There are plenty of ways to entertain your guests after dinner: board games, karaoke, or, if all else fails, turning on the idiot box. None of these activities is likely to be the highlight of the evening, though.
What if, on the other hand, you could treat people to something interesting and unusual while broadening their horizons at the same time?
Assuming that you’re thinking of an hour or two of stargazing rather than a solo performance of Hamlet, the Orion Starblast is sure to be a hit. Exceptionally easy to set up and use, it’s perfect for the casual backyard astronomer who wants to see incredible views without having to do a lot of work to get them.
The Orion StarBlast is wonderfully easy to use and pretty powerful at the price. Its only drawback is that it does not work well with cameras.
- Parabolic Reflector Type
- 750 mm or 450 mm Focal Distance
- 6″ or 4½” Aperture
- Tabletop Mount
The Orion StarBlast in a Nutshell
Simple and extremely easy to use, the Orion StarBlast is a tabletop telescope perfect for spending a few interesting hours pondering the mysteries of the universe. What it isn’t is an all-in-one solution for someone who plans to be the next Edwin Hubble. Taking truly high-quality photos with it is next to impossible.
Also, while you can achieve a decent level of magnification using the right eyepiece (though the 300x figure specified by the manufacturer seems a little fanciful), this scope is best used for wide-angle viewing. In other words, you will have a great time exploring the surface of the moon or trying to locate brighter nebulae, but objects like double stars and planets will be a little more challenging to make out.
This scope is available as either a 4.5″ or 6″ reflector. The main difference between the two is, of course, that the 6″ lets in almost twice as much light as is possible with a 4½-inch aperture. This has a major effect on your ability to discern dim objects and, hence, on the maximum useful magnification you’ll be able to achieve.
In practical terms, you may be able to make out Saturn’s rings and the moons of Jupiter with the 4½”, but actually seeing them clearly will require the larger 6″. (Note that this is a pretty risky statement to make and not any sort of guarantee. Which features you can actually discern depends heavily on how much light pollution you have to contend with and on how good your eyesight is).
The 4.5-inch model is, as you would expect, significantly cheaper. If you’re interested in seeing dim objects like most of the Messier catalog, though, you’ll be far more satisfied with its larger 6-inch cousin, or perhaps an 8″ Dobsonian like the Orion SkyQuest.
Orion StarBlast Telescopes: Astronomy Made Effortless
Experienced astronomers on TV or at a public viewing make framing celestial objects look as easy as pointing your finger at something.
In reality, this is the result of many hours of practice. With some scopes, simply getting even a bright star into view requires patience and know-how. The Orion StarBlast, on the other hand, will get you up and running in minutes, even without referring to the included Starry Night software.
- Very intuitive and super easy to use
- Optional electronic star finder upgrade
Plug and Play
Though the Orion StarBlast is on the expensive side, it’s really a perfect starter scope; a breeze to get started with even if you have no stargazing experience whatsoever. All the main components come neatly pre-assembled, each in its own box, and it takes only a couple of minutes to put them all together. You’ll need nothing more complicated or exotic than a screwdriver.
Assuming that you can find somewhere suitable to put it, the base is more stable than the average tripod, with almost no way of tipping it over without really trying. At about 16 inches wide, this stand strikes a good balance between compactness and support. The tube itself is about 28 inches long on the larger 6-inch version, making it easy to move around by hand or in a car.
This size and the relatively low weight (24 pounds) of this telescope makes for comfortable viewing when it’s placed at tabletop height and somewhat less so when it’s resting directly on the ground. Just know that the base is pretty heavy, and even small tremors can throw off your aim, so you may be disappointed with the results if you use a flimsy folding table. Two holes in the base serve as carry handles, and there’s a convenient holder on the side for up to 3 spare eyepieces.
You can also use a tripod if the situation calls for it. Just make sure that it’s designed to keep a load of 6 pounds or so (the weight of the tube) rock steady. Especially if you plan on using high magnifications, this generally means a stand that has double that number on the box.
Here’s a good video from Orion on how to use it:
A major point in favor of this line of telescopes is that the base tracks smoothly: moving it is easy, but it also tends to stay in position unless you deliberately apply pressure. Aiming is accomplished simply by pushing the tube or the knob at the front around with your fingers.
In other words, there are no small-scale screw controls to help you make fine adjustments, but aiming it at roughly the right patch of sky is not difficult to do. At this point, you can use the included (unmagnified) red dot finder for precision alignment and finally start hunting your target through an eyepiece of your choice.
A Feast for the Eyes
The Orion StarBlast is most definitely optimized for casual viewing. Standard accessories for the package include a 25 mm and 10 mm eyepiece (17 mm and 6 mm for the 4½-inch), translating to magnifications of about 30x and 75x. In case you want more viewing options, you can easily get a Barlow attachment or some additional eyepieces.
A Barlow is essentially just a magnifying glass designed to fit over a standard 1.25″ or 2″ eyepiece. It can help to blow up an image, but it’s worthwhile remembering that size and clarity aren’t always the same thing. The telescope itself is usually the limiting factor with regard to what you can see – in many cases, a simple filter may be way more effective at bringing out details.
Something that makes many people leery of buying a reflector telescope is the chore of collimation, i.e., adjusting the mirrors to get a clear image. Thankfully, this is very easy to do with a StarBlast and shouldn’t take longer than two or three minutes, even without a laser collimator or other special tools.
It’s worthwhile getting this right, though, as this telescope’s relatively short focal ratio makes it sensitive to alignment errors. This is particularly true if you plan to use eyepieces with very short focal lengths for highly magnified views.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Where the Heck Are You?
Another thing many people will appreciate is the option of adding an IntelliScope upgrade kit to the mix to make stargazing even simpler.
This isn’t a go-to drive like the one that comes standard with the Celestron NexStar SE; instead, you use a keypad to select any of several thousand sky objects and let the machine tell you where to point your scope.
This is available as an add-on module you can install yourself, though only on the StarBlast 6 and not the smaller 4.5-inch model. Alternatively, you can pay a little extra and opt for the 6I version to begin with.
Orion StarBlast: All About the View; Documenting It – Not so Much
No affordable telescope can be good at every job you might want it to do – for every task its design makes easy, something else becomes hard.
With the Orion StarBlast, panning around the heavens more or less by eye is a joy; with a little practice, you can even find and see Messier objects, meaning the brighter galaxies and star clusters visible from Earth. So, what’s the catch, and is it even something you might care about?
Where It Falls Short:
- Difficult to do prime focus photography
- Short focal length
- Pretty expensive once you add all the bells and whistles
Not Made for Photographers
In one sense, this telescope’s fairly low focal ratio of f/5 is a blessing, as it allows you to snap good wide-angle shots even on short exposures. There are some larger caveats involved, though.
While you can hook up a smartphone or even a DSLR to the StarBlast, anything weighing more than a few ounces is bound to unbalance your setup. There is a rudimentary tension screw on the side, but it’ll still be difficult to keep your shot framed the way you want it. Of course, this is a bigger problem on the smaller 4½-inch version, but the 6″ also isn’t really designed for astrophotography.
In general, there are two ways to photograph objects through a telescope: eyepiece projection and prime focus.
The former means holding your camera or phone steady over the eyepiece, either by hand or using a smartphone bracket. With prime focus, the camera screws directly onto the telescope and takes over the eyepiece’s magnifying and focusing role.
Stabilizing the camera/scope combination isn’t that much of a problem, especially if you invest in a tripod mount that includes a counterweight. However, some DSLRs simply will not be able to give you clear pictures – just because you set the focus ring to ∞ doesn’t mean much when the camera has to compensate for the telescope’s focal plane being too shallow – one consequence of having a small f-ratio.
That’s not to say that you will not be able to take photos with the StarBlast: it’s indeed possible and the results are often more than acceptable.
Some people go as far as modifying their StarBlasts – think hacksaws and duct tape.
If taking picture easily is one of your primary requirements for a telescope, however, you will probably want to look at something like the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ instead, which has a similar aperture size, a longer focal length and an equatorial mount. On the other hand, compared to the StarBlast, the PowerSeeker is a bear to set up.
Expensive With All the Options
This is certainly not the cheapest reflector of this size you can buy, but it’s also far from the most expensive.
Considering its overall quality, including the sturdiness of the base and how easy it is to collimate, the Orion StarBlasts offer pretty good value. Unfortunately, a compulsive astronomy shopper may soon find that getting all the bells and whistles ends up costing quite a lot of moolah.
Once you start using it, you’ll soon feel the need for some filters and extra eyepieces. Now that you can see more objects that are difficult to find using the naked eye, it just makes sense to spring for the IntelliScope upgrade or even a compatible auto-tracking mount.
Each of these purchases makes sense and will most certainly expand your capabilities. The costs add up, though, so you should also consider saving up a little longer and going for a more capable, full-featured telescope like the Celestron NexStar SE right from the get-go.
Images: What Kind of Views Can I Expect?
When it comes to estimating the viewing power of any telescope, the first thing to look at is its aperture size, followed by its focal length and the quality of its optical components. Translating these factors into actual images is not straightforward, though: an unsteady mount, a hazy sky, a worse or better camera, and (frankly) the skill of the operator all come into play.
How, then, are you supposed to figure out which scope has the practical magnification power you need?
The best approach is probably to look at a number of photos taken using the scope you have your eye on, keeping in mind that getting these kinds of results will usually require a bit of practice and maybe a few accessories.
The Bottom Line
User-friendliness is the name of the game with the Orion StarBlast series. You don’t need a degree from MIT to operate it; even children can figure it out and will have a whale of a time using it to scan around the night sky. At the same time, many older folks love its ergonomics and relatively low weight.
It’s also a great grab-and-go telescope to take outdoors, especially if you can use it on a blanket instead of a table without getting a crick in your neck. It’s pretty rugged and requires almost no assembly to set up.
Many people are intimidated by the collimation process common to all reflector telescopes. Don’t make this molehill into a mountain, though: it may seem confusing at first, but it takes only a few tries to get comfortable with the process.
After some time, you’ll probably graduate to more distant, smaller objects and eyepieces that offer higher magnifications. Though the Starry Night software package you get with the scope will come in handy at that point, it’s reassuring that you can also buy the IntelliScope upgrade if locating these targets proves more difficult than you expected.
Alternatively or in addition, you may also want to get a better finder scope: the EZ Finder II that comes standard with the StarBlast is actually just a simple reflex sight and doesn’t magnify your view through it.
The main drawback you have to measure against the Orion StarBlast’s many virtues is the lack of decent camera support. Still, some (and perhaps most) people will be perfectly happy with using an iPhone to share their finds on Facebook and leave stuff like f/stops, calibration frames, and ISO ratings to those who actually care about such things.
Astrophotography is this scope’s only true weak point, and this only really applies if you already own a high-end DSLR. With an appropriate bracket, you can capture pretty impressive images through the eyepiece just with a smartphone. If you’re mainly interested in seeing what you can see, and not winning any photography competitions, the StarBlast may be exactly the telescope for you.
For more reviews and recommendations, you may want to have a look at our roundup of the best telescopes of 2020.