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First Telescope Guide

Telescope designs ranked for every price range.

  • 0$ ⟷ 100$
  • 100$ ⟷ 200$
  • 200$ ⟷ 350$
  • 350$ ⟷ 500$
  • 500$ ⟷ 700$
  • 700$ ⟷ 900$

At this price range, there are mainly two options: a tabletop or a refractor. TableTop is a better choice by far, but a refractor may be preferable in some cases. 

Build Quality

Light Gathering

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ TableTops ◉

These compact scopes are ideal choices in almost every way at budget prices. They are incredibly easy to manufacture and are made of very few parts. 

Build Quality

These scopes have the build quality of large Dobsonians that cost around 400$ to 1500$. They are simply smaller versions of these huge monsters.

As a result, the base is butter-smooth and rock-solid, exactly the things any astronomer wants from a telescope base. The observing sessions are not interrupted by weird wobbles and squeaky parts. 

In addition, TableTop bases don’t break down easily. It is incredibly difficult to damage TableTop bases in any way.

Most Light Gathering per Dollar

TableTops have reflector optical designs. The primary mirrors of TableTop telescopes are easy to manufacturecheap, and larger than other optical designs.

Color Accurate and Wide-Field Views

TableTops have low focal ratios, which means that the optical tube is particularly short, the images are color accurate, and the views are wide.

As you might guess, this makes these scope perfect for deep space performance and ideal for color-accurate planetary viewing. 

It is challenging to view small and dim images with TableTops, but that level of astronomy is not possible at this price range.

More Light Transition

No Maintenance

Tripod

◉ Refractors ◉

Cheap refractors are not ideal choices and should be bought with caution. But, at this price range, there are a few aspects that make them advantageous.

%50 More Light Transition

Refractors gather more light by directly sending the incoming light to the astronomer. As a result, a 100mm refractor gathers the same amount of light as a 100mm TableTop reflector. 

More light means more detail, but with less color accuracy when it comes to refractors.

No Maintenance

Refractors don’t require any collimation. They work out of the box and continue working for years without any problems. 

Comes With a Tripod

Refractors don’t require a stable surface for observing like the TableTop telescopes. The tripod is enough to carry the telescope around and observe.

But, I have to remind you that a TableTop is vastly more robust than a refractor, which is vital to keep in mind.

Conclusion

A TableTop is so much better in terms of build quality; the difference is night and day. A refractor might be preferable for higher light gathering ability and a tripod, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

At this price range, TableTops lead by a huge margin.

Orion StarMax 90, a Catadioptric-TableTop hybrid, appears as an extraordinary option for high-magnification performance. 

Build Quality

Light Gathering

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ TableTops ◉

TableTops are incredibly advantageous at this price range in terms of build quality and optical design. They are easy to manufacture since they are composed of very few parts.

Fewer parts result in more robustness, smoothness, and reliability. 

Build Quality

The build quality of a TableTop telescope is on par with 400$-1500$ Dobsonian telescopes. Dobsonians are known for their robust and solid build qualities, and TableTops are miniaturized versions of Dobsonians.

As a result, they are butter-smooth, rock-solid, and easy to use—everything you need from a telescope base.

Most Light Gathering per Dollar

TableTops telescopes have reflector optical designs(There are some exceptions, like the StarMax 90.). Reflector mirrors are easy to manufacture, similar to the rest of the telescope. As a result, reflectors provide the most aperture per dollar.

More aperture means more light, and more light means sharper and brighter views.

Color Accurate and Wide-Field Views

The reflector design of TableTops provides low focal ratios, which means that a larger part of the sky is fit inside the view, which provides better color accuracy and sharpness with large space objects. This makes them ideal for deep spacelarge Solar System objects, and the Moon, but below-average for small and dim space objects.

Build Quality

Planetary Performance

Color Accuracy

◉ Orion StarMax 90 ◉

We have a detailed review of Orion StarMax 90. In summary, StarMax 90 is a rare model at this price range; perhaps the only one specifically built for high magnification performance. 

StarMax 90’s optics easily gather detail from small objects, making it perfect for planets, the Moon, and star clusters.

It is the reverse of what a TableTop reflector is.

More Light Transition

No Maintenance

Tripod

◉ Refractors ◉

Although refractors are not ideal at budget prices, models such as the Infinity 90 and StarPro 90 are good choices. Or let me rephrase, as good as they can be.

%50 More Light Transition

A refractor sends the light directly to the astronomers’ eyes. As a result, it redirects 50% more light per aperture. But it sacrifices color accuracy for more detail. This defect is called Chromatic Aberration and may be a deal-breaker for some. 

No Maintenance

Refractors don’t require maintenance procedures such as collimation. They work perfectly out of the box, and the optics are enclosed, so they are harder to damage. 

Comes With a Tripod

Refractors come with tripods, mostly Aluminum models, at this price range. Although they are less stable, tripods are easy to carry around, and they don’t require a table, which is especially helpful for campers.

Conclusion

At this price range, TableTop models and the StarMax 90 are vastly better in terms of build quality. But campers and people who seek a telescope that doesn’t require any maintenance may gravitate towards refractors.

At this price range, larger telescopes start to appear, which are of course, the infamous Dobsonians. 

We also start to see wider choices in TableTops and Refractors. 

Build Quality

Optical Power

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ Dobsonians ◉

These compact scopes are ideal choices in almost every way at budget prices. They are incredibly easy to manufacture and are made of very few parts.

Most Light Gathering per Dollar

At the upper limit of this price range, you can get a 6”(150mm) Dobsonian, and in the middle, you can get a 4.5”(114mm)

A Dobsonian has a reflector design, which uses a large primary mirror to reflect the light. Such a mirror is easy to manufacture and therefore costs much less. 

A Dobsonian provides the most amount of power per dollar.

Overall Optical Performance

Dobsonians have f/6-7 focal ratios, which is great for all-round viewing. Such focal ratios don’t lean towards deep space performance or planetary performance; they are good at both, which is an important aspect for most beginners.

In addition, the primary mirrors of Dobsonians are delightfully color accurate.

 

Build Quality

As I’ve mentioned before, Dobsonians are easy to manufacture. As a result, you won’t find any loose, wobbly, squeaky parts in their designs. Everything is sturdy and strong.

 

Robust Base

A Dobsonian sits on a large base, usually made out of particle board. Although particle board is prone to damage from moisture and scratches, it is strong and cheap.

Build Quality

Light Gathering

Wide Field

Portability

◉ TableTops ◉

TableTops are the portable and compact choices at this price range. They don’t provide the same optical power as a Dobsonian, but they make up by weighing less and covering less space.

Portability

A 150mm TableTop weighs around 23.5lbs(10.6kg), and a 150mm Dobsonian weighs around 35 lbs(16kg). Although the light gathering ability stays the same, the TableTop is vastly easier to carry around. 

The weight aspect makes a huge difference when you start using your telescope every night. 

Build Quality

TableTops are miniature Dobsonians, so the build quality is the same between these designs. Everything single part is strong, robust, and sturdy. 

Color Accurate and Wide-Field Views

TableTops have short optical tubes. As a result, the focal ratios are around f/4-5, perfect for deep space and large Solar System objects. But, such ratios provide below-average performance with smaller objects such as star clusters and smaller planets.

More Light Transition

No Maintenance

Tripod

◉ Refractors ◉

Although refractors have vastly better mounts and optics at this price range, they still can’t catch up to the build quality of Dobsonians or TableTops. 

But, as always, they don’t require any maintenance or a sturdy surface to put the telescope on, and they are exceptionally easy to carry around.

%50 More Light Transition

A refractor doesn’t reflect the light; it redirects it. As a result, it sends %50 more light per aperture. But, it also sacrifices color accuracy while doing that.

This phenomenon is called “Chromatic Aberration”, which you can see an example of in the image below.

No Maintenance

Refractors don’t require collimation, which is a huge win for people who like simplicity and ease of use. Or just lazy people like me.

Comes With a Tripod

Refractors come with tripods, which at this price range are made of Aluminum. They are wobbly in most cases, but they create the ability to observe anywhere you want whenever you want. A tripod is usually the reason why campers go for refractors.

Conclusion

At the 200-350$ price range, although Dobsonians and TableTops are vastly better in terms of build quality and stability, there are decent choices in refractors as well. 

In our opinion, build quality is everything, especially with something that you will use for years to come. That is why Dobsonians and TableTops are go-to choices at this price range. A Refactor should be plan C.

This is the price range where Dobsonians rule. They are vastly better choices in terms of build quality and optics. Other models should be bought in rare cases where portability is vital, or a computerized mount is a must-have. 

Build Quality

Optical Power

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ Dobsonians ◉

The 350$-500$ price range is the sweet spot for Dobsonians for one simple reason: at these prices, you can get a Dob with a 6″ or 8″ aperture. 

Most Light Gathering per Dollar

A 6″ or an 8″ Dob is perfect for portability and the amount of optical power it provides. Most astronomers keep such telescopes in their portfolio’s for years.

There is no more to it. The optical tube is simply at the perfect size.

Overall Optical Performance

The 6″ and 8″ Dobsonians have f/7.8 and f/6 focal ratios, respectively. Such focal ratios are easy to collimate and provide great performance for both high and low power viewing. 

Deep Space and Solar System performances are both delightful, which is usually exactly what an astronomer wants. 

Build Quality

Dobsonians have small amounts of parts in their designs, which results in better build quality in every way. A Dobsonian is robust and heavy.

 

Robust Base

The base is made of particle board with almost all Dobsonian’s. The material is cheap and prone to moisture and scratches. But it is a heavy and tough material that can carry the heavy optical tube that comes with a Dobsonian.

Planetary Performance

Automation

Portability

Digital

◉ Catadioptrics ◉

Digital Catadioptrics have become famous after Celestron popularized the NexStar Series. They are a different breed and provide different abilities.

Planetary Performance

The first and most important thing about a catadioptric is its optical design. 

The light that enters the optical tube travels two times instead of one, which is perfect detailed Solar System viewing. They are much better at viewing smaller objects due to their high focal ratios.

Automation

Since Catadioptrics are built for detailed, high-power viewing, they are usually automized. This feature is called “GoTo”, which means that the optical tube will follow any object in the night sky without any need for constant adjustment. 

Automation is the strongest advantage of a Digital Catadioptric Telescope.

Portability

Since the light travels the optical tube two times instead of one, the tube is half the length. As a result, the telescope is lighter and much easier to carry around. 

A Celestron NexStar 127 SLT weighs only 18 lbs(8kg), while a Zhumell Z8 weighs around 54 lbs(24kg). The difference is night and day.

Conclusion

To be fair to both designs, each has significant advantages over the other. But the computerized models, at this price range, lack significant features with their mounts, such as a built-in battery.

As a result, Dobsonians are vastly better choices between 350$ and 500$.

This price range is a mixture of small Digital Catadioptric and large Dobsonian designs.

In our opinion, the smartest way to approach this is to acquire an 8″ Dobsonian and upgrade it with the remaining spending. But the need for portability is the ultimate decider.

Build Quality

Fully Upgraded

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ Dobsonians ◉

Although there are 10″ Dobsonians available at this price range, we don’t recommend that size. They are uncomfortably large, difficult to balance, and are challenging to carry around.

An upgraded 8″ Dobsonian is the perfect telescope for both planetary and deep space observing.

A Fully Upgraded Telescope

Any telescope you buy at any price range will require expensive upgrades such as an eyepiece, a focuser, or a finder. We recommend an 8×50 finder and a wide-field eyepiece upgrade for the beginning with an 8″ Dobsonian.

Overall Optical Performance

An 8″ Dobsonian has an f/6 focal ratio. Such a ratio doesn’t lean towards deep space or planetary performance, which is ideal for beginners. 

Weight and Robustness

Dobsonians are known for their heavy and robust build. They are not easy to carry around, but they are not easy to break as well.

Reliable build quality is vital for something that you will use for years.

 

Planetary Performance

Automation

Portability

Digital

◉ Catadioptrics ◉

At this price range, the most powerful Digital Catadioptric you can get is a 5″. Although most astronomers go for a 6″, a 5″ is fine for most viewing. 

Ease of use, portability, and convenience are the most significant advantages of a Digital Catadioptric.

Automation

Digital Catadioptric telescope series such as NexStar, StarNavigator, and ETX are equipped with “GoTo” features. They will follow any object in the night sky automatically and will point to any object you want. 

Not having to adjust the optical tube all the time to follow an object you are observing is a huge weight lifted.

Portability

With Catadioptric telescopes, the light travels the optical tube two times instead of one. As a result, the optical tube is half the size of a Dobsonians and much lighter. A 5″ Catadioptric telescope’s optical tube weighs merely 6 lbs.

Conclusion

At this price range, it is hard to find a middle ground. You may choose to go for full optical power with a Dobsonian or go for portability, convenience, and ease of use with a Digital Catadioptric. 

Or, you can always go for a lower-priced telescope and upgrade it with premium accessories.

At this price range, Dobsonian’s become heavier and harder to balance. The extra weight simply is not worth it. As a result, most astronomers start to seek portability, ease of use, and convenience.

Planetary Performance

Automation

Portability

Digital

◉ Catadioptrics ◉

Let’s be frank, Celestron NexStar SE Series has been ruling this price range for years. Their combination of software, hardware, and optical design has no competition from Meade, Orion, or any other optics company.

All-Round Optical Performance

A 6” Catadioptric optical tube gathers enough light for most of the Messier Catalog. With a focal reducer, such an optical design has the potential to become an all-round performer that is enough for deep space and perfect for planetary objects.

Portability

The most significant advantage of a 6” Catadioptric is not its optical performance; it is its weight and size. A 6” Catadioptric optical tube weighs only 8 lbs and is only 16”(406mm) in length. You can carry it easily with one hand or under your arm.

Automation

Not having to follow space objects in the night sky and counter Earth’s rotation will always be a delightful feature. The NexStar SE series has perfected its software in that sense over the years since it has been released and remains the undeniable leader in GoTo technologies.

 

Build Quality

Optical Power

Color Accuracy

Wide Field

◉ Dobsonians ◉

At this price range, there are 12” Dobsonian’s available, which are insanely powerful. But we don’t recommend those sizes to beginners. The extra weight and size is not worth it. A 10” Dobsonian is the limit of convenience.

We recommend getting either an 8” or a 10” Dobsonian and using the remaining money to upgrade these telescopes with premium accessories.

All-Round Optical Performance

10” and 8” Dobsonian’s have f/5 and f/6 focal ratios, respectively. Such optical designs are ideal for both deep space and planetary viewing, which is what a beginner wants from his/her first scope.

Weight and Robustness

In contrast to Digital Catadioptric’s, Dobsonian’s have only a few parts in their designs. Fewer parts mean stronger and more reliable build quality. You can be sure that a Dobsonian is much less likely to break down, or let me rephrase, almost impossible if you don’t drop it or hit it with something.

Conclusion

At this price range, a fully upgraded Dobsonian or a 6” Digital Catadioptric will both serve you well for long years to come. They are as different as it gets in terms of design, so it is important to set priorities when choosing between these models.