Best telescopes 2023: beginner and advanced scopes for viewing the stars

Man and child using telescope at night (best telescopes)
(Image credit: Getty)

The best telescopes reveal the wonder of the solar system and beyond, and with Black Friday in full swing there is no better time to pick one up than right now. But before you delve deep into our Black Friday telescope deals, you'll want to know what you're spending your money on. Telescopes don't come cheap after all. 

If you want to spy the craters of the lunar surface, spot the rings around Saturn and gaze deep into the Pinwheel galaxy, you'll need to know the strengths and weaknesses for observing night sky objects for each telescope.

That's why we've covered a range of the very best beginner telescopes to get you up and running with minimal set-up and fuss, all the way up to the most sophisticated professional-level scope that should last astronomy veterans for years to come. 

But how do you know which telescope is right for you and which accessories that ship with the scopes do you really need to achieve the best viewing quality? We've rounded up the best models depending on your skill level and budget and our expert team have got hands-on with the telescopes themselves so we can vouch for their quality and build. Learn how we do this in our how we test section below.

Whether you need a travel-frienly telescope, want to share a table-top model for use with the kids or fancy investing in one of the best computerized catadioptrics you can buy we have you covered.

But you can also observe your favorite stars and galaxies with the best binoculars for stargazing and capture stunning cosmological images with one of the best astrophotography cameras too.


Best telescopes we recommend in 2023

Why you can trust Live Science Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best ones for you. Find out more about how we test.

Best telescope overall

Known for its legendary optical performance, compact cassegrain design, and attractive orange coloring, the NexStar 8SE is a fantastic telescope

Specifications

Optical design:: Schmidt-Cassegrain
Aperture:: 203.2mm (8")
Focal length:: 2032mm (80")
Focal ratio:: f/10
Eyepiece/s: : 25mm
Total kit weight:: 24 lbs (10.88 kg)
Mount type:: Computerized Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Smooth, accurate motorized mount
+
Stunning optical quality
+
Fantastic scope for all skill levels

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite expensive
-
Motorized mount isn’t for everyone

Back in the 1980s Celestron made big waves among astronomers with their orange-tubed Schmidt-Cassegrains and, 40-something years on, this line is still fantastic value and gives superb optical performance.

Superbly sharp and bright thanks to the 8-inch aperture and powerful with a focal length of 2032mm, the NexStar 8SE sits atop a strong, sturdy motorized single fork arm mount which can be controlled via either the hand controller or through a computer by use of its ethernet connection.

This is our favorite of all telescopes due to its compact catadioptric design which combines technology from refractors and reflectors to deliver a powerful view of the cosmos at a fraction of the weight and size.

It's great for upgrading too, with serious astronomers able to go their whole skywatching lives with just this telescope provided they invest in some tasty accessories. Most will uprate certain items like image diagonals, seek out different eyepieces so a myriad of objects are easy to view and others will update the tripod, though the one that ships straight out of the box is certainly sturdy enough.

The 8SE requires a little more investment than others on this list though, so beginners may be put off but at this premium price, you get a premium product.


Best affordable computerized scope

An affordable motorized Maksutov-Cassegrain, the Astro Fi 102 is controlled via smartphone.

Specifications

Optical design:: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Aperture:: 102mm (4.02")
Focal length:: 1325mm (52.17")
Focal ratio:: f/13
Eyepiece/s: : 25mm and 10mm
Total kit weight:: 16 lbs (7.25 kg)
Mount type:: Computerized Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Crisp, sharp views
+
Fully coated optics
+
Good quality motorized mount

Reasons to avoid

-
Only operable via smartphone

Computerized, motorized telescopes like the Celestron Astro Fi 102 here, make it easy for astronomers to locate and find their night sky objects without having an in-depth knowledge of constellations. The Astro Fi 102 is controllable via an app on a smart device that can be conveniently strapped to the integrated smartphone holder on the dust cap of the telescope.

Then it's just a case of tapping into the app to decide which celestial object should be viewed and the telescope will automatically slew to the target using an in-built motor in the fork arm mount.

The Astro Fi 102 comes with everything an astronomer needs to get started. A lightweight aluminum tripod comes with the bundle, as does a red dot finderscope, two eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), a star diagonal for easier viewing, and an accessory tray. The telescope is compatible with iPad, iPhone and Android devices.


Best premium smart scope

Start imaging and viewing distant stars and galaxies with the press of a button with this beautiful and minimalist motorized telescope.

Specifications

Optical design:: Reflector
Aperture:: 4.5-inches (114 mm)
Focal length:: 17.7-inches (450 mm)
Focal ratio:: f/3.9
Eyepiece/s: : micro OLED
Total kit weight:: 19.8 lbs (9kg)
Mount type:: Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Simple and fast setup
+
Take photographs directly from telescope
+
Micro OLED digital eyepiece is best-in-class
+
Smart device app user-friendly

Reasons to avoid

-
Very high price point
-
Only 7.7MP stills photos

This beautiful-looking telescope from Unistellar is the second in the eVscope line and comes with a boost in specifications and function. A futuristic telescope for the digital age this is a smart telescope. Everything on it is automatic, from set-up to imaging and anyone can use it because it requires no prior knowledge of the constellations or any part of the night sky.

Most smart telescopes have a drawback for traditional astronomers who prefer using an eyepiece because they don't have one, instead, the telescope is viewed through a smartphone or tablet via an app. However, this wonderful-looking telescope has a micro OLED digital eyepiece developed by Nikon and it captures 7.7MP stills photos of the cosmos with image-enhanced options available through the smart device app.

The telescope comes with its own tripod and an additional backpack (which we recommend) making it truly simple to carry around on location. Photographers will find this telescope much more familiar than the aged designs of other, more traditional telescopes. It can automatically identify stars and constellations and the app will suggest subjects based on location and time, automatically slewing to them with the press of the screen.


Best entry-level smart scope

Explore the night sky with the aid of this high-tech, app-powered smart telescope.

Specifications

Optical design:: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture:: 114mm (4.49-inches)
Focal length:: 450mm (17.7-inches)
Focal ratio:: f/4
Eyepiece/s: : N/A
Total kit weight:: 19.8lbs (9kg)
Mount type:: Motorized GoTo alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Enhanced view mode
+
Stylish design

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive
-
Limited planetary views

If you're looking for a telescope to take the hassle out of astronomy then the Unistellar eQuinox 2 might just be the one for you. It's the second smart telescope to appear on this list and was put together by Unistellar who specialize in smart telescope technology. This is a slight departure from the eVscope 2 (noted above) and is the later of the releases but replaces the original eQuinox telescope.

The eQuinox line is a little less impressive feature-wise than its eVscope counterpart but that's because it's a more affordable, entry-level variant. As such, we found it to be incredibly easy to set up and use when we tested it - assembly is just a couple of screws to attach the scope to the tripod. 

Once that's done, sync it up to the app and you're away. The catalog mode means you can simply pick a celestial object from the list and the Unistellar eQuinox 2 will automatically find it in the night sky. The app has a huge collection of known objects saved, including galaxies, planets, nebula, and stars.

It also features an Enhanced view mode, which intelligently layers multiple long-exposure images together to provide more detailed images. We found that the Unistellar eQuinox 2 is particularly great for getting images of galaxies even from the backyard.

Smart telescopes aren't for everyone, and they're not going to replace traditional options for most astronomers, but we think the Unistellar eQuinox 2 is a fantastic gateway into the hobby for enthusiastic amateurs or experienced astronomers who want a low-effort option to supplement their other scopes.


Best intermediate reflector

Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

5. Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

This equatorial reflector provides clear views of the moon, planets, and galaxy clusters, and it is also reasonably priced.

Specifications

Optical design:: Reflector
Aperture:: 4.5" (114.3 mm)
Focal length:: 17.72" (450 mm)
Focal ratio:: f/4
Eyepiece/s: : 10mm, 25mm and 2x Barlow lens
Total kit weight:: 20.72 lbs. (9.4 kg)
Mount type:: Equatorial

Reasons to buy

+
Great generalist telescope
+
Ships with two eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens
+
Better mount than alt-az options

Reasons to avoid

-
Equatorial mount setup takes time
-
Tripod is a little flimsy

The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 is a good quality all-round reflector housed in a compact design for any astronomer who wants to view a bit of everything while keeping costs down. Beginners may find the equatorial mount slightly more difficult to put up than a conventional alt-azimuth mount, but the results are worth it.

It comes with two eyepieces (10mm and 25mm) and also, happily, a 2x Barlow lens to increase reach when viewing longer distance night sky objects though bear in mind the highest maximum magnification capabilities of this telescope to avoid poor views. In the box astronomers will also discover an EZ Finder II reflex sight, tripod and a MoonMap 260 to aid first observations.


Best beginner refractor

Celestron Inspire 100AZ telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

6. Celestron Inspire 100AZ

With the largest aperture in Celestron’s Inspire range, the Inspire 100AZ is perfect for new amateur astronomers

Specifications

Optical design:: Refractor
Aperture:: 100mm (3.94-inches)
Focal length:: 660mm (25.98-inches)
Focal ratio:: f/6.6
Eyepiece/s: : 10mm, 25mm
Total kit weight:: 20 lbs (9.07 kg)
Mount type:: Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Comes bundled with everything you need
+
Simple, no-tool setup
+
Supplied tripod has panning handle with clutch

Reasons to avoid

-
Subtle false color issue

We highly recommend this refractor telescope for astronomers who are just getting started because it has the widest aperture in the Inspire lineup and so will provide the brightest views possible. It is bundled with everything astronomers need to get started, including an Alt-az mount, erect image star diagonal, StarPointer pro red dot finderscope and two eyepieces (10mm and 25mm) to view a variety of objects. 

Cleverly, Celestron has even included an integrated smartphone adapter that users can make with the dust cap so that astronomers can use the Celestron app to help guide them to nearby constellations and deep sky objects if they are not already familiar with the night sky.

Also included is a red LED flashlight to aid set up at night and protect night vision. While this refractor is a budget-friendly option it does come with glass that produces slight false color issues so it may not quite suffice for more advanced users, but it shouldn’t be an issue for beginners.


Best smartphone-guided scope

Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

7. Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ

An Alt-az reflector best suited to a range of skill levels with a trouble-free, quick set up time.

Specifications

Optical design:: Reflector
Aperture:: 4.49" (114 mm)
Focal length:: 39.37" (1,000 mm)
Focal ratio:: f/9
Eyepiece/s: : 10 mm, 25 mm
Total kit weight:: 10.41 lbs. (4.72 kg)
Mount type:: Alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Alt-az mount suitable for beginners
+
Fast to get set up and started
+
Guided tour via smartphone

Reasons to avoid

-
No motorized mount for tracking

The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ bucks the trend slightly by simply being a reflector on an alt-azimuth mount. This is ideal for beginners who want to get better views of the dim night sky because alt-az mounts are slightly easier to set up and get going than their equatorial counterparts.

Due to the quick setup and good views through the 10mm and 25mm eyepieces, astronomers can view a wide range of different objects relatively easily. It's suitable for transportation as well, weighing just 4.72 kg (10.41 lbs) so users can observe either in the backyard or out on location under darker skies. 

Install the StarSense app on your smartphone, then use the finderscope and one of the provided eyepieces to align the camera with the night sky. The app will discern your viewing orientation and intelligently determine what is in view. Additionally, it will provide details on the object in view, allowing newcomers to astronomy to practice using their equipment while also learning more about the night sky.


Best for quick setup

Vaonis Stellina Observation Station Smart Telescope

(Image credit: Vaonis)

8. Vaonis Stellina Observation Station Smart Telescope

A non-traditional smart telescope that speeds up your opportunities for night sky observing.

Specifications

Optical design:: Refractor
Aperture:: 3.15" (80 mm)
Focal length:: 15.7" (400 mm)
Focal ratio:: f/5
Eyepiece/s: : N/A
Total kit weight:: 24.69 lbs. (11.2 kg)
Mount type:: Motorized go-to alt-azimuth

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to transport
+
Create astro photos easily
+
Simple to set up and use

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite an expensive device
-
Traditional astronomers may want to avoid

In stark contrast to the majority of other telescopes on the market, the Vaonis Stellina telescope is coined as an observation station and smart or hybrid telescope due to its design. It requires no eyepieces or finderscopes and instead relies on a CMOS image sensor (made by Sony) to capture images via wireless smartphone connection.

Designed to turn on and get going immediately, the Stellina can give views and image the cosmos almost instantly from the minute it's powered on. No additional gear is required to take photos as this automatic function through the smartphone app is aided by autonomous tracking of the night sky to keep things sharp. There's also no lengthy star alignment, with the telescope capable of identifying constellations and stars itself - perfect for beginners. Navigate and take photos using the smart device app using its database of 100 objects.


Best mid-range scope

Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

9. Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ

The AstroMaster 130EQ ​​is a cost-effective Newtonian reflector, made by a well-established telescope maker.

Specifications

Optical design:: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture:: 130mm (5.11")
Focal length:: 650mm (25.6")
Focal ratio:: f/5
Eyepiece/s: : 20mm and 10mm
Total kit weight:: 26.5 lbs (12 kg) including tripod
Mount type:: Equatorial including R/A motor drive for object tracking

Reasons to buy

+
Motorized equatorial mount
+
Wide 130mm aperture
+
Sturdy steel tripod with accessory tray

Reasons to avoid

-
Beginners may struggle with mount

This Newtonian reflector is the right telescope for astronomers that desire clear views of the night sky and have used a few telescopes before. This reflector ships with a more accurate equatorial mount which utilizes counterweights for steadier and more precise views. Because of this, it's not necessarily suitable for beginners, though those with the tenacity will enjoy it once mastered. Once set up though, the motor is superb for tracking celestial objects as the earth rotates through the night. 

With a camera adapter that makes it simple to take long exposure images of the night sky. By tracking a subject with the earth’s rotation, users can image a subject tens or hundreds of times to attain the dark and light frames required for astrophotographic post-processing.


Best for advanced astronomers

Celestron NexStar Evolution 9.25 telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

10. Celestron NexStar Evolution 9.25

Premium price means premium views and this Schmidt-Cassegrain from Celestron provides some of the best around.

Specifications

Optical design:: Schmidt-Cassegrain
Aperture:: 9.25" (235 mm)
Focal length:: 92.52" (2,350 mm)
Focal ratio:: f/10
Eyepiece/s: : 13 mm, 40 mm
Total kit weight:: 62.60 lbs. (28.39 kg)
Mount type:: Computerized alt-azimuth fork arm

Reasons to buy

+
Crisp, clear views
+
Telescope construction is excellent

Reasons to avoid

-
Bulkier and heavier than other models
-
Not the cheapest telescope in this roundup

This Schmidt-Cassegrain is an excellent catadioptric telescope for observing the night sky because it provides clear, sharp images with minimal distortions thanks in part to the StarBright XLT optical coatings. Its 9.25-inch aperture drinks in the dim, distant starlight and combined with its 2350mm focal length will make short work of even the smallest deep sky objects, provided the correct eyepiece is used.

In the eyepieces (13mm and 40mm), celestial objects stand out with sharp clarity and striking contrast. This telescope is heavy and durable, which means it’ll remain stable even in strong wind on location but also makes it slightly more challenging to transport. 

A rechargeable lithium-iron (LiFePO4) gives up to 10 hours of continuous observing and is a welcome change to replacing AA batteries that feature in many other motorized telescopes.

How we test telescopes

Live Science tests a huge and diverse range of products, from Legos to binoculars, and from exercise bikes to dehumidifiers. Depending on just what we're reviewing, a product will be subjected to an array of different tests relevant to its purpose and use. This may include in-lab benchmarks, extensive use in our test centers or thorough road-testing in real-world conditions.

We'll examine performance against the manufacturer's claims and test the accuracy of those claims to the very best of our ability, sourcing input from independent experts where needed. We will also evaluate a product on its ease of use, ergonomic success and performance relative to its competitors. Price will also be a factor with value for money affecting our overall evaluation and review rating.

Through this combination of extensive testing, research and expert consultation, Live Science is confident that it offers readers authoritative advice on all the products it reviews.

Telescope questions answered

What is the best telescope overall?

For our money, we'd recommend the Celestron NexStar 8SE as the best telescope overall due to its excellent optical clarity, powerful focal length, top-class customization and durable build quality.

What is the best telescope for beginners?

We think the Celestron Inspire 100AZ is the best telescope for beginners who are happy to invest in a refractor. Its easy operation is due to its simple, camera lens-like design and Alt-azimuth mount that is fast to get observing with.

What is the best smart telescope?

For those with the budget we'd recommend the Unistellar eVscope 2 because it can be operated by anyone with the compatible smartphone app and it takes amazing astrophotographs right from your phone.

Do I need a computerized telescope?

Technically, no. As long as you are happy to manually slew the telescope to the next night sky object and use your knowledge of the stars to navigate (or use a proprietary stargazing app that comes with the telescope) then a non-computerized telescope is fine. However, computerized telescopes are motorized and can be programmed to find specific celestial objects with a controller or smartphone app which makes it faster and more accurate for beginners.

Which is better for astronomy, telescopes or binoculars?

While there are undoubtedly some powerful and optically proficient binoculars specifically designed for astronomy they are limited in terms of customization and aren't ideal for viewing smaller objects.

Telescopes, therefore, are much more suited to those that have the aforementioned requirements. However, they lack a stereoscopic view.

What type of telescope should I buy?

Refractors are commonly better for entry-level observers because their construction and operation is slightly more similar to how a camera lens works and most new observers are used to taking pictures.

Reflectors offer greater reach in shorter bodies, though they are typically wider in diameter and can take a little longer to set-up (collimate).

Catadioptrics are a hybrid between the two types above which means they are small but have fantastic reach. They tend to cost much more though and may be out of the budgets of many just getting started.