Sunday, February 08, 2009


The Joys of Simple Things

I didn’t set out to buy a StarBlast. More like one of the little scopes landed in my lap one Summer’s day almost five years ago, muchachos. Miss Dorothy says it’s a lot like what happened with our cat, Growltiger. Miss D. had just been preaching to me and step-daughter Beth about our distinct lack of need for another feline around the house when in she came bearing a tiny stray kitten. This little striped gray guy had run up to her when she arrived home from the university one afternoon, demanding, “Where have you been, I’m your cat. Take me inside. Now.”

A StarBlast ain’t a cat, four-legged or three legged, but the story is similar. For one reason or ‘tother (can’t really remember now) a gift certificate from famous astro-vendor Anacortes Telescope and Wild Bird had come my way, and I simply couldn’t think of what to do with it. For once, I was stumped when it came to new gear—well, maybe not stumped, but the gift certificate in question wasn’t quite enough to cover an AP900. Naturally, I turned to my fellow gear-head Pat. We determined the one thing I was lacking that the gift certificate and a little more might cover was a grab-n’-go telescope.

“Grab -‘n-go,” you know what that is, doncha? It’s one of the most beloved clichés of modern amateur astronomy; a telescope you can grab with one hand—maybe two—and go with out into the backyard at a moment’s notice. Cliché or not, we certainly felt the need for such a scope here at the Old Manse. As y’all may know, yes, Uncle Rod and Miss Dorothy are workaholics. At the end of our 12-hour-plus days it’s not likely we’re gonna wanna drag the C11—or even a C8—out for an hour or two of light-polluted backyard observing before the day’s accumulated weariness sends us upstairs. I still wanna observe, though. Long ago, I made a pact with myself to try to get out every single clear night, Moon or no, light pollution or no, and look at something with a telescope. Do I always live up to that? Hail no. But I figgered I’d do a little better if I had a decent g-n-g rig.

Actually, I did have a sorta decent grab-n’-go scope at the time of these events. Let’s turn the clock back a decade. In those simpler times, what was on every amateur’s lips? “Short Tube 80.” As the 1990s waned, that JC Penney’s of telescope merchants, Orion (Telescope and Binocular Center), was searching for a new direction and a new way to sell scopes cheap and sell ‘em for a decent profit to a decent number of amateurs old and new. What they came up with was a company called “Synta.” Sorta based on Taiwan and sorta Based in the PRC, Synta was making a refractor with an aperture of 80-mm and a focal ratio of f/5. This small scope’s “point and shoot” nature must have sounded promising to Orion’s Tim Giesler. It was a telescope that could be sold to newbies searching for something wide-field enough to make finding stuff easy, but also something new that might appeal to old hands.

In no time, the Short Tube 80 showed up in those multitudinous Orion catalogs. We amateurs were suspicious at first. Chinese telescopes? We’d seen the 4.5-inch reflectors and 60-mm refractors of Chinese origin the newest of astro-club newbies were clutching when they showed up for their first meeting. Horrors all. And an f/5 achromat? Come on! How could such a thing compete with TeleVue’s Prontos and Rangers, the current darlings of the amateur astronomy chattering classes?

The Short Tube really couldn’t, but that didn’t mean the ST80 was a bad telescope. Luckily, some brave individuals among us ADVANCED AMATEURS (whatever the hell that is), including the erstwhile Ed Ting, took a chance on the Short Tube and pronounced it good: decent optics for a fast achromat, and decent mechanics considering its (for then) rock-bottom price of $250.00 for an OTA.

Yowza! Sounded jus’ right for those quick looks at the Moon and Jupe and a Messier or three from Chaos Manor South’s tree-enshrouded and sodium-light-bathed back forty. Not only would the ST80 be light and easy to tote out, it would be easy to waltz around the backyard to avoid trees and streetlights. I was a little afeared of the Color Purple, the scope’s inevitable ration of chromatic aberration, but decided I’d take a chance anyway.

By the time I worked up the gumption to buy, Celestron had a Short Tube 80 of its own, the same Synta scope, but dubbed the “First Scope 80 WA.” For just a little more than the price of the Orion tube, I got an 80-mm in pretty Celestron-black and a little EQ1 German equatorial mount. You can read the whole story of my ST80 on Cloudy Nights (the date on this review is wrong; I posted it not long after I received the Short Tube in ‘99), but the long and short of it was that I was amazed. Yeah, there was some of that moldy oldie, Purple Haze, but far less than I’d expected. Jupiter showed off fairly impressive detail. For example, not only could I see Io’s shadow as it crossed the disk, I could sometimes pick out the moon itself as it sailed across a darker cloud band. All was well. For a while.

Like any gear-happy amateur, I soon wanted More Better Gooder. The ST80 was fine. I even purchased a Thousand Oaks Solar filter for it and used that to film a couple of partial eclipses with my video camera. But (famous last words)…a little more aperture wouldn’t hurt. Neither would a little more sharpness. Yeah, the terminator of the Moon was outstanding at magnifications up to about 80x with the ST80, but after that the scope began to stumble righteously, and at all magnifications the Moon’s disk away from the terminator was a wee bit more featureless and fuzzy than I’d a-liked.

What to do? I considered Orion’s Short Tube 90 (long since discontinued), but 10-mm more aperture didn’t sound like much, and the word on the street was that this non-Synta’s optics tended to be poorer than those of the ST80. Synta was at the time also beginning to sell 102-mm f/5 achromats and one of these at first seemed a natural. One look through a 102 at Jupiter at a star party, though, disabused me of that notion. The chromatic aberration wasn’t just there, it was THERE. So I procrastinated grab-n’-go wise for dang near four years.

Don’t feel bad for me, y'all. I might not have been in grab-n’-go high-cotton, but the Short Tube was a Good Little Scope. Surprisingly good, and I got a lot of use out of her. I once did a shootout between the ST80 and a buddy’s Edmund Astroscan, one of the better examples of Edmund’s proto-bowling ball 4-inch rich field Newtonian I had seen, and, to my surprise, the little refractor blew its doors off. Also, one of the beauties of an ST80, then or now (they are still readily available), is that you can do more with one than just look through it. Despite its short-focus achromat nature, it’s possible to take surprisingly good wide field astrophotos with one, and many imagers use the 80 as a guide scope these days. In fact, it’s a current favorite in that role and is what I use.

Which is where I stood when Pat mentioned Orion’s 4.5-inch aperture StarBlast: OK with the ST80, but still wanting a little better. StarBlast? I’d be awful surprised if y’all don’t know what that is. Orion has sent out enough catalogs in the five years since they brought that new Synta to market, and the scope still gets discussed frequently in Internet astro-forums, but in case you don’t, what it is is a little-bitty Dobsonian, a GI Joe sized Dob. A 4.5-inch f/4 equipped with a miniscule single arm Dob mount built to scale.

I’d been admiring the scope in Orion’s slick catalog pictures for a while, but didn’t seriously think about bringing one home till I began to hear Phil Harrington and other folks whose opinions I respect raving about it. I was still skeptical about the quality of a Chinese f/4 Newtonian that sold for about 150 buckeroos, for god’s sake, but muchacho Phil and his compadre Geoff Gaherty, another observer whose opinion I listen to, insisted this was one hot little scope. And there was that Anacortes gift certificate, and Anacortes just happened to be an Orion dealer…

I was favorably impressed by the StarBlast from the moment I found its box sitting on Chaos Manor South’s front porch one afternoon. The first thing that impressed (and surprised me) was the size of the box the tiny scope shipped in. It seemed danged near big enough for a refrigerator as I lugged it into the front hall. Well, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration, but, nevertheless, the scope does come in a sizeable container, which is necessitated by the fact it comes fully assembled. Yep, that’s right, pards, NO cotton-picking assembly at all. Or not much anyhow. All I had to do was open the box, pull the scope out, remove the OTA from its simple tube ring via a single bolt (which is, alas, not a captive one), peel-off the tube’s protective paper wrap, replace the scope in the tube ring, attach the finder, and—ROCK AND ROLL.

With my new ward sitting before me in all her brand-spankin’ glory, what did I think? GREEN. Synta used and still uses a shade of paint that at first blush looks to be somewhere between puke and apple green. Luckily, after you get used to it, it’s kinda purty. Once I’d focused my old peepers and turned on some lights, it took on more of a blue-green than pukified aspect. In daylight, the paint reveals its rather elegant metal flake character. Why do I go on about this? ‘Cause some dudes and dudettes are sure there are only two appropriate colors for a scope tube: black or white. They even scoff at the hallowed Celestron Orange. If you are one of these folks, yes, the slightly gaudy appearance of the SB will throw you for a loop at first. Just remember, friends, like cats, all telescopes are black in the dark.

The rest of the scope, namely the SB’s little mount, was as simple as simple could be. The single-arm Dob mutation is obviously made of particle board, but it is covered with plastic laminate and plastic trim that furnish both attractiveness and protection. There’s a small metal eyepiece rack screwed to the side that will accommodate three 1.25-inch oculars, and the whole shebang rides on a triangular baseboard. One of the best things about the StarBlast’s mount is the "handle" cutout seen in the image, which makes it easy to grab-n’-go with this grab-‘n-go, which, at 13-pounds, is a mite heavier than it looks. Finally, there is a multi-color, slightly psychedelic sticker pasted to the mount that is, depending on your perspective, “yucky” or “cute.”

What did I reckon the bottom line was quality-wise on this less than 200 dollar scope (currently $179.95)? Yeah, there was plastic. How could there not be at this price-point? The StarBlast has got its share, including the focuser and tube end rings, but Little Sister is sturdy where it counts, and has got a decent primary cell and a real, adjustable spider/secondary support (which requires an Allen wrench for collimation as is the case with most Chinese OTAs). The 1.25-inch rack and pinion focuser, despite its plastic body (the rack and drawtube are metal), works better than Synta’s earlier units, even those found on considerably more expensive telescopes. This rack and pinion job is most assuredly far better than the cheesy rubber-roller focuser of the Edmund Astroscan. Yeah, mine did have a liberal dollop of that infamous Chinese “glue grease” on the rack and the pinion gear (is this stuff really made from ground-up weasels?), but, despite that, the action was smooth without much wobble or shift. The focuser easily supports a TeleVue 22mm Panoptic or even my 13mm Ethos.

The most important thing when we are talkin’ “Dobsonian”? Maybe even more important than optics? How well the scope moves. Without the signature “buttery” altitude and azimuth motions, you really do not have a Dob. In fact, you do not have much of anything. The StarBlast’s altitude motion was elegantly smooth thanks to a bearing-race. In addition to ball bearings, the altitude axis sports a tension-adjustment knob that virtually eliminates balance problems, and is far more effective than the spring arrangements found on some import Dobbies. Dyed-in-the-wool Dobsonianites may scoff at adding a ball-bearing setup for the altitude axis, but it works and eliminates the need for large altitude bearings to help achieve balance. It also makes it possible to use a single-arm mount. How about the scope’s azimuth axis? Not so hotsky. Smooth, but way too stiff. Something would have to be done if the scope were to be used for serious observing.

What else was in that big box besides the telescope? An OK instruction book. To be frank, I have never, ever seen a really good telescope manual. I reckon nobody producing scopes wants to hire a real tech-writer to do the job, so somebody/anybody puts the book together at the last minute. The result, especially with imports, is a heapin’ helpin’ of nonsense. I will say the SB’s manual is better than most, and that is a Good Thing, since it is gonna be read by a lot of novices and young folks.

The only major down-check I gave the manual was for its collimation section, and, specifically, the part about primary mirror adjustment. Mirror adjustment is via three screws just like normal. But in addition to those three screws, there are three locking bolts that must be loosened for adjustment and retightened when you are done. The anonymous writer forgot to explain that tightening the locks will change collimation slightly. The three bolts must be tightened carefully and sequentially to maintain that hard-won collimation. Those of us who have used push-pull type mirror cells won’t be bothered, but a novice/child will be.

Obviously, an f/4 telescope needs to be close to perfect collimation if it is to really strut its stuff. In fact, poor collimation is the main reason Edmund’s Astroscan, formerly the premier occupant of the cheapie rich-field-grab-n’-go reflector category, doesn’t often do well much over 20x. If the Astroscan comes from the factory collimated, it don’t stay that way forever. The kicker? The Astroscan is, unfortunately, not user collimatable. The StarBlast, on the other hand, is easily aligned by anyone marginally familiar with the procedure.

Some folks will tell you the need for collimation makes the scope--or any Newtonian--a poor choice for a youngun’. Au contraire, mon frere. At age 10 I was able to easily collimate my 3-inch Tasco, despite having learned the task out of a book. It might not be a bad idea for an adult to do the StarBlast’s collimation the first time, but this is not a major stumbling block for youth/novice SB owners. Course, to do a precise collimation you are gonna need a tool of some kind. Also found in that enormous StarBlast box is one of them little collimation “caps,” an inexpensive plastic Cheshire substitute. Worked fine for tweaking-in the scope’s optical alignment, which was only a little off outa the box.

The Chinese astro-factories are spitting out eyepieces by the containership-load, decent eyepieces. It’s no longer surprising that the average imported 8-inch reflector comes equipped with not one, but two, or even three oculars. I was still surprised, howsomeever, to fish two eyepieces out of the StarBlast’s packaging. How can they afford to do that for this price? Volume, volume, volume, I reckon. What I found in a plastic baggie (no boxes nor pill-bottles) was two of Orion’s “Explorer II” series oculars. Back in the 1980s, Explorers were Kellners and Orthoscopics, and that is what they appear to still be, a 17-mm and a 6-mm, respectively. They work as well as these relatively simple designs can in such a fast optical system. Which means novices will be fine with ‘em and you and me will want something better. Mine wound up in the hands of a deserving but resource-challenged fellow amateur.

Yeah, this is a 4.5-inch f/4 telescope, which means the 17-mm ocular delivers about 24x and a generous swath of sky even with its 40 degree-or-so apparent field. Nevertheless, sighting along the tube to find stuff is neither elegant nor enjoyable. You gotta have a finder of some kind, even if it’s just a minimalist red dot job, which is what Orion gives you. The SB is equipped with the zero-power red dot “EZ Finder II,” an LED BB gun style sight, which is affixed to the OTA via a plastic single-stalk mount. It’s easy to adjust and holds that adjustment well. Only problem with it is that, like many inexpensive “unity finders” of this type, the little window on which the red dot is projected is rather darkly tinted, making it hard to see dimmer stars through it. Do you need to replace the finder? You can, but I haven’t despite four years of heavy use.

Since there ain’t no go-to here, Jane Novice is gonna need star charts to find the purty stuff for her StarBlast. What if she don’t got no star atlas? Orion, god bless ‘em, thought of that too. There’s one last thing in the box, a CD ROM containing a basic edition of the Starry Night planetarium software. When I bought my SB in 2004, I got the bottom-of-the-line version of TheSky with it, but Starry Night is good too, and has enough stars in its database to make star-hopping easy and enough deep sky objects to keep tyros more than satisfied for quite a while. Don’t wanna mess with a laptop outside? The program prints good, legible hard copy. The CD’s inclusion in the package ain’t no gimmick nor frill, neither, as even this basic version of the program gives newbies access to charts that go considerably deeper than the 6th magnitude print atlases many of ‘em mistakenly buy the first time out. It’s like this: under a deep sky, as I quickly found out, this 4.5-inch f/4 is surprisingly powerful and capable of going way deep if it’s got the charts to allow you to navigate to the many wonders it can show.

But before your Dear Old Uncle could find out exactly what a powerhouse the StarBlast might be, there was one overriding need: a way to mount the scope at a convenient height. Even when pointed at the zenith, the StarBlast’s eyepiece is all of 22-inches off the ground. Tables and barstools are workable—or at least bearable—solutions, but you will want something that’s better than that if the scope is to really show what it can do. Orion’s take on this? They have asserted that the scope can be used “on the ground,” just like a full-grown Dobsonian. One look at the little feller shows that is an insanely silly idea. The tiny mount places the eyepiece far too low for even a three-year-old child. Might be nice for GI Joe and his gal pal Barbie, but that’s it. That made two problems I needed to address before I could use the scope profitably. In addition to working up some kind of a “StarBlast stand,” I needed to troubleshoot the sticky azimuth motion.

What did I do about my SB issues? I don’t mind tinkering with telescopes on occasion, but I know it is almost always a better idea to take my Action Items scope-wise to Pat. He’s an expert ATM, and actually enjoys—don’t ask me why—helping Unk overcome his occasional scope hiccups. An added inducement for toting the scope to Pat’s across Mobile Bay in the wilds of Fairhope, Alabama was that I’d be able to take first light with this wide field baby under decently dark (if not perfect) skies rather than in my light pollution hell of a backyard.

When the clouds that covered the sky for a week following with the arrival of the new scope (natch) finally dispersed, and I got over to Pat’s, he was rather impressed by the StarBlast, but, like me, thought the azimuth motion “wasn’t right.” Disassembling the mount by the simple expedient of removing the pivot bolt’s locknut, revealed the ground-board needed some shims at the pivot. Pat added a washer he cut from heavy paper and, voila! What an improvement. Houston, we have BUTTERY. Why didn't Synta/Orion add some shims to make the azimuth motion nice? Don’ ask me. ‘Tain’t rocket science.

I’d been ruminating on the StarBlast Stand problem and had a few ideas, most of which centered around adapting a wooden EQ1 tripod to the SB somehow, someway, but I’m all thumbs and liable to lose those thumbs to the hammer any time I look cross-eyed at a piece of lumber, so I was more than happy to put things in my friend’s capable hands.

Pat didn’t think too much of the EQ1 tripod idea, and proposed, instead, that we do a stand like one he had done for his own small rich field reflector. A few pieces of inexpensive lumber from Lowes, a lot of sawing and hammering accompanied by only a few cuss words (most of them mine), and, in three hours, we had a platform for the scope that was not just effective, but attractive. The finished product resembled a speaker's podium, but with a flat triangular top of the same dimensions as the StarBlast’s ground board and furnished with three shallow, partially drilled holes to accept the SB’s ground-board’s three rubber composition feet. The resulting StarBlast Stand is light, rides nicely in the backseat of my Toyota, and is sufficiently steady on most surfaces.

Azimuth problem cured and StarBlast Stand done, we hauled Little Sister down to Pat's StarGate Observatory and waited for dark. At twilight, I noticed Jupiter just about to sink below an obstacle and aimed the StarBlast thataway. I was mucho pleased with my First Light Object. Though the collimation was not dead-on and seeing was not great, at the 135x provided by a 6mm eyepiece and a 2x Barlow I could see considerably more detail with greater ease than what I usually saw in the Short Tube 80. Old Jove was for sure much better than I’ve seen him in any Edmund Astroscan. Based on Jupiter’s appearance and what I could make out from a star test on a night of mostly punk seein’, the StarBlast’s parabolic f/4 primary was, I thought, pretty well-figured.

And what did I do for eyepieces, since I’d dispensed with the Explorers? I’ve used everything from Naglers to Ethoses to good effect with the StarBlast, but what I used at First Light, and what I use often with the scope is my set of Synta Expanse eyepieces (sold by Orion, Adorama, and others over the years). Their 66-degree AFOV complements the scope’s expansive true field and the their inexpensive nature seems more in keeping with the StarBlast “concept” than an Ethos, which costs about four times what the pea-picking scope does. How’s the field edge in the Expanses? Let’s face it; at f/4 you will need a coma corrector if you want Real Good. If you’ve got one on-hand, feel free to use it. If you don’t? Eyepiece fields looked nice with the 15-mm, 9-mm, and 6-mm Expanses running barefoot. The 20-mm? Bearable, but getting ugly much away from the field center. That’s OK, as, given the short focal length of the scope, I don’t often need longer than 15-mm (27x), especially from my light polluted digs in The Swamp.

After I’d stared at King Jupe for a while, I looked up from the Expanse and noted Vega was winking on in the east, so I put it in the field of the SB, upped the mag with my Shorty Barlow, and gave the red dot finder a good alignment. I also fine-tuned the primary mirror’s collimation by looking at Vega’s just out of focus diffraction pattern, tweaking till we was right on. Didn’t take much tweaking, but I wanted the scope’s optical alignment to be as close to perfect as I could get it. Again, precise collimation is critical for good image quality in this f/4 Newtonian if you expect to use magnifications much over 100x. By the time I’d finished fiddle-fooling with collimation, astronomical twilight had arrived and there was no time to waste. There’d be little more than an hour before a fat near-full Moon rose. Why in the HELL does clear weather always coincide with the Full Moon? Is there some kinda of mechanism the bright boys don’t know about? Or is your Uncle just natcherly unlucky?

One of the reasons I wanted a something better than the Short Tube, was that I longed for a grab-n’-go that would be capable of at least partially resolving brighter globular star clusters. With the exceptions of M22 and Omega Centauri, the 80 f/5 had a real a hard time with that. At high power, M13 looked grainy in the 80, as if it wanted to resolve, but even with averted vision I’ll be danged if I was ever sure I was seeing cluster stars. Despite its fame, M13 is not an easy nut to crack for a small scope—it’s too compressed. So I was awful curious to see what the StarBlast would do with the Northern King of the Clusters. At 68x with the 6mm Expanse, M13 displayed that same grainy almost-resolved look as in the ST80. Shucks. B-U-T…upping the power to 136x with the Barlow put this ol’ boy in heaven. No, M13 was not resolved “to the core,” but there were plenty of stars visible around the edges.

Howsabout my udder fave, M5? Slewed Little Sister thataway, and there it was in the 15-mm. I'm not a huge fan of red-dot finders like the EZ Finder II; unlike the Telrad, they don’t seem very precise to me. But the EZ Finder does, I’ll admit, become highly effective when coupled with the SB’s ultra wide fields. This is one of the things that makes the StarBlast such a nice scope for the newbies: all you gotta do is get that dot somewhere in the neighborhood of your target, and, given dark skies, there it will be. Like shootin’ proverbial fish in the barrel.

Anyhoo, yes, M5 was spectacular, showing considerably more resolution than M13. From there, I visited as many old friends as I could think of. Given the limitations inherent in 4-inches of aperture, Little Sister did a laudable job on ‘em all. After which, Bubba Pat and me decided to take a quick break to cool off (the temperature was still in the mid 80s a couple of hours after dark), get something to drink, and escape the mosquito flocks for a few minutes. After a little while, though, the enervated Unk crowed, "Let's go get the Veil!"

‘Twas not to be. We stepped into the backyard to a Moon already lightin’ up the eastern horizon. I did come back to that luminous supernova remnant on another summer night at Pat’s observatory, and it was worth the wait, pardners—and how. You know, despite my many years of deep sky observing, I don’t think I had ever really seen the whole Veil Loop, both the Eastern and Western portions in one eyepiece field. One look at the area with the StarBlast with the 15-mm eyepiece and a Lumicon OIII filter and I decided I had in fact never really seen the Veil at all before. There it was, spread before me amongst a welter of stars. Filmy uneven arcs surrounding ghostly stuff filling the middle like a dadgummed Krispy Kreme donut. I thought and still think the StarBlast was well worth its price for just that one view that one time.

Sometimes you get a scope, use it a lot for a while, and then move on. That is something that has most assuredly not happened with my StarBlast. Not only do I still use it four years down the road, I use it a lot; if it weren’t for it, I would do relatively little observing in the summertime. The SB is stationed by Chaos Manor South’s backdoor along with a copy of Skypub’s Pocket Sky Atlas and a box of Expanse eyepieces. These simple and humble things don’t just encourage me to get out when it’s hot, hazy, and partly cloudy, they make me want to. I know for certain that I’d have missed seeing scads of the little minor comets that fly through our skies every year without the SB. I will not drag a big CAT out a 3am to see a 7th magnitude fuzzball. But I will get up and run outside for a quick look with Little Sister.

“But Uncle Rod, but Uncle Rod,” you say, “Orion is now offering a 6-inch StarBlast. Wouldn’t that be better?” Not for me it wouldn’t. I had the chance to see one in action Down Chiefland Way last year. It is nothing more than an upsized 4-inch; otherwise it is identical to Little Sister in every way. Unfortunately, what is great with the 4-inch is not so great with the 6. It’s noticeably heavier at 23-pounds (big downcheck for me), has a decidedly narrower field (f/5, 750-mm), and will require a considerably sturdier stand than what Pat and I cobbled together in an afternoon. Like my colleague, Senior Chief (ret.) James L. Turner, frequently reminded me during my formative years as a young engineer: “Son, never forget: The Only Enemy of Good Enough is More Better.”

And so it is. The StarBlast is not perfect, but it is perfect for what I do with it and want to do with it and why would I want anything more than that?

Hi, Uncle Rod,

I really enjoyed reading this post. Plus you answered a question I wanted to ask you. I have a StarBlast 4.5; haven't used it much for various and sundry reasons. The question you answered concerned the StarBlast 6. In your book about Urban Observing and comments in other places, you said that a big aperture is better for urban observing so I had been thinking I could get a 6" fairly inexpensively by getting the StarBlast 6. Your comments have shown me that isn't necessarily a good idea. I cannot lift or carry anything heavy so the largest aperture OTA I have is the 4" StarBlast. From your post, that should do me well in my very light (and tree) polluted back yard. Thanks for posting it.

The other posts are also interesting and informative. I've already bookmarked your blog.
Hi Uncle Rod,

First time that I have read your review on the starblast, I was wondering what is your opinion on the Starblast on the EQ-1 mount. Is it stable enough to enjoy the views? I am really torn on what to buy as my first scope since my budget is very limited. I am choosing between Starblast dob and Starblast Eq (not much difference in price in my country). If I buy the dob version, I would need to buy -at an additional cost, better eyepieces (Expanse is what I want to go for). But the Eq version already has the Expanse eyepieces, but I am afraid that the mount won't be stable enough... Hoping for your opinion. Many thanks in advance and enjoy the rest of your day!

P.S. Sorry for the bad grammar, English is not my native language :D
I prefer the Dob version, but with this light, short focal length scope, the GEM mount should be more than sufficient.
Hey Rod,

Just found this review - I've been asked to recommend a scope for my local library to give as a prize in their summer reading program next year - the Starblast 4.5 is right where they want to spend. Do you still use it? How has it held up?
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