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Telescopes are incredible tools that allow us to see distances we can’t even travel. Using your telescope, you can see distant cosmic entities, like planets and stars, with great detail, as if they were close to you. Some telescopes take up entire buildings and push the bounds of mankind’s understanding of the universe forward. But for those just getting into astronomy, budget-friendly telescopes are also available.
We’ve compiled a list of the top telescopes under $100, to help you get started with observing the stars and space in an affordable manner. But affordable doesn’t mean low-quality. Some of the telescopes in the following reviews are excellent tools that are the perfect entryway to a lifetime of appreciating the cosmos.
|Best Overall||Celestron 21035 Portable Refractor Telescope||
|Best Value||Meade Instruments 209001 AZ Refractor Telescope||
|Gskyer AZ 70400 Travel Telescope||
|TELMU F40070M Telescope||
|MaxUSee F400X70 Refractor Telescope||
Celestron is one of the biggest names in telescopes, so it shouldn’t be surprising to find their 21035 portable refractor telescope at the top of this list. Compared to other telescopes in the same price range, this Celestron offers superior optics for an all-around better viewing experience. Plus, it’s light and compact, making it easy to transport or store when not in use.
This telescope features a large objective lens of 70 millimeters with an overall focal length of 400 millimeters. You get 10-millimeter and 20-millimeter eyepieces that allow you to change the overall magnification, and a viewfinder to help you locate specific celestial bodies. Best of all, you get a top-rated astronomy software program from Celestron, which can help take your astronomical efforts to new heights.
If you want to take your telescope on the go, this Celestron is a great choice. It’s lightweight at just 3.3 pounds. Plus, it comes with a backpack to hold everything, making it easy to transport. The tripod is pretty flimsy, so you’ll need to be careful with it. But if anything should happen, you’re covered by a two-year warranty.
All the telescopes on this list are affordable, but this one from Meade Instruments makes the others seem expensive by comparison. Despite the cheap pricing, you’ll get excellent performance out of this telescope. We think you’ll agree after trying it that it just might be the best telescope under $100 for the money.
One drawback of this telescope is that it uses a 50-millimeter objective lens, which is smaller than most of the others we tested. On the other hand, it’s got an extended 600-millimeter focal length, which can help you get a more close-up view when looking at planets and other celestial bodies.
We were also impressed with all the accessories included with this device. You get three eyepieces at 20, 12, and 4 millimeters, plus a Barlow lens with 2x magnification. In total, you’re getting six magnification levels to swap between. On top of that, you get a 5×24 optical viewfinder to help you locate your targets in the never-ending expanse of space. And to help you put it all to use, you’ll get astronomical software and an instructional DVD, preparing you to dive into your astronomy journey head first.
The Gskyer AZ 70400 travel telescope is right at the top of our budget. Cheaper options are available, but this model offers everything you need with a few extras you won’t find included with most of the other options in this price range. For instance, with this telescope is a smartphone adapter and wireless camera remote so you can take high-quality pictures through the telescope using your smartphone.
This telescope is equipped with a 70-millimeter objective lens that offers an excellent viewing experience for a beginner. Attached to the side is a 5×24 finderscope to help locate planets, stars, and more. Included with the telescope are two eyepieces; 40x and 16x, plus a 3x Barlow lens to offer an even closer view. Best of all, lifetime maintenance is included, so you can count on this telescope staying around.
We did find the tripod to be a problem though. Not only is it flimsy and unstable, but it’s short since it’s made primarily for children. This makes it uncomfortable to view through for long periods if you’re an adult. But most of the telescopes on this list came with low-quality tripods, so that’s not much of a surprise.
The F40070M telescope from TELMU is a great device with an awful tripod. The tripod is completely unstable, moving with the slightest touch. Even a small gust of wind will move the tripod and completely change the alignment of your telescope. It’s so weak that the handle to adjust it broke off on ours.
Despite the issues with the tripod, we felt that the telescope itself was more than adequate. It’s got two Kellner eyepieces, offering 67x and 16x magnification levels. For those who like to share their astronomical adventures on social media, a smartphone adapter is included, allowing you to snap pics through the telescope of your favorite far-off objects.
The telescope and all the accessories come in a backpack that makes it easy to transport everything. It’s a pretty durable device, but should an accident occur, you’re covered by a two-year warranty and lifetime maintenance. You’ll probably want to replace the tripod it comes with, but otherwise, this is a pretty solid telescope for less than $100.
It’s more affordable than other telescopes we tested, but the MaxUSee F400X70 refractor telescope comes with more accessories than most of them. You’ll get four different eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens, which add up to a total magnification range of 16x to 200x. For beginners, that’s more than enough to get you started searching the expansive skies. And if you want to take some pictures along the way, you can attach your phone with the included smartphone adapter.
Many beginning astronomers choose the moon as an easy and obvious target. But the moon is very bright and reflective, so this kit includes a moon mirror that aids in lunar viewing. Between that and all the other great accessories you get, this telescope is a good deal. However, the tripod is so bad that it ruins the entire experience.
Every time we managed to lock onto a target, the tripod would move and we’d lose it again. We were never able to keep the tripod steady enough for continued viewing. And did we mention that it’s extremely short? You’ll have to use it on a tabletop or practically lay down to use it on the ground.
There’s a lot to like about the Emarth TELE-01 telescope, but too many flaws hold it back for us to recommend it. First of all, the focal length is very short at 360 millimeters. This makes for a small image, which doesn’t offer a viewing experience that’s as good as telescopes with longer focal lengths. Additionally, the mount that attaches the telescope to the tripod is more like a camera tripod than one for astronomy, making it difficult to follow celestial objects. Despite its limitations, this telescope is at the very top end of our budget.
It’s not all bad though. That shorter focal length is a benefit if you’re looking to travel with your telescope in tow since it’s smaller than other models and weighs in at less than three pounds. You’ll get two magnifying eyepieces at 51x and 128x, and a 3x Barlow lens to triple the magnification of either eyepiece. You’ll need help finding specific targets in the far reaches of space, which is where the built-in 5×24 finder scope will come in handy.
You’ll find another Celestron model at the top of this list, but the 22035 portable refractor telescope didn’t perform on the same level for us as the other model. It’s still got some great features, but the flaws are too many to ignore.
Compared to other models, this Celestron doesn’t offer many magnification levels. You get two eyepieces and a 2x Barlow for four total magnification levels. But the Barlow lens darkens the image, making it much harder to see your targets. We like the Bluetooth shutter release and smartphone adapter, but the attachment doesn’t work for all phones.
Our favorite accessory with this telescope is the included astronomy software package, which will come in real handy for a beginning astronomer. You also get a two-year warranty and a backpack to keep everything in for easy transportation and safe storage. The included tripod, however, is awful. It’s unstable and constantly shifting, making it frustrating to attempt prolonged viewing of anything.
If you’re looking for a super-compact telescope for traveling, then the FREE SOLDIER telescope is a great choice. With a short focal length of just 300 millimeters, it’s one of the smallest telescopes we tested, but it also offers a much smaller image. It’s got some excellent features and accessories, but the reduced image size really holds it back in our eyes.
With this telescope are two eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens for a total of four magnification levels, ranging from 15x to 150x. The attached 5×24 finding scope makes it easy to locate celestial bodies for viewing in the telescope. But the flimsy tripod makes that difficult since it will likely move in the time it takes to switch from the viewing scope to the main eyepiece.
If you’re brand new to telescopes, you might find the awful instructions more confusing than helpful. But we did like the included smartphone adapter with wireless remote. You can easily use them to take pictures of your favorite space objects, if you can get the tripod to stay steady for long enough.
If you’re a beginning astronomer, you’re looking for an easy to use telescope that just happens to be affordable. What you don’t want is a telescope that will leave you frustrated and offers only limited viewing options. The ECOOPRO astronomy refractor telescope is the latter example.
Like many similarly priced telescopes, this one includes a tripod that’s more headache than helpful. It doesn’t tighten enough to stay in place. You also see a smaller image thanks to the short focal length of 360 millimeters. If you’re looking for viewing options, you’ll only get two. There are just two eyepieces with no Barlow lens.
On the bright side, the image quality is pretty good, though limited to just 51x and 128x magnification. The built-in finder scope is also important for locating just about anything in the infinite realm of space. But those things won’t overcome the numerous flaws accompanying this telescope.
Ironically, the one thing we thought this telescope really had to offer was the same thing that was holding back most competing models; the tripod. This one still isn’t too strong, but it’s better than most that we tested. It adjusts from 15 to 51 inches, so you don’t have to bend over or lay down to use your telescope…unless you want to.
This telescope comes with just two eyepieces and no Barlow lens. You get a moon filter that’s only suitable for lunar viewing, but when it comes to magnification, 16x and 67x is all you get. Compared to other affordable telescopes with 200x magnification and six choices to pick between, the Aomekie AO2002 is seriously lacking in options.
We had trouble getting this telescope to focus. The image always seemed just a bit blurry. And there’s no case included, making it more difficult to bring this along as a travel telescope. Overall, we think it missed the mark, which is why the Aomekie AO2002 is at the bottom of this list.
If you’re just looking for answers, you skip ahead to the end when we cover our recommendations again. But if you want to know more about how to choose your telescope and what features you should be comparing between models, then this buyer’s guide is for you. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll feel confident making a decision about which telescope you should purchase.
When you’re comparing telescopes in the same price range, there are several aspects that you ought to take a look at. We’re going to take a closer look at each of these traits and how it affects your viewing experience so that you understand what to look for in a telescope.
Focal length is the length from the objective lens to the viewing lens or eyepiece, measured in millimeters. A longer focal length makes for a larger, more magnified view with a smaller field of view.
In this price range, the average focal length is 400 millimeters, though we tested telescopes with focal lengths as short as 300 millimeters and as long as 600 millimeters.
The objective lens is the large lens on the front of the telescope designed to take in light. A larger lens will naturally take in more light and produce brighter images. Under $100, most telescopes have a 70-millimeter objective lens, though some are even smaller.
The eyepiece is the part of the telescope you’ll be looking through. It’s a removable piece with a lens inside and most telescopes include two or more of different sizes that offer varying levels of magnification. Larger eyepieces offer lower magnification. The more eyepieces included with your telescope, the more viewing options you have available.
A Barlow lens is a special lens that works in conjunction with your eyepieces. Most Barlow lenses are 2x or 3x, which will double or triple the magnification of your eyepiece respectively. So, if you have an eyepiece that offers 20x magnification and you add a 3x Barlow lens, you’ll effectively have 60x magnification.
Space is massive. Larger than the human mind can even comprehend. As an astronomer, you’re attempting to locate individual celestial objects in that giant expanse of space. With a zoomed image like you see through the telescope, that’s even more difficult, which is why most telescopes have a finder scope built-in. Finder scopes are aligned with the main telescope but not as magnified, allowing you to locate an area and aim through the finder scope and be in the right relative area when you switch over to the telescope eyepiece.
In this price range, you should expect to get a flimsy and unstable tripod. That’s essentially what we received with every model. But some were worse than others. In fact, some were practically unusable because they were so lacking in stability that they couldn’t hold in place for more than a few seconds. This makes for an incredibly frustrating astronomy experience, especially for new astronomers.
While your backyard is a great place to get started with astronomy, eventually, you’ll probably want to head to somewhere more suitable for a better look at the night sky. When you do, you’ll need to bring your telescope along, so portability will become a factor. Some of our favorite models were lightweight, compact, and included a backpack for easy carrying of the telescope and accessories. But if you plan on traveling with your telescope often, you might opt to sacrifice some image size for a more compact frame by choosing a telescope with a short focal length of 300 millimeters.
If you’re looking for a telescope under $100, you’re probably new to astronomy, making it harder to sort through all the options and figure out which one will serve you best. Our reviews and buyer’s guide were meant to help simplify the decision by arming you with as much information as possible. With that in mind, we want to remind you of our recommendations once more.
We tested many telescopes for this list, but we were most impressed by the Celestron 21035 portable refractor telescope. It’s light and easily portable with the included backpack. With it, you’ll get two eyepieces, a two-year warranty, and a bonus astronomy software package from one of the biggest names in astronomical instruments.
For the best value, we suggest the Meade Instruments 209001 AZ refractor telescope. It has a longer focal length than others on this list at 600 millimeters and comes with three eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens. You also get an optical viewfinder and astronomical software. All for a price that’s far cheaper than other telescopes we’ve tested.
The Gskyer AZ 70400 travel telescope is our premium pick with two eyepieces, 3x Barlow lens, smartphone adapter with wireless remote, and lifetime maintenance.
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An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan. He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning. An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.
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