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Review of Orion Telescopes
Reviewed by William Georgevich, Chief Astronomer
Orion Telescopes has through its 30+ year history established itself as the preeminent source for amateur astronomers whether it's telescopes, binoculars, telescope accessories or lenses for your telescope.
They achieved this position in the marketplace with a number of innovations.
First, like small Mom and Pop shops they assume that there are a lot of first buyers. Mom or Dad buying a telescope for their kids or Grandpa getting one for a grandkid. I was introduced to astronomy at age 7 when my Sunday school teacher brought the industry-standard small telescope of the 1950's to my backyard - the 60 mm refracting telescope - a telescope still found in department stortes to this day. But really only decent for looking at bright double stars, the moon, and planets.
Despite the frustration I had and the early abandonment of that instrument for telescopes that could deliver a brighter, lower power image, I managed to survive my "400 power refractor" and became an astronomer when I grew up anyway.
Orion Telescopes has taken the guess-work out of finding a suitable piece of "telescope furniture" by spending copius amounts of their catalog space discussing different types of telescopes and then as you matriculate though the pages into larger and larger more expensive instruments they rate what you can expect.
This rating tells you 2 important things:
1. What an image would look like. They chose the great M13 globular cluster in Hercules to demonstrate brightness and resolving power of various sizes of telescopes. Small refractors and reflectors have a blurry, non-distinct image of the Hercules whereas large refractors and reflectors have a brighter, more clear picture. Having observed M13 for over 50 years, I can see that those picture approximations accurately portray your observing experience.
2. User level. Telescopes are rated beginner, intermediate and advanced. Some of this is obviously marketing poised to get you excited about purchasing the most expensive instrument you can afford. But if you call them, the sales people will be honest with you about how to spend your telescope dollars.
The Orion Telescope catalog, in addition to containing the premier brands like Celestron and Meade also have developed their own generic house brand of various telescopes and binoculars. The Orion brand of telescope or binocular like anything generic is often produced by the same big companies. So like generic drugs what is the difference?
We have noticed that when it comes to large astronomical binoculars there is little difference since the major companies like Celestron and Mead get their binoculars from all the same offshore manufacturers. So in those cases there is very little difference since Orion will not put its name on a pair of binox that yields a truly inferior viewing experience and cause the customer to return th merchandise.
On the other hand generic telescopes and especially their mounts, motors, and tracking devices can vary in quality since a generic is not built to the same standard of quality. Generic Orion products should be compared carefully to major brands on accuracy of mirror curvature, stability of mounts, and overall fit and finish.
A Summary of the Orion Product Line
Overall, I would say as a science educator for over 40 years, that a large investment in an instrument of over $3,000 should be looked at in person and "touched" first either in a retail store or most ideally, experienced in the dark with a friend at a star party. Orion attempts to share with you what your observing experience will be at night under actual dark sky conditions, but nothing can rival actually star testing the instrument yourself. Ergonomics is key here and you don't want ot find yourself practicing "Macho Astronomy" because you purchased a telescope unseen out of a catalog.
That said, Orion does provide for a generous 30 day return policy. Just remember that mirrors, lenses, and eyepieces are precision pieces of equipment that can be scratched, dented, or damaged very easily — especially if your fumbling around in the dark.
The other accollade for the Orion company is that they have done a good job providing the novice observer with a healthy combination of direct light viewing experiences in the eyepiece along with the more high tech and fashionable CDD imaging systems that allow you to take quick and easy photographs of celestial objects, guided under high exposure. Orion balances these two worlds quite nicely. They provide large trussed dobonian telescopes that set up quickly for the casual observer, along with clock-driven equatorial mounted instruments that allow time-exposures that can last for hours.