How we review our equipment

From Dobsonian telescopes to CCD cameras, finderscopes and eyepieces, here's 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.

Sky-Watcher Startravel-102 AZ-GTe

Altaz tracking mounts

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.

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


Astrographs and imaging telescope tubes

Build & design

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
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
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
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

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


Binoculars including bino scopes

Build & design

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

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

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

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

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


Basic mounts and tripods

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

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

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

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

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


Cameras, webcams and CCDs

Build & design

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

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
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

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

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
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

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

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

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

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

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


Complete manual telescopes (scope and mount)

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

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

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

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

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


Eyepieces and Barlows

Build & design

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

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

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

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

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

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


Go-To mounts

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

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

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

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

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

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


Guide cameras

Build & design

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

Connectivity

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

Ease of use

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

Features

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

Guiding accuracy

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

Overall score
1 starPoor/Avoid
2 starsAverage
3 starsGood
4 starsVery good
5 starsOutstanding


Guidescopes

Build & design

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

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

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

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

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

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


Telescope tubes

Build & design

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
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

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
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

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


Software

Ease of use

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

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

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

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

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


Solar telescopes

Build & design

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

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

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

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

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


Standalone autoguiders

Build & design

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

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

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

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

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

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


Camera tracking mounts

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

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

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

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

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.

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