Most telescopes aimed at beginners utilize an alt-azimuth mount that simply goes up and down, left and right. It’s intuitive to both understand and to use, but its movements don’t at all mirror how the night sky appears to move. For that you need an equatorial mount. Often thought of as a step up choice for more experienced amateur astronomers, equatorial mounts are nevertheless becoming more common on entry-level Newtonian telescopes like the SkyWatcher Explorer 130 EQ2 (Note: not available in North America).
The key difference is that an equatorial mount has an axis tilted to be parallel with Earth’s rotational axis. On the SkyWatcher Explorer 130 EQ2 the user needs to dial in their latitude and balance the hardware – a 35.4” (900 mm)-long tube and a counterweight. It’s not difficult to do once you know how, but there is a learning curve. For a first attempt it’s best done slowly, carefully, and with someone to help you. After all, this rig weighs a substantial 27.8 lbs. (12.6 kg).
The reward is a reasonably large 5.1” (130 mm) aperture Newtonian reflector that can easily move with the night sky. However, there’s no motorized mount included here, so tracking and, therefore, deep-sky astrophotography, is off the menu.
Besides, accuracy isn’t up to imaging. Though I had no problems manually finding and following objects – nudging the SkyWatcher Explorer 130 EQ2 slightly each time an object moved out of its field of view – there is a little slippage that marks this out as an entry-level package. Ditto with its entry-level spherical mirror and f7 focal ratio, though the views it offers of solar system objects and deep sky objects proved sharp enough for visual astronomy. Along with wide-angle views through the included 25mm eyepiece, I was able to get sharp, bright views of Jupiter and Saturn through the 10mm eyepiece. Using the included 2x Barlow lens with the 25mm eyepiece provided pleasing views of open clusters and globular clusters, while with the 10mm it was able to split double stars.
Note that a more expensive motorized version, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130P, is also available and adds a sharper parabolic mirror. If that’s a better choice for astrophotography, the SkyWatcher Explorer 130 EQ2 will best suit beginners on a budget wanting good all-round views — and to take the plunge with an adequate equatorial mount.