A quick look at the number and different types of telescopes on the market today will offer a bewildering choice of different brands. Which of those brands are the best to buy and why? In this article, I’ll guide you on points such as reputation, reliability, customer service, and other business information and reviews out there that should help you make a better choice.
The best telescope brands include Celestron, Meade Instruments, Orion, Explore Scientific, Sky-Watcher, and Vixen. These five global brands sell the most reliable telescopes and accessories that any amateur astronomer or astrophotographer could want. Any one of these brands of telescope is a smart choice.
One thing to note here is that many of these telescope manufacturers and brands sell telescopes with or without a mount. The mount is by far the most important piece of equipment for an astrophotographer as it needs to be able to track the movement of the stars accurately. For observation, the mount can in many cases be adjusted manually as the object moves across the sky.
Factors to Consider
The companies which I have chosen to feature as the top telescope brands are all recognized global brands. This is no surprise because it is often stated that when a brand is global it is held in higher regard by consumers (Johannson and Ronkainen, 2005).
Which brands are Most Popular?
There are many places we can look to determine this, but I’d also like to add my own independent research in order to give an unbiased opinion. If a website has an affiliation with any of the top brands of telescope or if they actually sell them, their opinion may not be totally trustworthy or independent.
For this reason, I will try to establish through a number of means, which are the best telescope brands you should consider, whether you plan to use it for observing or astrophotography.
The Brands We Will Consider
I have decided to go with some of the biggest and most popular telescope brands and then evaluate and compare them according to the research I have done online. Here is the list of the top brands I will be looking at:
- Meade Instruments
- Explore Scientific
Please note: I am not affiliated with any of these brands and this research I have carried out is, as far as possible, is completely independent.
Methodology and Results
I have used the following criteria to research the top brands of telescopes:
- The number of mentions on CloudyNights Forum.
- The business information available for each telescope brand
- Reviews of the different brands available online
- Amazon sales information
- My own experience
I have mostly used online sources and where possible have tried to verify them. As far as I am aware, all information is correct as of January 2023. If you have any other relevant information or wish to correct something please contact me here.
Number of mentions on CloudyNights Forum
I have been actively contributing to the CloudyNights forum for a few years now and have found it to be very helpful and full of knowledgeable astrophotographers and astronomers from beginner to advanced and beyond. I think the advice given is trustworthy and unbiased. This is why I chose this forum, although there are others I could have chosen such as Stargazerslounge etc.
If a brand is mentioned in the forums many times I think it shows an interest in the products of that company, good or bad. However, if a brand is hardly discussed at all this will clearly show it is not so popular amongst those discussing astronomy or astrophotography.
To find the number of mentions of each telescope brand in the CloudyNights forum I went to Google.com and typed the following search string:
The results of this search were the mentions of the brand name on the site CloudyNights.com. I took the figure at the top of the search results where it gives the total number of results found. Note that in most cases the above search gives a good approximate result but in some cases, such as Orion, the brand name could be confused with mentions of the Orion spacecraft or the Orion Nebula and/ or other mentions so I added the extra term telescope without quotation marks:
site:cloudynights.com “Meade” telescope
This obviously gave a more accurate result but it still included a few spurious results so I did not count this search for Orion but did for Meade etc.
Here are the results:
The results shown above roughly agree that the most widely mentioned brand is Celestron, while the least discussed/ mentioned brand is Explore Scientific.
Comparing the Business Information of Each Company
Why did I include this? I think that the health of the business is a major factor in how strong a brand is. Also, as Thomson et al (2010) claim, several factors such as how employees are treated by the company will strengthen the brand and improve customer service. This is also related to how well the company is performing in business. For this reason, I have included a company’s revenue and the change in the number of employees, if this is rising that is a good sign for business and also a sign that employees are happier as the company is attracting new workers. Sources of this information included Zippia.com, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, Zoominfo.com, Rocketreach.co, and growjo.com. Because of the variation in numbers, an average was taken as the comparison figure.
Celestron and Sky-watcher have the highest yearly revenue at 24 and 23 million dollars respectively.
The smallest of the brands in terms of revenue is Vixen. Now let’s take a look at the number of employees working for each brand, how happy they are at work, and how productive they are.
Above we can see the huge difference in the number of employees. Meade Instruments is the largest employer with 100 employees, just beating Celestron. The smallest employer here is Vixen Optics with only 9 employees.
If we look at the change in the workforce over the last year we see that Celestron experienced 11% growth, Orion 6%, and Meade 3%, the remaining brands had no growth in this area.
Another good indicator of how motivated and successful a company is is the average amount earned per employee. In this respect, Sky-watcher appears to be the leader with over half a million dollars per employee. Vixen has done very well here too as they have 444,000 dollars per employee. The least productive workers appear to be those of Explore Scientific who average just 42,000 dollars per employee.
Which of These Companies is Oldest?
Here is an infographic that shows when each of the chosen brands was established and where:
So from the above, we can see that the longest-running brand is Vixen established in 1949, yet they remain the smallest of these brands in terms of the number of employees and revenue. The youngest brand is Explore Scientific having been established as recently as 2008. Perhaps this may be one reason why they have the lowest productivity rating per employee.
I compared the Trustpilot ranking out of five for these five telescope brands first. Next, I collected information from Amazon.com. I took the top-selling telescope model of each brand and noted the total number of reviews and the percentage of 5-star and 1-star reviews plus the overall average. My reasoning for this is that the reviews for the top-selling model for each brand are representative of the general opinions customers on Amazon have of the brand. There is a significant difference in the brands in terms of different kinds of telescopes and cost but I did not consider this in this research.
The conclusions we can draw from the above sales information taken from the Amazon.com website and searching for best-selling telescopes, including reviews, further reveal the dominance of Celestron.
The two brands that have the most popular reflector telescope products, including accessories as well as telescopes, are Celestron and Orion with 13 places each in the top 50 sales.
For refractor telescope product sales on Amazon.com, Celestron has 10 products in the top 50 while Orion has only 3. None of the other brands appeared in my search.
Celestron also seems to get the most reviews, perhaps because it has more sales. A whopping 12,618 reviews were given for Celestron’s top-selling model. Meade came in second with 1,919 reviews and Orion was third with 649.
Next, let’s consider how positive these reviews were for each brand. Conclusions on this should be taken with a pinch of salt, though, as the reviews are for a particular model in each case and some brands had many times fewer reviews overall. Compare Celestron with 12 thousand reviews with only 41 for Explore Scientific’s top model.
Also, note I am not mentioning the exact model for which reviews were given, rather I am taking this as a general indication of which is the best telescope brand according to customers.
The brand with the most positive reviews was Skywatcher (76% were 5-star reviews) and Orion had 72%. Although Orion had more than ten times the amount of reviews, they had only 2% one-star reviews, whereas Skywatcher had 4%. A small difference but it may be significant.
Explore Scientific had the largest percentage of 1-star reviews (16%).
Finally, we come to the overall rating out of 5 given for each of these top brand models.
Both Celestron and Orion were given 4.5 stars, Meade Instruments 4.3, and Sky-watcher 4.0. The lowest rating was given to Explore Scientific with 3.9 stars.
My Own Experience
As an amateur astrophotographer with several years of experience, I have a good idea of what’s out there in the market and which brands are the best. I can also comment on the telescope I have which is a popular model from Celestron (the 130slt).
As Celestron is the biggest and perhaps most well-known of telescope brands, my opinion cannot add much to this data but personally, I have had a very positive experience with the telescope I bought and used with its GOTO mount for about a year or so until I outgrew it. I upgraded my mount to an equatorial one but still use the telescope tube mounted on my newer Ioptron CEM 26 EQ mount. I am quite happy with this reflector telescope and the images it gives me.
According to the Results, How Do the Brands Stack Up?
|5 stars (most)||1|
|1 star (least)||1|
|Total no. firsts||6||1||2||0||2||1|
The table above lists which of the five telescope brands was first in each of the categories I researched. So, in order, here is the final ranking of these brands according to the results I got:
- Orion and Sky-watcher
- Meade and Vixen
- Explore Scientific
A brand is only one aspect of choosing a telescope that is right for you. In truth, some may question how important the value of the brand is for someone looking to buy a telescope. I do believe though that buying a good brand is worth thinking about because you will be able to consult others who are using the same equipment and who may have advice on using it which you may benefit from. The ease of getting parts and accessories is another feature of buying a good brand.
Another advantage of going with an established brand is the probability that you can find information about the product easily and discuss how best to use the equipment with others on online forums. Youtube is also a good source of information and reviews of new equipment produced by bigger brands.
If you want to upgrade or sell your equipment it will be much easier if you have an item manufactured by a major brand. So this is another consideration.
Another reason why you should think carefully about which brand you choose is the customer service in case things go wrong or you need a replacement.
Sometimes if a company has problems it can go out of business suddenly leaving customers in the lurch. The likelihood of a stronger brand going out of business is less than for a weaker one.
When thinking of a telescope brand, you need first to think of your needs and how you intend to use your telescope. What kind of setup do you intend to have and how often will you use it? What is your level of ability and what specifications do you need? Are you going to use the telescope for visual observation or astrophotography?
Your budget may also influence your brand choice as some brands cost much more than others. But the brand also represents trust and in particular, customer service is something that is always a factor to consider.
I hope that the discussion here has helped make your choice of telescope brand easier. Of course, before any purchase of astronomy equipment research is always required and I certainly hope that this website can help you out with that too.
Thomson, K., de Chernatony, L., Arganbright, L., Kahn, S. (2010). The buy-In Benchmark: How Staff Understanding and Commitment Impact Brand and Business Performance. Journal of Marketing Management. Vol.15 (8), 819-835. Link to article.
Johannson and Ronkainen. (2005). The Esteem of Global Brands. Journal of Brand Management 12, 339-354. Link to article.