Budget telescopes under $500: Picks from Celestron, Meade and Orion

You can get plenty of good budget telescopes under $500, which will allow you to get into stargazing without emptying your bank account. You don’t have to limit yourself to a particular type of telescope, either, as you can easily get reflector, refractor or catadioptric telescopes at this price point. 

Most of the telescopes we’ve included below are best suited to beginners and children, as they’re easy to set up, quite portable, and undemanding when it comes to maintenance. For seasoned stargazers looking for models with higher specs, we recommend taking a look through our round-up of the best telescopes available in 2021. But if you’re simply looking for the best beginner telescopes or the best telescopes for kids, you’ll find plenty of options below. 

Be warned, though, that there aren’t quite as many Black Friday telescope deals around this year, so don’t expect to see $700 models that have been slashed to $450. Industry-wide shortages are affecting telescope production, so manufacturers don’t have as many spare models to sell. In fact, you’ll struggle to find certain popular models such as the Celestron NexStar 6SE even in stock in most places, as it’s backordered everywhere. 

However, as most of our chosen models are less than $500 anyway, they shouldn’t upset your bank balance too much. Here are our favorites that are currently in stock. 

Today’s best deals on budget telescopes under $500Budget telescopes under $500StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ deals

(Image credit: Celestron)

StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ

The light-gathering aperture on this reflector telescope makes it a great choice for viewing galaxies, nebulas and star clusters.

Optical design: Newtonian reflector | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 5.11″ (130 mm) | Focal length: 25.59″ (650 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 307x | Lowest useful magnification: 19x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 18 lbs. (8.16 kg)

Easy to assemble and align

Suggests targets to observe

Good intro to astrophotography

No motor drive

The wide 130mm aperture on this Newtonian reflector unit makes it a great option for viewing lots of different night sky targets, including galaxies, nebulae, planets and star clusters. It’s one of our favorite telescopes for beginners, as it works in conjunction with the StarSense app on your mobile phone. Simply download the app and mount your phone onto the scope, and you’ll be able to quickly identify night sky targets and navigate the stars.

It’s on a simple alt-azimuth mount, which is relatively straightforward to operate and move around, and we also found it quick to assemble. At 18lbs it’s fairly lightweight too, so you can pack it up and transport it easily. With a solid build and good quality optics, you’d be hard pushed to find a better option at this price point.

Today’s best Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ deals

StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ 

(Image credit: Celestron)

StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ

This easy-to-use refractor telescope links up with smartphone technology, making it a breeze to navigate the night sky.

Optical design: Achromatic refractor | Aperture: 4” (102 mm) | Focal length: 25” (660 mm) | Focal ratio: f/6.5 | Highest useful magnification: 240x | Lowest useful magnification: 16x | Total kit weight: 14.2 lbs. (6.44 kg) | Mount type: Alt-azimuth

Very easy and quick to find objects

Intuitive push-to method of homing in

Alignment procedure depends on a mirror, which collects dew

Instrument is stiff to move without slow motions

With a slightly smaller aperture than the 130AZ, this telescope won’t offer images that are quite as bright and sharp – and you might find it more difficult to get impressive images of faint deep sky objects. However, as this telescope is an achromatic reflector – rather than a Newtonian reflector – you won’t have to worry about collimating the mirrors. This can be a fiddly process and ruin your evening’s viewing if you get it wrong, which is why the 102AZ might be preferable for absolute beginners.

Again, this model works with the brilliant StarSense app, making it easy to navigate the skies when you’re stargazing. When active, the app can automatically generate the names of currently visible objects, so you know what you’re looking at. It’s lighter than the 130AZ too, at just 14.2lbs, so it’s even easier to move around in your backyard.

Today’s best StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ deals

Telescopes under $300Orion StarMax 90 Tabletop

(Image credit: Orion)

Orion StarMax 90 Tabletop

This grab-and-go telescope is great for views of the solar system and features decent optics for the price.

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain | Mount type: Dobsonian (desktop version) | Aperture: 3.54″ (90 mm) | Focal length: 49.21″ (1250 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 180x | Lowest useful magnification: 13x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 6.61 lbs. (3.0 kg) (desktop version)

Compact and easy to use

Sharp solar system views

Assembled out of the box

Lacks slow-motion controls

This is essentially a tabletop telescope, which means you don’t have to worry about setting up a tricky tripod in the dark to start stargazing. Instead, this compact unit can sit on your desk and you can use it as and when you please.

The telescope comes ready to use out of the box – so no assembly – and it offers a decent sized aperture and good quality optics for the price. There’s no color-fringing present, thanks to the Maksutov-Cassegrain design, and we were very impressed with the views that we achieved of objects like the lunar surface and Saturn’s rings. A great option for beginners or for older kids who are interested in astronomy.. 

Today’s best Orion StarMax 90mm Telescope deals

Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ 

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ

Impressively lightweight and easy to assemble

Optical design: Refractor | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 4.02″ (102 mm) | Focal length: 2.98″ (660 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 204x | Lowest useful magnification: 14x | Supplied eyepiece: 10 mm & 20 mm | Weight: 14.1 lbs. (6.4 kg)

Adjustable tripod

Easy to assemble

Very portable

Color fringing around bright targets

This no-frills refractor telescope has a decent-sized aperture and a lightweight, portable design. We did find when testing it that it suffers from color-fringing around bright targets like Jupiter and Saturn, but this is perhaps to be expected when you’re using a refractor, especially at this price point. It also offered stunning views of the atmospheric bands and the Cassini Division in Saturn’s rings, so we quickly forgave the telescope’s viewing faults.

It’s easy to operate, with a panining handle that allows you to sweep the night sky and slow-motion controls for fine movements. At 14.1lbs, it’s easy to maneuver around a backyard or dark camping spots. There’s no technology assistance here, though, so you’ll have to find your own way around the night sky. 

Today’s best Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ Telescope deals

Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ 

(Image credit: Orion)

Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

Solidly built, this telescope offers some clear and crisp wide-angle views.

Optical design: Reflector | Mount type: Equatorial | Aperture: 4.5″ (114.3 mm) | Focal length: 17.72″ (450 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 228x | Lowest useful magnification: 16x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm & 2x Barlow lens | Weight: 20.72 lbs. (9.4 kg)

Very good overall build

Handy add-ons included

Good optics

Mount could be a struggle for some beginners

Tripod needs an upgrade

This telescope has an impressively solid build. It comes with an equatorial mount, which can be tricky to master at first – we recommend playing around in the daytime before you try out night time viewing. Apart from this, though, it’s quick and easy to set-up. It also comes with an impressively long list of accessories: two eyepieces — a 10 mm and 25 mm, which offer magnifications of 18x and 45x — a 2x Barlow lens, Orion’s Star Target Planisphere and Telescope Observer’s Guide for planning your observations, a moon map, a red LED light to preserve your night vision and a red-dot finder. 

This reflector scope has a fast focal ratio of f/4, which means it offers a large field of view rather than a long focal length. When we tested the model, we turned the tube to the Pleiades (Messier 45) and achieved some dazzling views, with pin-sharp stars and only the faintest amount of coma.

Today’s best Orion Starblast II deals

Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector 

(Image credit: Orion)

Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector

A good aperture and easy to use, this is a perfect pick for younger astronomers.

Optical design: Reflector | Mount type: Dobson | Aperture: 4.49″ (114 mm) | Focal length: 17.72″ (450 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 228x | Lowest useful magnification: 16x | Supplied eyepieces: 6 mm, 17 mm | Weight: 13 lbs. (5.90 kg)

Great aperture for low budgets

Excellent optics with great clarity

Intuitive to use 

Small views, more eyepieces required

This Dobsonian telescope offers a great aperture of 114mm for its relatively low price. It’s a ready-to-use model, so perfect for young stargazers of those who don’t want to fiddle around with any kind of set-up. In addition to the main unit, when you purchase this telescope you’ll get Explorer II 6 mm and 17 mm eyepieces, EZ Finder II reflex sight finderscope, a collimation cap, an eyepiece rack and Starry Night Special Edition software.

It’s probably a bit heavy for really young kids to lug around, at 13lbs, but it does have the benefit of being incredibly intuitive to use. When we tested it out with the eyepieces, we achieved excellent views of the moon – but the scope really shone when we turned it on wider starfields, which were displayed in rich, contrasting views. 

Today’s best Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope deals

Celestron Inspire 100AZ  

(Image credit: Celestron )

Celestron Inspire 100AZ

This telescopes offers good views of planets, stars, galaxies and nebulas for a very reasonable price.

Optical design: Refractor | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 3.94″ (100 mm) | Focal length: 25.98″ (660 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 241x | Lowest useful magnification: 15x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 20 lbs. (9.07 kg)

Great range of accessories

Easy to assemble

Good intro to astrophotography

Slight false color in optics

This refractor telescope comes with plenty of accessories, including a smartphone adapter which will allow you to take images of the night sky. However, given that the refractor boasts a focal ratio of f6.5, you’re limited to short-exposure photography here. But it is a nice introduction into astrophotography, all the same.

We did experience some false color while testing out this telescope, but that can be resolved with some carefully selected eyepieces. Overall, this is definitely one we would suggest is for adult beginners, as tracking targets can be a little tricky without any kind of computerized aid. 

Today’s best Celestron Inspire 100AZ deals

Meade Instruments StarPro 102 

(Image credit: Meade Instruments )

Meade Instruments StarPro 102

A classic telescope that’s both simple to use and assemble

Optical design: Refractor | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 4.02″ (102 mm) | Focal length: 25.98″ (660 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 204x | Lowest useful magnification: 15x | Supplied eyepieces: 6.3 mm, 9 mm, 26 mm, 2x Barlow lens | Weight: 10.9 lbs. (4.94 kg)

Seamless night-sky tours

Easy assembly

Very good quality build

Lightweight mount

A classic telescope that’s easy to assemble and boasts a solid build, this is a nice option for older kids who want to do some stargazing. Again, there’s very little computerized aid here, so you’ll need to have some knowledge of the night sky to find your desired targets. But the slow-motion cables for fine movements make it easy to accurately lock onto an object.

When we tested it out with one of the included eyepieces, we were very impressed with the crisp views of stars and planets. Jupiter was particularly dazzling, but we also managed to get a faint view of Uranus. The latest iteration of this model comes with a smartphone adapter, for taking pictures through the eyepiece. It also comes with AutoStar Suite® Astronomer Edition Software – unfortunately, this comes on a DVD, rather than as a smartphone app, so it might not be that useful to all consumers.

Today’s best Meade Instruments Star Pro AZ 102 deals

Telescopes under $200Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ

A good pick for those starting out in astronomy and astrophotography.

Type: Reflector | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 4.49″ (114 mm) | Focal length: 39.37″ (1,000 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 269x | Lowest useful magnification: 16x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 10.41 lbs. (4.72 kg)

Simple to set up and align

Good intro to astrophotography

Suggests targets to observe

Lacks computerized mount

This reflector telescope boasts a fair-sized aperture and good quality optics, which is why we rank it as one of the best budget telescopes under $200. It works with the StarSense app, which you can download onto your phone to make navigating the night sky even easier. We also found that it took less than 20 minutes to set up, which is relatively quick for a telescope.

When we made use of the 10mm eyepiece, which comes with the telescope, we achieved pleasingly clear views of the moon, Venus and the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44). Moving between targets is easy – but you will have to do this manually, as no kind of computerized mount is provided. An excellent option for both beginners and intermediate stargazers who want a fuss-free bit of kit.

Today’s best Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 114AZ deals

Show More Deals

Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ 

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ

The best telescope for enthusiasts and beginners who want to upgrade

Optical design: Reflector | Mount type: Equatorial | Aperture: 5″ (127 mm) | Focal length: 39.37″ (1,000 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 300x | Lowest useful magnification: 18x | Supplied eyepieces: 4 mm, 20 mm, 3x Barlow | Weight: 22 lbs. (9.98 kg)

Excellent value package

Decent optics, with collimation

Very good overall build

Accessories not best quality

An excellent entry-level telescope, this reflector model boasts a powerful 127mm aperture and comes with an equatorial mount. As mentioned above, these mounts take a bit of getting used to, so we’d advise testing it out in the daytime before using it in the dark. That aperture should make it easier to spot deep sky targets.

It’s designed to be fairly portable, but at 22lbs you’re unlikely to want to put this in a backpack and carry it around. Instead, it’s a good telescope for keeping in the back of a car, should you want to set up in remote dark sky locations.

Today’s best Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ deals

Show More Deals

Orion Observer II 70 

(Image credit: Orion)

Orion Observer II 70

Impressive planetary views on a budget

Optical design: Refractor | Mount type: Equatorial | Aperture: 2.76″ (70 mm) | Focal length: 27.56″ (700 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 140x | Lowest useful magnification: 10x | Eyepieces supplied: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 11.0 lbs. (4.99 kg)

Good value for the money

Lightweight design

Clear solar system views  

Slight false color in optics

Tripod could be better

We were impressed with the views we could achieve with the refractor telescope. We were able to view Jupiter with its belts and moons, Saturn with its rings and, with the right eyepieces, even the tiny blue-turquoise disks of faraway Uranus and Neptune. At this price point, we were unsurprised to discover a degree of false color, but this didn’t ruin the viewing experience. We could even spot craters on the moon’s surface such as Copernicus and Tycho.

The main drawback with this telescope is that the accessories are of a low quality. If you want to improve the false color issues, you’ll need to buy separate eyepieces. And we’d also recommend a stronger tripod, as the one supplied isn’t particularly sturdy.

Today’s best Orion Observer II 70mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope Kit deals

Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ 

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ

A no-frills telescope that makes a good starter instrument for skywatchers aged seven years and up

Optical design: Refractor | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 2.76″ (70 mm) | Focal length: 3.54″ (900 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 165x | Lowest useful magnification: 10x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 20 mm | Weight: 11 lbs. (5.0 kg)

Good views of the solar system

Versatile, accepts accessories

Good overall build

Cheaply made star diagonal

Today’s best Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ telescope deals

Show More Deals

Another top pick for young observers, this refractor telescope has an easy-to-use alt-azimuth mount, which we found offered a smooth and pleasant viewing experience. There are quite a few plastic elements on this model, though, making it feel a little fragile; we’d recommend supervising younger kids around this slightly delicate telescope.

Observers will be treated to clear views of the moon, Venus and Jupiter through this telescope. With a bit of tweaking, we actually even managed to bring a hint of Jupiter’s cloud bands into clear view. The model comes with 10 mm and 20 mm eyepieces, an erect star diagonal as well as a battery-operated red dot finderscope. 

Telescopes under $100Celestron FirstScope 76

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron FirstScope 76

An easy-to-use option for the very young stargazer.

Optical design: Newtonian reflector | Aperture: 2.99″ (76 mm) | Focal length: 11.81″ (300 mm) | Focal ratio: f/3.95 | Eyepiece 1 focal length: 20 mm (15x) | Eyepiece 2 focal length: 4 mm (75x) | Total kit weight: 4.3 lbs. (1.95 kg) | Mount type: Dobsonian

Portable and robust

Easy to use

Fast focal ratio for easy observations of wide-angle targets

Loose focuser

Some observations lack clarity and detail

A challenge to collimate

Finderscope not supplied

This scope is usually priced at just under $60 – it’s a perfect gift for really young ones, as it’s robust and comes ready-to-use out of the box. At most, this model will offer views of the lunar surface and slightly deeper views of the broad night sky. It’s tricky to collimate as well, as the primary mirror isn’t adjustable, and it’s difficult to achieve pin-sharp sights through the field of view since the focuser tube is quite loose.

All that aside, this is something that will happily sit on a desktop or table and bring young viewers joy, as they achieve deeper views of the general night sky. If you’re after a little bit more bang for your buck, though, you might want to opt for a pair of the best binoculars for kids

Today’s best Celestron 76 mm Firstscope deals

Orion SpaceProbe II 76  

(Image credit: Orion)

Orion SpaceProbe II 76

Often advertised as a first telescope, this model boasts excellent light-gathering abilities for it’s incredibly low price.

Optical design: Reflector | Mount type: Alt-azimuth | Aperture: 2.99″ (76 mm) | Focal length: 27.56″ (700 mm) | Highest useful magnification: 152x | Lowest useful magnification: 11x | Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm | Weight: 7.05 lbs. (3.2 kg)

Good views for young skywatchers

Good build

Excellent range of accessories

Views are not pin-sharp

Assembly is a little fiddly

A reflector telescope that offers wide-field views but performs well with lunar and planetary observations, this is a good option for young stargazers too. It comes with everything a budding astronomer would need, including 10 mm and 25 mm Kellner eyepieces, a red dot finder and a moon map. That red dot finder is extra helpful, especially when star hopping under skies with a touch of light pollution.

At this price point, you can’t really expect views to be pin sharp, and we found attaching the tripod to the mount a bit fiddly. But at just over 7lb, this is a really lightweight bit of kit that will brighten up any camping trip with its fair views of planets and lunar craters.

Today’s best Orion SpaceProbe II deals

Round up of today’s best deals

Source: space.com