The Orion StarMax 90 TableTop telescope is an interesting setup indeed.
With its catadioptric optical system on a Dobsonian-style mount, it makes for a one-of-a-kind buy.
But, I think it’s a one-of-a-kind buy for many types of buyers.
Those who are new to using telescopes or seasoned observers looking for a compact, lightweight, and easy-to-use setup find value in a scope of this kind.
What kind of objects can you see?
Does the StarMax cost a fortune?
Does it come ready to use out of the box?
Let’s find out!
Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop Telescope Review
✔️ Best Feature: Maksutov-Cassegrain OTA
❌ Worst Feature: Not for faint DSO observation
👌 Ideal For: Celestial Viewing, Terrestrial Viewing, Lunar & Planetary Observation, Bright DSO Viewing, Limited Astrophotography, Beginners
- Optical Design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
- Aperture: 90 mm
- Focal Length: 1250 mm
- Focal Ratio: f/13.9
- Eyepieces Included: 25 mm, 10 mm
My Verdict: I think the Orion StarMax 90 TableTop telescope is a ready-to-go instrument that is designed for maximum use with little user intervention. Mak-Cass scopes rarely need collimation, they have closed optics, and they’re incredibly convenient for pulling out and observing right away. In my opinion for a telescope under 200 bucks, the StarMax gets my vote.
Who is the Orion StarMax 90 TableTop Best Suited to?
The StarMax 90 is a fun and easy-to-use telescope setup that is designed for beginners or experienced users looking for a ready-to-go telescope that they need in an instant. When something in the sky is especially bright, pull out the StarMax and get a closer look.
I found getting it set up is a breeze due to its compact and lightweight design, as it’s aimed at observers who need a ready-to-go instrument for when nature calls.
Because the Orion telescope has a small aperture, is inexpensive, and lacks complicated mount procedures, I think beginners will find the StarMax easy to start with.
How Does the Orion StarMax 90 TableTop Perform?
The StarMax 90 is not a Schmidt-Cassegrain (SCT) telescope but a Maksutov-Cassegrain. Consider it the sibling to the SCT since it’s within the catadioptric family. With a slow focal ratio of f/13.9, it’s well suited to lunar and planetary observation. Obviously, with its smaller aperture, the StarMax 90 will be limited to only the brightest DSOs (Deep Sky Object). You’ll still have plenty of double stars, nebulae, and open clusters to explore.
I found its ability to intimately showcase features of local bodies is excellent and it’s the StarMax’s best optical feature. Putting the short tube on a Dobsonian-style mount makes it a convenient go-to telescope that is ready for travel and exploring. It’s lightweight, compact, and inexpensive. As an amateur observer, what more could you ask for?
Features & Benefits
Why choose a Mak-Cass? Well, refractors are expensive per inch of aperture and reflectors can get long and heavy. SCTs and Mak-Cass scopes are sometimes considered as a jack of all trades telescope or the middle ground of compromise. I think the 90 mm size is on the smaller end of the scale, but then again, so is the price. What you get is a long focal length without the actual physical length and a good size aperture without the hefty price.
But, what exactly makes a Maksutov Cassegrain telescope? The linear optical path integrates the reflection of the cone of light due to the mirror system within the OTA. This path provides a focus point beyond the primary mirror and the cone of light is narrowed in the process. This makes for a longer focal length than the tube’s actual length. Mechanical size and weight reduction are some resulting benefits.
Mak-Cass scopes incorporate a meniscus corrector lens. It’s much thicker than an SCT’s corrector lens and is why Mak-Cass scopes are typically smaller in aperture. The secondary mirror is smaller in a Mak-Cass versus an SCT. There are some limitations to a Mak-Cass such as the smaller FOV and longer cool-down time. But, benefits that include closed optics, almost no chromatic aberration, good contrast, excellent correction of spherical aberration, a shorter, lighter tube, and low price may outweigh any drawbacks that an amateur may have.
I think one of the attractive features of the StarMax 90 is its tabletop mount. I say it’s a Dobsonian-style mount because it has the single fork arm mount that you would normally see with a tabletop Dobsonian. It lacks slow motion controls which may make for fine adjustments somewhat difficult, so observing at high power for planetary features will take some practice.
The mount has a ¼” thread at the base that allows for attaching to a field camera tripod. This is a convenient feature if you didn’t want to use or haul a table to a remote site. If you wanted to use a different mount altogether, the OTA has a Vixen dovetail bar that is compatible with many modern mounts, obviously, ones that receive a Vixen dovetail.
I feel it’s important to remember that if you choose to switch out the single-arm base for a different mount/tripod, to opt for a setup with a decent payload capacity especially if you have astro or planetary imaging in mind.
Portable & Compact
The Orion StarMax is incredibly portable and compact, which is great. The OTA weighs only 3.7 lbs and with the 2.8 lb mount, you have a 6.5 lb setup. The OTA is only 10” long. I think this is a very doable telescope setup for many on the go or for those who want to pull out the scope on the porch for fast and easy observations with little effort.
With its supplied tabletop mount, it’s not equipped for astrophotography, and long exposure astro imaging is out of the question. With no tracking ability or computerized/auto features that support prime focus imaging, no serious work can be done with the StarMax.
What can you do? You can use your smartphone as a camera to capture what images you can (likely of the moon). Many have done this by holding the phone’s camera up to the exit pupil seen through the eyepiece. It will be easier to buy and use a smartphone adapter for this purpose.
If you wanted to use a DSLR camera, you’ll need the T-adapter compatible with your camera. You may want to consider spending more on an equatorial mount and other necessary equipment to make the most of your astro imaging efforts with the StarMax.
Not for Faint DSO Observation
So, you can push the limits and see the brightest DSOs, but not the faintest. It has a 90 mm aperture which is limiting. Additionally, some large DSOs like open clusters and nebulae will not fit within the FOV. You can try experimenting with lower power eyepieces.
But, to be fair, Orion doesn’t market the StarMax as a DSO telescope. It seems like it has been designed for city folk within light polluted regions where viewing the moon and planets is all you’re going to see anyway. You may as well see them with better resolution, color fidelity, and max power. And, if you’re in the city and looking for an easy-to-pull-out telescope, a tabletop Mak-Cass may be the way to go.
Other Telescopes to Consider
Before making a purchasing decision, I recommend taking a look at these other telescopes that fall in a similar price range to the StarMax. They are the Zhumell Z114 Portable AZ, the Carson Red Planet RP-300 and the Celestron PowerSeeker 80EQ.
The StarMax 90 TableTop Mak-Cass telescope comes with two eyepieces: 25 mm and 10 mm Kellners. They provide 50x and 125x magnification. For their intended purposes for lunar and planetary observation, they’re more than sufficient.
The StarMax also comes with an EZ Finder II reflex sight that mounts on a Vixen-Stynta dovetail shoe, so yes, it can be switched out if you prefer.
A 1.25” 90-degree mirror star diagonal is included and provides comfortable viewing, and the threaded adapter for attaching the mount to a camera tripod also comes with the package. If you’re a newbie, the included Starry Night Special Edition Astronomy Software will be much appreciated.
The included 10 mm eyepiece to see planets and its features. Of course, you’ll want to spend more on acquiring additional eyepieces and perhaps a Barlow lens or two. As a reminder, the max useful magnification is 180x. When you do end up increasing power for a close-up view, the FOV does not increase in size. It will take some experimentation with different eyepieces to see what you like best.
The StarMax OTA and mount weigh 6.5 lbs, and if you’re also mounting a DSLR camera, you’ll definitely need a heavy duty tripod. Using a light-duty tripod may cost you in viewing and imaging quality since the weight of the entire setup can cause flimsy legs to fail, you can’t extend the legs as long, and it will produce movement and shaking when making focus adjustments.
With the correct image diagonal you can! You can use this as a spotting scope for land-based viewing. Wildlife and marine observation, sighting in a rifle at the range, or just neighborhood watching can all be done with the StarMax telescope.
However, a telescope is susceptible to atmospheric conditions on land, such as, mirage. Land-based optics such as spotting scopes are not immune to this phenomenon either.
The Orion StarMax 90 TableTop Mak-Cass telescope is an interesting setup with its tabletop mount and long, but short, tube.
Thanks to its catadioptric optics, you have a long focal length without the “length.” In my opinion viewing planets is definitely its strong suit along with its very convenient compact and lightweight build.
Place the base directly on a table or top it onto a tripod and you’re ready to go. It doesn’t get easier than this – really.