Our Top Pick for 2018: Meade Instruments Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor Telescope
Read our full review.
Trying to understand the world of telescopes can be overwhelming. There are different types and each has different apertures, focal lengths, and magnification. Finding a quality telescope under $200 comes down to understanding what these terms mean and why they are valuable.
It is important to know what kind of viewing you plan to do. Do you plan to do deep-sky observing or more close range planetary observations? Where you live will also help determine what kind of telescope is going to work best for you. Those who live in areas with large amounts light pollution may need a different telescope than those living in the dark of a rural area. Once you’ve taken these things into consideration, you’ll be able to find a telescope that allows you to get the best viewing for the type of observing you plan to do.
#1. Meade Instruments Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor Telescope
The Meade Instruments Infinity 102mm AZ Refractor Telescope (Meade) is a good quality telescope made by a company well known for the excellence of their products.
The Meade is a refractor telescope. The lens at the front of a refractor telescope gathers the light to create an image. That light is then focused onto a mirror that sends the image to the eyepiece. With this particular telescope, the image is not reversed or upside down, making it easier to view.
The recommended model has an aperture of 102mm, which will provide you with excellent image clarity. Aperture is the diameter of the lens or mirror, sometimes called the objective, used to collect light. This telescope comes in several other aperture options, each with varying prices. Be sure to choose a telescope with an aperture of at least 70mm, any aperture smaller than this may produce a blurry image, which can quickly discourage the casual observer.
A telescope with this aperture is powerful enough to allow you to see both land and celestial bodies. Refractor telescopes such as this can see through some light pollution. Light pollution must be taken into consideration if you live in an urban area. Some types of telescopes do better than others in this kind of environment.
The Meade comes with an Altazimuth mount. This type of mount moves up and down as well as right to left. It moves slowly so as to allow you to track celestial bodies without losing sight of them. However, this mount has a unique adjustment feature that uses nobs to slowly adjust the mount. When making fine adjustments to viewing, you’ll be able to do so with slow accuracy. An accessory tray is included on the mount. You can store writing utensils, charts, or extra eyepieces.
While magnification is not the most important feature in a telescope, it is one that you want to consider. The Meade comes with three different eyepieces – low, medium, and high. Replacing the eyepiece will change the magnification of the viewed object although the aperture still controls how clearly you see it.
The Meade also comes with a 2x Barlow lens. A Barlow lens can be used in conjunction with any one of the included lenses. First, you put in the Barlow lens and then attach any one of the included lenses and it increases the magnification by 2x. It gives you greater magnification than the eyepiece alone.
A red dot viewfinder will help you target the object you want to observe. Targeting a potential object can be a difficult task, especially if you are new to viewing through a telescope. With this viewfinder, you point the red dot at the object you want to view and it helps you made the correct adjustments for viewing. The combination of the Altazimuth mount and viewfinder gives you the necessary tools to find the objects for which you are looking.
Included with the Meade is the AutoStar Suite Astronomer Edition software on DVD. The DVD includes information for 10,000 celestial objects. It has information about nebulas, galaxies, planets, and comets. You can print charts to help you in your viewing sessions. While this software is useful, there are other programs and websites that provide similar information if this DVD isn’t what you are looking for. There is some assembly required but most users have been able to put the telescope together without trouble. Viewing can begin almost immediately.
#2. Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope
The Celestron 127 EQ PowerSeeker (Celestron) Telescope is a different kind of telescope that provides clear images and good magnification. The Celestron is a reflector telescope, which differs in design to the refractor telescope.
A reflector telescope uses a mirror placed at the back of the telescope to focus and reflect the image to another mirror. This second mirror then reflects the image into the eyepiece. Telescopes of this design are good for deep-sky observing in dark skies. They do not work well in a light polluted area, making them less practical for those in highly populated areas.
With an aperture of 127mm (5in.), you will have excellent image clarity. Being able to see sharp images will make the experience of viewing celestial bodies worthwhile. You will be able to see details that a smaller aperture would cause you to miss. With the 127mm aperture, you’ll be able to get a good view of both celestial and terrestrial objects.
The Celestron has erect image optics, which means that when objects are viewed they are right side up. This makes viewing much easier for children and first-time users. Ease of use and viewing are top considerations for a telescope in this price range.
There are two eyepieces included, a 50x and 250x magnification. Magnification is not as important as aperture but having a couple of eyepieces with differing magnifications allows you a greater range of viewing options. A 3x Barlow lens is also included. Once the Barlow lens is attached you can place either the 50x or 250x lens on it and get three times the magnification.
All optical components are made of glass with high transmission coatings. These coatings enhance image brightness and clarity. Glass components provide the clearest images. When low-quality components are involved they can easily be scratched, decreasing viewing ability.
The Celestron comes with a German equatorial mount. This type of mount is designed to compensate for the Earth’s rotation. The mount can use coordinates to locate celestial objects. You must use polar alignment to get the scope set properly. Once this is done, you can use it to slowly follow objects through the sky by using slow motion nob or attaching a separate motor. The mount also has a small accessory tray to hold the eyepieces while you are using them.
The SkyX – First Light Edition software is included. It has 10,000 object database to help you find and track objects. Information can be printed to allow you to take charts along with you if you are traveling for an unobstructed view.
No extra tools are necessary for setup or assembly. Learning to use the equatorial mount can be tricky if you’ve never used one before but most users could figure it out with the help of the provided manual. There is a 2-year warranty on the telescope in the case of defective components.
#3. Celestron AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector Telescope
The Celestron 31042 AstroMaster 114 EQ Reflector Telescope (AstroMaster) is another good telescope by Celestron. As a reflector telescope, it uses a series of mirrors to collect the necessary light to view a quality image.
This telescope has a modified Newtonian design. The tube is only 18 inches long while having a short focal length with built in corrector lenses, yet it has an effective focal length of 1000mm (40 in.). This makes it a good size for a beginning telescope because it is small enough to be easily handled.
The aperture of 114mm will give you good clear images. In comparison, the 114mm aperture gathers three times the light than an aperture of 60mm.
The AstroMaster includes two eyepieces with 50x and 100x magnification along with a built on Starpointer scope. This red dot scope provides you with enhanced ability to locate objects. The light is bright enough to use during the day as well as night. Finding the objects you are looking for can be one of the biggest challenges of stargazing. Using this kind of scope allows you to keep the sky right side up when trying to find objects.
While most users find using this scope helpful for finding objects, there are others that have found it difficult to work correctly. Be sure to consult the user’s manual to be sure you understand how to operate the scope. Eliminating the frustration of learning how to use your equipment will help you to relax and enjoy viewing without distraction.
The AstroMaster comes with a German equatorial mount. Equatorial mounts take into account the rotation of the Earth. Polar alignment is necessary before it can be used properly but once this is done you can use coordinates to locate objects. This mount also has setting circles to aid in tracking.
A tripod with 1.25 in. steel legs is connected to the mount and comes preassembled. The steel legs give a steady, stable base for the telescope. Telescopes that come with a mount are a good choice because the mount is designed specifically for a telescope. Using camera tripods that are not made to accommodate the weight and unique design of a telescope can often tip over, damaging the telescope.
The tripod has a deluxe accessory tray to hold eyepieces, writing utensils, or charts. Having storage on the tripod frees up your hands to make fine-tuned adjustments to the scope and telescope. Onboard storage isn’t necessary but it is definitely a nice feature.
All the glass components are specially coated to make images clear. Coatings increase the transmission of light as it enters the telescope. This gives a low, flat reflectance to the objects being viewed.
The AstroMaster also comes with the SkyX – first light edition software. With a 10,000 object database, you’ll be able to research objects you are viewing or look them up before you begin. There are also 75 enhanced images included. This kind of software is helpful. If you find that this program doesn’t work well for you, there are other software programs or websites that can help you in locating objects.
It also comes with a two-year telescope warranty on any defective parts.
This is a good telescope for a beginner. The challenges with it involve learning to use the scope and mount. If you have patience and give yourself a little time, this telescope will let you see good clear images.
#4. Orion GoScope 80mm TableTop Refractor Telescope
The Orion GoScope 80mm TableTop Refractor Telescope (Orion) is a highly portable telescope that has a good enough aperture to show you clear images. This telescope comes with a table top mount feature so that it is easy to use. This mount can be attached to a camera tripod. Be aware that many camera tripods are not sturdy enough for a telescope. Be sure to find one that can not only handle the weight of the telescope but its unique shape and size.
An aperture of 70mm is really as low as you can go and still get good crisp images. With an aperture of 80mm, you’ll be able to see objects well with little to no blurring. The 80mm telescope collects 70% more light than a 60mm telescope of similar size.
The Orion includes the EZ Finder II red dot sight. The scope must first be aligned with the telescope. After that, it can be used to locate objects such as the moon or planets. A circular viewing window and red dot make lining the telescope up with the viewing object easier.
There are two eyepieces included to increase magnification. A 20mm eyepiece gives 17.5x magnification that is best suited for deep-sky observing. The 10mm eyepiece provides 35x magnification and can be used to view objects such as the moon and its craters.
A 90 degree diagonal also comes with the Orion. This diagonal bends the light so that viewing is easier. To get the correct angle to view certain objects requires putting the telescope in positions that are difficult to look at through the eyepiece. The bendable diagonal keeps you from having to contort to see the images clearly. It even allows you to view objects from a sitting position.
The Orion also has adjustable altitude tension that allows you to set how fast or slow the telescope can be moved when viewing. Slow adjustment is a desirable feature in a telescope. Once you’ve located an object, keeping it in your view can be a challenge. Quick jerking movements or adjustments that are too fast can make you lose the object in your viewer.
The Orion uses an internal focuser. Most telescopes focus by using nobs to move the eyepiece back and forth until the image is focused. The Orion moves the objective lens within the telescope to focus the image.
Starry Night Special Edition software is included with the telescope. This software helps you to understand what you are seeing and how to better view through a telescope. It also teaches you telescope control.
Refractor telescopes like the Orion do well in light polluted areas. This particular model is small and portable. It would work well if you want to be able to take the telescope to different locations. For example, you could take it with you camping to get a good view in a dark night sky. Portability gives you a greater range of use options.
This is a good telescope for a child or beginner. It is easy to use and portable.
Type of Telescope
There are three basic types of telescopes and each has their strengths and weaknesses. They are classified by the way they gather light. Refractor telescopes are better able to view through light pollution. They are also good for making lunar and planetary observations. Reflector telescopes are best for deep-sky observing. They do not do well with light pollution. They require frequent adjustment and alignment if used often. Compound telescopes use a combination of refractor and reflector elements. They are good for general sky observations. This type of telescope provides good viewing even in light polluted areas.
Aperture is the diameter of the lens or mirror used to collect light. It is the most important aspect of a telescope because the image clarity depends on the aperture. A good telescope should have an aperture of at least 70mm (2.8in.). Image clarity is going to be more important than magnification. A telescope with high magnification may still provide a blurry image. In general, the higher the aperture the more crisp and clear the image will be.
While aperture is more important to the telescope than magnification, magnification is still worth considering when purchasing. Magnification is calculated by dividing the focal length by the eyepiece length.Most telescopes come with one or two extra eyepieces to allow you to adjust magnification. Don’t be fooled into buying a telescope based only on a claim of high magnification. Be sure that the magnification is backed by a good aperture. You may be able to get good viewing through a scope with one magnification if it has a high aperture.
Many telescopes include a mount when purchased. Mounts are important because they can determine how steady you keep the telescope as well as keeping it secured while viewing. There are numerous different types of mounts. Watch for mounts that are specifically intended for telescopes. These types of mounts are built to accommodate the weight and unique balance required for a telescope.There are some mounts that can be programmed using your geographical location and time of year to find constellations and celestial bodies for you. These mounts are more expensive but can greatly help you find the objects for which you are looking. Beware of telescopes that can attach to a camera mount. While the telescope may be able to attach to it, the camera mount is more likely to tip over, consequently damaging the telescope. If you decide to use a camera mount, be sure the attachment feature is securely fastened.
Ease of Use
Finding celestial objects can be harder than many first time users. Some telescopes can be difficult to target objects with and once you’ve found the object it can be hard to track it. Look for a telescope that has a feature to such as an Altazimuth mount or viewfinder technology that can help you locate and track objects. Always check reviews to make sure these features work consistently and well.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
Aperture is the most important feature to keep in mind. From there, be willing to give yourself time to learn how to use the telescope and any mount that comes with it. For those with more experience, you’ll be able to enhance your viewing experience by choosing a telescope with the features that are important to you. If you already know how to use a red dot scope, then purchasing a telescope with a build on scope would be a good choice.
Stargazing can make an expanding universe feel closer to home. The stars are a wonder to children and adults alike. With the right telescope, you can view the craters of the Moon, the rings of Saturn, and even a distant galaxy. Telescopes open the heavens for all to look, learn, and understand.