Few things are as awe-inspiring as being out under a clear night sky, looking up, and gazing at a seemingly infinite array of stars overhead. So we gathered 10 telescopes, and after five months of star parties we think the Celestron NexStar 5SE is the best telescope for a curious amateur. It gathers enough light for you to view the best features of our solar system, and it gives you enough power to begin to explore deep-sky objects. In addition, this model has an electronic GPS database preloaded with almost 40,000 celestial objects, and after you calibrate the scope, it can scan the skies for you.
Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope
This electronic telescope lets you program it to find objects in the night sky automatically, saving you the effort of reading star charts and manuals.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $600.
Our overall pick for the best amateur telescope, the Celestron NexStar 5SE is a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope, a design that uses both lenses and mirrors in a relatively compact package. It has a primary 5-inch mirror, which is big enough for a light-gathering capacity that yields crisp images of some of the best objects in our solar system, from Saturn’s rings to Jupiter’s cloud bands, and provides sufficient power to introduce you to objects in the deep sky.
This telescope operates on a fully computerized system and gives you a handheld controller to guide it. Instead of fumbling through the learning curve of reading star charts and aligning the telescope manually, you can align and focus your telescope on a myriad of celestial objects with the press of a button. Unlike with some of the NexStar 5SE’s competitors, this controller worked flawlessly in our tests, offering micro adjustments and responsive tracking with the attached controller system. The NexStar 5SE weighs 15 pounds, which is very portable relative to other options out there, so you should have no problem packing it up into a trunk and setting it up on location.
The Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope offers the most scope for the money if you don’t want an electronic GPS function (meaning it won’t automatically find the specific celestial bodies you seek). One reason you may not want a manual telescope: You have to collimate (align) the telescope’s mirrors, which can be tedious or frustrating if you weren’t aware it had to be done. With that in mind, some of our experts told us they preferred (and even advised) learning the ins and outs of astronomy on a manual telescope, so if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll become a smarter stargazer.
Like our top pick, this Newtonian-style reflector telescope has a 5-inch mirror, but it’s designed to sit on a tabletop rather than on a tripod, so it works best if you have a picnic table or other support to set it on. The mirrors expand and collapse, making this model even more amenable to storing indoors. We easily spotted Saturn’s rings and Jupiter and its moons with this model. Even better, free shipping is included.
The traditional Dobsonian telescope, a type of instrument sometimes referred to as a “light bucket,” is all about light gathering, and the images we saw through the lens of the Sky-Watcher Traditional Dobsonian Telescope were awe-inspiring. The 8-inch mirror, which is what captures the light, is larger than that of our top pick, and that means crisper, clearer images and the ability to see fainter objects that are farther away. The trade-off is that this scope is huge: Loading it into a car or even moving it around the yard is a chore, so it’s best suited for folks who have a dedicated space for it at home.