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Best budget telescopes, 2021

A good telescope needn't cost the Earth. It is possible to explore the heavens with an inexpensive telescope, provided it's well-made.

Girl looking at the stars through a telescope.

How much does a good telescope cost? It’s a question we asked quite a lot. Cheap, affordable, inexpensive telescopes are very common nowadays, spurred on no doubt by the boom that amateur astronomy has seen over the past few years.

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But just as an expensive telescope isn’t always a good telescope, it’s also the case that a cheaper, more affordable telescope doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get stunning views of the Moon, planets, stars and deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies.

Telescope pointed at the Milky Way Galaxy
A well-made yet affordable telescope can still give you amazing views of the heavens. Credit: Roman Makhmutov / Getty Images

A good telescope is a good telescope, whatever the price. However, if you’re starting out in astronomy and have a low budget, it can be tricky to navigate all the various brand names, types of telescope and whether or not you’re getting good value for your money.

For help with this, read Tim Jardine’s excellent guide on how to choose your first telescope, or discover our pick of the best telescopes for beginners.

Below we’ve selected some of the best budget telescopes that we’ve reviewed over the years, including advice on where to buy them online.

You can find more stargazing and observing tips in our astronomy for beginners section and, once you finally do get your telescope set up, find to how to get started with our guide to spending your first night with a telescope.

8 of the best budget telescopes

1

Omegon MightyMak 60 Mini Dobsonian telescope

3.5 out of 5 star rating

A tabletop Dobsonian can be a great option for beginners who want a budget telescope that won’t break the bank but will offer those enticing first glimpses of the night sky that got most of us hooked on astronomy in the first place.

The MightyMak 60 comes with both a table-top tripod and a mini Dobsonian mount, a red dot finder, a star diagonal and an eyepiece. It’s light and easy to set up, and we found it arrived well-collimated and ready to go.

Optics are reasonable for a beginner telescope. We got good views of a quarter Moon, plus stars Sirius and Betelgeuse.

While we couldn’t get any detail out of a deep-sky object like the Orion Nebula, this telescope is well-suited for the Moon and the planets. Like we said, sometimes it’s all about those enticing first views, and as an affordable first telescope the MightyMak 60 is well worth your money.

Read our full Omegon MightyMak 60 review.

2

Bresser Messier AR-80/640 AZ NANO Telescope

4.0 out of 5 star rating

The Bresser Messier AR-80/640 Nano makes a great first telescope for beginners, and is certainly a reliable, quality budget telescope.

This 3-inch refractor comes with a manual altaz mount, a red dot finder, a star diagonal and a 26mm Plössl eyepiece: pretty much everything a beginner might need.

The telescope is suitable for viewing a wide range of objects and is also light and easy to transport, making for a good ‘grab and go’ telescope.

We used the AR-80/640 Nano to observe Mars and Saturn and were able to see Saturn’s rings with the supplied 26mm eyepiece. We also observed the Moon, the Double Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades and the Orion constellation.

What’s more, the setup comes with an eyepiece for mounting a smartphone, which may appeal to teen astronomers wanting to post their first forays into astrophotography on social media.

Read our full Bresser Messier AR-80/640 review.

 

3

Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 70AZ

4.5 out of 5 star rating

The LT 70AZ refractor offers a 70mm diameter front objective lens featuring coated optics and a focal length of 700mm.

We found the tube itself to be sturdy and lightweight. It’s mounted on a basic altaz fork mount and comes with two eyepieces – 25mm and 10mm – as well as a 2x Barlow lens and a star diagonal.

We particularly liked the StarSense Explorer phone dock, which offers both a smartphone holder and a mirror, turning a basic manual telescope into an instrument that can locate celestial targets via a touchscreen smartphone and the StarSense app.

We achieved impressive view of the Double Cluster, the Pleiades, the Beehive Cluster and the three Messier clusters in Auriga.

Even though the Orion Nebula was low in the sky at the time of reviewing, we were able to see plenty of nebulosity and detail using the 25mm eyepiece. Using the 10mm, we could even see the Trapezium Cluster at the heart of the nebula.

The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 70AZ really does make the argument that an inexpensive telescope, when it’s designed as well as this, can offer a great observing experience.

Read our full Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 70AZ review.

 

4

Sky-Watcher StarQuest 130P Newtonian

4.0 out of 5 star rating

As we break the £200 barrier, the Sky-Watcher StarQuest 130P Newtonian might not be everyone’s idea of a ‘budget telescope’, but it’s certainly worth considering spending a bit more on your first telescope if it’s within your means.

The StarQuest 130P’s tube length is nice and short, so it’s not too tricky for beginners to handle. The mount sits on a tripod and comes with an accessory tray and two eyepieces: 25mm giving 26x magnification and 10mm giving 65x.

Weighing just 8kg and simple to set up, it makes for a good first-time telescope, but also a cheaper option for established amateur astronomers who want a scope to transport to dark-sky sites.

During our testing, altair appeared as a good tight pinprick for 70% of the view, double star Albireo in Cygnus showed well-defined colours and star cluster M39 displayed its clearly defined triangular nature. The Omega Nebula and  M16 were also impressive: so too the Dumbbell Nebula.

We also managed to attach a smartphone adaptor to the 25mm eyepiece and were able to get a good capture of the lunar surface. This is a well-made and easy-to-use telescope.

Read our full Sky-Watcher StarQuest 130P review


5

Meade LightBridge Mini 130 Dobsonian

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Another miniature Dobsonian makes our list of budget telescopes. They can be very affordable, and being simple and quick to set up, make for good beginners’ telescopes that – most importantly of all – are likely to be in regular use.

The Meade LightBridge Mini 130 Dobsonian comes assembled and with a red-dot finder, two eyepieces (26mm and 9mm), instructions and Meade’s Autostar planetarium software.

Its single-arm mount offers free movement along azimuth and altitude axes and is easy to operate, but the Vixen-style clamp means you can use a different mount like an EQ1 or EQ3 if you want to upgrade to an equatorial system.

Bright star Regulus in Leo was pin sharp across 75% of the view, and even quite large star clusters like the Beehive fit in the view. Galaxy pair M81 and M82 could be seen together even through the 9mm eyepiece.

The Whirlpool Galaxy was small but relatively bright, and we got a good view of the Ring Nebula and the Dumbbell Nebula too.

Read our full Meade LightBridge Mini 130 review.

 

6

Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor

4.0 out of 5 star rating

The Celestron Inspire 100AZ offers a focal length of 660mm, a robust tripod, 20mm and 10mm eyepieces, a 90° erect image diagonal, a red light LED torch, accessory tray and dust cap, making it a great all-in-one package.

The tube is finished in blue with an orange, Vixen-style dovetail bar, which might make it a good option for young astronomers, given its pleasing appearance.

At 6.1kg the whole assembly is also light and easy to carry, even when assembled, which makes it great for quick observing sessions or for taking to dark-sky sites. It’s also very easy and quick to set up.

We enjoyed views of Venus – its phase was easy to see – and Mars, and could also see plenty of detail in lunar craters too. The Double Cluster in Perseus looked good through the 20mm eyepiece.

We also liked the smartphone holder – another plus for young astronomers? – and were able to capture a video of the Moon through the 20mm eyepiece.

Read our full Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor review.

 

7

Sky-Watcher Explorer-130PS

4.0 out of 5 star rating

We’re starting to get beyond the reach of many beginner astronomers’ budgets now, but nevertheless it’s worth taking a look at what’s available at the higher end of the ‘budget telescope’ spectrum.

The Sky-Watcher Explorer-130PS and its AZ-EQ Avant mount make for a compact and light combination that’s suitable for transporting to observing sites, but also is made with newcomers in mind.

The telescope is a Newtonian reflector, which does require collimation to align its two mirrors, but to make things easier for beginners, a big section of this process has been removed. As it is, set-up and operation are easy, making for a satisfying introduction to observing the night sky.

The supplied red dot finder is intuitive to use and the 650mm focal length is a good compromise for observing both Solar System and deep-sky targets. We got some great views of the Dumbbell Nebula and M15, as well as the Pleiades and the Hyades star clusters.

Through both the 25mm and 10mm supplied eyepieces the waxing gibbous Moon was wonderful and would definitely give beginners that ‘wow’ factor.

Read our full Sky-Watcher Explorer-130PS review.

 

8

Sky-Watcher Skyhawk-1145P

4.0 out of 5 star rating

This is another model that may not be everyone’s idea of an inexpensive telescope, yet it’s worth remembering that the Newtonian reflector offers the most aperture for money of any telescope design. A little extra in your budget may go a long way.

The Sky-Watcher SkyHawk 1145P comes with a mount with a single-tune fork and Vixen-compatible saddle clamp on its inner face. It offers Go-To capability and we were impressed with how easily it brought our chosen object into the field of view. The small and faint Ring Nebula snapped straight into view.

The last quarter Moon revealed crisp views of craters Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus and Arzachel, and we could easily split Zeta Lyrae.

Globular clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules were a delight and contrasting colour double star Albireo was a fine sight. It was a very enjoyable observing session.

With its ‘grab and go’ function and quick setup, accurate Go-To and no-nonsense optics, the Sky-Watcher SkyHawk 1145P really puts the fun into astronomy, and makes for a great beginner telescope for those who are able to stretch towards the £400 mark.

Read our full SkyHawk 1145P review.

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