Best telescope for beginners 2021: simple scopes for amateur astronomers

Newcomers can now reach for the stars without either a steep learning curve or a steep price tag. So which are the best beginners' telescopes?

Included in this guide:

best telescope for beginners: person looking at the stars with a telescope
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're thinking of getting into amateur astronomy, you'll need to equip yourself with one of the best beginner telescopes. We've surveyed the skies, and the product listings, to select the best telescopes for beginners – the term 'beginners' of course theoretically including both kids and adults. For more advanced options, you'll want to consult our general best telescope ranking, but all of these recommendations are those products that deliver value for money and a decent specification list to boot. Additionally, first-time stargazers won't get either bored or befuddled by the set up.

Stargazing has enjoyed a bit of a boom in popularity recently. We've all spent a lot more time at home of late, so being able to reach for the stars from our back garden, or windowsill, has understandably held a great appeal. The good news is that investing in a telescope to turn amateur astrologer needn't cost the (planet) earth – if choosing wisely, of course. Read on for some buying advice, followed by our pick of the best beginner telescopes to buy now. 

How to choose the best beginner telescope for you

When it comes to choosing the best telescopes for beginners, first decide on what you want it for. For example, are you happy to merely observe the Moon or do you actually want to delve into deep space? Next, set a budget, therefore enabling you to narrow choices and focus on the best option available at that price. Most beginner scopes will adequately provide decent views of our moon, allowing us to pick out the grey 'seas' on its surface as well as, more clearly, the Tycho crater near its base, along with the geographical streaks and surface scars leading up to it. But many of the cheapest telescopes will struggle to get results far beyond that. Bear in mind too that the construction of beginner telescopes may well be more plastic-y in trying to hit a certain price point, than more professional models.

That said, it's possible that beginners might be flushed with cash and happy to pay a lot, lot more for a telescope that basically does all the hard work for them – a so-called 'smart' telescope. This is a device that automatically aligns with the stars, tracks and stacks images and sends them to your smartphone, while you take it easy on the sofa.

Apart from budget and operability, two terms that crop up often when researching the best telescopes for beginners are 'reflectors' and 'refractors'. Our types of telescope explainer goes into more detail, but in broad terms, refractor telescopes are best suited for observing planets and the Moon, while reflectors are generally believed to be more adept at seeking out deep sky objects. Something else to bear in mind when deciding whether a scope is truly the best for beginners. Head to our article on how to choose your first telescope for more in-depth advice.

The best beginner telescopes 2021

Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ telescope for beginners

(Image credit: Celestron)

1. Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ

The best beginners' telescope for both land and sky viewing

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 4-inch
Focal length: 660mm
Mount: Altazimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Dual purpose: as equally suited to terrestrial use as astrological observation+Large 102mm objective lens and generous 660mm focal length+Tripod, software and manual all included
Reasons to avoid
-Weighs a hefty 6.4kg

Which little kid hasn't dreamed of growing up to become an 'AstroMaster'? With this affordable refractor scope aimed at budding astrologers – that can also be used for terrestrial viewing – now we all can live that dream. Key features include a whopping 102mm objective lens and generous 660mm maximum focal length; the kind of reach that will enable us to seek out Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons. 

Beginner friendly features include the fact that it can be set up from scratch without the need for tools of any kind, and, like most in its price bracket, usefully includes a steel tripod, accessory tray and manual. Allowing for impromptu observations from the back garden as well as the back window, it's deemed portable enough to be picked up and transported in a jiffy. That said, at 6.4kg in weight the AstroMaster not the most lightweight option out there. Nevertheless its altazimuth mount and pan handle set up allows objects in the night sky to be quickly located and tracked. Also included are 10mm and 20mm eyepieces, a red dot finder scope and Starry Night astronomy software, making for a sound starter package.

Orion SpaceProbe II telescope for beginners

(Image credit: Orion)

2. Orion SpaceProbe II

The best overall telescope for beginners

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 3-inch
Focal length: 700mm
Mount: Equatorial
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Beginner friendly+Affordable+Generous 700mm focal length
Reasons to avoid
-More eyepieces would open up more options-Red dot sight for aiming the telescope requires batteries

Aiming to deliver detail in the dark via 76mm objective lens, the beginner-friendly Orion SpaceProbe II telescope comes with the addition of a 2x Barlow lens, doubling the magnification of both included eyepieces. This provides a generous 56x magnification on the standard 25mm eyepiece rather than 28x, and a whopping 140x on the 10x eyepiece rather than 70x. 

While most starter scopes are suitable for observing the Moon and not a lot else in the sky, when the eyepieces are combined with its core 700mm focal length this one can drag bright nebulae and star clusters into its orbit, and comes with a Star Target 'planisphere', Moon Map and beginners' guide book to direct our attention accurately. A mini flashlight is also included in the kit, to save fumbling around in the dark for attachments, while the included tripod allows for steady-as-she-goes tracking of objects of interest. In short there's enough here to quickly get amateur stargazers conducting their own deep space 'probes'. Be sure to look out for the version that provides an upgraded Equatorial or 'EQ' mount, rather than the Altazimuth mount of earlier versions.

National Geographic telescope for beginners

(Image credit: National Geographic)

3. National Geographic Refractor Telescope 60/700 AZ

The best budget telescope for beginners

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: Not given
Focal length: 700mm
Mount: Altazimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Beginner friendly+Can be set up for observation in just a few minutes+Software, tripod and plentiful accessories included
Reasons to avoid
-Even cheaper alternatives are available-There are sturdier scopes for more money

Offering a generous 700mm focal length and up to a whopping 525x magnification, even if 120x is at the limits of what's practically recommended, this National Geographic branded scope is, in fact, manufactured by the respected Bresser. It comes bundled with astronomy software and weighs a very manageable and beginner-friendly 3.3kg. Featuring a 60mm objective lens to let in a decent amount of light and boost the clarity of its images, the scope is bundled with all the accessories an amateur would arguably need – including a selection of 4mm, 12.5mm and 20mm eyepieces, plus three Barlow lenses to vary the magnification on offer. 

The altazimuth mount provided here allows for easy tracking of objects in the night sky, with the entire system capable of being assembled quickly and without requirement for tools. Colour accuracy comes via an achromatic lens, which refracts light without dispersing it into its constituent colours, therefore providing images with greater accuracy. While build quality might not be up there with the very best, for the price this offers plenty of opportunity to shoot for the Moon – and beyond – with a five year warranty providing enough peace of mind for a trip to Mars and back. 

See how this compares to another good beginners' scope in our Celestron 21039 PowerSeeker 50AZ vs National Geographic Refractor 60/700 AZ face-off.

Vaonis Stellina smart telescope

(Image credit: Vaonis)

The best 'blow the budget' telescope for beginners

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 3.15-inch
Focal length: 400mm
Mount: Altazimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Beginner friendly+Incredible views, even in light polluted areas+Gitzo tripod included
Reasons to avoid
-Clouds can halt this telescope's auto functionality in its tracks-Software a little on the slow side-Weighty at around 11kg-Requires a decent Wi-Fi signal

An expensive option for the amateur astrologer for sure, but for those who value convenience more than saving for the future, the sleek-looking, French-made Vaonis Stellina refractor telescope should have you seeing stars in no time. Running off a smartphone sized battery that lasts up to 10 hours, this scope automatically aligns with heavenly bodies using a combo of its own AI software and your smartphone's GPS to transmit a live view to your phone screen so you can observe deep space objects from the comfort of the sofa. 

At a substantial 11kg this more closely resembles an autonomous robot than the more standard beginners' telescopes here, even if its u-shaped mount does indeed hold a 3.15-inch, 80mm telescope at its centre. Thanks to a 1/1.8-inch Sony sensor it can go one better still and provide 6.4 megapixel images in both JPEG and Raw format; a boon for the Instagram-er. While hefty in price and weight however, we found the 'Stellina' seriously addictive. As long, that is, as there's a decent Wi-Fi signal to enable smartphone and device to collaborate with each other. Head to our Vaonis Stellina review to find out more.

Celestron 70mm travel scope for beginners

(Image credit: Celestron)

5. Celestron 70mm Travel Scope

The best portable telescope for beginners

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 2.76-inch
Focal length: 400mm
Mount: Altazimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Fully coated glass optics +Lightweight frame and provide backpack increases portability+Full height tripod included+Good value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky-Plastic-y looks

When it comes to telescopes aimed at consumers, Celestron is one of the biggest players in the market, so it's unsurprising that it has an option squarely aimed at beginners – and by that we mean one suitable for both children and adults. This get-up-and-go, travel friendly device features a decent spec too, including 400mm focal length plus fully-coated 70mm objective lens to allow plenty of light in, a lightweight frame at a total weight of 1.5kg, plus a backpack to transport it, while set up is as quick and easy as expected. Two 10mm and 20mm eyepieces are supplied, offering either 20x or 40x magnification, and providing crisp and clear low or high-powered views of celestial objects at night, or, alternately, terrestrial ones during the day. The Celestron Travel Scope comes with free software and a two-year warranty for additional peace of mind, while assembly once again doesn't require any tools.

Gavin Stoker
Gavin Stoker

Gavin Stoker has been writing about photography and technology for the past 20 years. He currently edits the trade magazine British Photographic Industry News - BPI News for short - which is a member of TIPA, the international Technical Imaging Press Association.