Are you interested in buying a telescope but have no idea where to start? Ultimately you’ll want something that’s good value, quick to set up, but still provides impressive results.
If your first telescope is too large and unwieldy or requires a lot of tinkering, you’ll be put off, you’ll find it difficult to transport you equipment to dark-sky sites and, ultimately, your scope may join the many others across the world consigned to the garden shed or garage, never to be used again.
You may decide to start off with a good set of binoculars. Many astronomers recommend this as the best way to enter the world of practical astronomer, and newcomers are often surprised just how much you can see with a reliable pair of binos at a dark-sky site.
Without proper experience, how can you know where to start? Good advice is to join your local astronomy society, attend a star party or find your nearest astronomy kit stockist. Speak to people who know best, and you may even get the chance to try before you buy.
But first, have a look at our pick of some of the best telescopes and binoculars suitable for beginners who want to get into astronomy, and click the link below each of the selections to read our full review of that item. The prices listed by each product are approximate.
The best telescopes for astronomy newcomers
Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P Tabletop Dobsonian (£99)
This compact, lightweight scope is easy to store and convenient for bringing out at a moment’s notice once the clouds clear. You could even place it on a sturdy patio table during your observing sessions. Importantly, the scope also gives good views of a range of celestial wonders; particularly the planets. This would be an ideal first telescope for a budding young astronomer.
Read our full review of the Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P here.
Celestron Omni XLT AZ 102 Refractor/basic mount (£229)
This scope comes with a finderscope, diagonal, eyepiece and mount that boasts slow-motion controls. Setting it up is relatively quick and easy due to the mount and tripod coming pre-assembled. All you need to do is attach the telescope to the mount, add the diagonal and eyepiece and you’re ready to go. It offers pin-sharp views of stars and galaxies and, weighing just 6.2kg, can be easily moved around your viewing spot or taken on trips to dark-sky sites.
Read our full review of the Celestron Omni XLT AZ 102 here.
Bresser Messier AR-80/640 AZ NANO Telescope (£169)
This 3-inch telescope enables observations of a wide range of celestial objects and comes with an altaz mount that’s intuitive to use. The whole package is a doddle to set up. An aluminium dew shield cuts down on unwanted light and keeps dew at bay, while the supplied red dot finder makes locating bright celestial objects easy. Emphasis is on lightweight materials, making it a good ‘grab and go’ instrument to encourage beginners to leave the light pollution behind and head for a dark-sky site.
Read our full review of the Bresser Messier AR-80/640 here.
Celestron Inspire 100AZ Refractor (£209)
Celestron’s Inspire range of refractors are made with the beginner in mind, but the 100mm version is our pick. It offers a good aperture, a focal length of 660mm and plenty of features. The scope would appeal to younger astronomers as it’s affordable and attractively designed. It comes with a tripod, 2 eyepieces, a diagonal and a red light LED torch. One particular bonus is its smartphone adaptor: ideal for those thinking about getting started in astrophotography, or for sharing your observations on social media.
Read our full review of the Celestron Inspire 100AZ here.
Meade Lightbridge Mini 130 Dobsonian (£199)
Tabletop telescopes are an obvious choice for a list of beginners’ scopes, and with the Lightbridge Mini 130 you can be viewing in minutes. No tripod, mount or polar alignment required: just set it onto a steady garden table or even a rolling trolley for wheeling in and out of storage. What’s more, this scope comes with two eyepieces that offer a wide view for satisfying observations of a range of targets.
Read our full review of the Meade Lightbridge Mini 130 here.
Sky-Watcher EVOSTAR-90 (AZ PRONTO) Basic scope/mount (£229)
There’s a saying in amateur astronomy: the best kind of telescope is the one you’ll actually use. The Evostar-90 AZ is simple to assemble and, at a combined weight of 6.25kg, light enough to lift. Its AZ Pronto mount and tripod system is easy to use: locking clamps can be loosened to move it manually, and there are slow-motion controls to help you fine-tune onto targets. The tripod has an adjustable height range of 78.5-150cm, and is sturdy, helping avoid too much vibration.
Read our full review of the Sky-Watcher EVOSTAR-90.
The best binoculars for astronomy newcomers
Opticron Adventurer 10×50 Binoculars (£79)
Binoculars that are light, compact and waterproof are ideal for the outdoor pursuit that is astronomy. These provide bright crisps of the Moon and stars, and have better light-gathering ability than other 10×50 models. They come in a soft padded case with belt loop, detachable shoulder strap and a microfibre cleaning cloth. They feel light, robust and are also waterproofed with a dry nitrogen filling to help them last for many years to come.
Read our full review of the Opticron Adventurer 10x50s
Nikon Action EX (£149)
This is a well-balanced pair of binoculars that is relatively easy to hold steady, while the chunky lugs on the right eyepiece dioptre make adjustments easy, even if you’ve got thick gloves on. Hinge, focusing, twist-up eye-cups: everything goes smoothly yet there’s just enough stiffness to prevent accidental readjustment. Stars snap to focus anywhere in the central 85 per cent of the 6.5° field of view, giving a bright, crisp, high-contrast image.
Read our full review of the Nikon Action EX binoculars
Vortex Crossfire 10×50 (£179)
The Vortex Crossfire offers smooth focus and a short-hinge design that leaves more room for your fingers, making these binoculars comfortable to hold. They offer a 6.1° field of view with excellent colour rendition and crisp views of stars. Good eye relief also makes these an option for people who want to observe while wearing spectacles.
Read our full review of the Vortex Crossfire binoculars
Pentax SP WP(£149)
The Pentax SP series of Porro prism binoculars features internal workings, which helps with waterproofing and allows the inclusion of focus locking (achieved by sliding the centre-focus band along its spindle). Large lugs on the right eyepiece dioptre make adjustments easy, even if you’re wearing thick gloves. These binos produce a sharp image, even thought the field of view is rather narrow at 5°. They offer good colour rendition and little chromatic aberration (vignetting of the edges of the view).
Read our full review of the Pentax SP WP binoculars