As do many amateur astronomers, I’ve long maintained that a 6- to 8-inch reflector on a Dobsonian mount is as close as you’ll get to the perfect beginner telescope. It offers the best value, with a solid, yet easy-to-use mount, generous aperture, good fittings, all in a telescope that is affordable. What more could anyone want?
The answer might be portability. A classic 6- or 8-inch (150mm to 200mm) Dobsonian has a tube four feet long on a base three feet tall, which might not be practical to store or transport. A smaller aperture telescope, while more compact, has … well, less aperture! Views of most objects will not be as bright or sharp.
Orion’s StarBlast 6 offers a good balance of enough aperture to see all the best deep-sky objects well, especially under light polluted skies, with a tube that’s only 30 inches long and on a mount only two feet tall. The downside of being a “tabletop” style of Dobsonian is that it needs a tabletop! It has to be placed on a solid platform to do it justice for shake-free viewing.
Buyers need to think about where they would place it, on their patio, in their backyard or at a remote campsite. The platform should be sturdy, but small enough in width to allow getting at the eyepiece no matter where the telescope is aimed, particularly if the telescope is to be used by children.
I tested a StarBlast I purchased in late 2019 from my local telescope shop, thinking it would be a good telescope to try out first hand and recommend as a beginner scope in the new edition of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide. That proved to be the case.
StarBlast Mount and Fittings
The StarBlast uses a one-arm fork mount that moves smoothly in both axes, with an adjustable tension in the altitude axis. The mount allows precisely nudging the telescope every minute or so. That manual motion is needed because, like most Dobsonians, the StarBlast cannot track the sky. That’s the price to pay for this much aperture at such low cost, under $400.
The mount was solid and damped vibration quickly, as long it was on a solid table. The tube can be removed easily from the rings if needed, but the rings themselves bolt to the mount, a required assembly step out of the box. Because the rings don’t attach to the fork arm via a dovetail plate, they are not easy to detach. But the scope is compact enough it is best kept all assembled. Unlike most Dobs, the tube can be rotated to place the eyepiece at the most convenient angle, though one position will likely work well for most viewing.
The 1.25-inch rack-and-pinion focuser motion is smooth and free of slop or backlash. The finder is a red dot style, Orion’s EZFinder II. It works well for finding bright objects, but could make star hopping to fainter deep-sky objects under suburban skies a challenge. The standard base can accept an optical finderscope, though the added weight might cause the tube to be top heavy, requiring the addition of a small weight on the bottom of the tube. For what most users are likely to look at, I suspect the EZFinder will be sufficient.
The StarBlast is also available in a version with Orion’s Intelliscope computer, powered by an internal 9-volt battery. Or the computer can be added later — the base-level StarBlast comes with fittings to accept the add-on encoders.
The Intelliscope adds “push-to” computerized finding — once initially aligned on stars you call up a target from the catalogs and the controller counts down to zero as you move the scope to where it directs you. There are no motors, so there is no tracking once on target.
I have not used an Intelliscope in recent years, so cannot comment on how well the technology works. I think the beauty of the StarBlast lies in keeping it simple.
The 6-inch (150mm) mirror has a focal ratio of f/5 for a focal length of 750mm. A relatively fast mirror like this can be prone to aberrations that will blur images. I was pleased to see that the StarBlast provided very sharp images free of spherical aberration, turned edges and other flaws common in poorly made mirrors.
The telescope can provide satisfying views of the planets, where sharpness is paramount, as well as of deep-sky objects where its good aperture will win out over smaller refractors and reflectors.
The test unit arrived in good collimation, requiring only a tweak to the primary mirror. A laser collimator might be a priority addition to the accessory list, true of any Newtonian reflector.
The included eyepieces are two of Orion’s good quality Sirius Plössls: a 25mm for 30x and a 10mm for 75x. Both are a cut above the very low-end eyepieces offered with many beginner scopes. Adding a quality 2x Barlow lens might be worthwhile for the added magnifications. The optics will certainly support the 150x needed for better views of the planets.
I like the StarBlast series of tabletop Dobsonians. They complement Orion’s more traditional StarQuest and SkyLine series. While the full-sized 6-inch f/8 StarQuest costs the same as the StarBlast (see Ed Ting’s review here), the StarBlast is more compact, which might make it more appealing for many buyers.
Smaller again is the little 4.5-inch tabletop StarBlast, which would be a fine kids’ scope, among the best Orion sells. But a teenager or adult will appreciate the extra aperture the 6-inch offers. It will vastly outperform a smaller scope on a shaky equatorial mount, the style that looks high tech, but befuddles and disappoints many beginners.
As long as you can find a solid place to put it, the StarBlast will serve you well as an entry-level scope. Even veteran observers might enjoy it as a back-to-basics second telescope with more aperture than typical grab-and-go instruments.
Plus: Good optics; sturdy mount; compact
Minus: Requires a solid tabletop or sturdy platform
MSRP: $380 ; $530 with Intelliscope computer and hardware (not tested)
Website: Orion Binoculars and Telescopes www.telescope.com