Our Top Pick for 2017: Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright XLT GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain 2800mm Telescope
Read our full review.
Owning a telescope is something children as well as adults have dreamed of for hundreds of years. The desire to take a look at the stars to see what’s in the universe the Earth is a part of has been ingrained in the human consciousness for centuries and finally came to fruition about four hundred years ago. Today technological breakthroughs, including computerized components, make viewing the stars and planets an exciting possibility for millions of backyard astronomers. Choosing the right telescope may appear to be a daunting task, but with the right preparation, it can give you hundreds of hours of enjoyment.
One of the most valuable benefits a telescope offers is the chance for you and your children to learn more about the solar system. As conversation turns towards the goal of sending a manned mission to Mars, the planets, stars and other bodies in the heavens are becoming more important to schoolchildren as well as to their parents. In addition to the extra knowledge your kids gain while observing the stars through a telescope, you also have the chance to spend special quality time with them. Stargazing is a special hobby you can share with your children and one that can be passed on to their children at the right time.
#1. Celestron CPC 1100 StarBright XLT GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain 2800mm Telescope
View it on Amazon: $2,999.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Celestron CPC StarBright XLT GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain 2800mm Telescope is one of the more expensive telescopes on the market, but its features make this telescope an excellent choice for beginners as well as more experienced amateur astronomers. The Celestron CPC retails for $2,999, but before you go into sticker shock, consider the wealth of features it offers.
The Celestron CPC is an 11-inch diffraction limited Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope manufactured to provide images of objects in the night sky that live up to its advertised ability to give the best angular resolution possible. The scope’s aperture length is 280 mm, giving it a focal length of 2800 mm, one of the largest among the affordable telescopes on the market today. The telescope’s altazimuth mount is a dual-fork arm that is completely computerized. The scope features NexStar technology and GPS alignment thanks to computer control that makes viewing the sky a pleasure rather than a chore. The Celestron CPC weighs a combined 65 pounds when both the scope and tripod are factored in, so it is somewhat heavy to move around, but users say that it’s well designed ergonomically so that lifting and moving it isn’t as difficult as it could be. The telescope’s highest useful magnification is 661x, and its lowest useful magnification is 40x. Its light-gathering power is 1600x.
NexRemote telescope control software package
One of the best features of the Celestron CPC is its NexRemote Telescope Control Software package. The software permits you to control the telescope’s features from your personal computer, allowing you to access special features and personalize each stargazing session. The NexRemote software package features a database of objects in the night sky, the ability to connect to planetarium programs and even a hibernation mode. You can program user objects as you prefer to create customized tours of the galaxy. If you wish, you can choose a voice-activated feature of the NexRemote package, which offers speech support that provides audio instructions and commentary.
Internal GPS receiver
The Celestron CPC telescope’s internal GPS receiver provides automatically downloaded date, time and location based on satellite coordinates. Finding objects in the night sky is easy thanks to the 16 channels available on the internal GPS receiver with nine slew speeds. After the GPS has determined its position based on date, time and location, backyard astronomers find it easy to find objects with the telescope’s SkyAlign system.
SkyAlign technology alignment system
It couldn’t any easier to find the objects you’d like to view in the night sky using the Celestron CPC’s SkyAlign system. The instructions are incredibly easy: simply point the telescope at three bright objects in the night sky to accomplish alignment. An even easier two-object alignment process is available. If you’d rather not wait for total darkness, you can align the scope at dusk by using the moon or a bright planet. You can even align the Celestron CPC for daytime viewing if that is what you’d prefer.
Celestron is known for its StarBright coatings, an optical coating system that is said to be the best in the commercial telescope industry. An optical coating helps reduce light lost through telescope lenses and other optical surfaces. With the best coatings and materials possible used for optical surfaces and lenses, the loss of light can be reduced to just a small percentage. Common coatings lose around 12 to 15 percent of the light they collect, meaning that they reflect back about between 86 to 88 percent of the light. The Celestron StarBright XLT coating, on the other hand, reflects up to 95 percent of the light it collects. Additionally, the Celestron StarBright XLT coating enhances both visual observing by backyard astronomers and astrophotography using the Celestron CPC.
Closely related to the coatings of the mirrors and lenses is the light-gathering capacity of the telescope. The size of the scope’s main lens or mirror directly impacts the amount of light it collects, which in turn makes faint objects appear brighter. The Celestron CLC telescope boasts a light-gathering capacity that is 1593 times more than that of the human eye, thus allowing you to view objects through the scope that they’d never have the opportunity to see otherwise.
Celestial object database
The Celestial object database that’s a part of the Celestron CLC package includes over 40,000 different types of objects. Messier objects, planets, nebulae, NGC Galaxies and Caldwell Catalog objects can be viewed more easily thanks to the database that can help you find them more easily. The database can be manipulated to limit results to the types of objects or their location through filtering options.
Reviews of the Celestron CLC make special mention of its performance as an astrophotography telescope. Wedges and CCD cameras, which are add-ons to the telescope, make it one of the best on the market. The Celestron CLC’s two-year warranty is also mentioned as much better than that of many other telescope manufacturers.
Reviewers who have purchased the Celestron CLC generally agree that it’s one of the best, if not the best, commercially available telescopes for amateur astronomers. The optics, GPS receiver and extensive celestial object database are a few of the features most appreciated by reviewers. The size and weight of the telescope and its price are seen as a drawback by some reviewers, but many others feel these factors could be overlooked based on the scope’s overall benefits.
Some reviewers have mentioned that they received telescopes that were damaged in transit or were defective due to smudging on lenses or corrector plates. Some customers have been able to get these issues resolved, while others say that it has taken Celestron an inordinately long time to resolve them. Other reviewers claimed that the SkyAlign GPS system is practically unusable in areas with nearby hills, mountains or tall buildings. The majority of Celestron CPC 1100 reviewers, however, state that they are glad they purchased this telescope.
#2. Orion 27191 StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope
View it on Amazon: $499.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Orion 27191 StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope is an unusual type of telescope in that it is a tabletop model rather than a scope that mounts on a tripod. It’s rated as an excellent telescope for beginning stargazers thanks to its six-inch aperture that makes it capable of gathering a large amount of light for viewing deep-sky objects.
The Orion StarBlast 6i weighs in at just over 23 pounds, making it one of the lighter weight telescopes available to amateur astronomers who want to quickly pick up their scope and go to the great views, wherever they are. The scope’s tabletop base can be used on a sturdy table, the hood of a car or the back of a pickup truck, or on a stairwell. While the Orion StarBlast 6i is a tabletop model, it does come with a tripod as well. The scope’s minimum magnification comes in at 21x. The telescope retails for $500.
Computerized Object Locator (COL)
Finding objects you’d like to view in the night sky is easy with the Orion StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Computerized Object Locator (COL). The COL helps you, whether you’re a new or an experienced backyard astronomer, easily locate night sky objects once a simple star alignment process has been completed. The COL provides direction arrows that are easy to see on its liquid-crystal display which will help you find and then center objects in your field of view. Buttons are illuminated to help stargazers choose the type of objects you’d prefer to view, either by categories such as planets, galaxies or nebulae or by star catalog number. Amateur astronomers who aren’t as interested in specific objects can choose to take tours of objects that are at their best at different months or seasons of the year. As a stargazer you can learn about the objects you’re viewing, including their names and types, the constellations in which they’re found and similar information.
The six-inch aperture provides precise views of bright nearby planets such as Saturn, Mars and Jupiter while the telescope’s 750mm focal length offers some impressive contrasting views of galaxies, star clusters and other deep-sky objects.
Eyepieces and other features
In addition to the Computerized Object Locator, the Orion StarBlast 6i telescope comes with two different eyepieces. An astronomer can choose between the 25mm Sirius Plossl 1.25-inch telescope eyepiece or the 10mm Sirius Plossl 1.25″ telescope eyepiece. The Orion scope also includes an EZ Finder II aiming device and an eyepiece rack. Starry Night software, which features a user-friendly interface, sky guide and three-dimensional models of star and exoplanets, is also part of the Orion StarBlast 6i package.
Although the Orion StarBlast 6i uses the Computerized Object Locator, its movement is done manually by the user. The directional arrows do help with the movement, but reviewers recommend becoming well acquainted with the telescope and its movement before the IntellScope function is used. For the IntelliScope function to become fully operational, you must first calibrate it using two stars that you choose.
Reviewers who have purchased the Orion StarBlast 6i rate it as an excellent starter or even intermediate telescope for stargazers just beginning to learn about the nighttime sky. While the telescope won’t easily bring faint deep-sky objects into view, it’s an excellent scope for bright planets and moons. One reviewer reported that he was able to easily view Jupiter and three of its brightest moons.
One of the drawbacks of the Orion StarBlast 6i is the difficulty reviewers say they had in assembling the telescope once it had arrived. In particular, some reviewers cited the challenge of putting together the telescope’s base, although information had indicated that the base was supposed to be fully assembled before it was shipped to customers. However, reviewers noted in general that assembly instructions were clear. The IntelliScope feature of the Orion StarBlast 6i was also mentioned in particular as being rather difficult to assemble. Other reviewers mentioned the importance of choosing an extremely sturdy table with no wobble on which to use the scope to view night sky objects to prevent shaking and jarring which negatively impacts the viewing experience. Overall, however, reviewers recommend the Orion StarBlast 6i as a good starter or intermediate telescope for amateur astronomers.
#3. Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope
View it on Amazon: $1,198.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Like its big brother, the Celestron CPC 1100, the Celestron NexStar 8 SE Telescope has an excellent reputation as a top-of-the-line Schmidt-Cassegrain scope. The telescope weighs about 33 pounds and costs $1199 retail. Celestron offers a two-year limited warranty on the Celestron NexStar 8 telescope, one of the best warranties available for scopes sold to astronomy hobbyists. It’s recommended for more experienced backyard astronomers rather than for those just starting out as hobbyists.
With the Celestron NexStar 8, you can view almost all kinds of celestial objects, both those nearby and others in deeper space. The Celestron NexStar 8 has the ability to provide, excellent, sharp and up-close views of nebulae, star clusters and planets. The Celestron NexStar 8 features a 203 mm aperture, 2032 mm focal length and f/10 focal ratio. The scope’s highest usable magnification is 480x, while the magnification minimum is 29x.
Celestron’s database of almost 40,000 objects gives backyard astronomers the opportunity to use the telescope’s “go-to” feature to find the object of their choice in the night sky with the help of the Celestron NexStar 8’s StarPointer finderscope. You have the option of choosing an internal CN-16 GPS connection that can be paired with a GPS system which is not included with the telescope.
One of the special features of the Celestron NexStar 8 telescope is its altazimuth mount that is controlled by a computer. Additionally, the scope’s Star Diagonal flip mirror lets you choose whether you’d prefer to view the night sky straight on or at a 90-degree angle.
The Celestron NexStar 8 has a 25mm eyepiece included as part of its standard equipment, but reviewers recommend adding higher-resolution eyepieces like the 32mm Plossl eyepiece. The Celestron NexStar 8 has an extra Accessory Kit that provides additional eyepieces as well as color filters and a 2x Barlow lens.
Reviewers who have purchased and used the Celestron NexStar 8 nearly universally cite the telescope’s excellent optics as one of the reasons they chose to purchase it. The visibility, reviewers say, is superb even in areas with severe light pollution. The scope’s magnification and light-gathering capabilities are also mentioned as part of the scope’s strengths. The StarPointer finderscope might take some time to align, reviewers say, but once it is aligned it works as advertised.
A few of the drawbacks of the Celestron NexStar 8 cited by reviewers include the noise of the motors, although some say that it is rather easy to ignore. Of more concern was the vibration that occurs as the scope is focused, due primarily to the fact that the telescope utilizes a single-fork arm rather than a double-fork arm. Vibration suppression pads can help stargazers overcome this problem. The problem cited most often is the problem with drift in the gears that align the telescope. Reviewers report that the alignment seems to drift easily, particularly when a backyard astronomer manually adjusts the motor. Reviewers report that with experimentation using the scope’s motors, drift can be minimized. Another common complaint from reviewers is that the batteries needed to run the Celestron NexStar 8 (8 AA batteries) must be replaced much more quickly than expected.
Reviewers in general, however, cite the Celestron NexStar 8 telescope as a good scope for the more advanced backyard astronomer. Reviewers also mentioned the excellent customer service Celestron offers to anyone who needs to replace a piece of the telescope that has been broken or damaged in transit.
#4. Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm AZ Refractor Telescope
View it on Amazon: $156.80*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Designed to introduce backyard astronomers to the hobby, the Meade Instruments Infinity 80mm AZ Refractor Telescope is a good scope for viewing both celestial and terrestrial objects. The telescope, which sells for $160 retail, weighs in at just 11 pounds and has an aperture of 80 mm and a focal length of 400 mm.
Eye pieces and tracking options
Although the Meade Infinity 80mm is not a “go-to” telescope, its altazimuth mount makes it easy for stargazers to control the scope and track objects through the sky without easily losing them. The telescope offers a red dot finder to help stargazers more easily find and focus on planets, the moon or even nebulae or star clusters. Three different eye pieces are part of the Meade Infinity 80mm telescope package: a 6.3mm eyepiece, a 9 mm eyepiece and a 26 mm eyepiece. A 2x Barlow lens increases by two the magnification of the lens being used on the telescope.
The Meade Infinity 80mm telescope a DVD containing AutoStar Suite Astronomy Software DVD for Windows that helps backyard astronomers map out the night sky at their location. Databases include the locations of the most popular planets, stars and other objects stargazers prefer to view. It’s easy for backyard astronomers to download information on stars, planets and other objects onto their laptop computers.
The Meade Infinity 80mm telescope has a reputation as being very easy to assemble. It’s ready to go almost directly from the shipping box. One of its primary benefits is its right-side-up viewing, which makes it a very useful viewing tool during daylight hours.
Reviewers say that the Meade Infinity 80mm is one of the best telescopes on the market today with which to start both children and adults new to the hobby of astronomy. A DVD included with the telescope helps backyard astronomers set up the scope and begin their journey as amateur stargazers. Reviewers who bought the telescope for their children mentioned that the price is attractive for parents or grandparents who want to introduce children to astronomy but aren’t sure the hobby will stick.
A drawback most frequently mentioned by reviewers is the excess amount of shaking the telescope exhibits. Its tripod reportedly is not at all sturdy. Other reviewers commented that learning how to use the scope was rather difficult. Several reviewers stated that they had not received the correct eyepieces for the telescope in their orders. This problem was generally resolved to customers’ satisfaction. As a beginner’s telescope, the Meade Infinity 80mm gets high marks from the majority of the reviewers who have used it.
Experienced stargazers know that there are three basic types of telescopes, but amateurs and even more experienced telescope users can benefit from a reminder.
The most basic type of telescope is the refractor telescope. This scope is a sturdy, basic model that uses a large lens at the front of the scope to direct light through a mirror to the eyepiece at the back of the telescope. While this type of scope is easy to use and needs little to no maintenance, it isn’t as sophisticated as a reflector or a compound telescope.
A reflector telescope uses two mirrors in its tube to gather reflected light, one located at the front of the tube and the second located just in front of the eyepiece. The additional mirror helps collect even more reflected light, making it easier to view faint objects with a reflector telescope than it is to see them through a refractor scope. The reflector scope generally gives a high-quality image and is smaller and lighter weight than a refractor telescope. However, it does require more maintenance because the tube is open rather than closed, meaning that dust can collect and interfere with viewing.
Today a compound telescope is the most sophisticated of the telescopes available to the astronomy hobbyist. The compound scope, like the reflector telescope, makes use of two mirrors, one placed next to the scope’s lens at its opening and the other placed adjacent to the eyepiece. Unlike the reflector telescope, however, the compound scope, also known as a “Schmidt-Cassegrain”, or catadioptric scope, is completely enclosed, preventing dust buildup. The compound telescope can be used to view faint objects as a reflector scope does, but it’s also recommended as the best telescope to use for astrophotography. This is generally the most expensive of the three types of telescopes.
The reasons you’re interested in purchasing the telescope will help guide you in buying the right type and model. If you or your child are just getting started in viewing the solar system, a compound Schmidt-Cassegrain scope is likely more instrument than you can handle. You’d be better off choosing a more basic reflector or even a refractor telescope with which you can learn to view the night (or even daytime) sky. However, if you’re a more experienced hobbyist who wants to take long-exposure photographs, the compound scope is the best choice for you. If you prefer a telescope that requires next to no maintenance, a reflector telescope should be your first choice.
Once you’ve determined how you’d like to use your telescope, it’s time to look at the other features that will help make your stargazing experience the best possible experience it can be. These features will impact the way you view the objects on which you focus your telescope.
Aperture describes the size of the mirror or the lens used in the telescope. Measured as diameter, the aperture tells you how much light will enter the scope, which has a direct effect on how well you’ll be able to see faint objects in the sky. A larger aperture allows more light into the scope. The aperture is the single most important factor you’ll need to consider when buying your telescope after you’ve determined which kind of scope you’d prefer.
The focal point of any telescope is the place at which the parallel lines of light rays that pass through the lens or mirror meet together in one place. The distance from the lens or mirror to the focal point is called the focal length, and it impacts the size of the objects you’ll view through the scope. A longer focal length makes objects appear larger. For the best viewing experience, experts recommend choosing the telescope you can afford that has the largest possible aperture and the longest focal length.
Magnification, as the term implies, also determines how large the objects are that you’re viewing through your telescope. The focal length of the telescope, of course, is very important, but magnification is also impacted by the eyepiece on your telescope. While the focal length is fixed, you can change the eyepiece of the scope, making it possible to change its magnification abilities more easily.
Many telescopes today include computer controls that make stargazing much easier than it was before computers. The controls allow you to find celestial objects easily by pointing the telescope at the proper point in the sky. Some backyard astronomers still prefer finding planets and stars manually with their scopes, but computer controls make the hobby so much easier for the beginner.
The mount is a basic but extremely important component of the telescope. It doesn’t just lift the telescope off the ground, but also prevents the scope from shaking or vibrating while it’s in use. A good mount also helps the telescope move as smoothly as possible as you move it carefully in nearly infinitesimal increments to keep objects centered in the scope’s eyepiece. Dobsonian mounts are the most basic telescope mounts available that basically keep the scope steady and moving smoothly. Today, many scope mounts are motorized and computerized, which is especially helpful if you’re interested in astrophotography. Backyard astronomers interested solely in viewing the stars rather than photographing them can choose between an equatorial mount that tracks objects without needing a computer but aren’t necessarily very stable, or altazimuth mounts, which are the most popular types of mounts now in use. The newest kinds of mounts, go-to mounts, more easily find night sky objects by using altitude and azimuth connected to computers containing databases listing the coordinates of hundreds of objects, which means that the mount finds the object for you.
Accessories can range from finder scopes that help you zoom in on objects you want to view to light pollution reduction (LPR) lenses and a power supply for the times when you want to observe the stars in an area without a steady power supply of its own. Star charts, lights suitable for nighttime viewing and color filters manufactured specifically for astronomical viewing and photography are some of the other accessories that will make backyard astronomy hobby a pleasure for you and your family.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
Finding the right telescope for yourself or your child will take some research. Whether you’re a serious amateur astronomer looking to upgrade your equipment or you want to introduce a family member to the hobby you love, you’ll need to take the time to find the telescope that best meets your needs. When you’ve finally decided on a telescope, you can begin anticipating the exciting wonders you and your family members will see once you start using the telescope to view the night sky.