I was given the task recently to try and find a good telescope for the family. It needed to be suitable for my kids, but also good enough quality that me and my wife could use it occasionally too. She also stated that we were on a budget – a very strict budget – of around 200 dollars.
I’m always up for a challenge, so I told her not to worry – I’ll find the best telescope under 200 bucks and you’ll get some change back, too! I’m not a novice astronomer/astrophotographer, but I’m certainly not an expert either (I believe the term nowadays is ‘amateur astronomer!). You’ll probably know that some of the more expensive equipment can cost thousands of dollars. But as technology has advanced a lot in recent years and cheaper materials are being used, you definitely don’t need to spend that if you’re a beginner.
When you’re looking for a good telescope, there are a few things you’ll need to consider – cost, type and size are some of the most important. This is a blunt an honest review, so if you see your telescope here and I don’t like it.. sorry about that! So, let’s have a look at some of the best options for telescopes if you’re trying to spend less than $200 or so dollars.
Best Telescope under 200 – Cheap Telescopes
Before I get any abuse from people about these telescopes, we’re looking within a $200 budget. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room and anyone who’s used telescopes knows how expensive the hobby is and can be. These telescopes are probably going to be made for moon viewing and distance viewing – you aren’t going to be able to see every ring around Saturn with a $200 telescope (sorry!).
If I had a little bigger budget, I’d probably recommend an 8 inch Dobsonian like the Orion Skyquest, but that runs a bit over our $200 budget.
Anyway, my point is that these telescope are definitely more than enough to have some fun with. Especially if you have kids and you’re looking to get them a good Christmas present, then these are some telescopes that you may want to consider.
Overall, these are some of the better options on the market if you’re on a budget when you’re buying your telescope. Just because you don’t have a super expensive telescope, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy looking into the night sky and seeing the planets.
If you do want to see further into space, then you might need to get a better telescope. These telescopes have a great aperture, which means that they can see clearer when you’re looking at further distances. They also have a greater focal range too, which improves image quality when you’re looking through your magnified lens. But, if you’re a beginner then you can stick to one of these telescopes that will easily fulfil your needs.
Orion StarBlast – Best All Round Telescope
- A great compact grab-and-go telescope designed for entry-level and intermediate astronomy enthusiasts; Focal length: 450mm
- Substantial 4.5 inch aperture and fast f/4 focal ratio provides bright, detailed views of solar system targets like the Moon and planets, as well as wide-field celestial objects like nebulas and star clusters
- Ships pre-assembled so you can go from the box to your backyard in minutes. Glass material : Low thermal expansion borosilicate glass
People say that I show no love for reflectors – well, it’s just my opinion that a refractor is a better option for a beginner. But, that doesn’t mean I dislike reflectors at all, and if I had to pick one out of the bunch, then this would be my first choice.
Orion are a pretty solid brand generally and I see no difference with the Starblast. For a reflecting telescope, it’s particularly easy to set up, which is important if this is your first telescope. There is a lack of instructions in the box with Orion products, so you’ll need to do some research online before you use it.
With this kind of telescope, you’re always going to struggle to get an in depth view of the planets. You’re better off going for an 8 inch Dob in this case. But, you will be able to make the distant planets out at least with this telescope, and you’re definitely going to get some awesome pictures of the moon.
This isn’t the type of telescope that you’re going to take out into the fields with you and use. It’s ideal for using in the backyard, however you’ll need to purchase a mount if you’re going to be looking at something out in the sticks. Everyone nows that Dobsonians are usually the best bang for your buck, and this telescope is a good example of that. If you’re interested in getting the StarBlast, then this would make an awesome telescope at a good price.
Gskyer Telescope – Great Budget Telescope
- 【Ultra-clear Refracting Telescope】With 400 mm focal length and 80 mm aperture to capture more light picture and optical glass coated for enhanced image brightness to protect your eyes.
- 【Optimum Magnification】Three replaceable eyepiece (16X, 40X, 80X) with a 3X Barlow lens. 6*30 finderscope with mounting bracket, erect-image diagonal make locating objects more easily.
- 【Adjustable Tripod】This telescope allows for many different viewing positions with a adjustable tripod. Adjustable full size tripod ensures a stable platform.
If you’re on a tighter budget than $200 and you want to get something for the kids, then it could be worth looking at this Gskyer telescope. This is my favorite option if you haven’t got a ton of cash to spend, and it usually runs at around $200.
I’ve included the Gskyer as it’s available at a very cheap price – you won’t typically find a telescope that’s available at such a cheap price. Whilst it isn’t the most prestigious brand around, it’s definitely worth considering if you want a good quality telescope that will get the job done.
One of the main reasons that I like this telescope is because it’s very easy to just set up and use. The chances are that if you’re spending $200 on a telescope, you don’t want to spend hours setting the telescope up and getting it aligned properly. This isn’t an issue with this refractor – it’s good to go within ten minutes.
Although this is only a 70mm aperture telescope, you’ll still get a good view of the sky if you ensure that you’re in a clear area. It might not be suitable if you’re trying to see things very far in the distance, but you should be able to get a good view of stuff if you ensure that the sky is clear. It has a relatively short focal length of 400mm, but this should still be fine if you’re just starting out.
As starter scopes go, this is a winner in my eyes. It comes with a sturdy tripod, three different eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens. For getting starting in astronomy, you can’t really go wrong with this one.
Celestron 21061 AstroMaster – Cheap and Cheerful Telescope
- Quick and easy no-tool setup
- Permanently mounted StarPointer
- Erect image optics - Ideal for terrestrial and astronomical use
If you want a nice super cheap option, then you could look at the 21061 Celestron Astromaster. It’s a good option if you want a new telescope that does exactly what it says it does. One of the good things about this telescope is that you don’t need to play around taking ages to set it up either – with the easy instructions, you should be able to use it within 5-10 minutes. This is why I prefer refractor scopes, especially for beginners.
The specs of the Astromaster aren’t particularly impressive, and although I’ve droned on about aperture being the most important thing in other articles, you don’t necessarily need a big aperture if you’re a beginner. It’s far more important to have a telescope that you can understand, which is why you should like consider going for the AstroMaster.
Another thing that may attract you to this telescope is that you don’t need to worry about carrying around a 30lb scope with you everywhere – this one only ways around 11bs (or 5kg). This is by far the lightest telescope on the list, which also makes it the most convenient.
If you want something easily portable, then the Astromaster could be a good choice for you. It’s a good choice for kids, as you won’t have any issues setting it up and using it.
Meade Polaris 127 – A Great Alternative
- Aperture: 127mm(5.0"). focal length: 1000mm. Focal Ratio: f/7.9. Rack-and-pinion Focuser, setting circles, Latitude control w/ Scale
- Large, stable German equatorial mount with slow motion controls makes tracking celestial objects smooth and simple
- Low (26mm), medium (9mm), and high (6.3mm) magnification eyepieces give you variety for any viewing situation & 2x Barlow lens doubles the magnifying power of each eyepiece
The Meade Polaris was the first telescope that I looked at when I was thinking about purchasing a telescope. Aside from Celestron, Meade are probably the most popular brand on the market when it comes to astronomical stuff. And there’s a good reason – their products come at a good price, although in their cheaper products, the quality is mediocre.
You can find the Meade Polaris in a variety of different apertures, so it really does depend on how important this is to you. For me, I wanted to get an aperture of at least 5 inches for the kids, which makes the Polaris 127 or 130 pretty acceptable (127 and 130 refers to mm aperture, which is approximately 5 inches).
Another good thing about the Meade Polaris is that it comes with 3 different eye pieces, which give you a better range when you’re looking for different things in the night sky. The eye pieces/lenses help to give a more magnified view of the sky, which might not be important when you’re first practicing, but it will prove valuable further down the line.
Nowadays, with the popularity of Dobsonians, it’s not that common to find reflecting telescopes on equatorial mounts (Dobsonians use Alt/Az mounts, which is the other type of most popular telescope mount). It can take some getting used to if you’re used to using Dobsonians, but many people actually prefer an equatorial mounted scope.
All in all, it’s clear to see that the Polaris line of telescopes are an acceptable option. If you’re trying to get good images of the moon, then this is a fine option. Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, this is a good choice of telescope.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ – Not up to par
- 3x Barlow Lens. Focal Ratio: f/7.87
- German Equatorial Mount. Optical tube length is 20 inches
- 127mm Aperture
The PowerSeeker range are Celestron’s beginners range – though that doesn’t mean to say that they’re not effective. However, I actually wouldn’t recommend this one to complete beginners because it’s not the type of scope you can just take out of the box and use.
In general, Dobsonians tend to take a bit more work to set up than refractor telescopes. This is because the need to be collimated before using them – this just means you need to align the scope up properly.
The thing is, you usually know what you’re getting with a Celeston – they are the most popular brand in astronomy. Typically, it can be difficult to find their products without a hefty price tag attached to them . Fortunately with the PowerSeeker, they’ve started to offer some telescopes available for cheaper prices.
Like the Meade Polaris, this telescope has an aperture of 127mm (or 5 inches if you’re old school). For me, this is probably the minimum amount you’ll want in a telescope if you’re going to start trying to take your astronomy a bit more seriously and start seeing planets properly. Though if you really want to see planets and DSO’s, you’ll want something more than this.
Another thing that you’ll want to take into account about the PowerSeeker is that it has a focal length of 1000mm. This is an important factor to consider, as the focal length effects how your telescope works. Overall, the Celeston PowerSeeker is another option for anyone who wants to get themselves a new telescope. In all honesty, I would not recommend this one as one of the ‘best telescopes under $200’ because well.. it isn’t.
It’s an average telescope and I really struggle to give it more than a 5 or 6 out of 10. Whilst it’ll work great for beginners and kids, it’s the kind of telescope that gets locked away in the cupboard and never used again.
Telescope Buying Guide
Before you invest in a telescope, there are undoubtedly some questions that you’re going to want to ask yourself beforehand. Here are some of the most common questions I get from friends and family about telescopes and astronomy in general.
How much do I need for a telescope?
This is the whole reason that I created this list! To prove the point that you don’t need to invest 4 figues to get started with astronomy. Many people claim it’s a rich mans sport, and whilst I can’t argue that better telescopes do cost a ton of money, you don’t need to be flush with cash to partake in this activity.
Heck, you can even start out with iPhone astrophotography before you make your initial investment in anything more than that. After you’re confident with that, invest in a cheap telescope and use your iPhone to take pictures. This is the best way to get started with astronomy – don’t go a blow a ton of cash on a telescope that you’re not going to use properly.
What do the specifications mean?
This can be one of the most confusing things about astronomy, especially for beginners. I’ll try to run through some of the terms that are most commonly used. If you’re thinking that I’ve missed something, please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know.
- Aperture – The aperture is simply describes as the hole or space in a lens that allows light to pass through. The larger the aperture, the brighter your view will be.
- Focal length – The focal length is the distance between the mirror/lens in your telescope and the focal point. For beginners, I don’t think this matters anywhere near as much as the aperture of your scope (and telescope.com agrees with me!).
- Size and weight – The reason why I included the Celestron Astromaster is because it only weighs 5kg. This means that it’s easily portable, so if you live inside the city, you can easily carry it outside of the city with you to use. The majority of telescopes weigh a significant amount more than this, so when you get to higher level scopes, you’ll need to consider a way to transport it.
- Mount – The mount that your telescope comes on is also important. At cheaper levels, you’re likely to get yourself a Dobsonian telescope, with is a Newtonian Reflector on a Alt/Az mount. This is a simple, two axis mount that goes vertically and horizontally. The other popular cheap mount is an Equatorial, which only uses one axis.
- Types of telescope – The type of telescope you’re going to use is important to understand too. You might want to learn the difference between reflectors, refractors and catadioptric telescopes if you don’t already know the difference.
Overall, these are some of the best telescopes that you’re going to find for less than $200. You definitely don’t need to go and blow $1000 or even $500 on a telescope to get something of an acceptable quality, but you will definitely notice the difference when you start to up the price structure. For me, the sweet spot seems to be somewhere between $100-200 to get a telescope that works well, but isn’t too cheap to not have enough quality to work well.
One thing that you do need to consider is that it doesn’t matter how good your telescope is, if you don’t have the best night conditions, then you’re really going to struggle seeing pretty much anything. So even if you do spend a bit of cash on a new telescope, you do need to be sure you’re getting good conditions so you can view the sky easily and clearly.
But overall, these telescopes are ideal for using with your kids or even on your own if you’re unsure whether astronomy is for you. Have a further look around the website to try and find out some more information before you make a purchase – this way, you can be sure that you’re going to get the best option for you.
Last update on 2019-05-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API