The Best Telescope for Beginners – Easy Buyer Guide and Review (UK) 39

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Astronomy is an exciting hobby! It ignites our curiosity of the fascinating universe around us. Unfortunately buying your first telescope can be an extremely complicated task. You can easily find yourself lost in technical jargon and endless options available. Beginner shoppers often jump into buying an unsuitable telescope, get frustrated trying to use it and eventually even give up on pursuing astronomy altogether. The following guide explains everything you need to know before buying your first telescope. We’ve also short-listed our Top 3 Telescopes for beginners, enthusiasts and amateur astronomers.

Choosing a Telescope

 

Should I Buy a Telescope, Spotting Scope or Binoculars?

Some people want to purchase a telescope for watching the stars as well as watching the neighbour next door. While this is a nice thought, unfortunately, it is not a practical one! Before deciding on what to buy, think about what you are interested in viewing the most:

Telescope – Telescopes are designed for night viewing. They have unique optics and light gathering capabilities that allow us to view objects in complete darkness. They lack the ability to view objects during daytime properly. If you are mainly interested in astronomy, then buy a telescope otherwise buy a spotting scope or binoculars.

Spotting Scope – A spotting scope is a smaller telescope specifically designed for terrestrial viewing (land viewing). It is a powerful instrument yet portable and perfect for watching distant subjects on land or at sea. Spotting scopes are commonly used by birdwatchers, hunters and nature observers. If you are more interested in viewing objects on land or at sea, then you should consider a spotting scope. You can refer to our guide on how to choose a spotting scope.

Binoculars – A good pair of full-sized binoculars (10×50 and above) can be used for both daytime viewing as well as stargazing and amateur astronomy. Binoculars are an excellent option if you are just starting out with astronomy. In many cases, they are better than telescopes. Binoculars are easier to carry out to the field and easier to use or share with others. They provide a wider field of view than telescopes and can also be used for a variety of outdoor activities. If this sounds like you then refer to our guide on how to choose astronomy binoculars.

Telescope, Spotting Scope and Astronomical Binoculars

What is the MOST Important Feature in a Telescope?

The #1 feature of any telescope is Aperture. Aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s main optical component (consisting of either a lens or mirror). The larger the aperture is, the more light comes in the telescope and the brighter your image will be. A telescope’s function is to simply enhance the light of the moon, stars and galaxies thus allowing us to see them in the dark. With a large aperture, you will be able to see more stars and see them more clearly. When we look at the stars with our naked eye, we can only see the brightest ones. This is because our pupil acts as a very small “lens” and can only gather very little light.

Is the Biggest Aperture the Best Choice for Me?

Not necessarily. While a bigger aperture will result in a brighter and better image, it will also mean that your telescope will be larger, heavier and normally more expensive. Even more important than aperture is where you will be using your telescope the most.

Where Will I be Using My Telescope?

Effective astronomy requires viewing from a dark location. If your backyard, out on the farm, is completely dark with no artificial light around then you can choose a large and bulky telescope. If you need to travel to a darker location (which is the case for many of us) then you should consider the portability of your telescope. Many high-end telescopes can be extremely large and can require a lot of time and experience to setup properly. If only the thought of setting up a huge telescope in the dark makes you shiver then buy a smaller, user-friendlier one to start with. You might find that you will use it much more often.

How Much Magnification Do I Need?

This is a common misconception when shopping for telescopes! In fact, magnification should hardly be a consideration when buying a telescope. As we mentioned before aperture should be your main consideration. If you have a small aperture, then you will see a darker image. More magnification will only make that dark image bigger. This is the same principal as if you were looking at a low-quality computer screen. If you zoom into the screen, you will only see a grainier picture.

High magnification also means you will see a narrow piece of the sky so unless you are watching deep space with a large commercial telescope magnification is NOT an important feature. Also, note that a magnification of a telescope can be increased or decreased by switching eyepieces. Some vendors will try to promote a low-quality telescope by stating that it has a high magnification. Beware of these types of offers! The telescope will usually have either a small aperture or a very poor optical quality.

Astronomy Telescopes

What Type of Telescope Should I Choose?

There are 3 basic types of telescopes: Refractor, Reflector and Cassegrain. A Refractor telescope uses lenses, a Reflector uses mirrors and a Cassegrain uses both.

A Refractor telescope is what most people think of when imagining how a telescope looks like. It is a long, gleaming tube with a large lens at one end and an eyepiece at the other. This is the most common type of telescope. A Refractor telescope can provide the finest images attainable for a given aperture. It is also the most expensive option when considering price vs. aperture.

A Reflector telescope uses mirrors instead of lenses. Because mirrors are cheaper to make than lenses, it is a better option when considering price vs. aperture. When well made a reflector can provide sharp, high contrast images at a small fraction of the cost of an equal-aperture refractor. A Reflector will also be much smaller in length than a Refractor of the same aperture. In other words, a Reflector is often a more portable telescope and better value for money.

What is the Best Type of Telescope for Beginners?

A particular type of Reflector is known as the Dobsonian telescope. These extremely popular instruments are available in apertures from 20cm up to more than 76cm. They represent the ultimate in observer convenience for casual viewing. We believe that a Dobsonian telescope is the most suitable for beginners for the following reasons:

  • Relatively cheap compared to other types of telescope
  • Totally manual and incredibly easy to use
  • No setting up apart from moving it to your observing area
  • Big light gathering ability, so you can view many different objects
  • Fun and perfect for the beginner and advanced astronomer alike

The National Geographic 76/350 Dobsonian telescope for example is our most recommended model for a beginner astronomer. It is compact yet powerful, requires no setup and can easily be carried to any dark rural location by either foot or car. It features a bright, clear image which is remarkable for being an entry-level telescope. And at £159 it is also very affordable!

Another similar option, which is perfect for both beginners and sharing with kids, is the Celestron FirstScope. This is a quality 76mm Dobsonian style telescope. It is an ideal entry-level telescope and very easy to use.

Do I Need to Setup, Adjust and Maintain My Telescope?

Some telescopes require more maintenance than others. When buying a telescope, you should consider your experience level as well as how easy it is to setup, use and maintain it. Some people jump into buying an expensive telescope only to find out that they are unable to use it properly or can’t be bothered maintaining it. Remember, a good telescope is one that you will enjoy taking out and using regularly.

Both Refractor and Dobsonian telescopes, for example, are the easiest ones to use and do not need much adjusting. Always make sure that you read carefully through your telescope’s product description. Telescopes that are more suitable for beginners will typically state it on their product description.

 

Our Top 3 Telescopes for Beginners and Amateur Astronomers (2018)

Here at Procular UK, we are always passionate about testing, studying and reviewing all of our telescopes and optics. Below is a list of our top pick telescopes for beginners, hobbyist or amateur astronomers:

 

National Geographic 76/350 Dobsonian Telescope

Current Price: £159

National Geographic’s 76/350 Dobsonian Telescope is in our opinion one of the best, if not the best beginners or even advanced astronomy telescopes available. The massive benefit is that this telescope has no setup time apart from needing to cool down for several minutes when outside. It is very small and portable. A beginner can place it on a garden table, a chair, a wall or any surface he chooses and start using it straight away. No messing around, aligning or setting up.

Once in use the National Geographic 76/350 Telescope provides superb optical quality. The Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Andromeda Galaxy, Orion Nebula and a host of other objects are easily visible to beginners with this telescope.

This telescope is perfect for starting out with astronomy or for getting your kids into it. It comes fully assembled in the box and includes everything you need to get stargazing right away! The mount is compact yet very stable and easy to use. It also includes two additional eyepieces, a moon filter, astronomy book and software to help you get started.

Overall the National Geographic 76/350 is a great choice as a first telescope as well as for more advanced users. Although its compact size and remarkably affordable price this Reflector telescope is very powerful and delivers an excellent image quality. Currently discounted and available for £159 inc. free delivery

 

National Geographic AZ 60/700 Refractor Telescope

Current Price: £199

An all-time favourite telescope for amateur astronomy. The National Geographic AZ 60/700 is a simple Refractor telescope but proves to produce an excellent view of the moon and stars every time. This entry-level telescope by National Geographic is one of our best sellers because of its ease of use, good optical quality and affordable price.

The National Geographic AZ 60/700 telescope comes with its tripod and bag as well as all the necessary add-ons to get you started right away (astronomy software, easy operating instructions, view finder, additional eye-pieces, etc.). Overall this model is great value for money and a perfect choice if you are looking to buy your first telescope or a gift to someone.

Currently available for £199 inc. free delivery

 

Barska 30-90×100 WP Spotting Scope

Current Price: £399

A magnificent choice for those lucky enough to have the perfect viewing point at home. Why settle for only star gazing when you can enjoy enhanced ocean or landscape views as well? The Barska 30-90×100 WP Spotting Scope kills two birds with one stone. Its generous 100 mm aperture will allow you to clearly see the moon, planets within our solar system or even the rings of Saturn. But unlike other astronomy telescopes, it is also designed for viewing landscapes, ocean, beach or wildlife.

This spotting scope features up to 90x magnification, high-quality optics and provides a sharp, crystal-clear image during both daytime and night. Fully waterproof and fog-proof, it will serve you well in full sun, overcast and rainy conditions alike. If you want to look at the moon and stars + have ocean views and need a powerful scope to enjoy them then this is the one.

Also included with the Barska 30-90×100 WP Spotting Scope is a table-top tripod and a carry case.

Currently available for £399 inc. free delivery

 

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39 Comments

  1. I’m looking to buy my first telescope and I am a complete beginner. I am looking at the National Geographic 76/350 Dobsonian Telescope. Can it be attached to a tripod, or does it only stand on a flat surface? Thanks.

    1. Hi Caractacus,

      Unfortunately the NG 76/350 telescope is only a table-top model and cannot be mounted on a tripod. Instead, we can recommend the National Geographic AZ 60/700 Refractor telescope which is an excellent quality yet easy to use telescope. It comes with a tripod included. Details below: https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-az-60700-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  2. Are any telescopes suitable for using on a boat?

    1. Hi John,

      Unfortunately telescopes are nearly impossible to use onboard a boat. They use very high magnifications and as the boat itself is not 100% still, they do not show any recognisable image. Your best option is to use binoculars. In specific marine binoculars which have less magnification but larger lenses to take in more light at night. These can be used to view the moon and near planets as well as daytime marine viewing. We can personally recommend the Bushnell 7×50 H2O binoculars below:

      https://procular.co.uk/bushnell-7×50-h2o-porro-binoculars/

      Alternatively, a better quality product with brighter images, is the Fujinon 7×50 binoculars below:

      https://procular.co.uk/fujinon-7×50-wp-xl-mariner-binoculars-2/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  3. I understand that living in a lighted area is not the ideal for star gazing but my 6 year old son has asked for a telescope and before spending too much money on this hobby I would like to get him to try a cheaper option from his bedroom. Can you suggest any urban friendly telescope that could serve as a starting point for him and does not break the bank?

    1. Hi Vanesa,

      The Bresser Junior 60/700 is an excellent entry level refractor telescope for his age and can be used from his bedroom even with light around. Details below:

      https://procular.co.uk/bresser-junior-60700mm-bluegrey-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  4. Hi I’m very interested in getting a telescope but I live in London near heathrow and light pollution is an issue would you recommend any particular telescope that may be able to cope with this

    1. Hi Alastair,

      Ideally if you can use the telescope away from artificial light you will achieve better results. This can simply be in a balcony or garden where there is reletively less light – it doesn’t need to be complete darkness. You can opt for a Refractor type telescope mounted on a tripod, which you can point directly to the skies easier, overcoming some of the artificial light around. A good affordable model for the job would be the National Geographic AZ 60/700 below: https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-az-60700-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  5. Hi
    I am looking for a Scope, telescope or binoculars? on a tripod for looking out on the horizon at passing ships as I live on the south west coast of Devon. Can you advise please.

    1. Hi Mrs Burridge,

      A spotting scope will be the most suitable device for the use you are describing. Note that a telescope is designed to watch stars at complete darkness while a spotting scope is designed to watch land/sea during day light or even twilight / evening.

      Therefore a spotting scope will work best in your case and provide enhanced views of the sea views and ships in the distance. You can also see our full range of spotting scopes here:

      https://procular.co.uk/telescope/spotting-scope/

      We can personally recommend the Avalon 80mm Venture HD scope which has incredible power (adjustable zoom of 20x to 60x) and an excellent image quality for its price range. It is an angled eye-piece spotting scope so works well for comfortable and long period viewing. Details of this spotting scope below:

      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  6. Hi,
    My name is Alan and I’m keen to purchase a telescope for the first time, problem being I don’t know or have a clue as to what I should be buying. I live on the West Coast of Scotland and want to use the telescope for looking out to sea as well as the sky at night, I also have a lot of wildlife around me, I have been looking at the Bresser Messier AR-90 900 EXOS -1 EQ4 and the Skywatcher Startravel 120mm AZ3 are these easy to use and suitable for what I want to view?
    Can you please suggest alternatives to these if you feel I would be better off with something more basic?

    Alan.

    Alan S Dickson
    1. Hi Alan,

      Unfortunately of both these telescopes are specifically made for astronomy only. You are likely to discover that they will either show an inverted image when used during day time for terrestrial viewing or show distorted colours – or both! If you want to see subjects far out at sea or look at wildlife / landscape during daytime we highly recommend not to get an astronomy telescope. What will work best in your case would be a spotting scope. This is a smaller telescope which is designed for terrestrial viewing. If you choose a spotting scope with an angled eyepiece and a large enough objective lens then you would also be able to use it for stargazing and basic astronomy. A good spotting scope we can recommend that will do both tasks is the Avalon 80mm Venture HD Spotting Scope below: https://procular.co.uk/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  7. Hi Adam!
    Have been reading through your recommendations and wondered if you could suggest a telescope suitable for my 4 year old grandson. He is very interested in learning about the planets etc.. Would be most grateful for any help and advice.
    Thanks,
    Alice

    Alice MacDonald
    1. Hi Alice,

      We have a few telescopes that are suitable for kids but at this age your grandson will be best off with some assistance and guidance from a parent / grandparent while using the telescope. The National Geographic 76/350 compact model reviewed above is a good pick for him. It works well for both kids and adults helping him to locate the moon and stars. It does not require any setup so once he points it to the right direction he can enjoy the views right away . You can read more about the telescope and order here: https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-76350-dobsonian-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  8. Hello Adam,thanks very much for your prompt reply. Its always best to check these things out isn’t it? Thanks to your site and advice I’m now in a better position to make an informed decision.Many thanks.

    Peter Hamilton
  9. Hi there I’m looking at the NG Dobsonian 76/350,based on your other recommendations,for my 14 year old nephew who is interested in science.However,he lives in the city,should this be a problem and if so is there another scope you could recommend? Any advice will be gratefully received.Thanks.

    Peter Hamilton
    1. Hi Peter,

      The telescope is suitable for a 14 years old (as well as for adults). But as with any other telescope the darker your viewing area is the better. As the NG 76/350 is so compact it is an ideal one to take to more remote locations when possible. But it still works in the city though. We can’t recommend any other scope especially for city as all telescopes share the same quality – i.e. the darker the better. On the upside the NG 76/350 telescope produces very nice views of the moon and near planets regarding of artificial light around. It is a very good starter telescope no doubt.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  10. I am looking for a telescope for my grandchild age four what would you recommend

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      At this age (4) your grandchild is likely to require assistance from an adult in order to locate the moon or stars with a telescope. But once he does he can use the telescope on his own. The first model reviewed in this post (National Geographic 76/350) would be best. It is a compact table-top model so you will need to place it on a table/stand/other platform in order to use it. And to achieve the best results we always recommend finding a dark viewing area with no or little artificial light around.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  11. Hi I’ve just moved to France and have a house in the middle of nowhere which is great, there’s no light polution and I’ve never seen the stars so bright and many. Now I’m thinking I need a telescope what would you recommend because there are so many out there.

  12. What would be the best entry level telescope that you could use to capture images of stars and planets. Would I need to connect via a laptop or use my digital SLR. Sony A100.
    Thanks

  13. Hi

    I am looking to buy a telescope or binoculars for my daughters birthday (she will be 13). She is interested in seeing planets however I don’t want to go to too much expense in case this new hobby is a passing fad. I’m hopeless with this stuff and have no idea where to start.
    Can you please advise.
    Thank u very much
    Joanne

    Joanne Macrae
    1. Hi Joanne,

      If her main interest is looking at the moon and planets we would recommend an entry level telescope. As astronomy binoculars can be quite large for a 13 years old to use. The National Geographic 76/350 telescope reviewed in the post would probably be the best choice. As it is compact she can take it to a darker area for better night viewing (it only needs to be placed on a table/stand/bench or any other platform). Details of the telescope below:

      https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-76350-dobsonian-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  14. Thanks Adam. I’ll pass the info on to Father Xmaa 😉

  15. I’d like to buy my 9 year son his first telescope. He’s particularly interested in seeing the planets. It has to be easy to use and fairly robust. We live in a city so light pollution might be an issue. Do you have any tips. Thanks

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Both the National Geographic 76/350 and the AZ 60/700 are very suitable for a 9 years old. If you don’t mind not having a tripod then the NG 76/350 would be ideal for him. It is very small and portable. He will need to place it on a table / coffee table / camping table or other platform for viewing. It shows excellent views of the moon and near planets.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  16. Thank you – that does make it a lot clearer. I shall no doubt be in touch before Xmas.

  17. got a 7year old seen celestron power seeker 50 refractor telescope any good this will be his 1st one

    1. Hi Janet,

      The 50mm refractors are simply frustrating to use unfortunately. Their aperture is too small which results in dark images and not being able to see much at night – barely the moon. We suggest getting a telescope for him with at least 60mm aperture. The Celestron 76mm for example is very suitable for kids that age and up until 12 years olds. Details below:

      https://procular.co.uk/celestron-firstscope-376mm-reflector-telescope-kit/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  18. I’m interested in purchasing a decent entry level telescope and from some of the reviews it looks like the National Geographic 76/350 Dobsonion telescope might be a good option. Can the telescope be mounted on a tripod? My partner Mark is 6’5″ so I would want something that can have an adjustable height mechanism!

    1. Hi Ursula,

      The National Geographic 76/350 telescope is a compact table-top model so unfortunately can’t be mounted or used with a tripod. As your partner is tall he will be better off with a telescope that mounts on a full-size tripod. A good entry level model we can recommend is the National Geographic 60/700 which comes with a full size tripod included. Details below: https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-az-60700-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  19. Hi,
    My son is 7 and keen on getting a telescope however he is keen on quite a few things for a while then the phase passes! I would like to encourage this as a hobby and was wondering if you can recommend a cheaper end kids telescope so I can see if the enthusiasm remains before purchasing something more expensive.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Jo,

      For kids his age we can recommend the Celestron FirstScope. It is a compact telescope that is designed for use by kids either with or without adults helping. Details below: https://procular.co.uk/celestron-firstscope-376mm-reflector-telescope-kit/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  20. I’m 83, and considering buying a telescope for, perhaps, a new hobby. I would need a tripod which would support the ‘scope so I could sit comfortably “under”it to view the heavens. Do you agree and if so could you please suggest which one?

    1. Hi Keith,

      As you would like to use the telescope while sitting down we can recommend getting a Refractor telescope. This is the classic design where you can pull the telescope towards you and look directly through the eye-piece. “Point and shoot” manner. A good entry level Refractor telescope that we can suggest is the National Geographic 60/700 which comes with a tripod in the box. Details below:

      https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-az-60700-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  21. My 70yr old mum is interested in getting a telescope as we are , Oving to rural Yorkshire.
    What would be the best to get her

    1. Hi Jo,

      The easiest telescope for her to use would probably be the National Geographic AZ 60/700. It comes with a tripod and does not require any setup. A very intuitive telescope to just point to the sky and view. Details below:

      https://procular.co.uk/national-geographic-az-60700-refractor-telescope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  22. My elderly friend has moved into a highrise apartment and I would like to buy him a telescope to be able watch the sailing boats on the broad water and ocean. I need to know the best type to purchase. Your knowledge would be most appreciated. Yours faithfully, Robert

    1. Hi Robert,

      The best telescope for ocean views from a high-rise apartment would be a spotting scope. This is a small telescope designed for daytime viewing. In opposed to an astronomy telescope which is designed for night-time star gazing. In specific we would suggest the Avalon 80mm spotting scope as it is very powerful, trivial to use and has an excellent image quality for its price. It comes with an included table-top tripod. Details below: https://procular.co.uk/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/

      Otherwise here is a list of our most recommended spotting scopes:

      https://procular.co.uk/choose-spotting-scope/#scopes

      Adam Murray, Procular

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