Carson has a Red Planet series of telescopes that are not as well known as other competitive telescope lines in the market.
But, the RP-300 deserves its 15 minutes of fame.
It’s a Newtonian reflector with an equatorial mount and tripod.
As cheap as it is, could it be too good to be true?
What should you know about it?
Will it perform?
We’ll take a dive into the nooks and crannies of the Red Planet telescope and discover if it’s actually a good buy for the price or if it deserves to be overshadowed by more popular models.
✔️ Best Feature: Collimatable
❌ Worst Feature: Possible spherical aberration
👌 Ideal For: Celestial Viewing, Stargazing, Lunar & Planetary Observation, DSO Viewing, Beginners, Kids
- Optical Design: Reflector
- Aperture: 114 mm (4.49”)
- Focal Length: 900 mm (35.43”)
- Focal Ratio: f/7.89
- Eyepieces Included: 20 mm, 9 mm
Our Verdict: The Carson RP-300 is a surprisingly good telescope for the beginner. As it provides detail for lunar observation and can resolve some planetary features, it’s reasonably priced for quality and performance. If you’re just getting into amateur astronomy, it may as well be with Carson.
Who is the Carson Red Planet RP-300 Best Suited to?
At its price point, it’s definitely going to be attractive to beginners that are wanting to dabble in amateur astronomy. It’s the type of quality affordable telescope that would perform great for deck and backyard observation. While it is very lightweight and easy to transport making it an ideal telescope for travel, you may want to upgrade the eyepieces to achieve better optical quality out of the Red Planet scope if you plan to get serious with it.
Due to the simplicity the scope, this would make an excellent telescope for an older child. They will never get bored at trying to navigate the night sky, and they’ll get a jump start on developing the skills needed to upgrade to a bigger model.
How Does the Carson Red Planet RP-300 Perform?
The Red Planet telescope performs excellently for lunar observation. With the supplied eyepieces, you’ll be able to spot planets and some moons, but it may not have enough to resolve details. As a medium speed telescope, it provides adequate wide-field viewing and binary star observation.
Image quality is sharp on the moon, and if you invest in quality eyepieces, you should be able to resolve more features on DSO (Deep Sky Objects) and planets.
With the equatorial mount and slow-motion controls, you can manually track sky bodies. You can also get Carson’s smartphone adapter and do some amateur astrophotography that won’t put strain on the focuser or mount. As a beginner and budget telescope, it fits the bill, it performs as is, and there is room to improve its performance with some quality accessories.
Features & Benefits
This is one of the primary features to look for on a reflector telescope that is priced under $200. Believe it or not, while all reflectors should have collimatable cells, they don’t. Some very cheap models have fixed cells and are collimated at the factory, but due to the nature of reflector telescopes, it’s likely you’ll have to collimate it again. This is a great feature to see on a beginner telescope.
The RP-300 has an equatorial mount which is not your typical and simple Alt-azimuth mount. With the EQ mount, you can manually track objects and can possibly upgrade it with a motor drive for auto tracking and timed exposure for astrophotography. The mount also has slow-motion controls with cables for both axes and setting circles for finding the coordinates of an object.
The heavy-duty mount is sturdy, dependable, and it’s free of unwanted movement like shaking and tremors. It works exactly as it should. No complaints here.
An aluminum tripod is included with the Carson telescope. It extends to about 46” long, comes preassembled, and it’s ready to use. I should mention that it has real aluminum legs and not the extruded kind that is often seen on entry-level setups.
The only issue here is that it’s not really designed to hold heavy loads. Fully extended and with the use of a weight to provide extra stability, it will actually cause strain on the entire system. The legs will sag somewhat compromising your setup. Retract the legs to the most stable position and it should be comfortable to use while seated or perfectly set up for a child.
Fortunately, you may be able to replace the tripod with a higher quality one. Just mount the EQ mount to a compatible tripod head and voila. But, this is something you should test out first as Carson does not recommend using the scope with a different tripod.
Unfortunately, this setup isn’t designed for long exposure astrophotography without significant modification, i.e. motor drive, Barlow lens, sturdier tripod, T-ring adapter, etc. But, amateur astrophotography is a go especially if it’s of the moon.
Carson is a brand that knows and does digiscoping. With their smartphone adapter, you can take photos with your smartphone and use either the 20 mm or 10 mm (45x and 100x) eyepieces to get more than decent pictures. A Barlow lens will take things to the next level, and even if it’s too much for visual purposes, it may be great for imaging.
While the Red Planet telescope certainly has the specs to be a portable system, the preference to transport it is entirely up to you. The entire assembly weighs approximately 20 lbs. The tube length is approximately 36”. The RP-300 is ready to go whenever you are. Just be sure to collimate it if you’re rough on handling, and keep it protected from the elements.
Possible Spherical Aberration
It’s unclear whether or not Carson used a parabolic or spherical primary mirror in the tube, but I’m guessing it’s a spherical one. Thankfully, the focal length is a little longer than many other comparable scopes of this size, so spherical aberration shouldn’t be too bad. If it proves to be too much for you, a negative Barlow lens should do the trick in helping to correct for this.
So, I’ve bashed the Kellner eyepieces a little bit included with the telescope kit. While they do perform with the moon, it’s difficult to maintain sharpness and focus with higher magnifications to resolve details on planets. The 6×30 finder has been said to be near impossible to use practically.
The focuser is a 1.25” rack-and-pinion focuser – easy to use. With that in mind, 1.25” eyepieces should be on your wish list. Some Plossl or goldline eyepieces will work great, and a Barlow lens will provide more magnification and increase the focal length to counteract for any aberrations due to the spherical mirror – two birds with one stone!
Can the Carson Red Planet Telescope be used for Terrestrial Viewing?
As a Newtonian reflector, image orientation is inverted and reversed right to left. So, not only would a license plate, for example, be flipped upside down, the letters would be read as if reading it through a mirror. This is not suitable for terrestrial viewing, but in space, it is normal and inconsequential.
Is the RP-300 a Good Kid’s Telescope?
It’s a real telescope with a large 114 mm aperture. It would make a great telescope for an older child that wanted to learn the basics. The entire system is lightweight, and while the equatorial mount will require some learning, it’s a great setup for children with adult supervision and teenagers willing to figure it out.
With that said, this is a scope marketed towards adults that are just getting into astronomy while sticking to a budget.
Does the Telescope have Zoom Magnification?
No. The RP-300 telescope comes with two 1.25” Kellner eyepieces: 20 mm (45x) and 9 mm (100x). Reading its specs as Carson advertises it, “45x-100x” or “45-100×114” can be misleading but it’s not intended to allude to zoom magnification.
In sports optics, variable magnification is often expressed with a hyphen between the lowest and highest powers, and the “x” (power/magnification symbol) is what separates the aperture (objective lens size) from the power ranges. Carson has simply stayed consistent across the board with their optics. In this case of the telescope, it has fixed 45x and 100x magnification due to the focal length of the tube and the size of the eyepieces. It has a 114 mm aperture of the primary mirror.
What is the Warranty on the Carson RP Telescope?
Carson offers a 1-year manufacturer warranty on the Red Planet RP-300 telescope. The warranty starts from the date of purchase, and it is not transferable to another owner. To make a claim, proof of purchase, prepaid shipping, and insurance on the package is required.
The RP-300 telescope by Carson is really a no-brainer type of scope.
It’s easy to use, easy to set up, and easy to afford.
While it could come with some better accessories, it’s still better than nothing, so you can get viewing the skies right away.
With amateur astrophotography capabilities, manual tracking, and a sturdy mount, the Carson telescope is worth the price.