When it comes time to upgrade your telescope, there’s a lot to consider. After having a starter telescope in the $100 to $200 range, you’ve probably learned which types of telescopes you like (and know how) to use; you’ve also noticed some features you may enjoy – or perhaps absolutely hate and want different on your next telescope. In any case, upgrading your telescope is a big deal, and a good opportunity to spend a little more for a substantially better piece of equipment to unlock the wonders of the night sky.
In this post, I’ll cover the great mid-range options for telescopes under $500. This is a nice amount to budget for your next telescope as you’ll see it allows you to dramatically increase the power and capability of your telescope without breaking the bank.
Read on to discover the best telescopes under $500 across the range of telescope types, mounts, and capabilities. Here’s wishing you many clear nights with your new/next telescope!
What to Look for in a Great Telescope
Before diving into the list below, I wanted to make a quick point about what to keep an eye on when choosing a telescope. You probably already have these factors in mind as you’re likely upgrading your telescope if you’re looking in the $500 range, but it never hurts to have a reminder.
- Price. Naturally, price is an important consideration for many people, especially when you’re just starting out in astronomy. You don’t want to spend too much for a telescope you never use, nor do you want to compromise on certain other features.
- Type. Research how different types of telescopes (reflector vs refractor, Dobsonian vs Schmidt-Cassegrain) affect your ability to see the night sky objects you’re looking for.
- Diameter. The diameter of your telescope will obviously affect how far you can peer into deep space. Again, consider how this affects your ability to see specific objects you want to observe.
- Stability. As you read reviews about different telescopes, keep a particular eye on comments about the base, mount, and tripod. These can impact your observation a ton, and it’s almost always worth it to upgrade for better stability.
- Other features. If you’re looking for computer-assisted night sky navigation, there are options on this list. If you prefer to search the sky yourself, that may help save some money for those on a tight budget.
All this said, let’s dive into the list of telescopes under $500 that I recommend.
1. Celestron 80LCM Refractor
The Celestron 80LCM is one of the best telescopes under $500 for amateur astronomers. As one of the best telescopes of the LCM lineup, the Celestron features an 80mm refractor with all-glass optics, which grants clear Crisp images of celestial bodies.
The telescope includes two Kellners eyepieces, 25mm and 9mm, providing 36x and 100x magnification. There is also a StarPointer red dot finderscope, erect image diagonal, and free Starry Night astronomy software included in the package. Regarding the assembling, it is simple enough for beginners to put together as long as they follow the instructions. The telescope’s tripod would be the only noticeable downside. While it seems sturdy, the motorized alt-azimuth mount wobbles considerably during stargazing sessions.
2. Celestron 114LCM Newtonian
One of the best mid-range telescopes, the Celestron 114LCM, is everything you need to peek at the stars. The telescope has a large all-glass 80mm objective lens and a 1.6° apparent field of view. The kit features an adjustable aluminum tripod, two high-quality eyepieces (25mm & 9mm), and a StarPointer red dot finderscope. The telescope comes with a functional Sky Tour button that generates a list of the best objects currently available to view in the sky if you struggle to spot them on your own.
The main downside of the Celestron 114LCM is its Bird-Jones optical configuration. While not impossible, it’ll be more challenging to collate than other models, especially if you’re a beginner. However, if you’re willing to go the extra mile to learn how to align the mirrors properly, this Celestron is an excellent investment.
3. Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ Refractor
The Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ is an excellent option if you don’t want a bulky telescope. At 14.1lbs, it’s lightweight and easy to move around a backyard or dark camping spots. So, if you’re a traveling stargazer, this is one of the best telescopes under $500 for you on the list.
The telescope is user-friendly and is easy to assemble even if you have never had to assemble one. As for optics, this Celestron features a fully-coated 102mm primary mirror and a focal length of 2.98”.
The pack also includes two extra eyepieces, 10 mm & 20 mm, for increased magnification. The panning handle is a nice addition, allowing stargazers to sweep the night sky and adjust the telescope with fine movements.
4. Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian
If you’re a novice but committed stargazer, the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ is one of the best telescopes to upgrade to if you’re ready to take the next step in the world of stargazing. It is one of the priciest on the list; however, the price-performance ratio is unbeatable.
A product of the popular Astromaster line, the Celestron is a powerful telescope with an astounding light gathering ability. The telescope features a fully-coated 130mm lens and f/5 focal ratio. More than enough to get close-ups of the moon and other celestial bodies.
It includes two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), a travel tripod, a motor drive, and a StarPointer red dot finderscope.
5. Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ
While not as powerful, the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 102AZ has big promises for the amateur stargazer.
ts best feature by far is the Intuitive push-to method. Simply said, the telescope links up to your smartphone and shows a map of the night sky. Then, on-screen arrows appear, guiding you as you move the telescope.
Optically, this Celestron is an achromatic refractor with a 4” aperture and 23” focal length. The highest magnification it can reach is 240x more than the naked eye. Since it is an achromatic reflector, you don’t have to worry about collimating the mirrors, scaring many beginners. It weighs 14.2lbs, making it easier to travel with or move around.
6. Orion AstroView 90mm Equatorial Refractor
The Orion AstroView 90mm telescope is a fantastic option for beginner astronomers looking for telescopes under $500. You’ll find more affordable telescopes on the market in this price range, but the Orion is worth splurging if only for the features available right out of the box, but for its upgrade potential.
The Orion is a medium aperture refractor, featuring a 90mm (3.5″) aperture and 910mm focal length, granting sharp views of deep-sky objects, the Moon, and planets. It also comes with two Sirius Plossl 1.25″ eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), 6×30 finder scope, smooth-adjusting 1.25″ rack and pinion focuser, 90-degree mirror diagonal, and Starry Night astronomy software.
It’s easy and fast to put together, plus the instructions are super clear in case you’ve never used an equatorial mount before.
7. Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian
If you are on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the Orion SkyQuest XT6. This Dobsonian reflector is one of the best telescopes under $500.
It features a 6″ diameter f/8 parabolic mirror, perfect for spotting tiny details on the moon. Also, the Dobsonian base provides extra stability during stargazing sessions.
The telescope comes with EZ Finder II reflex sight, Orion Star Target planisphere, Orion MoonMap 26, and Starry Night SE astronomy software. It includes one extra 25mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece, which provides a 48-power view. So, you might want to get a few more eyepieces. I recommend 32mm, 15mm, and 8-9mm.
As for the use, it’s pretty intuitive, and it doesn’t take much more than 30 minutes to assemble.
8. Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector
Last but certainly not least, here’s one more from Orion that makes my list of telescopes under $500.
The build quality and sturdiness is the first thing you’ll notice on the Orion SpaceProbe 130ST. Unlike other telescopes, even the tripod is well-built and doesn’t wobble as much.
The SpaceProbe features a 5.1″ parabolic primary mirror, which gathers a significant amount of light and grants excellent views of the planets and moon. It also has a wide field of view (‘fast’ f/5 focal ratio) to explore bright nebulas, galaxies, and star clusters. It’s a little heavier than its counterparts on the list at 27 lbs. However, you can still move it around quickly.
The pack also includes two 1.25 inch Sirius Plossl eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), a 6×30 finder scope, a 1.25inch rack, a pinion focuser, a tripod accessory tray, collimation cap, and Starry Night astronomy software.
Have any questions about these telescopes under $500? Let me know in the comments!