Finding a good telescope isn’t easy. You can spend hours and hours scrolling through all of the different brands and models available. And although you might learn a few things, at the end of it, you can be no closer to making a decision which is the best option for you.
Having up to $500 to purchase a telescope is a good budget, but it can be difficult to spend. It’s too much to buy a beginners telescope, which you can typically find for just a few hundred dollars. However, it’s not enough to purchase a more expensive advanced telescope. You’ll find that there are many telescopes for $1000, and in some cases, even more than this too.
But even if you’re on a tighter budget, it’s definitely enough to get going in astronomy. So, here are a few of the best telescopes you can find out there that cost less than $500.
Best Telescope under $500
|Product||Image||Telescope Type||More Details|
|Orion SpaceProbe 130ST||Reflector||Check Price at Amazon|
|Orion SkyQuest XT8||Dobsonian Reflector||Check Price at Amazon|
|Celestron Nexstar 130SLT||Newtonian Reflector||Check Price at Amazon|
|Celestron Astromaster 102AZ||Refractor||Check Price at Amazon|
|Skywatcher S11610||Dobsonian Reflector||Check Price at Amazon|
|Celestron Nexstar 4SE||Maksutov Cassegrain||Check Price at Amazon|
1. Orion SpaceProbe 130ST
The Orion SpaceProbe 130ST is one of the top choices if you’re looking for a higher magnification than a standard refractor telescope. It can take a little effort to set these types of telescope up, but it is likely worth it for those looking to see into the night sky clearly. It should be powerful enough to pick out bright objects out there in the solar system.
Generally with telescopes, the larger the aperture, the further you’re going to be able to see. This model has a 5.1 inch aperture, which is pretty reasonable considering its price. It is a pretty typical Newtonian reflector that uses an equatorial mount – this is important, as this style of mount is heavily preferred to the alternative Alt-az amongst professionals.
The hand control on this telescope is fairly easy to use, even if you’re brand new to astronomy. This is an important factor, as tracking and adjusting your telescope is one of the things you want to focus on initially when just starting out. When it comes to budget telescopes, I quite like reflectors. They do take a little while to set up, but you can get some high quality optics.
As well as the telescope itself, this set also comes with a 2x Barlow lens. This should be enough to get you started, and then after some time, you can consider purchasing a 3x Barlow lens to use with the telescope too. It also comes with a handy red dot finderscope you can use to discover new star as well.
It’s a good choice if you want to try your hand at astrophotography, as you can easily pick up a cheap smartphone adapter to use with it. It has a relatively good image quality, and although it won’t give you professional photos and high contrast images, it’s a great place to start.
This is one of my favorite telescopes that’s available if you’re trying to stick below a $500 budget. It has excellent optics, a good build quality and above all, for those getting started it is very portable and easy to use. It is definitely worth considering if you’re going to purchase a new telescope.
2. Orion Skyquest XT8
The Orion Skyquest XT8 is another good Orion telescope worth considering if you’re looking for an easy to use telescope that’s available at a pretty cheap price. It’s the older brother of the XT6 and the XT4.5, and for amateur astronomy, you could certainly do a lot worse.
I always like to recommend a Dobsonian telescope to those who are brand new to astronomy, so if this is you, then this is definitely a telescope worth considering. The telescope has an 8 inch aperture and a 1200mm focal length, which gives us a focal ratio of f/5.9. This is about the maximum aperture that you’re going to get within our budget.
This Dobsonian reflector telescope is quite large in size, but it isn’t especially heavy so it could be used if you’re looking for something that’s portable too. The finderscope is closely attached to the optical tube, and works well for identifying new areas to explore and finding celestial objects.
Whilst this telescope does lack a little bit in getting a wide field of view, it excels at high magnifications. So for this reason, it’s great to use with a barlow lens. You’ll be able to get a great deep sky view with this telescope, and it’s perfect for star hopping.
It will take a little while to assemble, but this is typically the case with any reflector telescope. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I like to recommend Dobsonian telescopes – because they’re tough to set up, you can usually get them at a low price point, but this can be good for a beginner. This is definitely a good option for anyone who wants a powerful reflector telescope that is easy enough to use.
3. Celestron Nexstar 130SLT
It’s no secret that the Celestron Nexstar series is one of my favorites out there, and the Nexstar 130SLT is a good option for those looking for telescopes under 500 dollars. Whilst telescopes from the Nexstar SE series are quite expensive, this model combines everything you need in a telescope for a much lower price.
It’s a computerized telescope, which means that it’s very easy to start finding objects in the sky. Sure, it will take a little longer to set it up and align your telescope, but it is worth the extra effort. The Star Locating Tecnology (that’s what SLT stands for) that this computerized telescope uses is easy enough to use once you get the hang of it. It also helps beginners step past a steep learning curve of actually being able to find celestial objects in the first place.
As a Newtonian reflector, the 130SLT manages to gather a large amount of light, giving you the best possible view of the sky. The telescope comes with 2 eyepieces, but I always advise people to upgrade to Kellner eyepieces when they can.
However, these eyepieces will be good enough to use for a while. Anyhow, a Newtonian reflector like this will be suit those who are looking to dip their toes in astrophotography, too. The telescope has an aperture of 5 inches, with a focal length of 650mm. This gives us an overall focal ratio of f/5.0.
The only downside of this telescope in my opinion is that it comes with an Alt-az mount, and not an equatorial mount. If you’re used to using an equatorial mount, then this might be a deciding factor for you, as a telescope mount is one of the most important parts of your setup.
Typically, although Alt-Az mounts are easier to use, it’s good to get used to an equatorial as this only rotates on one axis, which is better for following stars. This shouldn’t put you off this telescope however, as the Celestron Nexstar 130SLT is still a fantastic telescope to have. Plus, an Alt-Az mount is super easy to set up, especially if you compare it to a German Equatorial Mount.
4. Celestron Astromaster 102AZ
The Celestron Astromaster 102AZ is a fantastic telescope not just for those that are looking to get into astronomy, but particularly for the amateur astrophotographers out there. It’s a good option if you want a telescope you can use with your iPhone to take pictures of the night sky. However, you’d actually have to have two phones to really make this work.
The intention with this telescope is that you can easily download the StarSense app which will help introduce you to astronomy. To be fair, it can be very overwhelming for a novice to purchase a telescope and have no idea how to use it – some telescopes don’t have great instructions, and often you’re left on your own to figure things out.
After you’ve set everything up, app will then generate a list of the best things that you can see in the night sky that evening. You can then follow the on screen arrows to position your telescope to see something else. But, the app is basically there instead of the finder scope which you have with most other telescopes.
You can’t actually use the same phone to take photographs – this is where another phone, and an adapter, would come into play. Or, you could set this up with a DSLR too, but that’s probably a better idea using a telescope with a larger aperture. Either way, it’s relatively easy to use this refractor telescope to get some great deep sky images.
The app really does make it very easy to get started. The only limiting factor with this telescope is that it only has a 4 inch aperture, which may not allow enough light in to see things in great detail. This is pretty common when purchasing a telescope within this price range.
Though from a positive perspective, you get a quick telescope setup time, and you can be using the telescope within a few minutes. This is usually the case with a refractor telescope, as they’re much easier to set up than a reflector. You don’t need to worry about collimation with a refracting scope like you do with a reflector.
It is pretty reasonably priced too, which makes it one of the best options if you’re looking for a family telescope, though it may not quite be enough for viewing planets in great detail.
5. Skywatcher S11610
Another Dobsonian telescope worth recommending is the Skywatcher S11610. It has an 8 inch aperture and a 1200mm focal length, giving the telescope a fast focal ratio of f/6.0. Having more power will allow you to see deeper into the solar system, and get a really good look at some deep sky objects.
One good thing about this telescope is that it comes with tension handles on the sides of the optical tube, which can make it much easier for you to use the telescope (this is great for kids, too). Having a tension control handle on the side of the telescope isn’t typical with lower costing models, but it can give you increased accuracy.
It also comes with a Crayford focuser. This can allow you to make small adjustments to the positioning of your scope with zero image shift. When you’re trying to view deep space objects like cloud belts, you’ll need a tool like this, as you can’t do much gauging with the naked eye.
This telescope comes with a wide range of accessories, including eyepieces, a focuser and a great finder scope. The bad things about this telescope is definitely the size – it’s way too bulky for me to want to carry this anywhere with me, so if you want something portable, this isn’t a great option.
However, the heavy base is quite good if you want something built well, as some steel tripods you’ll find are flimsy. So, although it’s heavy, it’s still a great telescope to have if you want something that’s going to last.
6. Celestron Nexstar 4SE
Another great option from Celestron is the Nexstar 4SE, which is the little brother of the 6SE and also the 8SE. Although some people think it’s a Schmidt Cassegrain design, it’s actually a great entry level Maksutov Cassegrain telescope.
This high quality telescope allows you to gather enough light to see all the major constellations in the sky (that are visible from your location, anyway!). It isn’t a high magnification scope, but it’s definitely a great place to get started. Buying an additional barlow lens can be a great idea too, as it will allow you to use this scope to get more magnified views.
It’s also worth mentioning the altazimuth mount that this telescope uses, which is pretty much its selling point. It’s a fork arm Go-to mount, which means you can literally use the controller it comes with to enter thousands of different stars in the sky for it to look at. This is easier than using a standard reflector or refractor, though you’ll have to align the telescope properly first.
The bonus of going for a computerized telescope like the Nexstar 4SE, or its big brother the 5SE, is that it has a full object database for you to take advantage of. Though it can take a little while to get used to, it can prove invaluable for beginners that are just getting started with looking up into the solar system.
So if you’re looking for a good Maksutov Cassegrain telescope that you can easily program to find the stars and objects in the night sky you want to, then considering the 4SE is a wise idea.
Most Common Telescope FAQs Answered
Can I see Pluto with a telescope?
It is possible to see Pluto with a telescope at times, but it is very difficult and an amateur astronomer would not be able to do this. Pluto is over 30x further from the Sun than Earth, so it doesn’t have the same amount of illumination as other planets. You’ll need a telescope with great optics and a high aperture if you want to see Pluto or any other distant objects.
Which telescope is good for deep space viewing?
I like to use a reflector telescope (I don’t mind any but usually a Newtonian reflector) for deep space viewing, as this gathers the most light and lets us see deeper into space. To get a refractor telescope with the same aperture, you’ll usually have to pay significantly more.
Are refractors better than reflector telescopes?
Deciding between a reflector telescope and a refractor telescope is not an easy decision to make. Generally, I like to recommend a Dobsonian telescope to absolute beginners (a Dob is a type of reflector) as this gets you used to aligning a telescope and has the most power for your money. However, refractors do have their benefits over reflectors, as refractors typically will give a better quality of image, making them the better choice for astrophotography.
What is a fast telescope?
A fast telescope just refers to the telescopes focal ratio, and a telescope with shorter exposure is called “fast”, whilst a telescope with a longer exposure is called “slow”. If a telescope has a focal ratio of f/4, then it can gather light ‘faster’ than a telescope with a focal ratio of f/8.0 – the focal ratio is just determined by the aperture and the focal length of the telescope.
What is the best telescope brand?
This is difficult to say, because there are a lot of brands out there and the best telescope brands cost a lot more than a few hundred dollars. Within our price point, it’s a safe bet to stick with Celestron or Orion, who are actually made by the same company (Skywatcher too!).
What should I buy with my telescope?
One of the main things that you’ll want to think about buying with a new telescope is the tripod, or mount, that you’re going to use with it. There are different adjustable tripods out there for you to choose from, and some are better than others. Generally, we split these mounts into two categories – equatorial and Alt-azimuth. Whilst an Alt-azimuth mount can be good for beginners, and equatorial is the better option for those who are a bit more serious, and may be interested in astrophotography.
Overall, these are just some of the best telescopes under 500 dollars that are available right now. Each astronomer will have their own opinion, and these are just a few of my favorites. Feel free to explore the website and check out some of the other telescopes that I think are worth considering as well.
It really depends on what you are looking for. It’s all good considering the aperture, focal length & specifications of your telescope but it all comes down to what you need. So, make a decision on which telescope you need and continue on your astronomy journey! As always, please feel free to leave a comment below.