Best Budget Scope: The 80mm achromatic refractor

The Skywatcher Startravel-80mm (aka ST80) and the Meade Adventure Scope 80mm (and Meade 80mm infinity package - which comes with a better tripod) and the old Celestron ST80 and old Orion 80ST are  made by Synta in China. Apart from the labels and add ons these are the same scopes. Each is a simple, cheap, two lens design called an achromatic doublet. Good 80mm achromatic doublets hit an optical sweet spot. Whilst larger achromatic doublet designs suffer from noticeable purple fringing this small 80mm scope controls the fringing well. The reason could be that the small 80mm lenses are easier to manufacture to very high standards or because the 80mm lens’ relatively low usable magnification is unable to resolve the fringing.  Either way this scope rocks and is a keeper even for mega nerds like me!

Do I need a tripod?

Yes. In my video I used a good quality camera tripod. If you don't have a good camera tripod  already  then I have two budget recommendations depending which side of the pond you live. (NB: the  amazing value Meade Adventure scope comes with a very cheap tripod which I wouldn't use. For a little bit more I would get this package which has a much better tripod).

This little refractor will show you craters within craters on the moon, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s four Galilean moons, at least two of Jupiter’s bands and on a calm night the great red spot. But that's not all. This little scope’s speciality is sucking in lots of light from a wide area to reveal big, dim, wide field deep space nebula. With a low magnification eyepiece look for the faint but gobsmakingly colossal oval that is the Andromeda galaxy (M31) or the dazzling Seven Sisters star cluster (M45)  or the wisps of cloud around the Orion nebula (M42).  It is of course hard to see these in the city but this scope's small size and low price make it the perfect scope to sling into a rucksack and take somewhere dark.

View through the scope

Can I get a small computerised GOTO mount

and use this scope for Astrophotography?

Yes. Many will disagree but I've taken photos through this scope and those who disagree probably haven't! My first astrophotography video was using the 100mm diameter version of this  scope on a motorised alt azimuth mount. You can checkout the video here. You too will need a motorised mount to photograph deep space with this scope. Happily Sky Watcher recently released a lighter and better version of their alt az mount which I personally love.

Once you get the hang of it you can control the mount with your phone and point the scope to thousands of space objects at the touch of a button. As the mount tracks you can take exposures of up to about 30 seconds duration (but the exact figure depends on where in the sky you are shooting. If you are massively geeky like me you can take this mount to another level. By installing special firmware you can transform this alt az mount into an equatorial mount for serious long exposure small scope astrophotography. Of course you need to align the mount to the rotation of the earth (polar aligning) before this will work so you might need to fiddle with the tripod too. Once sorted this mount’s tracking accuracy is really impressive and it can be controlled by astroimaging software like APT. All in all this small motorized mount is incredibly powerful but with its power comes complexity. This is probably not a good mount for the technophobe. If you are a technophobe please check out the astrophotography section for easier mount options.

To attach your camera to the scope you might need a

nose-piece and adapter for

your camera

Less than £100/$100

Does this scope's purple fringing ruin the shot?

Well purple halos around stars is a potential problem with this scope so I used a Baader Fringe killer filter on this shot of Andromeda taken with this scope from Devon.