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Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet

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This is a beginner’s review of the Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet and a few assorted accessories.

The ES 80mm F/6 OTA is the same unit as the Meade 5000 and a few others. It is solidly built, has a smooth 10:1 focuser, an illuminated 8x50 erect image finder and comes with an impressive case and 2” 99% diagonal. In building a basic kit I’ve added a Pentax J60/80 Alt/Az mount, a Celestron Ultima LX 22mm, a Baader Hyperion 8-24 Zoom and 2” GSO ED 2X Barlow.

Test conditions were fair. Overcast had turned to light haze in the west, clear in the north and east. Jupiter, low in the west, was my first target. Haze prevented much magnification, as the image broke down around 40x. No CA visible, even with the planet cranked over to the edge of the field.

Next I used Polaris to align the finder. For all the hype about an erect image finder, this one is decidedly uncomfortable to use. The lighted reticule is a nice feature, but after using this one I’m interested in trying a telrad. The clarity of Polaris allowed me to zoom the Baader to 60x. I tried the GSO Barlow, but ran out of backfocus. With the Barlow in front of the diagonal I was able to achieve focus but the mount was far to light to handle 100x. Backfocus appears to be a problem throughout the ES/Meade refractor lineup. A shorter optical path diagonal, a glasspath compensator (that acts like a mild Barlow), or a shortened OTA seem to be the options available for dealing with this situation. A 1.25” diagonal has a shorter optical path, but limits the range of eyepieces that can be used.

Time for the wide field. Orion’s Nebula has never looked so good. Both EPs delivered crisp, sharp views of the four brightest stars in the Trapezium and the nicest wisps of nebular gas that I’ve seen yet. I thought I’d lose detail as I zoomed the Baader but to my surprise the cloud did not lose any intensity. The Ultima lost focus around the edges of the 70 degree field, and it’s all but impossible to see the whole field at one time, but it still gives nice views. It’s probably a better EP in a slower scope.

When I scanned the Double Cluster with the Milky Way beyond, the line from 2001 ran thorough my mind – “My God – It’s full of stars!” Then I checked The Pleiades and Andromeda. Andromeda was quite well-defined, elongated with a bright oval center, much brighter than the fuzzy blob I’m used to seeing with binoculars.

I tried for Triangulum, just faintly visible to the eye, but the limitations of the mount became apparent when trying to look pretty much straight up. The Pentax J series is designed for somewhat lighter setups than this. I’m sure nobody was hanging potato-masher sized EPs off the back of J60/80s.

I like the portability of this scope, especially compared to my last setup. It takes all of five minutes to set up and can easily be dragged around once assembled. I like having a few eyepieces rather than a collection. I like the quality of the OTA – the optics are simply amazing – and its suitability for astrophotography (just in case I run out of things to do). I also like Explore Scientific’s customer service – a problem of missing parts was quickly resolved under their 5-year transferable(!) warranty. The OTA backfocus issue will be resolved one way or another, and I’m waiting to hear from ES about it.

The Baader Zoom is crisp across the entire field of view, and while it is a bit narrow at 24mm, it opens up nicely as it zooms. The GSO Barlow is the one piece of kit that I haven’t really been able to test yet. For that I need a more stable mount (I have an LXD75 in the wings) and resolution of the backfocus issue.

This is a huge learning experience for me. A decade ago I jumped in to astronomy with too much equipment (a Tak, no less) and became frustrated not just with the difficulty of setup (and care required due to the expense) but also with the limited viewing conditions in my area. This time around I’ve tried to take a lighter approach, both financially and physically.

On my first night out I’ve learned quite a few things. Bring a stool. Bring the binoculars, too. That little leatherette bag for the Baader EPs? Best to put some chocolate coins in it and hang it from your belt. Get a more organized kit for EPs and accessories. Plan the evening’s viewing before you go out. I’m already working on my list.


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