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Best Telescopes for Beginners 2020 – Reviews & Guide

Last Updated on August 15, 2020

a starter telescope

When shopping for your first telescope, you will find that some of them come in kits complete with everything you need to get started, and others don’t. Whether you purchase a kit or an individual telescope, be sure that the one you pick has high-quality optics and a smooth and steady mount.

We reviewed many different telescopes for beginners and put together a list of our top seven picks. Hopefully, you’ll find this information helpful in narrowing down the options to find the telescope that’s right for you.

A Comparison of the Winners in 2020:

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Celestron AstroMaster Celestron AstroMaster
  • Two eyepieces
  • Adjustable steel tripod
  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Second place
    Orion SpaceProbe Equatorial Orion SpaceProbe Equatorial
  • 1-inch aperture
  • Easy portability
  • 6 x 30 finderscope
  • Best Value
    Third place
    Meade Infinity Az Meade Infinity Az
  • 2x Barlow lens
  • Slow-motion control rod
  • Rack-and-pinion focuser
  • Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro
  • Compact design
  • With tabletop base
  • Comes pre-assembled
  • Gskyer Beginner Telescope Kit Gskyer Beginner Telescope Kit
  • 5×24 finderscope
  • Backpack for easy carrying
  • Two optimal magnification eyepieces
  • The 7 Best Beginner Telescopes:

    1. Celestron AstroMaster Reflector Telescope – Best Overall

    Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130 EQ Reflector Telescope

    The Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130 EQ Reflector Telescope is great for beginners, because it’s quick and easy to set up. It has a permanently mounted finderscope to help you locate the specific object you’re looking for. It also has two eyepieces with two sizes of magnification. One has 33x magnification, while the other has 65x magnification. These eyepieces are okay for beginners, but they’re not the best quality, so you don’t get the clearest view. If you want a better view, you’ll need to purchase other, better quality eyepieces.

    This telescope also has an adjustable steel tripod. The problem is that it is cheap steel that doesn’t hold up very well to the scope’s weight. It wobbles a lot, making a clear view that much more difficult.

    Pros
    • Quick and easy to set up
    • Two eyepieces
    • Finderscope
    • Adjustable steel tripod
    Cons
    • Poor quality eyepieces
    • Tripod steel is cheap and wobbly

    2. Orion SpaceProbe Equatorial Reflector Telescope

    Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

    The Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope has a short 24-inch optical tube and only weighs 27 pounds, so it’s easy to transport to your desired location. It has an adjustable tripod and an equatorial mount that holds the telescope’s weight, but there would be no wobble if it was a little bigger. The written assembly directions in the box are horrible. If you try to follow them, you’ll end up very frustrated. We recommend looking up the assembly video available on YouTube. It’s much easier to follow.

    The Orion 09007 has a 5.1-inch aperture and comes with two different-sized eyepieces. One is a 10mm, and the other is 25mm. It also has a 6 x 30 finderscope to help you locate specific objects. These are nice to have, but it’s evident that there isn’t much of a quality control inspection process. The one we received was dented, and others have also complained about the shape that they received theirs in. Though dents and scratches don’t affect the way the scope works, you do expect purchased items to look new.

    Pros
    • 1-inch aperture
    • Easy portability
    • Adjustable tripod
    • Two eyepieces
    • 6 x 30 finderscope
    Cons
    • Poorly written instructions
    • Lightweight mount
    • Poor quality control

    3. Meade Infinity Az Refractor Telescope – Best Value

    Meade Instruments 209003 Infinity 70mm Az Refractor Telescope

    The Meade Instruments 209003 Infinity 70mm Az Refractor Telescope comes with two different-sized eyepieces. One is a 9mm while the other is 26mm. There is also a 2x Barlow lens that doubles the magnification of each eyepiece, but even with the extra help, it’s hard to focus on objects that are incredibly long distances away.

    This scope has a red dot viewfinder to help find the object you’re looking for more easily. It also has a rack-and-pinion focuser to allow more natural adjustments. This scope has an altazimuth mount with a slow-motion control rod to make tracking an object easier, whether it’s day or night.

    This telescope does a good job for the money you spend on it, but remember that you get what you pay for. This scope has a lot of plastic that can break fairly easily. The mount and tripod aren’t sturdy enough to hold the weight of the telescope without any wobble, and the assembly is complicated.

    Pros
    • Rack-and-pinion focuser
    • Slow-motion control rod
    • Two eyepieces
    • 2x Barlow lens
    • Red dot viewfinder
    Cons
    • Complicated assembly
    • Hard to focus on long distances
    • Mount and tripod not sturdy
    • Lots of plastic parts

    4. Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope

    Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope

    The Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope comes mostly pre-assembled. You can take it out of the box and be using it in minutes, if you can understand the instructions for the light assembly that’s required. We found them confusing, and the YouTube video wasn’t much better.

    The Orion is a great compact telescope that’s easy to take with you wherever you go. It comes with a sturdy tabletop base that works well from a table, and it can also be used on a tripod. It has two different-sized eyepieces, 6mm and 17mm, to help you see objects that are at different depths. The magnification isn’t the greatest, though. You can see the craters on the moon very well, but when you try to look at planets, they just look like bright stars. You can’t see any real detail, like the rings around Jupiter.

    Reflector telescopes reflect the image, so your view is upside down, but most telescopes have an erecting eyepiece that corrects that so you see the image as it is. This telescope doesn’t have that correcting eyepiece, so the image you see is inverted.

    Pros
    • Compact design with tabletop base
    • Two eyepieces
    • Comes pre-assembled
    Cons
    • Assembly instructions are hard to understand
    • Magnification isn’t great
    • Inverted view
    • No erecting eyepiece

    5. Gskyer Beginner Telescope Kit

    Gskyer Telescope Kit (AZ70400)

    The Gskyer Telescope Kit (AZ70400) is advertised as being easy to assemble, but we found that the assembly instructions are poorly written and difficult to follow. It’s an excellent telescope for kids who are dabbling in astronomy to see if they like it. The included tripod isn’t tall enough for adults to use, and the mount isn’t strong enough to hold the telescope in place for long, so you’ll have to make adjustments to it. The dampener doesn’t reduce the vibration a whole lot, so getting a clear view can be tricky.

    The Gskyer Telescope Kit has two optimal magnification eyepieces and a 5×24 finderscope. It comes with a backpack to make it easy to carry wherever you want to go. You do have to remember that this is a good starter scope. It’s made mostly out of plastic and not meant to stand the test of time.

    Pros
    • Two optimal magnification eyepieces
    • 5×24 finderscope
    • Backpack for easy carrying
    Cons
    • Confusing assembly instructions
    • Tripod too short for adults
    • Weak mount
    • Dampener doesn’t reduce vibration
    • Poor quality materials

    6. Celestron PowerSeeker Refractor Telescope

    Celestron PowerSeeker 50 AZ Refractor Telescope

    The Celestron PowerSeeker 50 AZ Refractor Telescope is quick and easy to set up and comes with a variety of eyepieces for erect image optics, as well as a 3x Barlow lens that triples the magnification of each eyepiece. It shows the image correctly, as far as up and down is concerned. It’s backward when looking at it from left to right. We also noticed that when the center of the image is in focus, the outer edges are distorted.

    This telescope comes with slow motion controls to make tracking objects more manageable. However, the mount doesn’t tighten very well, and the tripod is not very sturdy, so the scope is very shaky. It’s hard to find objects, but once you find them, it’s easy to lose them as the telescope moves on the tripod with the lightest of touches.

    Again, this is a good starter telescope made mostly of plastic. It isn’t meant to last forever, and it doesn’t give you the same quality view as more expensive models.

    Pros
    • Easy setup
    • Slow motion controls for tracking
    • Erect image optics
    • 3x Barlow lens
    Cons
    • Very wobbly on the tripod
    • Scope moves easily
    • Image backward from left to right
    • Outer part of image distorted when center is in focus
    • Made mostly of plastic

    7. BARSKA Starwatcher Refractor Telescope

    BARSKA Starwatcher 400x70mm Refractor Telescope

    The BARSKA Starwatcher 400x70mm Refractor Telescope has coated glass optics to give you brighter images. It comes with interchangeable eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens that’s advertised to provide you with 300x magnification power. Though we can’t give you the exact magnification, we sincerely doubt that it is 300x.

    This telescope is for use on a tabletop only and is set to be used at a 45° angle. If the angle is anything other than 45°, it’s nearly impossible to get a clear focus on your object. 45° is the right angle for terrestrial viewing, but not great for astronomical users. Those views are seen much better with a 90° angle on a tripod. This scope does come with a tripod and a soft carrying case.

    The instructions were a little on the confusing side for someone who isn’t familiar with telescopes. Like the previous two telescopes, you get what you pay for: cheap plastic construction. We also thought that the 4mm eyepiece was too powerful for this cheap beginner’s telescope.

    Pros
    • 300x magnification power
    • Coated glass optics
    • Interchangeable eyepieces with 3x Barlow lens
    • Adjustable tripod
    • Soft carrying case
    Cons
    • Confusing assembly instructions
    • Must be at 45° angle to focus
    • 45° angle and tabletop tripod not good for astronomical users
    • 4mm eyepiece too powerful
    • Doesn’t have advertised 300x magnification
    • Made of cheap plastic

    Buyer’s Guide

    Types of Telescopes:

    1. Refractor:

    A refracting telescope is made out of a closed tube with two to four glass elements inside that bend the light until your object is in focus at the eyepiece. The sealed tube protects the optics from dust and other elements in the air, leaving it pretty much maintenance-free. Refracting telescopes are great for viewing double stars, and the brighter objects in the sky.

    2. Reflector:

    A reflecting telescope is made out of an open tube with two mirrors inside that direct the light into the eyepiece.  Though these telescopes are easy to use, the open tubing allows dust and dirt to gather on the mirrors. These telescopes are more affordable than other types. They’re great for those who want to observe the deep sky, and for planetary and astro-imaging.

    We wrote more about the differences between refractors and reflectors here.

    3. Compound:

    Compound telescopes are great for any type of astronomical viewing. They’re made out of closed tubes that protect the optics from elements in the air. Inside the container, there are mirrors and a glass lens system to adapt to anything you want to view. These telescopes tend to be more compact in size and easy to transport.

    Key Features of Telescopes:

    1. Magnification:

    The magnification, or power, of a telescope depends on the eyepiece used. You can figure out the power of a specific scope by dividing the focal length of the object being observed (aperture) by the focal length of the eyepiece. This will determine how close you can bring the object for your observation.

    2. Mounts:

    a. Altazimuth:
    Altazimuth mounts move up and down or left and right, making them easy to use. They also weigh less than equatorial mounts.

    b. Equatorial:
    Equatorial mounts can be moved along all axes, allowing you to track pretty much anything in the sky if it’s appropriately aligned. These scopes are harder to get aligned, so many of them have motors to help. They are heavier and not as portable as altazimuth mounts.

    Where will you be using your telescope?

    1. In the City:
    Cities are lit up by lights that make viewing the fainter stars and galaxies difficult. Since you’re limited to viewing only the brightest objects in the sky, a telescope with three to eight-inch aperture would work well for you.
    2. In the Country:
    There aren’t many lights in the country, so you can see pretty much anything you want to see. If you want to see more than city viewers can, look at scopes with an aperture of eight inches or more. The larger the aperture, the more clearly you can see what you’re trying to observe.

    RELATED READS: How great of a telescope can you actually get for under $1000? We put it to the test.

    Conclusion

    Now that you know what kinds of telescopes are available to you and what features are the most important to get the best view, let’s go over our 3 favorite ones for you.

    1. Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130 EQ Reflector Telescope – Top Pick
    2. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope – The Runner-Up
    3. Meade Instruments 209003 Infinity 70mm Az Refractor Telescope – Best for the Money

    Hopefully, you now know enough to narrow the field a little and guide you to the telescope that will best meet your viewing needs.

    About the Author Robert Sparks

    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.