t enjoy using this telescope. If you don’t enjoy using it, it provides poor overall value, regardless of the accessories and the price. However, if you’re willing to invest in a better tripod, the telescope works very well.
As far as budget telescopes go, the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ Telescope has one of the highest theoretical ceilings. It has a massive, 127-millimeter aperture, which lets you make out other planets in our solar system with surprising detail. It also comes with a huge, 1000-millimeter focal length, so you can get a higher maximum level of magnification than you could with most other telescopes on our list. Even better, there are two eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens, so you can get anywhere from 150x to 450x magnification. That’s enough to make out fine detail on planets such as Jupiter or Saturn.
Unfortunately, this telescope suffers from the same issues that plague other models on our list. The inexpensive, shaky tripod is a problem, and it can be particularly troublesome at higher levels of magnification. It is a reflector telescope, so it needs to be collimated, and that process isn’t always easy. While this model does so many things right, those problems are large enough to hurt its value. If you’re willing to spend extra on a better tripod, you can transform this set into a serviceable telescope.
The EXPLORE FIRSTLIGHT 114mm Telescope should be a high-quality purchase, given that it comes in at a higher price point than many other telescopes here. However, it has some shortcomings that mean many people won’t get enough value out of it to justify the price. On the plus side, it comes with one of the best tripods on our list. It’s significantly more stable and leads to easier image acquisition. The 114-millimeter lens is also one of the larger ones available at this price point, and it means you’ll be able to make out fine detail on the moon and get good images of other planets in our solar system.
However, it only comes with one eyepiece. For the price, we’d expect there to be at least two. It also has a 500-millimeter focal length, which is decent, but on the short side for a reflector telescope. That means you’ll be limited in your maximum magnification if you do choose to buy a better eyepiece. It’s also not very portable. This is basically a good telescope, but its value isn’t good enough to make most people happy with the price.
Sometimes, you think you can get a deal by buying the lowest-priced model out there, but you should hesitate before purchasing the Meade Instruments Infinity 50mm AZ Refractor Telescope. The good news is that it’s a very affordable telescope. Despite that low price, it comes with three different eyepieces, which allow a wide range of viewing experiences. However, the quality of your image will always be limited, since it only has a 50mm lens. To put that in perspective, there are binoculars with lenses that size.
It also has the shaky tripod problems that plague many budget telescopes. It’s hard to make the most of your telescope when you can’t keep it consistently focused on a single spot. Even worse, it’s extremely easy to knock the spotting scope out of alignment, and it’s tricky to get it back into alignment. That can make it hard to find objects in the night sky. Given these serious flaws, many people won’t be satisfied with this one, despite the low price.
When buying a telescope, focus on the features that you value the most. If there are particular objects you want to be sure to see, you can use magnification as a place to start figuring out which telescopes could serve you well.
If you’re mostly interested in seeing the moon as a whole, 50x magnification will serve you well. However, the moon is close enough that it can tolerate magnifications of 150x or higher, which lets you make out extremely good detail.
If you’re interested in viewing Saturn and Jupiter and making out details such as rings and moons, you’ll likely want a telescope and eyepiece that provide you with 100x to 150x magnification.
Nebula viewing generally starts becoming possible at 50x. Certain nebulas can be viewed at 100x or higher, but the majority are best viewed at magnifications lower than that.
Magnification is equal to the focal length of the telescope divided by the focal length of the eyepiece. Consequently, using the same eyepiece on different telescopes will result in different magnifications.
Once you know what you want to see, you can use information about the focal lengths of the telescope and eyepieces to determine if they’ll live up to your expectations about getting the best affordable telescope. Once you’ve limited your search to telescopes with the appropriate magnification, you’ll be able to select one based on other criteria that more specifically fit your situation, such as portability or smartphone adapters.
The Gskyer Telescope (AZ90600) is a model people will fall in love with due to its large aperture, three eyepieces, and included smartphone adapter and is the best budget telescope we have reviewed. The Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope has a very large aperture and a small frame. It comes pre-assembled, but the poor eyepieces keep it out of the top spot. Third place goes to the Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope, which is very portable and comes with a large lens and two eyepieces. Since you can get it for a very low price, it’s the best overall value for the money on this list.
The Emarth Telescope (TELE-01) is also very portable, and comes with two eyepieces, though its poor instructions keep it from breaking into the top three. In fifth is the TELMU 70mm Aperture Refracting Telescope. It has a great phone adapter and travel accessories, but the shaky tripod and tricky assembly hurt its value. The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ Telescope has great potential, with its long focal length and very large aperture, but its tricky collimation and shaky tripod mean it doesn’t reach that potential.
The seventh-place belongs to the EXPLORE FIRSTLIGHT 114mm Telescope. It has a great tripod and a large lens, though its inclusion of only one eyepiece and lack of portability means it’s not the right choice for everyone. The last place is taken by the Meade Instruments Infinity 50mm AZ Refractor Telescope, which is inexpensive but has a lot of problems that will make users regret their purchase.
We hope our buyer’s guide and reviews have helped you better understand budget telescopes and have led you to one that will help you unlock the mysteries of the universe. We wish you good luck with finding the best budget telescope for your needs!
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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