How we carry out equipment reviews

Scoring Guide

Here you’ll find the different categories that we use to test and score all of the equipment in the magazine

From a Dobsonian telescope to the humble webcam, you can see exactly how our team of reviewers arrive at their verdicts. Each category is given a score out of five stars and then an average is taken to give an overall score.

Altaz tracking mounts
 
Assembly

What we look for:

How easy is it to assemble? Does it take a long time and is it complicated? Are there lots of parts or a few readily built sections allowing for quick assembly? Are tools required and if so are they provided? How good are the assembly instructions, if any? Does it come pre assembled or with only a few major parts for ease of assembly?

1 star
Little or no instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts and no tools.
2 stars
It comes with reasonable instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts, although some tools are supplied.
3 stars
Good instructions, a reasonable number of parts to assemble and tools are supplied making it easy to assemble.
4 stars
Excellent instructions, few parts to put together, no tools required and quick to assemble.
5 stars
Excellent instructions, it comes fully assembled, all you need to do is add the accessories.

Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Stability

What we look for:

This is how stable any given tripod is with any given mount. We knock the setup and judge while looking through the eyepiece how quickly any vibrations dampen down, or if there are any vibrations at all!

1 star
Terrible tripod, very unstable and wobbly – avoid!
2 stars
Tripod and legs flimsy, but can hold mount, vibrations take many seconds to dampen down.
3 stars
Tripod good and firm with good support legs, vibrations take less than 10 seconds to dampen down.
4 stars
Tripod is sturdy, with strong firm legs, vibrations dampen quickly.
5 stars
Perfect with no vibrations – you’d need a tank to knock it over!

Mount/Tracking accuracy

What we look for:

Assuming the mount has been correctly set up and (for EQ mounts) polar aligned, this category is for equatorial and altaz Go-To complete systems. Assuming the mount has been correctly set up and (for EQ mounts) polar aligned. As this is for complete systems we use the guidance on ‘Go-To accuracy’ as well to assess this category. How long can an object at low and medium magnifications be kept at, or close to, the centre of the view? Is there any periodic error and if so, how bad is it?

1 star
Immediate tracking errors obvious and constant correction required.
2 stars
Poor tracking/Go-To accuracy, with object often placed just out of the field of view.
3 stars
Good tracking/Go-To accuracy, but some adjustments needed to keep objects centred for long periods.
4 stars
Very good tracking/Go-To accuracy with only slight adjustments required.
5 stars
Excellent tracking/Go-To accuracy with no errors present.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Astrographs and imaging telescope tubes (OTAs)
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Imaging quality

What we look for:

Optical aberrations, how easy it is to collimate and tune properties that can affect imaging.

1 star
The scope has a poor build quality, there are many optical aberrations present and it has a poor focuser. It’s also difficult to collimate and has poor cooling properties for planetary imaging.
2 stars
It has a poor build quality, with some aberrations present at the edge of the field. It comes with an adequate focuser and has an acceptable cool down time for planetary imaging.
3 stars
Sturdy construction with an adequate focuser, minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view (fixed with an optional flattener), and good thermal cool down for planetary imaging.
4 stars
The scope has a decent build quality, a good focuser with dual speed capability, and only shows minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view – something that can be fixed with an optional flattener. There’s good illumination for large format sensors and a short cool down time for planetary imaging.
5 stars
A high quality construction, a flat and aberration-free field of view, a fully illuminated image frame suitable for large sensors, excellent dual-speed focuser and assisted cooling – ideal for planetary imaging.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Binoculars including bino scopes
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Eye relief

What we look for:

For eyepieces, this is simply a measure of how good the eye relief is for both spectacle and non spectacle users. How close/far can you be from the eyepiece and yet still see the entire field of view?

1 star
Very poor.
2 stars
Adequate but could do better.
3 stars
The eye relief is good but room for improvement.
4 stars
Very good with only minor improvement possible.
5 stars
Excellent for both spectacle and non spectacle users.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Basic mounts and tripods
 
Assembly

What we look for:

How easy is it to assemble? Does it take a long time and is it complicated? Are there lots of parts or a few readily built sections allowing for quick assembly? Are tools required and if so are they provided? How good are the assembly instructions, if any? Does it come pre assembled or with only a few major parts for ease of assembly?

1 star
Little or no instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts and no tools.
2 stars
It comes with reasonable instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts, although some tools are supplied.
3 stars
Good instructions, a reasonable number of parts to assemble and tools are supplied making it easy to assemble.
4 stars
Excellent instructions, few parts to put together, no tools required and quick to assemble.
5 stars
Excellent instructions, it comes fully assembled, all you need to do is add the accessories.

Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Stability

What we look for:

This is how stable any given tripod is with any given mount. We knock the setup and judge while looking through the eyepiece how quickly any vibrations dampen down, or if there are any vibrations at all!

1 star
Terrible tripod, very unstable and wobbly – avoid!
2 stars
Tripod and legs flimsy, but can hold mount, vibrations take many seconds to dampen down.
3 stars
Tripod good and firm with good support legs, vibrations take less than 10 seconds to dampen down.
4 stars
Tripod is sturdy, with strong firm legs, vibrations dampen quickly.
5 stars
Perfect with no vibrations – you’d need a tank to knock it over!

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Cameras, webcams and CCDs
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Connectivity

What we look for:

It refers to how easy it is to connect them to guiding mounts and other equipment where needed. How many connections does it have and what type are they?

1 star
The product is barely able to do the job and it has non-standard connections.
2 stars
The guide camera has basic connectivity with no cables supplied.
3 stars
The camera has good connectivity. It requires separate power, but not all cables are supplied.
4 stars
It has very good connectivity, requires separate power, but all cables supplied.
5 stars
Excellent connections, USB powered and all of the cables are supplied.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Imaging quality

What we look for:

Optical aberrations, how easy it is to collimate and tune properties that can affect imaging.

1 star
The scope has a poor build quality, there are many optical aberrations present and it has a poor focuser. It’s also difficult to collimate and has poor cooling properties for planetary imaging.
2 stars
It has a poor build quality, with some aberrations present at the edge of the field. It comes with an adequate focuser and has an acceptable cool down time for planetary imaging.
3 stars
Sturdy construction with an adequate focuser, minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view (fixed with an optional flattener), and good thermal cool down for planetary imaging.
4 stars
The scope has a decent build quality, a good focuser with dual speed capability, and only shows minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view – something that can be fixed with an optional flattener. There’s good illumination for large format sensors and a short cool down time for planetary imaging.
5 stars
A high quality construction, a flat and aberration-free field of view, a fully illuminated image frame suitable for large sensors, excellent dual-speed focuser and assisted cooling – ideal for planetary imaging.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Complete Go-To telescopes (scope and mount)
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Mount/Tracking accuracy

What we look for:

Assuming the mount has been correctly set up and (for EQ mounts) polar aligned, this category is for equatorial and altaz Go-To complete systems. Assuming the mount has been correctly set up and (for EQ mounts) polar aligned. As this is for complete systems we use the guidance on ‘Go-To accuracy’ as well to assess this category. How long can an object at low and medium magnifications be kept at, or close to, the centre of the view? Is there any periodic error and if so, how bad is it?

1 star
Immediate tracking errors obvious and constant correction required.
2 stars
Poor tracking/Go-To accuracy, with object often placed just out of the field of view.
3 stars
Good tracking/Go-To accuracy, but some adjustments needed to keep objects centred for long periods.
4 stars
Very good tracking/Go-To accuracy with only slight adjustments required.
5 stars
Excellent tracking/Go-To accuracy with no errors present.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Complete manual telescopes (scope and mount)
 
Assembly

What we look for:

How easy is it to assemble? Does it take a long time and is it complicated? Are there lots of parts or a few readily built sections allowing for quick assembly? Are tools required and if so are they provided? How good are the assembly instructions, if any? Does it come pre assembled or with only a few major parts for ease of assembly?

1 star
Little or no instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts and no tools.
2 stars
It comes with reasonable instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts, although some tools are supplied.
3 stars
Good instructions, a reasonable number of parts to assemble and tools are supplied making it easy to assemble.
4 stars
Excellent instructions, few parts to put together, no tools required and quick to assemble.
5 stars
Excellent instructions, it comes fully assembled, all you need to do is add the accessories.

Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Eyepieces and Barlows
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Extras

What we look for:

This is a difficult category as there can be a wide range of extras depending upon what the equipment is. The two main categories this one is used in are: ‘Eyepieces/barlows’ and ‘Software’, so this is a general scoring guide. For ‘Eyepieces/barlows’ this could be screw threads for the addition of filters and rubber eyecups. For software it could be plug-ins that help enhance its usefulness.

1 star
No extras at all.
2 stars
A small number of extras, but not necessarily useful ones.
3 stars
Several extras, some of which are useful, while others are not.
4 stars
Some extras adding to the usefulness of the equipment/software.
5 stars
Lots of extras that significantly enhance the usefulness of the equipment/software.

Eye relief

What we look for:

For eyepieces, this is simply a measure of how good the eye relief is for both spectacle and non spectacle users. How close/far can you be from the eyepiece and yet still see the entire field of view?

1 star
Very poor.
2 stars
Adequate but could do better.
3 stars
The eye relief is good but room for improvement.
4 stars
Very good with only minor improvement possible.
5 stars
Excellent for both spectacle and non spectacle users.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? What is the quality of the field of view like from centre to the edge in the eyepieces?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and poor quality/out of focus stars. No Multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present but eyepiece is just about usable. Only one surface coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations but central 50% provides a good view. Some surfaces multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent/multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with flat field, no aberrations and or fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Go-To mounts
 
Assembly

What we look for:

How easy is it to assemble? Does it take a long time and is it complicated? Are there lots of parts or a few readily built sections allowing for quick assembly? Are tools required and if so are they provided? How good are the assembly instructions, if any? Does it come pre assembled or with only a few major parts for ease of assembly?

1 star
Little or no instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts and no tools.
2 stars
It comes with reasonable instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts, although some tools are supplied.
3 stars
Good instructions, a reasonable number of parts to assemble and tools are supplied making it easy to assemble.
4 stars
Excellent instructions, few parts to put together, no tools required and quick to assemble.
5 stars
Excellent instructions, it comes fully assembled, all you need to do is add the accessories.

Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Go-To/Tracking accuracy

What we look for:

Assuming that the mount has been correctly set up and polar aligned, this category is for equatorial and altazimuth Go-To mounts. When selecting an object we check to see how accurately the system places the object at the centre of the field of view for a wide range of locations across the sky. Is there any variation in the accuracy depending upon the number of stars required for the initial alignment? Can the Go-To be improved for small regions of the sky by selecting an alignment star close to a region of interest? Can planets be used for alignment? How accurate is the Go-To when selecting planetary objects? Does the mount correct for Cone error?

1 star
The Go-To accuracy is poor with the object often placed just outside of the field of view.
2 stars
There is reasonable accuracy with objects placed within the field of view of a 20 to 26mm eyepiece, but the mount fails to place the stars in the field of view on a repeatable basis.
3 stars
There is good accuracy with objects close to the centre of the field of view, but not across large areas of the sky.
4 stars
There is very good accuracy with objects placed repeatedly within the inner 50 per cent of the field of view, even after slewing across large areas of the sky.
5 stars
There is excellent Go-To accuracy with no errors present even after selecting lots of objects widely spaced across the sky.

Stability

What we look for:

This is how stable any given tripod is with any given mount. We knock the setup and judge while looking through the eyepiece how quickly any vibrations dampen down, or if there are any vibrations at all!

1 star
Terrible tripod, very unstable and wobbly – avoid!
2 stars
Tripod and legs flimsy, but can hold mount, vibrations take many seconds to dampen down.
3 stars
Tripod good and firm with good support legs, vibrations take less than 10 seconds to dampen down.
4 stars
Tripod is sturdy, with strong firm legs, vibrations dampen quickly.
5 stars
Perfect with no vibrations – you’d need a tank to knock it over!

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Guide cameras
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Connectivity

What we look for:

It refers to how easy it is to connect them to guiding mounts and other equipment where needed. How many connections does it have and what type are they?

1 star
The product is barely able to do the job and it has non-standard connections.
2 stars
The guide camera has basic connectivity with no cables supplied.
3 stars
The camera has good connectivity. It requires separate power, but not all cables are supplied.
4 stars
It has very good connectivity, requires separate power, but all cables supplied.
5 stars
Excellent connections, USB powered and all of the cables are supplied.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Guiding accuracy

What we look for:

This category is used for guide cameras and standalone autoguiders. We check how easy it is to find suitable guide stars and how straightforward the calibration process was.

1 star
It’s difficult to locate suitable guide stars.
2 stars
It’s adequate for locating guide stars, but calibration is difficult.
3 stars
Good for locating guide stars and easy to calibrate, but the guiding accuracy was variable.
4 stars
It’s very good for locating guide stars and is straightforward to calibrate, with minor improvement possible to the guiding accuracy.
5 stars
Excellent – it’s easy to locate stars, calibrate and guide with.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Guidescopes
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Guide star quality

What we look for:

This is used for reviewing guidescopes. Here, the quality of the shape of the star in the field of view is important, as the guide camera needs to be able to zero in on the centre of the star to track it.

1 star
Very poor star shapes meant that we were unable to calibrate the guide camera.
2 stars
Adequate star quality, but still distorted.
3 stars
Good star quality, but some distortions with room for improvement.
4 stars
Very good star quality with only minor improvement possible.
5 stars
Excellent – perfect star quality for guiding.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Telescope tubes (OTAs)
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Field of view

What we look for:

The quality of the field of view is based on using the supplied lowest power eyepiece. We look for signs of optical aberration but note where they become worst across the field of view. We test the product against a similar eyepiece that we’re confident has a flat field of view. This way we can be sure that any aberrations are down to the main optics and not the eyepiece.

1 star
A chosen test star is not sharp even at the centre of the view – very poor.
2 stars
The test star is sharp only at the inner 50 per cent of the view, rapidly dropping off in quality towards the edge.
3 stars
The test star is sharp over the inner 70 per cent of the view dropping off in quality towards the edge.
4 stars
The test star is sharp for 71% - 90% of the view with some or only slight deterioration towards the edge.
5 stars
The test star was perfect across whole field of view with no aberrations at all.

Optics

What we look for:

Multicoated optics: where appropriate are all main optical surfaces multicoated or are some single coated or even have no coatings at all? Are there any blemishes on the optical surfaces? For reflectors, are the optics properly aligned? What is the quality of the field of view like from the centre of the view to the edge in the lowest power eyepiece provided? In the main optics is there a sign of any of the following: chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, if so how bad is it? For reflectors is there a centre spot to aid in collimation?

1 star
Optics show numerous errors and out of focus stars. No multicoatings present at all.
2 stars
Plenty of aberrations present, but the telescope is just about usable. Only one surface of the objective is coated.
3 stars
Small number of optical aberrations, but the central 50 per cent provides a good view. Some surfaces are multicoated.
4 stars
Very good optics – only slight optical aberrations apparent – and multicoated surfaces where applicable.
5 stars
Excellent optics with a flat field, no aberrations and fully multicoated where required.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Software - Planetarium/star charting/telescope control
 
Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Extras

What we look for:

This is a difficult category as there can be a wide range of extras depending upon what the equipment is. The two main categories this one is used in are: ‘Eyepieces/barlows’ and ‘Software’, so this is a general scoring guide. For ‘Eyepieces/barlows’ this could be screw threads for the addition of filters and rubber eyecups. For software it could be plug-ins that help enhance its usefulness.

1 star
No extras at all.
2 stars
A small number of extras, but not necessarily useful ones.
3 stars
Several extras, some of which are useful, while others are not.
4 stars
Some extras adding to the usefulness of the equipment/software.
5 stars
Lots of extras that significantly enhance the usefulness of the equipment/software.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Functionality

What we look for:

This is for software and covers all types: Imaging, Planetarium, Star charting etc. Many items of software have lots of functions, but do they do the job at hand and do they offer efficient ways of performing various tasks? Are there so many functions that they make the software feel bloated? Are they all useful?

1 star
Does a very basic job, but nothing exceptional.
2 stars
Some functionality, but the software isn’t as efficient as it could be.
3 stars
Does a good job for the majority of purposes, but still lacking.
4 stars
Very good functionality with useful operation and output.
5 stars
Excellent – works perfectly with no improvement required.

Realism

What we look for:

Used for software, in particular planetarium and star charting software. It describes the level of realism on how good the simulated sky/charts are.

1 star
Very poor.
2 stars
Adequate but could do better.
3 stars
Good, but room for improvement.
4 stars
Very good with only minor improvement possible.
5 stars
Excellent – looks like the real thing!

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Solar telescopes
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Imaging quality

What we look for:

Optical aberrations, how easy it is to collimate and tune properties that can affect imaging.

1 star
The scope has a poor build quality, there are many optical aberrations present and it has a poor focuser. It’s also difficult to collimate and has poor cooling properties for planetary imaging.
2 stars
It has a poor build quality, with some aberrations present at the edge of the field. It comes with an adequate focuser and has an acceptable cool down time for planetary imaging.
3 stars
Sturdy construction with an adequate focuser, minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view (fixed with an optional flattener), and good thermal cool down for planetary imaging.
4 stars
The scope has a decent build quality, a good focuser with dual speed capability, and only shows minor aberrations at the edge of the field of view – something that can be fixed with an optional flattener. There’s good illumination for large format sensors and a short cool down time for planetary imaging.
5 stars
A high quality construction, a flat and aberration-free field of view, a fully illuminated image frame suitable for large sensors, excellent dual-speed focuser and assisted cooling – ideal for planetary imaging.

Visual quality

What we look for:

This is for solar telescopes and is effectively a combination of the optics and field of view categories.

1 star
Poor quality views – avoid!
2 stars
View good across central 50 per cent of the field of view, but with some aberrations present and poor contrast.
3 stars
Good views with lots of contrast and subtle detail present, but with some optical aberrations.
4 stars
Very good views with lots of detail and good contrast, with few optical aberrations visible.
5 stars
A perfect viewing experience.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Standalone autoguiders
 
Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Connectivity

What we look for:

It refers to how easy it is to connect them to guiding mounts and other equipment where needed. How many connections does it have and what type are they?

1 star
The product is barely able to do the job and it has non-standard connections.
2 stars
The guide camera has basic connectivity with no cables supplied.
3 stars
The camera has good connectivity. It requires separate power, but not all cables are supplied.
4 stars
It has very good connectivity, requires separate power, but all cables supplied.
5 stars
Excellent connections, USB powered and all of the cables are supplied.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Guiding accuracy

What we look for:

This category is used for guide cameras and standalone autoguiders. We check how easy it is to find suitable guide stars and how straightforward the calibration process was.

1 star
It’s difficult to locate suitable guide stars.
2 stars
It’s adequate for locating guide stars, but calibration is difficult.
3 stars
Good for locating guide stars and easy to calibrate, but the guiding accuracy was variable.
4 stars
It’s very good for locating guide stars and is straightforward to calibrate, with minor improvement possible to the guiding accuracy.
5 stars
Excellent – it’s easy to locate stars, calibrate and guide with.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Image Processing Software
 
Function range
1 star
Only does a few things, rather specific
2 stars
Reasonable bundle of functions but hardly extensive
3 stars
Good range, applicable to deep sky or planetary work
4 stars
Good range of functions applicable to deep sky and planetary work
5 stars
Amazing range of functions covering all aspects of astrophotography, so many that you feel you may never get to see all of them.

Input compatibility
1 star
Poor, only handles a few file types
2 stars
Handles a subset of files, but hardly extensive
3 stars
Handles most stills files or most movie (planetary) files, but not both
4 stars
Handles an extensive range of stills files or movie files, but not both
5 stars
Handles everything you can throw at it

Operation
1 star
Poor, very unintuitive. Difficult to get to grips with and difficult to remember sequences
2 stars
Okay but still has a few flaws. For example, the inability to remember previously opened folders
3 stars
Acceptable for most operations but still has a few rough edges here and there
4 stars
Generally good with just a few annoying quirks here and there, nothing you couldn't learn to live with though
5 stars
Excellent! Intuitive and efficient interface, really easy to get back into after a gap in use

Output quality
1 star
Poor. Uses poorly implemented algorithms that output results which look worse than they were when they went in!
2 stars
Okay but not stunning. Performs operations on an image that leave you thinking that something's been done, but you're not 100% sure
3 stars
Works but results don't make you jump up and down with joy. Generally, they still require a bit of work to get them right
4 stars
Produces decent results that show something's been done.
5 stars
Produce results that generally wow everytime and leave you thinking how did I manage before this came along

Speed
1 star
Very slow, have a tea-break after pressing a key
2 stars
Plodding, takes minutes to complete some routines
3 stars
Slow but useable as long as you have patience
4 stars
Acceptable; neither lightning nor plodding, doesn't create an air of frustration
5 stars
Lightning fast to the point where you questions whether it's actually done anything!

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding
Camera tracking mounts
 
Assembly

What we look for:

How easy is it to assemble? Does it take a long time and is it complicated? Are there lots of parts or a few readily built sections allowing for quick assembly? Are tools required and if so are they provided? How good are the assembly instructions, if any? Does it come pre assembled or with only a few major parts for ease of assembly?

1 star
Little or no instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts and no tools.
2 stars
It comes with reasonable instructions, it’s complicated to assemble with lots of parts, although some tools are supplied.
3 stars
Good instructions, a reasonable number of parts to assemble and tools are supplied making it easy to assemble.
4 stars
Excellent instructions, few parts to put together, no tools required and quick to assemble.
5 stars
Excellent instructions, it comes fully assembled, all you need to do is add the accessories.

Build & design

What we look for:

Examine the quality of the materials used in construction. Are there any joins not perfectly lined or matched up? Is anything loose when it should be tight? Do moving items move freely within acceptable limits or are they too loose? Are all the optical components aligned correctly? Is any surface paint/material loose or flaky or poorly applied? Does the design actually work for the job at hand? Is there any sloppy workmanship?

1 star
Poor workmanship, loosely fitting parts and it can barely do the job at hand.
2 stars
Acceptable workmanship, equipment put together okay, equipment does the job, but is not exceptional.
3 stars
The materials and general construction are of good quality, the equipment can fulfil its function but with some issues.
4 stars
It has very good construction materials and is carefully designed with only minor issues.
5 stars
A perfect item needing no further improvement.

Ease of use

What we look for:

How easy is it to use the item? Is it complicated, requiring a lot of instructions to operate? Does it perform easily with little extra knowledge? Are there aspects that could be better designed to achieve the same goal? Is the item frustrating to use? Are there areas of use that need improvement? If instructions are supplied are they helpful? If tube rings are employed can the optical tube assembly be easily taken off or rotated? For polar mounts how easy is it to level and align? If computerised then how easy is the alignment procedure?

1 star
The product is very difficult to use with poor or no instructions.
2 stars
It can be used to achieve its goal, but not very easily.
3 stars
The product does a good job, but slight changes to the design or accessories could make it easier to use.
4 stars
It’s easy to use with the supplied instructions, with only a few minor issues.
5 stars
The product is very easy to use with no improvement needed.

Features

What we look for:

Look for specific features that enhance the main system. Does it come with: finder? Eyepieces? Is it easy to collimate if it’s a mirror telescope? Filters for the eyepiece such as a moon filter? Do the supplied eyepieces come with filter threads? If it’s a refractor does it come with a Dewshield? Is it retractable or fixed? Is the focuser single speed or dual speed? Can a camera be attached directly to the focuser? Can the focuser handle heavy equipment such as the heavier CCD’s without strain? If an equatorial mount does it have a polar scope or is it an optional extra? Does it have a bubble to aid in levelling the mount? Are the internal sides of the optical tube baffled to prevent stray light? Are the slow motion controls useful or do they stick out and get in the way? For guidescopes/finders: Does it come with: finder bracket and mounting base, adjustable tube rings? What type of focuser is it and does it do the job? Are there other items provided or required for attaching equipment to the optical system?

1 star
A limited number of features present, but they are poor and not up to the job.
2 stars
It has some useful features that make the system usable, but could do better.
3 stars
There is a wide range of features making the system enjoyable to operate, but it’s still lacking in some useful features.
4 stars
A very good range of useful features that enhance the system.
5 stars
All of the supplied features are perfect for the job, with nothing else needed.

Mount/Tracking accuracy

What to look for in camera tracking devices:

Assuming the item has been correctly set up and polar aligned:

How long can an object be photographed for before tracking errors become obvious using various lenses?

1 star
Immediate tracking errors obvious even with wide angle lenses.
2 stars
Wide angle tracking OK but telephoto lenses show tracking errors within a minute.
3 stars
Good tracking at wide angle and medium telephoto lenses for at least ten minutes without trailing.
4 stars
Very good tracking for a range of lenses up to 200mm for twenty minutes without trailing.
5 stars
Excellent tracking for large lenses up to 500mm for ten to twenty minutes without trailing.

Overall score

The final overall star scores are based on the following:

1 star
Poor/Avoid
2 stars
Average
3 stars
Good
4 stars
Very good
5 stars
Outstanding

 

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here