Welcome to our guide to the best catadioptric telescopes in 2022!
In the past couple of decades, catadioptric telescopes (“cat scope”) have become more and more popular.
This type of telescope is something of a hybrid between the other two types: refractors and reflectors.
The catadioptric design uses a combination of mirrors and lenses, meaning you get the best of both worlds when it comes to refractors and reflectors. You also get a few of the disadvantages of each, but more on that later.
Usually, catadioptric (otherwise known as compound) telescopes have bigger apertures and focal lengths that provide superior image clarity. Plus, they’re more portable than either of the other two.
However, even the most basic catadioptric telescope isn’t a trivial investment.
If you don’t make sure that you’ve chosen the right kind of telescope, you might end up getting something that is more powerful than you quite need; also meaning more expensive than you might really want to pay. Luckily, there are plenty of choices — and we’re here to outline some of the best ones across different categories and criteria.
We’ve done the heavy lifting of trawling through customer feedback and numerous expert opinions, to put together the following list of awesome cat scopes for common needs and budgets.
- Celestron 22097 NexStar 127 SLT (Best Overall Catadioptric Telescope)
- Celestron CPC 925 GPS (Runner-Up)
- Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm (Best Inexpensive Cat Scope)
- Celestron 11049 NexStar 4 SE (Best Under $500)
- Orion StarSeeker IV 127mm GoTo (Best Under $1000)
- Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Reflector (Best Alternative For Astrophotography)
- Celestron ExploraScope 60AZ (Best Cat Scope For Beginners)
Among all of the catadioptric telescopes that all kinds of astronomers use, we’d have to single out this Celestron model as the best one. The NexStar 127 SLT is a computerized telescope, pretty much designed as a mid-tier model which any beginner could easily use.
First of all, we have to mention that this particular telescope comes with an excellent tripod made out of stainless steel – meaning it is perfect for any kind of terrain where you intend to go stargazing. Also, you will receive the telescope pre-assembled; meaning it’s perfect for beginners who don’t want to waste time on lengthy assembly instructions.
But not only is it great for beginners — but it’s also quite powerful. You can easily use it to observe the surface of the Moon, Mars’ ice caps, and up-close views of Venus. It’s easy to transport, and it’s quite versatile; you should also know that it uses AA batteries — eight of them, to be precise. Of course, if you have an external power source, there’s also a handy AC adapter which you can use to avoid spending a lot of money on batteries as well. The item is well-made and durable, perfectly capable of taking a few hits – which you should avoid in the first place, of course.
- Excellent for beginners
- Powerful enough for intermediate astronomers
- Questionable quality of the computerized mount
- No lens cap
Our second-best pick is another model from Celestron — this time, the CPC 925 computerized compound telescope. This is definitely a great model as well, only a bit below our top pic in build quality.
Also, it’s certainly not for those with a weaker budget; you’ll have to set aside a tidy sum to buy this one. However, the NexStar computerization system and the GPS support means that it’s a no-hassle telescope for absolutely anyone.
You simply need to know what you want to see, make your choice from the Celestron database, and voila! The database for the CPC is pretty baffling as well, considering the fact that it contains a preprogrammed list of more than 40,000 space objects; including planets and nebulas. The only issue we have with it is that it’s heavier than the NexStar 127; meaning that it’s less portable as well.
- CPC database of space objects
- A bit heavier than it should be
- High price
Now that we’ve taken a look at the best overall choices among telescopes, we’ll shift our focus on another aspect of purchasing this sort of device — its price. After all, not all of us are willing to invest a lot of money; especially if you’re someone who’s buying their first telescope.
That’s why the Orion 10022 Starmax model is the finest telescope you can get for about $200. Sure, it’s a tabletop telescope that won’t let you see every single object out in the sky; but if you want something with a decent image clarity that can capture views of Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon; this is pretty much your finest option. Plus, it’s pretty compact — it won’t take more than a few minutes to assemble absolutely anywhere. For the listed price, you pretty much can’t beat this one.
- Extremely compact
- Quite affordable
- Not nearly as powerful as more expensive options
If you’re willing to up the ante a little bit from the previous model — the Celestron NexStar 4 is definitely one of the better-computerized models that you can find among compact telescopes. And should you compare it to the previous Celestron models we’ve showcased here; it’s also quite a bit more affordable.
Just like the other models in this line, this 4-inch catadioptric telescope contains a neat finderscope which will help you easily align the telescope and find any kind of object that you want to view. And just like other Celestron products, this one also has an extremely varied database with tens of thousands of celestial objects; along with memory space for 200 objects, you can define yourself.
- Celestron object database
- Mid-level price
As you’ve probably realized up until now, there are all kinds of telescope prices. And if you’re going to buy a compound telescope for under $1000, it doesn’t get much better than the Orion StarSeeker IV; at least in terms of bang for your buck.
Within this telescope kit, you’ll find everything you need for an amateur astronomer set up; there’s a GoTo computerization system, as well as other excellent accessories.
This 127mm telescope will provide you with more than decent optical performance for this sort of price range; combined with motorized technology that makes finding any night sky object laughably easy. The StarSeeker IV can be used to view the lunar surface, other planets, as well as deep-space objects. The only real problem is the lack of any options when it comes to collimation adjustment. Apart from that, the item is strong and durable.
- Decent performance
- Plenty of accessories
- Lack of collimation adjustment options
When it comes to astrophotography, we have to point out one key thing — catadioptric telescopes aren’t your optimal choice here.
It’s perfectly understandable that many newbies to astrophotography start out hunting for a cat scope. After all, they’re great devices for observing!
But the truth is that experienced astrophotographers usually opt for reflector telescopes, and we believe the Orion 09007 is one of the best affordable options.
The Orion 09007 offers everything you need to start working on your first images of objects in deep space. If you’re just beginning to dabble in astrophotography, then this is a sound and affordable choice for you.
The parabolic mirror found inside provides extremely comprehensible and clear images of any target found in space. Furthermore, the equatorial mount of the telescope also allows you to easily track all of the objects and keep your device perfectly centered while taking shots.
You should know that the 5.1-inch aperture allows you to capture enough light to produce images of all kinds of objects; we’re talking about not only moons and nearby planets, but also nebulae and star clusters that are far away. The wonders of the universe will be at the palm of your hand with this one.
- Quick to store and carry
- Big aperture
- A lot of accessories
- Great build quality
- Complicated first assembly
- Not enough for veteran astrophotographers
Plenty of the catadioptric telescopes that we’ve reviewed here would be great for any kind of beginner astronomer. However, we’re going to point out another model in the end — the Celestron ExploraScope 60AZ.
This instrument can be your perfect gateway into the magical world of exploring the deep night skies. Naturally, as you get more serious about stargazing, you may want to switch out for one of the models above — but it’s still a superb choice for newbies.
First of all, it’s practically pre-assembled; making it extremely portable for any terrain. Also, it comes with a neat LED finderscope in the form of a red dot; allowing newbie users to locate celestial objects with ease. There’s an aluminum tripod included in the package that could be better, but it’s still not bad for this price range. Overall, a few surprising qualities in this price range and a good value in total.
- Great for beginners
- LED finderscope
- Tripod is not sturdy
Also consider: reflector & refractor telescopes
Now that we’ve covered the most important points about the different catadioptric telescopes out there, we’d be remiss not mentioning the other two kinds: reflector and refractor telescopes.
If you buy a refractor telescope, your device will use a lens that bends outwards — a convex lens — to focus and collect light. In comparison, a reflector telescope uses a lens that goes inwards; much like a concave mirror.
Catadioptric telescopes are the most popular these days due to the ease of use for the average amateur astronomer. Still, there are situations where other telescopes bear bigger advantages. For instance, reflectors produce better image quality when it comes to galaxies and other deep-sky objects (making them popular for astrophotography) while refractors can be used to observe the moon and planets with better precision.
Meade Infinity 102mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope (Best Value Refractor Alternative)
If you’re going to buy a refractor telescope that’s definitely worth its money, the Meade Infinity 102mm model is certainly a good choice. First of all, it gives you a decent overview of star clusters, planets, and the night sky in general; but it’s not bad for land viewing as well.
Many people like using these kinds of telescopes for watching distant ships on the shore; you’ll be able to spot every last detail on them with amazing clarity. Plus, newbie stargazers will appreciate the low price of this excellent telescope.
Also, the well-designed slow motion controls allow anyone who isn’t as adept at using telescopes yet to get as much performance out of the device as possible. There are three levels of magnification with different eyepieces as well.
- Great for land viewing as well
- Lack of motorization
- Not as stable as we’d like
Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope (Best Value Reflector Alternative)
When it comes to reflector telescopes, the best value you can get for your money would be found in the Orion StarBlast II. Although it’s not intended for experienced astronomers, it goes beyond a purely amateur telescope in terms of features and quality.
The 4.5-inch aperture of this telescope will allow you to see celestial objects with amazing brightness and clarity. Furthermore, you will clearly be able to view star clusters and distant galaxies alike; along with Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon.
The equatorial mount comes with slow-motion controls that allow for better ease of use; you won’t have objects straying around your eyepiece and you won’t have problems keeping focus. Also, the telescope kit contains two eyepieces for different magnifications — 10 mm and 25 mm. For the listed price, we are quite impressed with what this guy has to offer.
- Two Sirius Plossl eyepieces
- Decent apertures
- No motorization
- Confusing manual for beginners
How To Choose A Catadioptric Telescope
As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to picking your catadioptric telescope. Even among the few truly renowned manufacturers, there is an amazing variety of models.
And while that may be a good thing if you know what you’re looking for, it can also be a bit overwhelming for complete beginners. With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the main factors that you should consider while picking your catadioptric telescope. Without any ado, let us dive right into it!
Some basic principles
Before you delve into the world of telescope use, you need to have at least a passing familiarity with telescope basics in order to choose the proper one. Every type of telescope has some defining traits, including catadioptric ones. As we’ve stated before, these compound telescopes use both lenses and mirrors, reflectors use mirrors, and refractors use only lenses.
The compound models that we’ve mostly talked about here consists of a combination of the two types of optical parts. This allows them to achieve light folding without the focal length being diminished. Such a design alleviates some of the more common optical issues with other types of telescopes – like chromatic and spherical aberration.
Besides thinking about these technicalities, you should also consider what you’ll be using the device for. Sure, telescopes are most widely known for astronomical use. But besides that, nautical and terrestrial use is also something people often employ them for.
And even if you decide for astronomical use, your options don’t end there – different telescopes are better for viewing bright or deep-sky objects, for instance. You should also think about where you’ll be using your telescope — different models are better suited to rural or urban areas with a lot of light pollution.
What and whom are they best for?
Catadioptric telescopes appeal to all kinds of users. Veterans and beginners alike use these telescopes as their instruments of choice. The advantage of compound telescopes is pretty obvious: a lot of aperture power for light gathering, as well as magnification, all a package that’s small and portable enough to take to remote locations.
Of course, that does bear one downside compared to reflectors and refractors: a bigger price for compound scopes of the same aperture length.
On the other hand, motorization is far easier with compound telescopes, thanks to their smaller bodies. Even if you don’t want motorization personally, the same compactness that is conducive to motorization is also conducive to other applications, especially astrophotography.
Generally, catadioptric telescopes are ideal if you want to see as many objects and planets in outer space as you can without the burden of locating each one manually. With these, you can easily let your computer handle this and find every single target for the evening. This is especially true for people who live in areas with a lot of light pollution. After all, a motorized cat scope will allow you to find objects that you simply couldn’t on your own because of light pollution.
There are two crucial specifications to think about while picking catadioptric telescopes: the magnification and the telescope’s aperture.
The latter represents the diameter of the primary optical part of the telescope. If you are going to view far-away objects in the night sky, a bigger aperture is better. On the other hand, magnification is important for obvious reasons – you want to know how much you’ll be able to magnify an image without reducing clarity too much. Most telescopes come with eyepieces for different magnification levels.
Finally, you need to think about how much money you are prepared to set aside for this telescope. As we have talked about before, compound models represent incredibly versatile products because they contain both lenses and mirrors for light focusing and collection. Such a configuration of optics renders them far more portable and compact than either of the other two types of telescopes.
However, the materials used in the manufacturing process and the aperture mean that catadioptric units usually cost more than reflectors and refractors.
And if we’re talking about bigger, computerized bigger models, then the difference is even more pronounced. The final tally for a catadioptric unit is also impacted by carrying bags, tripods, mounts, and other accessories that may be included in its kit.