Best tabletop telescopes, 2023
A guide to the best tabletop Dobsonians and other tabletop telescopes.
One of the biggest gripes that puts beginner astronomers off getting out and observing the night sky is the prospect of setting everything up.
Many's an eager beginner on the hunt for their first telescope has opted for a high-end Dobsonian or Newtonian that requires assembly or collimation, and soon their scope is relegated to its permanent home of the attic or garage.
There's a saying in astronomy that the best telescope is the one you'll actually use, and one way of reducing the time it takes to prepare for an observing session is to invest in a tabletop telescope.
Tabletop Dobsonians and other tabletop telescopes have come a long way over the past few years, and are a great hassle-free option both for beginners and seasoned observers.
They're compact, lightweight and make for good grab-and-go telescopes.
Lift them out of the box, set them on a tabletop or other flat surface and you can get on with observing the night sky.
Many models are now also fitted with brackets and dovetail bars that enable them to be mounted on tripods too, making them ideal travel telescopes.
Below we've selected some of the best tabletop telescopes that we've come across during our regular astronomy reviews, including models that would be perfect for children and young astronomers, instruments designed for beginners and a few upmarket options for those looking for a grab-and-go telescope to complement their core observing setup.
If imaging the night sky is your thing, discover our top tips on the best telescopes for astrophotography.
- Buy now from PicStop
The Sky-Watcher Infinity-76P is perhaps the most attractive-looking tabletop telescope on the market, for children and young astronomers anyway. Its bright blue colour and spacecraft-shaped design really make it stand out among more traditional-looking tabletops.
The Infinity-76P would also suit young astronomers because of its low price tag (meaning you're not risking too much of an investment if the child in question decides astronomy isn't for them after all!)
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It can be assembled in minutes and comes in a cardboard box that doubles up as a carry case, should you wish to take it with you on holiday.
Motion on the mount is smooth and we got great views of the Moon, with decent crater detail that should keep younger observers inspired.
The Infinity-76P is included in our list of the best telescopes for kids.
Orion FunScope 76mm tabletop reflector
Another great option for young astronomers, the FunScope 76mm comes with a Moon map to help the observer navigate craters and seas on the Moon.
We should point out that once an eyepiece is attached the whole setup becomes top-heavy, which isn't great where children are concerned, but it's not too much of an issue because the telescope features a locking mount.
We got beautiful sharp views of the Pleiades and then swung it over to the Moon, where we got a decent run of lunar observing. Views like these, along with the aforementioned Moon map, make for a great overall package that should keep kids coming back for more.
The FunScope 76mm included in our list of the best telescopes for kids.
Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P Tabletop
The Heritage 100P is easy to set up: simply attach the finderscope, slot in your eyepiece and you're ready to go in no time at all.
We enjoyed wide-field views of galaxy pair M81 and M82 - Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy - in Ursa Major.
We also viewed the Hercules Globular Cluster M13. Increased magnification from the 10mm eyepiece plus Barlow lens revealed a sprinkling of stars.
This is a simple, no-fuss telescope that is very likely to see frequent use. Another great starter telescope for kids.
Omegon MightyMak 60 Mini
The MightyMak 60 comes with two mount options: a table-top tripod and a mini Dobsonian mount.
The former comes in a carry back that contains the included accessories: a red dot finder, star diagonal and eyepiece.
Instructions are included for setup, but like most tabletops, getting started is rather simple: attach the tube to the mount via a Vixen dovetail, slot in the finderscope, diagonal and eyepiece, and you're good to go.
We preferred using the Dobsonian mount as it's better for viewing overhead targets, but the tripod fits well into the carry bag, making it a good option for transporting to dark-sky sites.
This is a good telescope for lunar and planetary viewing, but we would recommend a Barlow lens or high-powered eyepiece, otherwise objects tend to appear small.
Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Flextube
The Heritage 150P comes already assembled and in a presentation box, with smaller boxes included to hold the red dot finder and eyepieces: 25mm and 10mm, providing magnifications of 30x and 75x.
We observed the Perseus Double Cluster using the 25mm and found it sparkled and stood out beautifully, while the 10mm gave us a closer look at the pair.
Clusters M34, M103 and M52 were wonderful, as was double star Albireo.
This is a great grab-and-go scope and we found it very simple to use. Most importantly, we were able to get good views of a wide variety of celestial objects.
Meade LightBridge Mini 130
The LightBridge Mini 130 Dobsonian comes pre-assembled and ready to go. It's well-packaged for protection when transporting, while a smaller box houses a red dot finder, instructions, Autostar planetarium software and two eyepieces.
The eyepieces are 26mm and 9mm, providing magnifications of 25x and 72x: low and medium-powered views.
The 26mm eyepiece provides just over 2.5º field of view, so even relatively large star clusters like the Beehive Cluster fit nicely.
Galaxy pair M81 and M82 were seen together even through the 9mm eyepiece. The Whirlpool Galaxy was small but bright in the 26mm.
We also enjoyed views of the Ring Nebula and the Dumbbell Nebula.
Through the 9mm eyepiece we could see Jupiter's two main belts and Galilean moons.
This is an intuitive tabletop Dobsonian that provides good views of a wide range of targets.
Skymax-127 Virtuoso GTi tabletop
The Skymax-127 Virtuoso GTi is a compact telescope featuring a Wi-Fi-controllable Go-To mount that can be controlled with a smartphone or tablet, making celestial objects locatable with the touch of a button.
The scope itself is a Maksutov-Cassegrain with a 127mm-diameter primary mirror, and comes with a red-dot finder, star diagonal, 25mm and 10mm eyepieces
We got amazing views of Saturn's rings, Jupiter and its Galilean moons, lunar craters Clavius, Tycho and Maginus, Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy, the Pleiaes and Albireo.
This is a great telescope suitable for viewing a range of objects.
Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain
- Buy now from Orion Telescopes
The Orion StarMax 90 is a tabletop Maksutov-Cassegrain designed for lunar and planetary observing, as well as for viewing deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae.
It's also designed to compact and light for transporting, making it a good travel telescope option for those who like to journey to far-flung dark-sky sites.
The StarMax 90 can be set on a flat surface or attached to a tripod and includes 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, along with a diagonal.
A swivel base enables manual slewing to various targets, but the tube can also be removed for mounting on a tripod a 3/8-inch screw.
Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Virtuoso GTi Wi-Fi Dobsonian
Jupiter and Mars were well-placed while we were testing the Heritage 150P Virtuoso GTi, with Mars’s red disc, and Jupiter’s bands and pin-prick moons clearly visible through.
We also enjoyed great views of the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters, the Andromeda Galaxy, Dumbbell Nebula, Ring Nebula, and Orion Nebula, double stars Albireo and the Double Double, and wonderful detail on the Moon.
The mount incorporates a standard 3/8-inch tripod bush in its base so the mount and telescope can be installed on a suitable tripod instead of a tabletop!
The Virtuoso’s Go-To system, using a free app compatible with the most popular smartphones, brings the Dobsonian concept up to date.
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Content Editor. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.