I was looking for the best telescope under $500 because I wanted to purchase a new telescope to upgrade the equipment we have for our local user group.
I researched many different models from a variety of manufacturers. Luckily, I found the Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope for sale under $500. It has a 650mm focal length and a 130mm aperture, which means that the Maximum Useable Magnification (MUM Factor) is 255x. It has a computerized hand control that contains a database with over 4,000 objects, that includes over 600 galaxies, 300 different star clusters and dozens of binary stars.
The telescope comes with a red dot StarPointer finder scope and two eyepieces: 25mm and 9mm. Also packaged with the telescope is an adjustable, full-height steel tripod with an accessory tray. We wish that the accessory tray had included a small light because it would make utilizing the tray in the night much easier. Instead, we had to always remember to bring a small, night flashlight with us.
The telescope is attached to the tripod by a motorized altazimuth mount. Aligning this telescope is easy because it comes with Celestron’s SkyAlign, which allows the telescope to be aligned using any three bright celestial objects. This makes it very easy for anyone to setup and begin using the telescope within minutes.
Please keep in mind that this is a larger size telescope because of it’s long focal length, and with the tripod, motorized mount and accessories, it weighs just under 30 pounds (13.6 kg). Unfortunately, this telescope is that it doesn’t come with a case to make storage or transporting easy. That is separate and can be purchased separately.
For this telescope, I was looking for a device that could serve all of the members in our user group. Which means that it had to be simple enough for beginners and novices to operate, but also sophisticated and powerful enough to keep the advanced members satisfied. After owning this telescope for several months, we’ve found that this telescope has just the right mix for capability and usability for most members.
Some of the novice astronomers had difficulty getting used to some of the more advanced features, but by helping them with the telescope’s operation, they soon became comfortable with properly using and enjoying the telescope.
This is a powerful and user-friendly telescope, capable of providing the user with the ability to view any of the planets as a well as a multitude of stars clusters, galaxies, and other space entities. Several of our user group members have been able to view all of the planets using this telescope.
Unfortunately, I can’t claim this distinction yet, but I am working on it. My goal is view and photograph all of the planets using a telescope/cell phone mount. I have five of the planets photographed so far, so I am more than half-way there! I struggled, in the beginning, to take photographs with my cell phone, but I found a universal cell phone mount that works well for both iPhones and Android phones that is reasonably priced. Once I had this mount, I quickly viewed and photographed both Venus and Mars relatively quickly.
Not only do I ‘hunt’ to capture photographs of the planets, but I also have some great photographs of other nighttime objects because of this telescope. I have also photographed:
This telescope may also be used for viewing objects on land and sceneries, like distant mountains, beaches/shoreline, and also man-made objects such as buildings, structures, boats, etc. In order to view terrestrial objects correctly, it does require the use of an image erector diagonal, which is not included with this telescope and must be purchased separately.
Once we outfitted this telescope with the image erector diagonal, we found that the light gathering capability worked well for viewing land-based objects during the day without any difficulty.
We’ve now owned and used this telescope within our local astronomy user group for just over three months, so I thought that it would be a good time to post an update.
Overall – As a group, we love this telescope! Yes, there are some small nits that a few people pointed out but overall the performance of this telescope is AWESOME! As far as price/performance, for the money spent on this telescope is well worth it. The operation, performance, and satisfaction all receive top marks.
Setup and Alignment – Setting up this telescope in the field is a piece of cake. We found that everyone in our user group could easily set up the tripod and mount the telescope in a matter of minutes. Alignment was also easy because of the SkyAlign feature, which meant less time setting up and more time viewing.
Motorized Mount – We found that the motorized mount works well in conjunction with the computerized database to locate objects in the sky. However, the vibration that occurs while the motors are active does not allow the viewer to continue viewing through the telescope while in operation. Additionally, be advised that the motors require 8 AA batteries to operate and they tend to be very power hungry. While we could use the batteries for several nighttime viewing sessions, after the first night we noticed that the motors slowed a bit due to the drained battery condition.
Tripod – The full metal tripod is nice and holds the telescope and mount stable, the overall impression is that we wish it could be a bit more sturdy. We found the best viewing results are achieved when the telescope and tripod were on a solid surface. The vibration from the motorized mount could cause some settling if the tripod was on grass, loose gravel or sand.
I started out looking for a telescope in the $500 or less price range that can provide good performance and usability for both beginners and advanced hobbyist astronomers. What I found in the Celestron NexStar 130SLT is a quality telescope that boasts quality construction and premium performance at a reasonable price.