Best budget telescopes in 2022: cost-effective telescopes for stargazers

Best budget telescopes
(Image credit: Getty)

Why "best budget telescopes"? Thanks to rising production costs, pressures on the cost of living, and an industry under supply issues the price of stargazing equipment is steadily rising. 

But these socio-political pressures shouldn’t limit your enjoyment of the night sky which can provide significant relief to many around the world. We've picked a top budget of $500 (about £425/AU$740) and, of course, this is still a sizeable sum, but we've got telescopes in our list that come in way under that.

There are plenty of options in this list to suit beginners and more intermediate users, or more experienced astronomers that need to keep costs down. Those who love to photograph the night sky will need an appropriate camera adapter found on most popular photography and astronomy sites such as B&H, Amazon or Best Buy among others. There are even adapters for those who prefer to photograph with a smartphone and for whom snapping pictures through the eyepiece just won’t do.

In this guide, we’ve provided a mix of refractors and reflectors of varying price ranges. Refractors are generally smaller and more portable, taking the shape and construction stylings of camera lenses. Whereas, reflectors are generally girthier, sometimes a little heavier, but can provide light-gathering capabilities that excel refractors at times. Whether you want to view the craters of the Moon, or fancy gazing at planets and nebulae, we’ve got you covered.

Best budget telescopes in 2022

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(Image credit: Celestron)
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This scope uses Celestron's StarSense app to help you manually align it to celestial subjects

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture: 130mm (5.11")
Focal length: 650mm (25.59")
Focal ratio: f/5
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 26x and 65x
Finderscope: Red dot finderscope
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 307x

Reasons to buy

+
Simple to use
+
Guided Audio Tour

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs collimating
-
No backup if the phone dies

Unlike go-to motorised mounts, this one does not move electronically and the user is still required to physically move the telescope. If a fully motorised unit is what you’re after, this isn’t the telescope for you, but it does give the users more physical connection with the instrument, especially whilst being guided by the software. The software tells you if objects are ‘City Viewable' or 'Dark Sky Viewable', too, so you don't waste your time looking for something you won't be able to see.

As with most on this list, two fairly basic eyepieces are supplied with this scope so, over time, you'll probably want to upgrade them. Unlike the 76mm Firstscope, a red dot finder comes as standard. Even without doing this though, the moon craters appear incredibly detailed and the terminator line on the lunar surface is incredibly sharp.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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2. Celestron Travel Scope 70

Not only under $500, this portable table-top refractor is actually under $100!

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Aperture: 70mm (2.8")
Focal length: 400mm (15.74")
Focal ratio: f/5.7
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 20x and 40x
Finderscope: 5x24
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 168x

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Tripod quality is poor
-
Short, even when fully extended

This travel-friendly telescope can be picked up for less than $100, which is an excellent price for something that is not only a great nighttime companion but also, thanks to the erect image diagonal which gives us a correct right to left, right-side-up image, its great for daytime use too.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the night sky views with this telescope but you will be able to see detail on the Moon and see the rings of Saturn. It's a great 'grab and go' scope that doesn't require any complex setup. Something you can take to the park for birdwatching or leave on the windowsill for nature or plane spotting. 

To do any serious scoping, you will need to replace the supplied tripod, it is far too flimsy and thus you'll see every magnified wobble which will quickly get frustrating. It's also pretty short, even when the legs are fully extended. That means lots of crouching down. If you're not planning on replacing it, we'd recommend taking a chair out with you so you can comfortably look through the eyepiece.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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3. Celestron PowerSeeker 60AZ

This lightweight telescope is ideal for night or daytime viewing on location

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Aperture: 60mm (2.36")
Focal length: 700mm (28")
Focal ratio: f/12
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 35x and 175x
Finderscope: 5x24
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 142x

Reasons to buy

+
Celestron is a trusted manufacturer
+
Useful for a range of subjects

Reasons to avoid

-
Similarly priced models perform better
-
Not very useful for intermediate users

This is another telescope that only requires a little time to set up and is aimed at amateur astronomers, but as with the Travel Scope 70, the erect image optics are perfectly suited for both terrestrial and astronomical use.

The 60mm aperture is more than enough power for a detailed look at the Moon, and Jupiter and you'll see the rings of Saturn, but it isn't intended for viewing planets in any great detail.

The mount is well made and secure. A more expensive (stainless steel) model would be slightly sturdier but this one is useable providing it's not especially windy. The 20mm eyepiece is great but the 4mm is pretty unusable. The more you discover about telescopes, you'll understand good eyepieces are expensive. In reality, a good quality 4mm eyepiece would cost about half the price of this entire telescope, so take this 4mm’s presence with a pinch of salt. Overall, it's a good scope but for causal/amateur use only, rather than anything more serious.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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4. Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ

A computerised ‘push-to’ that shows you where to aim while getting satisfyingly hands-on

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Aperture: 102mm (4.01")
Focal length: 660mm (25.98")
Focal ratio: f/6.5
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 26x and 66x
Finderscope: Red dot finderscope
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 240x

Reasons to buy

+
Smartphone App compatible
+
Push-to capability

Reasons to avoid

-
Small aperture
-
Fiddly first set up

The first 'push-to' telescope in this guide is perfect for those just starting out in skywatching. When used in connection with an app on a compatible smartphone or tablet, the telescope will 'know' what it is pointing at, and helps the user navigate to locate other targets in its database. This means you don't have to know anything about the night sky to be able to find where things are (even if they are not pinpoint accurate and might need slight adjustment to center). This technique gives maximum observation time and saves time hunting for objects.

This isn't a telescope that will prove useful for seeing or photographing deep-sky objects, but is ideal to observe and photograph brighter objects with an appropriate smartphone or camera adapter. The wide field of view means you'll be able to see whole globular star clusters and nebulae across the frame.

With this telescope, you get two eyepieces with useful magnifications of 26x and 66x, and the roof prism star diagonal (rather than a star diagonal) means the images are the right way around.

(Image credit: Orion)
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5. Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop

Superior optical quality from the Maksutov-Cassegrain design

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Aperture: 90mm (3.54”)
Focal length: 1250mm
Focal ratio: f/13.9
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 50x and 125x
Finderscope: EZ Finder II
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 180x

Reasons to buy

+
Grab and go
+
Great for beginners

Reasons to avoid

-
Narrow field of view
-
Stability dependent on surface it’s on

With the Orion StarMax 90mm you'll be scoping the sky in no time at all. And, because it's so portable we argue it’s one of the best compact telescopes available. Even more advanced astronomers will use this as their 'grab-and-go' choice. 

Thanks to the Maksutov-Cassegrain design, the telescope doesn't suffer from the colour-aberration that some cheaper lenses do. The eyepieces serve their purpose but if you expect to develop skywatching as a hobby you'll find yourself wanting to upgrade these in time.

The base itself is sturdy but bear in mind, that it's only as sturdy as the table it is sat on. If your table wobbles, so will the telescope. It’s worth considering mounting the telescope to a tripod instead of using the base.

The scope gathers enough light to see globular clusters, nebulae, and other bright galaxies, but remember the field of view is narrow so you will only see a portion of them at a time before moving the frame.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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6. Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ LT Refractor

Great for lunar and planetary observing, it also comes with a smartphone adaptor for photo and video capture

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Aperture: 70mm (2.76")
Focal length: 700mm (28")
Focal ratio: f/10
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 35x and 70x
Finderscope: Red dot finderscope
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 165x

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to set up
+
Smartphone adapter for stills and video

Reasons to avoid

-
Very small aperture
-
No good for daytime use

This scope is ideal for getting started in astronomy, it’s relatively inexpensive but is still a capable tool with good quality optics. The glass is fully coated and there is next to no chromatic aberration, but the small aperture means it’s only capable of showing you the brightest celestial objects such as the Moon and Saturn – though they will be shown in excellent detail. You won't be able to see Deep-Sky objects with this scope.

With this package comes Starry Night Basic Edition Software which can teach you about 36,000 objects in the night sky which is a great learning tool, although remember, you won't be able to see many of them with this scope.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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7. Celestron 76mm Firstscope

Good observation quality and the perfect starter telescope for beginners or young children

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Aperture: 76mm (2.99")
Focal length: 300mm (12")
Focal ratio: f/3.95
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 15x and 75x
Finderscope: None supplied
Mount: Dobsonian
Highest useful magnification: 180x

Reasons to buy

+
Good build quality
+
Highly portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Finderscope isn't included 
-
Some detail is lacking

This is a fuss-free tabletop telescope that doesn't require any additional assembly. It's a small investment but it might just spark a love for all things astronomy, especially for children who will be wowed by the close-up of the Moon's craters. Because it’s so affordable it’s a telescope that favours those who are more casual stargazers, or who may spend periods of time dipping in and out of skywatching. To get the most out of this scope though, you'll probably want to invest in a red dot finder to speed up star searching. We also recommend upgrading the eyepieces.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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8. Celestron Inspire 100AZ

A step-up in sophistication, this telescope is one for those with a little more experience, or those who like to learn quickly

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Aperture: 100mm (3.94")
Focal length: 660mm (25.98")
Focal ratio: f/6.5
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 33x and 66x
Finderscope: Red dot finderscope
Mount: Alt-az
Highest useful magnification: 241x

Reasons to buy

+
Sturdy build
+
Good accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive, given the specs
-
Some chromatic aberration

Like most telescopes in our roundup, setup is quick and easy and doesn't require any tools. Its optics are impressive for a scope that can be picked up for around $300, with fully coated glass optics and a sturdy steel adjustable tripod (as opposed to aluminium). It does suffer from some chromatic aberration in some instances, which means that some objects might not appear as their true color, but this is to be expected at this price point.

It also comes with a handy accessory tray and the lens cap doubles up as a smartphone holder to take astro photos with your phone. They won't be amazing, but they will be better than what you could take without the scope.

The mount also has an inbuilt red LED flashlight (so as not to damage your night vision) which makes working in the dark easier, although the optics will allow for daytime viewing as well as astronomical observing.

(Image credit: Celestron)
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9. Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ

A popular beginner telescope that’s compact and portable and has a large 5-inch aperture

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture: 127mm (5")
Focal length: 1000mm (39")
Focal ratio: f/7.87
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 50x and 250x
Finderscope: 5x24
Mount: German equatorial
Highest useful magnification: 300x

Reasons to buy

+
Deep sky objects can be seen
+
Super fast setup time

Reasons to avoid

-
Not much room for growth
-
Tripod could be better

This is one of the most popular beginner telescopes and the PowerSeeker 127EQ has a very fast setup time with no need for tools. It is compact and easily transportable. It does come with an aluminium tripod over a steel one, but it is still of high quality and is sturdy.

This scope has a large 5" aperture, one of the largest you can get on a beginner scope. It will show excellent detailed shots of bright celestial bodies but also dimmer objects including every one of the 100 objects listed in the Messier Catalog. That is incredibly impressive for an instrument that sits around the $200 mark.

The biggest problem with this scope is, that once you've been teased with seeing incredible deep-sky objects, you'll likely have the urge to want even better views of them which would only be possible with a more expensive scope.

(Image credit: Orion)
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10. Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

A wide aperture drinks in the light and this telescope ships with two Barlow lenses for extended use

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Aperture: 4.5" (114.3 mm)
Focal length: 17.72" (450 mm)
Focal ratio: f/4.4
Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): 20x and 50x
Finderscope: EZ Finder II
Mount: Equatorial
Highest useful magnification: 228x

Reasons to buy

+
Everything you need is supplied
+
Wide aperture to collect lots of light

Reasons to avoid

-
Equatorial mount takes  getting used to
-
Comprehensive package may be too much for some

This is one of the best value scopes for under $500 and has everything you need to get going. It is great for those new to astronomy, but also with optics good enough, and a mirror big enough to provide years of sky-searching pleasure.

Two eyepieces are supplied; the 25mm gives 18x magnification and shows a large area of the sky making it easier to locate subjects; once you've found them you can switch to the 10mm eyepiece for a much closer (45x magnification) view. It has an equatorial mount which might take a bit of getting used to as it isn't as intuitive as an Alt-Az scope.

The package comes with a plethora of things designed to enhance sky-gazing enjoyment. A practical RedBeam mini LED flashlight which comes on a key-ring, and a Moon map to learn about features on the moon which you can then go on to find for yourself in real life. Also, a telescope observer's guide, a planisphere to see what constellations will be visible depending on the day you're observing and finally two Barlow lenses to double the magnifying power of the eyepieces. This is what makes this scope so attractive, it’s full of so many additional features and accessories that it should stand the test of time.

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