For the longest time, man has gazed toward the stars, searching to put meaning and order to the world around him. Although the constellation patterns in the night sky are easy to track, other celestial events require powerful magnification. Such observations call for the use of a telescope.
However, the technicality in telescope features and multitude of options complicate the selection process. You may require an experienced guide to help you make the right choice.
Well, that’s what we are here for! With all other factors constant, we have selected 2017's best telescopes under $500. But first, here are a few things you need to know about telescopes.
If you are also interested in cameras to join this new adventure we have a review for you Cameras for Astrophotography.
A List of the Best Telescopes for Under $500
Celestron’s iconic “orange tube” design is updated with all the latest features to provide the best stargazing experience for beginners and experienced observers alike.
4-inch aperture provides excellent light-gathering ability at an affordable price. You’ll get impressive views of the Moon and planets, along with deep sky objects like the Orion Nebula, while retaining a compact form factor.
Aperture: 130mm; focal length: 650mm; compatible with 2 inch eyepieces
Focal ratio: 5; focal length of eyepiece 1/2: 25mm/9mm.Before you can begin observing, you must setup your hand control, align your finderscope and align your telescope
Quick and easy no-tool setup
Permanently mounted StarPointer finderscope
3x Barlow Lens
German Equatorial Mount
Item may ship in more than one box and may arrive separately
A large aperture Classic Dobsonian reflector telescope at a very affordable price!
We have a few other related articles for those interested in astrology. A look at some telescopes under $200 and a few Telescopes for Beginners. If you are looking for a telescope for kids.
What is a Telescope?
A telescope is a device used in the study of astronomy. It helps both professional and amateur astronomers to view both terrestrial and astronomical objects.
Its high-resolution power magnifies the images of celestial objects making them appear close even when miles away. There are different kinds of telescopes, each with its own benefits and disadvantages. Each type is uniquely modified for a specific purpose that differs from the rest, so you should chose a telescope based on your needs.
Telescopes can be classified in two categories: optical classified telescopes and telescopes categories according to the task they perform.
Optical Classified Telescope
These are telescopes classified according to their optical design, or objective, which is the part that gathers light in the telescope. There are three optical types of telescopes, namely:
- Reflector telescopes: These telescopes use parabolic mirrors instead of lenses to gather and focus light. The eyepiece is found on the side of the main tube. This design is embraced by most modern telescopes, especially the large ones. They're lighter, cheaper and don’t suffer chromatic aberration, unlike refractor telescopes.
However, they require proper maintenance and are not ideal for terrestrial applications. Further sub-divisions include: Newtonian telescopes (Dobsonian), Cassegrain telescopes, Gregorian and many more.
- Refractor telescopes: Refractor telescopes were the first telescope ever built with a design similar to that of binoculars. They use lenses to gather and focus light and requires minimal maintenance, unlike the other two scopes. However, this telescope suffers from chromatic aberration.
- Other subdivisions of refractors are: Achromatic, apochromatic, monocular, Galileoscope, Non-achromatic (Galilean telescope) and many more.
- Cassegrain Telescopes or Catadioptric telescopes: These telescopes combine both lenses and mirrors to focus light. They usually have larger aperture compared to the other two types.
The most common subdivisions are Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain. They're ideal for deep space, planetary and lunar observations as well as terrestrial viewing and photography. They are sturdy and durable, but are quite costly, unlike the other two types.
Telescopes Categorized by the Task they Perform
These different types of telescopes are bracketed according to their tasks. They can be categorized as Astrograph, Comet seeker, Astronomical optical interferometry, Go-To telescopes, Infrared telescope, Graphic telescope, Meridian Circle, Solar telescope, Robotic telescope, space telescope, Spotting scope, Zenith telescope, and Sun Gun telescope.
Basic Telescope Mount
To a greater extent, a telescope is only as good as its mount. The mount functions as a support system for the telescope for firm views and photography of the skyline objects.
It also provides a system for smooth, controlled movement to guide and point the telescope. There are two main types of mounts for astronomical telescopes namely Altazimuth and Equatorial.
Altazimuth mount: These mounts have two motions, vertical (Altitude) and horizontal (azimuth), and use slow motion-knobs for precise adjustments. This type of mount is generally good for terrestrial applications and for scanning the sky at lower power, but is not ideal for deep sky photography.
The modern version includes the Dobsonian mount, which is used to support massive Newtonian telescopes.
Equatorial mount: This mount is perfectly suited for astrophotography and tracking astronomical objects in the night sky because it takes into account the earth’s rotation.
There are two types, namely German Equatorial mount (used by Newtonian reflectors and refractors) and Fork mount (mostly embraced by catadioptric telescopes and is best for astrophotography).
- NB: there are also other types such as fixed mount, transit mount, zenith mount, Alt-alt (altitude-altitude) mount, hexapod mount and infinite-axis telescope, but these two are the most common.
Criteria of Selecting a Good Telescope for Beginners
When choosing a telescope, it is important to consider the following questions:
What is the Purpose of the Telescope?
Is it for astronomical or terrestrial viewing? If you are mostly going to use the telescope for land viewing, it is best to go for a spotting scope or a refractor, but if your main concern is deep sky observation, you might want to go for a reflecting or catadioptric telescope.
What Aperture size do you want?
The aperture is the diameter of your telescope’s main optical component. This important feature determines the amount of light your telescope can capture. The larger the aperture, the more objects you can see. However, this is not the best way of selecting a telescope.
Large aperture telescope tend to be larger and therefore are not as portable as small aperture telescope. That’s why it's important to consider where your astronomical studies will be mostly occurring – if it’s in your backyard or away from city lights.
What is the Magnification Required?
The magnifying power is dependent on the eyepiece. This is an important factor to consider but not the main decisider when it comes to the selection of a telescope. That’s why its important not to go for telescope brands that brag mostly about their high magnification power.
What type of Telescope do you want?
As stated above, there are different kinds of telescope each with its own strength and weakness. You might want to consider each type before making the final decision.
What Type of Mount is Best?
Remember, the mount type greatly affects the performance of your telescope, so select a telescope that has a mount type that meets your terrestrial or astronomical observation needs.
How Much is Your Budget?
Another key factor you need to consider is your budget. For beginners, it is important to go for less-expensive telescopes as they tend to have less complicated features.
With $500 to spend, you are moving into the realm of good telescopes. That’s why we have selected some of the best telescopes under $500 telescopes for you to consider.
The Celestron NexStar 4 SE Telescope is a combination of vintage and futuristic elements. This telescope features the classical orange tube associated with Celestron telescopes.
It's built with state of the art functionalities such as high-magnification eyepieces, premium lens coatings, and a fully computerized operating system. The fact that you don't need to use star charts and a GPS receiver while using the telescope, makes it a great option for its price.
Objective design: Catadioptric telescope with StarBright XLT maximum transmission coatings and Starpointer finderscope that helps with accuracy and alignment of objects.
Aperture: 4inch optical diameter.
Magnification: Comes with a 25mm E-Lux plossl eyepiece that gives 53x magnification and so great views of the planets and moon.
Mount type: Features a quick release fork mount.
Dimension: 32.4 x 27.2 x 13.4 inches
Other Features: A SkyAlign that lets you align on any 3 bright celestial objects for easy and fast alignment process, an accessory tray, a computerized tracking system of over 40,000-night sky object database with 200 user-definable objects and further information on over 200 objects, planetarium software for PC, a sturdy adjustable tripod with NexStar computerized hand held controller and rechargeable NiMH batteries.
- No tool setup required.
- Affordable, small, portable.
- Excellent optics.
- Simplified computerized tracking system.
- As a computerized telescope, the battery consumption is high.
Verdict: An amazing portable telescope perfect for taking short exposure shots of the moon and other planets or for visual observation.
The Celestron NexStar 130 SLT is ideal for amateur astronomers and space hobbyists. It's the largest model in the NexStar series with five times more brighter images than that of its refractor cousins.
This Newtonian reflector is perfect for night-sky gazing. It comes with a motorized Alt-Azimuth mount, two decent eyepieces, and SkyAlign technology that automates the telescope's alignment when pointing it to 3 bright celestial bodies. This telescope comes with everything you need apart from batteries.
Objective Design: Newtonian reflector telescope with two eyepieces.
Aperture size: 130mm optical diameter
Focal length: 650mm
Magnification: 1/2: 26x/72x;
Finder scope: star pointer
Mount type: Motorized alt-azimuth mount
Dimension: 8 x 12 x 28 inchesWeight: 34lbs
Other Features: Includes a two-year warranty, an adjustable steel tripod, accessory tray, computerized hand control that has a 4,000-object database, SkyAlign, enabling you to align on any three bright celestial objects, no tool setup, and student’s version of the planetarium software.
- Offers a wild field view thanks to the wide aperture size.
- Features a computerized tracking system that makes it more user friendly.
- Super light for portability
- The telescope suffers from short battery life. An optical power tank comes in handy.
- The batteries are non-inclusive of the package – you buy them separately.
- The telescope is sensitive to vibrations.
Verdict: Easy to setup, computerized Newtonian telescope with a wide optical range.
The Celestron 31042 AstroMaster 114 EQ is a powerful modified Newtonian telescope that is three times powerful than its predecessor 60mm. This beginner scope system features German EQ mount with a sturdy steel tripod, two high magnifying eyepieces, red dot view finder and an astronomy software. Its ease of use makes it a perfect choice for amateur astronomers.
Objective Design: Newtonian reflector telescope
Aperture size: 110-150mm
Focal length: 40inches (1000mm)
Mount type: German Equatorial mount featuring setting circles for accurate location and tracking of sky objects.
Magnification: Two eyepieces with 20mm(50x) and 10mm(100x)
Scope Finder: Star Pointer
Dimension: 11 x 17 x 32.25 inches
Other Features: Inclusive of a rugged steel tripod, built-in red dot finder, an astronomy software to help learners find planets and stars.
- Sturdy yet powerful optics.
- No-tool setup is a breeze.
- Compact yet easy to carry.
- Comes with fully illustrated instructions.
- Three times brighter than other similar telescopes.
- The telescope can locate over 4000 celestial objects.
- Its featured star pointer is not user friendly.
Verdict: A dual telescope ideal for both terrestrial and astronomical applications.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ opens up to the wonders of the sky to aspiring astronomers of all ages. This 127mm Newtonian telescope with EQ mount is the ideal choice for a high quality yet affordable telescope for families that love to explore the universe.
Type of telescope: Reflector telescope - uses mirrors instead of lenses and the eyepiece is located inside the main tube. The mirror at the back of the telescope focuses and reflects the image to another mirror. This second mirror then focuses the image into the eyepiece.
Aperture size: 127mm
Focal length: 1000mm
Reflector type: Its Newtonian reflectors are made of glass with high transmission coating for enhanced clarity and image brightness.
Mount type: German Equatorial mount with slow motion controls for smooth object tracking.
The German EQ mount is perfectly suited for tracking astronomical objects in the night sky while its collapsible AZ mount is suited for terrestrial viewing.
Magnification: Two magnification eyepieces: 50x and 250x for a greater viewing range.
Lens: The telescope comes with a 3X Barwol lens that triples the eyepiece magnification.
Assembly dimensions: 11 x 17 x 33 inches
Other Features: Included aluminum tripod and accessory tray for convenient storage, two-year warranty, compatibility add-ons and inclusive of The Sky – First edition of planetarium software with enhanced images and 10,000 object databases.
- Perfect for deep-sky observing in dark skies due to the large aperture.
- Delivers bright images with less optical irregularities.
- Features erect image optics that makes viewing easy for children and beginners.
- Ideal for both terrestrial and astronomical applications.
- Quick and easy with no-tool setup.
- Does not work well in a light polluted region especially in highly populated areas.
- The reflectors require regular maintenance.
Verdict: The PowerSeeker series is engineered to give beginner astronomers the perfect combination of value, features, quality and power.
The Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 classic Dobsonian telescope is a powerful and capable scope with large aperture diameter for its price. It is a combination of precision optics, rock-solid stability and mechanical simplicity ideal for a beginner astronomer.
It offers crisp, clear images of the night sky objects allowing you to have finer detail of the moon's craters, Jupiter and Saturn. The telescope’s point-and-view simplicity is much preferred unlike the Equatorial mount and tripod. At an affordable cost, this is the perfect choice for astronomy hobbyist.
Objective Design: Dobsonian telescope
Aperture size: Eight-inch diameter reflector optics. The large aperture captures enough light needed to view galaxies, faint nebulas, and star clusters.
Mount type: Point-and-View
Magnification: Two-inch Crayford focuser that accepts 1.25-inch and 2-inch telescope eyepieces and 25mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece
Dimensions: 15.5 x 17.5 x 50.2 inches
Viewfinder type: Non-inclusive
Viewfinder type: Non-inclusive
- The point-and-view is easy to use unlike the EQ mount.
- The large aperture gives brighter detailed celestial images.
- Easy no-tool setup.
- Suffers the common defects prone to reflector telescopes.
Verdict: A perfect Dobsonian telescope with ultra-sable base built to last a lifetime for the enthusiastic beginner astronomer.
Astronomy is an interesting science that many of you consider taking up as a hobby. Each night gazer needs an efficient telescope to enjoy the wonders of the sky. We hope with our comprehensive selection you can easily make the right choice. Remember, a good telescope makes the learning process fun.
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