Best Telescopes of 2021 for Stargazing and Astrophotography

Whether you’re surveying the solar system or looking to do some deep-sky stargazing, the best telescope is a must-have optical instrument. Using lenses, mirrors, or a combination of both to gather and focus light, optical telescopes increase the apparent size of distant objects—e.g., other planets and stars—so that we can observe them more clearly.

Optical telescopes are typically categorized into three main types: refractor, reflector, or catadioptric. Each type comes with own strengths and weaknesses, which you should consider when selecting a scope. For instance, refractor telescopes are generally considered to be better suited for viewing objects within our own solar system. If you’re primarily interested in observing the moon or any of our planetary neighbors, refractor telescopes are a good place to start. Conversely, if you’re interested in studying deep-space objects, a refractor scope likely isn’t the best bet for you. 

Category is just one of the many factors you’ll need to consider when shopping for a telescope, which is why the selection process can seem so daunting. But don’t worry—we’ll give you some clarity on what to look for when scoping out scopes, including which features you should focus on or ignore. We’ll also provide our picks for the best telescopes for certain use cases and applications.

Best Overall: Celestron NexStar 6SE
Best for Beginners: Celestron NexStar 5SE
Best for Kids: Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ
Best for Astrophotography: Sky-Watcher EvoStar 100
Best Value: Gskyer AZ90600 Refractor Telescope
Best for Home: Celestron NexStar 8SE
Best for Viewing Planets: Sky-Watcher Skymax 127

How We Picked the Best Telescopes

Methodology

To determine the best telescopes, we leveraged years of personal experience, as well as information gleaned from interviewing optics specialists and experts in the field of astronomy and astrophotography. These resources allowed us to create a specific criterion for evaluating each telescope: 

Aperture: A key component of any telescope, the aperture is the diameter—usually expressed in millimeters—of the primary lens or mirror of a telescope. Aperture determines the amount of light the telescope lets in. In general, a bigger aperture means a brighter image means better clarity. Bigger aperture also commonly means bulkier builds (so less portable) and more expensive (so not budget-friendly). When we evaluated each telescope, we considered whether the aperture was suitable to a specific task, as well as the cost-per-millimeter to determine value.

Magnification: When evaluating the magnifying power of each telescope, we stuck to the general guideline—you want about 50x per inch of aperture to determine useful magnification.

Type: Because each of the three main types of telescope (refractor, reflector, and catadioptric) has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, we knew what to expect in terms of design, size, and value. We examined how the strengths and weaknesses of each telescope compared to those expected of their particular type to help determine the overall quality and value.

Size: The size of a telescope can tell you a lot about its overall quality. For example, larger telescopes tend to have larger optical components and apertures, which gives you some idea of their light-gathering ability. The size of a telescope also impacts its portability, which we factored into our evaluation since many users will likely need to move their telescope from location to location. 

Value: Bang for buck is almost always an important consideration, no matter what instrument or piece of equipment you’re talking about. Telescopes are no different. We examined which telescopes gave you the most in return for your hard-earned cash.

The Best Telescopes: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Telescope Overall: Celestron NexStar 6SE

Six-Inch Aperture. Celestron

Why It Made The Cut: Offering the perfect combination of power, performance, and portability, the Celestron NexStar 6SE is the best telescope for most people. 

Specs:
– Aperture: 150 millimeters / 5.9 inches
– Focal Length: 1500 millimeters / 59.1 inches
– Magnification: 60x 

Pros:
– 150 millimeter Schmidt-Cassegrain computerized telescope
Fully automated mount programmed with over 40,000 space objects
– SkyAlign technology enables quick setup and alignment
– Compact and portable

Cons:
– A little pricey

Offering the ideal balance of power, performance, and portability, the Celestron NexStar 6SE is our pick for the best telescope overall. This Schmidt-Cassegrain computerized telescope features a 150-millimeter primary mirror that uses Celestron’s proprietary StarBright XLT multi-coating system to enhance light transmission, making it an ideal solution for observing objects in the night sky. It works well for both local bodies, like the moon and neighboring planets, as well as deep-space objects, such as distant stars and galaxies.

Along with its premium optics, the NexStar 6SE comes with an abundance of features to get the most out of your stargazing experience, including a fully automated mount that can automatically locate and track more than 40,000 celestial objects. Though it weighs approximately 30 pounds when assembled, it conveniently breaks down into separate, lightweight components, making it easy to transport. When you arrive at your stargazing station, the NexStar 6SE’s intuitive design and integrated SkyAlign technology will allow you to assemble and align the telescope in just a few minutes.

As part of the lauded NexStar series, the 6SE model sits between the 5SE and the 8SE telescopes. Though it’s slightly heavier and carries a higher price tag than the 5SE, we felt the 6SE’s improved light transmission elevated it to a level that would be suitable to more people than the 5SE (which is an excellent telescope in its own right but is better suited for beginners). Similarly, we felt the 8SE’s larger size, costlier price point, and professional-level light-capturing abilities made it a more capable telescope, but one that would appeal to fewer people.

Best Telescope for Beginners: Celestron NexStar 5SE

Automated Mount. Celestron

Why It Made The Cut: Combining premium optics, great value, and seamless functionality, the Celestron NexStar 5SE makes locating your favorite celestial bodies a breeze for beginners and curious amateurs. 

Specs:
– Aperture: 125 millimeters / 5.0 inches
– Focal Length: 1250 millimeters / 49.2 inches
– Magnification: 50x 

Pros:
– 125mm Schmidt-Cassegrain computerized telescope
– Fully automated mount programmed with 40,000+ solar system objects
– SkyAlign technology enables quick setup and alignment
– Compact and portable

Cons:
Short battery life when using AA batteries for power

Thanks to its slew of novice-friendly features, the Celestron NexStar 5SE is our pick for the best telescope for beginners. The 5SE doesn’t pack quite the same performance punch as its big brother, the Nexstar 6SE, but its 125-millimeter aperture, 50x magnifying power, and multi-coated optics are more than enough to produce clear, crisp images of the moon and planets.

The NexStar 5SE’s easy-to-use tracking system utilizes an automated mount to pinpoint and focus on any of the more than 40,000 celestial bodies stored in its vast database. The ease and speed at which these objects are located, as well as the resulting image that follows, will also appeal to beginners, as it rewards their stargazing efforts immediately. 

Even though the NexStar 5SE weighs nearly 30 pounds, it breaks down fairly easily, making it a breeze to transport. And, thanks to its intuitive design, reassembling the telescope is a breeze, so usersespecially beginnerswon’t have to worry about any complicated steps or procedures.

Best Telescope for Kids: Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ

Red Dot Finderscope. Celestron

Why It Made The Cut: The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ is easy to set up, simple to use, and comes with everything a junior astronomer needs to start their stargazing sojourn.     

Specs:
– Aperture: 70 millimeters / 2.8 inches
– Focal Length: 900 millimeters / 35.4 inches
– Magnification: 45x (10 millimeter eyepiece); 90x (20 millimeter eyepiece) 

Pros:
– 70 millimeter refractor Optical Tube Assembly (OTA)
– Fully coated glass optics improve light transmission
– Manual alt-azimuth mount makes object tracking easy
– Includes 10-millimeter and 20-millimeter eyepieces
– Compact, lightweight, and portable

Cons:
– Mediocre tripod 

The best telescope for kids is one that delivers an exciting experience for young stargazers without overstressing their parents’ budget. The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ satisfies both those requirements, thanks to its ease of use, high-quality optics, and reasonable price tag.

The AstroMaster A70 is a refracting telescope with a 70 millimeter (2.8-inch) aperture, 900 millimeter (35.4-inch) focal length, and your choice of magnification (either 45x or 90x) depending on which eyepiece you use. The telescope sits in an easy-to-operate alt-azimuth mount, which moves vertically and horizontally and connects to the included steel tripod. Also included with the AstroMaster are the aforementioned 1.25-inch eyepieces, a finderscope, an image diagonal, and free software to help young astronomers develop their celestial knowledge.

Best Telescope for Astrophotography: Sky-Watcher EvoStar 100

Photo-Ready. Sky-Watcher

Why It Made The Cut: The EvoStar’s large aperture, powerful magnification, and easy-to-use focuser make this option the best telescope for astrophotographers.  

Specs:
– Aperture: 100 millimeters / 5.9 inches
– Focal Length: 900 millimeters / 35.4 inches
– Magnification: 197x (maximum)

Pros:
– 100 millimeter refractor OTA
– Proprietary Metallic High-Transmission Coatings (MHTC) minimize chromatic aberrations
– Includes 2 inch dual-speed Crayford-style focuser
– Comes with foam-lined aluminum hard case

Cons:
– Doesn’t include mount or tripod

Even at its relatively high price point, the Sky-Watcher EvoStar 100 offers great value and premium optical performance—for both visual astronomers and astrophotographers. 

This dual-element refractor features a 100-millimeter (4-inch) aperture, 900-millimeter (35-inch) focal length, and a max magnification of 197x. The EvoStar’s optical class is coated with Sky-Watcher’s MHTC, which minimizes chromatic aberrations and helps deliver the tack-sharp, color-corrected images. Rounding out the EvoStar’s photo-friendly features is its dual-speed Crayford-style focuser, which will allow you to quickly find focus regardless of the eyepiece or camera you are using. 

The Sky-Watcher EvoStar 100 telescope is OTA-(optical tubes assemblies) only, so it doesn’t come with a mount or tripod. However, the Skymax does include a Vixen-style dovetail plate, so you will be able to attach it to virtually any telescope mount.

In lieu of a tripod, the EvoStar 100 comes with several accessories, including a finderscope, dielectric diagonal, and foam-lined aluminum case.

Best Telescope for the Money: Gskyer AZ90600 Refractor Telescope

All-in-One. Gskyer

Why It Made The Cut: The Gskyer AZ90600 refractor telescope offers more features and accessories than any other similarly priced kit, making it a great overall value.

Specs:
– Aperture: 90 millimeters / 3.5 inches
– Focal Length: 600 millimeters / 23.6 inches
– Magnification: 120x (maximum)

Pros:
90 millimeter refractor OTA
– Fully coated, anti-reflective blue film optical components
– Includes three removable eyepieces (24x, 60x, and 120x)
– Easy to set up and use 

Cons:
– No carrying case

You would be hard-pressed to find another telescope kit that offers the same amount of bang for your buck as the Gskyer AZ90600. This refractor telescope features a 90-millimeter (3.5-inch) aperture, 600-millimeter (23.6-inch) focal length, 120x maximum magnification, and three replaceable eyepieces: 5 millimeter, 10 millimeter, and 25 millimeter. The Gskyer AZ90600’s anti-reflection fully coated blue film components improve light transmission and ensure views are clean and crisp. 

In addition to the three replaceable eyepieces mentioned above, the Gskyer AZ90600 also comes with a 3x Barlow lens that triples the magnifying power of each eyepiece and a full-size alt-azimuth aluminum tripod that supports multiple heights and viewing positions.

Rounding out the Gskyer AZ90600’s long list of exceptional features is the fact that it’s fairly easy to set up and use straight away. This telescope is also fairly lightweight, meaning that if you don’t particularly like your current stargazing station, you can easily pack up and move somewhere else.

Best Home Telescope: Celestron NexStar 8SE

Heavy Duty. Celestron

Why It Made The Cut: The powerful, fully automated Celestron NexStar 8SE features a large, 203-millimeter aperture that allows users to enjoy crystal-clear views of the night sky from the comfort of their own home. 

Specs:
– Aperture: 203 millimeters / 8 inches
– Focal Length: 2,032 millimeters / 80 inches
– Magnification: 81x

Pros:
– 203-millimeter Schmidt-Cassegrain computerized telescope
– Fully automated mount programmed with 40,000+ celestial objects
– SkyAlign technology enables quick setup and alignment
– StarPointer finderscope included

Cons:
– Runs through batteries quickly

The Celestron NexStar 8SE is a powerful Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that features a wide, 203-millimeter aperture, a long 2032-millimeter focal length, multi-coated optics, and up to 81x magnification—all of which allow users to observe everything from the moon and planets to deep-space objects like faraway stars and distant galaxies with crystal clarity. 

Along with its premium optics, the NexStar 8SE comes with an abundance of features to get the most out of your home stargazing experience, including a fully automated GoTo mount that can automatically locate and track more than 40,000 celestial objects. It also features Celestron’s proprietary SkyAlign technology, which gets the telescope set up and ready to observe the stars in a matter of minutes. 

Though this telescope is perfect for placing in your backyard and viewing the night sky, the NexStar 8SE’s easy-to-break-down design makes it simple to take apart and store, or, if need be, transport to another location.  

The NexStar 8SE is both larger and costlier than its sibling, the NexStar 6SE, but the sizable difference in light-capturing ability give it an edge in terms of optical performance. If you’re looking for a great telescope to use at home, almost any of the NexStar series telescopes will do. However, if you’re looking for the absolute best home telescope, then you should consider the NexStar 8SE.

Best Telescope for Viewing Planets and Galaxies: Sky-Watcher Skymax 127

Matched Primary and Secondary Mirrors. Sky-Watcher

Why It Made The Cut: Combining a slower focal ratio and narrower field of view with a 127-millimeter aperture and fully coated, high-contrast optics makes the Sky-Watcher Skymax 127 an ideal scope for viewing planets. 

Specs:
– Aperture: 127 millimeters / 5 inches
– Focal Length: 1540 millimeters / 60.6 inches
– Magnification: 250x (maximum)

Pros:
– 127 millimeter Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope
– Proprietary MHTC enhances brightness, color, and contrast
– Vixen-style dovetail plate supports almost all telescope mounts
– Lightweight and portable

Cons:
– Doesn’t include mount or tripod

If you’re interested in viewing the moon, planets, and other celestial bodies in our solar system, then as the best telescope for viewing planets and galaxies, the Sky-Watcher Skymax 127 is an excellent choice. This 127-millimeter Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope delivers excellent optical performance with high contrast and virtually no chromatic aberration. That performance combined with the Skymax’s slower f/12 focal ratio and narrower field of view allows users to observe the moon, planets, and other solar system objects in great detail.

The Sky-Watcher Skymax 127 telescope is OTA only, meaning it doesn’t include a mount or tripod. However, the Skymax does include a Vixen-style dovetail plate, so you will be able to attach it to virtually any telescope mount. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Telescope

Aperture

When shopping for telescopes, the aperture should be one of your top considerations. The aperture determines how much light a telescope lets in, which, in turn, determines the brightness and clarity of an image. Generally speaking, the bigger the aperture, the brighter the image, and the further you’ll be able to see. Keep this maxim in mind when shopping scopes, especially if you have a particular use or object in mind. If, for example, you want to observe the deepest, darkest space, then you know to look for a scope with a larger aperture—because a larger aperture will gather more light, which will allow you to see further. However, also keep in mind that big apertures usually mean big components and big price tags, so you’ll have to weigh that against your budget and need for portability.   

Size

Telescope size is an important consideration for a number of reasons. The first is that the size is a good indication of aperture, which, as mentioned, is critical in determining an image’s quality and how far you’ll be able to see. The second is that size determines portability. If a telescope is too large to transport to the desired location, then it’s not much use to you. Even a tiny telescope with a small aperture produces better images than the telescope you don’t use at all.  

Type 

Because of their inherent strengths and weaknesses, it’s helpful to consider the type of telescope when making your selection. As mentioned earlier, there are three basic types of telescope: refractor, reflector, and catadioptric. In general, refractor telescopes are best suited for observing objects in our solar system. They are also well-suited for astrophotography. On the negative side, refractors tend to be heavier and carry a higher cost-per-millimeter when it comes to aperture. Reflectors, on the other hand, usually offer better value than refractors, and they are better suited for deep-sky observations. Reflectors also tend to require more maintenance than a refractor, as their internal components are more likely to be covered with dust and debris. A catadioptric, or compound, telescope incorporates both refractor and reflector elements (i.e., lenses and mirrors) in its design. In many ways, compound telescopes offer the best of both types. However, one notable drawback is that compound telescopes, especially quality ones, do not come cheap. 

FAQs

Q: How much does a good telescope cost?
Quality telescopes range in cost and value. There is no set price limit or range for a “good” telescope, any more than there is for a “bad” telescope. However, there are some general pricing rules you can keep in mind when it comes to specific types and subtypes of telescopes. In general, most types of refractor scopes cost more than other scopes with similar apertures. Reflector scopes tend to be much less expensive than other telescopes, especially compared to those used for deep-sky observation and astrophotography. Catadioptric, or compound, telescopes often start at a higher price point and only get more expensive as you move up the quality ladder.

Q: Which telescope is best to see planets?
The Sky-Watcher Skymax 127 is our top choice for viewing planets. The Skymax 127 pairs excellent optical performance with virtually no chromatic aberration with a slower focal ratio and narrower field of view, allowing users to observe the moon and planets in awe-inspiring detail.

Q: What is the most powerful telescope for home use?
Generally speaking, the most powerful home telescopes currently available are those with either a 350-millimeter (14-inch) or 400-millimeter (16-inch) aperture. Larger models do exist, though they aren’t readily available. One of the most powerful home telescopes you can buy is the Meade 14-inch LX200-ACF.

Q: How big of a telescope do I need to see Saturn?
So, the good news is that you can see Saturn with your naked eye. But if you want to get a closer look at its rings and details, you will need a telescope with an aperture of at least 50 millimeters (2 inches). Catadioptric telescopes starting at 100-millimeter (4-inch) apertures are a good choice for observing Saturn thanks to their enhanced light-gathering ability and high magnification.

Final Thoughts on the Best Telescopes

The best telescope is the one that satisfies the observational needs of the most people without completely emptying your wallet. To achieve this, it should feature an aperture large enough to facilitate clear observations of local and some deep-sky objects. The best telescope for you should also be easy to operate and transport, and it shouldn’t require a ton of maintenance. 

The Celestron NexStar 6SE champions these features better than any other telescope. It’s powerful enough to provide crystal-clear views of the solar system and deep space. Its intuitive functionality means that virtually any level of stargazer can easily use it. The 6SE is easy to assemble, disassemble, and transport, so you can bring it anywhere. It’s not what you would call an inexpensive instrument, but the 6SE’s high degree of power, performance, and portability does justify its price.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.

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