To provide 300x magnification from such a small telescope under $100 is a big deal.
But, can it be done?
This review on the Barska 300 Power StarWatcher lays out the truth about its abilities and its limitations.
As a very basic and entry-level telescope, there will be compromise and drawbacks, but it’s also inexpensive, usable, and modifications can be made.
If you have a very tight budget, are after a scope that the kids can use and carry, and want to look at both the moon and animals from a distance, I think the Barska scope may be the inexpensive telescope you need.
Barska 300 Power 400 x 70mm StarWatcher Telescope Review
✔️ Best Feature: Cheap refractor
❌ Worst Feature: Light-duty tripod
👌 Ideal For: Celestial Viewing, Terrestrial Viewing, Stargazing, Lunar & Planetary Observation, Bright DSO Viewing, Limited Astrophotography, Kids, Beginners, Intermediates
- Optical Design: Refractor
- Aperture: 70 mm
- Focal Length: 400 mm
- Focal Ratio: f/5.7
- Eyepieces Included: 20 mm, 4 mm
My Verdict: I think the StarWatcher has a lot of potential and dual-use benefits that a kid will find enjoyment with. Parents stay within budget and can upgrade accessories along the way as interest in astronomy grows.
Who is the Barska 300 Power StarWatcher Best Suited to?
The Barska Power StarWatcher is a plastic telescope with glass lenses that is designed for young and new users to astronomy. I think it’s incredibly easy for a young user to haul out and use themselves after initial setup by a parent.
To be frank, it’s a low-quality telescope that parents don’t have to invest a lot of money into if a child loses interest and the telescope ends up collecting dust. However, I believe intermediate and expert users who have telescope experience will know how to make modifications and upgrades to the StarWatcher with little, additional investment.
Since it’s compact and lightweight, I think it makes for an excellent take-and-go telescope for travel. It’s extremely portable, has easy setup and disassembly, and it comes with its own carry case. Observers who are heading out to a dark location with their advanced telescope can bring the StarWatcher and kids along so the entire family can enjoy stargazing together.
How Does the Barska 300 Power StarWatcher Perform?
You get what you pay for. I believe it’s the rule of buying any optical instrument. As such, this Barska telescope is often filtered into the junk pile by many telescope snobs, but when you’re stuck with a strict budget, the pickings are slim on the good ones. Fortunately, the StarWatcher can be a good one if you’re willing to put in a little effort, and some effort is required when you’re trying to make the most of a telescope under 100 bucks.
Portability wise, the StarWatcher has every benefit. Mount and tripod wise, I think things could be better. The mount is sufficient with its altitude and azimuth knobs, and it’s easy to mount the tube to. The tripod is a tabletop tripod that must be placed on a rock-solid surface for it to perform to its intended design.
Optically, it’s okay. You’ll be able to see the moon, some planets, and the brightest of DSOs. This is expected of any refractor with a small aperture. What about optical aberrations? They’re present but not magnified since it’s a low-power and small aperture scope.
Did I just say low power?
To cut through the marketing gimmicks, this is not a 300x telescope. It may provide 100x at best although there are some things you can do to push it more. But, realistic magnification without image degradation with the included eyepieces will be achieved with the 20 mm eyepiece and staying under 100x.
Features & Benefits
Spending under $100 on a refractor can be a risky buy, but there is a market for it. The Barska StarWatcher is a 70 mm f/5.7 telescope. The Pleiades could fit within the field of view without use of a Barlow and if you know how to find it. Its limiting magnitude is 10-12ish depending on seeing conditions and if you’re using a Barlow.
The OTA is made from plastic but has glass lenses. There are a lot of plastic parts on this telescope setup, but as a budget buy, I think it’s acceptable for a starter scope and will hold up well as long as you don’t over-torque the assembly screws.
What can you use the affordable refractor for? I belive it’s a great, basic scope for young and new users who want both spotting and telescope benefits in one instrument. Experts and intermediate level astronomers can use the Barska as a guide-scope for astrophotography and as a secondary scope. It’s incredibly lightweight, so I know it is an excellent model for travel.
For a starter scope with coated glass lenses, it has decent optics. It’s able to deliver some crisp views of bright, nearby objects like the moon. With quality eyepieces, you will be able to identify and see planets including Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. However, with a small aperture, there will only be so much of what you can see and achieve detail with at high power.
What are some things you can do yourself to improve the design? Slightly largen the baffle to allow more light in to take advantage of the full 70 mm aperture. At its current 5/8” size, it pinches the light cone. Even if you don’t understand why, it’s highly recommended to replace the 45-degree diagonal with a 90-degree one not only for comfortable astronomical viewing, but to also reduce its interference with the light cone and eliminate the double images it produces.
Of course, I recommend using better-quality eyepieces to make the most of your viewing experience.
The Power StarWatcher is incredibly lightweight weighing in at 4.4 lbs. With its short tube and short tabletop tripod, it’s incredibly easy and tempting to pull it out for instant viewing of birds, animals, and sky bodies.
Since the OTA and its accessories are made from plastic, it can be prone to accidental damage if it’s exposed to rough handling. Fortunately, the StarWatcher comes with a soft carry case that fits all your telescope gear for convenient storage and transportation.
Typically, a telescope of this build quality is not recommended for astrophotography, and for serious users, it will not make the cut. The supplied accessories are plastic and may degrade the seeing quality suitable for imaging, and of course, it has a basic, non-motorized alt-azimuth mount on an unstable tabletop tripod.
However, a small aperture refractor does have its astrophotography benefits that includes closed optics and fast cool down time versus Newtonians. Since this model is so small and compact, it may be easier to mount it to an entry-level and inexpensive EQ mount. Since it’s not made for high power, aberrations will not be magnified as they would with a larger model with the StarWatcher’s inherent optical problems.
With that said, there have been buyers who have put a little more of an investment into the StarWatcher and have been taking excellent photos of the moon. This includes purchasing a 90-degree diagonal, stronger and steadier tripod, and the appropriate type of camera like a webcam-style CCD or a CMOS camera. With a Barlow lens, you can lengthen the focal length and achieve focus for DSLRs. However, long exposures are not possible without an EQ motorized mount.
If you’re considering buying a cheap telescope for viewing-only most of the time with some snapshots here and there, the Barska telescope may pay off. If you have some know-how and extra accessories available to you, you can pimp out the scope to provide better than average performance. But, if you’re looking into getting into the astrophotography field to develop skills, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
The tabletop tripod is the weak link of the package. As a tabletop, it’s small and short, and it must be placed on a very sturdy platform. If the platform is unstable and unlevel, it will be difficult to achieve steady and quality seeing, however, this is usually true of all tabletop tripods of this caliber. For spotting scope use, it may suffice, but for high-power astronomical use, it will leave you wanting.
Fortunately, the OTA and mount is compatible with any other camera and field tripod. Opt for a full-length tripod to maximize comfort and use.
Other Telescopes to Consider
I recommend taking a look at some worthy alternatives that are suitable for kids and beginners and won’t break the bank. They are the Celestron FirstScope, Orion FunScope 76 mm TableTop Kids Kit, and the Emarth Travel Scope 70 mm Refractor.
Unfortunately, the answer is an emphatic no! Barska loses points for advertising 300x power when it is clearly out of its optical reach. Without user modifications to the baffle, DIY focuser tune-ups, and upgrading to glass accessories, maximum magnification will top out around 75x, possibly 100x. With better eyepieces or an even better Barlow, you can push it up to about 130x. With significant modifications, you could possibly push it to 200x.
A Kellner 20 mm and 4 mm Super Ramsden 1.25” eyepieces come standard with the StarWatcher. The Kellner provides the most usable field of view, tight but acceptable eye relief, and 20x magnification.
The Super Ramsden is a let-down. It provides 100x magnification and is advertised to be paired with the included 3x Barlow lens to provide 300x magnification. However, seeing quality is non-existent at this power with this refractor’s optical design and problems. Max magnification with the included eyepieces will be within the low power range of 50-75x.
The Barska 300 Power StarWatcher comes with the Deepsky Astronomy software that is very basic with its 10,000+ object database. It may not work for you if you have modern processors on your PC since the software is only compatible with 32-bit OS processors.
A very simple assembly manual is included with the StarWatcher. It does include instructions for aligning the included 5×24 finderscope which is essential. However, you will want to research beginner tips on using a telescope for detailed information and what to expect when looking through the StarWatcher.
There are many who are quick to dismiss the Barska telescope, but it’s been trending for a long time and performs adequately for many buyers.
You will learn that quality accessories and a stable mount prove to be valuable additions to this setup, but it’s also true of all telescopes as many suffer from identical problems.
In my opinion the StarWatcher can be a worthy buy without breaking the bank.