Meade StarPro 102AZ Refractor Review: Almost Genius
StarPro 102AZ could have been genius if not for its minor issues.
Here are the reasons why StarPro 102AZ is one of the best telescopes to start out with astronomy.
Firstly, the optics are powerful enough to provide some exciting images, and they don’t require maintenance.
Secondly, the build quality is pretty good. Although a little shaky, the mount is one of the bests I’ve seen on a refractor. The same cannot be said about the tripod, which I’ve talked about in the mount section.
The mount is great, the tripod is not.
Thirdly, the focuser is 2″ instead of 1.25″. If you don’t know what this means, it means that you will be able to use better eyepieces with your telescope.
Using StarPro 102 is effortless.
Lastly, and the most important one for a beginner, this telescope doesn’t require effort. It is easy to assemble, carry around and use. If you purchase a Dobsonian for example, you will get much better optics, but the telescope will be so heavy you will hesitate to use it. A tabletop will require regular collimation and the optics will get dusty. A refractor doesn’t suffer from any of these problems.
Overall, StarPro 102AZ Refractor is just great. There are a few weaknesses with this telescope that we will talk about in the review. But I am sure that StarPro 102AZ would please anyone from the ultimate beginner to the master astronomer.
Before we start the optical review, I have to talk about the elephant in the room. Meade’s marketing department screwed up big time with StarPro 102AZ’s specs. Although this telescope “officially” has a 660mm optical tube, the real optical tube that comes with the package is 600mm. Is this an important detail? No. Is this a foolish mistake by Meade? Yes.
Meade screwed up big time.
The optics have all-round performance.
StarPro 102AZ has a 102mm aperture and a 600mm optical tube. In short, this is a short refractor that will provide a wide-field view. You will get an all-round performance with these optics. You will be able to get views of Galilean Moon’s of Jupiter, The Great Red Spot, Polar Ice Caps on Mars, Rings of Saturn and its largest moon, Titan.
The Lunar surface will show a mesmerizing amount of detail. Since this is a short refractor, you will get some chromatic aberration, which is a colorful halo around bright objects. For some, this is a deal-breaker, and for some, it is not noticeable. A Dobsonian reflector or a tabletop reflector doesn’t suffer from this.
Chromatic aberration is a problem.
Deep space performance is pretty good, as well. Brighter Messier objects such as the Pleiades, Orion, Hercules and Andromeda look sharp and bright.
Overall the optics of StarPro 102AZ are impressive considering its price. It is able to compete with tabletop reflectors such as Z130 and StarBlast 4.5, which says a lot. The chromatic aberration problem is not solvable with any kind of filter or eyepiece. So keep in mind that you will inescapably have color defects around bright images with this scope.
StarPro 102AZ’s sibling Infinity 102 suffered from a serious balance problem with the mount. Meade tried to solve this problem with the StarPro series, and they got close to solving it.
The mount is definitely not rock-solid or butter smooth. Only Dobsonians and tabletops have mounts that are perfect in every way. But the mount is a vast improvement over any mount I’ve seen that comes attached to a tripod.
The most important factor is the decrease in the number of plastic parts. Don’t get me wrong; the mount is plastic. But the number of parts are reduced greatly, and this increases stability and smoothness in motions. The optical tube is attached to the tripod with a singular part, and the attachments are supported by sturdy slow-mo knobs. Speaking of which, slow-motion controls work properly and don’t bring up any complaints.
The main problem with the base is the tripod. It is flimsy for a 102mm telescope, and it is particularly short. This is a huge disappointment. If Meade supplied a sturdy and long tripod with the StarPro 102AZ, it would be the perfect refractor.
The tripod is too short.
Overall the base of StarPro 102AZ is has a great mount attached to a below-average tripod. The tripod is not a deal-breaker, but it should have been a better one.
The accessories are the same as the ones that come with every other budget refractor in the market except the 2″ focuser. The eyepieces have 6.3mm(96x), 9mm(67x), and 26mm(23x) apertures, and they are Kellner’s. They are at the “usable” side of the eyepieces spectrum. The 6.3mm eyepiece is too much power for this scope, and the eye-relief is too short. But the 9mm and 26mm eyepiece work well.
The 2″ focuser is an important part of the optical tube. As you might guess, it will work with larger eyepieces that have wider field views. This is a great advantage with deep space objects, and will overall provide a better viewing experience. And it is made of mostly metal instead of plastic.
The red dot finder is the simplest finder you can get. It just projects a red dot on a screen. It is a matter of preference, but I think it is much better than any scope type finder. It does its job properly, is easy to use, and cheap.
The diagonal that comes with the telescope is slightly disappointing. It is a plastic amici. It lowers the image quality by creating a spike in the middle and lowering the brightness. It also adds slight astigmatism. It would be the first accessory I would change with a better one.
The 2x Barlow is unnecessary. It only provides a decent image with the 26mm eyepiece by providing a 46x power. But for higher magnification images you can already use the 9mm eyepiece.
Overall there is nothing surprising about the accessories other than the 2″ focuser. They are of below-average quality and will serve you well in the beginning.
The tripod is the most disappointing part of this scope. It is not as sturdy as you want it to be, and it is shorter than most tripods.
The chromatic aberration is an unsolvable problem.
The diagonal is of low-quality, and the Barlow lens is unnecessary.
StarPro 102AZ naturally has its weaknesses, but it is among the best refractors I’ve seen. Do not forget that this is a beginner refractor. Therefore you won’t get the “perfect package”. What you will get is great optics for the price, a mount that is better than most, and a metal optical tube.
StarPro 102AZ is the best short refractor in its price range.