Telescope Review: Orion StarMax 127

Telescope: Orion StarMax 127
Type: Catadioptric
Description: 127mm f/12 Maksutov-Cassegrain, 6x26mm finder, 25mm Plossl eyepiece, $949 CAD
Setup: I picked up this super compact scope to replace my bulky 10 inch Dob. The StarMax comes on a sturdy EQ-3 mount. I actually purchased the Apex 127 - which is without a mount. I first mounted to an EQ-2, but that proved too weak, so I later upgraded it to an EQ-4. My review will deal with it's performance on the EQ-4 mount. The scope also came with a decent 25mm Sirius Plossl eyepiece, and I augmented it with the addition of a 17mm and 32mm Sirius Plossls. I rounded out the eyepiece setup with an Antares 2x APO Barlow.
Appearance: The StarMax is one very well built scope. The entire OTA is made out of metal, with the multicoatings very evident on the quality meniscus lens. The visual back is custom threaded (SCT accessories won't work on it without an adapter) and it only accommodates 1.25 inch equipment. Since the pass through hole in the primary mirror is only 26mm, that makes sense. The focusing knob is covered in a rubber boot, and is nice & tight. The finder slots into place with a dovetail shoe - although I replaced the 6x26mm finder with a red dot finder instead. Like most Maksutovs, this thing is built like a tank. I'd rate the appearance of this scope as very good, and the construction as excellent. I cannot rate the mount, as I never used the supplied Orion EQ-3 mount.
Performance: To sum it up, this scope is superb. The views are tack sharp, and it works tremendously well on the bright stuff like the Moon, planets and double stars. Star images are super tight pin points, and planetary detail is easily seen. I had a chance to compare the views directly with an 8 inch SCT and an 8 inch Dob on one fine winter evening, and the StarMax easily held it's own. Jupiter showed it's (somewhat) Great Red Spot, as well as festoons and white spots on the bands. Saturn showed the Cassini Division. Overall, the views surpassed what I expected from a 5 inch scope. Deep sky views are on par for a scope this size - M13 shows as a granular sphere, with some of the edge stars resolving with direct vision. With averted vision, the view is very similar to an 8 inch scope, but much dimmer. The large secondary does take some of the contrast away, and this makes resolving really fine detail tougher than it would in a similarly sized APO refractor. The star test showed this unit was slightly under corrected, but the images were tight, with no signs of astigmatism or coma. The colour on the stars was awesome - Alberio showed excellent colour contrast. The focusing on this scope is what really sets it apart - it's very tight and there's no slop or shift in the image during focusing. Under very cold conditions, the focusing mechanism can slip a bit, but it's only at low altitudes. Overall, the operation of the scope was very good. Another nice thing about the StarMax is that it's very portable - the entire rig fit easily into the trunk of my small sedan, with room left over for a folding chair, laptop and even a camping table.
  • Very sharp optics
  • Ultra portable package that gives you more aperture than most travel scopes
  • Orion's sales and service are top notch
  • EQ-4 mount is very sturdy and holds the StarMax with authority
  • High quality Plossl eyepiece is included
  • Very good value for the money
  • Cool down can be lengthy (30-60 minutes)
  • Narrow field of view limits maximum AFOV to just over one degree
Conclusions: Overall, this scope is excellent. For those that can't afford an APO, this is (in my opinion) a very good alternative that will give you razor sharp views for a fraction of the price. This scope specializes in planetary, lunar and stellar views. 
The bottom line? Recommended (Tack sharp optics in an affordable, portable package).
Reviewer: Rick Towns
Review Date: 3/6/2003