If you’re going to fork out over $300, then you aught to know the truth.
“Is The Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian A Good Telescope For Beginners?”
If you’re new to astronomy, the SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian will only be right for you if you’re likely to get carried away with the wonders of deep space, eventually going beyond the moon and planets, to explore galaxies, constellations, nebulae and so on.
The SkyQuest XT8 can give you an excellent view of all the planets, but with its light-gathering abilities this telescope can show you much more.
So if the planets are all you’re interested in and you’re not likely to explore any further, you may want to consider something cheaper.
What Sets This Telescope Apart From The Others?
The Dobsonian’s secret lies in its mount. The mount is sturdier than the traditional equatorial mount, and can hold much larger mirrors at bargain prices. So the powerful optics of this orion xt8 telescope is a steal at less than $400.
The XT8 model in particular, has just the right balance between ease of use for beginners, portability and powerful optics to take you from novice to expert. Go one level higher with the XT10, and it gets too big for the average person to move around. One level lower with the XT6, and the optics will take a hit, leaving you searching for a more powerful scope a few years down the line.
Sky & Telescope Pronounced It The “Best Of The Batch.”
This was a few years ago, and since then Orion has enhanced this 8” Dobsonian with even better engineered features and accessories. And on top of that they dropped the price!
AndAstronomy magazine said in a more recent review that it “brought easy enjoyment to deep-sky observing.”
Is This Telescope Hard To Set Up?
Thankfully the optics come pre-installed in the tube, so all you have to do is assemble the base and attach the tube to it. This takes about 30 minutes and doesn’t require any mechanical expertise. Here’s a picture of what you get straight out of the box.
“Is It Easy To Use? I’d Hate To Have To Read A Book Before I Can Get Started!”
No books. Once you have it set up, using it is a breeze. All you do is point, focus and look. The SkyQuest XT8 comes with an EZ red dot finder scope, which has a wide field of view and makes it easy to locate your viewing targets.
Focusing is also made easy by the Crayford style focuser, which is more precise and easier to use than the traditional rack & pinion focuser (more about this later).
“Do I Need To Worry About Collimation?”
Collimation (aligning the mirrors) is done for you at the factory, so you don’t have to worry about this unless you handle your telescope roughly.
If you find that you need to adjust your mirrors, this Dobsonian comes with a quick-collimation cap and a modified centre-marked primary lens that makes the job much easier than with other telescopes.
“I Live In The City. Can I Use This Telescope With Lots Of Light Pollution? Is It Portable, Can I Take It Out Of The House?”
Thanks to the 8 inch aperture, the SkyQuest XT8 has an excellent light-gathering ability, so you’ll be able to see plenty under city-lights. But as with all telescopes, you’ll be able to see much more in darker areas. That’s where its portability comes in.
This telescopes has a net weight of 41 pounds and is small enough to fit in the trunk of your car. There’s nothing stopping you from picking it up by the handle, putting it in the car and driving off into the darkness where you can pull it out and mount it on any flat surface.
Does It Come With A Warranty?
Yes, there’s a limited 1 year manufacturer’s warranty.
“What Kind Of Prices Should I Be Looking At?”
Prices for the Orion SkyQuest XT8 range from $330 to $370. I’ve kept an eye on this one and it seems that Amazon usually has the best deals. At times the prices on Amazon are the same as on the manufacturer’s site, but the shipping is always far cheaper on Amazon. Click here to take a look at the latest prices on Amazon.
Ok, Let’s Get Into The Gory Details…
Seeing Is Believing – Good Optics Are The #1 Thing To Look For In A Telescope
When you’re looking to buy a telescope, the first thing you hear about is its ‘aperture’ and ‘focal length’. In case you haven’t done your research, it’s quite simple…
The aperture is the diameter of the primary lens/mirror. The bigger the aperture the more light is gathered and the more detail you can see. Big apertures allow for better exploration of faint, deep space objects.
An aperture of 6 inches is a good starting point for most amateurs, but the SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian has an aperture of 8 inches (203mm), which will keep you going far beyond your novice days.
Here’s an interesting fact from the manufacturer’s website:
“The mirror (of the SkyQuest XT8) pulls in 73% more light than a 6″, enough to tease out dust lanes in nebulas, resolve the cores of prominent globular clusters, and reveal subtle structure in elusive galaxies”
So there’s a huge difference between the XT6 and XT8 Dobsonians. If you can fork out the few extra dollars, do it. The XT8 will keep you enthralled for much longer.
The focal length is the distance light travels from the telescope’s primary lens or mirror to the point where the light is focussed. Here, I’ve drawn a diagram for you.
The longer the focal length, the larger the image and the higher the magnification of the telescope. Sort of like a slide projector – the further you take it from the screen, the larger the image gets. But the image also gets dimmer, and unfortunately the same applies to your telescope.
So long focal lengths are handy for viewing smaller and brighter celestial bodies, including the sun, moon and our neighbouring planets.
A typical focal length is 1000mm. The SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian has a focal length of 1200mm, which gives it good scope for magnification.
It’s important not to get carried away with the magnification, also known as the power of a telescope.
Back when I was 14 years old I bought a refractor that boasted a 525x magnification – much higher than all those other expensive telescopes. I thought I got a bargain, until I actually tried to use the darn thing – I couldn’t tell the lunar surface from my bedroom wall!
With higher magnifications the earth’s atmosphere gets in the way, so it clouds your view. It’s quite rare for the earth’s atmosphere to be stable enough for you to go beyond 120x magnification.
Magnifications of up to 100x is recommended for viewing planets, and lower magnifications for deep space objects such as galaxies.
What’s the magnification on the SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian? You calculate this by dividing the focal length of the primary lens as discussed with the focal length of the eyepiece.
This Dobsonian usually comes with a 25mm eyepiece, giving a magnification of 48x (1200 divided by 25), which is a good place to start. You can get eyepieces as small as 6mm, giving a maximum magnification of 200x for this telescope, and even higher magnifications using a Barlow lens, but I won’t go into that here.
More Dobsonian Optics – The Crayford Focuser, Is It Anything Special?
A good focuser can really make it so much easier to use a telescope. You don’t want to position your telescope on the rings of Saturn and then have to fight against backlash and the stiffness of a standard rack and pinion focuser to get a descent image.
Backlash is when there’s a bit of lag in the focuser due to looseness or “play” in the focusing gears.
It’s what causes those moments when you just know you’re a tiny fraction of a millimetre away from getting perfect focus, but you keep moving the focuser and nothing happens, until suddenly there’s a huge change and you go way past the focus point.
You end up wasting precious time and energy tweaking the damn thing while you could be enjoying the breathtaking view.
The SkyQuest XT8 comes with a Crayford style focuser, a relatively new invention which doesn’t use any gears and so eliminates backlash. It gives a smooth greased-like motion that allows more precise focusing – so you get better images with less work and less hassle.
25mm, 1.25” Sirius Plossl eyepiece
Yeh, sounds like a character from Harry Potter. Sirius Plossl eyepieces are a good all around performer, and are arguably the best for amateur telescopes.
They offer crisp, clear views with good contrast and definition, and also give a wide field of view. The only disadvantage is a short eye relief – the distance you have to hold your eye from the eyepiece to see the image.
Some will rave about the Sirius Plossls, some will prefer other eyepieces. At the end of the day it’s down to personal preference, but you’ll find comfort in knowing that it’s generally seen as one of the better eye pieces out there.
What do the numbers mean?
The 25mm refers to the focal length of the eyepiece. A short focal length of an eyepiece allows for a larger magnification. Telescope eyepieces come with focal lengths ranging from 6mm to 50mm, so with the SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian you get something in the middle, which is just right for beginners.
The 1.25” refers to the diameter of the eyepiece, also known as the ‘barrel diameter.’ The larger the barrel diameter the bigger the field of view.
There are 3 standard barrel diameters for telescopes:
•0.965 inch – These barrel diameters are found in toy store telescopes. Need I say more?
•1.25 inch – This is the most popular barrel diameter and is excellent for lunar and planetary details. Why? Because it works well with shorter eyepiece focal lengths (ideally below 32mm), which as explained earlier provide greater magnification.
•2 inch – This size eyepiece is the most expensive and suited for wider angle views for low magnification deep space exploration.
Despite the 2-inch barrel diameter being more expensive, the 1.25 inch is preferred for beginners. The good news is the 2” Crayford style focuser on the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope accepts both 1.25” and 2” eyepieces, so you can always purchase a separate 2” eyepiece later.
A Finder Scope That Makes Things Easier For A Change…
The SkyQuest XT8 Comes With The EZ Finder II Reflex Sight, a new type of finder scope that doesn’t actually have any magnification, so it doesn’t give you a confusing upside-down image. So unlike with other finder scopes you don’t have to move your telescope in the opposite direction to where you think it’s supposed to go.
The EZ Finder II Reflex Sight comes with a tiny LED-powered red dot which focuses on the sky and shows you where your telescope is pointed.
A lot of people are actually ditching their old finder scopes to attach the EZ Finder scope on their telescopes, simply because it’s so much easier to use and they can spend more time looking at what they want to see.
The drawback is that it requires its own 3-volt lithium battery (which is included), but it lasts for a good number of years, even if you occasionally forget to turn it off. And some complain the adjustable red light doesn’t get quite as dim as they’d like it to.
What Disadvantages Do You Need To Worry About With The SkyQuest XT8?
The Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope is not suitable for astrophotography. Being a purely manual machine, it doesn’t track objects across the sky, so can’t give you the long exposures you need for deep space photos.
This telescope is designed for visual observing only, which is a hobby and sport in itself, and it gives you this with great finesse.
To Sum It All Up…
The Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope is praised for its remarkable balance between powerful optics, size/portability, ease of use and price. For this reason many observers would argue that it’s the all-rounder best beginner telescope for amateur astronomers.
It’s big enough to provide an optical quality that will take you from amateur to expert, yet not so big that you can’t set it up for that spur of the moment observation for half an hour or so.
You can set it up in your back yard to get great views even under city lights, thanks to its powerful light-gathering abilities. And you also have the option of sticking it in the trunk of your car and taking it somewhere dark under gorgeous starry skies.
A long focal length combined with a big 8” aperture means you can get top magnification for viewing those planets, AND have the light-gathering ability to reveal subtle structure in elusive galaxies and other breathtaking deep space phenomena.
Where Can I Get The Best Price?
I’ve bought many telescopes over the years and find that the cheapest prices tend to be on Amazon. Standard shipping charges are also very cheap on Amazon compared to other stores. So click here to review the SkyQuest XT8 and get the best prices on Amazon.