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.

BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Will Gater reveals what to look for when buying your first telescope.

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