A quality starter telescope will to propel you forward in astronomy rather than dimming your enthusiasm. Scopes that encourage enthusiasm have quality optics, go-to capability, customer support and overall value. You get all of that and more with Celestron's NexStar 130 SLT, our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award winner.
A telescope's ability to gather light is the most important factor, even at the beginner level. The more light it gathers, the more it will be able to illuminate your understanding of the universe. Aperture, the diameter of each scope's main optical element, is almost everything, and this scope has quite a bit of it. The 130-mm aperture with NexStar should offer an impressive amount of detail in your views of the moon's surface, one of the first and best views for many beginners.
The crisp images you see of the moon through the NexStar 130 SLT will make you want to see more. You should be able to see much more with this unit, including the ice caps on Mars and the cloud belts on Jupiter. But this scope really shines for deep space observing. You should be able to see a number of the Messier objects with truly impressive detail.
This scope has a Newtonian design, which will make it much less useful for terrestrial viewing because you’d have to stand (or sit) at the side of the optical tube. The image would also be upside down. This means it isn’t point and shoot. If you were counting on birdwatching or other daytime uses with your first scope, you may want to consider other telescopes for beginners, but the NexStar 130 SLT's views of the heavens are truly stellar every time.
This NexStar is compatible with 2-inch eyepieces. That opens up some great possibilities for wide-field spacewalking, of a sort. It also lends an element of future proofing; your next telescope (after this NexStar) is very likely to require 2-inch glass.
Capturing those views through astrophotography would be a challenge with any of the telescopes in our lineup, including this one, but this model does have the capability. Telescopes for beginners do not generally have tracking accurate enough to create a great astro-photo. You may still be able to get a decent shot with a little time and practice, though, and astrophotography can add another enlightening layer to the astronomy hobby.
All of the telescopes for beginners we looked at are computerized, but not all of them are motorized. This one is both, and that should be a big help for beginners. Celestron's SkyAlign feature makes it possible for your telescope to calculate its position by entering the date, time and your location. Then you point it at three bright celestial objects – this can include the moon, bright planets and anything else. You don't even need to know what the objects are. The telescope's computer will figure that out and inform you. Once the telescope measures the angles between the three objects and zeroes in on its position, it will be able to take you on a tour of the universe.
Having tried a telescope with an external battery pack, we prefer one that has internal batteries like this one does. It seems like a minor issue until your telescope is tracking an object for even a short time. The cord leading to the battery pack can become tightly wound around portions of the mount. Fishing it out takes time, which is a bad thing to waste on a clear night. Also, it is possible to damage the cord casing in the process. On the other hand, external power tanks will last longer and are easier to recharge. You would just have to learn to watch for cord wrap.
Celestron makes setup so easy for most users. You won't even need tools unless you have to align the primary mirror. If the telescope is handled with care, you might not even need to adjust the mirrors very often. If you do, it will take a screwdriver, an accessory or two, and more than a little time if you are new to collimation.
Once you have assembled the NexStar 130 SLT, you will enjoy features that make your new telescope easier to use. The hand controller sports large illuminated buttons that are easy to find and operate in the dark with chilly fingers. The mount has an extra port for adding accessories like a GPS unit. The telescope is preprogrammed to point itself at more than 4,000 celestial objects, and the included software, The Sky X – First Light Edition, will help you find even more. You can even take control of the scope from your computer.
With a 5-inch primary mirror, no one would expect this unit to be one of the lightest telescopes for beginners, and it isn't. We think the views you get are worth the 18 pounds though, and it is still relatively portable. You should be able to fit it into an average car; there’s no need to borrow a truck or an SUV if you live in a city neighborhood and need to transport your telescope away from the light pollution.
Aside from some painfully long hold times, Celestron customer support is good. Some telescope dealers make it so difficult to find even the basics, but the Celestron website is excellent, so you may never need to call them. Answers to most questions we could think of are either on the product page, which is very specific about every aspect of each instrument, or in the manual, which is very easy to find with Celestron's site layout. Celestron also maintains a detailed knowledgebase that is easy to navigate and understand for new astronomers.
There is a step-by-step instructional set-up video associated with this particular beginner telescope in the support tab. The video does not even have (or need) narration, just background music and a few on-screen instructions. Assembly is so easy it does not even require words. We like being able to find the video easily just in case though.
Aperture fever eventually strikes most astronomers, so we recommend starting with a little more aperture than what many folks expect from telescopes for beginners. You can do that for a very fair price with the NexStar 130 SLT. The quality optics offer impressive views of the lunar surface, the planets and much more. You cannot get a look at any of those unless you can find them in the sky. This beginner telescope tackles that issue for you with its go-to capabilities. In fact, it really removes most difficulties that can surface for a beginning astronomer; it is portable, easy to align and easy to assemble, offering great views within a short time of opening the box.
The quality optics on this telescope offer impressive views of Jupiter's cloud belts, the ice caps on Mars and much more.
This will not be a good instrument for birds or any other terrestrial targets.
A combination of light-gathering and go-to capabilities provide an amazing overall value. Expect impressive views in a lightweight package that is easy to assemble.