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Orion Skywatcher 120mm

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Date: NA
Price: $599
Design: 120mm achromatic refractor with 1000mm focal length (f/8.3)
Description: Large refractor on a German equatorial mount with a multi-coated lens.  It ships with a 6 x 30 finder, polar alignment scope, two Plossl eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), and a 2 inch focuser.  The total weight of the scope and mount is near 39 pounds.

Location and Ordering

After spending almost three months researching telescopes in the $500.00 to $700.00 price range this large refractor was looking better every day.  My various criteria for the selection of this telescope included design (refractor preferred), size, and the inclusion of an equatorial mount.  This telescope met all of my requirements and after narrowing down the field I choose to purchase it. 

One of the other major factors in deciding which telescope I was going to buy was my location.  I live in West Michigan which is notorious for its unfriendly observing weather.  To make matters worse I live about five miles form the center of a major metropolitan area and sky-glow is a major issue.  On a good night I would estimate that my skies are limited to about mag 3.0 to 3.5.  This alone led me to believe that a refractor would probably be the better choice since I am primarily limited to lunar and planetary viewing.  I was also looking for a fairly quick set up since it can get quite cold here in the Winter and the less time setting up means more time observing before you freeze.

Well I finally made a decision a few months after beginning to seriously research the different designs.  I ordered online from Orion and received confirmation that my scope would be delivered in five business days.  It arrived within five business days and the telescope arrived in good condition in an extremely large box.  At first I was quite amazed by the size of the box and wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew.

Standard Equipment

While unpacking the contents of the box I carefully laid all of the separate components in various little piles on the floor.  I also inspected all of the pieces for damage and gladly did not find anything disturbing.  In total it probably took me about two hours to unpack and build the entire setup.

At first glance the telescope looked extremely large, much larger than I had really expected.  Peering into the objective lens I believe that I had counted at least five baffles on the inside of the tube.  The coatings on the lens cast a green tint and seemed to be effectively applied.  Looking directly in the lens reveals a minimum amount of reflection.

The telescope shipped with what I thought at the time to be a massive German equatorial mount (remember previous to this purchase I had very little experience with “real” telescopes) and two counter weights which are actually quite adequate to balance the scope.  Other extras included the finder scope (see my separate review), polar alignment scope, two Plossel eyepieces (10mm and 25mm), and mirror star diagonal.  At first glance all of these separate components were of good quality and would most likely perform to my expectations.

Problems

For the first six months of observing I ran into very few problems with this telescope.  Everything was working fine with the exception of a Barlow that I ordered and promptly returned because it just would not work properly.  It seems that this telescope has an issue with full size Barlow lenses and the Ultrascopic from Orion in particular.

Six months after the purchase of this scope I did run into a fairly large problem with a certain component.  The mirror diagonal that shipped with this scope was seriously out of alignment .  It was very surprising to me that it took so long to actually catch this problem but nobody’s perfect.  Long story short Orion was extremely helpful and promptly sent me a new diagonal (from their catalog) that I feel is an upgrade from the previous one anyway.

In the end I found that Orion has been much more help that I could have ever expected.  There are not to many online vendors out there who will give you support ten days after your purchase let alone six months.  I firmly recommend them to amateurs of all levels for this reason alone.

Lastly I have some objections as to the mount that has been packaged with this telescope.  It seems that it is a touch too small to handle a scope of this size.  While it is decent for visual work I would not even recommend trying to photograph with it.  Even for visual use powers over 200x tend to become frustrating to use while trying to focus the scope. 

This will probably be the first major upgrade that I will make.

Lunar Observations

While I am not a particularly avid lunar observer I still find myself spending a good amount of time looking at it.  This scope does deliver some seriously sharp and contrasty views of the moon.  I really enjoy the full disk view I get out of my 25mm Plossel eyepiece.  This view is one that any observer can appreciate.  I also enjoy trying to pick out as many craterlets in Plato as possible.  With this scope I have caught quite a few but to be reasonable these types of observations are very dependant on the atmosphere.  I am also quite pleased with the minimal amount of false color visible during lunar observations.

Planetary Observations

My favorite area of observation and probably the most important reason that I picked a large refractor as my primary observing tool is planetary observing.  Ever since I have owned a cheap little 60mm refractor the two major planets Jupiter and Saturn had me addicted to their daily changes.  One of my major goals when purchasing a scope was to get a better view of my favorite targets.

This scope has really lived up to my expectations for delivering strong planetary views.  Jupiter is a gem at 40x showing a small disk with many bands evident and its larger family members all within the field of view.  False color is also limited but apparent on Jupiter at almost any power.  It does get significantly worse as powers increase but I believe that this is a very small factor in visual observing.  At 133x (7.5mm Ultrascopic) the view of Jupiter truly reaches its full potential.  The disk shows as a large pastel colored and brightly banded ball floating in the sky.  The view get slightly better as I push magnification higher but the mount and atmosphere tend to become major factors in the loss of detail.  I should be noted that I am not all about pushing the magnification as high as possible but I would rather observe at a comfortable and stable magnification.  For Jupiter this tends to be between 133x and 200x.

Saturn has probably become my favorite target over the past few months.  In the past with my cheap 60mm refractor I often left Saturn alone simply because there wasn’t much there.  I was wrong.  The first time I aimed the Skywatcher at Saturn I felt like I was looking at a completely new planet.  The detail was astounding.  Even at 40x (25mm Plossel) the rings are plainly evident and in times of good seeing the ring division comes into plain view.  However, at 100x (10mm Plossel) and 133x (7.5mm Ultrascopic) there is a huge jump in image quality.  At times of good seeing the views resemble some of the best amateur photographs I have seen of the planet.  The detail usually visible on the disk is amazing.  Saturn also tends to handle the false color much better than Jupiter and it takes much higher magnifications for some reason.  Even with this in mind I generally observe Saturn in the medium power range around 200x.

Deep Sky Observations

Perhaps the greatest surprise yet from this scope.  I can actually see some deep sky objects from my horribly light polluted back yard.  Although limited by skyglow I have caught most of the reasonably bright Messier objects.  I guess this is the one area that this telescope has really performed beyond what I had expected.

It is hard to go into vast detail about my deep sky observations due to the wide variation in objects.  I will try my best to generalize by the class of the objects.  Perhaps the best objects to view from my backyard are the planetary nebulae.  Most of the brighter planetaries take powers well and show a good amount of detail.  The Ring in Lyra is perhaps the best example.  Even in an extremely light polluted portion of my sky I was able to easily pick it up and push well above 200x.  The Skywatcher also does a great job on the brighter globulars.  I have been able to observe and partially resolve almost all of the major globulars visible from my backyard.  I have been able to consistently resolve portions of M13 in Hercules at 133x (Ultrascopic) even in light polluted skies.  Other than that I have not had a great deal of luck trying to find many of the fainter deep sky objects including galaxies in particular.  I do however get excellent views of deep sky wonders like the Great Nebula in Orion or the Andromeda Galaxy.

While I did not purchase this telescope for deep sky viewing I can tell that it is an extremely capable instrument.  Over the next year I am looking forward to getting out to some real dark skies and really testing this scope.

Conclusion

In conclusion I guess all I can say is that in general this telescope has been an excellent deal.  Although I did have a few problems like the diagonal and still have a few like the slightly underclassed mount I would still recommend this telescope based on the performance of its optics.  If I was to rate this telescope on a scale of 10 I would probably give it an 8.0 or 8.5.  Any lost points would be attributed to the mount.

Submitted by Curt Irwin - irwincur@excite.com - Grand Rapids, Michigan

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