QUICK TELESCOPE REVIEWS
Quick reviews of all the telescopes I've owned.
I started buying telescopes in 2003, and while I rarely keep more than two or three at a time, I've now owned twelve different telescopes (some more than once) over the years and used numerous others at star parties. Currently, I own and use a Celestron C6 SCT and a Televue Ranger refractor. Here are some quick summaries of the different telescopes and my thoughts on them.
While the Stellarvue 110ED refractor can pack down into a backpack, on one trip to the island of Maui was looking for something even more portable that would easily fit in a backpack along with other gear, some clothes, etc. I decided to try out the C5, and discovered that with a reducer the wide field views weren't that far behind the 110ED, and the high power views were generally comparable, though perhaps slightly softer. While the C5 generally came in a bit below the 110ED in overall performance, it did so at a fraction of the size. The C5 is about the same size as a coffee can, and can easily fit in just about any backpack. The small size and light weight, around 6 pounds or so, make it suitable for smaller and lighter tripods, which often are the main limitations when traveling by air.
I modified an Orion Sky View Pro tripod to shorten it enough to fit in my suitcase, and topped it off with a Stellarvue M1 mount, similar to their current M1V mount. I also had an extension column to boost the height a bit, but the whole package was easy to carry in one hand. Any scope in Hawaii will provide great views from an elevated dark site there, so it performed wonderfully in that regard, and it was much lighter and easier to transport than the 110ED.
Overall, the C5 is probably one of my favorite scopes. Other Celestron SCTs like their 6" or 8" scopes will outperform it certainly, as will most 4" refractors, but it is so small and light that it will allow you to get out under the stars frequently. Yes, there is some cool down time to deal with compared to a refractor, but the C5 is so small it is not long. While the C6 is only an inch larger in diameter, it is closer in size to a C8 than a C5 in terms of overall feel. While still easily portable, the C6 is a little too big for most backpacks, and is noticeably larger. There isn't much size difference going from 4 to 5", but there is a bigger jump from 5 to 6". On the other hand, a C6 will show more than a C5, but then a C8 will show a lot more than a C6, and so on. That being said, the best view I have ever had of the Andromeda galaxy from my home was with the C5 and a 25mm plossl eyepiece. Go figure.
The C5 is sold differently than other Celestron SCTs though, which is both good and bad. The C5 is sold as a spotter scope, and comes with a lifetime warranty and case. The C6, C8 and others come with a two year warranty generally, and are not sold with a case. This results in the C6 sometimes being sold for less than the C5 when purchased new. The C6 will outperform the C5, so the price can be an issue in that regard. But, the C5 is a great super-portable scope than can bring in nice views. It may not fit into your scope lineup if you have other small scopes, but if you are looking for a small travel scope to complement a larger scope you have at home, take a look at the C5. Recommended.
Buy one from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2NKvQmk
The Celestron C6, a 6" SCT, is one of my two current telescopes, the other being a Televue Ranger 70mm refractor. The C6 is a really nice all around scope, and is small enough to travel easy, light enough to carry outside on a simple alt-az mount in one arm, but still large enough to produce nice views of most objects in the night sky. The C6 is a nice option if you are looking for a first telescope, since it is portable enough to use easily and frequently, and is much cheaper than the C8.
Optically, the C6 is not going to beat out a really good 4" or larger refractor, but it also costs less and is smaller and lighter in weight. It also will fall significantly behind a C8 on some deep sky objects, but isn't far off on planetary views. Saturn in particular seems to perform much better in larger scopes, and my views of that planet through a C8 have been consistently better, but the C6 holds its own and is better than the C5.
The main downside to the C6 is that it has the limited field of view of all SCTs, and also takes longer to cool down than a refractor, so views of planets can take a while to steady down. Also, if you already have a C8 and a smaller scope like a C5 or a 3.5-4.5" refractor then this scope probably isn't going to be worthwhile. While the C6 will outperform a C5, I wouldn't upgrade from a C5 to a C6. I did that once in the past, thinking that I might rather have a C6 than a C5, but then missed the portability of the C5 (which can easily ride on a decent photo tripod and fit in a backpack). So, I ended up picking up a smaller refractor to serve as the ultra-portable travel and quick-look scope. My current setup, featuring the C6 and a Televue Ranger serves me well, and eventually I may add a 9-11" SCT or 12" dob for when I want a lot more light grasp and have the time to setup the larger scope, but that likely won't be in the near future.
Recommended if you are in need of a mid-size scope, or looking for a first scope. But, probably not much added value if you already have something in the 5" or 8" range.
If you want to pick up a C6 and don't yet have a mount for it, I would recommend picking up the 6SE version which includes a nice go-to mount. Or, if you want an even more capable mount the Evolution 6 version. If you just want a C6 optical tube, Highpoint Scientific usually has the best prices. I'm currently using the C6 on the Explore Scientific Twilight 1 mount.
CELESTRON 8" EDGEHD SCT
After having purchased the C5, I enjoyed the ergonomics of the SCT design so much I opted to purchase an 8" SCT. Celestron offers two versions of their 8" SCT, the regular C8 and the 8" EdgeHD, which has corrector lenses in the baffle tube that correct for the comma and field curvature present in the normal C8 (and SCTs in general). This results in a wonderfully crisp view across the entire field when using a low power eyepiece. The center of the field is probably not much different between the regular C8 and the 8" EdgeHD, and you can add the reducer/corrector lens for about $100 to the back of a regular C8 to get most of the gains in the outer field that the EdgeHD has, but the EdgeHD is still better. This scope gave me the best views of Saturn I've ever had in any scope, even beating anything I've ever seen in a C14. That isn't a fair comparison though since a C14 is capable of showing a much better image, but a big advantage of scopes like an 8" SCT is that they are compact and easy enough to setup that you are more likely to use them, and be out observing which in turn gives you a better chance to be out on one of those nights when the seeing is really superb.
The combination of a C5 and 8" EdgeHD was really nice, and probably I should have left well enough alone, but eventually decided to go to a C6 and a larger SCT. However, work and family changes resulted in that larger SCT purchase never happening, and the C6 serves we well enough as a middle ground scope for now. But, I do miss the views through the 8" EdgeHD. I highly recommend the scope if you are looking for something in that aperture range.
If you are looking for more information on this scope, I recommend reading Celestron's white paper on the scope.
I've never actually owned a C14, only used them at star parties as well as at the visitor center on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. My most memorable views are from the C14 on Mauna Kea through a pair of Denk II binoviewers I brought along that had 24 mm Televue Panoptic eyepieces in them. The views of objects like Omega Centauri were absolutely ridiculous. I've also viewed through one at an event with an image intensifying eyepiece, and that was quite spectacular as well. 14" of aperture is always going to trounce the views seen with a small scope, with a couple exceptions. The first being that the field of view with a C14 is limited, and so you simply can't pull in views of large objects well, and even some that fit don't always look quite as "nice" without being framed by background stars. Large nebula are sometimes more challenging than you might expect, because without seeing more dark sky around the object, the apparent contrast is less. Still, a 14" scope is great to have if you have the space and money for one. Personally, I don't see myself buying a scope that large in the coming years because I simply wouldn't use it much. Given the weight of the scope, and a backyard full of trees, I can view many objects from a single location. So, a scope like this would only get used on trips to star parties or dark sky sites, and not from my house which means it would probably get used once a year at most.
The bottom line is that the C14 will put up great views but you shouldn't buy one without seeing and using one in person. It is a large scope and requires and even larger and more expensive mount to hold it. So, a scope like this is really more of something to look at buying if you have a permanent place to mount the scope, or maybe can wheel it out of the garage on a dolly. Don't overestimate your ability and desire to drag out a large scope at night, especially if it frequently gets cold at night where you live which makes the whole process harder.
DOBSTUFF 10" DOBSONIAN KIT
Several years ago I picked up a 10" dobsonian reflector telescope kit from Dobstuff, an online provider of both full and retro-fitting dobsonian kits. You can take a generic dobsonian purchased from the likes of Orion or Skywatcher, and upgrade it with one of the Dobstuff kits to be a very attractive and lighter weight scope. My kit came packaged well, and I built the kit over several weeks, staining and putting multiple coats of polyurethane on all the included wood pieces. Assembly was straightforward, and the resulting telescope was very lightweight for a 10" dob, and easy to carry out in once piece.
I highly recommend their kits if you have at least some wood working experience or at least are good at assembling moderately complicated items. There were no overly difficult steps, but you need to take your time, follow the directions closely, and make sure you have fitted all pieces properly and in the correct orientation.
I eventually sold the scope, even though I enjoyed using it because it became somewhat impractical to use in my yard and was too big to travel with easily with my family. We have multiple trees and houses surrounding ours, and so I have to move a telescope around frequently to observe different objects. While the 10" dob was light weight, it was still a little bit of a pain to constantly move around. The bigger issue though was that many objects that I could see in the southern portion of the sky with a telescope on a tripod, I could not see with the dob on the ground. I could put the dob on a stand to get it higher in order to clear the 2+ story house on the south side of our house, but then the eyepiece was much higher (being at the top of the scope) and it made moving from object to object frustrating.
The bottom line is that the dobstuff kits are really nice, and I recommend them, but I learned that I don't really like the ergonomics of dobsonian telescopes and much prefer those of an SCT or small to moderate sized refractors.
ORION 100MM F/6 REFRACTOR
I purchased this scope in 2003 from Orion as part of their "Skyview Pro Package" that included an equatorial mount. This was my first real telescope and showed me a great deal of objects, including Mars during the fabulous opposition that year.
A 4" refractor is a wonderful all-purpose scope and can serve as an only scope. Having used quite a few refractors and other scopes, a 90-100mm refractor is the minimum that can provide a lot of satisfying views across all objects. Smaller refractors can still provide great views and my 70mm Televue Ranger puts up impressive views of Jupiter. But a lot of deep sky objects are just underwhelming with under 90-100mm of aperture. This scope was also hampered by being a simple crown and flint refractor, and an f/6 one at that. The net result was quite a bit of false color that didn't really detract from deep sky objects, but did hinder views of planets. That being said, I was happy with the planetary views with the scope until I bought a better refractor. A 4" achromat like this can be a nice scope, but with 4" ED refractors now only a little more expensive it is hard to recommend a simple achromat in this range.
The focuser is likely better now than when I owned the scope, but that along with the fixed dew shield (couldn't retract to save space when transporting it) were probably more of a negative than the optics. Bottom line, a nice scope, but no match for even the lower end ED scopes now available. Pick up a 100ED instead like the very solid SkyWatcher version: https://amzn.to/2xOSRcH
STELLARVUE 50MM LITTLE RASCAL
I picked up the Little Rascal right before the solar eclipse in 2017. While I already had a bunch of gear ready to go for the trip to Missouri to see totality, when practicing using some of the equipment with my 7 year old son, he was having some difficulty. It can be surprisingly hard to find the sun with a solar filter on in some conditions (particularly with there is just enough high clouds to limit shadows making the initial aim harder) and dealing with reversed images at the eyepiece can further complicate things. I thought of this little scope and had one rushed out to me. I already had a solar filter that was just the right size for it (from a pair of binoculars), and this scope with a photo tripod worked great for solar viewing. The super wide field of view made finding the sun easy, as did the included prism diagonal.
While we had planned to go to St. Joseph, MO to watch the eclipse, satellite data didn't look promising, so we instead headed to Concordia, MO and watched the eclipse from there with a couple dozen other people at a roadside McDonalds along I-70. Numerous people, some as young as 3, were able to get great views of sunspots before totality through the scope, and had some quick peaks of the corona and solar prominances during totality with the filter removed.
After returning from the eclipse trip the scope did a lot of work as a quick peak grab-n-go scope on a photo tripod and have been surprised at the views. Stars are pinpoints, and the super wide field of view is amazing when panning through the milky way, even with the light pollution where we live. Lunar views are surprisingly good too, and even Saturn looked nice and sharp up to about 40x, but it does break down quickly at higher powers. Yes, being a fast achromat there is some false color on the moon, but it is less than I expected, possibly because the scope is only 50 mm. I didn't notice any false color when looking at star fields at low power, but it will show up on bright stars and planets. Still, the false color is less than I've seen through other achromats.
I love the included case, and since there was some extra space in there, I cut another hole for a third eyepiece (it includes two spots for eye pieces as shipped), another rectangular hole for the solar filter, and a third narrow rectangular hole for any other accessories or filters I might want to take. The bottom line is that the Little Rascal is a super portable, go anywhere scope for those times when there isn't space to take anything larger. Also, the scope on a photo-tripod is so light, it will get used frequently for those five minute spur of the moment quick peaks at objects. I've been able to grab quick ten minute viewing sessions that I never would have been able to do otherwise. This scope gives you the portability of binoculars, but with all the versatility of a telescope. While you probably aren't going to be viewing things at over 100x with this scope, sweeping the milky way with a 6 degree field of view is great. You can also see far more stars than at a similar power with similar sized binoculars, because even on a simple photo tripod you have a steadier view than hand-holding binoculars.
This little scope and a few eyepieces make for an excellent little travel and grab-n-go package. Recommended if you want something fun, small, and fairly low cost that you can toss in any travel bag. A Televue 60 will blow this little guy away, as would the various 60ED scopes on the market, but also cost quite a bit more.
STELLARVUE 70ED F/6 REFRACTOR
I eventually sold the great SV90R (which I later regretted) with the idea off picking up a 110ED and a smaller 70ED for travel. The SV70ED was a nice scope, but the optics were just average in my sample. Nice, but not as sharp and color free as what the SV90R was, though of course it was also dramatically cheaper. I now have a Televue Ranger (also a 70mm refractor) and the Ranger has better optics than the SV70ED did, even though the glass in the Ranger shows a little more color. The Stellarvue 70 mm scope used FPL51 glass, which helped reduce, but not eliminate, false color. But, the bigger problem was that the optics just were not as crisp as other refractors I have owned. Also, while the focuser was adequate it was fairly large, which made travel more difficult than would be expected. It was still very small, but the scope took up a little more space in a bag than you might expect, and my Ranger is more compact overall even though it is a little longer.
A 70mm ED scope can still be a nice travel scope, but there are better options out there, though usually for more money. 80ED scopes aren't much bigger and most of those seem to produce better images, in part because they are usually f/7 instead of f/6 like the 70ED.
The bottom line is that the 70ED is a decent scope, but you are probably better off either opting for a better 70mm scope, or go to an only slightly more expensive 80mm ED scope like the Skywatcher 80ED. Note that Stellavue no longer sells this 70ED scope, and their current 70mm scope is a true APO triplet that greatly outperforms the 70ED.
Stellarvue scopes: http://www.stellarvue.com
STELLARVUE 80ED F/7 REFRACTOR
The Stellarvue 80ED and other 80EDs on the market are a great portable, wide field telescope option. An 80mm ED scope is just enough to provide nice planetary views, and such scopes with a long focal length eyepiece can really provide sweeping, low power views of the night sky as well. I've owned two of the Stellarvue 80ED scopes over the years when I was looking for a nice travel scope. Currently, I have the Televue Ranger, a 70mm scope to serve that purpose since it is a fair bit smaller than an 80ED, but 80 ED scopes are still very portable. However, since most are f/7 or f/7.5 scopes, they may not be short enough to fit easily in a carry-on bag for air travel. While the focuser can be unthreaded in many cases (I'm not sure if all versions of the Stellarvue 80ED allow that since it has changed over time), that is a minor inconvenience.
While an 80ED is a nice all around scope, it probably isn't a great choice for an only scope. To some extent it is like a C8, but with the opposite problems. An 80ED can give you wide field views and still put up nice high power views, but those high power views will pale in comparison to an 8" scope. At the same time an 8" SCT or similar scope can put up nice high power views, but can't give you the wide field views. The end result is that most people are better served by having something like an 80ED and a larger scope. The 80ED is a great companion scope, but if you are looking for just a single telescope solution, a 4" refractor or 6" SCT are better options, generally still being pretty portable and doing pretty well at most observing tasks. The bottom line is that an 80ED is recommended as a companion scope, not an only scope, as it will tend to leave you wanting a little more aperture more times than not.
After having the 80ED, I decided to upgrade to the SV80ST, a high quality f/6 triplet refractor. The 80ST is still 80mm like the 80ED, but has higher quality glass, and being a triplet instead of a doublet like the 80ED, has much better color correction. Basically, it is about as good as you can get in an 80mm scope. Also, being f/6 instead of f/7, it is shorter, and thus it was able to fit in my smaller carry-on bag that is sized to fit on regional jets.
The SV80ST puts up great lower power and high power images, though for visual use only, isn't markedly better than the 80ED. The differences do show up at higher power, but for most objects the differences aren't huge. The SV80ST will do much better than the 80ED if used for astrophotography, since false color will show up more readily on photographs than visually. However, the SV80ST is far more expensive than the 80ED, so if you aren't into photography and especially if you have other scopes, the SV80ST is probably not worth the extra money unless that isn't an issue for you.
The bottom line is that the SV80ST will do all that an 80mm scope can do, but like the 80ED, is best served as a companion scope for visual work. But, it can be a great scope to use for astrophotography, unless your primary interest in planets in which case bigger scopes are generally going to better options.
STELLARVUE SV90R 90MM F/7 APO CARBON FIBER REFRACTOR
After spending a few years with the Orion 100mm refractor I upgraded in a major way (from a cost perspective) to the SV90R. This was, and likely still is, a fantastic refractor and the best I have owned. While only 90mm instead of 100 like the Orion scope, this Stellarvue scope features three lenses instead of two, with much higher quality glass. The images of deep sky objects and planets were all far superior to the Orion 100mm refractor.
I've probably still seen more objects with this refractor than any other scope I have owned, in part because it was my only scope for a few years and I traveled extensively with it. My version had a lightweight carbon fiber tube as well as a Feathertouch focuser that allowed for precise and easy focus. The main limitation of this scope was the fact that it was still only 90mm so some deep sky objects like globular clusters just aren't going to look nearly as good as in a larger scope. But, this is a great option for a mid-sized refractor that can do it all and is also a great choice for astrophotography. Highly recommended.
STELLARVUE SV110ED F/7 REFRACTOR
This is one of my favorite refractors I have owned. While only an ED doublet lens with FPL 51 glass instead of better FPL 53 or other types, it still showed only minor amounts of false color, and the 110mm aperture really pulls in a lot of light for a refractor. This was a binoviewer ready version that had a section of the tube that could be removed to shorten the scope and allow binoviewers to be used without a barlow lens, allowing for a wider field of view. This scope provided what are still my most memorable views of M42, the great nebula in Orion. Additionally, with the tube extension unthreaded along with the focuser, the scope, focuser, and accessories can all be put instead a camera backpack that will fit underneath an airline seat. I've taken this scope to Hawaii twice, and when combined with binoviewers, provided just epic views from the Mauna Kea visitor center on the Big Island. Views of planets are pretty good as well. I no longer have this scope, since I've since trended towards smaller scopes that I'm more likely to take outside more frequently, but this is a really nice scope if you can find one on the used market since they are no longer in production. Again, this isn't a true APO and a 100-110mm APO triplet will put up better views, but the SV110ED is still quite good, and if you like to binoview is a great option.
TELEVUE RANGER 70MM F/6.8 REFRACTOR
I picked up a used 70 mm Televue Ranger refractor telescope (no longer made) in early 2018 to use as a lightweight travel and grab and go scope that would work well on my Manfrotto tripod and pan head. I’ve had a 70mm ED refractor in the past from Stellarvue, and was somewhat disappointed with that scope for a variety of reasons, so was somewhat tentative when purchasing this scope. I had considered a Televue 60 APO refractor for even greater portability, but thought having 10mm of extra aperture would make for a more useful scope.
The Televue Ranger is a 480mm focal length scope, similar to many of the 80mm f/6 APOs that are around. However, while the Ranger does say it has ED glass, it is no nearly as good in the color correction department as a modern ED refractor. However, the scope does have an extremely sharp set of optics, at least in my sample, and has performed much better than I expected. While the color correction is not quite as good as the SV70ED I had in the past, the sharpness of the views is a little better. There is also a little less field curvature versus the SV70ED being a longer focal length. While the scope is physically longer than the SV70ED, it does not have a focuser sticking out the side, so it is somewhat more compact in that sense. Instead of a crayford or rack and pinon focuser, it uses a drawtube and helical focuser. People seem to love or hate the focuser, so the focuser on the Ranger may or may not be an issue for you, but I find it works nicely and have no problem with it. I would rather have the helical focuser and draw tube and more compact size than a standard focuser that would make the scope harder to transport in luggage because of the extra width.
The Ranger also has a fixed dew shield, and while that keeps things simpler, I would have preferred a sliding dew shield to keep the scope shorter for travel and to allow for further extension. The existing dew shield is very short, only extending an inch or so past the objective and so won’t provide much dew protection. One item of note, is that the lens cap for the dew shield was broken when the scope arrived in the mail, but I called up Televue and they still stock replacements and I was able to buy a new lens cap for just a few dollars. It is nice to know that Televue maintains an inventory of parts for their telescopes, even after they stop selling them.
Views of Jupiter have been surprisingly good, with the Great Red Spot very obvious as well as some detail in the cloud bands. Saturn is nice, but the Cassini Division is hard to see if seeing isn’t good (versus much easier to see in my C6, being far larger in aperture). Mars is more problematic as the achromatic nature of the scope shows more color issues with Mars, and so a higher quality ED scope will do better.
You can pick up a good 80ED refractor for a similar price to what I was able to get the Ranger, so from a pure price to performance perspective it isn’t the best choice. However, the Ranger is much more portable than an 80ED, though for maximum portability a Televue 60 or one of the nice new 60ED scopes would be even better.
The bottom line is that I recommend this scope if you are able to get a good price on one on the used market, though only if you are looking for a small, very portable scope. If extreme portability isn’t a primary concern, then picking up an 80ED is a better option since it will be a better overall performer.