Whether you’re a kid or an adult, getting started in astronomy becomes a lot easier when you have the right telescope. After reviewing many of the available options, I believe the Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm AZ is the best telescope for beginning astronomers. It’s easy to set up so you can look at the stars whenever you want. And it comes with some nice extras!
- Our Top Picks for Best Telescopes for Beginners
- Best Overall – Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm AZ Refractor Telescope
- Best for Travel – Orion StarBlast 102mm Travel Refractor Kit
- Best Budget Option – Orion GoScope III 70mm Refractor Telescope Kit
- Best for Home Use – Sky-Watcher 6-inch Dobsonian 6-Inch
- Best for Hands-Free Observing – Celestron NexStar 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain Computerized Telescope
- Best for Viewing the Sun – Celestron EclipSmart Travel Solar Scope 50
- Bonus: Best Binoculars for Beginners – Celestron Cometron 7×50
- What to Consider When Buying a Telescope for Beginners
- Frequently Asked Questions
Related Post: Best Telescopes for Deep Space Astrophotography
Our Top Picks for Best Telescopes for Beginners
I recommend the Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm AZ as the best refractor telescope for beginners. When you’re just starting out in astronomy, you want a telescope that you can set up quickly and performs well for a wide range of objects in the night sky. A refracting telescope is a low-maintenance design that produces high contrast images.
Meade’s Infinity 80mm AZ has an 80mm aperture and 400mm focal length. This isn’t unusual for entry-level refractors, but where most telescopes come with two eyepieces, Meade includes three: 26mm, 9mm, and 6.3mm. You can switch between low, medium, and high magnifications as you switch from the Moon to the giant planets’ rings and moons. An included Barlow lens doubles the magnification letting you see Jupiter’s cloud bands.
The Meade’s alt-azimuth mount is a straightforward design that turns left and right or tilts up and down. But straightforward doesn’t mean basic. As Earth turns, the objects you’re viewing will slowly drift across your field of view. Slow-motion controls let you easily counter this movement without taking your eyes away from the eyepiece.
The telescope by itself offers a good first introduction to astronomy. What makes the Meade Infinity 80mm AZ the best telescope for the money, though, are the thoughtful extras you get along with it.
Not having ready access to a backyard shouldn’t stop you from diving into amateur astronomy. A park or other dark area nearby can be a great place for a night of stargazing. You can also turn a vacation into a chance for some holiday astronomy. But you can’t do that while lugging around heavy, bulky telescopes.
Orion’s StarBlast 102mm is a great grab-and-go telescope. The scope’s compact design, collapsible stainless steel tripod, and accessories all fit inside a durable carrying case. You can throw it in the car or hop on the bus to reach your nearest observing site.
The 102mm aperture telescope uses multi-coated achromatic lenses. The diagonal includes a correct-image mirror system so you can use the scope for daytime observing of wildlife or sports and nighttime observing of the stars. You get two 1.25” eyepieces, one 10mm and the other 25mm.
If you’re concerned about spending too much on a hobby you’ve just started, then Orion’s GoScope III is a great choice. This refracting telescope’s 70mm aperture and 400mm focal length let you explore the features of the Moon and see the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
A simple, tabletop alt-azimuth mount comes with the telescope. Just set it on a table and you’re ready to go. The simplicity makes this the best telescope for kids since they won’t need any help aiming the telescope. Grown-ups will appreciate not having to bend over a table since you can attach the mount to a camera tripod.
Two 1.25” eyepieces, a 9mm and a 20mm, come with the telescope as does a finder scope and a backpack case. The diagonal automatically flips the image in your eyepiece so it’s right side up. As a result, the GoScope III will work just as well as a daytime scope.
When it comes to aperture-for-the-money, Sky-Watcher’s 6-inch Dobsonian is perfect. Kids and adults alike can easily swing the telescope into position and see faint nebulas and star clusters.
Former monk John Dobson developed a super-cheap approach to telescope design in 1960s San Francisco. He combined a hand-shaped mirror with a cardboard tube and a simple wooden stand. The result was a good-quality, large-aperture telescope that anyone could make. Today, the Dobsonian telescope is the best telescope for home use thanks to its low price, ease-of-use, and large apertures.
In fact, telescopes like the Sky-Watcher 6-inch Dobsonian are often called “light buckets” for the way they can collect light from faint objects. The 6-inch (153mm) aperture is perfect for viewing star clusters and detailed features of the Moon. Place an optional solar filter on the front of the tube and you can view spots on the Sun’s surface.
Sky-Watcher built its telescope with expandability in mind. Even though the included 10mm and 25mm eyepieces are 1.25” in diameter, the telescope also works with 2” eyepieces. That gives you more options for high-quality eyepieces as you dive deeper into astronomy.
But simplicity is the real strength that makes this the best telescope for home use. Anyone can move the Dobsonian mount. You just push it around until it’s pointing at your target. Since this model is at the smaller end of Sky-Watcher’s range, the 6-inch is also a lot easier for family members to haul out to the backyard.
The NexStar 4 SE’s handheld controller has a 40,000-object database that will automatically align and point your telescope.
Go-to telescopes use computerized mounts to take some of the hassles out of nightly observing. Aligning a telescope, for example, gets complicated when you don’t have a clear view of the celestial poles. You can point a go-to scope at the stars that you can see and the computer will do the rest. During the night, you can tell the scope to point at another object with the press of a button.
The best go-to telescope for beginners is Celestron’s NexStar 4SE. The motorized single fork arm mount is unique to the NexStar system. A hand controller stores a database of more than 40,000 objects in the northern and southern skies.
The telescope itself is a hybrid design called a Maksutov-Cassegrain that uses lenses and mirrors to get long focal lengths in a compact space. With a 1,325mm focal length and 102mm aperture, the NexStar 4SE has a narrower field of view. The telescope delivers higher magnifications that makes this the best telescope for viewing planets. You’ll see details in Saturn’s rings and the colorful bands of Jupiter.
Safely watch sunspots and solar eclipses with Celestron’s EclipSmart 50mm refractor. The built-in filter and solar finder protect you from the Sun’s intense light. And the handy tripod and backpack let you travel anywhere to watch our closest star.
I want to make this clear upfront. Without the right equipment, pointing a telescope at the Sun is extremely dangerous. Telescopes are designed to concentrate the faint light of distant stars. The Sun is really close. Pointing an unprotected telescope at the Sun will melt your equipment and permanently damage your eyes.
But there are safe ways to observe the Sun. We are exiting the latest Solar Minimum which means we should start seeing sunspots again. And should you happen to live beneath the path of future solar eclipses, a solar telescope is the safe way to do it.
Celestron’s EclipSmart Travel Solar Scope has a built-in glass filter covering its 50mm front objective lens. This meets the international ISO 12312-2 standards for direct solar observation by filtering 99.999% of visible light as well as harmful infrared and ultraviolet light.
Just as importantly, the EclipSmart telescope has a solar finder that lets you aim the telescope without looking at the Sun. A 20mm eyepiece, a tripod with alt-azimuth mount, and a carrying case round out the package.
Binoculars like the Celestron Cometron 7×50 can be a better way to get started with astronomy. Wide fields of view and light weight combine for an evening of comfortable viewing as you learn your way around the night sky.
Most amateur astronomers advise beginners to start with binoculars rather than jumping into telescopes. Since you’re always looking up as you navigate from object to object, binoculars make it easier to learn the layout of the stars. And you can use binoculars during the day to observe wildlife or sports events which makes binoculars a safe investment.
I recommend the Celestron Cometron 7×50 Binoculars as a good set for beginners. The 50mm objective lenses gather plenty of light and the 7x magnification provides wide fields of view. You can see the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well as explore the Moon. And weighing in at 27 ounces, holding these binoculars won’t be a workout.
What to Consider When Buying a Telescope for Beginners
Quality and Ease of Use
This was the main criteria I used to make these recommendations. The wrong telescope can be such a source of frustration that it ends a beginner’s interest in astronomy from the start. As a first-timer, you want a telescope that doesn’t get in your way.
Many of the cheap telescopes you see online use weak parts and bad quality optics. This results in shaky, blurry, and distorted views. Eyepieces with too much magnification make the problem even worse.
On the other hand, breaking the bank on the “best telescope” is another recipe for disappointment. Large-aperture telescopes designed for advanced amateurs are heavy. They use complicated German equatorial mounts that take time and skill to set up correctly.
The best way for beginners to embrace astronomy is to observe the Universe as often as possible. That means getting a good-quality telescope that isn’t a hassle to set up quickly.
Types of Telescopes
Firstly, this article is all about telescopes for stargazing. If you're looking for one for terrestrial use, check out our guide to the best telescopes for land viewing.
The design of amateur telescopes falls into one of three main categories. Refracting telescopes work the same way that camera lenses do. Light enters a large lens at the front, the objective, and flows straight through to the eyepiece lens at the back. Refracting telescopes are easy to set up and produce bright, high-contrast images. However, they do get expensive as you move to larger apertures.
Reflecting telescopes such as the Dobsonians rely on mirrors. A large, primary mirror at the bottom of the scope reflects light to a secondary mirror which bounces the light to the eyepiece. You’ll get much larger apertures for the money with a reflector than a refractor. However, the mirrors can get knocked out of alignment which requires some maintenance.
Hybrid telescopes like the Maksutov-Cassegrain combine an objective lens with a primary mirror to deliver long focal lengths in a small package. You get higher magnifications and portability. However, the telescope needs time to cool down at night and suffers from the same realignment issues as traditional reflectors.
Types of Mounts
When you buy a telescope, it’s easy to get caught up in the speeds and feeds. Aperture and focal length are important things to consider, but what many people forget is the mount. More than just a tripod, the mount determines how easy it is to point at a star and how stable you’ll find the view in the eyepiece.
All of the telescopes I’ve recommended in this article come with some variation of the alt-azimuth mount. You can turn the mount around on its axis and tilt the telescope up or down. The alt-azimuth’s drawback is that its turning axis doesn’t align with Earth’s. As a result, you have to adjust in both directions to keep your telescope on target.
Although I don’t recommend it for beginners, the German equatorial mount solves this problem. The turning axis of this mount tilts to align with Earth’s axis. Once you have an object in the eyepiece, you only need to turn the telescope rather than tilting and turning. Unfortunately, German equatorial mounts are difficult to set up. With everything else beginners have to learn, this complicated mount often becomes the final straw that sends people to other hobbies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to buy anything else?
All of the telescopes that I’ve recommended are complete packages. They come with tripods, mounts, eyepieces, and all of the accessories you’ll need to explore the night sky. Of course, your needs will change as you learn your way around and figure out which objects you enjoy viewing the most.
A Barlow lens, an extension for your eyepieces, is one of the first upgrades many astronomers get. The Celestron Omni 2X Barlow Lens, for example, lets you get better views of Saturn’s rings or Jupiter’s cloud bands by doubling your eyepiece’s magnification.
Once you get deeper into astronomy, you’ll find yourself looking for more eyepieces. You may be looking for wider or narrower fields of view or you may want better-quality optics. Convenience is the main benefit of the Celestron 93230 8 to 24mm 1.25 Zoom Eyepiece. Rather than constantly swapping out eyepieces, a zoom eyepiece lets you change your telescope’s magnification by turning a dial.
Can I use these telescopes for astrophotography?
A quick and easy way to take astro-images with these telescopes is to aim your smartphone’s camera into the eyepiece. But you’ll never hold the phone steady enough to take a crisp image. If you want better pictures than that, check out devices like the Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount. It holds your smartphone flat up against the eyepiece to eliminate camera shake.
However, this technique only works for the brightest objects like the Moon, Jupiter, or the Orion Nebula. You’ll need higher-quality telescopes with more sophisticated tracking mounts to get crisp, detailed pictures of faint deep space objects. Check out my recommendations in Best Telescopes for Deep Space Astrophotography.
How do I find things to look at through my telescope?
As you get started with astronomy, you’ll need a little help finding your way around the night sky. The Moon, Venus, and Jupiter are bright and easy to spot. A resource like Terence Dickinson’s NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe is a great place to start. Dickinson provides an easy introduction to finding your way around the sky using constellations. He also co-wrote The Backyard Astronomer's Guide which will still be a useful reference for years to come. Smartphone apps like SkySafari are like handheld planetariums that are good to have with you as you stand by your telescope.
Last update on 2021-02-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API