2016 Telescope of the Year Awards

Welcome back to the Telescope of the Year Awards! Our experts have spent the last few months comparing dozens telescopes from the top astronomy brands. We assembled them in our offices, tested them under dark skies, and got first impressions from real TelescopesPlus.com customers. From the quality of the materials to the latest tech-savvy features, we explored every aspect of today’s best telescopes, and now we’re ready to reveal our favorites.

Every step of the way, we kept you, our customers, at the top of our minds. We hope these selections will help you find the right telescope and experience the Universe in a new way. No matter your experience level or budget, you’ll find plenty of telescopes and accessories here for you.

Now, get ready to meet our best group of award-winning telescopes ever!

Telescope of the Year: Celestron NexStar SE Series

In 2016, the Celestron NexStar SE telescope reigns supreme, winning our Telescope of the Year award for five straight years! Our team is continually impressed with this workhorse. It’s the perfect combination of aperture, portability, features, and value. Whether you’re buying your first telescope or ready to upgrade, this is a telescope you can invest in and enjoy 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 further enhance brightness and clarity.

When you get your observing site, setting up a NexStar SE is quick and easy. What’s more, you’ll always have a rewarding night of viewing thanks to the hand control’s internal database of more than 40,000 celestial objects.

The NexStar SE series held onto its title again this year thanks to some key technology breakthroughs at Celestron. Now, the SE is compatible with both the StarSense AutoAlign and SkyPortal WiFi Module accessories. Use them together and you can turn this telescope into a 100% automated tour guide of the night sky. The StarSense analyzes star patterns overhead to automatically align the telescope’s computer and SkyPortal turns your smartphone or tablet into a wireless hand control. Simply hold your device up to the night sky and tap any object you wish to view. In seconds, your NexStar SE has it centered in the eyepiece and will track it as it moves across the sky. (Check out our Innovation of the Year award to learn more.)

Another key update for 2016: Celestron has released a wedge accessory for the 6” and 8” models. That means you can now use your NexStar SE for long exposure astrophotography with your DSLR camera. Our favorite telescope just got even more versatile.

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 cosmos through a Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ than any other telescope. We selected the AstroMaster as an ideal starter scope again this year thanks to its large 4.5" optical tube that provides sharp views of all the best celestial objects. The equatorial mount introduces telescope newbies to the basics of navigating the sky while the slow motion controls make it easy to track an object as it drifts across the sky. With a complete package (telescope, full-height tripod, mount, and accessories) under $160, we recommend the AstroMaster as the perfect 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. Simply grab your smartphone and your AstroMaster and you’re ready for an unforgettable night of observing.

Learn more about the Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ >>

Best Telescope for Gadget Lovers: Celestron NexStar Evolution 

Hailed “the coolest app-cessory in the galaxy” by Wired.com, NexStar Evolution isn’t just the Best Telescope for Gadget Lovers, it’s a game-changer for amateur astronomy. This Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, available in 6”, 8” and 9.25” apertures, generates its own WiFi network, so you can control it wirelessly using your smartphone or tablet. SkyPortal, Celestron’s free app for iOS and Android, provides an intuitive, user-friendly experience under the stars. In addition to wireless telescope control, it also 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 cool enough, NexStar 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 NexStar Evolution on the scene, stargazing will never be the same.

Learn more about the Celestron NexStar Evolution WiFi telescope >>

Best Intermediate Telescope: Zhumell Z Series Dobsonian Series

If you’re ready to trade in your starter scope for a more serious instrument, look no further than Zhumell’s Z Series Dobsonians. These telescopes have become a cult favorite among amateur astronomers because of their aperture-per-dollar value and high-end finishes.

Zhumell built this scope around the huge primary mirror—8”, 10”, or 12”—keeping the rest of the design streamlined. The views through a Zhumell Dob speak for themselves. These massive light buckets bring in bright, clear views of even faint celestial objects. Just push the telescope on its smooth ball bearings toward your desired object. Once you’ve centered it, improved clutches keep the telescope in place. This simple design doesn’t get in your way, so you can spend more time enjoying the spectacular views.

Despite an opening price point of just $399, the Z Series Dobs are anything but stripped-down. In addition to the telescope’s precision optics and sturdy construction, you get lots of bonus accessories. An integrated fan helps your optics cool down quickly, a right angle finderscope provides a more comfortable viewing position for 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 show you a new perspective on the Universe the first night you take it out—and for years to come.

Learn more about the Zhumell Z Series Dobsonians >>

Best Telescope Value: Zhumell Z130 Portable Reflector Telescope

New for 2016, Zhumell has redefined the entry-level telescope with an impressive lineup of portable reflectors. Inspired by the brand’s smash success Z Series Dobsonians, these mini versions offer the same great performance in a more portable package—at an even lower price.

Choosing this year’s Best Telescope Value was easy once we got our hands on the Zhumell Z130, the largest of the new portable reflectors. Not only does this telescope bring in sharp views of all the best celestial objects, it’s priced under $200. Like its full-sized Dobsonian cousins, the Z130 puts your money where it belongs—into the 5” primary mirror. Its wide field of view is perfect for scanning the Milky Way and viewing larger objects like the Pleiades Star Cluster and comets.

The Z130’s smart design includes a stable wooden Dobsonian base that can be placed directly on the ground, on a stool, or on any tabletop. You’ll also receive 10mm and 17mm eyepieces, which stow away securely on the included accessory tray. Best of all, the entire telescope kit is compact enough to fit perfectly in even the smallest vehicles. Your camping trips, barbecues, and summer bonfires are about to get a lot more fun!

Learn more about the Zhumell Z130 Portable Reflector >>

Best Kids' Telescope under $100: 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: refractor optical tube, tripod with telescope mount, an erect image diagonal for comfortable viewing, two eyepieces, and a finderscope.

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 ETX-80 Observer Telescope with Backpack

Enthusiastic young stargazers can navigate the night sky with ease with the all-new Meade ETX-80 Observer, our choice for Best Computerized Telescope for Kids. Young astronomers will quickly master the AudioStar hand control to slew the telescope, align the computer, navigate to more than 30,000 celestial objects, and listen to audio descriptions as they observe. The compact 80mm refractor is portable and lightweight, so kids can carry it in the included backpack or take it along on a camping trip.

The ETX-80 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 included. Next, the ETX boasts an integrated flip mirror. Users can easily toggle back and forth between an eyepiece and a camera. That means your young astronomer can explore the exciting world of astrophotography without buying lots of additional equipment. Just add an inexpensive solar system camera, and you have the ideal setup for capturing great shots of the Moon and planets.

Learn more about the Meade ETX-80 Observer Telescope with Backpack >>

Favorite Solar Telescope: Coronado P.S.T.

The most exciting celestial event of our lifetimes is coming up—and it won’t happen during the nighttime hours. On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the United States from coast to coast, dazzling millions of observers. Believe it or not, the time to start preparing for this rare event is now. Bring your astronomy hobby into the daylight hours and learn the basics of solar viewing in 2016, so you’re ready for the ultimate eclipse experience next year.

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—including next year’s eclipse—with your Coronado P.S.T. 

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

Reviewer’s Choice: Celestron NexStar 130SLT

Most first-time telescope buyers assume that computerized, star tracking telescopes must be prohibitively expensive. While a telescope that automatically pinpoints galaxies at the push of a button might seem like science fiction, our customers are delighted to learn that they are surprisingly affordable. And no other telescope brings together excellent optical performance and all the bells and whistles for just under $400.

Our customers consistently give the 130SLT stellar reviews because it offers many of the same features and flexibility you’ll find in more advanced models like the NexStar SE, at a beginner-friendly price. For example, you’ll find the SkyAlign alignment procedure built in, so you only need to center three bright objects to align the telescope’s computer. The SLT series also includes the SkyTour feature to show you the best objects currently visible based on your exact time and location. And finally, this scope is compatible with both StarSense AutoAlign and the SkyPortal WiFi Module for fully automated, wireless observing via your mobile device.

There are less expensive telescopes in the NexStar SLT series, but the 5” Newtonian reflector provides a boost in aperture that’s worth the money—a full 30% more light gathering ability than a 114mm telescope. Our customers rave that the 130SLT provides “stunning visuals of planets, nebulae, and galaxies.” This telescope is a customer favorite, reviewer’s favorite, and it will be your favorite, too.

Learn more about the Celestron NexStar 130SLT 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 eyepieces ever since, starting in 1979 when 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" 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” 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. Even if you don’t have a clear view of Polaris, you can align to the North Celestial Pole for long exposure astrophotography in just a few 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, you can configure this versatile system 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. All you have to do is capture your cosmic masterpiece.

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

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

Astronomy, astrophotography, time-lapse photography: this Sky-Watcher mount 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 because it’s also a perfect choice for any smaller optical tube with a Vixen-style connection. 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 >>

Must-Have Accessory: 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. It’s the absolute easiest way to point and aim your telescope. This star finder is different from traditional finderscopes due to its non-magnifying reticle design. The Telrad projects three red rings measuring 4 degrees, 2 degrees, and 1/2 degree in diameter. These rings make “star-hopping” to faint celestial objects quick and painless. 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. 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 >>

Innovation of the Year: Celestron StarSense AutoAlign + SkyPortal WiFi Module

In the fast-paced telescope industry, manufacturers are always competing to one-up each other when it comes to technology. Back in 2009, automatic alignment telescopes first came onto the scene. These specialized scopes—like Celestron’s SkyProdigy and Meade’s LightSwitch—seemed like magic. With the press of a button, they could determine their own position and align themselves to the night sky with no user input.


 Then, as with all of today’s gadgets, customers demanded that their telescope work with a mobile device. Another slew of specialized telescopes hit the scene, starting with the Cosmos 90GT WiFi telescope by Celestron. Customers loved being able to command the telescope to locate and track objects with the tap of a smartphone screen.

But it wasn’t until this year that these two technologies joined forces. New for 2016, Celestron’s StarSense AutoAlign and SkyPortal WiFi Module are now compatible, creating the ultimate Innovation of the Year: an elegant, do-it-all telescope solution for WiFi control and automatic alignment. Best of all, if you own a Celestron computerized telescope, you can enjoy this technology powerhouse with your existing equipment.

Newbies and seasoned astroimagers alike will love this innovation. You’ll save time in the field and also enjoy Celestron’s most accurate alignment possible. Once these two handy tools are part of your setup, you won’t know how you lived without them.

Learn more about the Celestron StarSense AutoAlign automatic alignment accessory >>
Learn more about the Celestron SkyPortal WiFi Module >>


Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed the article and can't wait to bring you a new slate of award winners in 2017.

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