A high quality telescope can be an expensive investment in a new hobby, and many people would prefer to purchase something cheaper to gauge their interest.
This introduces some new problems; a telescope that costs under 200 may be capable in many ways, but you’re not going to see the rings of Saturn in that price range. But, an inexpensive telescope will make an excellent gift and provide plenty of fun for the entire family.
When you look for a cheaper telescope, it’s important to look at buying an instrument with the largest aperture that you can afford. This will determine the range of your telescope and improve the focal range for higher quality images with improved clarity.
Included extras also add a great deal of value, and you’re going to want a decent tripod and a range of eyepieces as a bare minimum. This will give you a stable platform and more viewing options to experiment with. Finally, if you’re interested in astrophotography, a smartphone mount is essential to make the most of your favorite apps.
Of course, there will be a limit to how much telescope you can get at a lower price. But, if you’re a beginner, any of the telescopes on our list will fulfill most of your current needs. Then when you’re ready to upgrade, you will have a better idea about the kind of features that you need on a more expensive telescope. Let’s take a closer look at five of the best telescopes under 200 that are available on the market today.
Best Telescope under $200
This is a great wide-field telescope at a modest price point, and it offers a 4º field of view. To put this into some perspective, that’s approximately eight full moons in your field of vision at the same time.
This telescope was designed to compete with the now discontinued Edumd Astroscan, which was a well liked inexpensive telescope in its own right. The Orion StarBlast comes with a pair of cheap Kellner 6mm and 17mm eyepieces that will suffice for beginners.
However, the 17mm eyepiece doesn’t take full advantage of the capabilities of the Orion StarBlast, and users may want to purchase a 24mm or 32mm eyepiece when they want to upgrade.
Orion marketing advertises the StarBlast as a telescope designed primarily for wide field and low magnification use. But, this telescope actually does a pretty good job at high magnification viewing tasks as well. The focuser for this scope is made from cheap plastic, which is fairly standard on cheaper telescopes, but it can be annoying.
The 6mm eyepiece only has a 76x magnification, it has no eye guard, and it has a very narrow field of view. An upgrade to a 6mm or 15mm gold-line and perhaps a 32mm Plossi and a Barlow eyepiece would improve the viewing experience a great deal. However, these extra eyepieces will cost more money, and the added price could be spent on a better telescope instead.
The Orion StarBlast has a red-dot finder that gets the job done due to the wide field of view. But, there is a caveat; the simple design means that you cannot attach a DSLR camera and take footage or pictures. So, if you’re really interested in astrophotography, the StarBlast is not suitable for your needs.
This is a reflector telescope that best suited to deep sky viewing, and the focal length of 450mm provides optical power that’s unprecedented at this price point. Adding a UHC filter or an Oxygen III will allow the user to view dark nebulae crossing the Milky Way and the Veil Nebulae.
Searching for these objects is challenging, but a great deal of fun, and this is where a wide-field telescope really comes in handy. If the user adds one of the aforementioned better eyepieces, they can see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and the phases of Venus with no problems.
The Orion Starblast offers one of the best value for money deals currently available on the telescope market – it would make an awesome choice for any new budding astronomer.
This Gskyer refractor telescope has a short focal length of 70mm, and it’s mounted on a camera style tripod. The telescope package includes the telescope, a finder scope, a pair of eyepieces, a 3x Barlow lens, a 45º diagonal, and a handy carry case.
This is a cheaper telescope package that’s squarely aimed at teens and beginners. An assembly sheet with a pictorial tutorial shows how to put the telescope together, but there is no printed user guide or manual included. Like many budget telescopes, this instrument is made in China, and even a check of the company website reveals no further information on how to use this product.
Despite the target demographic, it seems the Gskyer is assuming that the buyer will already know how to use a telescope correctly. This lack of support should be considered carefully, the telescope may be cheap, but if you have to buy a separate guide on using the instrument, this will bump up the price.
The telescope has a hand 45º diagonal, which comes in handy if you want to use this instrument as a daytime spotting scope. Another useful application is viewing objects in the night sky that are under 30º above the horizon. But, viewing objects above 40º is problematic, and the user may have to kneel on the ground to get their eye onto the eyepiece.
The best viewing range is 30º-90º above the horizon, so in the vast majority of viewing situations, the eyepiece will not be in a good position for effective viewing. The very best area to view at night is straight up, or the zenith where the thinner atmosphere creates less distortion, and the viewing experience is far clearer. Adding a 90º diagonal to this telescope would help in this respect, but obviously, that would add to the overall price.
The Kellner style eyepieces lack eyecups to block out ambient light pollution, and the user may need to place a hood or cover over their head when viewing. The included eyepieces are 17x, and 40x magnification but the Barlow 3X combined with them means the real magnification available is 48x and 120x.
This is the realistic limit of a refractor telescope with a short 70mm focal length. The camera style tripod will support the weight of the telescope, but it feels a little flimsy, and there isn’t much control.
If you’re looking for a refractor over a reflector and you want to keep the cost down, then this Gskyer telescope is hard to beat at it’s current price.
Celestron 21061 AstroMaster
The Celestron 21061 AstroMaster is a good telescope in this price range with a pair of eyepieces that provide 45x and 90x magnification, respectively. This refractor telescope can be used for stellar and terrestrial observations. Many professionals dismiss refractor telescopes because they cannot capture the details that a reflector scope can.
This is true, but in the under 200 price range, we need to make certain compromises. That being said, the AstroMaster will allow the user to observe Mars and the outer rings of Jupiter at a reasonable level of detail. This makes the AstroMaster a great choice for beginning astronomers and casual users.
The AstroMaster is easy to set up and use when compared to a more complex compound telescope. Despite the slight lack of magnification, this is a good refractor telescope that weighs less than 52lbs. This telescope is portable, it’s easy to assemble and disassemble, and it can be stored virtually anywhere.
This makes the AstroMaster an ideal choice for viewing trips; simply place it in the trunk, drive to the viewing spot, and it takes around 10 minutes to setup. The user manual is a great resource, and this should be the first port of call for any user that has a problem.
This telescope has an Altazimuth mount, which delvers better precision and movement to track objects. The handle of the mount has a panning handle with a clutch to make the movements extremely accurate. The built-in StarPointer has a red dot reticle that helps the user to fix stellar objects, and this is a more precise system than the older red dot technology.
The Celestron 21061 AstroMaster has a 2.6” lens with and an aperture of 70mm. So, this telescope can easily capture many of the finer details that you would find on the surface of our moon. The images are crisp and detailed, and this is everything that you would expect and far more in a telescope at this kind of price.
The Celestron Astromaster is a cheap and cheerful option if you have a tight budget. It doesn’t offer everything the other options will, but you can’t really argue for the price.
Meade Polaris 127
Meade is a well regarded telescope manufacturer, and along with Celestron, they probably have the best instruments at the budget end of the spectrum. But, when it comes to these cheaper telescopes, the instruments can deliver mediocre results in some cases. However, if you’re looking for a good beginning telescope, the Polaris 127 can deliver acceptable results.
The Polaris 127 moniker comes from the 127mm aperture, which is paired with three different eyepieces; the sizes are 6.3mm, 9mm, and 26mm. A Barlow 2x eyepiece is also included to double the magnification options. The eyepieces offer a decent level of detail for the price, but adding better quality versions would improve the clarity. However, if you get into purchasing expensive eyepieces, it’s probably a better idea to simply buy a better telescope with improved eyepiece included in the package.
Most modern budget telescopes use a very simple mount that isn’t well suited to tracking moving objects with any kind of reasonable accuracy. The Altazimuth mounts found on some budget telescopes are better, but they require some practice to get the best results.
The Meade Polaris 127 has a stable German equatorial mount that’s a surprising addition at this price point. This type of mount has slow motion control settings that allow the user to make smooth and steady tracking for celestial objects.
The Meade 127 has been known as a decent value for money telescope for a while now, and it’s still a good option for those who like a bargain.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ is a reflector telescope with a 5” primary mirror that provides excellent magnification.
Users can easily expect 200x magnification, and this could increase to as much as 250x with a good eyepiece. Each telescope in the PowerSeeker lineup comes with 4mm and 20mm eyepieces supplemented with a Barlow 3x lens. The 4mm eyepiece is powerful enough for these smaller budget range scopes, and it really enhances the viewing experience.
However, if you pair the Barlow lens with the 20mm eyepiece, you can achieve a magnification of 150x, which can be very useful in certain viewing situations.
This all sounds impressive, but a professional telescope user doesn’t rely purely on high magnification settings to get the best viewing experience. If you use a magnification of 150x or lower, you can successfully observe brighter objects such as the moon and planetary bodies in our Solar System. Even very faint objects may be within the reach of the observer under certain conditions, including every object in the Messier catalog.
The Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ offers a great deal for a modest price. If you’re relatively new to astronomy and you’ve never personally observed a close up image of a lunar crater or even the rings of Saturn, you may be wondering if the hobby is for you.
The best way to find out is to invest in an affordable telescope that allows you to experience these observations first hand, and this is where the 127EQ excels.
This one is kind of cheating, because it’s actually the same as the Meade 127 (Celestron and Meade are both made by the same brand). However, this is another option if you’d rather stick with the Celestron brand.
Cheap Telescope Buying Guide
How Much Does a Telescope Cost?
There are many different makes and types of telescopes on the market, and there will be one to suit virtually any budget. So, the real question isn’t how much a telescope will cost, but how much are you prepared to spend?
Hopefully, in this article, we’ve shown that you don’t need to spend thousands to get started in astronomy. Some people may claim that this is a hobby for rich people, but that simply isn’t the case.
With a few additional purchases of a better eyepiece or a 90º angle, most of the telescopes we’ve shown here are very capable optical instruments. They are certainly good enough to gauge your interest in astronomy and observe some very interesting stellar objects.
What Do the Telescope Specifications Mean?
This is the hole in the lens where the light passes through to create a viewable image. A larger aperture will create a brighter and crisper image.
This is the distance between the lens or mirror inside your telescope and the focal point. As a beginner, this figure isn’t really relevant, and it’s more important to focus on a larger aperture size instead.
This may seem trivial to a new astronomer, but the mount on your telescope is very important because you need a stable viewing platform. There’s nothing more frustrating than locating something interesting and then losing it because the mount isn’t good enough. Many budget telescopes have an Altazimuth mount, which will move in the vertical and horizontal axis to track objects. Some telescopes may use an Equatorial mount, which can only move in a single axis making it less versatile.
Types of Telescope
The are three common telescope types, they are: refractor, reflector, and compound. A refractor uses a lens, a reflector uses a mirror, and a compound uses both to view an image. A reflector telescope can be used to observe the skies at night and the ground during the day.
A refractor telescope is only good for astronomy, and it delivers far more detail than a reflector telescope. A compound telescope is the best of both worlds, but they are expensive, and you will not find one for under 200.
Size & Weight Issues
The best telescopes have larger lenses or mirrors or both, and this adds a considerable amount of weight to the instrument. Now, this isn’t an issue if you have a permanent location where you want to site your telescope. But, if you want to take your telescope out into nature to make observations in different locations, it needs to be fairly light and portable.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider, but if you’re starting out in astronomy, it’s important to avoid becoming overwhelmed. A cursory glance at any astronomy forum will reveal fierce debates over the merits of one telescope over the other. Perhaps in the future, when you become more experienced, you will have your own favorites? But, for now, simply look at the aperture size, the type of mount, and if you want the best type of telescope for stargazing, get a refractor telescope.
It is more than possible to get a telescope with acceptable performance for less than 200. When you’re starting out, you don’t need to go to 500 or even a 1,000 to get something that will meet your needs.
However, as you advance beyond these prices, the quality of the telescopes increases dramatically, and it would only make sense to purchase one of these instruments if you take astronomy seriously. If you’re interested in a more expensive telescope, then have a look at my list of the best telescopes, which features telescopes of all prices.
As a beginner, it’s a great idea to focus on buying a telescope that’s good enough to explore astronomy as a hobby. Other external factors will have a greater impact on your early observation efforts, such as light pollution and the weather.
It’s also a great idea to get some good astronomy books and learn how to keep a journal to record what you see in the skies. Finally, if you have an interest in astrophotography, you need to get a telescope that will accept a smartphone mount.
Buying a budget telescope is a great investment; the whole family can get involved, and it can lead to an engrossing hobby that could even develop into something else later.