Several telescopes have been around long enough to reach iconic status – Celestron’s C8 Schmidt-Cassegrain, Questar Corp.’s 3.5″ and perhaps a few of the lofty Astro-Physics apochromatic refractors, to name a few.
What do all of these telescopes have in common? With the possible exception of the C8, they are expensive. But good, useful telescopes need not be expensive or rare. Take, for example Orion’s ShortTube 80, which has been around in some form for 20-plus years in the Orion catalog.
The ShortTube 80 is an 80 mm f/5 achromatic refractor with a 1.25” focuser drawtube. The telescope is 15” long and weighs only 2.95 lbs. Its extreme light weight (for a telescope) and short focal length means the telescope is technically light enough to be used on a medium-sized photographic tripod – although for best results, you should still use a telescope-specific mount.
Install the finder scope, diagonal, and eyepiece, and you are ready to go on any clear night. What can you see with this telescope? You can start with the moon. Put in a higher power eyepiece and you can see Saturn’s rings, and the four moons of Jupiter. The telescope’s 80mm aperture is enough to pull in the brighter deep sky objects like the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula, and the Pleaides star cluster. In the wintertime, you can pick up star clusters like M35, M36, M37, and M38. In the summer, you can see the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas.
What are the drawbacks of the ShortTube 80? With only 80mm of aperture, it has limited light-gathering ability. Dimmer objects will be harder (and in some cases impossible) to see. For reference, the hardest object I could routinely locate with my ShortTube 80 is the elusively dim spiral galaxy M33 in Triangulum, and I needed clear and dark conditions to see it. Also, all inexpensive achromatic refractors suffer from chromatic aberration, which shows up as a blue/purple halo around bright objects. If you are new to telescopes, this will not bother you at first, but as you get more experienced this distortion will become harder to ignore. Finally, the telescope’s optics are decent, but not excellent. Aside from the aforementioned chromatic aberration, the optics do not always hold up well under high magnification. Keep it under 100X for best results.
These drawbacks should be kept in context. The ShortTube 80, depending on how you equip it, is amazingly cheap. As of this writing, the Orion catalog lists the telescope, complete with a small equatorial mount, for only $130 to $170. It is an excellent starter scope. If you decide you want something bigger later on, you can keep it as a second telescope, or for use at star parties, where you can pass on your knowledge to other beginners.
The Orion ShortTube 80 is proof that a classic, iconic telescope need not be expensive or rare. It is cheap, plentiful and will show you the night sky at a moment’s notice. What’s not to like?
MSRP: $129.99 to $169.99