5 Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets in 2020 [Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, etc.]

Planetary viewing is often one of the first things people do when beginning their adventure into amateur astronomy. It’s quite easy with the right equipment, and it’s endlessly rewarding to get your telescope all set up, configured, and find crystal-clear images of Saturn’s rings. 

But, what telescope works the best for viewing planets? Are some better than others? If so, why? We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this guide to choosing the best planetary telescopes!

We Recommend

Best for the money

Celestron NexStar
Evolution 8 Telescope

Best price/value ratio

Orion SkyQuest
XT8 Telescope

Best budget option

Celestron NexStar
127SLT Telescope

Word about planets

Most of the planets in our solar system—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—are already visible to the naked eye from Earth. Even with a decent pair of 25x binoculars, you can make out the rings of Saturn, albeit only slightly. With a telescope, though, you can easily observe planets and other deep space objects in much better detail! 

But what magnifications do you really need for specific planets? Below, we’ve listed some planets and what magnification ranges we recommend for a pleasant viewing experience:

Planet

Recommended Magnifications

Saturn

25x – 50x

Saturn’s Rings

150x

Mars

100x – 200x

Jupiter

180x – 300x

We left out Mercury and Venus because they are quite challenging to observe! Observing Mercury requires a solar filter for your telescope and a lot of patience. Venus is the most difficult to find of the two, as it’s best viewed during the day and hides behind a thick cloud.

Which types of telescopes are best for planetary viewing?

The two main types of telescopes are reflectors and refractors. Refractors use lenses to gather light and focus it to an observer, while a reflector gathers and focuses the light using mirrors. While both types will work for planetary viewing, a refractor is typically a more economical choice for a beginner or intermediate astronomer. 

Refractors generally offer higher apertures for lower prices, making them an excellent choice for viewing planets or for astrophotography. Some refractors due suffer from chromatic aberration, which causes an object to exhibit a light-ring around it, but many are now apochromatic, which fixes this issue. 

Reflectors, on the other hand, excel at gathering larger amounts of light for observing deep-sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae. For optimum planetary viewing, they generally require a higher aperture, typically around 150mm or higher. This inevitably makes them more expensive than refractors. 

So, unless you don’t have a budget to worry about, refractors are the best bang for your buck for viewing planetary bodies.

How big should the aperture be?

Aperture is the most crucial metric for all telescopes, regardless of what you’re viewing. The aperture of a telescope is simply the diameter of the primary lens or mirror, called the “objective.” The larger the lens or mirror, the better the observing quality, but also the more expensive they get. 

  • For viewing planets crisply and clearly, the best telescope will have a decently large aperture, at least 80mm or 90mm. 
  • We recommend using a telescope with an aperture of at least 100mm or 120mm to view planets and the moon (120mm is widely regarded as the “sweet spot” for astronomical viewing).
  • A telescope’s ability to gather light is proportional to the area of its mirror or lens, and aperture also follows a square-rule. 
  • So, a reflective telescope with a 200mm aperture gathers nearly four times as much light as a 100mm. This means that the crispest and clearest images of planets come from telescopes with apertures over 200mm! 

What about focal length?

Once a telescope gathers light through its primary lens or mirror, it travels down to the back to another set of optics that focuses it and displays an image of a distant object. Focal length simply measures this distance the light has to travel from the front of the telescope to the back.

  • Focal length also affects viewing capability—longer focal lengths offer more focused and narrower images of objects, while a short focal length provides a much wider field of view.
  • Because of the affect focal length has on your field of view with a telescope, a longer focal length is perfect for viewing planets or single objects. 
  • It makes them appear larger and provides much greater detail. If you’re looking to see Saturn, the Moon, or any other planets, you’ll want a telescope with a minimum focal length of at least 1,000mm (preferably higher if your aperture is higher too).

Don't forget high-magnification eyepieces

The objective or front-end of a telescope gathers the light and focuses it through the tube. But, for us to view the image clearly, telescopes require an eyepiece. Eyepieces are a collection of lenses that magnify the light gathered by the lens or mirror at the front, presenting a clear image of whatever object you may be observing. Eyepieces have their own focal length as well, which, when divided by the focal length of a telescope, determines the magnification capabilities. For instance, if a telescope has a 1000mm focal length, and the eyepiece focal length is 10mm, the total magnification of the eyepiece will be 100x. The shorter the eyepiece focal length, the greater the magnification, and vice versa.

There is always a limit to the effectiveness of magnification, depending on the telescope’s aperture. The maximum effectiveness for an eyepiece’s magnification is about 50x for every inch of your telescope’s aperture. So, if you’re picking up a 127 mm (5 inch) telescope, multiply 5 inches by 50, and you have a maximum magnification of 250x.

Anything beyond this point will most likely appear distorted, fuzzy, and dim. However, this is just a general rule. Depending on observing conditions, eyepiece magnification can perform at less than 35x every inch or up to 75x.   

Additionally, if you’d like to utilize every decimal of possible magnification for your telescope, you can divide the focal length of the telescope by the total magnification. So, a telescope with a focal length of 1,000mm and a max magnification of 250x will benefit the best from a 4mm eyepiece.

Best telescopes for viewing planets

1. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Computerized Telescope

The Celestron NexStar 127SLT is an excellent beginner telescope

It’s above our earlier recommended minimum range for aperture, and its affordable—a winning combination for budding astronomers on a budget! 

Since it has a computerized GoTo mount, it assists with aligning the telescope, as well as locating and tracking objects from an included database of over 40,000 objects

The hand controller for the computerized mount does have a bit of a learning curve but is otherwise effective at what it does. 

With a focal length of 1500mm, an aperture of 127mm, and two eyepieces (25mm and 9mm), this telescope specifically excels at viewing planets, but is also capable of viewing a variety of deep-sky objects as well! 

On the downside, the battery life for this telescope is reportedly quite short, so you’ll need to purchase an external power supply. It comes with a red-dot finderscope, two eyepieces, tripod, and access to astronomy software, Starry Night.

Check the price of Celestron NexStar 127SLT Computerized Telescope here

What we liked

  • Excellent choice for beginners
  • High-quality optics
  • Lightweight
  • Computerized GoTo mount includes a database of 40,000 objects
  • Mount also locates and tracks objects easily

What we didn’t like

  • Hand controller has a steep learning curve
  • Mount is flimsy

Type: Compound (Maksutov-Cassegrain)
Aperture: 127mm (5 inch)
Focal Length: 1500mm
Eyepiece(s): 25mm and 9mm
Magnification: 60x, 167x
Weight: 18 lbs

2. Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

The Orion SkyQuest XT8 is a surprisingly large reflector telescope at a very affordable price

Though reflectors often perform better viewing galaxies or other deep-sky objects, it’s of sufficient size to view the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and more planets with some detail. 

The telescope has an aperture of 203mm and a focal length of 1500mm, providing a more wide-angle field of view

While it’s a fantastic entry-point telescope, more advanced users will notice some flaws in the design choices and materials. For instance, the bearings for the base are made from cheaper materials, which can sometimes make adjustments harder than usual. 

The primary mirror is also not correctly configured, meaning precision viewing isn’t always possible. However, this won’t typically be noticeable unless you’re a seasoned veteran. Overall, the Orion XT8 is an excellent entry-point telescope with a reasonable price, but it’s not the best option for advanced users.

It comes with a 2-inch Crayford focuser, a 25mm eyepiece, an EZ Finder reflex sight, collimation cap, and access to astronomy software, Starry Night.

Check the price of Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope here

What we liked

  • Excellent choice for beginners or intermediate users
  • Decent optics for beginners
  • Lightweight (each piece is about 20 lbs)
  • Great price for a reflector

What we didn’t like

  • Wide-angle field of view is better for viewing DSOs than planets

Type: Reflector (Dobsonian)
Aperture: 203mm (8 inch)
Focal Length: 1200mm
Eyepiece(s): 25mm
Magnification: 48x
Weight: 41 lbs

3. Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope

The NexStar 5SE is a quality telescope meant for beginners and advanced users alike, though it’s more suitable for intermediate users. 

The 125mm aperture is just above the recommended sweet spot for aperture sizes and is excellent at gathering large quantities of light. 

It has a focal length of 1250mm, which balances its capability between tracking planets and DSOs. 

The 5SE comes equipped with a computerized GoTo mount, which is capable of tracking and finding any object you throw at it, or you can browse its database of over 40,000 objects. 

Another downside is the price, which is relatively high for what you actually get with the telescope, though it is a reflector, and the optics are well-made. 

It comes with a red-dot finderscope, a 25mm eyepiece, a mirror star diagonal, a tripod, and astronomy software Starry Night.

Check the price of Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope here

What we liked

  • Excellent telescope for intermediate users
  • High-quality optics
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Database of 40,000+ objects
  • Computerized GoTo mount makes viewing the cosmos a seamless experience

What we didn’t like

  • A bit higher-end pricing
  • Hand-controller learning curve

Type: Reflector (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Aperture: 125mm (4.9 inch)
Focal Length: 1250mm
Eyepiece(s): 25mm
Magnification: 50x
Weight: 28lbs

4. Sky-Watcher 10" Collapsible Dobsonian Telescope

The Sky-Watcher 10” Collapsible Dobsonian Telescope is an absolute beast of a telescope for a very reasonable price. 

It’s certainly not meant for beginners, though; it’s best for intermediate to advanced users who already know their way around a telescope. 

It has a 254mm (10 inch) aperture with a 1200mm focal length, making it excel at viewing DSOs. 

While its wide-angle field of view is not the best option for viewing details on planets, its sheer aperture size and light-gathering capability provide beautiful and clear images of the universe. 

The collapsible feature is an excellent touch also, allowing an easy and quick transition from compact and portable to a fully-functional telescope. However, on the downside, it does take some time and effort to collimate the telescope effectively. 

The screws for the collimation process can also be quite stiff, as well. It comes with an 8×50 RA viewfinder, two eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), and a sturdy mount.

Check the price of Sky-Watcher 10″ Collapsible Dobsonian Telescope here

What we liked

  • Fantastic viewing capabilities
  • Optics are top quality
  • Collapsible feature makes assembly and disassembly a quick process 
  • Computerized GoTo mount easy to track objects with

What we didn’t like

  • Can be difficult to collimate

Type: Reflector (Newtonian)
Aperture: 254mm
Focal Length: 1200mm
Eyepiece(s): 25mm and 10mm
Magnification: 48x, 120x
Weight: 42 lbs

5. Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

The NexStar Evolution 8 is the perfect choice for advanced users with a larger budget. 

The telescope has a 203mm (8 inch) aperture which offers an incredible and crystal-clear observation experience of planets and deep-sky objects. 

The mount is computerized, so tracking and locating objects is exceptionally straightforward. 

Additionally, you can connect it to a tablet or phone, and once it’s aligned, it’s effortless to jump to objects all around the night sky. 

The only downside to this telescope is that it doesn’t come with a cable you need to update the controller software, which often comes with an outdated version. The cable is only $10, but it’s not USB compatible, so you’ll need to buy an adapter for it as well. 

Overall though, this telescope is phenomenal, and is the best telescope on this list for viewing planets!

It comes with a red-dot finderscope, stainless steel tripod, single fork arm altazimuth mount, a handy rechargeable battery (10 hours), and a controller app, Skyportal.

Check the price of Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 Telescope here

What we liked

  • Excellent choice for advanced users
  • Exceptional optics
  • Beautiful and precise imaging of planets
  • Computerized mount makes finding objects in the sky incredibly easy

What we didn’t like

  • Doesn’t come with a cable necessary for updating software

Type: Reflector (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Aperture: 203mm (8 inch)
Focal Length: 2032mm
Eyepieces: 40mm and 13mm
Magnification: 51x, 156x, max 480x
Weight: 40 lbs

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