For decades I have owned a Tasco telescope. You can see it here on the Optics Oasis About page. It still works just fine, but I wanted something a little bigger and better that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. What I found was the Celestron Omni AZ 102 refractor telescope.
There’s nothing really outstanding about this telescope (with one possible exception), but that’s why I like it so much. It does everything quite well and doesn’t make you work hard at it.
It’s a refractor, so there should never be a need to collimate (adjust the line of sight) it. I think that would quickly get to be a royal pain with a reflector.
It’s an AZ (alt-azimuth) mount telescope, so I don’t have to hassle with aligning with the pole star as is commonly done with an equatorial mount. I point it wherever I want and go from there.
It’s not connected to anything mechanized or computerized. It’s all manually operated. There’s no “cheating” to find the star, planet, or deep space object (DSO) that I want to look at. I have to actually learn the night sky myself. Others may prefer some help, but I like doing it on my own.
I can’t say it’s the one thing that sold me on the Celestron Omni, but this model does include erect image optics via the 1.25 inch diagonal. That means I get to see correctly oriented images through the optical tube assembly (OTA), not a flipped or mirrored image that makes my brain overheat. No, it wouldn’t really be that bad. My Tasco didn’t have this kind of imaging, and I got used to it just fine. Still, it’s great not to have to think about it with the Omni 102.
Such imaging obviously makes it easier to use this telescope during the day too for such things as bird watching. It’s probably a little too powerful for my small backyard, but if I ever need it for longer distance birding, it’ll be a great tool to have alongside my 12×55 monocular. I wonder why more manufacturers don’t include this with their telescopes.
Another big advantage the Celestron refractor has over my old Tasco is the control mechanisms. There is no such thing as a slow motion control on the Tasco. While the controls on the Omni feel a little cheap, they work really well. First, I find the general location (actually, rather specific location) using the red dot finder scope. Then I check for it through the OTA using either the 10mm or 20mm lens that was included in the package. Finally, I zero in on it as needed using the saggy slow motion control “knobs”. If I look at the object long enough, I’ll continue to adjust the scope using the slo-mo controls.
Technically there are slip clutches that let me make gross movements of the OTA. These clutches aren’t really something you notice though. You simply are able to move the big tube quickly wherever you want to point it.
Well, that’s the theory anyway. When I first got my telescope, it would only move horizontally. The vertical slip clutch didn’t seem to be working properly. The tube was “frozen” as far as up and down movement goes.
I contacted Celestron about the problem. They told me to pop the black cap off the side of the mount and loosen the nut inside. I tried to do so with pliers, but the nut was also “frozen” in place. I had to get a socket wrench that had more torque. Then the nut started to turn. I don’t know exactly how many turns I applied, but it wasn’t much. The OTA now moves vertically as it should. Apparently this wasn’t tested at the factory before it shipped. To be fair, the OTA doesn’t come attached to the mount. The factory workers would have to attach it, test it, and disassemble it. That seems a bit much to ask for a telescope of this caliber.
In this Celestron package, you also get a smartphone adapter. As of this writing, I haven’t tried that piece out yet. I don’t anticipate using it all that much. It’s not why I bought this model. I actually already own two other similar adapters that may work just as well. (I bought those for use with my monocular and haven’t used them much there either.)
At this point you may be wondering why I did decide on the Celestron Omni AZ 102 over everything else. There are two real reasons that I picked this one – size and price. I wanted something larger and more powerful than my old Tasco, and I didn’t want to spend more than $500. The Celestron Omni has a 102mm (4 inch) objective lens, making it bigger and badder than my Tasco. It costs far less than my $500 limit.
So now you know.
Before I stop with this review, I’ll mention a few techie details.
You get a white, aluminum tripod in the box. It feels much flimsier than the beast I have on my Tasco, but it works just fine. Inside the legs is an accessory tray for holding any lenses not currently in use. Combined with all the other pieces, the kit weighs just under 14 pounds. I can lift it easily with one hand so I can extend or retract the legs. I do wish there was an easy way to partially extend them equally. I don’t always want them fully extended or fully retracted.
For some reason, over the years, telescope lovers have decided to gauge their instruments by how “fast” they are. The Omni has a focal ratio of f/6.5. Technically this only matters when you’re taking pictures. I understand there are other reasons for using this as a comparative figure, but it just feels weird to me – someone who hasn’t been following the niche closely for several decades.
Finally, you can also download the Starry Night Basic Software (found in the SkyPortal app) to your smartphone. This is a nice aid to your (manual) search of the skies. It currently has about 36,000 items in its database – far more objects than I’ll ever hope to see!