Orion Starmax 90mm TableTop Mak-Cass Review
- in depth Review of Features
Telescope Reviewed: Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop Telescope
- Good beginner scope
- Excellent portability
- Considerable focusing range
- Low profile of finder scope doesn't leave a lot of room for viewing
- Use of mirror-based optics means collimation could be necessary
- Doesn't wow with its performance
The Orion Starmax 90mm tabletop telescope is a good beginner scope with excellent portability. The Starmax could be the right choice for beginners looking to observe terrestrial phenomena, along with celestial objects like some of the brighter Messier objects. It demonstrates good clarity and focus on the moon, planets and brightest deep-sky objects.
Also super easy to set up, with very little time needed to get observing. This could also be an effective second scope for those looking for a grab-and-go or a travel scope.
The Orion Starmax 90mm tabletop telescope is a Maksutov-Cassegrain scope weighing in at about 6.5 lbs. The tube is approximately eleven inches long without the 90 degree mirrored diagonal accessory.
The particular optical configuration found in the StarMax is similar to that found in what is known as a "Gregory" or "spot" Maksutov-Cassegrain. Maksutov-Cassegrain ("Mak-Cass") telescopes are Mak catadioptric telescopes, which use spherical mirrors with a meniscus lens to correct some of the issues with reflecting telescopes such as coma, while also correcting the problem of chromatic aberration found in refracting telescopes. The Cass addition to the design involves the use of a convex secondary mirror near the primary mirror's focus.
The "Gregory" or "spot" aspect of this design involves "folding" the light by placing a reflective "spot" (really another smaller mirror) on the convex side of the meniscus lens facing the primary mirror. The effect of this is that the light bounces around inside the tube before passing through the eyepiece and on to the eye of the viewer.This allows for a much shorter and more compact tube length, which permits more powerful scopes to be more portable. The StarMax puts this design quality to effective use.
In reality, because of the construction, 90 mm actually refers to the diameter of the primary mirror inside the scope, rather than to the size of the aperture, as is the case with so many other telescopes we have seen. The aperture is really 87.5 mm, but this is only a three percent reduction in effective aperture and resolution.
The StarMax exhibits all of the strengths and weaknesses of its design. Like a lot of other catadioptric telescopes, the StarMax focus mechanism involves moving the primary mirror towards or away from the secondary mirror, thus moving the focal point. This gives it a considerable focusing range.
It also offers good power in a relatively compact tube (keep in mind that a refractor of the same diameter would be really long). This compact system is nice for those who want to be able to take the StarMax with them or travel into the field for observing. It's also a nice choice for those that don't have a lot of room, such as those folks with small apartments or who are taking the StarMax with them on camping trips.
Because of its portability, it would also be a good grab-and-go scope for those who want a second scope they can take with them. This portability is also aided by the tabletop mount that comes with the StarMax, which we'll talk about in just a minute.
The StarMax also exhibits some of the weaknesses of the Mak-Cass category, as there is no such thing as a free lunch. In this case, the StarMax exhibits some astigmatism and spherical aberration, although we have seen much worse in this sort of low-cost telescope. In the positive column, the StarMax doesn't seem to suffer from any chromatic aberration, which is a pleasant surprise.
Specifically with regard to observation, the high focal ratio and field of view on the StarMax make it a good telescope for lunar and planetary imaging. It offers lots of high magnification and contrast. In fact, it offers good planetary detail (rings, etc.) in observing the moon and planets.
It also is good for observing in those deep-sky situations where a narrow field and high power combination is valuable, such as when observing double stars and globular clusters. As expected, the StarMax tends to be more successful in capturing deep-sky objects with greater light, such as nebulae and bright galaxies, but we were pleasantly surprised at its ability to capture even some dimmer objects.
The StarMax comes on a tabletop mount, which provides a stable and balanced viewing foundation. If you don't have a tabletop available, or if you feel limited, the StarMax can be mounted on any standard tripod. It comes equipped with a 1/4-20 threaded post adapter on the bottom. Once mounted on a tripod, the mount works as a swivel mount.
Not a lot of frills here, but the stability and ready-to-use quality of the tabletop mount can really come in handy.
The StarMax comes equipped with Orion's standard red-dot finder, the EZ finder scope. This is mounted pretty close to the side of the telescope tube. We found the EZ Finder to be adequate, although it didn't leave a whole lot of room for your head. This isn't the end of the world, but it's also not a big plus.
Also standard with the StarMax are two eyepieces, one 10 mm, and the other 25 mm. These provide some flexibility and additional magnification, further enhancing the convenience and ease of use of the StarMax.
There is also a 90-degree diagonal for comfort viewing, which really is appreciated on a tabletop scope.
Some packages come with Orion's Starry Night Special Edition software, which provides a series of maps and enhanced images for entertaining and informing. It's a nice add, but wouldn't influence our decision of whether or not to buy the StarMax.
How Does It Compare?
Celestron PowerSeeker 70eq
The PowerSeeker is generally lower priced than the StarMax, unless it's bundled with some additional accessories that bump up the price. Because it's a refractor without the Mak-Cass light folding, the PowerSeeker is also a bit longer and more cumbersome to transport. It does come with a full German equatorial mount, which actually has a bit less stability than the tabletop mount of the StarMax. The PowerSeeker is an all-around good beginner scope.
Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector
The StarBlast II 4.5 offers good stability and a bit larger aperture in a similarly portable package. It has a full German equatorial mount that makes manual tracking really easy. The StarBlast could be said to have better optics than the StarMax, and the fact that it's a wide-field scope means you get to see more of what you're looking at with the same magnfication levels.
Celestron PowerSeeker 127eq
The 127eq offers a bit better optical performance in a scope that also can be transported and taken into the field easily. Doesn't offer the flexibility of a tabletop mount. However, the German equatorial mount with manual tracking and easy-to-set-up tripod is a really stable configuration, which will appeal to those not needing the smaller package. The PowerSeeker 127eq also, obviously, offers a bit more aperture, which increases image brightness.
Orion GoScope 80mm
The 90mm StarMax certainly offers a larger aperture than the 80mm GoScope. Our observation, however, is that the GoScope's optics actually outperform larger, more expensive telescopes. Both feature tabletop mounts, and thus are appealing to those who want a grab-and-go scope. The StarMax also offers a pretty wide focusing range, which is nice if that's something you're looking for. In the final analysis, it's hard to beat the GoScope's optics at that price.