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Telescope Buying Guide 2021

Have you recently started a journey into the stars? While there are plenty of ways to observe the night sky without a telescope, observing the night sky through a telescope is a top bucket-list activity everyone should experience.

If you have already browsed the wide variety of telescopes we offer, you may be wondering where to start when considering which best telescope to buy. Read on to learn more about all the features of a telescope and learn which parts and telescope types are right for you!

telescope buying guide 1


The number one thing you should know is, what are you looking to do with the telescope? Are you interested in seeing the Moon and planets? Are you interested in imaging planets and deep space objects like galaxies and the Orion Nebula? Maybe you're interested in doing a little bit of everything. 

We offer many telescope kits that come ready for observing the night sky out of the box! If this is your first time buying a telescope, you can check out our beginner's guide on how to use a telescope to learn more about how each part works. 

Our experts are ready to answer your questions if you need some help making choices along the way. If you're looking for more details on what you need to know when buying a telescope, read on to learn more about what parts are right for you. 

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  • The Telescope Tube 
  • The Mount 
  • Eyepieces 
  • Accessories 


You will find that optical tubes are often labeled as an OTA, which stands for optical tube assembly. Some OTA's are better for astrophotography, while some are better for planetary. While there are many types of telescopes, there are three main types, reflectors, refractors, and catadioptric. Reflectors use mirrors; refractors use special glass, and catadioptric use both! Check out the most common telescopes in the list below to learn more about buying a telescope. 


  • Refractor Telescopes: most popular for deep space astrophotography.
    • Reflector Telescopes: most popular for visual.
      • Catadioptric Telescopes: Uses mirrors and glass, also known as cassegrian telescopes.
        • Astrograph Telescopes: astrophotography dedicated. 
        • Smart Telescopes: where smartphones and telescopes meet.

        Now that you've learned a little more about telescopes let's look at the next important part when buying a telescope, the mount. You may hear many times in our videos, or read in our blogs, that the mount is the most important part of your system.

        If telescopes are like the eyes of your system, the mount is the brain. Without the mount, the telescope can not function properly. Knowing what mount to buy depends on what you want to see when buying your telescope. There are two major types of mounts for astronomical telescopes: Alt-Azimuth and Equatorial.


        To view a deep space celestial object, you must align with the motion of the object you want to see in relation to Earth's motion.


        Your mount will help you track the celestial objects as it moves in the night sky. As everything in the sky is moving in space, Earth is also moving in space at its own rate. Your mount is a tool used to adjust your telescope's clear view of the object you want to see with Earth's motion and the object's motion.


        Almost all mounts are variations of two main categories: Altitude-Azimuth (Alt-Az) and equatorial. Both types of mounts can point the optical tube of your telescope around the sky, and both can function electronically to compensate for the Earth's rotation. 

        ALT-AZ MOUNTS 

        When buying a telescope mount, Altitude-Azimuth mounts are most commonly seen on Dobsonian types of telescopes. Alt-Az mounts move your telescope in an up and down motion or side to side motion. 

        telescope buying guide 3

        While Alt-Az mounts are ubiquitous and easy to use, they have one drawback, especially for astro-imagers looking to make long-exposure images. After a few seconds of tracking the sky, the field of view will rotate slightly as the Earth turns - even though the object you are looking at will still be centered in the eyepiece or camera frame. For short image exposures of less than a minute or using the scope visually through an eyepiece, this isn't a problem. For exposures of longer than about 5 minutes, the stars start to make small circles in the image.


        Equatorial mounts adapt to the Earth's rotation axis with the objects' motion in the night sky.

        telescope buying guide 4

        The advantage of equatorial mounts is that it eliminates field rotation and corrects the rotation of the Earth via one axis only (Alt-Az mounts require that BOTH axes be driven continuously). The disadvantage is that your mount must be aligned with the Earth's rotation axis (the North Star) to work correctly.

        Examples of an equatorial mount include center-balanced equatorial mount (CEM) that have an equatorial wedge to tilt the fork arms toward the North Pole and German equatorial mounts that come with many refractors.


        Eyepieces are a whole venture of their own because of the amount of magnifications available to you and what you can do with them! Most telescopes include additional eyepieces to provide more details of the objects you want to see. Sometimes you might notice that some include a Barlow lens, which doubles the magnification of whatever eyepiece you attach it to. 

        Feeling overwhelmed with the choices available? Check out our guide put together by OPT experts on how to find the best eyepieces for you! 


        Welcome to the world of enhancing your telescope buying experience! If you're buying a telescope kit, most come with all the accessories you need to get started. If you are building your own setup, you may want to look into different filters, hand controllers for computerized mounts, or focusers.

        Check out our list of the best telescope accessories here to get a head start. 

        We hope that this guide was useful in helping you get a start with buying a telescope. We proudly carry a wide variety of brands for your convenience. Please call us if you'd like some extra help! 

        What's your dream setup? Tell us in the comments!

        21 Responses


        June 02, 2021

        I’m looking to buying a telescope! Never had one before. I would like a telescope that is some what compact but still be able to see deep space! What would be the top three for that. And can you adapt a deep space telescope to just the see stars and the moon?


        May 24, 2021

        Hey Richard, great choice! The NexStar 8SE is a great beginner telescope because it tracks objects for you and it can be used for planetary and deep sky imaging. We’re happy to answer any more questions you may have. Please call us at 1-800-483-6287 so we can help you make the best choice!


        May 24, 2021

        Hey Balaji, sorry to hear you have bad light pollution in your area. There are a number of accessories and scopes we can suggest but it would be best that you call our tech team at 1-800-483-6287 to get you the best answers. Sending good wishes for clear skies your way!

        richard butler

        May 15, 2021

        how good is the nexstar 8se for beginers like me?

        Balaji Subbaiah

        April 07, 2021

        Hi. I live in Doha, Qatar. I have been using a 60mm dia refractor scope for observing the night sky. I want move on and do more, like observe and photograph galaxies and deep space objects. Which scope and accessories would you recommend for me. The light pollution is a major factor here, in the city limits.


        March 30, 2021

        Hey Brian! We are so excited for you to get started in the hobby! Dobsonians are a great beginner telescope type. You don’t need to buy a mount because of their base mount. Please reach out to us if you have any more questions. Clear skies!

        Brian Bolt

        March 28, 2021

        I am a beginner in the world of telescopes and star gazing. I have been researching for a while now to determine which telescope to buy. I have (I think) settled on a Dobsonian type. I am wondering if it is practical or necessary to buy a tripod type of mount for it.


        February 05, 2021

        Hi Casey, please contact us so we can help you make the best choice! In the meantime, a great scope for terrestrial viewing as well as night sky viewing is the William Optics RedCat 51X, ZenithStar, or other refractor. You’ll want to use a smartphone adapter to help keep stability and get the best clear image like the Celestron NeXYZ smartphone adapter. We hope this helps!


        February 05, 2021

        Hey Carissa! Congrats on getting started in the hobby! There are so many great choices, we narrowed it down for you on our “Best Telescopes Under 500” blog that you can check out. Please contact us if you would like any more help making the best choice on your first telescope! Clear skies!


        February 05, 2021

        Hey Adriana, an SCT or Dobsonian telescope are both great choices to get some awesome views of planets and the Moon. We recommend going for the one that fits your budget and that you can carry. A great example would be the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope. You can check out our “telescope” tab at the top of this page for more choices! We hope this helped, please contact us if you have any more questions.


        February 05, 2021

        Hey Sheri, great question. A refractor would be the best choice to go with because it doesn’t “flip” your view like a reflector does. Check out our “telescopes” tab at the top and select “refractor” for a narrowed down selection. A top-performing telescope for terrestrial viewing as well would be the William Optics RedCat 51X or ZenithStar. Please contact us so we can help you make the best choice.


        February 03, 2021

        My husband is an avid whale watcher. Looking for a telescope that he can take high quality photos with his iPhone ~ what’s the best recommendation?

        carissa Jamieson-Palferro

        January 28, 2021

        Hi, I have no knowledge of telescopes but I am wondering what would be the best one to have a good look at the stars and the moon nightly and occasionally planets when the time is right? Just wanna add I’m 19 and a student so something that will work good, that I can figure out but isn’t like more than $600. Thanks for your help.


        January 23, 2021

        im looking for a telescope that i could see saturns rings with which is best for that purpose?


        January 22, 2021

        Is there an ideal telescope that allows you to see celestial objects with detail that is more than looking like saturn is taped to the lens – clear but small. AND terrestrial – such as whales and ships passing by?


        January 19, 2021

        Hey Jeff, great question! Unfortunately, no. Planets are so far away that even the most high-end telescope cannot provide such detail of the planets but there are still ways to see more detail using a telescope under 500. You can check out our blog on the best telescopes under 500 for some examples. You might not see details like you can of the Moon for Jupiter or Mars but higher power eyepieces can provide some amazing detail. You also want to plan to observe around the best times to view the planet. For example, the the next best viewing of Venus is on the night of March 25. We hope this answers your question, if not please contact us by phone, email, or chat for expert support. Clear skies!


        January 08, 2021

        Is it possible to see close-ups of Jupiter or Mars as if you were looking at the moon with a telescope under $500 ???


        December 02, 2020

        Hey Terry, great question. The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ Smartphone Telescope is one of the best smartphone telescopes that uses your phone to guide you in aligning to your object. It also sounds like you may be interested in eyepieces with longer eye relief. We suggest looking at eyepieces with anything over 15 mm. Generally, any eyepiece with a eye relief that is 15-20mm is considered to have long eye relief and anything over 20mm+ is very long eye relief. Hope this helps! Please contact us for any more questions.


        November 29, 2020

        Recommend a telescope for stars/planets, etc have a hard time focusing with eye piece, wear glasses & find it hard to see/focus. Wondering abt one I can hook my phone Toto locate & view. Maybe even Bluetooth.


        September 15, 2020

        I’m looking for a way to make a good telscope for my self to study the sky’s. I’m not able to stand up to use a that would work without an all out reversed base.

        dan larson

        August 27, 2020

        need replacement RA drive motor for Meade etx90 telescope about 15 years old,

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