The label on the tube says "Orion StarMax," but these Maksutov Cassegrains are Synta through and through. That is, they are made in the Far East by Taiwanese optical giant Synta, Celestron's owner. That is not a bad thing. Unlike some imported MCTs, the telescopes offered by Orion strike a good balance between modest prices and quality. No, they are not Questars, but they are similar in optical quality to them and to the ETXs. In fact, some amateurs like these telescopes better than the ETX or the similar Celestron instrument because of their more standard rear cells. Unlike just about all the lower-priced, smaller-aperture MCTs on the market, the Orions eschew the flip mirror and built-in diagonal. Although they do not feature standard SCT-style rear ports and threads, it is possible to buy adapters that allow the use of at least some SCT accessories with these telescopes.
Orion's current MCT line is somewhat confusing, with at least 10 different models/ configurations currently offered. This includes a bewildering array of mounts and tube colors. A close look, however, reveals that there are five different Synta MCT OTAs for sale: 90, 102, 127, 15, and 180-mm.
The 90 (Plate 30), 102, and 127-mm were the first Maksutovs offered by Orion and are all similar and good. These telescopes, with focal ratios of f/13.9, f/12.7, and f/12.1, respectively, did more than any other MCT to establish Synta in the Mak business. Optically, the only area for which they give ground to the much-loved Meade ETX is in baffling. Place a bright object like the Moon just out of the field, and there is a tad more scattered light visible in the fields of these scopes than in an ETX. Mechanically, the Orions seem a cut above the ETX in build quality. They are basically all metal, with only a little plastic used. Like all the Orion Maks, they move their primary mirrors to focus. The "focus shift" image movement in the field
Plate 30. (StarMax 90mm MCT) A basic 90mm Maksutov Casseg-rain with excellent optics, Orion's StarMax 90. Credit: Image courtesy of Orion Telescopes & Binoculars.
inherent in this is small and is similar to—or a little less than—that found in the ETX or in most Meade and Celestron SCTs.
As for mounting the 90, 102, and 127-mm, there are several options. The least expensive are bare-bones Synta GEM mounts (small EQ-3s for the 90 and 102 and an EQ-4 for the 127-mm) available without motor drives for $320, $430, and $620, respectively, which includes the cost of the OTAs. The 127-mm model is also available on Orion's Skywatcher Pro GEM, a Synta mount that is nearly identical to the Celestron CG5 and that can be equipped with a similar go-to computer system. Be aware that while the HC looks similar to the Celestron NexStar, the software inside it is not quite as advanced.
The 90, 102, and 127-mm can also be purchased "OTA only" and can be placed on any 1 the user desires. The tubes come equipped with Vixen-compatible dovetail rails, but these can be removed and another style mounting bracket substituted, if necessary. The accessories included with these telescopes, whether as OTAs or as mount-scope packages, are few and include a better-than-average 25-mm Plossl eyepiece and a substandard finder. These finder scopes are the one really poor component in these Maks. They are far too small—6 x 20 for the 90 and 6 x 26 for the 102 and 127. Be prepared to replace these useless little things with something better.
The Orion/Synta 150-mm (f/12, 1,800-mm) MCT is a step up from the little guys. The 150 sells for $620, previously an almost-unheard-of price for an MCT OTA in this aperture. Build quality is similar to that of the smaller Orion MCTs, and although the scope is not exactly built like a tank, it has the benefit of being lightweight, at least, weighing in at a piddling (for a Mak) 12 pounds. The finder for the 150 is an 8 x 40 unit, better than finders of the smaller Orions, but still too small.
The king of the MCT hill at Orion is a Synta-made 180-mm MCT (Plate 31). This f/15 (2,700-mm) telescope, like the now-discontinued Meade 7-inch Mak, breaks the MCT price barrier that has kept many amateurs from owning larger than 6-inch Maks. Orion prices the 180 at an astounding $1,200 for the OTA. Not that there are not a few flies in that ointment. The foremost of these is cooldown time. Without some assistance (maybe a fan blowing into the rear port), this "big" MCT, like the Questar 7, may never cool off sufficiently for optimum viewing. If the temperature continues to fall through the evening, even blowing air into the OTA may not help.
Is this a scope to be seriously considered by the prospective CAT owner? It is a "quality" instrument, even if its construction is not quite up to Meade and Celestron standards. Remember, though, this is a very long focal length instrument; make sure that fact fits in with planned observing tasks. Despite the 180's low price when compared to other Maks in this aperture class, a larger-aperture, faster, more versatile
Plate 31. (SkyView Pro 180mm MCT) The largest MCT in the Orion CAT collection, a 180mm. Credit: Image courtesy of Orion Telescopes & Binoculars.
8-inch SCT OTA can be had for about $200 less. The biggest sore thumb with this scope, though, is that, like the smaller Orion MCTs, the dovetail for mounting the tube to a GEM is not attached to the corrector and rear cell; it is screwed right into the thin tube. This arrangement does not hurt the smaller CATs much due to their lighter weights, but it does make the 15.5 pound 180 shakier—on any mount—than it should be.
In addition to an OTA-only option, Orion offers the 180 on go-to and non-go-to versions of its Skyview Pro mount ($2,000 and $1,550) and on the considerably heftier Sirius mount (actually a Synta HEQ-5) for $2,000 for a non-go-to version or $2,350 for a go-to HC-equipped model. The Sirius would be a good choice for the 180. The scope is not much heavier than an SCT, but its tube is somewhat longer, which can stress out a mount every bit as much as weight can. Unfortunately, the poor dovetail attachment system limits how much the excellent Sirius mount can help.
All in all, we continue to be impressed by Synta's MCTs. If you want a Maksutov Cassegrain but cannot afford the high-priced spread represented by Questar, you could do worse. What if you do not live in the United States but want an Orion? Orion does sell some scopes in the United Kingdom and Europe, but nearly identical Synta MCTs badged as Skywatcher are easily available across the United Kingdom and the Continent.
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