Orion StarMax 90 Review: Masterful Engineering
Telescopes such as StarMax 90 are hard to come by.
Orion StarMax 90 is an excellent telescope for viewing the Moon and major planets such as Saturn and Jupiter. Its optics are perfect for high magnifications. But unfortunately, it comes with a downside.
Orion StarMax 90 is a proper Maksutov, which means it artificially creates a really long optical tube inside a small space. The design is risky but Orion definitely managed to pull it off.
90mm aperture is less than modest, but the image quality is impressive.
It has an f/13.9 focal ratio which means it can go up to high-magnifications easily. Therefore you will get incredibly detailed images such as craters on the Moon, The Great Red Spot, Cassini Division, Saturn’s largest moon Titan, etc. If you are searching for a telescope specifically to view Solar System celestials and the Moon; at this price, there is no better model.
You will need a focal reducer for deep space viewing.
90mm is a small aperture and it is not a good thing. But it surprisingly has an advantage to it. It makes it much easier to make observations in light-polluted areas. So if you are living near a big city this is something to keep in mind.
The small aperture doesn’t mean you can’t get great views of deep space. If the object you are trying to see is bright, such as an open cluster, you are going to get a detailed image of it. This is not the best telescope for scanning deep space, but it still gets quite good images of galaxies, nebulas and star clusters.
The downside is the mount. Don’t get me wrong, it has a solid tabletop design. It provides smooth motion in both the vertical and horizontal axis. The tensioner on the side is pretty useful. If this was a large-aperture Dobsonian the mount would be perfect. But it is not.
The mount simply doesn’t provide enough sensitivity for an f/13.9 telescope. It is not easy to use at high-magnifications, which is what Orion StarMax 90 is supposed to be exceptional at. Although it is usable, we recommend changing it with a good tripod mount in the future.
Turning the optical tube 90-degrees upwards is not possible with this mount.
The accessories are of average quality. The eyepieces are Kellner’s and they are pretty useful. The red dot finder is also pretty simple and easy to use.
We recommend upgrading the finder and the eyepieces with better ones. But they will do the job for the beginning.
The thing that makes Orion StarMax 90 exceptional is the quality of its optics. For this price range, it is almost absurd how much detail it can provide with planets and the Moon. If can you solve the problems with the mount and accessories, this telescope is a steal.
StarMax 90 would have been on top of every recommendation list if not for the mount. The optics are amazing and build quality is top-notch. Combined with the grab-and-go portability it is just a no-brainer. But without a good mount you cannot use the optical tube to its full potential. This the case with Orion StarMax 90.
1250mm Focal Length
The f/13.9 focal ratio is absolutely great for planetary and lunar observation. The amount of detail you can get from such a small scope is ridiculous. The phases of Venus, The Great Red Spot on Jupiter and its 4 Galilean Moon’s, ice caps on Mars, Rings of Saturn, and its largest moon Titan are all easily visible. Craters and mountain ranges on the Moon are all detailed and sharp.
Deep space performance is not bad. The small aperture limits you to brighter deep space objects such as open clusters and bright galaxies. As we’ve said before if the object you are trying to see is exceptionally bright you are going to get a detailed image of it.
The view is fairly narrow for deep space observations.
The narrow field-view makes it a little hard to see deep space objects as a whole. We don’t recommend this telescope for deep-space observation. A Zhumell Z130 would be much better in that area.
The optics are not collimatable. This might seem like a big problem but a Maksutov-Cassegrain optical design won’t need collimation other than extreme cases. Even if you drop your telescope from a high place or hit it with something, the optics won’t get misaligned. Therefore the “not collimatable” aspect actually saves you from dreadful minutes spent on aligning the optics.
The eyepieces that come with the telescope are surprisingly good for this price range. A 25mm(50mm) and a 10mm(125x) Kellner is more than adequate for the beginning. Of course, getting a more expensive eyepiece such as a Plössl would give you a much better observation experience.
Warning: Don’t look at the Sun without a Sun filter.
Doesn’t Support Zenith Observations
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The mount. It is a tabletop altazimuth with a tensioner on the side. It is actually quite useful for wide field-view telescopes. But the Orion SkyScanner 90 is the exact opposite. Its optics are designed for high-magnifications and narrow field-view. Such a design is best compatible with a solid tripod with slow-motion controls. Even an EQ-1 tripod would be sufficient. But unfortunately, Orion doesn’t provide one. We are not saying the mount is unusable, but it would have been a lot better if it was a tripod with slow-motion controls.
Red Dot Finder
The Red Dot Finder is common among budget telescopes. It simply projects a red dot on the sky so you can focus easily on the object you want to see.
The accessories are all cheap choices.
It is not the best finder for this telescope. It is hard to look through it when the telescope is pointing above. A 90-degree finderscope with a little magnification would be much better. But they are more expensive so we don’t judge Orion for making this choice.
Red Dot Finder – 1.25″ Focuser
The focuser is a rack-and-pinion. It is mostly plastic and has a size of 1.25 inches. It is surprisingly smooth and solid. The only problem is when the telescope is pointed to above 70-80 degrees in altitude, the mount gets in the way so cannot adjust the focuser easily. This might be a problem with people who have especially big hands. But this is not a problem created by the focuser, it is rather created by the mount, again.
Obviously the mount is the biggest drawback. Adding to that the red dot finder is really hard to use if you are pointing the telescope to above 50-degrees since you have to bend down. But this is solvable with a good 90-degree finderscope.
The excellent optics make up for all the drawbacks. If you are living near a light-polluted area and yearning to see major planets and the Moon in detail; there is no better grab-and-go telescope you can get at this price. Just be ready to spend more on a good mount and a better finderscope.