The Best Telescopes for Beginners

After spending five months gazing at the stars while testing 10 telescopes, we think that the Celestron NexStar 5SE is the best telescope for beginners. It offers enough power and an efficient amount of gathered light that allows you to see deep-sky objects. Its GPS database is preloaded with close to 40,000 celestial objects, which means that this pick will automatically scan the skies once it's calibrated.

Our also great pick, the Sky-Watcher Traditional Dobsonian Telescope doesn't offer as much portability, but it does offer fantastic image quality. It's equipped with an 8-inch mirror that's larger than our top pick's and helps to reveal objects that are both farther away and dimmer. It's ideal for those who have a dedicated space in or outside the home as continuously moving it can be a task.

The Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope is our budget pick, and for its price, this manually operated offering provides impressive optics and design quality. This pick won't automatically find celestial objects like the Celestron NexStar 5SE. However, since you'll have to collimate (or align) its mirrors, the Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope is perfect for learning the basics and more advanced components of observational astronomy. Our consulted experts encourage the use of a manual telescope for those who don't mind putting more effort into setup, or for those who want to get more of an in-depth introduction to stargazing. It should be placed on a tabletop or a flat, supported surface.

Who this is for How we picked and tested We put more than 20 hours into researching online written resources about purchasing your first telescope. We attended the Rose City Astronomers telescope workshop and interviewed its members. We also visited Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope and the Griffith Observatory in LA to speak with staff.

After we conducted a poll with more than 260 Wirecutter readers, we were able to determine how most would use their telescope, where they would use it, and what pricing expectations they had. Our picks can be used in either remote or urban areas.

We interviewed experts and based our testing criteria on the quality of aperture, magnification, and of the lenses. We familiarized ourselves with not only the functionality of different types of telescopes, but mounts.

We tested the telescopes in Portland, Oregon-where the brightest planets (Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and Venus) can easily be viewed. We timed setup, a process which we weighed heavily in our evaluations, and we also tested mount stability. Our 12-person panel chimed in on ease of use, brightness, and image clarity of each telescope.

Although we didn't go with the one pair of binoculars that we tested for this guide, we've tested more options in a separate binoculars guide for those interested in observing birds, nature, and the outdoors.

Our pick:

Celestron NexStar 5SE While many products for beginners also serve to help show them the ropes of whatever it is they're delving into, we chose the Celestron NexStar 5SE as our top pick because it does a lot of work for the user when it comes to learning about astronomy.

It's a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that utilizes mirrors and lenses, and its primary 5-inch mirror contributes to its impressive light-gathering capabilities which showcase deep space objects. You'll be able to easily locate objects such as the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter.

This telescope comes with a 25mm eyepiece. It has a computerized operating system that comes with a handheld controller which guides it. The Celestron NexStar 5SE can be aligned and set to focus on specific objects with the controller (which performed seamlessly during testing). This is largely due to the responsiveness of its tracking and its micro adjustments.

The Celestron NexStar 5SE is part of a series which includes a 4SE, 6SE, 8SE, and so on. The numbers of these models indicate the aperture size (in inches) of its main optical unit. Aside from being the diameter measurement of the telescope's lens or mirror, aperture coincides with the amount of light that can be let in. This light contributes to image sharpness. The 5SE performs exceptionally well and offers great image quality for a telescope of its size, but if you're looking to view a bit more, we recommend upgrading to the 6SE.

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$658 In comparison to competitors, the Celestron NexStar 5SE is a great choice if portability is a high priority. It only weighs 15 pounds (27 pounds with its included tripod), so it's unlikely that you'll run into issues transporting it in a trunk. Setting it up on location is also easy. It's collapsible and comes with simple, user-friendly instructions that help to complete setup quickly.

Its combination of performance, portability, and cost is what won us over. Although you can go without referencing star charts and doing excessive research because of the technology that this pick offers, we didn't view technology as a feature that could be a downside for a beginner. Ultimately, it helps to expedite the learning process for those who are just starting out.

Instead of the telescope itself, its GPS filters are built into its mount. After inputting data (such as time, date, or nearest city) related to what you'd like to observe, you'll be presented with a database of 40,000 nighttime objects which will be readily available to view. You can choose to look at objects through the telescope in its set position, or instruct it to find new ones.

You'll need eight AA batteries to power the Celestron NexStar 5SE' s mount. They drain pretty quickly, but you can expect to get two to four hours of use. If you use this telescope at home near a wall outlet, consider getting an AC adapter for more power. A car battery and a portable 12 V DC power supply will allow you to get more hours of use when you're outside in a remote location.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendations or availability updates, please go here

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