Woman with Telescope

The Best Telescopes for Beginners

You can go outside on any night and stare at the stars, but nothing beats bringing them closer through a telescope. Whether it’s for yourself, a loved one or the family as a whole, a telescope probably seems like something of a must-have item, but you might be concerned about the cost or quality.

Our astronomy expert, Richard J. Bartlett, has reviewed dozens of the best telescopes for beginners and has found the top 5, based on factors such as portability, image quality, aperture and value for money. After careful consideration, he chose the Sky-Watcher Heritage 130 as his top pick. The telescope stood out from the rest thanks to its quality, ease-of-use and compact design. Read how he chose the top 5.

Our Expert’s Top Pick

Sky-Watcher Heritage 130

Great quality optics, ease-of-use and compact design make the Heritage 130 ideal for beginners.

If you’re interested in observing the night sky, you may also want check out our articles about getting started with stargazing and how to get your kids in on the astronomy fun. Once you’ve bought your scope, check out How to Use a Telescope: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.

Our Astronomy Expert’s Top 5 Telescopes for Beginners

Here are the top picks from our astronomy expert. Compare the ratings and features of different models.

Expert’s Top Picks Model Rating Water-Resistant Tripod Mount Fully Multi-Coated Lenses
Best Overall Celestron SkyMaster 20×80 4.4
Best Budget Buy SkyGenius 10×50 4.6
Best 7×50 Binoculars Orion Scenix 7×50 4.5
Best 10×50 Binoculars Opticron Adventurer II 10×50 Binoculars 4.3
Best 15×70 Binoculars Orion Astronomy 15×70 4.5

*Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 and based on reviews, feedback, and opinions of actual customers

Who Should Buy a Telescope?

  • Beginners who want to see more – A lot of amateur astronomers start off by learning the night sky and then delving deeper with binoculars. While this is an excellent way to explore the sky and discover many of the wonders to be found there, binoculars are a little restrictive. They can help you to locate objects, but if you need a close-up view, you’ll need a telescope.
  • Anyone looking for a fun family activity – If your family likes to regularly spend time together, then astronomy can be an excellent (and educational!) way to share some wonderful and memorable experiences. There isn’t a child alive that isn’t wowed by the view of the Moon through a telescope or by seeing the rings of Saturn for the first time – and many adults will have the same reaction!

Who Should Not Buy a Telescope?

  • Absolute beginners – if you’re just getting into astronomy, the chances are you’ve never used a telescope before. You may not be very familiar with the night sky either, and without some basic knowledge in both regards, you could easily become frustrated and lose interest.
  • Anyone expecting to see breathtakingly colorful sights – while there are a lot of beautiful sights to see in the night sky, you won’t see a lot of color (except with some stars.) You may have seen some wonderful images online and in magazines, filled with color, but the cameras used are much more sensitive to light than your eyes. It’s possible to see some faint color in nebulae, but nothing like the photos you’ve seen.
  • Anyone hoping to interest a child – kids are naturally curious and inquisitive, but unless they’ve already shown an interest in space and/or astronomy, the chances are they won’t develop one simply because you’ve bought them a telescope. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that the telescope will remain unused and gathering dust in the corner.

Research Tips (from an Astronomy Expert)

As an astronomy expert, I often get asked how to choose the best binoculars for stargazing. Here are some tips and best practices to consider when making a buying decision. Be sure to do adequate research on the product you are considering purchasing to look for key features and ask your friends and family (especially your fellow stargazers) if they have any recommendations on the best astronomy binoculars for your specific needs.

  1. Stick to the quality brands – you might be tempted to buy a telescope from a gift store in a museum or from a general store, but this is often a bad idea. These telescopes are often cheaply produced and then sold in bulk to retailers, who can then mark up the price for a profit. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to stick to the major brands – Celestron, Orion, Meade, Zhumell, Apertura and Sky-Watcher – and avoid anything that brags about the “power” of the telescope. In theory, any telescope can magnify 1,000x, but unless it’s specifically built for such a high magnification, the view will be of terrible quality. Telescopes that boast of producing such a power (and they’re almost always small, cheaply produced items of poor quality) are little more than toys.
  2. Aperture is everything – when it comes to telescopes, aperture is everything.  The aperture is the diameter of the lens or mirror the telescope uses to gather light. The larger the aperture, the more light it can gather. The more light it gathers, the fainter the objects you can see and the more detail you can see. Large aperture telescopes are often used for observing galaxies and planetary nebulae because those objects are often faint and small.
  3. Magnification isn’t everything – as mentioned earlier, almost any telescope is capable of magnifying 1,000x, but unless your scope has the aperture to back it up, you won’t be seeing much of anything. There comes a point where increasing the magnification is simply pointless because your scope is incapable of gathering any more light. It’s also harder to focus at a high magnification, and both these factors combine to produce nothing more than a blur. As such, every telescope has a maximum useful magnification. Opinions vary on exactly how the maximum is defined, but a quick calculation involves taking the aperture in millimeters and doubling it, or taking the aperture in inches and multiplying it by 50. For example, a small 70mm telescope has a maximum useful magnification of about 140x (70mm x 2) or 138x (2.76 inches x 50.)
  4. Consider its weight – do you want a telescope you can take camping or to a dark location? Then you’ll need to consider its weight, as this will have a huge impact on its portability. Ideally, you’ll want a scope with as much aperture as possible weighing as little as possible. There are also some scopes that are specifically designed for traveling (see the Best Telescope for Camping below) that are lightweight and can be easily transported to a remote location.
  5. Consider the accessories – many telescopes will come with two eyepieces, but there are some that are only supplied with one. You might also get lucky and find a scope that has three eyepieces included. Other scopes may provide a Barlow lens, which will typically double the magnification of any eyepiece attached to it. You might also get a red flashlight (to protect your night vision), a book, star chart, free software or a smartphone holder that can allow you to take photos through the eyepiece with your phone.

How Much Do They Cost?

Between $50 and $500

For most telescopes for beginners, you can expect to pay between $50-$500 and still get a high-quality product. That being said, the prices of telescopes vary widely based on a number of factors. Telescopes at the lower end of that price range can sometimes be made with cheap materials and inferior components to keep the price down. By comparison, more expensive telescopes are often made with high-quality optics, are well-constructed and are capable of producing some outstanding views. Very high-end telescopes can cost $2,000 or more. Models of this price are typically built for more experienced amateur astronomers looking to observe and photograph distant, faint objects like galaxies. As a beginner, it’s not necessary to spend top dollar on a telescope, as mid-priced models should deliver all the functionality you need to get started in astronomy.

Our Methodology: Why Trust Moon and Back

As an astronomy expert, I’ve spoken with many astronomers about the best telescopes for beginners on the market. Many of these products were chosen based on my professional experience as an astronomy expert combined with product feature considerations. I personally tested my top picks and other telescopes to find the best of the best based on aperture, focal length, maximum magnification and weight. The other two criteria (price and ease-of-use) were subjectively taken into account and generally used as a tie-breaker. For example, if two telescopes scored almost the same, I might have chosen one product over another due to its price and ease of use. My final five picks are ones I’d personally recommend to anyone in the market for a telescope. – Richard J. Bartlett

The Best Telescopes for Beginners: Full Reviews

Our Expert’s Top Pick

Sky-Watcher Heritage 130

Compact and portable, very easy to use and capable of producing great views.

When you’re looking for your first scope, you want something that’s easy to set-up and use, provides great views and that will see a lot of starlight over the years. The Sky-Watcher Heritage 130 meets all those criteria – and it won’t break the bank. For starters, it has a generous 130mm aperture, giving you the ability to track down and enjoy some of the sky’s fainter targets. A maximum magnification of 256x also makes it a great choice for observing the planets, while its quality optics ensure that, regardless of your target, you’ll get the best possible views.

Sky-Watcher Heritage 130

As an added bonus, it’s super easy to set-up and use, as the Dobsonian style mount is already assembled and you can start observing almost immediately. You’ll need to align the finderscope (a requirement for any telescope) but  then you can simply point it toward your target and enjoy the view. This simplicity also makes it the ideal choice for families as even younger kids will be able to use it. If there’s a downside, it’s that it’s a little heavy, but its collapsible design means you can still transport it to a favorite location without too much trouble.

For more on the Sky-Watcher Heritage 130, check out our in-depth review.

  • Compact and portable design
  • Very little assembly required
  • Very easy to use
  • Sharp, wow-worthy views
  • Wide field-of-view eyepieces
  • Lacking accessories
  • A little on the heavy side
Best Budget Scope

Zhumell Z100 Portable Telescope

There are cheaper scopes, but few that can rival the Z100’s outstanding optics.

Buying a high quality telescope doesn’t mean having to spend high amounts of money. The Zhumell Z100 Portable Telescope offers outstanding optics for a very reasonable price, leaving you with plenty of money to invest in some accessories. This is a great little scope for the money, capable of producing fine views at any magnification from 14x to 200x. Its lightweight and compact design also make it a great option if you’re looking for a scope you can transport to a dark location.

Zhumell Z100

Like the Heritage 130, this is a Dobsonian telescope and therefore requires very little assembly and is very easy to use. The Moon showed some great detail, while stars appeared colorful and sharp. One downside is that there are no printed instructions included, so you’ll need to download them from Zhumell’s website. You’ll also find that you won’t be able to collimate (re-align) the mirrors, but if you’re a casual observer and you look after the scope, the chances are you won’t need to worry about it. If you’re looking for a family scope but don’t want to invest too much, then this could be the perfect choice for you.

For more on the Zhumell Z100, check out our in-depth review.

  • Excellent optics for the money
  • Easy to use
  • Very little assembly required
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Relatively wide field-of-view eyepieces
  • Instructions had to be downloaded
  • Lacking accessories
  • Unable to collimate the mirrors
Best Scope for Camping

Celestron Travel Scope 80

Lightweight and portable with great optics, this scope can also be used during the day.

If you’re looking for a lightweight scope you can literally take anywhere, then the Celestron Travel Scope 8  is the one for you. Besides the included eyepieces, you’ll also get a smartphone adapter and a backpack to carry everything. One of the great things about this scope is that it’s also lightweight, as even with the scope and accessories packed away, the backpack will only weigh about five pounds. That makes it a great option if you’re looking to fly as it can be safely taken onboard a plane as a carry-on.

Celestron Travel Scope 80

Hikers and campers get an additional benefit as the Travel Scope 80 can be used during the day too. Most telescopes will invert the image, causing targets to appear upside-down and/or flipped. This isn’t the case with the Travel Scope 80, so observer’s can enjoy views of the landscape around them as well as the skies above. Perhaps the biggest downside is that the tripod is a little flimsy (it’s a regular camera tripod) so you might want to invest in something a little sturdier.

For more on the Celestron Travel Scope 80, check out our in-depth review.

  • Very lightweight and portable
  • Quickly and easily assembled
  • Good optics for the price
  • Generally very easy to use
  • Good for kids
  • Finder isn’t good for astronomy
  • Backpack doesn’t adequately hold contents in place
  • Smartphone adapter is difficult to use
  • Tripod is a little shaky and easily tipped over
  • Mounting plate easily drops off the central column
Best Scope for Planets

Orion SkyQuest XT6

Capable of producing detailed, high magnification views, the XT6 is ideal for planetary viewing.

The Opticron Adventurer II 10×50 Binoculars are roof prism binoculars that are lightweight and feature fully multi-coated lenses, BaK-4 prisms, and a close focus of 9.8 feet (3 meters), making them suitable for amateur astronomers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. They come with a quality canvas carrying case with a thinly padded interior for added protection and a standard case strap for easy portability.

Opticron Adventurer II 10x50 Binoculars

These binoculars are also waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about using them outdoors in rainy conditions. They’ve also been filled with dry nitrogen, which prevents moisture and condensation from forming on the inside. Weighing about half a pound less compared to most binoculars (which typically weigh about 2.25 pounds), you don’t need to mount them on a tripod to use them comfortably. In tests, the central focuser moves smoothly and is easy to adjust with one or two fingers. The eye relief is 17mm (the distance you can hold the eyepieces away from your eyes while still seeing the full field of view), which is helpful for users who wear glasses. In testing, there was a slight reduction in the field of view but it didn’t have a significant negative impact on the experience. With an IPD range of 57mm to 73mm, they’re suitable for most users, although they may not be the best choice for younger children.

For more on the Opticron Adventurer II 10×50 Binoculars, check out our in-depth review.

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Best Scope for Younger Kids

Celestron FirstScope

Small, lightweight, portable and super-easy for younger kids to use and enjoy.

If you’re looking for binoculars designed for viewing the cosmos, the Orion Astronomy 15×70 binoculars are an excellent choice. The robust and powerful binoculars feature large 70mm objective lenses and 15x magnification. They also come complete with high-quality BAK-4 porro prisms and fully multi-coated optics. These binoculars will allow you to see the craters of the moon and hundreds of deep-sky objects.

Orion Astronomy 15x70

Other key features of these astronomy binoculars include a wide field of view and generous eye relief. A tripod mount is also provided for mounted viewing during extended stargazing sessions. The binoculars performed well during testing. Images were crisp and stars appeared circular when out of focus. Overall, these binoculars are ideal for astronomy and terrestrial daytime viewing.

For more on the Orion Astronomy 15×70 Binoculars, check out our in-depth review.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you see the planets with a telescope?

Yes! In fact, you can see five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) with just your eyes, while Uranus and Neptune can be seen through any of the telescopes on this list. You’ll be able to see the phases of Mercury and Venus, dark markings and polar ice caps on Mars, the moons and atmosphere of Jupiter and, of course, the rings of Saturn. Unfortunately, both Uranus and Neptune only appear as tiny discs, but you at least you can brag you’ve seen every world! 

Can I look at the Sun through a telescope?

NO! You must never look directly at the Sun – even with just your eyes. Staring at the Sun can damage your eyes and may lead to blindness. If you look at the Sun through a telescope, the light and heat are magnified and can instantly blind you. Similarly, it’s not advisable to use solar filters that screw onto eyepieces, as these are often made of smoked glass that can be prone to cracking. There are, however, telescopes that are specifically designed for safely viewing the Sun, but they can’t be used for regular astronomy at night.

What else can I see through a telescope?

A lot! You’ll probably look at the Moon and planets first, but will then want to explore beyond the solar system. When you do, you’ll find colorful double stars, clusters of stars, clouds of gas and dust in space and distant galaxies.

Which accessories should I get for my telescope?

You’ll definitely want to get a small selection of eyepieces, as this will give you a range of magnifications. Be sure to also buy a Barlow lens, which will increase the magnification of any eyepiece attached to it. You’ll also need a lunar filter, as viewing the Moon through a telescope can be dazzling and you’ll ruin your night vision. A red flashlight is also essential, as this will protect your night vision while allowing you to read books and charts and write notes.

If you’re looking for additional astronomy resources, we have a number of articles that you might find interesting.

First off, we’ve created guides on a variety of stargazing topics such as our guide to the proper cost of a telescope, our walk through of how to use a telescope for stargazing, and our guide on determining the first telescope to buy. We’ve also created as series of helpful guides, such as our list of fun facts about astronomy (which any kids or beginners will no doubt find interesting), and our astronomy guide for kids.

We’ve also created a series of buying guides, including our guide to finding the best astronomy tool, guide to finding the best telescope for beginners, and the best binoculars for astronomy.

In addition to those guides, we’ve also created a series of in-depth reviews of a variety of telescopes and astronomy binoculars. You can check them out before you buy to find out the best accessories, pros and cons for different models, and even to see what they look like unboxed. If you’re considering buying a telescope we have a series of reviews that also serve as how to guides. You can learn the following in each guide: how to use the Celestron Firstscope telescope, how to use an Orion XT6 Dobsonian Telescopehow to use the Sky-Watcher Heritage 130 Telescopehow to use the Zhumell Z100 Telescopehow to use the Celestron ExploraScope 114AZ Telescopehow to use the SkyGenius 10×50 Binocularshow to use Orion Scenix 7×50 Binocularshow to use Orion Astronomy 15×70 Binocularshow to use Opticron Adventurer II 10×50 Binocularshow to use the Celestron Travel Scope 80 Telescope, and how to use Celestron SkyMaster 20×80 Binoculars to really be able to dive into the different telescope and astronomy binocular models.

Richard J. Bartlett
Born in England, Richard J. Bartlett has had a passion for astronomy since the age of six. Besides being featured in Sky & Telescope magazine and previously having his own monthly column in Astronomy magazine, he’s written and published a number of books (US Amazon and UK Amazon) including several for Orion Telescopes. Now residing in southern California, Richard never misses an opportunity to stare at the stars.