It came to my attention that the previous deal I posted
has gone up in price. This one is its bigger brother (80mm aperture), which is currently the best deal for a refractor telescope with some smartphone integration - it will help you aim at objects. There are apps that can help you point any scope, but they are not as sleek/simple to set up as the StarSense system, so the feature is worth it for quite a few people - especially a kid who is "fascinated" with phones
I am copying over the beginner guide from that thread, along with updates, so that it continues to be helpful and prevents people from buying some useless "telescopes" that are advertised (e.g. Amazon currently has specials on the PowerSeeker line, which is among the worst you can buy).
Let's look at some of the best values per price tier for all types of users, I will add a comment with suggestions about where to buy from at the price mentioned for those that don't have a link:up to £100:
up to £150:
- Celestron Astromaster LT70AZ (£99) - A 70mm refractor which I normally don't recommend over the Heritage 100P as it's been at £130+ for over a year now, but back at this price it is a solid choice. The tripod is not flimsy like other cheap refractors and it seems a lot of people/kids like the fact that it looks "more like a telescope" compared to mini dobsonians. I also prefer it over reflectors of up to 100mm/4" for planets (see near the bottom of post for more on that). There is also never a question of whether they underperform due to collimation issues (see bottom of post about that).
- Skywatcher Heritage 76 (£65) - A 76mm tabletop mini-dobsonian telescope. This is the absolute minimum telescope I'd ever recommend. If you don't have the budget, go for a pair of 8x40/7x50/10x50 binoculars instead (see here). It's not great for planets (will still beat binoculars of course), but quite good for wide angle views, despite it being limited by a spherical mirror.
- Skywatcher Heritage 100P (£129) - 100mm tabletop Dobsonian reflector. This is usually my beginner "budget" recommendation, with better performance on Deep Space Objects compared to the 70mm refractors like the Astromaster above and a true parabolic mirror. It's easy to use just put it on a table and point, if you don't enjoy this, you will probably not enjoy telescopes in general (at least classic ones).
- Zhumell Z100 (£104) - It is basically the same as the Heritage 100P, but it is missing the 2x barlow lens (for close-ups of planets and moon craters) and has a bit worse eyepieces. So the Heritage is worth the extra, but the Zhumell has free next day delivery
The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 70AZ is back up to £169 so it is not a good value anymore given the Lt 80AZ.up to £200:
up to £300:
- Skywatcher Heritage 130P Flextube (£195) - A bigger tabletop dobsonian. This is a favourite among amateur astronomers as it has over 60% more light-gathering ability than the 100P (great if you have access to dark skies), while being as easy to transport with the collapsible flex-tube system. The flextube has a drawback - if there is stray light around (e.g. urban/suburban environment), it will mess with the view in the eyepiece, so you might want to construct a "shroud" for it (people use yoga mats as material etc).
- Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ (£178) - The title deal, it's the bigger brother of the Starsense 70AZ, with 30% more light gathering ability. At this price it's a no brainer for just £9 over its little brother.
up to £500
- Skywatcher Heritage 150P Flextube (£255) - The biggest of the "tabletop" dobsonians. Some amateur astronomers consider 150mm/6" to be the "minimum" aperture for enjoying deep space objects (galaxies, nebulae, globular clusters etc). I find thresholds silly, but this "fits the bill" at a further 33% more light gathering than the 130P. Still has the "shroud" issue like the 130P.
- Celestron Astromaster 130EQ /w Motor Drive (£219) - While most people (and beginners) prefer the simplicity of dobsonians, the equatorial mounts that can track the stars as the earth rotates, are my preference. They require some setup (assembly usually, plus some polar alignment so that the main axis points to the north celestial pole), but will then allow you the convenience of setting circles and automatic tracking of objects. This will help for some astrophotography too (easier planetary, plus piggyback wide-field with a camera lens). "Old school" scope, no instant gratification here - but I personally prefer equatorial mounts myself for their abilities.
- Sky-Watcher SkyHawk-1145PS AZ-GTe (£299) - This is one of the cheapest computerised (GoTo) telescopes you can buy. You obviously pay "more" for "less" of an actual telescope, but, after an alignment process, you select an object on your smartphone and it will just point to it.
- Sky-Watcher Star Discovery 90i WiFi (£329) - A nice 90mm refractor on a GoTo mount. Despite the smaller aperture than the SkyHawk 114, this being a refractor has a few advantages that make it worth the price (better contrast on planets, no collimation, better eye placement etc).
- Celestron NexStar 127 SLT Mak (£464) - This is a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope which I would say specialises in planets (especially for photography) and needs no collimation. The SLT is an old style goto mount (you control it from a handset), that is also is less sturdy than the Discovery (and the expensive NexStar SE of course), so its greatest weakness is vibrations. When I used one, I fixed the issues by adding a 5kg weight hanging from the accessory tray and anti-vibration pads (for hard surfaces - for softer surfaces you don't need them). If you want the telescope on a similar but more modern and Wi-Fi capable mount you could look at the Sky-Watcher SkyMax-127 AZ GTi instead, but it's currently a bit over £500.
- SkyWatcher Heritage 150P Flextube Virtuoso GTi (£399) - For an extra ~150 over the price of the basic Heritage 150P you can add computerised/goto capability, so it becomes the biggest goto under £500.
- SkyWatcher 200P Dobsonian (£389) - This is a "classic" dobsonian, also called a "light bucket" - you just set it on the ground (preferably under very dark skies) and push it to point at things. It is a favourite for amateur astronomers that are not interested in photography or goto, just want the most light gathering ability for the money. It is bulky, but requires no setup. I would not recommend it as a first telescope for a beginner, but it's here for comparison purposes, as it is by definition a good value for its optical ability.
I hope this is clear. If you have questions about scope types, other advice, more expensive setups etc, take a look at this slide deck
from back when I was giving the buying guide talk at my local astro club (good idea to join one if you can). The prices are old (and no newer models), but the information is sound and helpful.
Another helpful article is a comparison I did (with photos) of how various telescopes compare when viewing/photographing a planet
(I also did a comparison for terrestrial viewing
- less relevant if you want just astro)
I also mentioned that you can add Push-to abilities (smartphone assisted object finding) to any manual telescope. You can do that by mounting your smartphone on the scope (e.g. an eyepiece holder/adaptor or other means) and using e.g. Astrohopper.
For those with an iPhone there is also Polar Scope Align Pro
which does it in what I consider a sleeker way.
Disclaimer: I developed that app, but as it is my hobby, and not my business, you can just pm me for a free code (the free version
is mainly for polar alignment of equatorial mounts, so won't do the push-to). Oh, and you'll need good weather app, as clouds will stop any telescope. Why not try my free (no ads) Xasteria Weather
app for forecasts for astronomers (along with ISS passess etc).
One more note as I was asked, some scopes require the alignment of their mirrors (collimation). From the above telescopes, the refractors don't require it and the small reflectors (Heritage 76/100, Zhumell 100) should also come factory collimated (their primary mirror is fixed). For the others it's possible to need to go through the process to get them to perform well, which is not hard, but for a beginner it's best to visit an astronomical society where members can assist. The way to tell a telescope requires collimation is to focus on a reasonably bright star, then start slowly defocusing - you should see a symmetric pattern of rings of light. Big asymmetry means collimation is needed.