Are you on the hunt for that special first telescope for a young astronomer? Getting children started in a astronomy shouldn’t be a chore: you’ll want a good telescope that’s simple to set up and even simpler to use. But most importantly, a kid’s first telescope should provide glorious views of the night sky without too much fuss.
Read our advice on getting children started in astronomy, and if you feel they’re ready for their first scope, see below for our pick of 6 of the best models on the market.
The Infinity-76P is designed for the youngest astronomers and has a distinctive shape that resembles a spaceship. It comes with stickers for decoration and the cardboard box can be folded up to use as a carry case.
This is a low-power telescope that can be assembled in minutes; pop the scope onto the curved base, insert the eyepiece and away you go.
The motion of the Infinity-76P is impressively smooth on its mount although it can’t be locked in position, which could pose an issue when small hands make a grab for the eyepiece and move the field of view.
Overall, this is an intuitive scope to operate and the erecting eyepiece allows for daytime use, which adds to its appeal.
Viewing quality is what you’d expect for such a small system, however, we had pleasing sights of the Moon with enough crater detail to keep young minds interested.
There isn’t much to break or misplace and we found we could also pack the Infinity-76P away quickly, which can be a bonus if interest quickly wanes.
Verdict A robust first telescope that can be assembled quickly.
For Simple enough to encourage interest
Against Unable to secure telescope for viewing
Bresser Junior 60/700 AZ1 refractor
The fact that this Bresser telescope, tripod and mount all fit neatly into a carry case is a definite bonus and gives it a level of portability. But once this 60mm refractor is assembled, we doubt it’ll be taken down again.
The reason being it’s constructed from about 20 parts that require assembly, making this more of a ‘Meccano mission’ than other kits.
For instance, while we often expect a tripod to unfold as a single piece with telescopic legs, here the three legs are separate and the extendable elements of each one have to be put together.
Assembling the scope took 20 minutes, which isn’t unreasonable, given the number of screws and bolts that comprise the build, but it’s unlikely you’ll want to pack it away again any time soon.
The Andromeda Galaxy looked fairly good through this scope but the eyepieces gave a very narrow field of view.
We did like the compass and planisphere, which are undervalued tools in an often technology-focused hobby.
These are a nod to some basic and important aspects of amateur astronomy.
Verdict Performs well when set up, but assembly requires patience
For Lots of useful accessories
Against Setting up is one for the parents
Orion FunScope 76mm tabletop reflector
The FunScope comes with a Moon map, which invokes a sense of exploration and helps young astronomers to navigate around lunar craters and seas.
It’s almost identical to the Heritage-76 in design, but introduces a slot-in EZ Finder II Reflex Sight instead of a finderscope, which we think is a better addition.
Once there’s an eyepiece attached, however, the setup becomes top-heavy and doesn’t balance. But this issue is not overly important since the telescope has a locking mount.
We swung this scope over to the Pleiades and while the stars were sharp at the centre of the field of view, there was distortion at the edges. Nevertheless, it proved good at lunar observation and the Moon map will ensure children want to use this again.
Something to take into account with this and all miniature or tabletop reflectors, including the Heritage-76 and Meade LightBridge tested here, is that it becomes difficult to locate overhead objects using the finderscope.
The problem is that when the scope is vertical, there is no room to position your head between the telescope and the table.
Verdict An easy to use mini scope that performs well
For Stable wooden mount, with good accessories
Against Slight distortion from eyepieces
The Heritage’s overall finish is excellent and looks attractive. For instance, rather than a plastic base (commonly found on toy telescopes), this one is wooden and gives stability to the setup without making it cumbersome.
Movement of the scope in all directions is fluid, meaning that you can swing from one object to the next with minimal effort.
The 300mm focal length allows a decent field of view for popular objects such as the Moon, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades.
The Heritage-76 comes supplied with functional, uncomplicated accessories suitable for beginners – a finderscope and two eyepieces.
While the finderscope is plastic and perhaps a little cheap, the eyepieces are fair quality.
In use the focuser allows a decent level of control and is easy to manage for slight adjustments.
Assembly and disassembly remain simple, and while the instructions are in-depth they are easy to interpret. Once you’ve perused them, it is unlikely you’ll need to look at them again.
Furthermore, the compact setup stays as a single piece and won’t clutter up a bedroom.
Verdict Easy to use, with accessories that offer rewarding views
For Great movement; mount locks in place
Against Difficult to use finderscope for overhead objects
Meade LightBridge Mini 82mm
Extras Red-dot finder, two eyepieces (9mm & 26mm), 2x Barlow lens, planetarium software
Supplier Hama UK
Tel 0333 123 4262
Much like the Heritage-76 and Orion FunScope, the LightBridge is a tabletop telescope, though it has a bit more aperture at 82mm. This increases light sensitivity and allows it to show more detail from the objects you want to observe while still remaining compact.
This time, we found a 2x Barlow lens and red-dot finder (battery supplied) accompanying the eyepieces.
The kit also comes with a planetarium app you can install on a computer. The red-dot finder has a nice wide screen, which increases its ease of use. While stars could be sharper, the eyepieces are of fair quality.
The instructions are not child-friendly at first glance, with a large booklet and some intimidating-looking text accompanying the kit.
But further investigation revealed that many of these instructions don’t apply to this model so can be disregarded.
If we’re being picky, the movement of the base could be smoother and the finish could be improved.
That said, the LightBridge does what it’s meant to do and provides a worthy first impression for young, first-time astronomers.
Verdict A starter kit that will likely be used more than once
For Looks good and performs well
Against Base not as fluid to rotate
Celestron AstroMaster LT 60AZ refractor
Extras Erect image diagonal, two eyepieces (20mm & 10mm), Moon filter and smartphone adaptor
Supplier D Hinds Ltd
Tel 01525 852696
The AstroMaster is a refractor and the first of the six scopes on test group that looks like ‘a proper telescope’. By that we mean it’s the traditional telescope-on-a-tripod setup.
The kit is robust but lightweight and only comes in two main parts, allowing for quick and straightforward assembly. We needed a screwdriver, which is a slight minus, but it is still ready in minutes.
The eyepieces each provide sharp views of stars and great lunar detail with minimal distortion at the edges.
The tripod is light and while the equipment tray provides stability, care is needed not to nudge and move the setup when it’s in use.
The supplied smartphone adapter really grabbed our attention, as it allows users to delve into astrophotography as well as dabble with astronomy.
This will enhance the experience for young users, especially once they have provided an image that proud parents can share on social media.
The Celestron is versatile enough for children and young adults, meaning it’ll last for some years.
Verdict A great first refractor to feed early interest
For The smartphone adaptor is a winning addition
Against Tripod guiding handle limits full movement