The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021

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#1

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 1

BEST OVERALL TELESCOPE UNDER $1000

Zhumell Z8 Deluxe Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

#2

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 2

RUNNER UP

Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

#3

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 3

BEST LARGE TELESCOPE UNDER $1000

Zhumell Z12 Deluxe Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

#4

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 4

BEST COLLAPSIBLE TELESCOPE

Sky-Watcher 10” Collapsible Telescope

#5

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 5

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

Sky-Watcher 6” Traditional Dobsonian Telescope

#6

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 6

BEST BUDGET

Zhumell Z130 Portable Altazimuth Reflector Telescope

If you look at the best-sellers on the internet when it comes to telescopes, you’ll often see wobbly, unusable and overpriced garbage receiving 4 or 5-star reviews from bots and fake accounts – or simply overenthusiastic beginners.

Most scopes are fine for seeing a few craters on the moon and spotting the 4 moons around Jupiter, but you could probably do that with a pair of binoculars – or with a quality instrument that avoids the wobbly mountings, fuzzy views, straw-like eyepieces, and awful finders that most of these “top telescopes” suffer from.

Even if you avoid some of these best-selling reviews, many seemingly-knowledgeable YouTubers, bloggers, and well-known astronomy figures will recommend gear that is absolute garbage – usually because they’ve been given a sponsorship or simply don’t care enough to do their research.

If you can’t determine a good scope from a bad one, and most of the bigwig recommenders of astronomical equipment, how do you truly know what makes a great telescope? That’s why we’re here. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to buy a good telescope at a reasonable price and be confident that you’re getting a quality product. That’s our guarantee.

BEST OVERALL: Zhumell Z8 Deluxe Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Zhumell Z8 Delux Reflector Telescope

The Zhumell Z8 tops our list as the best overall telescope at the $1000 price point. This great piece of equipment will give you everything you need and more at this price point, without completely breaking the bank.

Featured specs

  • High-quality 8×50 right-angle correct-image finderscope
  • 30mm 2” wide-angle eyepiece
  • 9mm Plossl for medium-high magnification

An 8” Dobsonian is a significant upgrade from a 6” unit with 33% more resolution and 78% more light gathering ability, but with only a minor increase in bulk and virtually no difference in operation. This is thanks to the fact that most commercial 8” and 6” Dobsonians have basically the same focal length and similar dimensions for their mounts. Unless you’re physically unable to lift a few extra pounds or are buying the scope for someone who has this problem, there is absolutely no downside to getting an 8” over a 6”. 

The Zhumell Z8 has some other advantages over most commercial 6-inchers, too. The scope sports a high-quality 8×50 right-angle correct-image finderscope which makes locating faint fuzzies a pinch, a cooling fan to speed up the acclimation of the primary mirror to cold conditions, a 1:10 fine focus knob for easier focusing at high magnification, a laser collimator for quicker alignment of the optics, and it comes with slightly better eyepieces – a 30mm 2” wide-angle for low magnification (40x) and a 9mm Plossl for medium-high magnification (133x).

Benefits

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Great value
  • Sharp images
  • Easy to collimate
  • No need for a tripod or table

Drawbacks

  • A little large for children or seniors to move on their own
  • Finder can be a little confusing to get used to

Buying Advice

This scope is perfect for the intermediate who is looking to move up in size from their first scope or an enthusiastic beginner looking to not have to constantly buy scopes once they’ve gotten the hang of things.

RUNNER UP: ORION SKYQUEST XT8 CLASSIC DOBSONIAN TELESCOPE

Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

The Orion XT8 in many ways resembles a stripped down Z8, lacking virtually all of the accessories and upgrades mentioned above and including a simple red dot finder and lone 25mm Plossl eyepiece (48x). However, if you are on a budget and would rather do things a la carte it’s a great option and the optics are no different from those in the Z8.

Benefits (Exactly the same as the Zhumell)

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Great value
  • Sharp images
  • Easy to collimate
  • No need for a tripod or table

Drawbacks

  • A little large for children or seniors to move on their own
  • No included high-magnification eyepieces

Buying Advice

This scope is on par with our top pick, just without all the extras, making it the perfect pick for a star gazer who may already have their own eyepieces and extra equipment.

BEST LARGE TELESCOPE: Zhumell Z12 Deluxe Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Zhumell Z12 Deluxe Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

f you want something truly massive, the Zhumell Z12 might be for you. With double the resolution and 4 times the light gathering ability of a 6” telescope, you may literally never run out of interesting targets with the Z12.

It comes with all of the same accessories as the Z8 and Z10, though given the Z12’s longer focal length its eyepieces yield slightly higher magnifications (50x and 167x for the 30mm and 9mm respectively).

The Z12 does merit some special considerations, however. For one, it may not fit across the back seat of even some SUVs, meaning that you must have seats that fold down (or alternatively possess a larger vehicle such as a minivan or truck) if you want to transport the scope anywhere.

Second, with a tube weighing in at 47 pounds bare and 14 inches across, you might struggle to get a firm grip on it, let alone carry the scope any significant distance. If you don’t think you’re up to the task, a smaller scope might be more appropriate.

Benefits

  • Colossal aperture means big and bright views
  • Good accessories

Drawbacks

  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Mirror needs fair amount of time to cool down under cold conditions

Buying Advice

This scope is truly massive but extremely powerful, and as the saying goes; with great power comes great responsibility. This scope is for the stargazer enthusiast who never wants to run out of objects, but you need to be sure you have somewhere to keep it and move it, without damaging the optics.

BEST collapsible TELESCOPE: SKY-WATCHER 10 INCH COLLAPSIBLE TELESCOPE

Skywatcher 10 Inch Collapsible Telescope

If you’re looking for a more portable 10” scope, the Sky-Watcher 10” Collapsible is for you.

As the name implies, the 10” Collapsible has a collapsible tube which shortens from 50” to about 32”. This may not seem like much, but it allows the scope to sit upright in a car seat or across the back of even a compact vehicle for transport.

Counterintuitively the tube is actually a bit heavier than a regular 10” Dobsonian, but only by a couple pounds – and it’s much easier to carry.

The 10” Collapsible also sports a 9×50 right-angle finderscope and comes with two eyepieces: 25mm and 10mm Plossls providing 48x and 120x respectively.

The collapsible tube does come at a literal as well as practical cost, however – collimation may not hold quite as well between uses and the open tube allows stray light and ew to get in and reach the mirror, necessitating a fabric shroud which can be somewhat expensive.

Benefits

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Huge aperture means big and bright views
  • Collapsible tube improves portability
  • Good accessories

Drawbacks

  • More likely to need collimation and optics cleaned than a solid-tubed design
  • Mirror needs more time to cool down under cold conditions
  • Needs a shroud to prevent stray light/dew from getting to the primary mirror

Buying Advice

This scope is perfect for a star gazer looking for a wide aperture scope with the ability to move. Being collapsible it makes it perfect to fit into a vehicle to get out into the countryside to escape the typical city light pollution.

BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Sky-Watcher 6 Inch Traditional Dobsonian Telescope

The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 7

The Sky-Watcher 6” Traditional Dobsonian is the smallest of the full-sized Dobsonians which do not require a tabletop or other surface to elevate to a comfortable height.

With 6 inches of aperture, it has enough resolution and light-gathering capability to give you years worth of enjoyment, and allows the brighter deep-sky objects to take on appearance beyond the various forms of smudges they might appear as in a smaller instrument.

The 6” Traditional is not only immensely capable, but it comes with a decent set of accessories too: 25mm & 10mm Plossl eyepieces yielding 48x and 120x respectively.

The scope also has a 2” focuser, which allows you to use 2” eyepieces for wide, expansive views at low magnifications. The only downside is the Traditional’s 6×30 optical finderscope, which is slightly more of a nuisance to use than the battery-powered red-dot sights on most beginner telescopes.

Benefits

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Great value
  • Sharp images
  • Easy to collimate
  • No need for a tripod or table

Drawbacks

  • Slightly more annoying to aim than smaller tabletop telescopes

Buying Advice

This is the perfect scope for a beginner looking to get into astronomy. This scope will give you enough power to be able to see celestial objects, without getting too bulky or breaking the bank.

BEST BUDGET: Zhumell Z130 Portable Altazimuth Reflector Telescope

Zhumell Z130 Telescope

The Zhumell Z130 is the largest of the truly tabletop Dobs – while 6” and even a few 8” tabletop models exist, they are so heavy and wide that nothing short of a custom stand or a pile of cinder blocks is going to adequately support them.

At about 19 pounds, the Z130 is probably not going to work on your average bar stool or car hood, but it’s still light enough to easily carry around and will work on a steady bench or table.

The Z130’s longer focal ratio of f/5 (compared to f/4 for the Z114 and Z100) makes it easier to collimate and it has less coma at the edges of the field of view. This combined with its larger aperture means that you are going to gain a lot sharpness-wise compared to the scope’s smaller siblings.

The Z130 comes with two eyepieces: 25mm and 10mm Kellners yielding 26x and 65x respectively. As with most beginner scopes, an extra eyepiece in the 6mm range will be optimal for high-magnification lunar and planetary views.

Benefits

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Great value
  • Sharp images
  • Very portable
  • Easier to collimate than cheaper tabletop scopes

Drawbacks

  • Needs a hefty table or other surface

Buying Advice

This scope is perfect for the beginner stargazer looking to pick up a good all round package with all the extras they need to get started. You won’t be extremely sharp celestial bodies but the Z130 packs plenty of power into a tiny package, at a great price point.

Considerations for Buying a Telescope

Let’s go over the basics

The first thing you want to do is to figure out what you really want out of your telescope. 

Consider the following:

  • What are you most interested in looking at?
  • Where will you use it?
  • What are your options for storage?
  • How much weight can you carry comfortably? Consider that you will not just be hauling this scope when you’re feeling energetic and can see what you’re doing – you will be moving it around at 2 am and possibly in the freezing cold and dark.
  • Is this for home use or will you frequently put it in your car?
  • Do you have to carry the scope down stairs or an elevator to get it outside?

While it’s amazing to look through a big scope, it’s not very worthwhile to own one if you can’t use it much, especially if you can’t transport it effectively. If something smaller could be taken out more frequently and transported to darker skies, you’re better off with the small scope instead. 

Some telescopes come with built-in computer assistance – known as GoTo – for locating and tracking celestial objects. We don’t recommend these over the manual ones, though, especially at prices below $1000 where a large portion of your money is being consumed by the computerized mount and tracking system and not going to the telescope itself, which is what really matters.

The money you’re spending on a telescope should be going as much towards the aperture (size of the objective lens or mirror) as possible before you run out of storage/vehicle space or funds. No matter where you live or how good or bad your skies are, you will always benefit from more aperture – provided you can effectively manage it.

Only go for a computerized telescope if you a) cannot house or afford a larger manual telescope and b) understand and can handle the increased requirements of using one, such as leveling, aligning, and powering it; these things are arguably much more complicated than learning how to manually aim your telescope with the assistance of apps like SkySafari or a good old-fashioned star chart.

There are several different types of telescopes, with the most common types being refractor, reflector and catadioptric telescopes. You can read a bit more on this in our “refractors vs. reflectors” article, but here’s the gist of it.

Types of telescopes

Refracting telescopes are very sharp, use only lenses, and are almost entirely maintenance-free. However, they are incredibly expensive in terms of aperture per dollar, get cumbersome very quickly, simply aren’t available at large apertures, and most affordable refractors have chromatic aberration or “false color” which hampers views of bright objects, such as the Moon and planets.

Reflecting telescopes, almost always sold in the Newtonian reflecting configuration, provide the most bang for your buck in terms of light gathering power and resolution.

Thanks to their simplicity and low cost, they are the main type of telescope we recommend, and are available affordably even at very large apertures. Reflectors do require the occasional maintenance and alignment of the mirrors (collimation) must be done almost every time they are set up, but this is an easy process and is more than made up for by the enormous cost savings and simplicity of use that they provide.

Catadioptric telescopes are moderately expensive, but are much more compact than most equivalent sized refractors or reflectors. However, catadioptrics above or around 10-11” in aperture become extremely cumbersome, suffer from narrow fields of view, and are very expensive. Anything above this size basically requires a permanent observatory.

Catadioptrics are generally sold in two different variations: Schmidt-Cassegrains, which are more affordable and lightweight, and Maksutov-Cassegrains

Maksutovs provide better images and require basically no maintenance much like refractors, but are expensive, seldom available in apertures exceeding 7”, and large ones require lots of time to cool down before use.

Schmidts require the occasional collimation adjustment, but are otherwise relatively maintenance-free. However, on average, they deliver the least-sharp images of any telescope.

Budget for buying a telescope

Cheap telescopes under $100 are almost all toys. Scopes below $300-$400 are okay, but tend to have corners cut. A good telescope will last you a lifetime and you get what you pay for.

Essential Telescope Vocabulary

You don’t have to be a technical engineer to buy an awesome telescope, but if you understand a few concepts and terms like the ones below, you’ll be fine. 

Optical Tube Assembly – this is the actual “telescope” part of a telescope. The main types sold to consumers are refractors, reflectors, Schmidt-Cassegrains, and Maksutov-Cassegrains.

Aperture – This is the diameter of the front lens or rear mirror of the optical tube. This is usually stated in millimeters or inches. This is the key specification for judging the telescope’s capabilities. In general, the more aperture the better.

Focal Length – This is a measure of the optical path within the optical tube. Using this you can determine the magnification that will be provided by an eyepiece using a simple formula: Scope focal length / eyepiece focal length = magnification. For example, a 1250mm focal length with a 25mm eyepiece will provide 50x.

Focal Ratio or f# – If you’re familiar with photography, this might be a recognizable term. Focal ratio is simply the focal length divided by the aperture. It tells you about the physical size of the scope.

A low focal ratio optical tube will be shorter than a high focal ratio optical tube with the same aperture and of the same design – unless it is a catadioptric like a Schmidt or Maksutov-Cassegrain, which will be much physically shorter than the focal length would suggest.

Faster f/ratios enable lower magnifications, larger exit pupils, and wider fields of view with a given eyepiece, but fast reflectors tend to be harder to collimate while fast refractors have more chromatic aberration than their slower counterparts. The steep light cone of a faster instrument also 

Focuser – This moves the eyepiece back and forth along the light path of the telescope to bring the image into focus. Common sizes are 1.25 inch and 2 inch which determines the size of the diagonal or eyepiece that can be accepted. Some are single speed and some are dual speed, having a quick focus and a slow focus knob that allows much finer adjustments which can be helpful when using high magnification.

Diagonal – These are placed into the focuser and receive the eyepiece in refractors, SCTs, and MCTs. Common sizes are 1.25 inch and 2 inch which determines the diameter of the eyepiece that can be accepted. The diagonal turns the direction of the eyepiece either 45 degrees or 90 degrees to provide a more comfortable viewing angle. The 45-degree models, often marketed as erecting prisms, are usually for daytime use when the optical tube is fairly level for use as a spotting scope. The 90-degree diagonals, also called star diagonals, are better for astronomy as the optical tube is usually pointing high in the sky.

Mount – This is what holds the optical tube and allows you to point it effectively. They come in two variants: Alt-azimuth and equatorial. Alt-azimuth mounts move left-right and up-down just like a camera tripod, while equatorials move north-south (declination) and along the direction the Earth spins (right ascension). Serious astrophotography requires a good equatorial mount, 

The mount is an extremely important yet often overlooked part of the telescope system. If it does not have smooth motions it will be difficult to find and track targets. If it is wobbly it will be hard to point it or track, and focusing can be difficult. A good telescope tube is worthless if it is on a low-quality mount.

GoTo Mount – GoTo mounts can be either alt-azimuth or equatorial, but for non-photographic purposes operation is pretty similar. A GoTo mount has motors that are controlled by either a small handset or an app on your smart device.

After a quick initial alignment to inform the mount of the date, time, location, and positions of a few reference stars, you put your target choice into the computer and the computer automatically slews the mount/telescope to the target. The mount will also automatically track the sky.

Eyepiece – This is an interchangeable accessory that goes into the eyepiece holder/focuser and what you actually look into to see the image provided. The optical tube gathers light but it is the eyepiece that provides the magnification. Eyepieces come in various focal lengths, each providing a different magnification according to the focal length of the optical tube according to the formula:

Focal Length Optical Tube / Focal Length of Eyepiece = Magnification

Therefore a 10 mm eyepiece will provide 50x with a 500mm focal length and 150x in a telescope with a 1500mm focal length. Eyepieces are standardized on 1.25” and 2” diameters.

Which size you can use is determined by the focuser and/or star diagonal. Generally, you use low power eyepieces for the vast majority of observing as magnification is limited by your telescope’s resolution, the brightness of the target object, and the stability of the Earth’s atmosphere above and around your location.

Conclusion

A good telescope when looked after correctly will last you a lifetime, but it’s always important to match your telescope to suit your needs. Consider light pollution in your area, storage and transport capacity and the maintenance requirements of each scope before committing to a purchase.

Clear skies and happy hunting!


The #1 Best Telescopes under $1000 in 2021 8

Zane Landers

Zane Landers is a 17-year-old amateur astronomer and telescope maker. Zane has been featured in TIME, National Geographic, and Sky & Telescope, and in various other publications and conferences worldwide. Zane has also owned over 180 different telescopes of nearly every maker, brand and model imaginable, and his telescope recommendations have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of readers.

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