For 500 dollars, you can already buy a decent telescope. A big no-no is investing a hefty amount of money for features you won’t use.
That is why, to guide you in your purchase, we compiled a list of features to look for when buying the best telescope under $500. We also included some recommended devices you can choose from. This way, you won’t be disappointed with the item you will buy from your hard-earned money.
Best telescopes under $500
Given the differences in construction, types, and features, the telescopes you should buy vary depending on their use. Hence, you would require a different telescope to observe the moon and a different one to watch cities. For astrophotography, it is nonnegotiable to look for a device with good optics.
Celestron Nexstar 4SE Telescope
Before you tell me that this Celestron is not under $500, which it isn’t, hear me out.
This is a hundred bucks over $500, but I think it should be on this list if you can cough up another $100 for this one.
This motorized, Alt-Azimuth telescope is popular for its impressive light-gathering ability. It weighs 30 pounds and has a dimension of 32.4 in. x 27.2 in. x 13.4 in.
Manufactured by Celestron, a reliable brand in the telescope industry, the Nexstar model has a StarBright XLT coating and does not disappoint with its sharp view.
Without a doubt, it has 99% quality. You’ll get a different feel on this mode because it has a Maksutov-Cassegrain design compared to other models with a Schmidt-Cassegrain design.
Moreover, this computerized model is capable of astrophotography, and the eyepiece has a 53x magnification. In terms of the mount, it has a single fork ark mount. However, one aspect it needs improvement on is the short battery life caused by its energy consumption.
- Mount: 95%
- Optics: 98%
- Focal ratio: 1325
- Focal length: 1325 mm
- Aperture: 4.02 inches (102 mm)
- Comes with a steel tripod
- Battery life needs improvement
- Not easy-to-use, assembling needs patience
Meade Instruments Star Navigation NG 125
This model has less chromatic aberration, making it an impressive Single Arm Mount/Vixen style Newtonian telescope. Because of its computerized scope, you’ll have amazing quality photos, making it ideal for astrophotography.
It is a motorized telescope that offers an outstanding viewing experience. Its stable steel tripod, stand, and great optics perform deep space explorations. You can easily fit in a car with its light tripod and tube. Hence, its price-performance never fails with 93% quality, making it a great option for those who can afford it.
- Mount: 90%
- Optics: 92%
- Focal length: 1900 mm
- Aperture: 127 mm
- Comes with a travel bag
- Can last long when properly cared for
- Versatile, compatible with 2 inches pieces
- Comes with eyepieces 25 mm and 9 mm with 26x and 72x magnification, respectively
- Difficult to get parts for repairs
- SkyAlign feature take time to learn
- Does not have a location and date memory
Celestron Nexstar 130SLT
This non-motorized Alt-Azimuth Nexstar 130SLT telescope is under model from Celestron. It is a Newtonian telescope that works well for astrophotography and other astronomical use because of its fully color-corrected views. It also captures clear images of the city, as well.
It has a highest and lowest useful magnification of 307x and 19x, respectively, with a light gathering power of 345x. It also has a linear and apparent field of view of 91 ft at 1000Yds and 1.7 degrees, respectively.
Compared with the 4SE model from the same manufacturer, it has similar issues but is a more beginner-friendly option. However, the amount is inferior to the 4SE model.
- Mount: 87%
- Optics: 92%
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Focal length: 650mm
- Aperture: 130mm
- Eyepiece: Focal length- ½: 25mm/9mm; magnification- ½:26x/72x
- Lightweight and portable
- Can align up to 3 bright celestial bodies
- Affordable without compromising the optics
- Comes with 4000+ object database inclusive of 600 galaxies and 300 clusters
- Can be difficult to set up
- Battery life needs improvement
- Does not have the best software
- Has issues in the StarAlign technology
- Inferior in performance compared to other expensive Celestron models
Orion 8945 Skyquest XT8 Dobsonian
This non-motorized Dobsonian telescope is one of Orion’s SkyQuest series. Despite its affordable price, it has impressive optics that can capture planets like Jupiter.
Moreover, it has a 29x and 300x lowest and highest useful magnification. It is ideal for use in places with minimal light pollution or as a garden telescope. It just requires manual adjustment but can be a very reliable model.
- Mount: 94%
- Focal ratio: f/6
- Focal length: 1200mm
- Aperture: 203 mm
- Sturdy and stable
- Gets sharp images for astrophotography
- Not lightweight
- Color can be distorted
- Red dot finder may have issues
Orion 10016 Starblast 6 Astro Reflector
With a dimension of 5 x 21 x 19.1 inches, this non-motorized telescope is very portable. It has an Alt-Azimuth mount type, 21x minimum magnification, and is durable enough compared to cheaper models.
It is beginner-friendly with its ease of set-up. With its mount type, it is best for home use. You would have to look for an improvised stand when used outside the city. Moreover, it is best used with a 2xBarlow lens.
- Mount: 82%
- Focal ratio:
- Focal length: 750 mm
- Aperture: 150mm-200mm
- Fast setup
- Highly portable
- Great for beginners
- Comes Sirius Plossl eyepieces (25 mm and 10mm)
- Needs an improvised stand
- Short focal length, magnification could be better
Celestron 114LCM Computerized Newtonian Telescope
Despite being the largest mode in Celestron’s LCM series, this Alt-azimuth mount telescope is a budget-friendly option.
Even with the affordable price, the functionality is not compromised because it has a high-end computerized capability. Its features are also similar to the features of its brand’s more expensive telescopes.
Some features include the SkyTour for viewing target lists and SkyAlign technology for control precision. It also comes with many useful features and accessories such as StarPounter red dot finderscope, Starry Night astronomy software, and two 1.25” eyepieces with sizes 25 and 9 mm, that can magnify 60x and 70x, respectively.
- Has a 2-year warranty
- Includes two eyepieces
- Lightweight (weighs 13.2 lbs)
- Comes with a NexStar+ hand held computer
- Difficult to collimate
- Reflector is Bird-Jones style
- Has a small aperture (114mm)
Celestron StarSense Explorer 114AZ
This model is very beginner-friendly and can be used even by those without experience using telescopes. It is a smart telescope that uses your location to give you a list of celestial objects that are currently visible.
With an Alt-azimuth mount type, you can easily track the chosen objects. It can see many objects ranging from planets to dark skies, galaxies, and double stars. When the eyepiece viewing is ready, the app’s bullseye changes to the color green.
- Comes with needed accessories
- With manual controls for slow motion
- No drawbacks mentioned
What is a telescope for?
An important consideration in choosing a telescope is also its light-gathering capability and aperture or objective diameter. Contrary to common misconception, telescopes do not magnify minute objects.
Objects in space do not need magnification because they are already big. The cause of this misconception is that these objects appear small because of their distance. Similar to zooming in on a non-HD picture, when you magnify what the naked eye sees, what you get is just a distorted picture.
Types of telescopes
From the name itself, this kind of telescope reflects images by utilizing a mirror attached to the device’s back. It is the most affordable out of the three types. However, more maintenance is needed because of frequent optics misalignment, which needs manual alignment.
Unlike the reflector telescope, which has a mirror at its back, the refractor telescope has a lens at its front. The bigger the lens, the more expensive this type of device would be. This does not require as much maintenance as the reflector telescopes.
Usually smaller, lightweight, and more portable, this telescope gathers light for images by utilizing both lenses and mirrors.
Features and specs to look for when buying a telescope
Now that you know what the various types of telescopes are, it’s time to take into consideration the features you should look for when buying one:
The primary lens’ or mirror diameter is also commonly called the aperture. The aperture size is directly related to how much light you can get. Basically, the larger the aperture, the more you can see fainter and smaller objects, even if they are located at a distance. Hence, the larger the aperture, the greater the magnification.
However, magnification is also dependent on the focal ratio. For a bigger magnification while looking at an object’s smaller details, use slow telescopes with a high f-number. For a wide field view of various objects, use a fast telescope with a low f-number.
The focal length allows you to determine how much your telescope can magnify. By definition, focal length refers to the distance between the object being magnified and the mirror or primary lens. The focal length is related to your device’s aperture, as magnifying it two times more than your device’s aperture could result in a hazy output.
To calculate the focal length, divide the telescope’s focal distance by the eyepiece’s focal length. For instance, you’ll get a 100x magnification for a 1000mm telescope with an eyepiece of 10 mm.
Finder (or red dot technology)
This is an essential feature because it allows you to locate the object without using magnification. For instance, a red dot technology projects a red dot in the sky for you to see which part of the sky your telescope is pointing at. This makes it easier for you to locate what you are looking for.
Sturdy and stead mount and tripod
If your mount is not sturdy or steady, it would be hard to focus on an object. Hence, a steady mount allows you to get a good focus. Choose one with a mount not affected or vibrated even by the slightest breeze.
Moreover, also look for one that preferably comes with an adjustable tripod. Double-check if it comes with a stand. Hence, be mindful of comments about the tripod, mount, and base, as this can affect your observation experience.
Eyepiece and ocular lens
Eyepieces come in various types. For first-timers getting a telescope, you can try various eyepiece combinations to give you a flexible viewing experience. One example of a combination is a Barlow lens and one with high magnification.
The diameter affects your ability to see distant objects. Hence, you should consider the diameter.
When you pay a hefty price for its features, make sure that you use the features. Also, consider that the features that you need come with the model. This dictates which price point you should invest on.
One important feature is computer-assisted night sky navigation. However, you can opt for one without this feature if you want to search the sky yourself. This could save you more.
Frequently asked questions
Is a computerized telescope worth investing in?
A computerized telescope allows you to swiftly navigate thousands of night sky targets by just pressing a few buttons. With this, you can quickly look at various night objects with ease.
However, this may be hard to set up considering that the navigation system has to be navigated. For beginners, it can be a turn-off.
Moreover, because it uses a computerized feature, it cannot compete with the practical knowledge you get from the manual set-up. Another drawback is that it is more expensive since it comes with more features. Hence, buying a computerized telescope depends on your personal preference.
Is a Dobsonian telescope a good option?
For those starting with astronomy, you could never go wrong with Dobsonian telescopes. Other advantages of Dobsonian telescopes include:
Best aperture vs. cost ratio
In short, these are more affordable because instead of using expensive lenses, mirrors are used. Moreover, low-cost materials are used for the mount, adding to its affordability. Even with the price point, the quality is not compromised, as providing bright and detailed images is its priority.
Easy to use
It is considered a “grab and go” telescope because you do not have to manipulate many controls and knobs. With its Alt-Az mount, you have to point the device to the target object, check the finder scope, and then peek through it through the eyepiece.
Allows for manual sky navigation
Because of its easy and quick set-up, you can use it in dark-sky areas and simply navigate through the targets in the sky.
What objects can I view with my telescope?
Some telescopes are powerful enough to view not only the moon but its craters as well. You can also view the planets and details like Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons and bands.
With 8” reflectors, you can see Saturn’s Cassini Division. Devices with higher apertures even allow you to see faint sky objects such as the nebulae and some distant galaxies.
With the various specs, types, and capabilities of telescopes, choosing one can be mind-blowing. It is important to do your research first before choosing a device. Make sure that the price you pay for it justifies the features that you would use. Picking any of the telescopes listed above will surely not disappoint you.
Last update on 2023-02-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API