Here’s The Best Telescope Under $500

best telescope under $500

After completing several weeks of hands-on testing, we found the best telescope under $500. Actually, there wasn’t one clear winner, so we’ve decided to share our Top 5 picks.

The Top 5 Telescopes Unders $500 Are:

  1. Celestron 31057 Omni XLT – 150
  2. Orion 9827 AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector Telescope
  3. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Computerized Telescope
  4. Orion 8974 SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope
  5. Meade Instruments ETX90 Observer Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Keep reading to find out more about these clear must-have telescopes and why I picked them from all of the other choices.

At various times throughout the year, we often get asked for our opinion about what telescope we would recommend for a beginner. Or the person asking the question may phrase it as wanting to purchase a telescope for someone just starting out, but with enough capability and features to still be useful after several years of use. They’re hoping to squeeze as much as possible out of their upcoming purchase, kind of like when my grandmother would buy me a sweater that was one or two size too large… and then she would always say, “Oh, you’ll grow into it soon enough. I wanted to make sure that it would last you for a few years”.

Well, we have found that people that are considering purchasing a telescope actually have a similar mindset. They want to make purchasing a telescope something more like an investment… and we couldn’t agree more. With proper care and maintenance, a quality telescope is an optical instrument that should last for years and years and years (FYI, I’ve got an old refracting telescope that is just over 16 years old… it uses the old-style .965″ eyepieces!)

At-A-Glance: Here’s The  Best Telescope Under $500

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best telescope under $500Celestron 31057 Omni XLT – 150

Type: Refractor, Reflector, Compound (Catadioptric)

Objective: 150mm

Focal Length: 750mm, f/5

This telescope is the winner of our Top Pick in the “Under $500” category. This telescope is professional-quality in all aspects. The telescope is expertly crafted, with durable construction and superb optics. From the moment that touch tube, the quality is instantly recognizable. Additionally, the superior CG-4 mount is one of the best on the market and it operates as smooth as silk with accurate precision. At the core of this telescope is a 150mm 6-inch, f/5 parabolic mirror. A “fast” mirror like this one is usually good mainly for deep sky, low-power viewing of galaxies, gas nebulas, and star clusters. In the case of the Omni XLT, the primary mirror is finished to such a precision that by using an optional 2x Barlow lens (bringing the system up to f/10) we were able to achieve razor sharp planetary detail on Jupiter, actually showing the detail in the cloud belts. The Great Red Spot was easily resolved, as was the amazing ring system of Saturn. Cassini’s Division was shown in high contrast as was the polar ice cap of Mars.

Under suburban skies, this telescope provides a good view of the Orion nebula, fantastic detail in the moon, and it really performs well for big star clusters like the Pleiades, where you can fit the whole thing in the eyepiece at once… Awesome!

It is also a good starter scope, but you plan to spend a little money on acquiring more eyepieces. The included 25mm eyepiece is acceptable, but we think you’ll also want something in the 6-10mm range and a moon filter at a very minimum.

This telescope does not have the “Go To” goto capabilities of a computerized telescope. So you should expect to spend a little bit of time hunting around the sky in order to find the celestial object you want to view. Additionally, you can always add tracking motors at a later date. The tracking motors make it easier to keep something in view but a bit harder to find things in the first place.

Attaching a camera at prime focus is easy and gives good results, although you will actually want the tracking motors if you want to take longer exposures. Attaching a smartphone camera via the eyepiece is possible, but it will require an aftermarket phone and lens adapter like the “Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount”.

You do not need to buy any fancy collimation tools. You just need to adjust until you can see the entire primary in your secondary, and then you can fine-tune by looking at a slightly out of focus bright star.

In summary, this scope is a great fundamental optical instrument with lots of capability.  If taken care of, it is built for a lifetime of enjoyment. It’s generous hand polished 6″ Mirror is of a SUPERB quality hardly seen in this price range. While it isn’t optimized for photography, it possible for some amazing shots with either a direct-mounted camera or a smartphone. With solid and durable construction, professional mount, sturdy tripod, and astrophotography potential, at an affordable price, this telescope is a clear winner for us.

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best telescope under $500Orion 9827 AstroView 6 Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Type: Refractor, Reflector, Compound (Catadioptric)

Objective: 150mm

Focal Length: 750mm, f/5

The Orion 9827 is a solid performer and one of the favorites to use by all staff members because it is rich with features and capability. On the downside, it does require a little bit of extra time to get it set up and operating. This is due in part to the weight of the telescope (about 30 lbs), which requires us to get it set up and configured for the night’s viewing (we don’t want to have to relocate and move it after it has been set up). This telescope is an instrument that is worth every penny. From the sturdy tripod to the top quality optics you cannot go wrong with this setup. It is a large Telescope and is pretty heavy, so it is really not a traveling telescope unless you want it to be.

This is a perfectly fine beginner/intermediate scope for someone that has an understanding of astronomy and expects or wants to see celestial objects in the sky. It has enough aperture (six inches) to support planetary and lunar viewing with ease. Our review team spotted Saturn and it’s rings in good detail and three of its brighter moons, along with cloud bands on Jupiter and all four of its Galilean moons. Some of the reviewers were also able to view some of the brighter deep sky objects such as M57 the ring or crab nebula M1 in addition to the Orion Nebula or M42.

This telescope, with its six-inch aperture, has enough horsepower for decent viewing but is also somewhat compact so that is doesn’t consume too much storage space when compared to larger ones and is still within the financial range of the average purchaser.

The finder scope will need frequent adjustment to stay true, but the trick is to use a lower power eyepiece to reorient on a bright object and then keep going. It is unfortunate but this is a frequent but tolerable enough nuance with lots of entry-level equipment. (Or at least it is tolerable if you really enjoy looking into the sky).

This scope shows up with a 25mm eyepiece that will provide 30x in this scope and a 10mm eyepiece that will provide 75x, so the purchase of a 2X Barlow lens is recommended as well as an additional 7.5mm eyepiece. We also recommend getting a moon filter with this scope, since the moon will be very bright through this scope.

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best telescope under $500Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Computerized Telescope (Black)

Type: Refractor, Reflector, Compound (Catadioptric)

Objective: 127mm

Focal Length: 1500mm, f/12

This is a great choice for a starter scope, and then it will be the workhouse telescope that will last for years and years. The computerized controlling makes it easy to locate and view celestial objects in the night sky. One of the first things our review team first noticed about this telescope was that it was small enough that it could be easily transported to the local astronomy club or a remote destination if you need to travel to a location that has darker skies.

As for alignment, we always break out our smartphone and get the GPS coordinates and punch them into the telescope’s SkyAlign computer. This seems to work well for all of the reviewers. Once aligned, operating the telescope was super easy, and the GoTo functionality worked flawlessly.  In fact, our favorite anecdote while testing this telescope was when one of our reviewers took the telescope home for a backyard viewing session and had his pre-teen check out Jupiter using the GoTo feature.  His son was viewing the planet in just a couple minutes.

On the negative side, all of the reviewers commented on the tripod. While we found it sufficient, it seemed just a little bit overwhelmed.  It tended to wobble as well as amplify any vibration or movement. We found that by placing a 5 lb weight on the accessory tray it helped to dampen the vibrations.

The only other negative observation was of the operating lifespan of the internal battery supply.  We routinely depleted the 8 AA batteries very quickly during every viewing session.  So we recommend using either the AC Adapter of the Celestron Power Tank.

Overall, this telescope is a workhorse and good value for the money.

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best telescope under $500Orion 8974 SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Type: Refractor, Reflector, Compound (Catadioptric)

Objective: 203mm

Focal Length: 1200mm, f/5.9

At the time of this publication, this scope was the most expensive of the group with a price just barely under the $500 limit. But along with that price, comes lots of feature and capabilities.  Including the largest objective aperture (a whopping 203mm) out of all of the telescopes that made our list.  In fact, the objective aperture of this telescope is almost 35% larger the next closest competitor has an objective (203mm vs  150mm). The larger aperture gives this telescope that much more light gathering capability and increased MUM Factor.

The XT8 PLUS is a basic XT with several significant upgrades.

It comes with a much-improved focuser. The consensus between all of the reviewers is that the dual speed Crayford on this telescope is worth the price of admission alone. Next, we found that the 2-inch 28mm eyepiece will spoil you, in fact, after using this telescope, we can say that we fell in love and want nothing other than 2-inch eyepieces. However, please keep in mind that even the least expensive 2-inch eyepieces are about $100 a unit. A 1.25-inch eyepiece works fine, but you’ll soon be spoiled with wanting 2-inch eyepieces after you try them out on this telescope.

Assembly is quite simple and the instructions are quite good. For every step, the parts you need for that step are bagged individually. I will say though when assembling the base, they say to assemble it “loosely.” What they really mean is assemble it just to the point it’s almost tight. If you assemble too loosely you risk bending screws or potentially breaking/cracking pre-drilled holes for some of the screws. Tighten it up fully and then back off the screws just a bit is our advice.

The most unique characteristic for newcomers is the Dobsonian base on this unit.  The cutouts on the sides reduce the overall weight and also provide an area to grasp the base when transporting it.

We also liked the decision to go with tension knobs instead of the springs that come with the basic XT8. We have found that the springs eventually wear out over time due to the constant compression and decompression.

As for viewing, the reviewers love the capability of this telescope. We were able to spot deep space objects even though there was plenty of light pollution in or viewing locations. Viewing the Andromeda Galaxy no problem. Observing the moon with its characteristic lunar surface through this scope is amazing. The brighter planets like Jupiter are just an amazing sight… we were able to see the color banding easily and its moons by just using the provided 28mm eyepiece.

The red dot finder when properly sighted is very capable on brighter objects. We have heard comment and complaints about this type of finder, but none of the reviewers experienced any issues Even though this telescope is a bit pricey, it provides results that are nothing short of spectacular.  We could only think of one thing to improve upon it… we wished that it came with more eyepieces and accessories.

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best telescope under $500Meade Instruments ETX90 Observer Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope with Tripod, Eyepieces, and Hand Carry Case (205004)

Type: Compound (Catadioptric)

Objective: 90mm

Focal Length: 1250mm, f/13.8

This telescope has the smallest aperture of the bunch, but don’t let that disappoint you… it is a very capable telescope. The “GoTo” functionality is nice, as it makes finding objects much easier to locate than doing it manually. Setting up the telescope is fairly quick and easy after you understand the process and have done it once or twice. Being able to use the electronic control for moving without aligning is nice, especially when you are using it for something like the moon, because finding it is easy and you don’t need a computer to locate it. It is easy to store in the included backpack and fairly easy to set up a remote location, so it easily transportable. The eyepieces seem to be a decent quality, something you would expect from Meade, the included 45-degree prism can be useful.

On the negative side, there are a few minor nits to point out.

The clutches that bind to the GoTo drives are decent, but not top notch. The lateral clutch in our test unit was somewhat loose, and the lever that tightens it has a limited range of motion.

Additionally, the up-down adjustment clutch was difficult for some of the reviewers to get tightened and loosened easily, while still having it tight enough to not slip during operation.

We found the focus knob to be slightly loose as it exhibited some play in either direction, and we felt it whenever changing the focus because you had to take up the slack first. It was annoying, but not a show stopper.

The tripod is lightweight by design because it was meant to be carried easily while traveling with the telescope.  Unfortunately, we found that the aluminum tubes and clamps are light enough that we worried about long-term durability.

Wrap Up Of Our Review – Best Telescope Under $500

So there you have it, after weeks of testing by our review team we managed to narrow down the selection from all of the telescopes we reviewed, inspected, and tested over several weeks.  We gave you our pick for the Best Telescope Under $500, we hope you pick one and enjoy it as much as we did testing all of them!

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