Orion Observer 70: Solid Entry Level Performance
The Orion Observer 70 is an entry-level 70mm achromatic refractor that promises a better quality experience than found on typical department store telescopes. It has focal length of 700mm and is offered for $129 with an alt-azimuth mount and for $169 with an equatorial mount. Two Explorer II (Kellner) eyepieces come standard. The 25mm eyepiece provides low power viewing at 28x magnification and the 10mm eyepiece provides more power at 70x magnification. An Orion EZ Finder II red-dot site is provided to help users aim the telescope accurately. Finally, the telescope comes complete with Orion’s version of TheSky software. The Observer 70 has been recommended as a low cost telescope by many amateur astronomy magazines, astronomy forum participants, and online reviews.
I am a novice observer who has been reading astronomy magazines for a little over a year and had a few months of casual observing experience with a old Jason 60mm Astronaut variable power refractor and an equally ancient pair of department store quality 10x50 wide angle binoculars before making my purchase. Two months after purchasing my Observer 70, I also bought an old Tasco Novice 60mm telescope at a thrift store as a project. It provides some more experience with a telescope that is inferior to Orion Observer. As a reviewer, I should also note that I have no financial interest in astronomy-related companies.
I selected the Orion Observer 70 on an Alt-az mount. I purchased it because I was tired of the short-comings of my straight-through Jason refractor and I wanted a basic telescope that would offer competent performance and at $152 (with shipping), it fit my family budget. My purchasing decision was influenced by recommendations in internet forums, magazine mentions, and online reviews.
My observing location is an apartment complex tennis court right on Atlanta’s perimeter about 10 miles from downtown. While the tennis courts lights are off, the area is highly light polluted. Several nearby office buildings are visible, but I am on a hill and have a fairly clear view of the sky. Light from several low street lights intrudes on my observing location, but I can minimize it by positioning my telescope so that I am shielded by a screen of shrubs and short trees.
My telescope was initially on back-order, but the Anacortes staff kept me informed of my order status via e-mail and a big box arrived for me a couple of weeks after my purchase.
Upon opening the big box, I found that my new telescope was double-boxed and neatly packed with plenty of bubble wrap. The big box contained plenty of smaller boxes for diagonals, eyepieces, and other accessories. Once I dug out the telescope tube, I was impressed by the size and heft of my new purchase. It is far more substantial than the old 60mm Jason Astronaut refractor that it replaces. It is also far more robust than the 60mm Tasco that I later acquired as a project telescope. While I’ve heard horror stories about telescope manuals, I was pleasantly surprised by the 16-page instruction booklet included with my telescope. It was well-written and comprehensive. It even covered special topics for eyeglass wearers. It took me about 30 minutes to carefully assemble the scope while skimming the directions.
My first light experience with the telescope was a mixed success. I could see a nice amount of detail on a nearly full moon. I found the Explorer II Kellner eyepieces provided crisp clear views. But, the stunning brightness of the moon forced me to cut my observing short. Also, as a beginner, I find it much harder to “starhop” in the summer. I’m far more comfortable when Orion and his hounds dominate the sky.
Over the past few months, I have used my telescope about once a week for observing sessions of one to two hours. I have added an a Meade 5mm Plossl, Apogee 8mm Japanese Plossl, a 9mm Celestron Plossl, three Paul Rini Modified Plossls (in 16mm, 22mm, and 35mm focal lengths), and a Meade lunar filter. The high-powered Plossls proved to be a valuable addition as they immediately allowed me to get spectacular high power views of lunar features like the Aristoteles and Eudoxus craters. However, I have been pleased with the standard Explorer II eyepieces as well. The provide nice low power and high power views from the start. The Explorer II eyepieces provide far crisper views and far less false color than the Huygens eyepieces that come standard on many department store telescopes.
Venus - Cute! While surface detail of this cloud shrouded planet is not visible, I have been able to observe this planet as a tiny crescent in my 10mm eyepiece. I call it -mini-moon.
Mars - Tiny! I have been a little less excited by the view of Mars from the Observer 70. Since my Jason telescope was limited to a maximum magnification of 60x, I thought that the theoretical maximum of 140x magnification with the Orion Observer 70 would make planets appear far larger. Even at Opposition, Mars was tiny in the eyepiece. With my 5mm Plossl providing 140x magnification, I have been unable to distinguish much detail on Mars. Generally, I could tell that I was looking at a planetary disk and I could see some blotches of color. These were a far cry from the Martian canals of legend and lore. However, I persisted and made some crude sketches of my observations. When I compared them to maps of Mars and images taken with much larger telescopes, I found that the patterns in my sketches did match some major features on the planet surface. Observing became more exciting when I found I wasn’t looking at a black blob, I was looking at Syrtis Major.
Saturn - Thrilling! As a beginner, I always find the sight of Saturn thrilling. I found that I had a far clearer and far better view of the planet and its rings with the Observer 70 than with either of my 60mm telescopes. The image was a tad larger and was far easier to focus with the Observer 70 than in my 60mm telescopes.
Deep Space Objects - I have enjoyed observing a variety of major deep space objects such as M42, the Pliades, and the Hyades with the Observer 70. However, observing the faint and the fuzzy can be a real challenge from my bright urban/suburban location. At times, some of the stars that I would use as guideposts for starhopping have been hard to find. Sometimes I have managed to find a star cluster by sweeping the area where one should be and then I have not known which one I was actually looking at (M37, M36, or M38). When lost, I wonder if I should have held out for a telescope with GOTO capability.
Crisp, clear, views
Good basic eyepieces
Better tripod than department store telescopes
Not a GOTO scope
Can be awkward when viewing objects near the apex
Overall, the Observer 70 delivers on its promise of solid performance for an excellent price. The finder, eyepieces, and tripod are all better than would be found on a typical department store telescope.
Click here for more about this subject. -Ed.
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