2015 Telescopes of the Year Awards

TelescopesPlus.com welcomes you back to our annual Telescope of the Year Awards. Every year, we put telescopes from the top-rated manufacturers in the world to the test. From the quality of construction to the most advanced features, we explore every aspect of today’s best telescopes to determine the top performers. We assemble and study them closely in our building, take them home, and get customers’ impressions at star parties. Most importantly, our experts rate each telescope with our customers in mind.

We hope our selections will help you find the right telescope for you and your hobby. This year, we’ve added several new categories, so whether you’re on an astronomical or terrestrial budget, there are telescopes and accessories here for you. Read on to learn more about the winners!

Telescope of the Year: Celestron NexStar SE Series

For the fourth straight year, the Celestron NexStar SE telescope reigns supreme, winning our Telescope of the Year award for 2015! The TelescopesPlus.com team just can’t get enough of NexStar SE; it’s the perfect combination of aperture, portability, technological features, and value. Whether you’re buying your first telescope or ready to upgrade, you’ll enjoy this scope for years to come.

What makes NexStar SE so special? You won’t be asking once you look through its Maksutov-Cassegrain or Schmidt-Cassegrain optical system. From 4” to 8” in aperture, these compact, grab-and-go scopes pack serious light gathering ability. Celestron has been manufacturing Cassegrain telescopes since the 1950s, and their expertise shows when you look through the eyepiece. Proprietary StarBright XLT optical coatings enhance brightness and clarity.

Setting up a NexStar SE is quick and easy with Celestron’s SkyAlign technology. Center any three bright objects in the eyepiece and your telescope is aligned and ready to locate thousands of celestial objects. It can even take you on a Sky Tour of the best objects currently visible based on your exact location.

In recent years, Celestron has released some exciting new telescope accessories. With NexStar SE, you can customize your setup with all the latest technology. Add the SkyQ Link 2 WiFi Module to control your telescope wirelessly with your smartphone or choose the StarSense AutoAlign and let your telescope align itself in about three minutes. NexStar SE also a great choice for those interested in planetary imaging. The possibilities are endless!

Learn more about Celestron NexStar SE telescopes >>

Best Telescope for Beginners: Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ

Every year, more amateur astronomers get their first view of the Universe through an AstroMaster 114EQ than any other telescope. We selected the AstroMaster as an ideal starter scope again this year thanks to its simple design and large primary mirror. The AstroMaster 114EQ has enough light gathering ability to view all the best celestial objects. Plus, the equatorial mount introduces telescope newbies to the basics of navigating the night sky: aligning the telescope and tracking objects as they move. With a complete package (telescope, tripod, mount, and accessories) under $200, we recommend the AstroMaster as a gift for kids or adults who've expressed interest in looking skyward.

Don’t forget to download Celestron’s free stargazing app, SkyPortal for your iOS or Android device. It’s a real-time, interactive star map with hundreds of audio descriptions for popular celestial objects. Combined with your AstroMaster, it’s everything you need for an unforgettable night of observing.

Learn more about the Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ >>

Best GPS Telescope: Celestron CPC Deluxe HD Series

For top-of-the-line performance with all the bells and whistles, look no further than Celestron’s CPC Deluxe HD series. A built-in GPS allows you to take this unit anywhere and set it up quickly. Just power on the telescope and it automatically calculates the date, time, longitude, and latitude. From there, center any three bright objects and you’re ready to locate thousands of objects in the night sky. The beefed-up Deluxe HD model features a rock-solid dual fork arm mount with improved tracking accuracy.

But what about the views? Celestron’s proprietary EdgeHD optics are razor-sharp, even along the edge of the field where other telescopes get fuzzy. Get ready to view hundreds of pinpoint stars in globular clusters, the swirling arms of galaxies, gas clouds, and more.
Interested in astroimaging? Earlier this year, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking began imaging with his own CPC Deluxe HD telescope. Imagine capturing the rings of Saturn or attaching your DSLR for deep sky astrophotography.

Learn more about Celestron CPC Deluxe HD >>

Best Intermediate Telescope: Sky-Watcher GoTo Collapsible Dobsonian

If you’re ready to step up to a larger telescope, it doesn’t get much bigger or better than the Sky-Watcher GoTo Collapsible Dobsonian. Available in sizes up to 16”, the larger Sky-Watcher Dobs bring in enough light that you’ll begin to discern detail not usually seen in consumer telescopes, such as color in the Orion Nebula. Although it offers a huge primary mirror, this telescope breaks down into smaller pieces, while the collapsible truss tube makes it easy to transport to your observing site.

We chose Sky-Watcher’s newest Dob for Best Intermediate Telescope because it combines massive aperture with GoTo technology. Star hopping is a thing of the past thanks to the computerized SynScan hand control. It offers precise tracking but won’t lose its alignment if you manually swing the scope over for a quick view of the Moon. Like all of Sky-Watcher’s high-quality Dobs, the GoTo version offers high-end finishes like a 2” Crayford focuser and Teflon bearings.

Learn more about Sky-Watcher GoTo Collapsible Dobsonians >>

Best Telescope Value: Zhumell Z Series Dobsonian Series

When it comes to telescopes, size does matter. Get the most aperture per dollar with a Zhumell Z Series Dobsonian, our pick for Best Telescope Value of 2015. Not only do these massive light buckets bring in bright, clear views of even faint celestial objects, they start at just $399. The Z Series Dobsonian is built around a huge primary mirror—8”, 10”, or 12”—keeping the rest of the design simple and streamlined. Just push the telescope on its ball bearings toward your desired object. Once you’ve centered it, improved clutches keep the telescope in place.

The Z Series is affordable, but that doesn’t mean it’s stripped-down. You still get excellent quality optics and lots of bonus accessories. An integrated fan helps your optics cool down quickly, a right angle finderscope provides a more comfortable viewing angle when locating your next target, and two fully multi-coated eyepieces provide low and high power views. It even comes with a laser collimator! This handy tool helps you keep your optics in perfect alignment with just a few simple adjustments. Your Z Series Dobsonian will prove its value the first night you take it out—and for years to come.

Learn more about the Zhumell Z Series Dobsonians >>

Best Manual Telescope for Kids: Vixen Space Eye 50

Help your young scientist explore the Universe with their first telescope! We love the Vixen Space Eye 50 because of its simple, easy-to-use design that puts kids in control. The entire telescope and tripod kit weighs just 6.2 pounds, so even little ones can set it up by themselves. The 50mm refractor is ideal for viewing the Moon and planets. An intuitive altazimuth mount makes it easy to aim the telescope and make adjustments as objects drift across the sky.

“I was impressed with the quality of the scope,” a TelescopesPlus.com reviewer wrote. “My grandson loved it. We gave it to him as a birthday gift and for a four-year-old, he took to it like a fish to water.”

This telescope is a real scientific instrument, not a toy. It’s manufactured by Vixen, a Japanese optics maker that’s been in the business since 1949. The Space Eye 50 includes everything kids need to get started with astronomy: an erect image diagonal, two eyepieces, and a finderscope.

Learn more about the Vixen Space Eye 50 telescope >>

Best Computerized Telescope for Kids: Meade ETX80AT-TC Astro Telescope with AutoStar

Enthusiastic young stargazers can navigate the night sky with ease with the Meade ETX80AT-TC Telescope, our choice for Best Computerized Telescope for Kids. Young astronomers will quickly master the AutoStar hand control to slew the telescope, align the computer, and navigate to more than 1,400 celestial objects including galaxies, nebulae, planets, and more. The compact 80mm refractor is portable and lightweight, so kids can carry it in a backpack or take it along on a camping trip.

The ETX80 stands out among telescopes in its price range thanks to a few unique features. Although the telescope includes two eyepieces (26mm and 9.7mm), there’s also a built in Barlow lens. With the flip of a lever, the internal Barlow moves in front of the eyepiece, effectively doubling its magnification! Barlow lenses are usually sold separately for $40 or more, so we love that it’s built into the ETX80. Next, the ETX includes an integrated flip mirror. Users can easily toggle back and forth between an eyepiece and a camera. This feature means your young astronomer can grow into an astroimager with their ETX80! With automatic tracking, it’s a great telescope for imaging the Moon and planets.

Learn more about the Meade ETX80 telescope >>

Best Eyepiece Brand: Tele Vue Optics

Tele Vue founder Al Nagler began as an optics prodigy at the Bronx High School of Science, where he built his first 8” telescope. Early in his career, NASA tapped Nagler to design a lunar simulator to help Apollo astronauts practice landing on the Moon. “That was a project that really changed my life because it allowed me to see the kinds of fields of view the astronauts saw…going upwards of 100 degrees,” Nagler explained. After his experience with the Apollo simulator, Nagler embarked on a quest to recreate “spacewalk viewing” for amateur astronomers.

Tele Vue Optics has been an innovator in eyepiece technology ever since, starting in 1979 when Al Nagler reinvented the Plössl eyepiece. His new, sharp-to-the-edge design was awarded a patent. Next, he produced his signature Nagler line of eyepieces with an 82-degree apparent field of view. Over the years, Tele Vue has continued to improve their existing eyepieces while developing new ones. Finally, Nagler realized his dream of “astronaut” viewing with the Ethos line. Designed in collaboration with his son David and Paul Dellichiaie, Ethos offers 100- and even 110-degree fields of view. The Ethos SX line, named after Nagler’s “Simulator Experience,” truly captures the feeling of looking out of Apollo’s window into the vastness of space. Tele Vue eyepieces set the industry standard, providing views “even better than you imagined.” That’s why Tele Vue Optics is our undisputed choice for Best Eyepiece Brand.

Learn more about Tele Vue telescope eyepieces >>

Best Telescope for Imaging: Celestron Advanced VX 8-inch EdgeHD Telescope

Get the features and performance of a top-of-the-line imaging setup at a fraction of the cost with the Advanced VX 8-inch EdgeHD Telescope. For our money, it’s the best portable imaging rig available—and best of all, it’s priced under $2,000. Let’s start with the mount: engineered from the ground up for imaging, Advanced VX includes all the same features of Celestron’s flagship CGE Pro mount, but sized for payloads under 30 pounds. You’ll get permanently programmable periodic error correction for dead-on tracking accuracy, integer gear ratios, and an autoguider port. Plus, Celestron’s All Star Polar Alignment procedure is built into the hand control, so you’ll be ready for an imaging session in just minutes.

When it comes to optical performance, Celestron has you covered. The 8” EdgeHD optical tube delivers edge-to-edge sharpness across DSLR sensors and the largest CCD chips. Plus, this versatile system can be configured for imaging at three different focal ratios: place the camera at prime focus to image at f/10, use a custom-made EdgeHD focal reducer to reach f/7, or attach a Hyperstar lens assembly to the front of your telecope for ultra-fast f/2.2 wide field imaging. The Advanced VX does it all without compromise. Get ready to capture your cosmic masterpiece.

Learn more about Celestron's Advanced VX 8" EdgeHD Telescope >>

Innovation of the Year: Celestron NexStar Evolution 8

Hailed “the coolest app-cessory in the galaxy” by Wired.com, NexStar Evolution 8 isn’t just the Innovation of the Year, it’s a game-changer for amateur astronomy. This 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope generates its own WiFi network, so you can control it wirelessly using your smartphone or tablet with SkyPortal, Celestron’s free app for iOS and Android. SkyPortal provides an elegant, user-friendly experience under the stars. In addition to wireless telescope control, it includes a full-featured planetarium with over 120,000 celestial objects and audio descriptions for hundreds of the most popular planets, galaxies, and nebulae.

As if communicating wirelessly with your phone wasn’t enough, Evolution offers other enhancements to make your stargazing experience seamless. It’s the first telescope with a built-in lithium ion battery with enough juice to power a 10-hour stargazing marathon. There’s also a USB port so you can tap into the battery to charge up your mobile device if it’s running low. With the introduction of the NexStar Evolution, stargazing will never be the same.

Learn more about the Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 WiFi telescope >>

Must-Have Accessory for Manual Telescopes: Telrad Telescope Reflex Sight with Mounting Base

If you’ve ever tried navigating the night sky with a Telrad Reflex Sight, you know why it’s our choice for Must-Have Accessory for Manual Telescopes. It’s the absolute easiest way to point and aim your telescope. This star finder is different from traditional finderscopes with its non-magnifying reticle design. The Telrad projects three red rings spaced at 4 degrees, 2 degrees, and 1/2 degree in diameter. These rings are used to "star hop" to objects. If, for example, a galaxy is 10 degrees south of a star, you simply count two 4-degree jumps and one 2-degree jump, and you're there! The Telrad’s large, 1x optical window makes looking through the finder comfortable and intuitive. A Telrad is an essential for astronomy newbies and owners of large Dobsonian telescopes alike. It can speed up the alignment process for computerized telescopes, too.

Learn more about the Telrad Reflex Sight for Telescopes >>

Must-Have Accessory for Computerized Telescopes: Celestron StarSense AutoAlign

Why is StarSense AutoAlign this year’s Must-Have Accessory for Computerized Telescopes? Because it will revolutionize your stargazing experience every time you use it. Compatible with all current Celestron computerized telescopes, the StarSense kit consists of a miniature camera mounted in place of a finderscope and the new StarSense hand control. Once you’ve set up the unit, power it on and let StarSense align your telescope with the night sky automatically. In under three minutes, this clever accessory calculates its exact position and generates a list of all the celestial objects currently visible—no user input needed.

Newbies and seasoned astroimagers alike will love StarSense AutoAlign. It saves you time in the field and also enables you to get Celestron’s most accurate alignment possible. Advanced users can add up to 10 calibration stars to StarSense’s alignment for dead-on tracking accuracy for long exposure astrophotography. Once StarSense AutoAlign is part of your setup, you won’t know how you lived without it.

Learn more about the Celestron StarSense AutoAlign automatic alignment accessory >>

Imaging Innovation of the Year: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Astro Package

Astronomy, astrophotography, time-lapse photography: this mount from Sky-Watcher does it all. The new Star Adventurer is perfectly suited to the increasingly-popular art form of nighttime landscape and starscape photography. Track the night sky in lunar, solar, or sidereal modes while pre-programmed parameters ensure perfect exposure times. There’s even an integrated shutter release for your DSLR. We love the Star Adventurer Astro Package because it’s also a perfect choice for any smaller optical tube with a Vixen-style mount. This compact tracking mount is your ideal companion for a camping trip or other outdoor excursion, since you can view the stars and capture them with one versatile piece of gear.

Learn more about the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Astro Package >>

Favorite Solar Telescope: Coronado P.S.T.

Counting down the hours until dark…what’s an amateur astronomer to do? Bring your hobby into the daylight hours by observing the Sun, of course! You could attach a solar filter to your nighttime telescope to view sunspots in white light. But there’s nothing quite like viewing the Sun in hydrogen-alpha. This limited wavelength renders the Sun in stunning red-orange, displaying prominences, filaments, and fiery surface detail not visible in a white light telescope. Before the Coronado P.S.T., hydrogen-alpha scopes typically ran in the thousands of dollars. But this 40mm grab-and-go scope is our Favorite Solar Telescope because it provides all the “wow” factor of hydrogen-alpha observing without breaking the bank. The P.S.T. (Personal Solar Telescope) features internal solar filtering optics plus a solar finderscope, so it’s completely safe. It’s a great way to get started with solar imaging, too. We’ve captured some impressive shots just by positioning a smartphone at the eyepiece! Discover the fun of solar observing and be ready for any solar event—from sunspots to a total eclipse—with your Coronado P.S.T. 

Learn more about the Coronado P.S.T. by Meade >>

Reviewer’s Choice: Celestron NexStar 130SLT

Beginners looking for the convenience of automatic star locating and tracking love the Celestron NexStar 130SLT telescope. It offers many of the same features found on more advanced computerized telescopes, but at an entry-level price point. The NexStar+ computerized hand control can locate more than 4,000 celestial objects and alignment is as easy as centering any three stars in the eyepiece. You can also control your NexStar SLT with your home computer and the included NexRemote software.

TelescopesPlus.com customers love the experience this telescope delivers right out of the box. Reviewers call the NexStar 130SLT “the perfect starter telescope” and say it provides “stunning visuals of planets, nebulae, and galaxies.” With 5” of aperture, this Newtonian reflector offers 30 percent more light gathering ability than the AstroMaster 114EQ. This telescope is a customer favorite, reviewer’s favorite, and it will be your favorite, too.

Learn more about the Celestron NexStar 130SLT telescope >>

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed the article. We can't wait to bring you a new round of awards in 2016!
Shop all the award winners >>