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The Best Telescopes for Beginners, Easy Guide and Review

The Best Beginners Telescopes

Telescope

Choose wisely when buying a Telescope Credit: meteorwatch

When people first get interested or even talk about looking at the night sky and astronomy, the first thing that jumps to mind is stargazing using a telescope. It’s like a fisherman has a rod or a boat and a painter has a brush, to many it’s a rite of passage and something they must have to feel like a proper astronomer.

There is so much a beginner can see without a Telescope and even more to see with binoculars (a pair should be owned by every beginner and budding astronomer), but there comes a time when a beginner feels they must have a telescope. This is when you can venture into a very technical and confusing world for the first time.

Just a few things to consider then we will jump into the Telescope review:

Glossy magazine adverts, hyped up marketing and the need for the most up to date gadgetry will lure the beginner toward the world of the GoTo or computerised telescope. In all honesty, DON’T GO THERE!

Computerised Telescopes are expensive and optical performance is reduced to cover the cost of the mount and computer. They are also in many cases and contrary to what the adverts tell you, very difficult to set up and use. I have heard more beginners moan about not being able to use their computerised telescope than I thought was possible – They are technical and complicated.

GoTo telescopes are really only suitable for those wanting to do a lot of astro imagingTelescopes or can afford many hundreds or thousands of pounds for a good telescope; this is not the realm of the beginner.

Another reason beginners are drawn to computerised Telescopes is they can press a button and the telescope will slew to your chosen object, or is supposed to if you can get it to work properly. This really is a waste of time and money because you can do that using the internet. A major part of being a Beginner or even an advanced astronomer is exploring and finding objects by star hopping and learning the night sky. This is fun and very rewarding and computerised telescopes don’t help you learn and can actually hinder and take the fun out of stargazing.

The next thing we need to consider is the type of telescope and mount (the tripod bit).

There are two main kinds of beginners telescope:  ReflectorBeginners and RefractorBeginner telescopes. There are also other more advanced types of telescope such as Schmidt CassegrainsBeginner, beginners, but we won’t cover these here as they are more the domain of the advanced astronomer.

As a Beginner you really need a telescope that can do as much as possible without specializing too much in a certain area.

Newtonian/ Dobsonian reflector telescopes are used for general observing and very popular as they are better at gathering light due to larger mirror sizes than the smaller refractor telescope lenses. They have more light gathering ability and are cheaper to make. Reflectors are good all rounder’s and refractors are good on brighter objects or imaging, but there are some good beginners telescopes.

Next is the mount, the support of the telescope and this is usually an equatorial or Alt Az mount. Most telescopes today are sold with mounts which are equatorial (align with the celestial pole) and have knobs and adjusters for manually tracking objects, but these can be confusing for beginners and tricky to set up properly. Alt Az mounts are simple up/down and side to side manual telescope mounts and beginners find them very simple to use.

So, based on the above we need to choose the best type of telescope for a beginner, a telescope that is a general all-rounder with good optics and simple operation – a Dobsonian reflector telescope.

  • Relatively cheap compared to other types of telescope
  • Totally manual and incredibly easy to use
  • No setting up apart from moving it to your observing area
  • Big light gathering ability, so you can view many different objects
  • Fun and perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer alike

There are excellent equatorial mounted reflector telescopes, but in my own experience the Dobsonian telescope wins every time for general astronomy and are perfect for beginners – EQ mounts are just a bit too fidley.

On with the review:

The Best Telescope for Beginners

The first telescope I am going to review is the Skywatcher heritage 130p flextube costing roughly £140 and is available here.

Skywatcher Heritage 130p Credit: Skywatcher Telescopes

I have used this telescope and in my opinion it is probably one of the best, if not the best Beginners or even advanced astronomers telescopes available.

This amazing little telescope has a good quality 130mm mirror housed in an incredibly easy to store and use Dobsonian package. The telescope has a collapsible front section that basically makes the scope half the size (roughly 18 inches long) for storage and it takes seconds to extend for use.

The Skywatcher Heritage 130p Flextube collapsed for easy portability and storage

The massive benefit is; this telescope is has basically no setup time apart from needing to cool down for several minutes when outside and it’s very small and portable. A beginner can place it on a garden table, a chair, a wall or any surface you choose and start using it straight away with no messing around aligning or setting up.

Once setup and in use it is apparent that the optical quality is superb and the views are excellent even with the included eyepieces. The Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Andromeda Galaxy, Orion Nebula and a host of other objects are easily visible to beginners with this telescope.

There is a standard red dot finder and this was incredibly easy for a beginner to setup install and use to find objects for viewing through the scope. All you do is manually move the telescope up and down and side to side with your hands on its Alt Az mount – It’s that simple!

I have used this little telescope on a number of occasions when I would not have normally gone out observing due to setting up my more advanced and complicated telescopes, for that reason this is better than my other telescopes and one of the best telescopes available for beginners to buy. It was originally bought for a 5-year-old and she could use it straight away, it’s no toy, just simple and easy to use.

The second telescope reviewed is one of the Heritage 130’s big brothers – The Skywatcher Skyliner Telescope

 

Skywatcher Skyliner-250PX

Skywatcher Skyliner-250px Flextube


I own and use the Skywatcher Skyliner 250PX and it is my best telescope, just like the heritage 130 telescope it ticks all the same boxes, but is a lot bigger at 250mm (10 inches) in mirror diameter (aperture). It’s basically the same telescope scaled up in a solid tube (flextube versions are available) and the only benefit over the Heritage 130 is it can see a lot more fainter objects due to the massive light gathering ability. You may occasionally hear the term light bucket to describe these types of scope.

NOTE! Bigger apertures/ mirror size usually increase brightness and contrast but does not increase magnification; that is done with eyepieces.

The Skywatcher  Skyliner and Heritage range of telescopes are perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer, built to last and simple to use. These are windows to the Universe and sizes range from 130mm up to 300mm (12 inches). The range is priced at roughly:

  • £220 for a 150mm                                            (Details)
  • £310 for a 200mm                                            (Details)
  • £500 for a 250mm                                            (Details)
  • £600 for a 250mm   flextube                          (Details)
  • £900 for a 300mm                                           (Details)
  • £1000 for a 250mm flextube Synscan          (Details) (A GoTo Version if you must have it)
  • £1500 for a 300mm flextube Synscan          (Details) (A GoTo Version if you must have it)

Skywatcher are probably one of the best makes for the beginner as the telescopes are very good value. Dobsonian telescopes are also manufactured by Meade and Celestron and a few other telescope manufacturers and are all similar.

The third and final telescope to be reviewed is the Meade Lightbridge

Meade Lightbridge


The Meade Lightbridge telescope range is one of the best available and is placed at the upper end of the market. Sizes start at 10 inches and go up to a massive 16 inchesand I have been lucky enough to use the 16 inch version with top of the range Meade eyepieces.

The Lightbridge telescope oozes quality as soon as you get near it, these telescopes are built by one of the leading manufacturers in the world; Meade and are the cream of the crop of this review, but are still able to be used by a beginner, albeit a rather well off one.

Extremely smooth focuser controls and movement with the mount coupled with incredibly high quality optics – I actually saw colour in the Orion nebula using the 16 inch version once – An amazing telescope of very high quality.

The Lightbridge uses a traditional truss setup to support the upper portion of the telescope and a fabric shroud can be wrapped around to do away with stray light or damp conditions.

The Lightbridge telescope is just a larger higher quality Dobsonian telescope and I have included it for those beginners who may be interested in something at this level of quality – It’s still a Dobsonian.

The range is priced at roughly:

  • £600 for a 10 inch             (Details)
  • £850 for a 12 inch             (Details)
  • £1900 for a 16 inch           (Details)

All of the telescopes in this review are great for the beginner; it all just depends on the size of your wallet. You can get a great starter/ beginners telescope for under £150 and go up to nearly £2000, but in my own opinion the three reviewed are the best, especially the Skywatcher Heritage 130p flextube which is the most portable cost-effective choice for a beginner buying their first telescope – it ticks all the boxes!

NOTE! With all of the telescopes mentioned and all other amateur telescopes, there is a limit to what the human eye can see. The bigger the telescope is, the brighter the image will be in most cases. Visually observing through a telescope will hardly ever give similar results to those seen in images, there just isn’t enough light and the human eye is not that good in the dark. Many beginners can be disappointed that all they can see is a tiny disk of Jupiter or a very faint fuzzy grey patch that is supposed to be a Galaxy or nebula. Be prepared for this and ask at a local club to look through a telescope at varying objects to avoid disappointment.

I hope this guide helps you in choosing your new telescope.

Please visit the Meteorwatch store for telescopes, planispheres, Star Atlas’s, binoculars, eyepieces and much, much more. Please browse the rest of this site for more beginners guides and information about meteors, astronomy and Space.

Enjoy your new telescope.

 

35 Responses to “The Best Telescopes for Beginners, Easy Guide and Review”

  • sonya says:

    Hi, i am looking at buying a telescope, i am a beginner, what do you think of the Celestron ps1000 newtonian refractor please has i have read conflicting reviews. Also looked at the danubia 30. Thanks

  • Stephen says:

    I’ve got a 250 mm tube dob. I plunk the base down, put the tube on it, and two big hand screws put it together. I slide a 9×50 finder on, and put in an eyepiece. The tube fits across my back seat – really any back seat. The 9×50 finder works even in heavy light pollution, which is where i live. Red dot finders work great, except in high light pollution. My scope needs collimation twice a year. I do it inside. The finder scope has only needed alignment once. Eight years ago. Two minutes from the car to looking through the eyepiece.

    But it also has a push-to computer. That brings the total setup to 3 minutes, in the dark. An hour without the computer allowed me to not find two galaxies with confidence. An hour with the computer allowed me to not find 12 galaxies with equal confidence. I was a beginner. How was i supposed to know that very few galaxies can be seen in high light pollution?

    After five years of using the scope, i got to a public star party without a battery (a tiny 9 volt – i could have had a spare). I’d expected an escallator, but found stairs. And the organizers had a short list of objects for kids to see and have checked off. 1) a galaxy. OK, M31 is off Andromeda. No problem. 2) A double star, like Mizar, Alberio is also up. OK. 3) A cluster. Uhm, M13 is up. 4) a planet. Saturn was up. 5) a nebula, but Orion was up. The computer taught me all of this. What the computer hasn’t taught me is the Moon. It’s on my to-do list.

  • Anna says:

    This has left me with a lot of conflict. I’ve spent several weeks trying to find my “first” telescope. I had a refractor when I was a little girl that was absolutely terrible and extremely disappointing. Let’s face it, telescopes are very expensive; especially if you want something that will have the quality I’m looking for. Bang for the buck, so to speak. Herein lies the rub. While the Dobs may be wonderful to learn by, they won’t be able to serve the end-game of my goal: astrophotography.

    I was quite starry eyed (ok, maybe a little pun intended there) at the prospects of picking up a Dobsonian as my first until I read that I would only be able to use it for personal viewing. Many guides have deemed these gems to be unsuitable for astrophotography due to long exposure times.

    Now, my flat is about as tiny as my budget. I can’t just pile 3 or 4 telescopes in a closet to drag out to suit whichever need, and I definitely can’t afford 2 or 3 of those telescopes. What I am hoping for is a sizable, one-time purchase to last me several years to serve in both observation and photography.

    As much as I would love to start out with a Dobs scope, it doesn’t seem like a practical plan. I would greatly appreciate (as in, practically make a shrine to your existence) if you had any recommendations on where to go from here. Am I mistaken in the Dobsonian’s photographic abilities? Or should I lean towards something else?

    • Stephen says:

      I have friends who do great astrophotography. I sat down with one (it was raining) and added up the essentials one would need to get shots with the quality he got. The minimum was $9,000 (£ 5800). Out of my price range. Perhaps the minimum could be reduced with more meger goals. Two really small refractors, one for imaging with narrow band filters, the other for tracking. Two cameras. One modest sized mount. You could image nebulae, even from city centers. It’s the mount that dominates. This setup doesn’t let you do visual very well.

      But what if you wanted to image the whole sky? Couldn’t you put a camera on a dob, point it somewhere, and have a camera take an image every second? Stack them with translation and rotation in post processing. Would it work? Is there software?

  • John Collins says:

    Thanks for your advice I’ve ordered the Skywatcher 130p and looking forward to making a start.

    I suspect it’ll arrive sooner than a cloudless night sky though….

    I wonder where I order that from?

  • Craig Johnston says:

    I’m really fancying the Skyliner 150P but I’m worried about the size. Anyone have this model? Is it really as big as it appears in photographs?!

    • Stephen says:

      As far as i can tell, you don’t start getting into portability problems until you get to 250 mm. And 300 mm gets you a scope that is twice as heavy.

  • AndyC says:

    Hi. I am in a similar situation to Pete and I have a similar question. I do like the sound of the simplicity of the Alt az mount, but my ultimate goal would be to photograph faint objects like nebula. Is this not possible with the simple mounts? I gather from looking at the details of other people’s photos that the images are made up by stacking lots of shorter exposures anyway, but are the scopes with the simple mounts entirely unsuitable for such a thing? And even if I were to get a scope with an equatorial mount, would it need to be powered for me to take such shots?
    And forgetting deep space objects, can you attach an SLR to the Skywatchers?
    Cheers.
    Andy.

  • Bill says:

    I’ve been an astronomer since the 60s, both amateur and professional. My tuppence worth :

    I have a few telescopes – an f/7 6″ Dob, an f/5 102mm Skywatcher Startravel refractor on an altaz mount and a 90mm altaz f/10 refractor (home built). All have their place. The Startravel is a wonderful compact, portable rich field telescope for faint fuzzies, but being just f/5 it needs eyepieces that cost almost as much as the telescope itself to get the very best out of it. The f/10 refractor is much more tolerant of cheaper eyepieces and is the one I use most – It also gives crisp, high contrast views of planets and faint fuzzies that IMO make up for the lack of light-gathering power. I don’t use the Dob very often these days partly because it takes a few minutes to set up and the observing position is uncomfortably low. BTW I live in town, which makes a difference to the kinds of objects that are of interest.
    Afocal photography with a compact digital is possible for successful Moon shots with any of these telescopes, and capable of planet shots too, despite the mounts being undriven. No faint fuzzies, though . . .

    I have access to a couple of Goto telescopes a well – including a 12″ Meade LX90. I seldom bother with them – too much to remember and the batteries can give up at the wrong moment. I share Meteorwatch’s opinion of Gotos and try to persuade beginners to avoid them and go for a Dob or simple altaz refractor. Sadly, some of them don’t follow my advice and end up discouraged and selling their purchases at a considerable loss.

  • Paul Lee says:

    Hi.
    Just my luck, I have already purchased one for my son for Christmas! It is the Celestron Astromaster 130EQ and it’s his first telescope.

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on this make/model?

    Don’t disappoint me too much!

    Thanks, Paul.

  • Dave says:

    I have been looking at getting my first telescope and was thinking of bypassing the beginner scopes and going straight onto the intermediates (for longevity). I was looking at the SkyWatcher Explorer-200P/1000 EQ5. Am I mad doing this? Should I go for the Heritage instead?

    • Meteorwatch says:

      That is a great scope and the problem you may encounter are the steep learning curve with the mount, portability and time to setup if you want to stargaze on a whim. If its size of aperture you are after and not a scope for imaging (you will need a driven mount on your EQ anyway) I would go for a 10 inch dobsonian or larger as seen in the meteorwatch store.

  • Mel says:

    Can you tell me which telescope would enable me to take pictures of the object I am viewing?

  • kevbo says:

    Im new to telescopes but the review of the Skywatcher heritage 130p flextubehas got me interested! Is the mirror completely open though? Im just worried the mirror would get dirty of some grit or leaves blown down there?!
    Are they easy to clean?

    • Meteorwatch says:

      All telescope mirrors are open as well as lensed telescopes and are exposed to the elements when in use, however they seldom get dirty unless they are abused. This applies to all telescopes.
      Mirrors are by far the easiest to clean if someone spilt soup in the tube or the mirror is covered in years worth of grime. There are very good cleaning guides for dobsonians (the easiest to clean) on the internet

  • Michelle says:

    Hi, I own a Skywatcher 127 reflector and am a complete beginner. Unfortunately the eyepieces it came with seem poor. Could you suggest some alternatives – the televue range have excellent reviews but are very expensive, are they worth it?

    Thanks

  • Gillian says:

    Thanks for your comments in this review. I’ve been giving the purchase of a beginner telescope some thought for months having previously seen you recommend the Skywatcher Heritage 130P in a Tweet. It’s in the sort of price range I’m looking for, though I’m disappointed to learn that it would not really be suitable for taking photographs with.

    However, what really puts me off is the fact that it doesn’t seem to come with a mount that can be atached to a tripod or other height adjustable portable support that is light to carry and would allow me to be seated on some kind of portable chsir and be able to use the scope in the absence of any suitable wall or furniture to stand it on. I have mobility problems and am limited in what I can lift and/or carry and, as I would need to drive out of town to get away from the light pollution in this area to see much, there’s unlikely to be much in the way of natural “stands” available for me to use that I’d be able to access with my mobility issues. Have you any suggestions for something that might meet my requirements and not break the bank ?

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    • Tobias says:

      Hi Gillian,

      I just read this reviews on this page, and although your post is from October las year you may be following this thread, so I thought I would reply to you, seeing that no one else has, so far. I don’t know whether or not you have found another scope or bought the Heritage 130p as you were thinking about, but if you have or are still thinking about getting a scope that will fit your needs, I have one of these minidobs since the end of last year, approximately I would think at the time you wrote here.

      I also took quite some time in looking for a scope, since I decided I wanted to get one. The thing is, like you, I’m disabled, and as I’m using a wheelchair too, I wouldn’t handle a usual tripod or EQ-mount well, and also, by sitting down, I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle such a mount when it comes to getting in a good position to the eyepiece. After and reading about some scopes, I got the suggestion to go for a 150 newtonian scope, but then the eyepiece would be out of my reach at certain positions. The same with some other versions of newts. However, I got into contact with another guy who advised me to get the Heritage 130p. He’s also in a wheelchair, and therefore knew about the specific demands that puts on a scope. Now, as for questions:

      As it comes mounted on it’s on Alt/Az mount, is it possible to use another one?

      Answer: Yes, it is possible to change mounts. It comes screwed to one arm which is easily handled, but if you don’t want this mount, just take it off and switch to another. Personally, I haven’t done this, but know people who have. The way I use it, is by placing it as it is on the ground, and sitting beside it in my chair, leaning to the eyepiece I get a perfect view of the sky. I don’t know what mobility you have, so placing a chair of your choice beside the scope may not be a good solution for you, having it on the ground. Another possibility which my friend sometimes uses, is placing it on a smaller stool or something, which shouldn’t take much place in case you are travelling to some darker place.

      If this isn’t for you and you switch the mount to something else you prefer, you will probably end up with a heavier solution (the Heritage including the mount weighs about 5-6 kg I think), but with with another mount you may also transport it in pieces, so that may be helpful for you. As I said, not knowingg your limitations makes it hard to be anymore helpful with that. Unfortunately I cannot give any advice on different mounts since I have only used the one that came with the Heritage. However, if Meteorwatch or someone else at this site thinks it okay, I could point you to another forum where I have gotten a lot of help with things such as this, and other aspects of interest regarding the Heritage 130p. I’d be happy to give more details, about this scope or others. You should know that whatever your needs in regards to a scope, you should be able to find a solution to them and get a scope that fits you. Might take some time though, and it may not be as you first thought, but one way or another you will be able to stargaze on your premisses. =)

  • Hobbes says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Newtonians require collimating which can be an awful struggle.
    So much so that I’ve sworn off Newts for Refractors. While you can get more bang for buck from a Newt, refractors are easier to use, don’t usually require collimating, don’t need cooling and are often smaller and more portable.
    Unless your skies are very dark, a 3″ ‘frac will do most of what you need.

    • Meteorwatch says:

      I disagree, if you use the right equipment such as a barlow and laser collimator, they are very easy to collimate. I do them all the time and its a case of being “scared” of doing it. Usually takes me 5 minutes to collimate a scope which has been stripped down. With a lot of cases, you don’t even need the laser and barlow, just a keen eye to see if everything is aligned. Being out slightly on most scopes is OK and most are out anyway.
      Refractors in my experience (which is a lot) can be too expensive for decent optics and will never outperform a dob for sheer light gathering abillity. Refractors are good, but not a good general purpose scope albeit, they stand out well with the positives you mention.

    • Stephen says:

      I live with high light pollution. while there’s no hope for galaxies, my 254 mm scope performs much, much better than my 60 mm scope.

      My 254 mm Newtonian Dob is a tube style dob. I collimate it once or twice a year. With a truss dob, i’d have to collimate every time. As a tube style dob, i’m limited to the 254 mm (10 inch) scope. The next size up, a 350 mm (12 inch) either is a tube dob and doesn’t fit in my car, or is a truss dob that requires collimation. I’d go with an SCT, but even a 200 mm SCT is well outside of my budget.

      A finderscope has a big advantage over a red dot finder in high light pollution. I can see much fainter stars in my 9×50 finder than i can naked eye, so i can navigate easier.

  • Andrew Hill says:

    Really appreciate all the advice here. My 14-year-old was lucky enough to be selected for a small Astronomy GCSE group at school being run by an enthusiastic teacher. My preference is to get the Skywatcher Heritage you recommend as it really is so important, especially for a teenager, that I can more or less just say ‘hey let’s go look at some stars’ and do so with minimal hassle at this stage.

    The tutor has said (and I’m sure Patrick Moore did too on last week’s programme) that a decent pair of binoculars might be an alternative.

    Have you any views, suggestions regarding them? Sorry if I’m being dumb and there’s something obvious one way or the other. Just checking before I buy something.

    To be able to get some permanent images really does seem to have a big advantage (which I presume rules out binoculars anyway) as it must be so good to show friends what you’ve seen and look at later. Is that going to be really tricky, though, without some auto moving thing? Are all the auto moving varieties awkward to set up and/or significantly poorer quality at, say, sub £300 prices?

    Thanks again.
    [I'm @kirrisdad by the way.]

    • Meteorwatch says:

      Some GoTo Scopes are good and are a neccesity when imaging, but you will need one in the £500 mark or higher to be easy to set up, use and image with. Manual scopes aren’t really any good for imaging

  • pete says:

    Thanks for this review. As someone who has been looking different telescopes for a nearly a year in order to buy one, this has given me loads more to think about.

    The skywatcher Heritage looks a cracker for the price and I was wondering if these types of telescopes had an the ability for camera attachments and the like?

    Astro-photography is something my ultimate aim but just looking at what the sky has to offer is awesome as well.

    Thanks again for this review.

    • Meteorwatch says:

      You can attach webcams and cameras to the telescope for taking images, but you will not be able to take any long exposures as the mount is not driven. You may be able to image the moon and bright planets using a simple hand guided method and free program called registax

    • John Collins says:

      I got the Skywatcher heritage and it is very good to start with. However the mount lets it down and you can’t really take any photographs with it. You’ll have to stand the mount on a table outside too which isn’t very convenient.

      I ended up buying an equatorial mount on ebay and since then have managed to take some pictures of Jupiter and some excellent ones of the moon.

      I got Saturn in view clearly on it but I haven’t been able to photograph it yet.

      A minus point is that I don’t like the focus method of screwing the eyepiece (or camera adaptor with the camera on it) in and out but I can live with it.

      I absolutely hate the red dot finder which you have too look through at an angle 90 degrees to where you stick your eye to the eyepiece. And I find the centre of the view in that keeps wandering out of alignment. If you haven’t got a table handy and have it on the ground this endtails some uncomfortable grovelling. I got a line-up device with a 90 degree bend in it but I had to take my heart in my hands and drill into the scope to fit it.

      If you get this you might want to get a wider angle eyepiece than the 20mm they supply as a wide angle one and when you’ve got what you want to look at step down to the 10mm.

      If I’m feeling flush (which getting astro equipment is a rapid cure for) I might splash out on a posher one soon as the mount I’ve got cost more but it will certainly keep me going for a couple of years at least.

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