FirstScope – Review August 28, 2009Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, review.
Tags: astronomy, Celestron, FirstScope, review, telescope
The Celestron FirstScope proves that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.”
With 2009 being the International Astronomical Union’s “International Year of the Telescope” (commemorating the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first attempts at turning the newly discovered telescope toward the heavens), the astronomy community has been all abuzz over various products and projects that bear the official “stamp” of the event. One of these products is the FirstScope, produced and distributed by Celestron. When it originally rolled out, it was priced at a modest $50 or thereabouts. Not horrible as telescopes go, but enough to keep budget-minded fence-sitters like me at bay.
Then, the e-mail arrived.
Amazon issued a $15 off promotional on the scope that had already been knocked down to below the $45 price tag. With this incentive, it brought the price down to below $30. You can’t dangle a carrot in front of a guy like me and not expect me to take a bite out of it! It probably took all of five minutes from the time the e-mail hit my inbox to the time I pressed the “Order Now” button and sealed my (very affordable) fate. To sweeten the deal, Amazon even ate the shipping charges, so it was a win-win situation!
The following Wednesday, the UPS courier dropped off the smallish box at my door. The box containing the scope itself was well-packed, colorful and emblazoned with the IYA 2009 logo, as well as various space-related photos. It came with a couple of glossy fact sheets about the telescope and Galileo, and is clearly intended to be an educational instrument. I lifted the pre-assembled scope from the box and set it on my table. The FirstScope is a Newtonian design reflector with a 76mm (around 3″) mirror. The focal length is 300mm, giving an super-fast f/3.95 (okay, call it an f/4) ratio.
The base and mount is constructed from 1/2″ laminated pressboard, covered in a white veneer. The mount “floats” on three Teflon pads between it and the base, and provides a smooth turn in the azimuth plane. The scope is attached to the upright portion of the mount by a rather substantial knurled hand-bolt which can be tightened/loosened to adjust the altitude.
The OTA itself appears to be similar in weight and consistency to sonotube, and is colored black with imprinted silver-white names of famous astronomers down through the ages. The focuser was a pleasant surprise: I was expecting a drawtube or inexpensive helical twist focus, but the FirstScope actually sports a fairly smooth rack-and-pinion 1.25″ focuser. It didn’t have that “gummy” feel that many cheap focusers have, and I didn’t notice much in terms of backlash or shifting. It seemed to have plenty of travel and back-focus, and would likely play nice with a quality Barlow. Both the focuser and OTA have thick plastic covers to keep the dust and bugs out of the tube when it’s not being used.
The two included eye-pieces are so-so quality. The 20mm Huygens actually isn’t bad; center was right on target and only slight “fuzzy” focus toward the extreme edge of the FOV. I can’t be as optimistic about the 4mm “SR” (probably means “Stubby Ramsden”) EP. You’d almost be better off staring through a pinhole. It might be okay for observing the moon, but it’s going to have such short eye relief, it’ll probably get all gummed up with oil from eyelashes in short order, so this will likely see the bottom of my parts box or as a “plug” for 1.25″ gadgets. I’ve got a nice Teleview 6mm Plossl that will work much better in it.
While I didn’t run the mirror through a rigorous collimation, it seemed close enough out of the box, and even a rudimentary “star test” indicated it was in the ballpark. The real proof of the scope is in the seeing, so I turned it toward Jupiter, which has been holding court to the South at this time of year. The provided 20mm actually resolved it nicely at 15x, although it was quite small as was expected. Not wanting to push my luck, I dropped a Meade 9.7mm Plossl in and took another peek. While it didn’t provide a Hubble-like experience, it did improve the image considerably, and at roughly 31x, was enough to see two pinkish-red bands in the northern hemisphere, along with its pinpoint major satellites. Where the little scope really shined was with a 26mm Plossl dropped into place. The magnification was slightly less than 12x (around the same as a decent pair of binoculars), but it gave a gorgeous 4.33° field of view! It easily framed the Perseus Double-Cluster, and provided a quality view that easily surpassed the $30 price tag of this scope!
As an educational tool and first instrument for young enthusiasts, it’d be hard to go wrong with this one. It’s rugged enough to withstand reasonable wear and tear while providing a decent view of the brighter night-time objects for those just learning their way around the cosmos. As a spare or as a possible gift for a curious new astronomer, this is a nice little introductory instrument.
Even if it is a Celestron.*
* My two Meades made me say that!