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Compare 2020 Top Rated Telescopes for: Beginners, Kids, Advanced, and Astrophotography
A telescope is considered your portal to the universe and makes a great gift, especially during the holidays. It, therefore, should be used to provide a lifetime of enjoyment. However, there is no perfect telescope just as there is no perfect car. You will have to choose a telescope based on your observing interest, irrespective of how weird or wonderful it is, as well as your lifestyle and budget. There are good starter telescopes ranging from $400 and upwards, although you can find some incredible choices at just under $250. It’s normal to get a lot of hype when trying to pick a telescope however by knowing a few basics about telescopes, you will be able to choose one that’s right for your observing interests, budget and your lifestyle.
1. Celestron Advanced VX 11″ Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope
If you are looking to step up to an 11″ telescope, the Celestron’s advanced Schmidt-Cassegrain is a great option for you It is one of the most affordable 11″ telescopes as well as the most portable out there. It has an advanced VX mount which is strong enough to support the 11″ aperture optical tube assembly as well as small lightweight accessories. However, you will notice that this telescope weighs far less than some of Celestron’s other telescope kits. If you’re looking at optics, it gathers 41% more light than the 9.25″ model. Even better light transmission is made possible with the StarBright XLT coatings on this Schmidt-Cassegrain. High contrast, bright and clear images are ensured with the accurate color rendition, without any visible distortion at the edges. Great magnifications are accomplished with ease thanks to the 2800 mm focal length.
Q. How many counterweights come with the mount?
A. There is one counterweight
Q. Does it come with a carrying case?
A. No, it does not
Q. Can I connect this telescope to laptop?
A. Yes, however, it will require the use of an rs-242 USB cable
Q. Can you use the regular AA batteries to power this mount?
A. No, you can plug it into your power port in your vehicle or use a car battery and an inverter as it needs at least 12 volts.
2. Celestron Omni XLT 150 Reflector Telescope
To ensure maximum stability and durability, the Celestron Omni XLT 150 telescope is made from high-quality material. The mirrors used are suitable for a large range of wavelengths since the rays from this Newtonian telescope don’t have to pass through any material. The images are sharper and the light output higher, thanks to the coating used. It also comes with a tripod mount. The tripod is equatorial and has robust stainless steel legs. Together the tripod and mount weigh around 33 pounds. Provided you have a camera adapter and the right T2 ring, this telescope will be suitable for astrophotography.
Q.Does it come with a carry case?
A. No, it doesn’t; however, you should keep the original boxes as they provide ample protection while traveling
Q. What eyepiece is included in the package?
A. A 25mm Celestron eyepiece
Q. Is the motor included?
A. No, It isn’t.
Q. Does it have the scope for astrophotography?
A. Yes, it is capable; however, you will need further accessories such as a motor drive, compatible adapters and Crayford style eyepiece.
3. Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope
Tabletop telescopes are popular among beginners and seasoned astronomers alike. The name Maksutov — Cassegrain guarantees premium quality optics, while Orion is one of the leaders in optical technology. The great views of the moon and stars are made possible with the 90 mm aperture, which gathers the maximum light, enabling brighter views of many deep-sky objects. Thanks to the 90-degree mirror diagonal, night viewing is a pleasure. It is also equipped with a handy features known as the EZ Finder II reflex. This feature makes it easy to spot out objects. It weighs only 6.5 pounds, making it compact and easy to carry around. The table-top base allows for a stable viewing foundation. Considering it has all these features, this is easily the best telescope under 200 dollars.
Q. Can you use it to see Pluto
A. Unfortunately, it is not large enough to see Pluto
Q. Can you use it to see the surface of Mars?
A. You can definitely see Mars, however, further than that the only other detail you may be able to see is the polar ice caps. You could try using an observation filter, though.
Q. Can I use a camera with it?
A. Yes but you will need a T mount
Q. Can I use it during the day
A. Yes, it is suitable for daytime use provided you use the necessary filters
4. Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope
If you’re looking for a quality telescope at a bargain price, the Orion SpaceProbe is your best option. It is advertised as a beginner telescope, however, it boasts some amazing technical features than even a seasoned user would appreciate, such as the 100 to 150 mm aperture allow you to gaze into deep space and view the moon, galaxies and nebulas. The short 24″ optical tube design also enhances its portability. The 650 mm focal length, 130 mm optical diameter and focal ratio compliment each other perfectly. It comes with an adjustable tripod and equatorial mount which allows you to track the planets and stars in slow motion while they travel. All users will love the Starry Night software that comes with this package as it alerts you of upcoming celestial events. It also comes with tools to help assemble the telescope.
Q. Can it be used on a motorized or computerized mount?
A. Yes, you will need to use the Orion 7827 EQ-2M Electronic Telescope Drive. It is available on Amazon.
Q.Do I need additional lenses to view planets?
A. Yes, you should be able to view the planets, with the additional 25mm eyepiece provided. However, don’t expect much detail
Q. Is it suitable for terrestrial viewing?
A. This is a reflector telescope, and refractor type telescopes are better suited to terrestrial viewing.
What’s our Take?
5. Silver TwinStar AstroMark 80mm 16-40x Power Portable Refractor Telescope
When it comes to versatility the TwinStar AstroMark telescope is probably one of the best optical instruments on the market. While most telescopes are optimized for star gazing into the deep night sky, this telescope is also equipped to deliver bird watching, cityscape gazing, hunting and wildlife observation competently. This telescope has a great light gathering power, making usage in darker or shadier areas possible. It comes with 2 kellner eyepieces which gives images that crystal clarity and brightness. Both these eyepieces have their own containers for convenient storage. It also comes with a carry case making mobility easier, while the table top tripod makes observations simpler. Ultimately, if you looking to get an awesome gift for your budding astronomer of a grandson – this is the best telescope for kids.
Q. Can you attach a camera to the telescope?
A. If you have a Nikon or Canon DSLR, you can use an adapter to attach it to the telescope. Alternatively, you can use telephone specific cameras.
Q. Can you view good images of planets?
A. No, it is more suitable for viewing the Moon and other viewing activities like bird watching.
Q. Can it be mounted on a camera tripod?
A. Yes it can
6. Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope
The Celestron Travel Scope is the perfect optical tool for when you are on the go. This 70 mm refractor telescope has a 2.76-inch aperture as well as two eyepieces. The 10 mm and 20 mm eyepieces give a magnification of 40x and 20x respectively. One of its best features is its portability and it also comes with a stylish backpack. This makes it an ideal grab-and-go optical tool. This also allows you to take it with you on your vacations. Considering the price, it still has amazing features. Although you should not expect full clarity, you can still see the moon, nebulas and a variety of celestial bodies with this entry-level telescope.
Q. Can it be used for spotting?
A. Yes, its ideal for spotting while bird watching
Q. How big is the tripod?
A. Legs extend up to 1.5 meters approximately
Q. How much does it weigh?
A. 7 pounds
Q. What is the telescopes focal ratio?
A. F 5.7
Q. Can you attach a photo adapter to this telescope?
A. Yes you can
What’s my Take
A Buyer’s Guide to Buying a Telescope for Beginners
Now is a good time to take up astronomy as a hobby. Amateur astronomers have never had such a huge range of telescopes and equipment to enjoy their passion. Of course, this gives them an embarrassment of riches: The amazing selection makes it difficult for the inexperienced hobbyist to decide on the best telescope for the money. This is true, regardless of whether you are looking for the best telescope for kids, or the best telescope under 200 dollars.
If you are dead set on purchasing a telescope, or are simply mulling it over, the following information will help you to find the best rated telescope for your situation. Prior to getting out your wallet, you should establish what your priorities are. What would you like to see? Is the sky in your area dark? How much experience do you have as an observer? What is your budget? What weight would you wish to carry? And do you have space for storage?
Find the answers to these important questions, research what models are available, and you will be on course to find the best beginner telescope that will serve you well in future.
Before assessing the various telescopes on the market, it is prudent to learn a bit more about them.
The Importance of Apertures
The aperture is the key characteristic of a telescope. This is the diameter of the instrument’s primary optical part, which could be a mirror or a lens. The aperture governs the telescope’s light accumulating ability (the brightness of the images captured) and the strength of its’ resolution (the sharpness of the images). When looking for a telescope, understanding as much as possible about the aperture will help you to choose an instrument that displays the sky at night clearly.
Even excellent telescopes can only discern fine planetary or lunar details on certain nights. This is due to the volatile atmosphere on Earth. Occasionally, localised conditions, like hot air emanating from an asphalt driveway which has absorbed solar heat during the day, can affect visibility.
Big apertures enable observers to see fine details and faint objects on planets and the Moon. A six inch scope can highlight Moon craters as little as one mile wide — fifty percent as big as those visible using a three inch telescope (with identical conditions and magnification). These two telescopes directed at a distant galaxy on a dark night could reveal a more impressive picture still. A six inch mirror has a surface area quadruple the size of a three inch mirror, so it gathers four times the amount of light. Consequently, the galaxy would seem four times as bright.
However, even if you have the budget for a big instrument, a really big amateur telescope needs an observatory, so you can avoid transporting it, or manpower to assist you with lifting, assembling and disassembling it before and after every observing session. Don’t forget, the scope you use most frequently will be the one that you find most valuable.
Make a careful note of how heavy the telescope you want to buy is. Normally, this is mentioned in the fine print. Obtain a log or barbell that weighs the same on your bathroom scales. Try carrying the barbell around. Lift it backwards and forwards from where you will keep the scope to the place you will use it. Do you have to go up stairs? Will the novelty of this quickly wear off, if you have had a long, tiring day?
Now that we have acquired an insight into some of the key optical factors determining a scope’s performance, and the balance between portability and performance, we can look at the telescope categories available:
What Types of Telescopes are there?
You might be under the impression that there are a never ending range of telescopes, from the adverts in astronomical magazines. However, in spite of their diverse sizes and shapes, telescopes typically fall into one of three categories: reflectors, catadioptrics and refractors.
Refractor telescopes are the stereotypical image of how telescopes are meant to appear — they have lengthy, glistening tubes with big lenses at the front and eyepieces at the rear. The lens at the front (the objective) puts the light in focus to create an image at the back. You inspect the image using the eyepiece, which is a small magnifying glass.
Frequently, good quality refractors are purchased by planetary and lunar observers, who appreciate their high contrast images which can be magnified clearly. Actually, when they are crafted well, refractors can deliver the best images achievable with apertures.
Another benefit that refractors offer is that they are usually tougher than other kinds of scopes. This is because their lenses are less prone to misalignment. Due to this, refractors lend themselves well to people who want to buy a ‘ready to use’ product, or who do not wish to tamper with the optical controls.
However, these positive features are not the whole story. Big, high quality objective lenses are intricate components, which require specially made glass and skilled craftsmanship. This is why refractors cost considerably more than other apertures.
Furthermore, in their typical form, refractors have tubes that are impractically long. Four inch refractors could be four feet long, or even longer. And, because the eyepieces are at the tube’s lower end, tall tripods are a necessity if you want to see overhead objects. These tripods will require a sound structure, to prevent shaking at high powers. Therefore, they might be cumbersome or heavy, as well as costly. Deep sky astronomers might find that refractors lack the light grasp to pick up faint objects, and that they have narrow viewing fields. Developments in optical design have resulted in refractors that are shorter and more user friendly, however these improvements are reflected in the price tag.
Reflectors are another kind of telescope that use mirrors to focus and gather light. The Newtonian reflector (named after its’ creator, Sir Isaac Newton) is the most commonly seen version of this. This has a specially made concave mirror (shaped like a dish) at the telescope’s bottom end. A diagonal, compact secondary mirror is positioned close to the top, which diverts light from the main mirror to the tube’s side. Here, it is intercepted by a handily positioned eyepiece.
As far as value for money goes, reflectors lead the way. If they are properly manufactured and cared for, they can offer crisp images of all types of celestial objects for a small percentage of the price of a refractor, with an equivalent aperture.
Newtonian refractors have tubes that are significantly more manageable as well. Their length is usually less than the main mirror’s diameter times eight. As a result, it is possible to house the eight inch Newtonian in a tube barely more than four foot long. This will fit on a car’s back seat, where it can be transported to dark skies in the countryside. The Newtonian also has a low gravity center underneath the eyepiece. This all makes for a device on a solid, compact mount, which positions the eyepiece conveniently for virtually all sky orientations.
There is another advantage too. Reflectors are, generally speaking, the only kinds of telescopes that display ‘accurate reading’ images, instead of mirror images. This is vital, when you are attempting to cross reference what is visible in the eyepiece with what appears on your star map.
The Dobsonian is a kind of reflector that arguably offers better value than any other. This Newtonian is set on a rugged, straightforward mount. These models are highly popular and come in apertures from four inches to over thirty inches. They epitomize the notion of casual, convenient viewing.
Similar to every reflector (other kinds do exist, but we will not mention these because they are rarely used by amateurs), Newtonians do need to be maintained occasionally. In contrast to the solid mounted lenses on refractors, the mirrors on reflectors can become misaligned and therefore will require regular adjustment (collimation) to achieve optimum performance. This is especially true, if you move the telescope often. After you familiarize yourself with it, this is fairly easy, and the mirrors on most Newtonians might not need adjusting for several months. Bear in mind though, if you are not much of a mechanic, trying to collimate Newtonian reflectors, even on occasion, might be rather challenging.
The open tubes on these reflectors mean that dirt and dust is more prone to appear on their optical surfaces, even if you have covered the tubes in storage. This means that you will have to clean them occasionally. Moreover, the mirrors on reflectors have aluminized surfaces, which might have to be recoated every decade or so — more often if you reside near to the sea or in an urban area with bad air pollution.
And finally, the Catadioptric telescope
There is a third telescope category, the compound or catadioptric telescope. This model was introduced during the 1930’s, and aimed to combine the best attributes of reflectors and refractors: It employs both mirrors and lenses to create an image. The biggest advantage of this instrument is that, in its’ commonly seen form (the Maksutov Cassegrain and the Schmidt Cassegrain), it is extremely compact. The tubes on this instrument are only a few times longer than their width, a situation facilitated by ‘optical light folding’. The tube that is smaller uses a lightweight and therefore less cumbersome mounting. As a result, you can buy a long focus, large aperture telescope that is highly portable.
However, there are certain things to be mindful of here as well. Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes need periodic optical collimation, which reduces their appeal to people who dislike tinkering (similar to the Newtonian). Also, their viewing fields are fairly narrow. As far as price goes, the catadioptric is halfway between the refractor and the reflector. As with the Newtonian, the common compound telescope forms have secondary mirrors in the instrument’s light path, which partially impedes performance for vital planetary and lunar observations. Nonetheless, when properly made, a Maksutov or Schmidt Cassegrain will produce excellent images of a broad range of celestial phenomena.
Just like refractors, catadioptric tubes are closed, so dust and dirt are essentially excluded. This is good news for a device that you will be taking out into the countryside. However, if you reside in a location where dew appears (which applies to most locations), some type of extension or collar to stop the front tube corrector plate from misting up is crucial.
The reality is that most people looking for a portable and versatile scope, which is suitable for astrophotography and sky subjects, will usually choose a compound instrument. These kinds of scopes are often quite ‘high tech’, with multiple features like photographic adaptations and computerized pointing. Basically, they are great scopes for daily use, which are compatible with a broad range of accessories.
What type of Telescope Mounts are best?
Even a great telescope is worthless, unless you have a stable, solid mount that operates smoothly – one that allows it to be angled to the right point in the sky to track celestial objects accurately, while the planet rotates underneath it.
Realistically, ‘stable’ mounts are mounts that, when you use a high to medium power, do not shake for over one second once the tube is rapped. In other words, the view should not wobble too much, while you grasp the focus control, so that you can’t determine when you have obtained the best focus. Also, when you release, the aim should not leap to the side. This removes the usual store bought telescopes for hobbyists from the discussion.
Although each model varies, you will find two categories of mount: Equatorial and alt az (altitude azimuth).
Alt az mounts operate like pan and tilt heads on tripods, maneuvering the scope right and left (in azimuth) and down and up (in altitude). There are two axes on equatorial mounts as well, however they are angled so that you can align one with the earth’s rotational axis.
It’s a pretty simple setup and only requires a screwdriver to attach the mount. I used a dewalt cordless screwdriver with my setup.
If you intend to make use of a smaller telescope for day time or casual sky viewing, the alt az model is for you. Skillfully crafted mounts like this have fine thread slow motion settings, which allow you to move the scope precisely, by minuscule amounts, particularly important when you use high powers. These refinements will come into their own, when you are using high magnification to follow a planet or star.
One type of alt az mount is the Dobsonian. Cost effective materials, like Teflon and particleboard, are used to make this – which results in an affordable mount with a low gravity center. This should glide smoothly across each axis, controlled by the fingertips. Newtonian reflectors with this type of mounting are user friendly, simple to erect and value for money.
Ideally, telescopes that are meant for astronomy and photography ought to have an equatorial mount that counteracts the planet’s rotation automatically. It is much simpler to monitor celestial objects using scopes that are mounted like this, because you only have to worry about twisting the scope around one axis, rather than two at the same time – as per the alt az. Once you have an equatorial mount in position, you can keep objects in view simply by twisting the polar axis’ slow motion control.
Mounts that are more advanced, such as the latest alt az mounts, feature inbuilt electrical motor drives for this purpose. This frees you to focus on observation.
Is one kind of mount superior to the other then? No, because they all have their own specific advantages. For casual observers who want portable scopes that are easy to assemble in a range of situations, the alt az is recommended — particularly the Dobsonian. Equatorial mounts, while usually essential for most types of astrophotography and high power planet and Moon observations, need to have their polar axes synchronised with the Earth’s rotational axis. Although polar alignment isn’t especially demanding and becomes easy with experience, it might take a bit of time at the beginning of your session if you wish to do it extremely accurately (required for photography, although not for observation).
Understanding Go To Scopes
The computerized Go To telescopes are all the rage at the moment, available for sale in different guises. These instruments come with mounts, which are operated by inbuilt computers or external PCs. This enables you to angle the scope towards any object on the computer database.
You may think that these ‘Go To’ devices are the solution to the problems often faced by novices, because they essentially make it easy to find elusive objects, such as star clusters, asteroids and faint galaxies. “Great” you might say, “I can skip learning the sky!”
Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as this.
There is no doubt that, when correctly manufactured (read costly), these computerized scopes are enjoyable to use, because they seem to mystically glide through the sky to seek out whatever you have typed in – honing in on the object to be displayed through the eyepiece. However, this technology has not fully developed to the level where these instruments will automatically become orientated, when you put them outdoors and flick the ‘On’ switch.
Virtually every Go To system will request that you input your viewing site’s geographical position (or the closest town), and the time and date at the start of every session. This enables the onboard computer to work out the location of the celestial objects you want to see. Frequently, you will need to get the telescope tube level, direct it northwards (depending on your location), and then commence an alignment process that involves a couple of highly visible stars (that you need to know the names of) to put the scope’s coordinate system in sync with the sky’s.
You can certainly master this set up process after some practice. However, this will take a bit of time. Also, for those who are not familiar with the sky, many of the present batch of computerized scopes could be exasperating initially. Nonetheless, some assistance is at hand. The latest range of Go To telescopes have Global Positioning systems to inform you (and the instrument) of the exact time, and what your current location is. This makes setting up a bit simpler.
Next, there is the issue of how accurate the mechanical components are, in directing the scope to where the computer thinks it is directed. When it comes to astronomical magnifications, there’s no margin for error at all — relating to cost savings in manufacturing and mechanical design. Go To scopes that are produced cheaply will not work, irrespective of how advanced the technology is.
This is one final thought to be mindful of when choosing a telescope: Your main observing interest and location where you will be able to stargaze, along with portability, are key. Lifting weights builds your muscles, however not everyone wants to do this.
Get in touch with your local astronomy group, which might have observing evenings where you can test different scopes and talk to their owners. Do not be a stranger. Your local group would not have advertised itself if it did not want people to call. Also, think about becoming a Sky and Telescope subscriber, to receive observing tips on a monthly basis.
Telescopes are a sizable investment for the majority of people, and the sky is not going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, spend some time doing your research to find the best travel telescope for you. Familiarize yourself with guidebooks and star charts using binoculars, so you will be able to identify faint, subtle gems. This way, you will gain the skills and knowledge you require to handle a telescope properly. Then, once you do purchase, you will be in a position to make an informed decision that will suit your needs, and you will have the right tools to uncover a cavalcade of cosmic delights.
The sky is clear tonight — don’t delay any further.