|Coming back to the world of
As someone taking up the hobby again after an absence of
about 20 years I thought a review of a beginners telescope from another
beginner might help other tyro astronomers in choosing their first telescope
Now the first
thing any would be astronomer gets to hear from people who have been there and
done it is that its best to start with a pair of binoculars. While that is
undoubtedly good practical advice it misses one very important piece of
psychology. If we only bought what we NEED as opposed to what we WANT there
would be no market for Ferrari. The fact is that buying anything is always as
much about emotion as it is about logic. So if you feel a telescope is what you
want - then go for it but be sensible and spend what you can afford. Ideally
second-hand is best because astronomy equipment sells very cheaply second hand
and very often in as new condition.
I did some reading about what to buy and what would fit in the
budget. My maximum budget was about £200-£300 but I knew on top of
the scope I'd need new star catalogues, almanacs, planispheres, compasses,
torches etc. In reality I could spend a lot more but I decided to be sensible
and limit the spending in case I got bored with the hobby quickly. So, I bought
some magazines and looked at sites on the web and started reading furiously and
tried to come to a decision about what to buy.
I have to say I found a lot of it very confusing because so often on
web boards a tyro asks the eternal question "what should I buy ?" and everyone
pipes up with their suggestions some of which are unrealistic and unhelpful. It
doesn't help a newbie with £300 to spend to be told that they should
really find £1,800 for a HOT new super scope or to engage a newbie in
abstract discussions about wavelengths of light !!!
In fairness its hard to know what to advise a beginner
because good advice rests on the beginner knowing what they want to do and my
experience is very few of us do - at least we think we do but its seldom what
we end up doing. For me I kind of imagined I'd want to do astro-photography.
Years ago when I started in astronomy as a slip of a girl astro-photography was
complex and expensive. Heres the news - it still is !
Prices have come down a lot and digital
technology has made it somewhat more open but its still an expensive hobby.
I am going to buck a trend
here - my advice to other beginners is as far as astro-photography goes forget
it unless you have a lot of spare time and deep pockets. Its a science in
itself and it has the possibilities in it of completely putting you off the
intervening 20 years telescopes have changed somewhat and I found my previous
knowledge was of little use. Prices have fallen dramatically for most equipment
and telescopes that would have been the preserve of only the most serious of
amateurs years ago are now readily available at relatively bargain prices and
at qualities undreamed of outside professional observatories 20 years
Anyway, I pottered about reading all
sorts of reviews and in the end decided I had no hope of coming to any
seriously informed judgement there was too much information and too many
conflicting viewpoints; Some people said reflectors don't work well in urban
environments, some said that's rubbish and so on. Astronomy is a broad church
and opinions on telescope types ( refractor, reflector or SCT ) often lead to
something akin to religious wars among their adherents.
I found some good advice on-line which was 'if your
spending more than an hour a day reading telescope reviews your doing it wrong
- make a decision and accept it might be the wrong one' I thought that was fair
advice and decided to jump in and buy something as a learning experience and
hope that from that initial purchase I'd at least find out what was good and
what I really wanted to do and maybe prevent a bad 2nd purchase later on. This
turned out to be, for me at least, seriously good advice.
Obviously not wanting to totally waste money I wanted some kind of
reassurance so I took on-board articles from the magazine reviews at least to
point me to credible manufacturers. I should add here that my background is
photography so my initial view was that whatever I bought should be at least
capable enough to do some basic astro-photography as things turned out this
turned out to be an unrealistic goal for me. As I say its hard to advise a
newbie because quite often they actually don't know what they want.........
The Sky-Watcher 130PM.........
Sky at Night magazine and a few other magazines
suggested the Sky-Watcher brand was solid enough and Astronomy Now magazine
posted a good review of the Sky-Watcher 130PM which seemed a good bet for the
money I wanted to spend and it seemed to a relative newbie like myself to offer
a reasonable mix of features. I wasn't sure if I would want something geared
for planetary observing or for Deep Sky Objects ( DSOs ) and I decided to go
with the Sky-Watcher as it seemed to offer a reasonable compromise and enough
features to provide sufficient capability and depth to learn
|Pictured: Sky-Watcher 130PM on its mount and tripod, close up of
the Sky-Watcher front end showing its thin secondary mirror supports, the
focuser and red dot finder, close up of the EQ2 mount and the hand
I ordered the Sky-Watcher 130PM up from
Telescope Planet in Swansea and waited with a fair mix of excitement and
trepidation for the new toy to arrive. Would it be any good ? Would I be able
to cope with it ? What would I see ? The telescope arrived quite fast (4 days
but I ordered on a Saturday night ) in a large cardboard box, very well packed
and surprisingly ( and reassuringly ) heavy ). The delivery man looked like a
candidate for a coronary infarction having carried it up 6 flights of stairs to
After I had
hopped and skipped about with excitement for a few minutes ( alright it was
half an hour ). I got the telescope out of its many layers of packing and
started assembling it.
found it relatively straightforward to put together and the instructions were
pretty clear. Certainly better than most flat-pack furniture. The motor drive
fitting was a bit confusing but after a few goes I managed to work it out. I
suppose working at a slow pace it probably took about 2-3 hours for me to get
it all unpacked and assembled as I was reading every instruction very carefully
and taking my time and reading and re-reading everything.
The telescope came with a small pack of tools to aid in assembly
which was rather welcome and a nice touch I thought - the tool pack has a
screwdriver, two spanners and an Allen key. Batteries for the motor weren't
The EQ2 mount
and stand were actually far more chunky than they appear in the advertisement
pictures for the telescope. I had been a little bit worried that from the
pictures I saw the stand looked a bit spindly and I knew from past experience
that the strongest stand available is only ever just about barely good enough.
The EQ2 is fine for carrying the 130PM.
My Overall initial impression with the telescope and mount was that
it was well worth the £155 I paid. The build quality was fine, the
instructions relatively clear and it looked rather fetching in its pale blue
livery with its hammerite black fittings and mount. The motorised RA drive was
a bit plasticky and I was rather surprised there was no AC adapter or batteries
to get you started but all in the garden cant be rosy I suppose.
When the whole thing was assembled I was
surprised at how much larger it was than I had imagined. My previous telescope
of 20 years ago seemed much smaller and almost like a toy compared to the
Sky-Watcher 130PM on its EQ2 mount. After standing back and admiring the
assembled product I lined up the red dot finder to the telescope and found a
small niggle. The finder wouldn't stay locked onto target - The problem was the
fitting on the scope which holds the finder mounting was a tiny bit loose. A
pair of pliers and a screwdriver soon tightened up the fitting ( tip here -
have the scope pointing down if you stick stuff down the barrel - that way if
you drop anything it will fall on the floor rather than into the main mirror ).
A quick tightening up
of the screws made the finder much more secure. I had a few problems getting my
eyes to use the red dot sight until someone told me the trick is to keep BOTH
eyes open. After that it was easy enough to target and stayed well tracked to
the telescope, something my earlier telescopes finder would NEVER do. The red
dot finder is easy to use I found and quite straightforward once you get the
hang of it. More expert astronomers say that the brightness of the finder tends
to make it hard to find dim objects. I don't disagree but for a beginner a
finder scope can seem quite difficult whereas a simple red dot finder is very
much simpler to deal with and very intuitive.
|Pictured: Sky-Watcher 130PM on its mount and tripod, its a classy
looking piece of equipment. The supplied eyepieces and Barlow.
The motor drive for the Sky-Watcher
130PM operates for the RA axis only. This was fine for me and a welcome
feature. The motor allows the telescope to track objects across the sky after
the mount/telescope have been polar aligned. Polar aligning a telescope like
this is a simple affair for observing. Simply orientate the mount to North and
locate Polaris, centre the telescopes view on Polaris and your done. Its not
hugely accurate but easily good enough for observing I found. Once aligned I
found the motor would track most objects pretty reliably with only the odd
correction using the handset required. The hand controller has buttons and
switches to control the direction of the motor and the motor can run at up to
x4 sidereal time ( sidereal time is the planets motion ). Even at x4 the speed
of the mount is quite slow but then the motor isn't designed to find things
with, only as a tracking aid once you have found the object you want by guiding
the scope manually.
The EQ2 mount
is stable enough with the Sky-Watcher 130PM on top although there is a
noticeable wobble when focusing. This is fairly typical of all but the more
expensive telescopes and mounts. The focuser body is plastic with a basic rack
and pinion focuser but perfectly adequate for the telescope. Focusing is quite
smooth and precise. The tripod is best used at its lowest setting ( as shown in
the pictures ) which gives the telescope the maximum stability. The tripod
itself is light-weight aluminium but perfectly able to take the weight of the
telescope and mount.
is supplied with a Barlow ( it doubles up the magnification ) and two
eyepieces. A wide angle 25mm and a 10mm. The eyepieces look a bit basic but
work perfectly well. Something most beginners don't realise is how significant
the eyepieces are to a telescope. The ones supplied with the Sky-Watcher 130PM
are perfectly good enough to start with but I was advised to get better quality
eyepieces as soon as possible. See the article below on the Celestron Eyeopener
The manual was pretty clear and included
a beginners guide to things you will need to know such as polar alignment and
First light with the Sky-Watcher
nights viewing was pretty satisfactory for a quick peek and to familiarise
myself with the idea of the equatorial mount. My only other scope was a simpler
affair with an alt-azimuth mount and at first I wondered if I'd find the
equatorial system too complicated. In fact I found it easy to get the hang of
once I had sorted out in my mind how it works. The instructions with the scope
explained much of it and it wasn't too hard to understand after reading through
a few times and playing about with the mount. The manual has a good clear
description of how an equatorial mount works and its rationale and I found it
pretty easy to get to grips with.
Sky-Watcher 130PM arrived I have spent every fair weather night observing and
have seen some amazing planetary views. To give you an idea of what you'll see
with the 130PM I have included one picture and two sketches I made - these
should give you fair idea of what you'll see. The moon picture was taken at
very low magnification to give the camera a good target to focus on. The
picture was taken with a cheap digital camera held up to the eyepiece. First
sight of Saturn with the 130PM was amazing and under better viewing conditions
would have been better still. I have yet to find any good DSO objects with the
telescope but that's mostly due to bad light pollution where I live and as yet
I have not taken the 130PM out under a truly dark sky.
The sketches of Saturn and Jupiter below
are shown almost actual size as seen through the eyepiece. These are shown at
lower powers of magnification than is theoretically possible due to bad seeing
conditions but should give you a good indication of what you can
It might seem I have been unhappy with
my comments about the plasticky motor, the wobbly viewfinder and the eyepieces.
Far from it - I think I made absolutely the right choice. These are really
minor niggles and the build quality is overall extremely good and for
£155 not much less than miraculous. For a starter scope for someone new
to the hobby on a budget and to learn with I think the package is hard to beat.
Lets face it £155 is cheap for a whole new experience and some views you
will probably never forget.
about astrophotography with the 130PM ?
The Sky-Watcher 130PM would be suitable for wide-field photography
with the camera riding piggy-back on the telescope for short duration exposures
of a few minutes. Alternately you could do some afocal
where you use a camera to take pictures through the eyepiece ). Beyond that you
could go to what's called prime focus photography with the camera fitted into
the focuser but without an auto-guider and a second scope you will be limited
to short duration exposures. I did tell you up the top of the page that
astro-photography is a science in itself. There would also be an option for
using a CCD imager in the eyepiece for webcam type work. In short the 130PM
would probably serve well as a learning experience but if astro-photography is
where you want to go then I would suggest its beyond the Sky-Watcher 130PMs'
capabilities for anything other than an introduction to the science ( or is it
art ? )
Thats not a
negative on the 130PM which is a very capable small scope but astro-photography
is VERY demanding. With that said people used to take decent pictures with
smaller less well equipped scopes 20 years ago. It depends on your patience and
ingenuity I guess.
when I started there would be all kinds of issues with astro-photography and I
was right. I decided quite quickly that to produce serious quality pictures
would be beyond me and resolved to just enjoy myself observing and not try to
run before I could walk.
me early on that two factors contribute the most to beginners getting depressed
and leaving the hobby. The first is cheap low quality telescopes ( the Sky
Watcher 130PM is inexpensive but good quality and will give you good views of
our universe on a budget ), the second is astro-photography !
What else did I
consider ? Well I thought about a scope with GoTo mount like one of the low
cost Celestrons BUT I felt I wanted to learn as much as I can about it all and
an automatic scope by its nature would make me more of a tourist than a
traveller. I wanted to learn the basics for now and I felt a more manually
orientated scope would be a better enabler of that goal than something with
automation which may easily become a toy with no challenge or reward.
Overall Verdict on the Sky-Watcher
brilliant. A whole new universe to explore for £155 is cheap by any
standards. This telescope will give you decent views of planets and good wide
field views of stars out of the box. Build quality is fine and its a beautiful
small scope well suited to beginners and those on a tight
The Celestron Eye-opener
I was advised
by other more experienced astronomers to get some better eyepieces for the
scope which I had budgeted for and bought a box of Celestron eyepieces called
an 'Eyeopener Kit' with some filters and a Barlow from a local store for
£139 ( These took me a bit over my initial budget of £300 as I had
already bought a compass and a red light torch plus a new planisphere ). The
Celestron eyepiece set provided a better Barlow than the one that came with the
Sky-Watcher plus a really lovely 32mm eyepiece which is my favorite. The
Celestron eyepieces seem better quality than the ones supplied although the
Sky-Watcher supplied ones are certainly acceptable. I wont go into all the
sprcifications of eyepieces as these kits are very easy to locate on the web.
Suffice to say it contains 5 eyepieces ranging from 4mm to 32mm and 6 coloured
filters plus a moon filter.
set are slick and professional looking in their aluminium flight case and the
overall quality is excellent. I am not qualified to comment on their optical
properties from a scientific viewpoint but the view through them is pretty good
- at least to my eyes.
|Pictured: Celestron EP kit in its flight case, the Eyeopener kit
contents and the 32mm Eyepiece (my favourite) plugged into the Sky-Watcher
130PM. This combination gives great wideangle views. Note: extra cut-outs in
the Celestron case are 'filled' when new. I removed mine to put the Sky-Watcher
The most powerful eyepiece in the kit
will push the Sky-Watcher 130PM beyond its capabilities under all but the
are perfectly good and the moon filter is almost mandatory as you wont believe
how bright the moon is when your seeing it through even a moderately powerful
telescope. The coloured filters are most useful for planets and there is a
datasheet included which offers advice on which filter to use.
The Eye-opener kit is a perfect first 'extra' for your
telescope. Ultimately you may want to upgrade to even better quality eye-pieces
but the Celestron set will serve you well and give you a good idea of where to
spend your money in future. I, like many beginners, assumed the most powerful
eyepiece would be what I would use. Wrong ! The eyepiece I use most is the
32mm, its low powered and has a wide field of view. The view using this
eyepiece is such that when I buy a serious quality eyepiece I will be going to
a higher quality low powered eyepiece.
Thats all folks....
I hope you have found this brief review interesting and of use to