Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Review - Meade Telestar 60AZ-A2

Why is it that when someone says "Don't touch that; it's hot", we always have to find out for ourselves and end up getting burned? I'm an astronomy newbie. I've had 10x50 binoculars for several months and I bought my first telescope a few weeks ago--an Orion StarBlast 4.5 EQ. This review is about my second telescope, an impulse buy, a cheap 60mm department store refractor. I'd read in many "first scope" guides to stay away from department store scopes and that cheap scopes do more to kill the hobby than promote it. So when I saw the Meade Telestar 60AZ on the shelf for $39.95, I had to see what all the fuss was about. At least this scope has a well-known brand name and it doesn't advertise ridiculous magnification levels on the box. And it comes with two 1.25" eyepieces too.

My "real" telescope, the StarBlast 4.5 EQ, is reasonably portable, but not as "grab and go" as I would have liked. The mount is a bit awkward and doesn't collapse well for travel. I thought the Telestar would be easier to toss in the trunk and take camping or whip out at a moment's notice to catch a glimpse at, say, Saturn poking through the clouds. Or set up alongside my "real" scope to let my 3-year-old daughter look at the moon through a conveniently located eyepiece. Also, I could see if my Expanse eyepieces would help it out any, and I could try out its eyepieces in my StarBlast and get a few new magnification levels out of it. Also, with its alt-az mount and right-side-up (but horizontally flipped) image, it'd make a better terrestrial scope than my StarBlast.

So I assembled the Telestar and took it outside. Although it had been cloudy most of the day, it was clear at night (the telescope gods smiled upon me a second time!), so I set it up next to my StarBlast and did some comparative observation.

The first thing I discovered was that the Telestar's mount fully lives up to the reputation of department store telescope mounts. The slightest touch sets the scope vibrating for 5 seconds or more, compared to the StarBlast's EQ-1 which damps out in 2 seconds or less. Also, the Telestar's altitude adjustment doesn't work well--it slips easily and its slow motion knob is unsteady. Once I got the scope pointed at my target and tightened the knobs, it held its position reasonably well, but it's hard to adjust. That's one reason the Telestar works best with low magnifications--you won't have to adjust the scope as often. (Another reason is of course its small 60mm aperture...)

I don't care for the 5x24 finder scope, which has extremely narrow eye relief and is set up for the right eye, whereas my left eye is dominant. It's also a pain to align accurately. The red-dot reflex sight that came with my StarBlast is much easier to align and use.

Although the mount and finder leave something to be desired, the scope's optics are actually pretty decent. The objective is a 60mm fully-coated achromatic. Focal length is 700mm. Two eyepieces are included, Meade MA25mm and MH9mm. According to the eyepiece buyer's guide on this forum, those letters stand for Modified Achromatic (fully coated Kellner) and Modified Huygenian. The 25mm eyepiece is sharp and clear (to my inexperienced eyes at least), but has a pretty narrow field of view. The 9mm eyepiece is a bit fuzzy and has poor eye relief, but what can you expect when you could easily spend several times the cost of the whole telescope on one good eyepiece.

My first target was the bright 16-day-old Moon. I was impressed with the clarity and detail I saw through the 25mm eyepiece--I'd say it rivaled the view through the StarBlast. Even at 9mm, I was hard pressed to call one scope's view better than the other's. Neither of my telescopes is suitable for high magnification, so I can't comment on that, but for observing the whole disc of the moon, the Telstar does a decent job.

Next, I pointed at Saturn. It was tiny but sharp at 28x, and at 78x, the rings were clearly visible. I didn't notice offensive color fringing. Again, the view was comparable to my StarBlast (although my StarBlast was much easier to point at Saturn and keep there). Next, I popped in the 2x Barlow that came with the Telestar. I was not surprised that the results were a dim, blurry mess--156x is too much for a 60mm scope. Which is just as well, because the included Barlow is 100% plastic (including the lens). Even in my StarBlast, the Barlow does nothing but add psychedelic color fringing.

My next target was M45, the Pleiades, which was near the zenith and quite difficult to point the Telestar at. I had to lie down on the ground to get my eye under the finder scope, and the finder's field of view is so small that the Pleiades fill it entirely. The view through the scope's 25mm eyepiece was an improvement over my 10x50 binoculars at least in terms of how many stars I could see, but I couldn't see the whole cluster at once. The StarBlast provided a wider, brighter, much more satisfying view.

I decided to check out M42, the Orion Nebula, next. Here again the StarBlast wins hands-down. With the Telestar, I could make out the dim outline of the brighter part of the nebula. It was more than I could see through my 10x50s. But it was not as grand as what I could see through the StarBlast, with which I easily resolved the stars in Trapezium. They all blurred together in the Telestar. [UPDATE: On a night of good seeing I could resolve Trapezium easily with the Telestar.]

The bottom line? This department store scope provides serviceable optics for the moon and other bright objects at a very low price, but it's held back by an unsatisfactory mount. If the mount worked better, I'd feel comfortable suggesting it to friends who have a passing interest in astronomy but don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a "real" telescope just yet. But this scope is difficult enough to point at a target and keep steadily there that I understand why people say department store scopes can frustrate beginners and be harmful to the hobby.

UPDATE: I've had this scope for a few weeks now. It doesn't get used as often as my StarBlast, but I've found that its mount is almost tolerable if you tighten everything up often. It also works better with my Expanse eyepieces (the ones that came with my StarBlast)--they're heavier than the half-plastic included eyepieces, and they make the scope less top-heavy.

Here's a picture of the Moon I took through this scope and its 25mm eyepiece:


  • Any ideas where I can find replacement eyepieces for the 60az-a2? We moved and somehow the eyepieces got lost.

    By Blogger Sam, at 9:17 AM  

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