How to upgrade a cheap telescope

There are some excellent value telescopes on the market at the moment, largely due to the import of low-priced instruments from China.

Sky-Watcher Startravel 80Bargains include the basic Sky-Watcher line-up and a favourite seems to be the company’s Startravel 80, an 80mm, short-focus (f5) refractor that makes an ideal portable telescope for carrying in the car or on holiday.

The telescope may be bought simply as the optical tube assembly, or with a basic EQ1 equatorial mount with a table-top or full-size tripod. It offers great wide-field views of the sky and you can even use it as a telephoto lens for your SLR camera if you have a T-mount adaptor.

One negative point with the basic Sky-Watchers is that the quality of the accessories is not always that great. The eyepieces supplied, for example, are rather crude. The good news is that you can improve your scope’s perfomance enormously by using quality one-and-a-quarter-inch eyepieces from one of the major companies such as Meade, Celestron or Vixen. You might already have some with another instrument.

It is also worth swapping the supplied star-diagonal (the accessory that turns the light 90 degrees for more comfortable viewing) or the barlow lens that increases the magnification of any eyepiece slotted into it.

If you bought your EQ1 mount with a table-top tripod, you will find that you can unscrew the part that holds the legs and, instead, fit it to the higher-standard photographic tripods.

The photo shows the author’s Startravel 80, with an EQ1 mount, sitting on a Manfrotto tripod. The eyepiece is a 20mm Meade Plossl and the star diagonal is of similar quality. It makes for an excellent portable set-up.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.