Astronomy forums can be helpful as finding information online can be a challenge, particularly if you are looking for something specific like astronomy. Sure, there is a ton of easy to access information, but it never seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. After looking around for a couple of years and participating on many astronomy forums I decided I would share a little of my impressions with some of what I see as the better online forums dedicated to astronomy. Here you can not only read tons of static information, but also ask specific questions and get direct answers from people who have “been there and done that”.
Stargazers Lounge is my favorite general astronomy forums with tons of friendly and knowledgeable people ready to help. As one of the largest astronomy forums online (over two million posts and 1,500 unique visitors a day) you are sure to find tons of valuable information and some wonderful astrophotography as well. They round out the information in the forums with tons of user blogs and a wonderful calendar showing celestial events as well as meetings and events local to England and surrounding areas. If I could only pick one place to hang out, shoot the breeze and learn something at the same time this would be my choice.
Cloudy Nights has quite a lot of great information and some excellent reviews but also has a reputation for being a little more abrasive than other astronomy forums. Although no one has ever been rude to me in any way, I have seen a few rather heated conversations. That aside, no forum I have found has anywhere near the quantity and quality of product reviews these astronomy forums have. There are also some very knowledgeable people here so there is always great information to be had. In addition to the forums they have the excellent Cloudy Nights classifieds section with tons of items and a nice articles section with what looks like over a hundred how-to articles. If I wanted one place to learn as much as possible, and didn’t mind watching my Ps and Qs, this would be the astronomy forums for me.
Astromart is well known in astronomy circles as the place to find used astronomy equipment online. What they don’t tell you is that they have a pretty nice little set of astronomy forums there as well although it is primarily aimed at equipment information and discussion. If you have any questions such as what part fits this, or what adapters you need to mount this on that, then I would recommend trying here.
Ice In Space is a fairly good sized forum primarily aimed at Australia but still contains some excellent information for anyone. Add to that a friendly mix of people and some high quality astrophotography and it is a very nice destination. For me, this forum presents a nice change of pace since it is in the Southern Hemisphere so I get to see astrophotography that I will probably never get to shoot myself.
The Astronomy Shed is another one of those places that is well known for something other than its astronomy forums, in this case it is some excellent video tutorials. If you like video tutorials, particularly ones dealing with do-it-yourself projects, this is a great place to spend some quality time.
Last month I purchased the iOptron SmartStar E R80 available from Amazon as part of my work on a new book I am working on and needed a low budget solution for AP and this iOptron telescope seemed to fit the bill. You can’t really write about budget AP if you are using thousands of dollars worth of mounts and scopes to get the images, now can you? So after looking around I decided on this iOptron SmartStar for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it uses a side mount so the camera presents less of an interference problem with the mount. I thought this would be the perfect cheap astrophotography telescope. It arrived in one small box, here it is with a 12″ scale on top of the box to give you an idea of size, being inspected by my postal inspector:
Inside that box is a lot of smaller boxes, again requiring inspection:
First out was the mount head, hand controller and cable:
Next was the scope and accessories:
I wasn’t expecting much from this iOptron SmartStar, and as I expected, the bulk of it felt like cheap plastic. The scope, the focuser, the mount, all pretty much plastic. The build quality was better than I expected for a budget telescope in the $250 range, but was still cheap. What I did not expect however, was how well the SmartStar R80 Computerized Telescope performed…
Once hooked up and pointed roughly south (odd I thought since all the other scopes I have need to point north) I told it where to go, it went, more or less to the right area of the sky but definitely not on target. Once you sync it to a couple of stars however it is remarkably accurate. In fact, using a low power eyepiece you are virtually assured to get any target in your field of view on the first attempt.
This isn’t impressive on my SkyView Pro or Sirius setups, in fact, “in the field of view” is not acceptable for them, they need to be dead center of the field of view. But when you consider this scope and mount combination cost about one third of what my cheapest goto EQ mount alone cost, it is impressive indeed.
The next impressive thing is the views. How good can a 80mm budget telescope with a cheap plastic tube and a cheap plastic diagonal and a cheap mostly plastic eyepiece be? Better than I expected! In the same league as my other scopes? Well, no, of course not, but far better than the price tag would lead you to believe. In fact, one of the things I thought when I bought this setup was I could swap out the scope for a nice ED doublet, a dielectric diagonal and a real EP and use it as a nice little grab and go scope. While I still may do that I certainly am in no rush as the views of M42, the moon, and Jupiter were quite reasonable.
The one place I was not impressed was the tripod. Stability was not this thing’s middle name, not even its great grandfather’s middle name. Light weight, sure. Easy to transport and set up, yup. Stable, not even a little. The good news is that if ever there was a cheap scope and mount that was worth spending a little money on finding a slightly heavier tripod, this is it.
The basic setup of this iOptron SmartStar comes with the mount, tripod, hand controller, AC adapter (can also run off batteries), 80mm scope, 45 degree diagonal, 25mm and 10mm eyepieces. So over all would I recommend this setup? Absolutely. In fact, if anyone asks me for a suggestion on what scope to get someone showing a faint interest in astronomy without breaking the bank, instead of the normal 8″ Dob a lot of people insist on suggesting, this will be my scope of choice.
Light weight, easy to use, reasonable views, and a nice selection of targets you can just press a button and slew to without doing a lot of star hopping. This should be a real winner for newcomers to the hobby who want a budget telescope and if I had one of these back in the day instead of that awful reflector I started with, I would have never given up astronomy for all those years.
All ratings considering price:
Ease of use: ****
If you would like purchase an iOptron SmartStar E R80 for yourself, please use my link: iOptron SmartStar to help offset the cost of maintaining this website.
A short while back I decided I wanted another EQ goto mount so I picked up a lightly used Orion SkyView Pro telescope mount (SVP). Why the Orion SkyView Pro?
1) Carries more load than my Orion SkyView Deluxe, so better suited for my 127mm refractor
2) Tripod, weights and hand controller interchangeable with my Orion Sirius in case anything happens
3) Uses same interface, drivers and cables for computer control so I am already set up to use it with my laptops
4) OK, yes, I am kind of an Orion fanboy, but with their good products and excellent customer service, it is hard not to be.
After purchasing the polar scope separately and installing it in the Orion mount, I felt as if I was using the younger brother to my Sirius mount. Setup was fast and easy as the mount worked exactly the same as the Sirius but is lighter. This allowed me to be setup and running, including polar alignment, in about 15 minutes.
Running the mount is again, much like the Sirius mount. Since this is an EQ-5 based mount much like Celestron’s CG-5 I expected it to have much more in common with it than the Sirius, and indeed the motor covers, external cables and polar scope covers make it similar in appearance, but not so much in function. While the CG-5 is a capable mount, it has earned the nickname of “coffee grinder”, and if you ever hear one slew, you will understand why. The Orion SkyView Pro goto on the other hand sounds just like the Sirius, quiet and smooth.
Accuracy is exactly what you would expect given it has the same controller, excellent. Load capacity seems higher than listed by Orion (as it is for virtually any Orion mount) and I would have no problems running the Orion SkyView Pro with more weight than a CG-5. The tripod is only 1.5″ tubes as compared to the CG-5 which I believe has 2″ sections, but as with my Sirius mount once the mount is at it’s minimum height (which is always where you want to image from) stability is not an issue at all. If for some odd reason I needed to image from a fully extended position, then I might consider replacing the tripod with the 2″ version from the Atlas.
There are some things I do not like about this mount, starting with the rear cover for the polar scope. This cover just “fits” on, not really snapping, and not screwing, into place. Even looking in its general direction makes it fall off. Heck, while slewing if a cable brushes it, it comes off. Come on guys, I will pay the extra quarter, put some threads on it!
Next, for those of us that really use our equipment, the little rubber coating on the bottom of the tripod feet is a real pain in the rear. Why, you may ask? It eventually comes off. Not all at once mind you, but a little here and there. This messes up your leveling (if you always set up in the same place, once leveled you can lock the legs and never have to level again, until the rubber starts to come off one leg). Save some hassles later, remove the rubber coating as soon as you get this mount.
Lastly, I do wish the polar scope was lit although I generally set up right at dusk so that is not too much of a problem.
Overall the Orion SkyView Pro is an excellent goto mount that I would highly recommend for both visual and lightweight AP work. My only serious complaint is that it is a little too expensive when there are very capable alternatives such as the CG-5 or VX from Celestron. If you could get the SVP, CG-5 and VX mounts for the same price, it is a no brainer for me, the SVP rules the roost. Unfortunately for Orion you can still get the CG-5 from High Point Scientific for $549 new making it a much better overall deal.
Once High Point’s inventory is gone however, the Celestron VX series is showing a price of $799, just $50 less than the SVP, so in that case, I would splurge and take the Orion SkyView Pro over the VX, if for no other reason than how the SVP works with EQMOD and computer control.
I recently bought an Explore Scientific AR127 (sometimes called the ES127 or just ES AR127) and thought I would add my experiences to the other ES AR127 reviews.
Back in October I bought an Orion 90mm f/11 scope to do visual. I didn’t want to spend much because I really don’t do much visual and didn’t have much of a desire to. Recently I have been wanting something a little more, a little larger. Not too large mind you because it won’t fit in the car with all the AP rig already in there (and I drive a full size car, Buick Lucerne). I looked around for something in the 120-130mm range, any larger and it would be too big a pain in the rear to use and I would have to have a new mount for sure. Too small and there won’t be much of an improvement over what I already have. I also really hate the finderscope on the old Orion but it used a weird mount so you can’t just slap a different finder in there. I would also like to use all the 2″ equipment I already have for my APO since the APO will be imaging while I use this. I wanted something much higher end than the standard starter 120mm scopes offered by Orion and Celestron, but where to look?
All the reviews pointed to Explore Scientific refractors, specifically the Explore Scientific AR127, as the finest non-ED/APO out there right now even discounting issues with their focusers. I chatted and emailed them and got really depressed. The chat was about the finderscope they include, an 8×50 finder with a proprietary mount, and the possibility of buying just an OTA with rings as I have no need for the finder or diagonal in their “kit”.
The employee in the chat session, Langlee, informed me that they had no alternative to the finder on the AR127 but I could contact one of their distributors, Camera Concepts, as they carried many different types of adapters.
After a quick call to Camera Concepts I was relayed a message from the owner and told to use double sided tape as they had no adapters for the Explore Scientific AR127. Yes, that is why I am looking to get a high end achro scope, so I can mount my accessories with double sided tape. Langlee also said they could probably get me just the OTA but he had to talk to accounting and would get back to me. So on to email which was the response about buying just the OTA and rings, which was from David. After many volleys back and forth the general gist of the conversation was that no, they would not sell me anything but their kit, and I should be happy to have it. I also found out that they have an entire machine shop dedicated to things like making finderscope mounts fit for customers (seems Langlee had no idea that part of the company even existed). So would they take the existing finderscope, mount and diagonal in trade for putting a $15 aftermarket vixen style shoe on the scope before they shipped it to me? Absolutely not because it is “Hard to pay our machinist with parts. He prefers cash for some reason.” Yes, that is exactly what David told a prospective customer.
So I have to assume that even they don’t believe their finderscope and diagonal is worth $15. But enough of that, I want the Explore Scientific AR127 for the optics which are supposedly first rate, and indeed David challenged me to find another doublet with equal optics which he claims are 1/4 wave or less PV. This was right before David suggested velcro instead of double sided tape for my finder, LOL! So you may ask, if I was already this unhappy with their customer service, why would I buy their scope? Simple, I could not find anyone with a scope that had comparable optics in a comparable price range, anywhere, or I certainly would have bought elsewhere. Because of their terrible customer service, I decided to buy my AR127 from a different vendor, such as from Amazon HERE instead of direct from ES to add a safety net into the equation so I did not have to deal with ES at all.
So here is the Explore Scientific AR127 mounted and ready for the night’s observing. How did she do?
Optics: First rate for an achro. Of course not even in the same league as my Orion APO, but then again it is larger and a fraction of the price. Views of stars shows some CA around them, but surprisingly enough Saturn and the Moon show only very minor CA. In fact, the views of the moon were amazing. This scope takes power like nobody! I even went to my 5mm Stratus and it held up well although it preferred the 8mm. Of course this is with my Orion 2″ diagonal. Note the three sets of collimation screws in the image below:
Overall build quality of the Explore Scientific AR127: The tube is nice, paint is nice, rails and rings are very nice. The handle at the top is a really nice touch although it would be pretty useless to mount anything but since I have no need to mount anything I like it. Dew shield is not retractable like my Orion so the scope is pretty long.
Focuser: Although it performed fairly well I see why people don’t like it. It feels cheap, the lock works….kinda, and the tensioner works…kinda, there is no scale printed on it, and it does not rotate. The two knobs for lock and tension are so close together and so close to the same size, I am honestly not sure which I was turning at any given time. I see a new GSO focuser in this scope’s future. I wish it had a focuser like the one on my Orion.
Documentation: You mean the packing slip? You must because that was all that was in the box.
Lens cap: Large, with a molded in handle, but plastic and not screw in. I much prefer the aluminum screw in of my Orion, but again, the Orion was a much more expensive scope.
Overall: I think I will keep the Explore Scientific AR127 because the optics are really good. I have a new finder shoe and scope on the way from Orion and am looking at focusers right now. With those two replacements this will be an excellent scope. As it stands I feel I overpaid ($649 with free shipping) for what I got, but maybe the sale of the diagonal and finder on the bay will help bring the cost down a little.
On a different note I mounted this scope on my Orion Skyview Deluxe mount for now which handled the load very well. I did have to make one modification which was a dovetail adapter from ScopeStuff.com as shown here:
I can’t say enough good about this dovetail adapter and the service from ScopeStuff. They shipped so fast I thought they made a mistake telling me when it shipped (same day I ordered it, well after 5pm their time) and it arrived two days later perfectly. The only downside was I had to buy longer bolts and more washers since I was running an aftermarket mounting plate but that was totally my problem and not theirs. If I had been using the factory plate what they sent would have worked fine. If you decide to get your own Explore Scientific AR127 (or ES127, whichever you want to call it) please use THIS LINK to help offset the costs of running this site.
I hope you enjoyed my little review of my Explore Scientific AR127!
After purchasing my Orion Skyview Deluxe I thought I would share my thoughts on it.
Imaging can take many hours without touching anything. You just sit there. Sometimes I read, sometimes I watch TV, sometimes I browse the internet. Why not look around at the sky? So I found an Orion Skyview Deluxe on the bay that I liked, first because it was a refractor and I really like my refractors, second because it was kind of a classic from the 1980s or 1990s, and thrid because it was Orion and I really like my Orion stuff. I managed to get it for what I though was a reasonable price, just under what a new Orion Astroview 90mm would have cost and this one had a better mount and polar scope to boot. When it arrived there was a problem, they had not packed it well and the top plate where the scope mounts was broken:
So I emailed Orion, I could hear the laughter from here, no, there is no replacement part for an Orion Skyview Deluxe. I tried Astromart, dead silence. I tried a local welding shop, they laughed saying it was cheap pot metal and there was no way to repair it. They did however suggest a machine shop. After talking to Pat at ELM Machine in Oakhurst it seemed he was confident he could make a new one better than the old, and here is what he came up with:
This isn’t “better” than the original, this is WAY WAY WAY better than the original! Excellent work Pat! Now my scope is in service and I will have more to do than read or watch TV while imaging for more than eight hours a night.
I like this scope so well that even when it is not in use it is assembled and sitting in my living room where I can swing the scope around to look out the back window. I can also carry it through the sliding glass door and set it on the back upstairs deck. With a low power eyepiece the Orion Skyview Deluxe is a wonderful scope for watching the buzzards sitting in the tops of trees.