Telescopes allow users to explore galaxies along the magnificent Milky Way, cute comets, and spellbinding stars.
As an aspiring astronomer, a telescope gives you the ability to surf the stars, and get lost in the universe as you explore spaces in the universe that a normal eye cannot see.
By focusing your telescope on a particular site or event, you send out electromagnetic radiation that observes distant sources and bring different worlds right to your window.
With the different characteristics and models of telescopes out there, it can be a tough task for both experts and novices to find the right one. Here is our review of the best telescope under $500.
What Should I Know Before Buying A Telescope?
Newly purchased telescopes should be fitted with at least one eyepiece, although some sets have up to three. An eyepiece is measured by millimeters (mm), and smaller numbers indicate higher magnification. The most common eyepiece is 25mm, and we recommend it for beginners.
Also, a good telescope should have either a reflector or a refractor. The significant difference is that a refractor contains two lenses. The bigger lenses are called the objective while the smaller lens – through which the observer looks through – is referred to as the ocular. A reflector draws light to the bottom of the telescope via a concave mirror which is known as the “primary.”
Another feature of the telescope is the aperture which is defined as the diameter of either the objective mirror of a reflector or the objective lens of a refractor. The size of the aperture is the real determinant of the power of any telescope. The ability of the aperture to gather light is proportional to its size, hence the more light a telescope can capture, the brighter the image the observer sees.
Just like the other features, the mount of the telescope is just as important. Although a lot of newbies don’t consider it an essential part of their purchase, the mount is the stand that sleeps the telescope steady.
Top 5 Best Telescopes Under $500
|MEADE STARNAVIGATOR NG 130MM|
|CELESTRON NEXSTAR 4 SE|
|CELESTRON NEXSTAR 130SLT|
|ORION 8945 SKYQUEST XT8|
|ORION 10016 STARBLAST 6 ASTRO|
1. MEADE STARNAVIGATOR NG 130MM – BEST PERFORMANCE
It is a Newtonian scope that provides an unobstructed viewing experience due to the reduced chromatic aberration feature and is perfect for in-depth space exploration.
It has been the number one pick for many amateur astronomers and space admirers.
The package is housed in a travel bag, fitted with a stable stand, excellent optics, and tailor-made to cater to the needs of both intermediate users and beginners.
We consider the best on our list and is a worthy inclusion due to the price-performance ratio that the manufacturers achieved with this flawless scope.
Further Review On The Meade Starnavigator NG 130MM Telescope
This product follows the typical Meade fashion with an underlying theme that promotes ease of use. The general sense is that the telescope provides all the necessities that a beginner needs to observe in one entity. The NG 130MM also provides an easy pathway to use Go-To instruments at a competitive price for many years.
With the added AudioStar computerized controller, and robotic mount, users can expect to observe a diverse range of celestial objects. You can also navigate between two eyepiece sizes that are extremely useful to zoom in on specific goals and targets. It is simply the best tool for night time observations.
The only negative to this scope is the difficulty in getting spare parts. If you are a prudent user, you should be able to enjoy the scope for a long time.
- Anti-Reflection Multi-coated Optics
- 1000mm Focal length
- 130mm Newtonian ‘reflector scope
- Audio commentary on 500+ objects
- Adjustable height aluminum tripod
- 9mm and 26mm eyepiece
- F/7.7 focal ratio
- The AudioStar computer hand controller
- Single-fork arm motorized mount
2. CELESTRON NEXSTAR 4 SE – BEST DESIGN
Celestron is a reputable brand that you can always count on for the right product. The NexStar 4 SE telescope is a member of the orange tube series models that are renowned for their excellent light-gathering ability and crystal clear images.
It is a computerized model that works well for astrophotography. You can even order for the same model with an additional NexYZ Adapter for your smartphone.
The Celestron NexStar 4 SE can boast of being the only orange tube telescope that sports a Maksutov-Cassegrain design, as most telescopes favor the Schmidt-Cassegrain design, hence the general feel of the scope is different, but in a good way.
Additional Information On The Celestron Nexstar 4 SE Telescope
The battery life of the product is not the best, and users have to purchase the charger separately. This model has a chance to top our list if it wasn’t so energy-consuming. It is important to note that due to the design-build of the product, it requires extra patience during assembling and adjustment.
The NexStar makes up for the hassle with captivating images due to the excellent light-gathering features it possesses. If you prefer excellent results over ease of use, then this is the best telescopes for you.
- Focal ratio: 1325
- Mount: Single fork arm
- Aperture: 4.02 inches
- Design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
- Coatings: StarBright FIT
- Eyepiece: 53x
3. CELESTRON NEXSTAR 130SLT – BEST IMAGERY
Another Celestron product that makes it to our list is the 130SLT, albeit a different model compared to the NexStar 4 SE. The 130SLT, on the other hand, is a Newtonian telescope that offers excellent results once you get past the tricky setup.
Astronomers have the luxury of obtaining fully color-corrected views due to the Newtonian design and mirror that are ideally suited for astrophotography and general astronomical use.
We consider this model even more beginner-friendly and coupled with the flawless optics; you are guaranteed clear images. The lightweight nature of the 130SLT makes it very portable.
The only drawback to the 130SLT is that its mount isn’t as reliable as the 4 SE model. Also, StarAlign technology malfunctions often. Continually updating the firmware solves this issue.
Just like other Celestron models, the 130SLT sports superb optics, a decent price, and above average software. If you are a patient astronomer, prepare to be treated to excellent photographs and views.
- Focal ratio: f/5
- Aperture: 130mm
- Light gathering power: 345x
- Magnification: 26x/72x
- Eyepiece focal length: 25mm/9mm
- Field of view: 1.7 degrees
- Motorized Altazimuth mount
- Linear field of view: 91ft
4. ORION 8945 SKYQUEST XT8 – BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
A member of the SkyQuest series, the SkyQuest XT8 is produced by Orion and has been heralded as a welcome addition to the astronomy community. It is an excellent Dobsonian scope that provides superior optics for a low price point, making this model a borderline budget product.
It is particularly tailored for exploring local planets, and the view of Jupiter is especially stunning due to the excellent optics. Even though there is a little color distortion, it is easily noticeable that the aperture level provides excellent value for money.
For users who are into astrophotography, you can quickly correct the color distortion with image software and enjoy sharp images.
The Orion SkyQuest is fairly portable which puts it firmly in the category of garden telescopes, especially if you are in a region with little light pollution. Even though it is a tad bulky, you can expect great results and is the classic definition of “bang for the buck.”
If your wish is to purchase an affordable Dobsonian model that is reliable, then the XT8 Telescope is an ideal fit for you.
- Focal length: 1200
- HUM: 300xs
- LUM: 29x
- Focal ratio: f/6
- Telescope aperture: 8”
5. ORION 10016 STARBLAST 6 ASTRO – BEST INDOOR EXPERIENCE
This model is tailored for beginners who can afford to invest in astronomy and are willing to avoid the common issues that cheaper telescopes present.
It is an extremely durable scope with a 6-inch aperture that provides streamline details. Although the focal length is quite short, the higher magnification isn’t the priority of the manufacturers when it comes to this model. The focus is on portability and ease of use.
The EZ finder is impressive, and the scope setup is fast, which allows beginners to assemble the StarBlast6 by themselves.
The tabletop design is ideal for the home side, and outdoor experiences require the purchase of a mount separately. We recommend purchasing a 2x Barlow lens for a better viewing experience. The StarBlast6 cracks our list of best telescopes under $500 due to its cheapness and ease of use. It is the ideal beginners model.
- Aperture: 150mm – 200mm
- Grab – and – go portability
- 25 telescope eyepieces
- Magnification: 21x
- F/5.0 parabolic mirror configuration
Things You Should Know Before Buying A Telescope
It’s Not All About Power
An excellent telescope is not dependent on its “power.” If a telescope manufacturer repeatedly mentions how the scope has power and can rise to “300x”, be skeptical about its quality. High power is pleasing to the ear, but there is always a catch.
Magnification makes an object more prominent, and that is what is important.
The light captured by the scope is shared over a wide area which builds a fainter image in the eyepiece. We recommend you keep that in mind when purchasing your telescope.
A brand new telescope should be fitted with one eyepiece, although there are cases where a set is equipped with up to three eyepieces. An eyepiece is calculated in millimeters. The smaller the number, the bigger the magnification.
Picking A Reflector or Refractor Telescope
Majority of telescopes on the market for amateur are either reflectors or refractors. A refractor uses two lenses; the larger one being the objective, and the smaller being the ocular. The ocular is the lens through which you view objects.
The reflector captures light at the bottom of the scope through a concave mirror, known as the primary. There are different ways through which the primary focus the light, and the method used depends on the reflecting Telescope.
Telescope Focal Ratio
A higher focal ration doesn’t always guarantee a more top quality image; however, it often translates to as good a picture as you can get.
A higher focal ration with similar size aperture indicates a more extended scope, which might require extensive handling to load it up into a vehicle when transporting the equipment to a viewing area.
Features Of A Telescope
There are two types of mounts namely: Alt-Az mount and the Equatorial mount. The Alt-Az mount is the most common type of mount and is tailored to Dobsonian telescopes. It permits the optical to move both in a sideways and perpendicular motion, in a similar way to photo tripods.
The Equatorial mount is quite complicated as it aligns its axis in tandem with the earth rotation. This action allows it to track objects easily in the sky. The only drawback to this type of mount is that it is not suitable for large telescopes.
The optical tube is the circular part of the scope that rests on the mount. It is fitted with all the mirrors and the lenses that capture the light and process it into the photographs of the night one sky that you view when you use the telescope. The position of the internal pieces is dependent on the type of scope you are using.
Objective Lens or Mirror
Within the optical tube are the mirrors and lenses that capture and portray the light that enters into the telescope. The type of mirrors and lenses and their alignment have a direct influence on the features of the scope.
A number of these features include its magnification ability, and it’s light gathering ability, the amount of color distortion, the clarity of the images, and so forth.
The objective lens is the most vital element in the optical tube for a refractor telescope, while the objective mirror is the most crucial element for any reflecting telescope.
The focuser is located outside the optical tube and is designed to sharpen further the images produces by the scope. The best focusers allow for tiny adjustments that provide the crystal clear images you want.
The telescope’s ocular is referred to as the eyepiece. It is housed inside the focuser and works to enhance the magnification and field of view of the scope, without the need of additional attachments.
- Which telescope is right for me?
This is a fundamental question for all beginners, albeit a difficult one. Firstly, you need to define your goals. If your objective is deep sky observation and study smaller galaxies, you should get a telescope with an aperture over the 200mm mark.
You can only enjoy your galaxies observation with a scope that has an aperture of at least 200mm. Also, reflecting telescopes are the only scopes that can provide this feature at a low price point.
If your preference is planetary observation, you need to purchase a refractor telescope that can create a contrasting image of your viewing experience. If you’re a fan of contrasting pictures or color neutral pictures, we recommend you purchase a particular type of refractor – the ED-Apochromat – that can provide higher magnification and more explicit images.
- In what ways do telescopes differ?
The significant differences are typically in the following categories;
Design: Telescopes are majorly designed in two forms; reflector and refractor telescopes. These designs, however, have numerous subcategories.
Optics: Optical features include the focal length and lens diameter. The bigger the width of a scope, the more light it captures. This is more important than the focal length, which determines the magnification.
Mount Style: This is where we distinguish between azimuthal mounting and equatorial mounting. The latter is recommended for most observations as it allows for quick rotation on a small wheel, which aligns with earth’s rotation and keeps your views in focus.
- How do you assemble a telescope?
Start with the tube, then the mount and the tripod.
The Bottom Line
It is not easy to purchase the perfect telescope for you. There are so many types, specs, and different planetary observations to explore.
Our best telescopes under $500 review ends with the writer’s choice: the MEADE STARNAVIGATOR NG 130MM. It has the perfect combination of price-performance ratio and encompasses the most vital features needed in a competent telescope.
Remember always to read the specs and take a mental note of the features and parts included in each model. This way, you can know what to expect when you purchase the product.
Are you using a telescope that didn’t make it to our list? What is your personal top 5? Let us know in the comments section below!