“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wildflower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
Whenever I read those lines by William Blake, I am reminded of only one thing: all great things start with one small step.
I could’ve never imagined the nights spent with my dad stargazing would have such a tremendous impact on my young mind.
While my hobby watching stars might’ve not led to an astronomical breakthrough, it has certainly fueled my mind to learn more about our fascinating universe.
And I’m here to help you do the same!
Hey guys, I’m Dennis, and in this best telescope 2018 guide, I’m going to tell you about my seven most favorite telescopes and how you can choose the right one.
If you landed here looking for recommendations on telescopes, let me assure that you’ll find no place better.
So, keep on reading.
- 1 The 7 Best Telescopes for the Money
- 2 1. Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope – Review
- 3 2. Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope – Review
- 4 3. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope – Review
- 5 4. Celestron 21061 AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor Telescope – Review
- 6 5. Orion 10012 SkyScanner 100mm TableTop Reflector Telescope – Review
- 7 6. Gskyer EQ 80900 Telescope – Review
- 8 7. Carson Red Planet 45-100x114mm Newtonian Reflector Telescope – Review
- 9 Guide to choosing the best telescope for viewing planets
The 7 Best Telescopes for the Money
Name of Telescope
1. Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope – Review
Celestron was my go to when I set out as an amateur stargazer. The latest 130SLT NexStar model is by far their most ingenious scope, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I am a bit biased towards it.
The 130SLT is one of the more popular scopes on my list today. And the guide I bring you is based purely on my user experience. Let’s go over some of its stand out features and see if it’s the right fit for you the same way it’s mine.
- NexStar computer control technology allows you to locate any constellation you chose, as it has a database that stores the location of over 4,000 celestial objects.
- Alignment was never faster. The SkyAlign feature will allow you to align any 3 bright celestial objects effortlessly.
How was my experience?
I always had a soft spot for Celestron, as their telescope was the first I used when I got into stargazing. Their latest model, the 130SLT is completely computerized and ideal for the most enthusiastic amateur.
The scope’s ease of use revolves mainly around their patented SkyAlign technology. I didn’t even need a star chart or a compass to align the scope, all I had to do was enter the date and time while pointing the telescope at three bright stars. It even allowed access to the details of over 4,000 stars and planets.
To my delight, the telescope even comes with two amazing eyepieces. When I used the 32mm Plossl, I was clearly able to discern the vibrancy of Saturn’s ring and the principal cloud belts on Jupiter, at a perfect magnification of 75x. The 9mm piece, on the other hand, offered an amazing view of the Lunar disk and globular star clusters.
No matter how biased I am towards the 130SLT, let me not get too carried away and oversell it. Though the computerized refractor telescope offers more light gathering power than its competitors, it draws more battery life in comparison as well.
The portable PowerTank battery may be a great way to power the 130SLT, but I still feel it falls short in giving the user the ideal ‘whole night stargazing’ experience.
I’ll not hesitate to recommend the NexStar 130SLT to any budding stargazing enthusiast as the best home telescope. Its user-friendly features are easy to use and come quite handy to anyone who is looking to go into astronomy. Aside from the poor battery life and unsteady legs, I didn’t notice much that I could criticize.
2. Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope – Review
This telescope is meant mainly for the globetrotter. Unlike Celestron’s NexStar series, the Travel Scope is made of the most durable materials to offer heightened stability with a minimal amount of maintenance. The telescope comes with a padded backpack style soft carrying case that fits the tripod along with all the accessories very conveniently.
Though the compact and portable design might not allow for imaging as excellent as the 130SLT, it gives ample optical performances for terrestrial as well as casual astronomical observation. I think it’s a reasonable compromise. But why don’t you give its features a look and judge for yourself?
- The scope 70 uses a number of plastic components to keep the scope affordable and cost-effective.
- It even has a plastic focuser and plastic lens shade, but the all-glass lenses don’t allow a compromise in image quality.
How was my experience?
Right off the bat let’s start off with the features that immediately caught my attention. The Travel Scope, as the name would suggest, is amazingly compact and portable. Its lightweight feature allows me to carry it along every time I take the family out for a camping trip.
Heck! Even when I take Bruno (my dog) out for a run, I pack it along with ease. You never know when the sky will be bright enough to get a fantastic view of the milky way.
Conveniently enough, I live pretty close to Big Bend National Park, which is just amazing for its night time sky viewing. Most high-powered telescopes are difficult to carry and even more annoying to set up. But this travel scope is highly portable, and every once in a while when I get some free time, I take my son along to Big Bend for some overnight stargazing.
But on the other hand, the pre-assembled aluminum full sized tripod is very flimsy and unstable. I advise you to use this scope with la table-top tripod with the legs kept short.
The Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope is every bit as amazing as the 130SLT when it comes to astronomical observations. It is smart, easy to use, portable, and comes at an affordable price. It has all the capabilities of becoming your favorite.
3. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope – Review
If you aren’t all that new to astronomy, then perhaps you’ve heard of Orion Telescopes. They are, after all, one of the best telescope brands. For beginners, or even intermediates, the SpaceProbe 130ST should provide the ideal learning curve for any situation.
Unlike the Celestron models, the SpaceProbe weighs on the heavier side at 27 pounds and is not as compact once assembled. But it still allowed me moderate portability, and wasn’t all that hard taking it out to my favorite stargazing spot. So, let’s dive into some of its selling points.
- The reflector telescope has a 5.1-inch aperture that gathers ample amount of light for crisp and clear viewing.
- The optical ‘Short Tube’ is 24 inches long with a fast f/5 focal ratio that allows for great wide-field performance.
- The 6×30 finder scope helped me in accurately aiming the SpaceProbe at various celestial objects while peering through both the 10mm and 25mm Plossl eyepieces.
How was my experience?
Since 1975, Orion Telescopes and Binoculars have been one of the pioneers in all astronomical observations. Needless to say, I had a lot of expectations from their SpaceProbe 130ST, some of which it kept; the others it didn’t. But I will come back to their cons a little later, let’s first go over the features that really impressed me.
The SpaceProbe 130ST’s bestselling point is their impressive Starry Night SE Software, and as a computer software engineer myself, I can say it indeed is amazing. Even when it’s cloudy or on the most starless sky, the Starry Night SE creates a very realistic simulation of the sky, along with having many useful features which include telescope control and a user-friendly constellation guide.
The 1.25 inch Orion 25mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece has a 26-power whose moderate range of magnification gave me a fantastic view of the moon. The wide 52° apparent field of view yielded extremely sharp images of the moon surface, where I could pinpoint the lunar craters without breaking a sweat.
For higher magnification, the 10mm Plossl provides a powerful 65x zoom along with a 52° apparent field of view, and as a result, studying Saturn’s ring became extremely easy.
As far as my user experience went with the Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope, it ticked a lot of my boxes but failed in some, which I believe is pretty negligible. You can always replace the mount with a sturdier one, and the assembly will get simpler once you get the hang of it.
It is one of the best telescopes under 500 dollars and I give it two thumbs up!
4. Celestron 21061 AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor Telescope – Review
This is one scope that honestly took me by surprise.
Who doesn’t want to get into astronomy? With just a little setup and know how, anyone can have an amazing experience observing the night sky. So, it’s not surprising that so many are looking to go out stargazing these days. And as most are beginners, more often than not, they chose the AstroMaster 70AZ as their first telescope.
I initially thought that they were goaded into buying it because of exaggerated online reviews. But I decided to give it a try myself, and as a result, I had a great user experience. Let’s see why that was the case.
- With the help of the alt-azimuth mount and panhandle, I was quickly able to locate the celestial objects I wanted to view.
- 20mm and 10mm eyepieces with the StarPointer red dot finderscope gave me a fantastic up-close detail of Saturn’s ring.
How was my experience?
Even though I was skeptical at first, but as I kept using it, the AstroMaster’s versatility did honestly blow me away. Its specialty lay in providing erect image optics, which allows for both terrestrial and celestial viewing. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun animal spotting and bird viewing, which Big Bend has an abundance of.
There are also certain distinctive features that make the scope very popular among amateurs. Primarily it comes with a pre-assembled tripod that helps get the scope ready in a matter of minutes. This, in my opinion, is quite praiseworthy even though the mount tends to be a bit difficult to adjust.
Some other features that made it even easier for me include an accessory tray that houses the eyepieces. And a fantastic database of 10,000 objects that provide helpful details about the objects being viewed.
Additionally, the StarPointer comes permanently affixed to the scope; this simplified the viewing process significantly, as all I had to do was place the red dot over the object I wanted to see. As a result, I got a clear, crisp view of Saturn’s ring.
The main reason why the AstroMaster gives a very clear image is because its glass optics are entirely coated. This special coating improves the way the scope is able to absorb light, thereby enhancing the resulting image which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible in an ordinary scope.
For any amateur planning to set out in the field of astronomy, choosing a telescope feels like an overwhelming proposition. However, the AstroMaster which comes with amazing versatile features and optics is very easy to use, and is a fit companion to any stargazer.
5. Orion 10012 SkyScanner 100mm TableTop Reflector Telescope – Review
“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.” – I was reminded of these lines from Stephen Hawking’s: A Brief History of Time when I first used the Orion 10012 SkyScanner.
Its tabletop nature and fantastic user-friendly features reminded of my childhood and how my father used to take me out every Thursday to The Big Bend for all-night stargazing. The SkyScanner’s lightweight and portable build reminded of my father’s old telescope, and in all honesty, it holds a special place in my heart.
But at the risk of overpraising it, let’s go through its features and let you decide.
- Tabletop features and portability, which is big enough to observe the craters in the moon in great detail, and just small enough to easily store in a closet or brought along in a bag.
- The 100mm parabolic primary mirror optics contains no plastic lenses which are generally found in most telescopes made for beginners.
How was my experience?
I remember a time when I was 10; my father took me to the attic, where he slid a table by the attic window and asked me to set his tabletop scope upon it. After several adjustments to the lens, he pointed at it saying, “Dennis look…. that there is Halley’s comet”.
When I peered through, I wouldn’t be lying if I said that it was one of the most beautiful spectacles I had ever seen. From then on I was hooked into astronomy, and studying about nebulas and giant dwarfs became my next best hobby after coding.
The SkyScanner reminded me a lot about my father’s little table top. Not only is the SkyScanner small in size and lightweight, but it’s also extremely easy to set up, and hardly takes 10 minutes after being removed from the box.
But, don’t be surprised by its diminutive nature. Even though small, it boasts a powerful magnification that is unusual for an entry-level telescope. It possesses a 100mm aperture, which is quite large compared to the telescopes made for beginners, and additionally comes with two eyepieces which provide 20x and 40x magnification.
The Orion 10012 SkyScanner 100mm TableTop Reflector Telescope, is quite unique for an affordable entry-level telescope. Light and compact, its brilliant, crisp images are quite hard to beat for any telescope at that range. And in my opinion (all nostalgia apart), it is a very choice for any beginner, trying his/her hand in stargazing.
6. Gskyer EQ 80900 Telescope – Review
Let’s face it, I am no expert on telescopes. I may tinker with them a lot, and all I have to show for it are my user experiences. So, when trying out the EQ 80900 Telescope, I noticed some attractive features, which I wished other telescopes had.
This is a Gskyer scope which I had gifted my daughter on her birthday. And I must mention, she hardly ever gets excited at the prospect of a new telescope (we have a lot of them at home), but one week of using this, she was head over heels in love. Let’s see what exactly changed her opinion.
- The Star finder feature helps her locate each and every celestial body she wants to view.
- The Multi-layer green film on the lens helps protect her vision from excessive light exposure.
- 25mm and high 10mm, 5mm magnification eyepieces gives her a lot of viewing options.
How was our experience?
I spend a lot of time with my daughter at night, reading her bedtime stories. So, it’s not surprising if at times we both end up leering through the EQ 80900, and talking about Saturn and its ring, because that is her favorite planet. And the scope allows her to view clear and beautiful images during the night.
The EQ 80900 has an equatorial mount with slow motion enabled, which allows her to follow any object across the sky effortlessly.
With the telescope her brother uses, she would often get frustrated, as spotted objects would move out of her field of view surprisingly quick, and she would not be able to find it afterwards. But that was not the case with the Gskyer.
A child’s eye can be very sensitive to bright light, that is why Gskyer has installed Multi-layered green films on the EQ 8090’s lenses. It acts as a protective buffer that filters the light passing through it without hampering the image quality in any way. It just reduces the strain of excess light exposure on sensitive eyes.
If seen from afar, the Gskyer EQ 80900 Telescope looks like a tool that comes handy only to professional astronomers. But don’t be fooled by its high tech exterior; it is as user-friendly for the amateur as it gets. My daughter has a fantastic time looking at the Moon’s craters every night when the sky is clear.
And I’m pretty sure the Gskyer can make the stargazing experience enjoyable for you as well.
7. Carson Red Planet 45-100x114mm Newtonian Reflector Telescope – Review
The last but not the least on my list today, the Carson Red Planet is as amazing as the rest of them. Though when I got my hands on it, due to partially cloudy skies, I was only able to use it for animal photography and lunar viewing. Even that was enough for the scope to speak volumes about its ability as a reflector telescope.
Despite its large reflecting mirror of 114mm diameter, the scope is surprisingly compact. And for further convenience, it also comes with a high-quality, heavy-duty aluminum tripod which has a sturdy equatorial mount to help counteract any form of vibrations made while adjusting the scope. It is one of the more stable telescopes on my list today.
- Large reflecting mirror, 114mm in diameter captures plenty of light thereby enhancing image quality and overall picture detail.
- Tripod made of high duty aluminum that keeps the scope sturdy and durable.
- Equatorial mount negates any form of vibrations that can blur the image.
How was my experience?
As I mentioned before, I really wasn’t able to test the Carson to its max capacity. But let me not stand in ceremony and further spoil this already amateurish guide. Instead, I’ll use my viewings of the moon as the basis of my user experience. Needless to say, with a 114mm diameter reflecting mirror and a 20mm and 9mm aperture, a telescope can rarely go wrong.
To be perfectly honest, I was hardly able to use the 9mm, as it provided greater magnification, and as a result, was not fit for studying the moon craters. And as deep space imaging was not possible, I stuck to the 20mm instead. The 20mm eyepiece I found to be sharper than expected for a beginner telescope.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Moon looked magnificent through it under the night sky. If I were to state a complaint against this product, it would be that to take the perfect picture with a DSLR, I needed the help of a Barlow lens, otherwise, the image was just hazy.
The Carson Red Planet 45-100x114mm Newtonian Reflector is by far the most attractive looking telescope I have used till date. Its design is highly sophisticated, sleek, and not to mention durable too. The standout take away is perhaps the sturdy tripod and equatorial mount, but its fantastic image detail should not be underestimated as well.
Guide to choosing the best telescope for viewing planets
Before you buy a telescope, it’s always essential to determine what is important to you. Like what it is you want to observe the most in the night sky and how often does the sky remain clear where you live. Or even how much storage space you have, and the amount of weight you are willing to carry.
So, let’s go over a few things that should be kept in mind, before buying a telescope.
What is a telescope if it doesn’t show you the object you wish to view in a crisp and clear detail? That’s why I believe that the aperture is its most important aspect.
To put it simply, an aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s main optical component, which can either be a lens or a mirror. It is the primary feature which determines both the scope’s light-gathering ability (the image’s brightness) and its resolving power (image sharpness and detail).
When setting out as an amateur stargazer myself, I had made it a point to learn all I could about the aperture of a telescope, and what I gathered over the years was something crucial. The base conclusion was pretty simple though; the bigger the aperture, the better.
With a 6-inch telescope I was effortlessly able to observe the craters of the moon. But on the other hand, even under the same conditions and magnification, I was barely able to view half that size with a 3-inch scope.
The difference was even more startling when I decided to do some deep space viewing. This is only possible because the surface area of a 6-inch mirror or lens is 4 times that of a 3-inch one, and as a result it collects 4 times as much light, making the galaxy seem bright and vivid.
The Myth about Magnification
This is something I learned the hard way. Contrary to popular belief it’s not a telescope’s aperture that determines its magnification or power. Any telescope can provide an infinite range of magnifications, as it solely depends on the eyepiece being used.
But it’s not wise to think that a scope with higher power will be able to solve all your problems. As there are two significant factors that limit the power and image quality of any given instrument, and they are aperture and atmospheric conditions.
A mirror or lens is only capable of housing a limited amount of image detail; that is why an optimum magnification is needed to see the required detail without spreading out the image light too much. This is one of the reasons why most professional observers generally tend to use low powered scopes when looking at faint objects like star clusters and nebulae.
Just as enlarging a picture too much can pixelate it, so too will excess magnification blur out the celestial object you’re trying to view.
Sometimes, on certain nights, even the most expensive and high powered telescope will give blurry images of the moon. Also, the sharpness viewed can change in a matter of seconds. The fault during such nights does not lie with the scope, but with the Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. Warm air rising from sun soaked asphalt might be the issue as well.
It’s true that large apertures can allow any observer to discern fine details on the Moon or other planetary objects, but regardless of aperture, you can only see more when the surrounding air is good.
It is only with practice that you’ll be able to see more detail in an image. The better your eyes get trained, the longer can it look and wait for the chance of catching a few moments of steady air and more precise image quality.
Size and Power vs. Portability
Telescopes with large apertures are chosen by observers who want to view specific dim objects like nebulae and star clusters. They want to gather as much light as possible from them so that the resulting image can be bright and clear. These deep space objects are mainly viewed with much low powered scopes than what would be used for the Moon and other Milky Way planets.
Even if you have the budget to go for these expensive, larger aperture scopes, the question of portability always comes in. A larger than average amateur scope would require a permanent observatory so that you never have to move it, or the help of others in transporting and setting it up. Hence, there is always a compromise between convenience and power.
It is therefore of great importance to pay attention to the weight of the scope you’re considering to buy.
As Stephen Hawking’s so aptly put it, “The universe doesn’t allow perfection” the same can be said for these telescopes as well. They all have their flaws, but I believe their pros outshine their shortcomings on any given day. Each of them are unique in their own way and cater to different user preferences.
So, I leave it up to you to decide which scope can best suit your needs and become the right companion on all your astronomical ventures. I hope my best telescope 2018 guide was able to solve at least few of your stargazing problems.
Till next time!