A great entry level telescope costs much less than you think, and what it’s capable of may even surprise you! As the title says, $200 is the general idea for how much a good beginner telescope can cost. This article will go over the capabilities of the most popular low cost telescopes on the market!
All beginner level telescopes will still get you good views of the Moon, planets, and some of the brighter deep sky objects.
Before we go over such telescopes, these are the following points to consider!
Is Your Budget Less Than $100? Get a Pair of Binoculars!
Joking aside, there is truth to this. Telescopes you see in department stores and those that you see that are less than $100 are typically no better than a similarly priced pair of binoculars.
Don’t Worry About The Brands!
Most entry level telescopes and accessories are made in the same factories, and then shipped overseas into different brands like Orion, Celestron, Meade, etc.
Also, entry level telescopes should accept all 1.25″ eyepieces, therefore as long as the eyepieces are the correct diameter, it doesn’t matter what brand they are.
Aperture and Focal Length Are What You’re Looking For! Magnification Comes Later!
Most beginner telescopes are between 60 to 114 mm, or 2.3 to 4.5 inches in diameter; this is your aperture – or light gathering power.
The focal length of the telescope will determine how well your eyepieces magnify the image. As an example – if your focal length is 500 mm, divide it by the 25 mm eyepiece you’re using and you get 20x magnification.
Don’t Expect Super High Magnification!
All telescopes have a limit to resolve an object, and any attempt at magnifying higher than the limit just results in mush! The rule of thumb for this limit is two times the aperture in mm.
That means the highest you can magnify on a small 60 mm is 120x, and the limit on a 114 mm scope is 228x. However, most telescopes will provide you with eyepieces that do not get you close to that limit, and they will require additional eyepieces or Barlow lenses to get there.
You can save a lot of money by getting these additional eyepieces and Barlow lenses in kits rather than buying them individually!
Magnification Viewing Guide for Telescopes – This will give you an idea on what objects look like at certain magnifications.
Learn more about Barlow Lenses With this article – Pros and Cons of Barlow Lenses.
Consider The Type of Mount You Get
This is another thing to look for when purchasing. While an Alt-Az mount is much easier to use and set up, an equatorial mount when properly set up can track objects with Earth’s rotation better than an Alt-Az mount. Read this article to get a better idea: Should I Get an Alt-Az or Equatorial Mount?
The Included Finder Scopes Can Be Useless
One major downside of a low cost beginner telescope is that the included finder scopes are made of cheaper materials, can be hard to align, and can be difficult to look through. This varies with each telescope but better finder scopes can be bought if you’re not satisfied with it.
You Can Get Good Views But Staying On Them Is Another Matter
All beginner telescopes will be light weight, and will require careful use when slewing the telescope to where you want to point at. The higher the magnification, the narrower the view, and the more vibration you’ll have to deal with when doing fine adjustments.
And now we will go over some popular beginner telescopes on the market that are around the $200 price range! Some Are Above, Others Are Below. These are prime examples, both refractor and reflector, of what you can expect to get!
Each entry will also discuss if the included equipment gives you the highest powered views possible with the telescope!
Aperture: 127 mm / 5 in
Focal Length: 1000 mm
Included Eyepieces: 20 mm, 4 mm, 3x Barlow
For the price, this is very good aperture and focal length! The only thing is that it can be rather flimsy, and must be polar aligned and sturdy on the ground to work properly.
As for the included eyepieces, the 20 mm eyepiece is a good wide field view, and it being paired with the 3x will give you good 150x views.
However, despite the 4 mm pushing you to the 250x magnification limit, it may give you a hard time, as the width is smaller than your exit pupil thus harder to look through. Even if you catch something within it, the object will fly off pretty fast unless you have this clock drive equipped with it.
Oh, and don’t bother pairing the 4 mm with the 3x Barlow. It’ll result in 750x magnification, WAY HIGHER than the 250x limit!
Aperture: 114 mm / 4.5 in
Focal Length: 450 mm
Included Eyepieces: 25 mm and 10 mm
The short focal length gives you a wider field of view, making it pretty easy to find the brightest objects in the sky. Even under a light polluted sky, this has enough aperture to showcase some deep sky objects, as I saw the Orion Nebula just fine through it.
However, the included red dot EZ finder II can be a chore to use, as you have to use reflex sight and look from the bottom of the telescope tube up to the finder, which isn’t comfortable for people who don’t like to hunch over too much.
Due to the shorter focal length, to get to the higher magnification capabilities (228x), ultimately a 3x Barlow and higher magnification eyepieces (8 mm, 6 mm) will be needed.
Aperture: 114 mm / 4.5 in
Focal Length: 910 mm
Included Eyepieces: 25 mm and 10 mm
Dobsonians are popular due to either ease of setup and use. This one weighs only 18 pounds at the most, thus is lightweight and easy to transport. It will be stargazing ready straight out of the box, and with the included focal length and eyepieces, you’ll get good all around views. The included finder will be good quality too. But to get higher powered views, a 2x Barlow Lens will be needed to get close to the limit.
The only downside is of course the Alt-Az mount, which will make tracking more difficult at higher magnification. It’s also short due to the Dobsonian mount being on the ground and not on a tripod, so while it’s ideal for a child, an adult may not enjoy bending over to operate it unless you put it on a sturdy and level table.
For just a bit more, you can get a 150 mm / 6 inch model, which makes it more of a long term investment!
Aperture: 70 mm / 2.75 in
Focal Length: 700 mm
Included Eyepieces: 25 mm, 10 mm, and 2X Barlow Lens
Refractor Telescopes will give you generally sharper views than reflectors, but their main downside is their prices spike up much more than a reflector when you increase the diameter.
With the included eyepieces and the 2X Barlow lens, you’ll get crisp views up to 140x, which is the limit for the telescope, and because it’s an equatorial telescope, you’ll track things much easier. If you just want views of the moon and planets, this is a good telescope to start with.
However, eventually you’ll want more aperture, making this telescope only a short term investment!
Aperture: 102 mm / 4 in
Focal Length: 600 mm
Included Eyepieces: 26 mm, 9 mm, 6.3 mm, and 2X Barlow Lens
For the price you’re paying, you’re getting a lot in this kit with 3 eyepieces and a 2X Barlow. The highest magnification you can achieve with the included eyepieces is 190x (close to the 204x limit), and it also has slow motion controls, making fine adjustments easier.
But once again, the Alt-Az mount means tracking will be much more difficult at highest magnification. The other problem you may encounter is the light weight means fine adjusting at high magnification will shake the telescope more than you may be comfortable with.
Note: the customer reviews on the Amazon page are mixed up with reviews for the smaller models as well, so look for reviews that specifically mention the 102!
Aperture: 120 mm / 2.3 in
Focal Length: 700 mm
Included Eyepieces: 25 mm and 9 mm
In terms of budget, this is quite possibly the lowest priced computerized Go-To telescope on the market! So if you want a Go-To Telescope on a budget, than here you go! You now have thousands of cataloged objects available at the push of a button!
But wait… the 60 mm aperture isn’t much, at least not compared to other beginner level telescopes with more aperture, and with the magnification limit being around 120x, you’ll barely get close up views of the Moon and planets – that is IF you decide to get the eyepieces possible to achieve it (12 mm and a 2x Barlow lens).
Eventually you’ll decide you need to go bigger, making this a short term investment!
Thank you for reading this article! Hopefully this gives you a better idea of where you should set your sights!
Support Your Neighborhood Astronomers! Help grow Orion Bear Astronomy
You know where mainstream media sites get their information? From people like us! Support Your Neighborhood Astronomers! Everything is free, but donations help keep the website alive and go towards outreach events!