Best Telescope for City Viewing

Five Telescopes That Make Short Work of Light Pollution

As a species, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to spark light into darkness, and you can’t really blame us. Illumination is a core principle of creationism in pretty much every religion.

In the binary opposition between light and dark, brightness is good, and darkness represents, if not evil, then the unknown and dissimilar. It’s fairytale stuff. But our addiction to light is fast becoming a big problem.

Best Telescope for City Viewing

The light pollution emitted from sprawling urban areas is essentially - visually speaking - unmaking the cosmos each night, leaving city-dwelling stargazers battling against murky adamantine darkness.

To catch a glimpse of even the brightest star can be a real slog, and navigating the city at night, in search of those star-pricked outskirts isn’t always safe if possible at all. But fret not, for we are living in the golden age of telescopic engineering.

We’ve rated and reviewed five of the very best telescopes you can buy for city viewing. What’s more, we’ve compiled an in-depth buyer’s guide and brief FAQ section to ensure you find the correct key to the cosmos for you.

In a Hurry?

No problem, city slicker. Here’s our top pick.

OUR TOP PICK

For peering through that wash of darkness, you need a telescope that collects as much light as physically possible, and the Flex Tube 300, with it’s insanely large 12” aperture, gets it all.

It’s not exactly the smallest telescope in the world, no Dobsonians are, but thanks to the innovative collapsible design, shifting it to your favorite balcony or roof spot shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

You can also uncouple the scope and base so you’re not lugging the full 84lbs in one go.

Complete with fully coated borosilicate mirrors that offer insane amounts of light transmission, thermal resistance, and physical durability, you’re sure to be able to study even distant stellar objects in detail.

Sky Watcher hasn’t just tried to create a scope with unmatched optics, but a scope that excels in every practical sense.

Unlike most Dobsonians, with Teflon bearings, the FlexTube 300 has steel pin bearings that combine beautifully with advanced tension controls to keep movement smooth and measured.

Despite Sky Watcher’s claims you won’t need to collimate this telescope before every viewing, if you’re transporting it, you will need to realign the finder.

In fact, some users remove the mirrors all together before moving the scope.

Other than that, this is an awesome design, and what’s more, it comes with great accessories too.

The two-inch Crayford style focuser is particularly amazing.

Pros

  • Massive aperture
  • Collapsible tube for easy transport and storage
  • Fully coated mirrors with quartz, titanium, and silicon dioxide finish
  • Resistant to thermal disturbance common in cities
  • Steel pin bearings provide smooth movement
  • Improved tension controls
  • Comes with quality accessories

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Pretty heavy

EDITORS CHOICE

Instead of spending countless neck-breaking, eye-popping hours cycling through the murky abyss, why not invest in a computerized system that can lead you on a star-hopping adventure in a matter of seconds?

Controlled with an easy to use remote, The CPC 925 can lead you to any of the 40,000 celestial objects logged in Celestron’s database.

The integrated GPS system senses time and location and lists all the best visible deep space objects in your personal patch of sky.

The objective lens is just over 9 inches in diameter, which is exceptionally large for anything outside of Dobsonian territory.

It provides crisp images of extremely faint astral objects, even through the blearing of light pollution.

This scope is also the perfect tool for some gorgeous long-exposure astrophotography.

Designed for both power and portability, the CPC 925 comes with built-in ergonomic handles.

The included tripod features telescopic legs and a quality mount for easy setup whether you’ve taken to the roof or a favorite dark sky spot.

That said, it’s not the quickest telescope to assemble, so it’s more suited to devoted enthusiasts, rather than beginners with spur of the moment curiosities.

Accessory wise, the CPC 925 comes with a viewfinder and a single eyepiece, which is unusual as most telescopes come with two, but as a general rule of thumb, you should replace included eyepieces to make the most of a telescope anyway.

One last caveat that should be mentioned is that, weirdly, this scope doesn’t come with its own power chord.

Pros

  • Ridiculously large objective lens
  • Integrated GPS system for astro-local object finding
  • Visit any of the 40,000 deep space objects in Celestron’s database
  • Ergonomic handles
  • Comes with quality tripod
  • Sky Align technology allows you to focus it using any three light sources in the sky
  • 59X magnification
  • Perfect for astrophotography

Cons

  • Takes a while to set up
  • Pretty heavy
  • Extremely expensive

BEST VALUE

Our third answer to your city-bound galactic curiosity is another amazing Celestron scope.

Much like our number two spot, the NexStar 6SE is computerized to lead you automatically to all the best astral objects in your personal valley of observable night. 

It features the same Schmidt-Cassegrain mirrors coated in Celestron’s proprietary StarBright XLT finish for enhanced image illumination and clarity, perfect for nullifying some of the effects of light pollution.

The 6SE has a fairly small aperture in comparison to our other top picks, but every cloud has a silver lining.

Generally speaking, aperture dictates the size of the rest of the design, so if being able to transport it easily is important to you, this scope arrives at a happy intersection between power and portability.

Moreover, small apertures are resistant to thermal distortions, hurray!

Set up is a much quicker process with this telescope.

You can have it up and running in a few minutes, providing almost instantaneous gratification of all your stellar curiosities.

At 21lbs, it’s also much lighter than our other top picks.

All you space-loving shutterbugs out there will love that you can attach pretty much any DSLR camera to this scope for some science textbook grade astrophotography.

The images this thing can capture are nothing short of breathtaking.

Pros

  • Awesome for astrophotography
  • Mirrors have StarBright XLT coating
  • Senses time and location to give you a Sky Tour
  • Can lead you to 40,000 deep space objects
  • Slightly cheaper than other top picks
  • Easy to set up and fairly lightweight
  • SkyAlign focuses up quickly

Cons

  • Still quite expensive
  • Not as powerful as top picks

RUNNER UP

Our penultimate pick is a much more realistic option for younger and beginner astronomers.

While it’s not going to penetrate the industrial glow of your city quite as well as our other larger, more expensive picks, it should still offer up some pretty tantalizing displays of our vast, wheeling solar system.

Constructed with parabolic mirrors that prevent the escape of light, the SpaceProbe proves that you don’t need to break the bank to experience some fun and illuminating astronomy, even in the city.

It’s also relatively lightweight making it perfect for taking on the road with you on camping trips.

You may have only gone a few miles out of town, but this scope will take you lightyears away.

The SpaceProbe isn’t just great for beginners because of the lovely price tag, it comes as a full beginners kit including a laser collimator, a moon map book, a guide book to 60 of the most important stellar objects, and a Shorty Barlow lens that amplifies any eyepiece magnification by 2.

Granted, this isn’t the most powerful telescope in the universe, but you’d be surprised at the veil of glare and darkness even something of this caliber can pull from the stars.

If you’re just taking your first initial steps into astronomy, you couldn’t ask for a better telescope to start on.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Comes with useful books
  • Barlow lens gives you more magnification for your money
  • Pretty large objective lens for capturing plenty of light
  • Amazing price tag

Cons

  • Not too powerful
  • May be outgrown relatively quickly

RUNNER UP

Our fifth and final telescope for poking your head up out of the concrete jungle and among the stars is the most popular on our list, not to mention the most affordable.

It’s ideal for beginners, but persevering intermediates could also get their fill of the cosmos if they really put this thing to the test.

With fully coated BAK4 optics for optimal light capture, the objective lens may only be 70mm, but it’s going to gobble up light insatiably and go some way in conquering the grayish fog of pollution.

You have to have realistic expectations with an entry-level scope like the GSkyer.

It’s not going to give you incredibly granular details of planetary topography, but you will absolutely be able to see them.

If you’re interested in lunar observations, the GSkyer provides jaw-dropping visuals of maria (dark volcanic plains) and other imperfections on the moon’s surface.

It doesn’t have any fancy computer technology or state of the art mirrors, but the truth is, the effort required to discover these celestial treasures with this scope ends up being its own reward.

Rather than being dragged around the cosmos by your cornea from one sweet spot to the next, you yourself put in the leg work, and it couldn’t be more exhilarating when you stumble across something.

Pros

  • Insanely popular
  • Fantastic price
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Very rewarding to use
  • All you need for excellent lunar observations
  • BAK4 optics
  • Easy to use
  • Great for beginners
  • Comes with a 3x Barlow lens

Cons

  • Fairly small objective lens

Buyer’s Guide

Truth be told, you don’t need all that much power to observe the night sky through a glaring field of light pollution, but it does add a complicating factor to what is already quite a complex purchase.

No need to worry, though. Simply have a glance through this buyer’s guide to clarify what it is you’re looking for.

Budget

Most telescopes from around the $100 mark will be able to spy deep space objects from a city, albeit through the greyish filter of light pollution, but if you want the best possible views into the most secret corners of our universe, you’ll need to squirrel away something in the $1000 to $2000 range.

What Features Are Best in a City Viewing Telescope

As mentioned above, it’s surprisingly easy to infiltrate the pollutive haze in the city and proceed on to the stars, but there are a few features that can make a telescope particularly suitable to the task.

Computerization

Computerization in telescopes mostly refers to an ability to automatically or with minimal help guide the observer to a particular or collection of stellar objects.

This slewing function is aptly referred to as star hopping, as the observer has to put in little to no work to reach their cosmic destinations.

This kind of technology is fantastic in light-polluted areas as it doesn’t matter how faint deep space objects are beneath the film because you yourself don’t have to find them. Sounds good, right? For some, perhaps.

Computerized systems come under scrutiny by many avid astronomers who claim that it’s too easy, and that star hopping, while exciting, doesn’t require any of the effort, calculation, or analysis that defines proper astronomy.

To these stargazers, a computerized system is more like sightseeing than actual astronomy.

Objective Lens

The objective lens is the one at the far end of the telescope. Its diameter is measured in millimeters or inches and is sometimes referred to as the aperture.

There are other factors to consider, but generally speaking, the larger the objective lens is, the more light it can capture and the brighter, clearer the image it provides is.

Extra clarity is essential when you’re competing against a hazy wash of light pollution, but large apertures are also more susceptible to distortion caused by thermal disturbances in your surroundings and the atmosphere.

Portability

There’s very little point in observing our solar system through the glass of your window and the light pollution outside it.

Neither can you half dangle your scope out a window, as the temperature differences will obscure the clarity of the image. For astronomy in the city, you’re going to need to take your scope to the streets, the roof, or a balcony to get a good shot.

To do this, you need a highly portable design, one that’s not going to be impossible to lift up a few flights of stairs.

Glossary

Let’s quickly run over some of the jargon that, like light pollution, can be quite impenetrable at times.

We’ve already discussed aperture and objective lenses, but there are a few other keywords and phrases you’ll also need to know before settling on the right telescope for you.

Focal Length

Focal length is the distance from the middle of the objective lens or mirror to the space where the image is displayed.

It describes what’s known in photography as the angle of view. Short focal lengths provide fairly squat, wide-angle images. Longer ones produce a narrower image.

Focal Ratio

This ratio describes the relationship between the aperture and the focal length. To work out the focal ratio of a telescope, divide the focal length by the aperture.

Generally speaking, the higher the focal ratio is, the further a telescope can magnify an image clearly.

Magnification

We know you know what magnification is, but should you be a little confused about how it’s expressed, here’s a quick overview. Magnification is displayed as a number followed by an X.

Simply put, it states that an observed object will be that much bigger than perceived by the human eye. A magnification setting of 54X shows the object as 54 times the size it looked observed by the naked eye.

To work out the magnification of a telescope, instead of dividing the focal length by the aperture, divide it by the width of the eyepiece.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can’t you see through a telescope in the city?

Due to their thinly dispersed light surfaces, nebulas and galaxies are the real casualties of light pollution in our cities.

That’s not to say they can’t be seen though. Take to a roof with a quality telescope at the right time and you’ll be able to make out at least a few.

Can I use my telescope through a window?

It’s never a good idea to have anything between your telescope and the image you're trying to observe.

Neither should you point your telescope half out of a window and view from within as the difference in temperature will skew the performance of the optics.

Can you see through a telescope in the city?

You may end up with a hyper magnified view of a brick wall, but absolutely.

Terrible jokes aside, at certain times, you can even see space objects using binoculars, so a telescope is more than capable of peering into the abyss.

To Infinity and Beyond

We hope you’re feeling more inspired than ever to keep up your astronomical activities. Light pollution is infuriating, yes, but if you’ve passion for the pursuit, it's a very small obstacle to overcome.

There are, after all, plenty of astronomers who have or still do live in city centers, using various techniques to observe the night sky with equal amounts of acuity as any rural planet peeper out there.

Our advice would be to get a telescope that matches your experience level and use items such as light pollution filters, tube extensions, full eyecups, advanced eyepieces, and light shields to render light pollution ever more irrelevant to your study and enjoyment of our solar system.

Gordon Watts
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