A Dobsonian telescope is a popular type of telescope. It consists of a Newtonian reflector with an alt-azimuth (altitude-azimuth or alt-az) mount. The telescope is named after John Dobson who popularized the design in the 1960s.
Dobsonians are typically very large and sturdy. They’re easy to manufacture or even build yourself. The materials used to make these telescopes are affordable and readily available. For that reason, it’s easy to find the best Dobsonian telescope for a great price.
In A Hurry? Here Is Our Top Reviewed Dobsonians
How Do Dobsonian Telescopes Work?
There are generally two types of telescopes: refractors and reflectors (the latter are also called Newtonians).
Refractors make use of lenses to magnify distant objects. They are the original telescopes so to speak, and are the simplest in design.
However, they have a few flaws that can make viewing deep sky objects a bit of a hassle. First;y, there isn’t much clarity in refractors, so objects will appear blurry and can be tricky to focus on. Also, lenses have size limits: the bigger they are, the more distorted they become.
Reflector telescopes were designed to solve these problems. Instead of using lenses, they use mirrors that bounce light at almost perfect angles to produce a clear image of faraway objects. The science can be a bit mind-boggling, so here’s a video that goes into more depth:
What really makes Dobsonian reflecting telescopes stand out is their size capacity. Reflectors do not have the limitations that refractors do, so they can be built to an impressive scale. Of course, the bigger your telescope, the higher your magnification, so the more you’ll be able to observe.
Also, due to their light-gathering capabilities, the image through a Dobsonian has much more clarity than refractors. They’re a favorite for observing deep sky objects, like nebulae and galaxies.
Alt-Azimuth and Equatorial Mounts
Dobsonians are essentially Newtonians with a special kind of mount. Technically, the word “Dobsonian” describes the mount rather than the telescope. Like telescopes, mounts also come in two general types—alt-azimuth and equatorial.
Equatorial mounts are the more complicated of the two. This type of mount needs to be aligned to the North Star (aka Polaris or Alpha Ursae Minoris). Tracking the stars throughout the night is really precise once the mount is polar-aligned. If you are interested in astrophotography, this is the type of mount you will need.
The alt-azimuth mount is basically a type of tripod for your telescope. The most basic designs allow you to manually move your telescope up, down, left and right.
A Dobsonian reflecting telescope is not mounted to a tripod, but rather to one solid base. There are no dials, gears, hands, or levers.
It’s simple in design and very user-friendly—another reason why beginners appreciate this type of telescope.
Characteristics of Good Dobsonian Telescopes
If you’re looking for the best Dobsonian reflecting telescope, you’ll need to take into account the following characteristics.
Equatorial mounts use clock drives which are essential for accurate tracking and astrophotography. On the downside, they can be tricky to use, heavy and therefore and less portable, and somewhat expensive.
With the Dobsonian design, you have a mount that is straightforward and affordable. Setting up is as simple a putting the mount on the ground and placing the telescope on top of it.
As a matter of fact, assembling the telescope takes only a minute or two. The telescope moves smoothly with minimal pressure. Dobsonian mounts are lighter and very portable.
There are a few cons. You cannot use this type of mount for astrophotography as it does not track the stars. You manually have to move the telescope every few minutes to keep an object in view. You will also find it a bit difficult to view objects near the zenith (the point directly above your head).
Large Aperture and Low Weight
The best Dobsonian telescopes are ones with great aperture but are still practical to use. It’s not uncommon to find Dobsonians of 12 inches and more, and you would be pleasantly surprised at the low cost.
At first glance, you might assume that a Dobsonian is too big or heavy to be portable. On the contrary, Dobsonians are some of the easiest telescopes to both set up and relocate.
They’re built with hollow tubes, so are lighter than you’d expect (at least in the 10-inch and smaller sizes). It also helps that the base rarely weighs more than the tube itself.
However, the larger you go with aperture, the heavier and less portable Dobsonians become. You have to consider the practicality of getting a 12-inch telescope to fit in your car.
It will also be quite heavy to move if you are on your own, stargazing solo. Of course, you also need a suitable place to store your telescope as you cannot keep it outside exposed to the elements.
The Dobsonian Telescope Effect on Amateur Astronomy
Amateur astronomers were quite limited in what they could view through a standard telescope before the rise of Dobsonians. The small reflectors and refractors of the past meant that only the brightest deep sky objects were within the amateur’s reach.
Dobsonians revolutionized amateur astronomy and opened parts of the night sky that were once the realm of professionals only.
The Dobsonian was also the perfect choice for stargazers who could not afford other makes of telescopes. Building your own telescope became a more feasible and popular pastime for novices and more seasoned telescope users alike.
The common size of a Dobsonian telescope has increased over the years due to both their popularity and more recent innovations in telescope design.
An 8-inch telescope was coveted and considered a large telescope three decades ago. Today, 12-inch and 16-inch Dobsonians are widely available, and it is not uncommon to find Dobsonians of 20 inches and more.
Tracking Issues with Dobsonian Telescopes
The original Dobsonian design keeps things simple and doesn’t leave much room for accurate automated tracking. Converting a small Dobsonian telescope into an automated mount can be complicated and overly expensive. I would recommend you opt for an equatorial telescope right away if automated tracking and having a smaller telescope is a priority.
Logistically, it does make a bit more sense to convert larger Dobsonians or purchase them with automated tracking in place. Tracking would not be as expensive compared to the original price of a large telescope.
This also makes it more feasible to use your large Dobsonian for astrophotography. It is often better to consider tracking and putting tracking plans in place for large Dobsonians as handling them manually becomes trickier.
The Best Dobsonian Telescope Brand
Orion is definitely the market leader in Dobsonian telescopes. They have a wide variety of styles and sizes to suit just about every budget. Their telescopes are usually made from the highest quality optics and components. Their service is also excellent.
That said, while I certainly recommend Orion’s telescopes, I wouldn’t limit myself to one company when searching for the best Dobsonian telescope brand. There are several others that offer quality Dobsonians for competitive prices.
The Best Dobsonian Telescope—Our Top Choices
Dobsonians are quite the conquest if you’re just getting started, and picking one can be an intimidating endeavor. Don’t automatically be drawn to the first cheap Dobsonian you lay eyes on; think about what you want to achieve first. Here are my top picks that should make your selection a little bit easier to make.
Best Quality - Orion SkyQuest Classic Dobsonian 8 inch
I have a fondness for 8-inch Dobsonians. They hit the perfect balance between being bigger than an average telescope, and still being practical in all other senses.
You will always have new targets to explore with an 8-inch Dobsonian. Orion’s SkyQuest classic shows the Moon in details like you’ve never seen it before. You can also view the polar ice caps on Mars and clearly see Saturn’s rings.
Jupiter is one of my favorite targets through an 8-inch Dobsonian because its gas bands are so well defined.
The SkyQuest is an excellent telescope for deep sky observations, including nebulae and even some of the more obscure galaxies. I also love that the instrument comes with high-quality eyepieces and Starry Night software.
- Sprung mount that keeps the telescope nicely balanced.
- Several great accessories.
- A large and practical telescope.
- High-quality primary optics.
- The focuser isn’t the most superior quality.
- The bearings for the telescope’s base are a little flimsy.
- Mount is not as smooth as expected.
- The collimation cap should be replaced with one of better quality.
Best 12-inch Dobsonian Telescope - Sky-Watcher 12 inch Collapsible Dobsonian
Sky-Watcher offers up this large 12-inch telescope which is considerably more affordable than other 12-inch models. It’s a tempting choice for first-time telescope owners who want to go as big as possible.
Dobsonians are not hard to use, so I would not necessarily caution against it. But bear in mind that a lot of beginners quickly lose interest in the hobby because using, and maintaining, a large telescope requires extra effort.
However, I would certainly recommend the Sky-Watcher to previous telescope owners. This way you will already have a fair idea of whether or not you need a telescope of this size.
Either way, the quality of the telescope will not let you down. It is a high-resolution scope that reveals clarity and detail to objects that would appear fuzzy in smaller telescopes.
- Easy assembly.
- Fairly light and portable for such a large telescope.
- Quality optics.
- Inclusive pack with two Plossl eyepieces.
- The telescope does not mount as easily as it should.
- Mirrors need to be collimated before use.
Best Beginner Kit - Sky-Watcher 6 inch Dobsonian-style Newtonian
The 6-inch Sky-Watcher Dobsonian is a great choice for first-time telescope owners. It is very light and compact and users will find it really easy to familiarize themselves with the telescope, due to the simple design and unimposing size.
This Sky-Watcher has been designed with a paraboloidal mirror which eliminates flaws common to reflectors. You don’t have to worry about glaring aberrations or loss of light. On the contrary, the telescope delivers sharp views of the brightest deep sky objects.
- Hassle-free, quick assembly.
- A tension control handle for smooth positioning.
- Very small and light telescope.
- A good, long focal length.
- Well-suited to beginners and children.
- The included eyepieces could be of higher quality.
- I would recommend replacing the finderscope with a right-angled finderscope.
Best Value Dobsonian Telescope - Orion SkyQuest Dobsonian Reflector
Like all reflectors, the telescope needs to be collimated. Thankfully, the SkyQuest has a tool-free collimation feature that beginners will find easy to use.
One of the things I appreciate most about this SkyQuest is the masterful construction of the telescope, including the solid base. Navigating with the instrument is a very smooth process.
It has a nice long focal length which translates into excellent resolution. Images hold up very well under higher magnification, and it really helps that the eyepieces included are of good quality.
Having a 6-inch Dobsonian has its clear advantages. Views within the solar system are outstanding. You can see the more prominent surface details of the moon. Mars’ polar ice caps are visible when you’re using the right filters under good conditions.
Such a small Dobsonian will not give you the views of deep sky objects though. I would go up to an 8-inch telescope if you truly want to chase down these gems. However, all the Messier objects are fantastic to observe with the 6-inch SkyQuest.
- One of the best value Dobsonian telescope kinds available.
- A good entry-level telescope, suited to beginners and/or children.
- A light and portable device.
- Does not take up much space.
- An all-inclusive kit with eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens.
- Assembly can take up to 30 minutes.
- Smaller size means deep sky viewing isn’t possible.
Top Affordable Large Dobsonian - Zhumell Deluxe 10 inch Dobsonian Reflector
Zhumell is not a standard name among astronomy brands, but that should not put you off trying their telescopes. The optics are really good. The parabolic mirrors eliminate glaring aberrations for the sharpest images of deep sky objects.
The telescope is also made from durable materials and the construction is solid and built to last. It’s a good telescope if you want to upgrade from an 8-inch version without it costing you an arm and a leg.
- Features a precision dual speed focuser.
- You can adjust the balance of the telescope to account for the weight of extra accessories.
- The telescope breaks down into two components for easy transportation and storage.
- Includes a laser collimator to accurately align your instrument.
- Convenient cooling fan so that you can set up and observe faster without worrying about blurred images.
- Eyepieces are not the highest quality and may need replacing.
- The mount’s movements could be far smoother.
Top High Tech Modern Dobsonian - Orion 10019 SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope
Dobsonians are not usually associated with high tech features as they are prized for their simplicity. But as the leading brand for Dobsonian telescopes, Orion is always reinventing their image by offering modern versions of the classic telescope. This telescope is a case in point.
The SkyQuest 10-inch is exactly what most people want out of their Dobsonians. More deep sky objects are visible in finer detail. The views of the moon, planets, galaxies, and nebulae are unrivaled. It has all the user-friendly features common to Dobsonians, but with the added enhancement of a high-tech equatorial refractor.
Orion’s computerized Dobsonian has an automated object finder just like GO-TO scopes. You can easily find over 14,000 celestial objects with its smart locator.
It’s made with a sturdy wooden Dobsonian base, with CorrecTension adjustment knobs that keep the telescope perfectly balanced.
- Fully computerized and automated mount which is capable of locating over 14,000 objects from its database.
- Beautifully finished mount made of superior quality materials.
- A right-angled, correct-image finderscope is included.
- Easy to follow instructions.
- The computerized features may be difficult for first-time telescope owners to navigate.
Best Dobsonian Telescope for Children - Zhumell Portable Reflector Z130
A love for astronomy often starts at a young age. The Z130 from Zhumell is sure to make a wonderful gift for any young stargazer. The Zhumell Z130 is relatively small for a Dobsonian-type telescope. But the plus is that it is extremely affordable, costing less than entry-level telescopes with a similar aperture.
One of the really nice features of the Zhumell Z130 is the modular lens cap that allows you to control the opening aperture. You can take things a notch down so that very bright objects, like the moon, can be viewed in detail without too much glare.
The telescope’s size is also well suited to older children so they should be quite comfortable familiarizing themselves with the telescope. The red dot finder also helps children easily align the telescope and find bright objects.
- It’s a great budget choice.
- Extremely light and portable.
- Simple to assemble and use.
- Durable construction and solid design.
- High light transmission for clear images.
- The inexpensive eyepieces will need to be replaced.
- Not as suited to deep sky observations as most other Dobsonians.
Should I Get a Dobsonian?
I personally really love and favor Dobsonians over other types of telescopes. The views you get out of a good Dobsonian telescope are second to none. Sure, they can’t be used for astrophotography without a lot of adjustments and additions. And they are definitely not on the tech-savvy level some computerized GO-TO mounts are.
But the whole reason I got into astronomy in the first place was to see deep sky objects in stunning detail. The sense of awe you get the first time you look through a telescope never goes away. A Dobsonian telescope is right for you if you are also chasing breathtaking sky views without breaking the bank.
My personal favorite from the list above is the Orion Skyquest reflector. Its 8-inch scale is just right for amateurs and astronomers who can’t invest in heftier telescopes, and its clarity and visibility are both excellent.
Not to mention, Orion is the trusted brand in Dobsonians and it’s unlikely that you’ll go wrong with them.