Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ is a great refractor with a slightly unstable mount. The only major downside is the price.
Celestron and Meade’s famous rivalry comes to a showdown between Meade Infinity 102 and Celestron AstroMaster 102. Meade chose to lower the price significantly by shortening the optical tube. In contrast, Celestron chose to go with a high-priced, long optical tube telescope.
So which one is better? (You can read the conclusion without going into details.)
The most important aspect of the optical design is the focal ratio of f/6.5, which is created by the 660mm optical tube.
It definitely makes a huge difference to have a longer optical tube with refractors since it relieves them from their fundamental problem: chromatic aberrations. The light that is coming inside the lens has a lower angle; therefore, it is diffracted much less. The result is a color-accurate, sharp image.
Thanks to the long optical tube, AstroMaster 102AZ is able to provide incredibly detailed Solar System visuals. Jupiter’s cloud storms, The Great Red Spot, and 4 Galilean Moon’s are easily noticeable. Rings of Saturn are distinguishable from the planet, and Titan is visible with a good eyepiece. You can also see the polar ice caps on Mars, but again, with a good eyepiece such as a Plössl.
The Moon looks amazing with most telescopes. With the AstroMaster 102AZ, I can say it looks spectacular.
You can catch a glimpse of most, bright deep space objects such as the Pleiades Star Cluster, Orion Nebula, and Andromeda Galaxy. Deep space performance of this telescope is pretty good, though not as good as a 6” Dobsonian.
The mount is the weakest part of this telescope. It is mostly plastic, with some important parts being made of metal. Don’t get me wrong. The mount can handle an f/6.5 refractor. But I wouldn’t mind a more stable mount.
AstroMaster 102AZ comes with 10mm(66x) and 20mm(33x) Kellner eyepieces. They are the same as what comes with most other beginner telescopes. They are absolutely fine for the beginning, but for this telescope, a better eyepiece would improve the image quality by a lot.
The red dot finder works fine. It doesn’t bring up any complaints.
The diagonal that comes with the telescope lower the image quality. It is usable for terrestrial viewing.
The only drawback is the price. AstroMaster 102AZ costs a lot higher than Meade Infinity 102.
The question is: “Is the longer optical tube worth the higher price?”. Well, it depends on your financial circumstances. If you barely saved up some money to buy a decent telescope, you should definitely go or Meade Infinity 102. It provides a lot more value per dollar.
If you have the extra 60-70$ to burn, you should go for AstroMaster 102AZ. The longer optical tube is worth the extra cost in refractors.
Keep in mind, a Dobsonian would provide the best value at this price range. But they are much less portable.
In-Depth Review and Technical Specifications
Is a 102mm refractor worth almost 300$? The short answer is no. A tabletop reflector or a Dobsonian would provide much better images. But some people like the convenience of a tripod. They also don’t want to worry about collimation. In addition, refractors suffer much less from the effects of light pollution and the atmosphere.
So if you look at the long answer, yes, a 102mm refractor can be worth 300$.
The f/6.5 focal ratio is not in some specific area, and that is what makes it optimal for beginners. It is not specifically for Deep Space objects or planetary detail. It can provide decently in both areas.
Refractors around f/6-7 focal ratios are able to reduce chromatic aberrations quite a bit. Of course, a longer optical tube is always better. But if the mount is not able to sustain it, then there is no need to increase the length of the optical tube. This is the case with most refractors at this price range.
As I’ve said before, most details in the Solar System are easily visible with the AstroMaster 102AZ. As long as you are below the 500$ range, most telescopes show the same details. What makes a difference is the sharpness and brightness of these images. AstroMaster 102AZ performs pretty well in both areas.
Some people buy a telescope specifically for viewing the Moon. This telescope is one of the best models you can find for viewing the Lunar Surface. The amount of detail you can see is mesmerizing.
The plastic mount is definitely a downside. But I didn’t include it in the Drawbacks section because there is no other choice with refractors at this price range. As soon as you start to use some material other than plastic, the price of the telescope jumps drastically. So we are OK with a plastic altazimuth mount. It provides just enough stability for this telescope.
The accessories can be summed in one word: average. The 10mm(66x) and 20mm(33x) Kellner eyepieces are what comes with most other beginner telescopes. The red dot finder can be found in almost all popular telescopes models. The erect diagonal is included to view the Earth with most models.
What makes us happy is the fact that there is no money spent on some “marketing scam”, useless eyepieces that are only there to write some high magnification number on the commercials.
The mount could have been better, but you can’t expect much else at this price range.
The accessories are average at best, but again, you can’t get anything better at this price range.
Could the price have been lower? In my humble opinion, yes. Is it a huge problem? No. Celestron probably increased the price by 20-30$ in hopes of using their brand name to make some profit, but the longer optical tube provides a major advantage over its competitors.
To conclude, Celestron AstroMaster 102AZ is one of the best beginner models. Of course, a Dobsonian provides a better image. But they are harder to carry around and require regular collimation. The AstroMaster 102AZ is a grab-and-go, and there is no maintenance required at all, and it is able to provide fantastic images. As a result, it is strongly recommended for beginners.