For astronomy hobbyists and amateurs, choosing your first telescope can be a daunting task, especially when you are not yet ready to commit to a huge investment.
As you probably already know, telescopes can be very expensive. Finding a relatively affordable one that is still quite decent for basic observations can be difficult.
With that said, in this buying guide, we will cover the best telescopes under $200 you can get right now.
We’ve tested various different affordable telescopes available in the market for you and in this guide, we will review our top 10 picks.
Let us begin first by discussing the basics of buying a telescope.
Top 10 Best Telescopes Under $200
Alright, now that you’re well-equipped to make an informed decision. Let’s run down the list of our best telescopes under $200, starting with #10:
- Portable and easy to assemble and install
- Refractor telescope with 400mm focal length
- 5×18 finder scope for faster and easier object finding
- Includes 3 interchangeable eyepieces H6mm, H12.5mm & H20mm, comes with a Moon mirror & Compass built-in the telescope tube
- Stars map and Moon map included
Pros and Cons
- Included moon mirror is pretty helpful for lunar observation
- Has an attached compass, combines with the included finder scope makes locating object easy and fast
- Very easy to set up and use even for beginners
- Great 400mm focal length
- Includes a decent aluminum tripod
- Included tripod is fairly short
- Plastic material on some parts
- Refractor telescope with 70mm objective lens, a lightweight frame, and a custom backpack
- Includes two high-quality eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), suitable for both astronomy viewing and terrestrial viewing during the day
- Large 70mm Objective lens
- Bonus bag, tripod, and astronomy software
- Two-year warranty and unlimited access to Celestron’s technical support
Pros and Cons
- Great overall package, comes with a backpack and tripod
- Compact and lightweight, weighing only 3lbs
- Durable and rugged despite its plastic parts
- Affordability, one of the most affordable telescopes from Celestron
- Lightweight means the telescope might not be stable during windy conditions
- Finder and focuser are made of plastic
- Refractor, 360mm(f/5.1) focal length and 70mm aperture
- Includes interchangeable eyepieces (K10mm:51X , K25mm:128X) with a 3x Barlow lens to further improve the viewing power
- Includes 5×24 finderscope with mounting bracket
- Quick and easy to setup
- Adjustable tripod allows for many different viewing positions
- Lifetime Emarth VIP customer service
Pros and Cons
- Compact and lightweight with good image quality
- Includes a decent carrying case
- User-friendly, very easy to install and use right away
- Affodrable price with lifetime money-back guarantee
- Relatively short tripod (40cm), adult users might need to replace the tripod
- No included astronomy software (does include Stars and Moon maps)
- Refractor telescope, 400mm(f/5.7) focal length and 70mm aperture
- Fully-coated optic glass lens, protecting your eyes while producing sharp images
- Two replaceable 1.25″ Kellner eyepieces(K6mm/67X, K25/16X) ，5×24 finderscope with mounting bracket and cross-hair lines inside make locating objects easy
- Versatile for many different observational positions with the included tripod with 360 ° rotation
- 2-year warranty and lifetime maintenance
Pros and Cons
- One of the most affordable models in this list while offering a great set of features
- 70mm objective lens aperture, pretty versatile for a refractor
- Great value for money with the included tripod and accessories
- 2-year warranty
- Mostly made of plastic, not very durable
- The tripod is relatively short
- Dobsonian style stand with a 76 mm reflector optical tube
- Portable and lightweight
- Very easy to use and observe with
- Stylish and decorative design
- Maximum magnification of x 120
Pros and Cons
- Built with durable materials despite its price
- Decent performance with 76mm aperture and 120x maximum magnification
- No assembly required, very easy to use right away
- Includes an x2.5 Barlow lens for versatility
- Might not be enough for displaying dimmer objects
- 76 mm aperture, reflector telescope
- Included EQ-1 mount, easy to keep moving object centered in the eyepiece
- Included 25mm and 10mm Sirius Plossl eyepieces (18x and 45x magnifications respectively)
- Includes MoonMap 260, EZ Finder II reflex sight, adjustable-height tripod
Pros and Cons
- Includes two high-quality eyepieces than what’s typically included in budget telescopes
- Wide 76mm aperture, allowing brighter and sharper images
- Great overall package, includes an adjustable-height tripod, EZ Finder II reflex sight, and more
- 1 year warranty
- Relatively heavy at 20.7 pounds
- Tripod and mount quality aren’t really good
- Refractor telescope, high-quality 70mm optics
- Lightweight frame and easy setup, no tools required
- Alt-azimuth mount for smooth and accurate pointing
- Includes two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), an erect image star diagonal, a travel tripod, and a red dot finder scope
- Includes bonus Starry Night Basic Edition astronomy software
- 2-year warranty and access to Celestron’s technical support
Pros and Cons
- Lightweight and portable
- Very easy to assemble and use, alt-azimuth mount for easy pointing
- High-quality images for a 70mm aperture
- Versatile with the included eyepieces, suitable for both nighttime and daytime use
- Relatively high chromatic aberration
- Tripod might be too short
- Newtonian reflector telescope, 127mm aperture
- Manual german EQ mount included with slow-motion altitude rod for accurate and smoother pointing.
- Compact and portable with aluminum optical coatings
- Comes with two eyepieces (20mm and 4mm) plus a 3x Barlow lens
- Includes Starry Night Astronomy Software Package
- 2-year warranty and unlimited technical support access
Pros and Cons
- 5” primary mirror with 127mm aperture, very versatile and great value of money
- Short tube length, portable, and easy to store
- Versatile with 20mm and 4mm eyepieces and 3x Barlow lens
- Equatorial mount has a steep learning curve
- You might need additional eyepiecee to get the most of its aperture
- 4″ aperture and fast f/4 focal ratio provides bright and crisp images
- Pre-assembled, you can use the telescope for observation right away
- Stable tabletop base provides smooth altazimuth motion for easy manual tracking of celestial objects
- Includes two Explorer II 1.25″ Kellner telescope eyepieces (17mm and 6mm), EZ Finder II reflex sight for easy aiming, eyepiece rack, collimation cap, Starry Night astronomy software, and more
Pros and Cons
- Very user-friendly, pre-assembled so you don’t need any tool before you can use it
- Great 4” aperture and f/4 ratio allowing great sharpness
- Excellent light-gathering with its focal length
- Includes great number of accessories
- The included eyepieces can be better
- High-end 114-mm parabolic primary mirror, removing visual defects for sharper viewings
- Zhumell’s high-reflectivity coating, 90% light transmission giving brighter views on dim areas
- Fully-coated eyepieces, .25” (17mm) eyepiece is dedicated for wide field views while the 1.25” (10mm) eyepieces aids for higher magnification.
- Compact-size and lightweight with easy to use alt-azimuth mount
- Red-dot finder allowing easy pointing of subjects
- Limited lifetime warranty and access to customer service
Pros and Cons
- Very portable and lightweight
- Includes good accessories in the box, great value for the price
- 144mm reflector telescope, producing very crisp images
- Two decent eyepieces included in the package
- Collimation can be quite difficult in this telescope
- Viewfinder is rather awkwardly positioned
How To Choose a Telescope for Beginners?
In this section, we will cover a little primer on telescopes so that we are on the same page in making our purchase decisions.
Before anything else, telescopes can be divided into two major types based on their optical choices: reflectors (using mirrors) and refractors (using lenses).
There is the third category that uses both mirrors and lenses, called catadioptric telescopes, and below we will first discuss all these types one by one.
Different Types of Telescopes
1. Refractor Telescopes
Refractor telescopes, as mentioned, use lenses to bend (or refract) the light gathered to make the objects you are observing appear bigger (or smaller). Refractor telescopes are typically fairly simple, design-wise, consisting of a main objective lens at the end of the telescope that focuses light through the secondary lens.
The refractor telescopes are a fairly popular choice for beginner astronomers and hobbyists because they are very easy to use and require very little maintenance.
Typically they are mounted to a simple alt-azimuth mount that is also easy to use, where the astronomer can easily adjust the mount to locate the desired object.
Also, they are much simpler to manufacture and so refractor telescopes are famous for being affordable.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s much more expensive to manufacture a lens with a large aperture compared to manufacturing a large mirror.
Refractor telescopes are really good at producing highly contrasting images with decent magnification, and so are ideal for lunar and planetary observations. You’d want a refractor telescope with an aperture of at least 60mm (2 inches) to get a decent viewing.
The main downside of refractor telescopes, however, is a chromatic aberration or color fringing. This happens when the lens can’t focus all of the colors emitted from the object properly, resulting in a colored halo around the object.
There are refractor mirrors designed to eliminate chromatic aberration, but they are much more expensive, and the other option is to use filters to reduce chromatic aberration, which will also mean additional cost.
Also, as briefly discussed above, refractor telescopes with bigger apertures are (much) more expensive than the reflector counterparts.
Summary: Easy to use and the smaller apertures are very affordable. The main downside being chromatic aberration and expensive large-aperture telescopes.
2. Reflector Telescopes
Reflector telescopes use mirrors instead of lenses to magnify the target object via reflection, and can be further differentiated into two subtypes: Newtonian and Dobsonian.
Newtonian telescopes use a curved mirror at their bases, and the light that hits this mirror is reflected back to the front of the telescope’s tube to meet a smaller flat mirror (orientated at 45°), which will reflect the light to the observer.
Newtonian telescopes typically use an equatorial mount which is more complex to use for beginners, but there are also some that use alt-azimuth mounts.
Dobsonian telescopes, on the other hand, is famous for using the easier-to-use alt-azimuth mount.
The main advantage of reflector telescopes is that you can buy a large aperture for cheaper, a 10-inch reflector telescope will cost much cheaper than a refractor telescope of the same aperture. Also, you won’t meet chromatic aberration in a reflector telescope.
The downside is that reflector telescopes require collimation, which is the practice of realigning the mirrors to calibrate their performance.
Also, you will need to repaint the mirrors’ surfaces or replace them altogether as they will become tarnished with time.
Summary: The larger apertures are more affordable, but they are harder to use with the equatorial mount (except for Dobsonian telescopes) and require frequent maintenance.
3. Catadioptric Telescopes (Maksutov-Cassegrain and Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Catadioptric telescopes use both mirrors and lenses to bring the best of both worlds, correcting the issues experienced by both refractor and reflector telescopes.
Specifically, the Maksutov-Cassegrain corrects the aberration problem of refractors called ‘coma’, which can distort the object, making them appear like they have a tail. By using an additional corrector lens, the Maksutov-Cassegrain design eliminates this issue.
Maksutov’s downsides, however, are their heavy design due to the meniscus lens, and long cool-down time. The larger apertures (above 8 inches) are also rather expensive.
The Schmidt-Cassegrain, on the other hand, is famous for its compactness with short tube length compared to other types of telescopes of comparable aperture sizes.
However, they are more expensive than reflector telescopes of comparable aperture and use a larger secondary mirror.
Summary: Maksutov has almost no chromatic aberration and is very easy to use with its closed design, but it’s rather heavy with small fields of view.
Schmidt-Cassegrain is compact with a short tube length and is easy to install, but it is more expensive than a reflector of comparable aperture.
Check out our comprehensive article on catadioptric telescopes here.
Factors To Consider When Buying a Telescope
We can argue that aperture is the telescope’s most crucial specification, but it is also often misunderstood.
Aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s optical component (lens or mirror). The aperture size will dictate the telescope’s capability of gathering light, which will affect how bright the image appears, and the resolving power, which will affect how sharp the image appears.
Thus, the bigger the aperture, the clearer and sharper the object will look. Obviously, the larger the aperture, the more expensive the telescope will be.
Also, telescopes with bigger apertures can be quite bulky and heavy.
For beginner telescopes, we’d recommend an aperture range from 2.8” to 10”. To put things into context, a 2.8” telescope can gather 100 times as much light as our naked eyes, and it’s decent enough for basic astronomy observations.
A telescope is, after all, a magnification tool in its essence, so magnification is obviously an important factor to discuss.
The telescope’s magnification would ultimately depend on the eyepiece’s focal length and magnification, and technically you can produce an infinite range of magnification with the right eyepiece.
However, it’s important to understand that magnification without clarity is useless. Aperture and atmospheric conditions will dictate the clarity of the image.
So, if you magnify the object too much without having enough aperture, you’ll only get a blurred object without any details.
As a general rule of thumb, the maximum magnification of the telescope should only be 50 times its aperture in inches (or twice the aperture in millimeters) considering the atmospheric conditions are ideal.
So, an 8-inch aperture telescope shouldn’t have a magnification above 400x.
Knowing this is useful when you’re browsing a product that claims to have 500 power with only 2 inches of aperture. You should know that it’s only advertising hype.
In practice, ideal magnifications should be around 8x to 50x per inch of the aperture so you’ll get the desired details of the object.
Eyepiece and Focal Length
Now that we’ve understood that the magnification of the telescope would be dictated by the eyepiece, how exactly does that work?
Every telescope has its focal length, the distance between the primary lens/mirror to the formed image. It’s important to note that focal length is not always the same as the telescope tube’s length since there are types of telescopes that ‘fold’ its internal light path.
Most telescopes have their focal length engraved on the back or front of the telescope, usually between 400mm and 3,000mm written as F400 to F3000.
Eyepieces also have their own focal length, and the telescope’s magnification can be calculated by dividing the focal length of the scope by the focal length of the eyepiece.
So, if the telescope focal length is 500 mm and the eyepiece’s focal length is 10 mm, then the magnification is 500 divided by 10, or 50x.
As we can see, we can get a higher magnification by switching to an eyepiece with a shorter focal length, and vice versa.
Notice the important detail that the size of the lens and mirror will not affect magnification.
The focal ratio is the telescope’s focal length divided by its aperture length, written as “f/” followed by a number. For example, a 4-inch f/4 telescope means that the telescope has an aperture of 4” and a focal ratio of 4.
So, we can calculate the focal length=4×4=16 inches.
Most telescopes in the market offer a focal ratio between f/4 and f/15. For beginners, you should choose a telescope with between f/5 and f/8 focal ratio which can accommodate a decent amount of versatility and can support a wide range of eyepieces.
Selecting just one telescope out of the ten in this list is indeed a very daunting task.
There are so many different products available in the market, and each product offers its unique take on producing high-quality telescopes with an affordable price.
For our absolute best pick, although admittedly this is very hard, we rated the Zhumell Z114 Reflector Telescope the best for the money and for its price.
However, that’s not saying the others on this list are bad products. We are confident that based on our tests, these ten telescopes we have reviewed are indeed the best choices under $200 you can invest in right now.