I’ve had the ST80 for about seven weeks since I was given it at Christmas and I’ve had a few decent nights stargazing with it so I thought it was about time I wrote down some of my thoughts. The scope had been recommended to my wife by SCS Astro, who are fairly close (in fact we go past the shop on the school run), as a good “beginner’s” scope that fitted her budget.
The scope arrived in a single large box containing the tripod, an EQ1 mount, telescope body, star diagonal, the standard 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, finder scope, scope rings, a few tools and some less than wonderful instructions, all carefully packed in multiple cardboard boxes like sets of Russian dolls. There’s even a tray for the tripod which is possibly really intended to stiffen the legs. Lots of websites show the Startravel scope range as having a blue body, but mine is in fact a newer black one. The tripod isn’t the most robust of affairs and the EQ1 mount is clearly not intended to carry a great deal of weight, but the scope itself appeared well-engineered without giving the impression that someone had made it their lifetime’s work.
Despite the skimpy instructions assembly wasn’t too traumatic. There’s only one place most things can go and the only bit that really wasn’t particularly obvious was a rubber grommet. I eventually worked out that this is supposed to go around the body of the finder scope and inside the front of the finder scope mount to hold it steady, allowing directional adjustment with the screws at the rear.
Predictably the next week or so was overcast so I had to entertain myself reading a couple of astronomy books I’d also been given and working out how to move the scope around. With equatorial mounts its necessary to “flip” the scope over to be able to view certain parts of the sky, which can in turn mean having to release the scope rings slightly and spin the scope body around to get the finder into a usable position and then spinning the diagonal back so the eyepiece is in the right place. I also took the scope outside and attempted to align the finder with the main scope. I found that quite tricky as the finder moved about a bit and as a beginner it’s not easy to tell when something is definitely centered in the eyepiece. I think the problems with the finder were actually that the afore-mentioned rubber grommet wasn’t far enough inside the finder mount and was allowing some slop.
Eventually the clouds cleared late one afternoon and I managed to get a view of Jupiter. Very appropriate given that it was a conversation last summer about being able to see Jupiter from Earth with the naked eye that rekindled my interest in having a telescope. The planet and the four Galilean moons were clearly visible, but a grey image of the northern equatorial band was about the limit of detail that I could see. I had to get a chair out so the children could also see it when they arrived home from school and we spent a little time looking at the gibbous moon. The image of Jupiter was a bit fuzzy around the edge due to chromatic aberration as was the moon though it was nowhere near as noticeable away from the edge. In fact at higher magnification the view of the lunar surface was stunning for someone who’s never seen it up close before.
I had to wait another week for a chance to actually look at any stars in detail and perhaps fairly obviously for mid-winter my first target was the Orion Nebula (M42). I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I could definitely see a hazy grey area around a concentration of light with the 25mm eyepiece and could actually make out the trapezium at higher magnification. Again at lower magnification I could get a good view of the Plieades and the Beehive Cluster, but the Crab Nebula for instance was little more than a small grey fuzzy blob.
It was during these somewhat extended stargazing sessions that a few problems presented themselves. Firstly the entire scope wobbled noticeably. The focus tube also rocked in the scope body when I was moving the focuser and the scope took some time to stop shaking after I’d moved the focus. During the day I went over the scope and tightened all the bolts up. The most obvious cause of trouble was in fact the bolts at the top of the tripod legs. Getting those properly done up improved the overall steadiness quite a bit. There’s nothing in the instructions about adjusting the focus tube, but I eventually noticed two small grub screws on the opposite side to the focusing rack. Screwing those in a little improved things no end. In fact, I had to screw the front one in a fair bit. The shaking after moving the focus I decided to fix with a technological solution and bought a focussing motor with a remote handset. More on that another time.
The improvements made I found it much easier to find objects I was looking for and it became apparent that the stock eyepieces (which I think Skywatcher ship with most of their lower end scopes) were really only in sharp focus in the middle 50%, with the stars towards the edge of the field of view becoming quite fuzzy. I’ve since bought a couple of the cheaper Celestron eyepieces and they are a considerable improvement.
Overall I’m very happy with the telescope. It’s not as good for looking at the planets as some other scopes at not too different a price might be, but it is better at deep space objects and generally for giving a taste of what’s possible. I know quite a few people use them as finders and guide scopes for astrophotography, so I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. Positives are that it’s (relatively) cheap, it’s small enough to get indoors and outdoors easily and when all’s said and done, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Negatives are that it isn’t great for looking at the planets because of the chromatic aberration which may well be important to a beginner, and the focus adjustment is a bit coarse. I would have light something with a little more “light grasp”, but I’ve managed to pick up the 102mm version of the same scope second hand to compare it with. More on that when I’ve used it.
In the last seven weeks I’ve become utterly hooked on the stars, surprised myself by how much I’ve learned and missed a fair chunk of sleep. It’s been great!