At $500 you start to get into the exceptional telescopes. At this price point, you are going to start expecting more from your scope. This is a lot of money and whatever you decide to buy should be worth every penny. The more you have invested, the bigger the disappointment will be if you get something you didn’t expect or receive a product that just won’t hold up.
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That is why we have taken a hard look at the best available telescopes in this price range and hand selected some that we feel are the absolute best. Whether you are looking for big views, mind blowing technology, or something in between, there is a telescope for you on this list.
Here are our five favorite telescopes available for under $500.
Best New Technology: Celestron – StarSense Explorer LT 102AZ
New programs and gadgets hit the market every day from smart toilets to smart blenders. Luckily, this explosion of smart gadgets has also extended to telescopes and Celestron is well on their way to creating a fully smart telescope.
The difference between a smart telescope and a computerized telescope is simple. Smart telescopes can react and adapt in real time while computerized telescopes are fixed due to the static nature of the databases. This is a potentially groundbreaking distinction that could catapult telescopes to the next level. Celestron has taken a stab at this new frontier in telescope design with their StarSense Explorer LT 102AZ.
Celestron – StarSense Explorer LT 102AZ Specs
- Type: Refractor
- Aperture: 102mm
- Focal ratio: f/6.5
- Highest theoretical magnification: 240x
- Assembled weight: 14.2lbs
First, let’s quickly go over the telescope itself. The StarSense 102AZ is a super solid refractor telescope. It has a large aperture at 102mm that puts it on the high end in terms of refractor size. Also, it is lightweight, very solid in its build, sleek looking and has enough power to give you all of the views that you expect from a telescope of this price.
It can be outfitted with all of Celestron’s best and most popular accessories giving you the ability to customize it to your specific tastes. All in all, it is one of the better refractors on the market but what put this telescope over the top are the integrated smart features.
The Perfect Technology!
The new technology here is a seamless integration between your smart phone and your telescope. Like I mentioned previously, the old models of computerized telescopes were based on static databases and finicky alignment software that was occasionally frustrating to use.
Now, you simply launch Celestron’s app, and your phone will start to do the rest for you. Your phone will analyze the sky and be able to pinpoint your telescopes exact location which gives you unrivaled information about the position of night sky objects.
The app will also pull weather and location data to curate a list of the best visible objects for you and your telescope to explore on that specific night. The old databases had no clue what the conditions overhead were and could not warn you that Andromeda might not be visible due to the relative humidity in the air. That is the difference that the smart telescope technology makes.
However, this telescope is still manual in its movement and focusing. It is not a goto telescope with automatic searching and tracking abilities. Though, the app makes it easier than ever to find objects by personally guiding you via your phone to your desired object. It’s like Google Maps for the sky!
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest tech and want to be one of the first to get your hands on the first iterations of the next generation of smart telescopes then you are going to love the Celestron StarSense Explorer 102AZ.Check Latest Price
Best Technology: Celestron – NexStar 4SE Telescope
While the Celestron StarSense is forging a new path with some untested technology, the Celestron NexStar 4SE is a telescope that is filled with tried and true features. If the newness aspect of brand new tech turns you off, then you are going to want to check out the NexStar line of telescopes. The NexStar 4SE is a high tech telescope that offers some of the best imaging available and is fully automated with goto and database integration.
Best of all, the 4SE model is available for less than $500 which, for everything that it offers, is honestly a steal.
Celestron – NexStar 4SE Telescope Specs
- Type: Maksutov-Cassegrain
- Aperture: 4”
- Focal ratio: f/13
- Highest theoretical magnification: 241x
- Assembled weight: 21lbs
One of the greatest aspects of this telescope is the beautiful simplicity on which it is built. This telescope has a wide aperture but is not very large. It is compact, easy to set up, and is feature-rich without being complicated. That is a hard balance to strike.
The telescope itself looks so unassuming that you would not guess upon first glance that it is one of the best telescopes on the market today.
The efficient Schmidt-Cassegrain design offers some truly high contrast and spectacular views without being too large or heavy. It does not require as much upkeep as a reflector but gives you the deeper views of a Newtonian reflector. The combination is phenomenal.
It can easily be stored out of the way, set up on a table, or mounted to a tripod. It is small and flexible enough to be used in a variety of situations with ease.
The Telescope That Keeps On Giving…
That’s not all though. While Celestron is busy trying to pioneer the next generation of smart telescopes, they already designed the last generation to near perfection. The NexStar 4SE is equipped with all of Celestron’s best technology to date and everything works flawlessly.
It comes with a massive database of over 40,000 night sky objects that it can keep track of. This includes everything from planets to galaxies to nebulas and more. The best part is, unlike some telescopes, this scope comes with full goto integration. That means once the telescope is properly aligned, it will be able to go to each object in the database automatically. All you have to do is wait for it to move into the proper position and take a look through the eyepiece.
The automatic search and tracking features displayed here are not found in the StarSense model which still requires manual input to operate. You can even use Celestron’s app as a companion piece to your telescope adventures, it is just not fully integrated (yet).
Between the excellent image quality, massive database, automatic search, and tracking features, and the excellent companion software, I feel confident saying that this telescope has the potential to be a telescope that holds your interest for years to come.
If you love the sound of this telescope but are looking for something a little bit bigger in terms of aperture, the NexStar line features telescopes in a variety of sizes. The 4SE model is the only one that comes in under $500 but if you are willing to pay more they have a 5SE, 6SE and 8SE all available with bigger and better image quality available.
If you are looking for the best computerized telescope technology on the market today, then you have to take a look at the NexStar series of telescopes. The technology used here is polished, it works and offers countless hours of potential education and fun for the whole family.Check Latest Price
Best Classic Newtonian Reflector: Celestron – NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope
For all of the fancy and complicated telescopes out there today, sometimes simply going with a classic is the best. For those of you out there who simply want the best telescope experience that doesn’t stray too far from the classic Newtonian reflector design, this is our pick for you. The NexStar 130SLT is one of Celestron’s best large aperture reflectors equipped with their star locating technology (SLT) which combines the best of their reflector technology with the best of their computerized goto technology for a solid telescope platform that anyone can love.
Unlike their other offerings on this list, this is one of the most simple telescopes in terms of design and features. It is your standard Newtonian reflector with a hefty 130mm aperture and basic tripod base. If you are comfortable with reflectors or are simply looking to upgrade your current Newtonian to a more advanced model, you will feel right at home here.
NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope Specs
- Type: Newtonian reflector
- Aperture: 130mm
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Highest theoretical magnification: 307x
- Assembled weight: 18lbs
With the large aperture, low focal ratio, and high magnification threshold, this telescope is poised for great performance in deep sky viewing. This wide angle combined with the raw light gathering ability makes things like distant galaxies truly pop. If you are more interested in seeing the distinct arms of a vast spiral galaxy than craters on the moon, you are going to love this telescope.
Once you get comfortable with Celestron’s app and SLT technology, you will be cruising around the night sky in no time. This telescope runs the same suite of computerized features as the other NexStar telescopes which means you get the full automatic goto locating and tracking features and the full 40,000+ database of objects.
The only drawback is that this telescope requires a lot of power to use appropriately and therefore it is recommended to buy the Celestron power products which allow you to plug your telescope into a nearby outlet or store power in a large power bank. Otherwise, this thing will eat batteries at a rate you simply won’t believe which can be highly frustrating.
The Celestron NexStar 130SLT Reflector offers you the classic look and feel of your favorite reflector telescopes with the proven technology that has been developed by Celestron. Use it how you like, either manually or with the full automatic goto star locating technology. The choice is yours.
No matter what you choose, if you love reflector telescopes you are going to love this upgrade to the classic reflector paradigm.Check Latest Price
Best Dobsonian: Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope
It would not be a best of list without the inclusion of at least one large aperture Dobsonian telescope. The high quality Dobsonian being tapped for this one is the Orion SkyQuest XT8. This telescope excels at being simple, functional, and sleek in its design. Dobsonians are excellent at offering stunning deep space vistas for your eyes to feast on and there is no reason to complicate a formula that works.
At 8” in diameter for the aperture, this telescope has some serious chops in which to scan the deepest reaches of space with ease. If you are looking for a large, stationary light bucket in which to peruse the deepest reaches of space for sights that others just can’t see with their telescopes, this is a perfect choice for you.
And it comes in well under our $500 price limit.
Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Specs
- Type: Dobsonian
- Aperture: 8”
- Focal ratio: f/5.9
- Highest theoretical magnification: 406x
- Assembled weight: 42lbs
There are few light buckets that do it better than the XT8. Orion has quietly made a classic line of telescopes that are going to go down in history as best in class. If you are looking for an intelligently designed telescope that has what it takes to offer some of the best images that the universe has to offer, this is what you want.
Once it is assembled, some assembly required, this is a super strong and sturdy telescope that will do well in a dark sky environment. If you can get this aperture under dark clear skies you will be amazed what appears in the eyepiece.
At 8” this is one of the largest diameter telescopes that you can buy at this price range, you don’t find much bigger than this for less than $500. It is the biggest telescope on this list by far in terms of aperture size.
If you are in love with Dobsonians and want bigger, you might have to pay a bit more but there is an Orion XT10 and an Orion XT12 which offer the same classic design with even bigger apertures.
At this price, you simply won’t find bigger and you will be hard pressed to find better than the Orion XT8 Dobsonian telescope.Check Latest Price
Best Space Saver: Orion 27191 StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope
In an era of small apartments, townhomes, and condos, not everyone has the space necessary to store and display large telescopes. This is unfortunate because it makes people feel as though they cannot get into backyard astronomy. Heck, a lot of people don’t even have yards anymore! This is simply not the case.
There are plenty of telescopes available that can fit into your storage challenged lifestyle. One such telescope is the Orion StarBlast 6i. This telescope features a simple optical tube assembly, a flat bottomed mount, and its own database. No frills, no gangly tripods, and no massive bases to contend with. This telescope will be perfectly happy sitting in a window sill, or in a nook, or on a table, or in a small space on a shelf in your closet. It does not require a lot of space, but it will give you some great views of it!
Orion 27191 StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope Specs
- Type: Reflector
- Aperture: 6”
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Highest theoretical magnification: 300x
- Weight: 24lbs
You do not have to compromise on great views or image quality just to save some storage space either. The StarBlast 6i is a super high quality telescope with a hefty OTA and a large aperture. At 6”, it is one of the larger telescopes on this list and can still offer some jaw dropping images of deep space.
At 24lbs it is easy to pick up and move. With the flat base, it does not require any complicated assembly or disassembly. It can be a portable telescope for those who like to travel with their astronomy or it will simply be a great conversation piece for an upscale apartment with a balcony. Either way, this telescope will be able to seamlessly fit into your life which I appreciate. Closet space is at a premium in my house and I’m glad that there are options available that won’t have me playing Tetris with my things just to put my scope away.
And, it still comes with all of the best computerized technology. Orion has developed its own database of stellar objects. The IntelliScope Computerized Object Locator will be able to point the way to over 14,000 objects.
I love this telescope because it does a little bit of everything. If you are looking for a jack of all trades scope, this one should get top billing. It has a large aperture, stunning images, it is sturdy and portable, it has its own computerized database and stores away easily. It takes a little bit from everything on this list and combines it into one synthesized package that we love.Check Latest Price