Update to Which Telescope to Buy (for visual use)? Reivew of Zhumell, Orion XT, XTi, Sky-Watcher and Other Solid Tube Scopes

Just over five years ago, I posted on my blog, this blog post, LINK, about Which Telescope to Buy.  Five years is a long time to go since making a recommendation and I have to say, the recommendations I make today are not recommendations.  There will be more questions and a review of what to expect.

My equipment today is a 24 inch dob (I am in the process of selling this as anything over the 17.5 inch is too much scope for me),  a 17.5 inch Truss dob; a 14 inch Strut Truss Dob, an Orion XT10 Classic, an Explore Scientific AR102mm Refractor; a Lunt 35mm Solar Scope.  I also have and use a pair of 10x50 Pentax binoculars.  So my recommendations are going to be based on my experience and my preferences and I want to make that EXTREMELY clear, this article today is based on my own preferences, taste and experience, not anyone else's.  Your opinion may differ, and probably should differ based on what you decide to do.

So to begin with, I am going to explore some thoughts (not all thoughts or opinions) on the solid tube dob.  I'll begin with my favorite telescope that I do not own. It is an 8 inch solid tube dob. I LOVED my 8 inch dob as it was the scope I used when I really started getting serious about astronomy.  I did most of the Messier objects using a 8 inch dob from my backyard and only sold it after getting my 10 inch dob.  The 8 inch is light, moves in two pieces, base and tube, and is ready to go after putting on a red dot finder like a Rigel Quickfinder or a Telrad and a Finder Scope if you feel you want or need one. The mirror will cool quickly and it provides a wonderful view of objects from say a border suburbia zone like where I live.  All in all, a 8 inch solid tube dob is a wonderful scope to have.

Now having said that, I gave up my 8 inch for a 10 inch solid tube dob and I wouldn't trade it now, I don't believe. The ten with the right handles attached, is not as easy as the 8, but easier to transport.  The base is moved out in one trip and then the tube in a second trip, then a few trips for accessories. The 10 provides a slightly better view than the 8 inch dob, truly a 12 inch is the next step up form the 8 inch dob but I enjoy using my Orion XT 10 Classic Dob from my backyard. I can see brighter DSO objects, some fainter ones, and it splits doubles nicely.  All in all, the 10 inch is a wonderful scope also, it is just as one ages, I could see one using a 8 inch dob more than a 10 inch dob in the backyard. You won't go wrong with a 10 inch dob though. You will need and I do recommend a Telrad or Riger Quickfinder, a finder scope if you want, and a few tweeks to make the dob work well.  Today, you don't need an Orion XT10 anymore, there are other models like it with better features. For example, the Orion XT10 now costs $599.00 new (you can search for used ones locally or on CloudyNights Classified or Telescopes in Swap and Shop on their forum.

     Over at they have the Zhumell Z line of scopes listed. The Z10 is on backorder (as of July 8th, 2015) at this LINK.  The Z12 which is their 12 inch solid tube dob, is also on backorder as of July 8th, 2015 at this LINK.  The Z8 or 8 inch solid tube is in stock (as of July 8th, 2015) at this LINK.  The Z8 is listed at $399.99, the Z10 at $499.98 and the Z12 at $699.98.  You need to check each scope for what accessories they come with but that is usually a laser collimator (I recommend the Orion or Celestron Collimating Cheshire combination tool for these scopes); 2 eyepieces a 2 inch wide field and a 1 1/4 inch higher magnification eyepiece; a 8x50 finderscope and a cooling fan and a few other items. I recommend a Telrad with these or a Rigel Quickfinder.  My friend Shahid observers with a Z12 and has had it for 8 years and it is fantastic. Great motions, better than the Orion XT10 I have.

      I had to mod my Orion XT10 in order to get the motions to be somewhat decent. My XT10 Classic needed a fan added to it, to help cool the mirror more quickly; a Telrad, new springs for the collimation knobs in the rear of the scope behind the mirror; new bearings for the side to help the altitude motions to improve; some help in terms of Sailkote and ebony ring for the azimuth motions to improve. I also added handles to carry the tube.  The XT10 came with a 9x50 Right Angle Correct Image finder scope (that means as you look through the scope you will see the image the same as if you were looking naked eye).  My focuser was a single speed crawford.  That means I had to learn to adjust my fine focus by hand and eye a little more than having a dual speed focuser like the Apertura comes with. I also got a 25mm Plossl that is a decent eyepiece (still have it) and a 10mm Orion Plossl that isn't as good. The Orion XT10 can take eyepieces that are 2 inches and/or 1 1/4 inches in the focuser as it has the adapter for the 1 1/4 which is a screw set one which will leave marks on your eyepieces.  I purchased a compression style adapter from Scopestuff and regardless of which dob you buy, I would recommend that as well. You can view those compression adapters at this LINK  and at this LINK (Orion Scopes) depending on the scope you buy.

Regardless  of the scope and eyepieces you buy, I would replace those stock eyepieces with the Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepieces getting the 6.7mm and the 11mm, and then getting the 24mm 68 degree Explore Scientific eyepieces. Those would be a good range for a starter and provide relatively excellent views for a novice. You can see those eyepieces at this LINK to Explore Scientific for the 82 degrees (cost would be around $330.0 shipped for the 6.7 and the 11mm since they are not on sale currently) and here it is for the 24mm 68 degree LINK, also costing around $160.00.

 Orion XT10 Classic                                                      Z10 Zhumell 
   25mm Plossl                                                               2 (9mm 1 1/4 & 2" 30mm) eyepieces
   Single Speed Focuser                                                     Dual Speed Focuser
    9x50 RACI Finderscope                                             8x50 Finderscope
     None                                                                           Moon Filter 1 1/4
     Collimation using Tiny Allen Wrench                       Laser Collimation Tool                                          Collimation Cap
   No Cooling Fan                                                             Cooling Fan for Rear of Mirror
     Friction Bearings                                                        Adjustable Tension Bearings (smoother)
      Eyepiece Tray                                                            Believe comes with Tray, check

    Zhumell offers a lot more to offer than the Orion XT10.  Problem? Zhumell is on backorder as of July 8th, 2015. If you go with an Orion XT model, you will make mods yourselves and that is okay. Just some extra money out of pocket but you will tweak your scope as you want it.  Now I did most of those mods myself, using ScopeStuff to get materials and so can you if you opt to get the Orion XT10 and pay as you go (that is what I did).  I had a dual speed focuser at one point to put on my 10 inch, but I gave it away to someone who was building a scope. So I  never did that mod, but it is not that hard to do. Scopestuff as a dual speed 2" focuser for $139.00 for a basic, average one at this LINK.  I never added an extension tube as I never really needed it.  The collimation knobs I got from Bob's Knobs LINK  and they cost me about $16.00 back when I got them ($25 probably with shipping now).  The moon filter I picked up and I use when viewing the moon when it is past first quarter so I don't get blinded in my observing eye but that only cost about $20.00 for Orion for a 1 1/4 inch filter.  Now the laser collimator I am not a fan of, unless you use a Howie Glatter laser. I do recommend getting a Celestron Cheshire Collimation Tube which will cost about $30 to $35.  Options for collimating are found over at Gary Seronik's website at this LINK.  Next a cooling fan from Orion will run you around $30.00, but that is money well worth it.  Flocking the inner part of your tube helps to reduce scattered light from bouncing around your tube interfering with what your observing. I almost did it, but didn't, probably will one of these days.  Anyway Scopestuff has it for sale in rolls for $19.00 at this LINK.  I'm not a fan of observing too much in a light polluted area so I just never have done it. Probably should since the XT10 is being used in the backyard now.  In terms of replacing the collimation springs that are in the back of the scope for the rear collimation knobs, I did do that and I replaced those springs with ones that I purchased from a local hardware store, cut to fit and then installed. Total cost was about $8.00 and my time.  I also installed my own knob for guiding the scope and that simply cost $5.00 as I got a fancy one. Total costs for my modifications today with shipping estimated in would be around $289.00, so say $300.00  When added to the $699.00 cost of the XT Classic, that runs around $999.00, which is an additional junk of change. You can do them slowly over time, as you have extra money.   I did not include improving your motions as the ebony star kits from ScopeStuff are no longer available for the 10 inch XT10.

     One thing I should mention here, if one goes with the XT10 there is one advantage.  By doing the upgrades yourself, one, you can do them over time as you have extra spending money IF you want, and to make sure you are going to stick with the hobby.  MANY don't STICK with the hobby so that is a good way to go.  Second, by doing the mods yourself or with some help, you get to know your scope, and that means you aren't afraid to modify it, fix it when needed, clean the mirror every five to eight years, and learn how to really collimate your scope (if you flock it, you pull everything off of the inside, the mirror, the spider, the secondary mirror and have to put them back in!).  Doing those mods really makes the scope yours.

     So what would I recommend? I don't. Depends on your the consumer. Want ease of convenience then do the 8 inch dob.  Orion has the XT8 in stock so that is a good way to go. Oh, if you want to pay more money, you can get Orion's XT8i or XT10i which the i stands for intelligence.  All that means is it comes with a hand controller that allows you to align the scope with several well known stars, then the hand held computer controller will tell you where to move your scope up and down, left and right in order to get to an object you want to see.  No learning the night sky but it saves time in finding objects allowing you more time to observe them (or as some do, blow through objects and see lots without seeing anything at all).  The XT8i will run you $660.00 and shipping the XT10i will run you $809.00 plus shipping.  So with all that information if you want a good visual dob, that does the job then the XT8 or XT10 is good, if you want to do the mods later to improve it.  If you want all the bells and whistles and IF Zhumell is in stock, you can pay for what you want up front.

     In the 10 inch range of Dobs there is one more that I will mention that I have used once. The Sky-watcher 10" Dob has a modified truss system that collapses for transport.  It is $699.00 at this LINK ( or at this LINK (Astronomics and I recommend Astronomics on this one) and I recommend getting a shroud for the truss portion if your observing in suburban areas which will cost you $79.00 from Astronomics LINK.  You get a 25mm and a 10mm Plossl 1 1/4 inch eyepieces; a 8x50 finderscope (you'll need a Rigel Quickfinder or Telrad for this) and I still recommend the Explore Scientific eyepieces and a cooling fan for this scope. This is a fine telescope, good motions and works very well.  You will need that Orion or Celestron Cheshire Collimation Eyepiece Tool also for this to collimate it.

     So there is my review of basic introductory dobs in the 8" and 10" range. You may find as you explore, that you may want to make your own. In the telescope world that is called ATMing and it can be a rewarding thing to do.  More and more though, many purchase their telescope though some do make their own and have the deep personal satisfaction of having a piece of equipment that they have made, that they know, and that they use.

      I also forget to mention that one of the best made 8 inch or 10 inch solid tube dobs is made by Rob Teeter at Teeter Telescopes. Now I will be upfront, you are going to pay $2600 to $3600 for a 8" or 10" scope, but the build and quality are first rate. This is a scope that could be a lifetime scope if you want it to be.  Here is a LINK to his solid tube scopes and they are gorgeous.  IF you have the money, and IF you are going to stick with the hobby and you want to stick with a solid tube dob, then one of Rob's scopes in the solid tube is the way to go.  Realize that Orion and Zhumell dobs are a dime a dozen, Rob's scopes are not because of cost and thus they will retain some of their value (though the used telescope market right now allows you to find some bargain prices also).

     Having presented the information, I want to state upfront that I don't like to persuade anyone to anything, as our journey to finding what works best for us, in anything, is our personal journey and we have to learn by both making good choices, making a few mistakes and learning from them.  IF I had to do it over, I would probably get a 10" solid tube TT STS from Rob. Now when I got my 8" and 10" a long time ago, Rob wasn't around. He is around now, and yes, you pay a premium price, but you get a premium telescope that can last a lifetime with outstanding motions, everything you need, and customized how you want it.  Well, at least until this thing called aperture fever hits and you figure out you have to have something bigger than a 10 inch, solid tube dob telescope so you decide to go bigger.  My next review will be what to do when that day comes, what options are available and a comparison of them as we begin to explore the truss dob market.


Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 at FR006 Site 1 June 17th, 2015

On my observing session on June 16th-17th, 2015, Daniel, my long time observing companion and friend found Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 using my 17.5 dob and the Explore Scientific 30mm 82 degree eyepiece. I discussed this in my post which is two below this one, but wanted to include my sketch here.  I was having trouble with my camera taking my sketching pictures but finally resolved that issue so here is that sketch.

Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2
01:50a.m. MDT (est. I did not record the exact time)
FR006 Site 1 Vernon UT
Antoniadi II
17.5" Dob
30mm ES 82 degree eyepiece; 12mm TeleVue Delos, 10mm Pentax XW;
No Filter

Beautiful view in the ES 30mm 82 degree eyepiece! Just breath taking. Comet Lovejoy's core looks very much like a galaxy, with a bright inner core region and a brightness surrounding that area.  Then it differs from a galaxy as the tail is very apparent behind it, fanning out with ribbons into what I saw as 3 main tails.  Beautiful!!!! Well worth the time to really observe this one and if you sketch, sketch it!