Top 5 Telescopes Under $300

Astronomy is not a cheap hobby. Although a basic telescope can let you see the moon, a few stars and maybe Jupiter’s’ moons if you’re lucky, and in many cases a good pair of binoculars can be better than a cheap telescope. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t good entry-level scopes, it can just take a bit of time to find one.

For a first-time stargazer, the amount of information thrown at you can be overwhelming. Magnification, reflection, refraction, catadioptric, Dobsonian… the language can all be a bit arcane and complicated. However, there are a few tips you can remember to help you pick up a decent scope on the cheap.

Pick the type of scope you want to use. Telescopes come in three distinct categories: refractors, reflectors and catadioptric. Refractors produce highly visible and well-magnified views. Because they tend not to suffer too much from atmospheric conditions, they make good scopes for people living in or near big cities.

Reflectors collect and curve light using a concave mirror, often found towards the back of the tube. Although great for anyone living in the suburbs or the country, they can be heavy and hard to transport.

Last but not least is the catadioptric scope, which uses a combination of mirrors and lenses to collect and concentrate light. Portable and with a good mix of magnification and clarity, they are ideal starter scopes.

Never be afraid to ask around for recommendations. If four guys from different telescope shops all recommend the same model, chances are it’s a good piece of kit. Internet forums can also make great places to dig up information and advice on what to buy to make your first observations of the stars. Don’t be too ambitious – many cheap scopes claim to be able to go up to 400x magnification – don’t be fooled. These kinds of cheap optics aren’t going to produce an image with any kind of clarity whatsoever, and can be so bad as to make the moon unidentifiable.

Remember, high magnification does not a good telescope make. Galileo observed the moon and planets using a telescope with no higher than a 30x magnification scope, so for the modern amateur astronomer anything from 70x-100x should be more than sufficient for both wide-field viewing and more precise work.

The telescopes below are all solid options for any first-time, cash-strapped stargazer:

Meade 114EQ-AR 114mm Telescope 4.5" Equatorial Reflector
Complete with tripod and laser finder, this telescope is an ideal first scope for any astronomer wannabe.

Celestron AstroMaster 114 AZ Reflector Telescope Altazimuth 31043
This funky reflector is great for both low-budget terrestrial and celestial viewing.

Konus Konusmotor-130 Telescope 1786
The Konusmotor is a cracking little motorized telescope that would make an ideal second or third scope.

Bushnell Voyager Sky Tour 900mm x 4.5" Reflector Telescope 789945
A smart little reflector that includes built-in audio guidance.

Zhumell Eclipse 114 Reflector Telescope
An ideal scope for anyone who wants to start out looking at celestial bodies further away than the norm.

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