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User Review: Orion Premium 110mm ED Refractor
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User Review: Orion Premium 110 mm ED Refractor
By Will Day
Figure 1. Shows the 110 ED assembled with an Astrotech field flattener and The Starshoot Prov V2 CCD. Celestron C80 ED guide scope on top. The tan strip near the forward ring is a giant rubber band I use to secure the T-shirt cloth for flats.
A little more than a year ago I grew weary of collimating and tweaking my reflectors for imaging. I started using inexpensive ED refractors to take my images and I was hooked on the simplicity. Then my imaging skills started improving and began to call attention little mechanical problems in my rig. I also wanted a different image scale. Time to apply every amateur astronomers favorite solution and buy a new scope but which one? Orion telescopes are typically a good choice for hobbyists on a budget. Their line-up of mid priced equipment has helped me to indulge myself with some pretty good stuff without breaking the bank. They’ve come through for me again with their “Premium” 110mm ED refractor.
Over the last several years I’ve owned refractors of various size and quality including a 70mm Meade “Walmart special”, a classic Meade 320, 2 Celestron ED scopes and a Stellarvue Nighthawk to name a few. My experience with Orion equipment has usually been satisfying and their customer service is well known so it’s no surprise they were in the running as I began my search for a new scope. After plenty of reading and even a false start with a 120mm ED, I settled on the Orion 110mm. As you read this review keep in mind that my primary interest is imaging and I consider myself an experienced "intermediate" imager. I don't spend much time with eyepieces anymore.
Here are some of the specs for the scope :
- 110 mm air spaced doublet
- 770mm focal length
- 2" two speed crayford focuser with 1 1/4" adapter
- Retractable dew shield
- Weight is listed at 10.1 lbs
- Length 25.1 inches
An overlooked scope?
At its $999.00 price point the Orion Premium 110mm ED is probably somewhat overlooked. I’ve been unable to find many reviews or posts about this telescope. This leads me to believe it’s not a hot seller. When shopping ED refractors in the 110 mm range, there are some highly regarded brand names to be had for a few dollars more than the Orion. Users may opt to spend more for a smaller aperture triplet. You could also elect to get one of the elite brand name EDs for close to this price. When I purchased the scope it really fit my budget. Since my scope time is almost exclusively in astrophotography a 110 mm f/7 scope priced at $999 gave me the bump in aperture I sought and allowed me to spend more on a camera than I first planned. (See the line about the 120mm ED). The scope’s focal length and f ratio also makes it an excellent match for the Starshoot Pro CCD and my DSLR.
When I opened the box I found a well packaged scope with a beautiful white finish. My first impressions were very positive as I gave it a good look. I was immediately impressed with the build quality. This is a very sturdy aluminum tube assembly yet at 10 pounds the scope is not overly heavy. On closer inspection I saw that my copy has a slight black paint smudge where the Orion logo is screened onto the dew shield. Not an issue for me but it’s noticeable.
The scope comes with heavy W.O. style rings that offer excellent support for the OTA even when mounted to the standard Orion (Vixen type) dovetail. In my case the stock dovetail was swapped out with an ADM DUP. When I removed the stock dovetail I found that it had been machined flat at both ends in order to create a nice fit with the heavy duty rings. That was a nice touch. Make note that the stock rings are tapped with both centered holes and 60 mm spaced holes for attachment. If you upgrade the dovetail to a Losmandy style like I did you’ll need one with the metric spacing. The sliding dew shield has a locking screw to keep it in place when pointed up. The dew shield is also threaded to accept the heavy aluminum “screw on” lens cap. This is the second scope I’ve owned with a threaded lens cover and I love this feature.
The scope comes with a 2 speed 11:1 rotating Crayford focuser. Initially I was prepared to “make do” with the focuser until I could upgrade it but there is no need. This focuser is quite nice, the draw tube finish is excellent and the flat driving surface has a metal plate that looks like steel. I believe this is referred to as a "linear bearing" in some circles. The metal plate provides a very positive gripping surface for the focus pinion. I find it to be much better than the powder coat or anodized surface on the draw tubes of other focusers I’ve owned. After nearly a year I have never had to tweak, or adjust the focuser in any way. With the help of the focus lock it holds my 35 ounce camera rig at the zenith and the draw tube fits well. If I crank the focus lock really tight it will displace star images on my CCD only very slightly.
The focuser’s rotating feature works well. I have had two other scopes with inexpensive rotating focusers. On both of those the rotating hubs really needed to be locked down because they had play in them. This focuser fits the adapter very well and I can rotate it with the camera in place without worrying about keeping things squared. In fact recently I finished an imaging run and discovered I’d forgotten to lock the focuser hub. When I checked the data there was no evidence in the images. I can’t compare it to a Feathertouch but the focuser on the 110 ED has been a pleasant surprise.
Optically the scope performs very well. I’m not an expert at evaluating optics by any means but I did try a star test. After racking in and out and checking some reference images found on line I concluded that my scope is well collimated and slightly under corrected. In focus stars are "pinpointy" and the contrast is very good. I have used it visually a few times and like it very much. I’ve used a variety of eyepieces with it including a few old Celestron silver tops, a 9mm Burgess TMB planetary and a borrowed Ethos. Operating at its native 770mm focal length The scope is well suited for viewing clusters and nebula. M44 is a sight to behold in this telescope. I do not own a quality Barlow so it’s difficult to say how far I could push the magnification but I can say that viewing Jupiter is a pleasure. I don’t think of any 110mm F/7 scope as a planet killer but I’ve been able to easily observe a few Jovian moon transit events with it. During outreach events even complete novice viewers frequently step up to this scope and easily pick out unexpected bits of detail. The images are very sharp and the contrast is excellent. I do not notice any edge color when viewing Jupiter or the moon. I was able to see a tiny bit of edge color when viewing Sirius but then again I was looking for it, that's why I pointed the scope there.
I can imagine that those with a critical eye will detect some color fringes or other imperfections in this scope but it upholds the good reputation we’re accustomed to on mid to high end ED doublet scopes these days.
When coupled to my CCD camera the Orion 110 ED renders good images at a very pleasing scale. M45 fits nicely in the frame of my APS sized camera as does M42. The chip is illuminated with some dimming at the edges the coverage is much better than expected. As a result I don’t always have to use flat frames to correct vignetting with this combo. I suspect it will be some time before my imaging skills begin to exceed the capability of this telescope.
The not so good
After all of my new toy enthusiasm wore off I did noticed a few things that I’ll point out here. None of these are “deal killers” but they should be noted. I’ve mentioned the smudge on the dew shield’s logo. I’ll also point out that the locking screw for the dew shield began to allow the dew shield to slip after a while. I found the thumb screw was too short and when tightened, the edge of the knob hit the dew shield flange before it was fully run in. I solved the problem by snipping a tiny piece from a Q-tip shaft and dropping it in the screw hole. A longer screw would be better.
I took time to refine the pointing on my mount and scope by aligning the optical axis to the RA axis on the mount. During the process I discovered that the two tube rings were not machined exactly the same, one ring was visibly shorter than the other. I solved this problem by placing a shim under the short one. Again not a deal killer but it was a bit disappointing. It was a simple fix so it was not worth returning the rings.
A negative factor in the value for dollar department is that no case is included at the price. Enough of the competitors include a nice case with their refractors in this price range that this could be a factor in a purchase decision. Orion is asking $109.95 for a hard case.
Lastly while I'm a fan of the thread on lens cap I have, on one occasion spun this one down too tight. It took surprisingly little force to over do it and it was a major ordeal to loosen. This was a lesson that won't soon be forgotten. While the cap is strong and secure, take care not to cross thread it or over tighten it or you'll regret it.
I’m comfortable recommending the Orion Premium 110 ED to those seeking a scope of this size. The build quality is well above average and the optics on mine perform very well. I expect that paying a little more for a "high end" brand name would probably have gotten me a scope that had been inspected more closely before shipping and not had the little issues mine has. Having said that, I’ll say that I’m very satisfied with my purchase and managed to stay under budget. These scopes are a great value for the dollar. I've taken some good images with this telescope and I expect to have mine for a long time to come.
Figure 2. An illustration of field illumination on an APS sized chip. Image train - 110 ED together with the Astrotech 2" field flattener. Note this is not a focal reducer. CCD inspector test generated from 20 frames of the double cluster taken on a night of average "midwest" seeing. Elapsed time was over 2 hours with no focus adjustments diring the run.
Figure 3. The resuting uncropped stacked image of the double cluster. Same frames as used in the CCD inspector test.