If you’re just starting to get interested in astronomy, then it can be difficult to know where to start. Do you really need expensive binoculars, a tripod and a telescope, or can you start with just one of these things if you’re new? This is exactly the kind of question I would ask myself when I first started stargazing.
Now, I can’t claim to be an expert astronomer, but I have had a keen interest in astronomy and been using telescopes for many years, so I do know what I’m talking about. Plus, I’ve been in your position before, where I’ve been searching for the best equipment for an amateur. You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get yourself a good set up.
In this guide, we’ll have a look at some of the better equipment that you’ll find on the market. I’ll also go other with you what you really need, and what areas that you can’t really cut corners on if you want to get the best from your astronomy kit.
Star gazing is a great activity, whether it’s alone of with a loved one. Let’s see some of the best stargazing equipment for beginners – and professionals, too.
Best Telescope for Viewing Planets and Galaxies
The question ‘what’s the best telescope for viewing planets and galaxies’ is actually a difficult one to answer. Because, typically a telescope cannot be ‘best’ at both – each type of telescope tends to be better at different things.
For example, if you’re looking to see as many DSO’s (which stands for Deep Sky Objects) then your best bet is to get the highest aperture Dobsonian that you can for your budget. DSO’s refer to things like galaxies and clusters of stars – anything that isn’t individual, like a planet or the moon. Everyone knows that if you’re on a budget and you’re not willing to spend upwards of 4 figures on a telescope, then a Dobsonian is the best option.
This is because a Dobsonian gives you the maximum aperture possible for the cheapest price. With refractors, you’re budget is going to be a lot bigger than if you’re going for a Dob (which is a Newtonian reflector).
SkyWatcher 10 inch Dobsonian
- 10" (254 mm) Dobsonian-style Newtonian, 1200 mm focal length (f/5), 2" Crayford-style focuser with 1.25" adaptor
- 4-element Plossl 25 mm and 10 mm 1.25" eyepieces, 8x50 RA viewfinder
- Solid rocker-mount with Teflon bearings and tension clutch, Collapsible Tube Design For Easy Storage and Transportation
The first telescope that I’m going to talk about is the SkyWatcher Dobsonian. If you asked the majority of astronomers what’s best for seeing galaxies and you’re not willing to shell out thousands, then they’ll say the same thing – get a high aperture Dob. The Skywatcher is a good example of exactly what you can get if you’re looking in the mid range ballpark of prices.
It is a step up in class on cheaper scopes for a few reason. It’s got a 10 inch aperture – this is 254mm. This is significantly more than the other telescopes that you’ll find, and you’ll definitely notice the difference between this one and other telescopes that are available. The large aperture allowing more light to come through will undoubtedly end up with you getting a better view from your telescope. It also has a 1200mm focal length, which makes for some great magnified views.
What some people particularly like about the Dobsonian is that it’s very easy to collapse it down and store it. One of the biggest issues people face with high quality telescopes is that it’s very difficult to store them for later. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue with the Skywatcher as it’s easily collapsible and you can store it away for later.
Overall, this is one of my favorite options for a good quality telescope that will give you some awesome views. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than the other options that are listed but it’s definitely worth the money if you have it. Some people will argue about it having GoTo tracking, but that isn’t necessary (in my opinion) for Dobsonian scopes as they are very easy to point and use.
I’m going to talk about some other types of telescopes in this list, but I would advise you to stick with a Dobsonian if you’re looking for anything more in depth. $500 or $600 on a reflector is not going to give you enough aperture to see galaxies as well as a Dob – fact.
Celestron NexStar Series
- Celestron's iconic "orange tube" design is updated with all the latest features to provide the best stargazing experience for beginners and experienced observers alike. Light Gathering Power compared to human eye is 459x
- 6-inch aperture with excellent light-gathering ability provides impressive views of the Moon and planets, along with deep sky objects like the Orion Nebula, while retaining a compact form factor
- Fully automated GoTo mount with database of 40,000+ celestial objects automatically locates and tracks objects for you. Focal Length-1500 mm (59 inch). Focal Ratio-10. Apparent Field of View-0.83°. Linear Field of View (at 1000 yds)-44 feet (13 m)
Next on the list is the Celestron NexStar Series. Here, you’re paying a similar price to the SkyWatcher but you’re getting 6 inches of aperture instead of 10 inches. If you want more, you’re going to up your budget signficantly (I know I’m droning on about it, but I had to mention it again!).
I have to mention a computerized scope in here because for some people, they may be better. Personally I would always stick to a manual scope because well.. the hunt is part of the fun! But computerized scopes have their benefits too, and the NexStar is also a solid option.
The Celestron NexStar is good option for you to look at if you want to get a quality telescope. The Series run from the 4SE up to the 8SE, with the cheapest of those starting at around $500 and running up all the way to in excess of $1000. You don’t need to get the best model, though it will ensure that you’re going to get a good quality image.
The 6 inch aperture is ideal for seeing objects that are really far in the distance like the Orion Nebula, which is one of the best things to start with if you’re a beginner. You’ll be able to get some really good images of different planets as well. This isn’t solely because of the aperture, but it’s definitely a contributing factor to how good this telescope is.
It has a 1500mm focal length, which is another reason why you’re going to get high quality images at extremely long range distances. Bear in mind that this will also make the scope length a little longer too. Many people think that computerized telescopes aren’t really for beginners, but this isn’t the case. This telescope is extremely easy to use, so you won’t have any trouble using it to the best of it’s ability.
If you don’t mind having a telescope that stays in one place – it’s 30lbs, so it’s not the most portable – then you could consider a telescope from the NexStar Series.
Orion 9827 AstroView
- Versatile 6" reflector telescope and sturdy equatorial (EQ) mount and tripod excels at all-around night-sky performance
- 6" (150mm) aperture and 750mm focal length Newtonian reflector optics provides pleasing views of a rich variety of celestial objects from the close-by Moon to distant galaxies and cloudy nebulas
- Includes sturdy adjustable-height aluminum tripod and equatorial mount for precise slow-motion manual tracking of celestial objects as they appear to migrate across the night sky
The Orion Astroview is a pretty good option for anyone looking for a solid telescope that gives a nice quality of image. It has an increased aperture from the cheaper telescopes I’ve talked about. With lower quality telescopes like the Celestron PowerSeeker (mentioned below), you’re getting a 127mm aperture (5 inch) but with the AstroView, you’ll get a 150mm aperture (6 inch).
This increase in aperture proves a little better for seeing the sky, especially when you’re looking for galaxies, as you’ll definitely need this increase aperture. Though in an ideal world, you’ll want an 8+ inch Dobsonian.
Another thing that you’re going to want to take into account when you’re considering the Astroview is that it has a 750mm focal length. This is important for those who are looking for things at a greater distance, as the focal length will have a bigger effect when you’re looking at highly magnified images.
I particularly liked the AstroView because of the two eyepieces that it comes with that seem to be of a decent quality. They’re very easy to use, and they give you a good way to get a 30x and a 75x magnified view quickly. All in all, the Astroview is one of the better telescopes on the market, especially for newbies. It’s very easy to set up too, which isn’t typical for telescopes of it’s nature.
Celestron AstroFi 102
- 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with fully coated glass optics
- Control your telescope via integrated WiFi using the free Celestron SkyPortal app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices
- Observe in no time with a quick and easy, no-tool setup
Another option that you could go for when considering a telescope to purchase is the AstroFi 102. It’s another telescope from Celestron, who are undoubtedly the most popular telescope brand.
EDIT: I actually used this telescope at a friends house a while ago, and was pleasantly surprised – this prompted me to include it in this list. Since this time, he called me and said he was having a few issues with it, primarily with the WiFi. Looking on Amazon, it seems that a few people have had this problem too. So for beginners, you’ll definitely want to avoid this one.
The main issue that I can see easily with the AstroFi is that it has a pretty low aperture. This is especially true if you compare it with other telescopes that I’ve listed, so it’s worth considering this if you’ve been looking at the AstroFi. But having used this telescope myself, it does do a good job for seeing close up sky objects.
It comes with two Kellner eyepieces, which helps to create a good images without being particularly expensive either. The main reason that people are attracted to the AstroFi is that it is easily integrated with your wifi and your phone. This means that you can easily use it with your iPhone or your iPad – you can actually install an app (the Celeston Skyportal App) and use your device to control the telescope. Whilst this might sound like a gimmick, it’s actually a pretty cool feature.
Overall, this is another safe option if you want to see planets clearly easily. Bare in mind that you will need to make sure that the sky is clear to get a good view of the sky – but this is true with pretty much any telescope.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127 EQ
- 3x Barlow Lens. Focal Ratio: f/7.87
- German Equatorial Mount. Optical tube length is 20 inches
- 127mm Aperture
The last telescope on the list is the PowerSeeker 127. This isn’t the most powerful telescope that you’ll find, but it’s a good example of what you’re going to get for a cheaper price. There are other, better telescopes if you’re looking for budget telescopes to use with the kids. You know that when you buy a Celestron you’re making an investment, so you don’t have to worry about it breaking too much as they do have good warranties. Their support team and warranty are relatively good (in my experience).
The aperture of the PowerSeeker is 127 mm – this seems to be the agreed aperture that you’ll need if you want to start taking your astronomy a little more seriously and start seeing more than just the moon and faint planets. It also has a focal length of 1000mm, which is another important factor to consider if you’re purchasing a new telescope.
If you want a good budget option, then the PowerSeeker is an acceptable choice. But in reality, it’s actually not the best of it’s kind and there are better telescopes that you can consider that are relatively cheap too. If $500 bucks or more is too rich for your blood, then check out my list of cheap telescopes you’re going to want to consider (the Powerseeker is actually last on the list!).
If you’re just getting into astronomy, you don’t need to go out and buy a wide variety of equipment. This would be total overkill for a beginner in my opinion.
There are only a few things that you really need as a beginner. Firstly, I’ll go through those essentials with you. Then, we can look at the additional stuff you might need when you’re feeling more confident about your abilities.
The most important thing for me that I’ve learned about viewing planets is your location. Yes, there are definitely differences between the telescopes listed and you will able to tell the difference between them. But, it’s also very important to have a clear sky. If you’re in a heavy polluted city where the stars are barely visible, it really doesn’t matter how good your telescope is – you’re going to have trouble seeing the planets and galaxies.
For true beginners to astronomy and astrophotography, a telescope is all you will need. In some cases, you might not even want to purchase that yet and instead get started just by playing around on your iPhone.
What criteria do I need for seeing planets and galaxies?
Before buying your telescope, you should consider a few things. Different telescopes suit different experience levels, so you should bear in mind the criteria that you’re looking for.
One of the main things that you really need to consider when purchasing a telescope is the aperture. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, this will have a massive effect on the ability you have to see objects in the far distance. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing you should consider if you want to see galaxies properly, as you’re going to struggle seeing DSO’s with a low aperture telescope.
You’ve probably heard the word aperture before – it’s most commonly associated with cameras, so you might not have heard it when referring to telescopes. It refers to the amount of light that comes into the telescope’s tube – the aperture is the diameter of its lens/mirror. If you get a telescope with large aperture, the better chance you’ll have of getting an image that’s sharper and brighter (important for planets far away!).
Best Aperture for Beginners – You don’t need anything major for a beginners telescope. You should be fine with anything over 130mm (5 inches), but I prefer a 200mm (8 inch) aperture.
Generally speaking, the better the telescope is, the larger that it is too. This isn’t a definite thing, and there are definitely some smaller telescopes that are better than bigger ones, but generally the scope will be bigger for better telescopes. This means that the size of the telescope will be larger, and the weight of the telescope will be greater too.
Best Size for Beginners – It’s very hard to say the best weight that your telescope should be. You may find a good retractor telescope that only weighs 5 lbs, but the majority of telescopes do weigh around 20-30lbs.
You’ll also want to consider the Focal Length of your telescope. Aside from aperture, this is definitely one of the more important things that you need to consider.
The focal length is the distance between the center of a concave mirror, or a convex lens if you’re using a refractor telescope, and the focal point. This is the point where rays of light meet, or if they’re not parallel, converge.
Best Focal Length for Beginners – The focal length will have an effect on the length of the telescope, so you need to make sure it’s a length you’re comfortable with. If you want to see planets closely, then a big focal length is better. If you want to view the galaxy as a whole, then a shorter focal length works well.
Overall, if you want to see the planets in the distance then you need to ensure that you have two things; a long aperture and a decent focal length. If you do these two things, then you should be able to easily see some awesome planets in the distance.
Hopefully this list has informed you that you really don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get yourself a good quality telescope. There’s definitely a telescope here for you, whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate.
Last update on 2019-05-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API