So you want to buy a telescope. It has to be nice but not too nice. You probably have settled on a number somewhere between $100-$200 for a good landing spot for your potential purchase. The only problem is that when you start looking there are just so many telescopes. How do you know which one is a good purchase and which ones are not worth your time?
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The search results can quickly become overwhelming and lately, there have been more and more additions from unreliable companies from overseas offering dressed up bundles of low quality. These results are often mixed in with the good and reputable companies muddling the results page to the point where making an educated choice on your own can be difficult.
Especially nowadays, due to things like brushing scams you can’t even trust the reviews you see on some products which make purchasing new things more stressful than ever before.
That is why we have compiled a list of our favorite telescopes available for less than $200. But that’s not all, we are also going to go through the types of things you should be looking for when searching for telescopes which will make the process much easier and more transparent for you going forward.
If you keep these important things in mind while looking for telescopes you will be much more prepared to sift through the ever growing number of telescopes appearing online.
What To Look For
Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when searching for a new telescope, at any price range.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that you are going to get a quality product for your money is to buy your telescope from a reputable company. Telescopes are highly designed tools that are fragile and require a high degree of precision to work properly. Not every company is equipped to offer this level of quality in their scopes.
For the new telescope user, I would suggest sticking to the Big Three, as I call them. The Big Three include Celestron, Orion, and Meade Instruments. All of these companies have a long and proven track record of creating quality telescopes and accessories while offering good customer service.
That’s not to say there aren’t other good companies out there but these are the three I am personally confident in suggesting to a new astronomer. They routinely top the list of the best telescopes available and are some of the best reviewed companies and for good reason.
If you stay with Celestron, Orion, or Meade Instruments then you will instantly reduce your chances of getting a lemon.
Optics and Aperture
The most important part of any telescope is the optics. Telescopes at the end of the day are optical tools. Almost everything else about a telescope can easily be swapped, changed, or upgraded. The optical tube assembly (OTA) is not one of those things. Whatever optical tube you get with your telescope is going to be the one you are stuck with for good or for ill.
If you think this is a no brainer, you would be surprised. There are a lot of companies that try and push the quality of the tripod or the number of upgrades or the brand of eyepiece over the optical tube itself. While all of these things are necessary for the smooth operation of a telescope, they can all be swapped or changed out down the road.
You are going to want to pay attention to the aperture size first and foremost. One of the things that are going to determine the performance of a telescope is how large of an aperture it has. A larger aperture will offer greater potential to pick out dimmer light which translates to more distant objects.
High quality images can still be had with a telescope with a smaller aperture but smaller telescopes will have a smaller potential as well.
Aperture sizes generally run in this range.
Medium: 100mm – 130mm | 4” – 5”
Large: 131mm+ | 5”+
Small telescopes are going to be best for looking at nearby objects and are going to struggle to pick out super distant deep sky objects.
Medium telescopes are going to offer a good range of objects to see and are usually still easy to manage and operate. You will be able to see more with a medium telescope and they are some of the most versatile.
Large aperture telescopes are going to be best for trawling deep space for unique sights but their massive size is going to translate to a much larger telescope tube. This can make them hard to handle, heavy, and much less portable but the light gathering potential is the greatest.
Other things you will want to keep an eye out for is coated lenses. Coated glass is a great upgrade to refractors especially and if you can find telescopes with fully coated optics it will help increase image quality across the board. Not all telescopes have coated optics, especially ones at a lower price, but it is an upgrade keeping an eye out for.
Mounts, Bases, and Goodies
The last thing to keep an eye on is going to be the different types of mounts, bases, and accessories that come with each telescope. Note, quantity is not always better than quality. Some companies try to pack in as many extras as possible in a bid to entice you to buy their bundle over another. Always remember, if the telescope tube itself is poor quality, no number of accessories can make up for that.
A mount is an apparatus that is attached to the OTA which then attaches it to the base. The mount usually is what determines what kind of control you have over your telescope. Altazimuth and equatorial are the two most common and we have a whole breakdown of the differences between those two here on the site.
The mount attaches to the base which is normally some sort of tripod but can also be a flat base or a hefty Dobsonian base. The base is what is going to keep your telescope upright during use.
Lastly, the most common accessories included in any telescope package are going to be eyepieces and some sort of finderscope. Most telescopes come with two eyepieces and some will come with only one, this is to be expected but you can easily buy more eyepieces.
What a Finder scope Helps With…
A finderscope helps you to align your telescope with objects in the night sky by giving you a point of reference on your telescope. Some objects take a high degree of precision to line up properly and without a scope, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating.
Bonus accessories include Barlow lenses, image diagonals, collimation caps, dust covers, cases, lights, and power sources. You will often see some of these things in your accessory lists but these are not required for general telescope use and are considered to be extra upgrades.
Pay Attention and Use Common Sense
If you learn what the component parts of any good telescope kit are and learn the words that are important, shopping for a telescope becomes much less confusing and more rewarding. Realizing that a telescope with a 70mm aperture and no coated optics is just not going to be very powerful no matter how many Barlow lenses they include is much more valuable than simply looking at the feature list and choosing the longest one (I’m guilty of that too sometimes).
Telescopes are not cheap investments, so it is best to do your due diligence. Do a quick Google of terms or companies you are not familiar with. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Just go in with some common sense and be willing to do just a little bit of extra research and you will be just fine.
Without further ado, here is our list of the best telescopes available for less than $200.
Best Overall Telescope Under $200: Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
In terms of offering the best overall product available for less than $200, nothing is better than the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ. This telescope is powerful, beginner friendly, affordable, and comes with a host of useful extras. If you are simply looking for a high quality telescope that offers everything you will need as a starter astronomer or casual user, then this is the telescope you want.
First off, it is powerful. It has a large 127mm aperture that has enough chops to see all of the best sights the sky has to offer. You won’t often find high quality reflector telescopes on the market with an aperture this size, at this price. The large light gathering ability of the 5” diameter aperture allows you to pull in more distant light than anything else on this list. In fact, this is the largest telescope in terms of raw aperture size and that is no accident.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ Specs
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 127mm
- Focal ratio: f/8
- Highest theoretical magnification: 300x
- Assembled weight: 22lbs
The aperture plus Celestron’s brilliantly designed optical tube gives us a combination of features that allows this telescope to truly shine. The focal ratio of f/8 is perfectly middling which allows you to get great shots of high contrast objects as well as some wider angled shots of far off deep space sights as well. The magnification ceiling at 300x is super high, the highest on this list.
The out of this world optics on this telescope give it almost unlimited potential for excellent viewing, especially at this price.
But raw telescope power does not a good telescope make. Not only do you get the superb power of a bulky reflector telescope, but you are also getting Celestron’s design quality and product guarantee. Celestron is a US-based company with a stellar track record in the customer service department so you know you are getting a product you can trust as well as a product that will outperform everything else it compares to.
The PowerSeeker 127EQ comes with a high grade equatorial mount which allows you to take advantage of its power by making it easy to keep your favorite objects within view. The equatorial mount is easy to use and feels natural with this telescope’s setup. This way, you can find that distant galaxy and admire its individual spiral arms while keeping it firmly in the eyepiece with just a few turns of a handy knob.
It is also advertised as being portable and able to be used as a terrestrial scope. Moving any reflector telescopes can be a touchy business due to the precise positioning of their internal mirrors so I wouldn’t suggest it for brand new users but you could easily disassemble this unit and take it on the road with you.
You can also use it as a terrestrial viewer if you purchase a compatible erect image diagonal. Again, not something I would suggest for the brand new user but the versatility of this telescope is highly present in its design.
While it does not come with an erect image diagonal it does come with two eyepieces (20mm and 40mm) as well as a 3x Barlow lens and a tripod. You get everything you need to get started right out of the box.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 137EQ is a powerful, quality, and versatile telescope. Whether you are simply a casual astronomer looking for an easy scope to use on certain nights with friends and family or a beginner looking to learn and grow on a solid entry level scope, this kit has something for everyone. It tops this list for a reason and it should top your list as well.Check Latest Price
Best Refractor Telescope Under $200: Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ
Oftentimes, reflector telescopes offer more power and better images than refractor telescopes. However, they are also harder to keep clean, more fragile, and require more effort to focus and calibrate than a refractor. Refractors are the original telescope design and therefore are tested, tried, and true. This pedigree has garnered devote fans of the refractor design for centuries, even to this day. Some people prefer this design over reflectors hands down.
While our best of the best telescope is a reflector, as are many of the other telescopes on this list, you can find solace in the AstroMaster 70AZ by Celestron. This is the best refractor telescope available at our price point of $200 or less. Often times it can be found for much less than $200 but offers you tons of value and usage.
Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ Specs
- Type: Refractor
- Aperture: 70mm
- Focal ratio: f/13
- Highest theoretical magnification: 165x
- Assembled weight: 11lbs
The optics on this telescope are great. While the aperture at 70mm is not the biggest out there, it is made with a level of quality where that does not matter as much. The glass on this telescope is fully coated which allows you to get high contrast images and vibrant colors to truly shine with this scope without having to worry about optical aberrations.
The long focal length gives you a high focal ratio of f/13. This narrow angle view allows this telescope to really shine while viewing crowd favorites such as the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. It really excels at viewing our solar system.
You don’t just get a blown-up image of the moon, you get super crisp images of the deep craters, shadows, and seas on the moon’s surface. You don’t just get to see Jupiter, you can see the diverse bands of multicolored clouds and the Galilean moons. Saturn appears in detail, with the rings readily available to see (if the position of Saturn is correct).
The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ optics and design of this scope take your normal viewing experience and enhances it to an impressive level of clarity and detail.
The AstroMaster’s ability to provide clear and simple images of the best things in our solar system make it perfect for the beginner or anyone interested in our planets. The altazimuth mount makes your freedom of movement unparalleled and feels smooth and great in your hands. It will only take a few minutes to go from zero to observing Mars with this easy to use telescope.
In addition to great quality optics, it comes with a full 2-year warranty from Celestron meaning you have a large safety net in which to catch you in case you are worried about something going wrong with your scope. Many telescopes on the market do not come with any sort of warranty or technical support and the ones that do rarely offer anything close to a 2-year warranty. This shows Celestron’s confidence in their product and their willingness to include new astronomers and budget conscious stargazers into the field of astronomy.
This is the perfect addition for anyone who wants to take their telescope along on their adventures. At a mere 11lbs fully assembled, this telescope is super easy to break down and throw in the car. The warranty will help ease your mind about anything going wrong if you want to travel with your telescope. Celestron’s refractors are super durable and able to take a mild amount of punishment (though not recommended).
In terms of accessories, you get everything you need to launch your new favorite hobby. It comes with two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), an erect image diagonal for terrestrial viewing, a finderscope, and the travel-ready tripod. This is a great set of accessories that are a good grade and ensure that you can get the most out of the telescope. The portability plus the erect image diagonal makes this a perfect telescope for the outdoorsman who likes to do a lot of viewing in nature, either dark skies or sweeping terrestrial vistas.
The durability, image quality, and portability make this a super flexible telescope that can appeal to a very broad audience. If you like refractors, this is a prime example of a high quality refractor done right. Also, if you want a portable outdoor telescope the image diagonal, lightweight build, and 2-year warranty will appeal to you. If you are a beginner, you will love the stunning views of the moon and planets that it can offer.Check Latest Price
Best Reflector Telescope Under $200: Orion StarBlast II 4.5EQ
Our best of the best telescope is a similar reflector by Celestron. A close second in terms of overall greatness is the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 which we are marking as the best reflector for a reason. In order to give you an alternative to Celestron, we are including this excellent telescope by Orion, another reputable company.
The StarBlast II is a powerful reflector that is easy to use and is great to look at. With a decent sized aperture of 4.5” (114mm) it has the chops to scan both the solar system, Milky Way, and beyond to get some excellent views. Clad in the iconic Orion blue, the optical tube looks great and performs even better.
Orion StarBlast II 4.5EQ Specs
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 4.5”
- Focal ratio: f/4
- Highest theoretical magnification: 228x
- Assembled weight: 21lbs
The thing I like best about this telescope is that it is fun. From the color to the inclusion of a moon map and the insistence that the whole family can use the StarBlast II the whole thing oozes good vibes. Some telescopes are solemn, asking their users to cloak themselves in the shroud of a scientist or professional astronomer. These telescopes are all black, sleek, presenting themselves as merely a tool and not something to be enjoyed.
Not the StarBlast II. This telescope is meant to be enjoyed. The moon map gives you features on the surface of the moon to set out and find. This telescope can be enjoyed immediately by beginners but has enough power and potential to grow with you, or your kids, as you become more adept at the art of telescoping.
This telescope comes equipped with an excellent equatorial mount which will both help you learn how to track objects in the night sky and give you the ability to keep your family’s favorite sights in view for longer. Orion makes truly excellent equatorial mounts and the operation of the slow motion controls is easy.
Celestron definitely offers some great telescopes but if you are looking for something a little more fun and a little less serious than some of their offerings, this alternative by Orion is excellent. It a crystal clear reflector with a focus on family fun and growth. We can comfortably rate this as a top reflector available on the market today and almost unbeatable at its current price, which is well below our price point of $200.Check Latest Price
Best EQ Telescope Under $200: Orion Observer 80ST
The Orion Observer 80ST is aptly named. If you are someone interested in doing any kind of long form observation, this is the telescope for you. Orion has designed this telescope to be excellent at finding and tracking specific, singular objects in the night sky. Want to stare in awe of Saturn’s rings for a few hours? The Observer 80ST has you covered.
This ability is primarily derived from the excellent equatorial mount that comes included with this kit. In fact, it is the best equatorial mount on this list by far! But it’s not just the mount that makes this telescope great for object tracking but the whole design overall.
Orion Observer 80ST Specs
- Type: Refractor
- Aperture: 80mm
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Highest theoretical magnification: 160x
- Assembled weight: 10lbs
This refractor has a decent sized aperture that lets in more light than the more common 70mm models which helps it capture the images you crave a little better. The whole design is lightweight coming in at only 10lbs assembled which makes moving this telescope and navigating it to your desired image a snap.
This is not the most powerful telescope on this list, nor is it the most comprehensive. What this telescope offers is smooth operation and easy object tracking. If you are looking for a more freeform, less structured approach to your stargazing you might not appreciate the simplicity that this telescope offers.
However, if you are looking to do specific viewing either for practice, an interest in the planets or perhaps dabbling in astrophotography, you are going to appreciate how easy it is to dial in this telescope and track your favorite objects over the course of an evening.
To bolster this, Orion has added in two eyepieces, a 2x Barlow lens, and some helpful materials that will make object tracking that much easier. Those include a star target locator and a beginner’s guide to stargazing which helps find and track the top 60 items in the night sky. With all of these things together, paired with the amazing equatorial mount, you will be finding and tracking the best sights in the sky in no time.Check Latest Price
Best Space Saver Telescope under $200: Orion StarBlast I 4.5 Table Top
I love the Orion StarBlast Table Top telescope. It is small and compact without compromising on its power and design. As someone who has lived in my fair share of small apartments and condos over the years, I have learned to appreciate things that save on space without sacrificing functionality. That is what this telescope does.
After all, it is modeled after the Orion StarBlast II which we have already praised in detail!
It throws out the conventional mount and base for a simplified and compact version that allows it to be conveniently placed on a table or windowsill. You can easily use it outside on a picnic table, flat railing on a deck, or any other flat surface that has a good view of the sky. It requires a lot less assembly, alignment, and stabilization than the traditional mount and tripod set up and best of all, it will not hog up your precious space when in use or out of use.
Orion StarBlast I 4.5 Table Top Specs
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 4.5”
- Focal ratio: f/4
- Highest theoretical magnification: 228x
- Assembled weight: 13lbs
You still get the excellent power of a 4.5” aperture without all of the hassle and weight of similar telescopes. At 18” in length and 13lbs in weight, this is truly a compact telescope. This size makes it super easy to move and take with you.
That means you can get excellent deep space views from wherever you want. With a medium-sized aperture, low focal ratio, and high magnification ceiling, you will be able to get some truly great views of distant star fields and galaxies from any dark sky.
Unlike other reflectors which require you to remove the tripod and adjust the mount before traveling, this telescope can literally be picked up in one piece and taken to the car. The lack of assembly and adjustments required to move this telescope means that it will require less maintenance in terms of calibration which will appeal to the low maintenance astronomer.
In fact, it comes almost fully assembled right out of the box so you don’t even have to do an initial set up or assembly like many other telescopes.
Orion knows that the diminutive size is going to invite lots of movement for this telescope and they have included a collimation cap with the other accessories. The collimation cap makes adjusting the telescope’s primary mirrors easier than ever and is an excellent addition to this package. Moving any reflector telescope has the chance of bumping the primary mirror out of alignment which can make images appear blurry or out of focus. The collimation cap will allow you to easily adjust the telescope from anywhere without any additional purchases necessary.
In terms of a small, space saving telescope, Orion has thought of everything. The Orion StarBlast I 4.5 does not compromise its power or poise for a compact shape. It is perfect for the grab-and-go astronomer who wants a powerful reflector that can be easily snagged and quickly taken along. Also, it won’t be out of place in small apartments or condos. It will be right at home on a closet shelf or window sill. It truly is a remarkable telescope.Check Latest Price