Orion Starmax 90 EQ

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Orion Starmax 90 EQ
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A review of Starmax 90EQ ( 3.5" Maksutov-Cassegrain on equatorial mount - made in China and distributed by Orion Telescope and Binocular)

I live in Lynchburg, VA. , in the middle of town, and I have limited time for getting out under dark skies. I have had a useless 60mm department store refractor, built a nice 6" f/8 Newtonian reflector which was initially on a too-heavy home-built EQ mount and subsequently placed on a Dobsonian mount. I have also observed through my brother-in-law's WO 80mm Megrez, but he lives a state away, so it was not available for comparison. My experience with optical testing is limited, but I have worked in fabrication and assembly positions and tinkered with just about every thing known to man, so my mechanical experience is above average.

I have no affiliation with, or any interest in, Orion Telescope and Binocular. Co.


First, a few words about Orion and customer service: I ordered this from Orion's website. The scope shipped on a Thursday morning, and later that day I got an "order acknowledged" email, then an "order shipped" email containing the FedEx tracking number. The package arrived on the following Wednesday, a day earlier than promised, in excellent condition. Everything came in separate boxes inside the shipping container, but it was all nicely packed in styrofoam or bubble-wrap. It assembled easily in about a half an hour with the supplied el-cheapo tools.

I couldn't find the large dust cap that is supposed to fit over the business end of the main tube, so I called Orion's toll-free number, got through in three rings, and a nice guy named John apologized and promised he'd get one right out to me. He did. Similar two emails, within an hour. Can't beat that.

On to the scope: I bought this to supplement and possibly replace my hernia-model reflector. Mission accomplished.

WOW doesn't quite cover it...

From my severely light-polluted front porch, I put this new Maksutov-Cassegrain through the usual paces - Mars, Saturn, M42 in Orion, and the Double Cluster in Perseus - and it just puts my big 6" f/8 Newtonian to shame. I'm going to put the big one under glass as a conversation piece. (In its defense, I built it on a tight budget ten years ago, and the mirror's coating has degraded somewhat.)

Images are not as bright, since the mirror in the Starmax is only 3.5", but everything is MUCH sharper and has more contrast. Mars showed more detail at lower magnifications. I was able to make out Syrtis Major and a polar cap at only 83x. Saturn presented a 3-D effect in the rings that I have only seen in the big scope when it was under a really dark sky. The Cassini division was easy to detect even at 83x, and two moons, Titan and Rhea, were easy to see, even at higher powers. It was also possible to see one cloud band on the planet's "surface". The overall image started to get a little dim above 150x, but I was observing from the front porch with a streetlight only 50 ft away.

The Starmax showed the dust lanes in M42 (the big Orion nebula) with much more contrast than the big scope does. The Double Cluster didn't quite achieve the "diamonds on velvet" quality that you get with a bigger mirror, but it was still easy to see subtle differences in star colors.

And I haven't even fiddled with the (very slightly) misadjusted mirror alignment (collimation) yet!

The focuser is very smooth, almost buttery. (It moves the mirror instead of the eyepiece holder, which is normal for Schmidt- and Maksutov-Cassegrain scopes.)

Eyepieces used were: a Celestron 32mm Nexstar Plossl, Meade 4000 26mm and 15mm super Plossls, Edmund RKE 12mm and 8mm modified Kellners. The supplied Sirius 25mm Plossl (Orion) was just as good as the Meade 26, but the rubber eyecup is too short, which causes it to wink out. I recommend getting a 1.25" walker tip from a hardware store and cutting it off - doing that fixed a similar problem on the Celestron 32mm.

I am truly impressed. Wally-World should discontinue those $148 go-to piles of crap and work out a deal with Orion to sell these. For Orion's price of about $300, plus shipping, this is a work of art. I'm an experienced observer, but I remember my frustration with that department store 60mm. Every beginner scope should be as good as this Starmax!

I was expecting far less from the mount. These Chinese scopes are notorious for having wobbly legs and black glue instead of actual grease inside the equatorial head. The head was stiff at first, but after a few hours of use, without any tweaking whatsoever, It's become very stable and smooth. Focusing is not as difficult as it is with the big scope, even though the big one has a home-made, and exceptionally smooth, Crayford focuser. When I accidentally plucked one of the slow-motion cables on the Starmax, the high-power image steadied out in a second or so! I might even do without the motor drive for a while. Never mind the 2" pipe pier mount I was planning to use - once I replace some bolts, make a better leg-spreader thingy, and fill the legs with expanding foam, this mount should work perfectly.

Just from an ergonomic standpoint, I can pick this whole thing up with one hand - the one just beyond the elbow that I broke a while back. At full "battle load", the whole bloody rig is 16 lbs., as advertised. My 6" weighs 40lbs., and clear nights always evoked a battle of mind over less-than-optimal 45 year old lower back.

There are some minor flaws, but none of them involve the optical quality:

1. The finder scope is almost useless if the object you want to find is more than 45 degrees above the horizon. Not that it's too small - I saw M44 (the beehive cluster) completely by accident while lining up on Saturn - the problem is that it's a straight-through deal instead of having a right-angle eyepiece, so one finds one's self falling out of the chair or crawling on the ground. I'm gonna get the larger 6x30 right-angle finder from Orion as soon as possible.

2. The slow-motion cables sometimes interfere with each other, and with the counter-weight shaft. Fortunately, it's easy to switch the right-ascension cable to the other side of the mount - it attaches with a thumbscrew.

3. Very minor concern... the tripod legs are held in place by a cheesy, thin spreader which is locked down to a plastic accessory tray with three wing-screws. If you were at a dark site and lost one of these, you'd be up the creek. I have a fix in mind, but it's only going to be an issue if I take the scope somewhere and have to collapse the tripod to get it into the trunk. As is, from living room to yard, it'll work well.

4. Extremely minor quibble...the leg-to-hub bolts are are actually phillips head screws with wing nuts and two flat washers each. I'm not sure what size they are, but they tend to bite into thumb flesh. I intend to get some stainless steel bolts with lock-nuts to replace them.

Nothing here that the average tinkerer can't improve.

To top it all off, the optical tube is smaller than a 2 liter drink bottle. How cool is that? Cool down time is about an hour, but it's so small you can plop into your car trunk with ease, so it's almost a non-issue.

All in all, if you want a very nice, extremely affordable, exceptionally capable, very light and easy to use scope for bright targets from the city, get a Starmax 90. Highly recommended.

Dave Carwile

Overall Rating: No Vote
Weight: 1 (Unreliable Vote)
By: Anonymous (xxx.xxx.111.130)
Link to this vote: http://www.excelsis.com/1.0/displayvote.php?voteid=478192

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