SkyWatcher SkyMax 127 Telescope Review (Maksutov-Cassegrain Optics)


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The SkyMax 127 from SkyWatcher is no ordinary beginner telescope.

It’s priced higher than most “budget” telescopes designed for beginners, it lacks a tripod and mount in the buy, and no instructions are available at this time.

So, what’s the big deal about the SkyMax?

It’s the optics.

This model has plenty to brag about as it provides crisp and color-true seeing on the moon and planets.

While cheaper beginner scopes may have a max power range of about 100x at best, if seeing quality doesn’t degrade by then, the SkyMax can push it higher without compromise.

What else is there to know about the SkyWatcher telescope?

Read on to find out!

Zooming in…

✔️ Best Feature: Maksutov-Cassegrain optics

Worst Feature: No user manual

👌 Ideal For: Celestial Viewing, Stargazing, Lunar & Planetary Observation, DSO Viewing, Astrophotography, Beginners, Intermediates

  • Optical Design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
  • Aperture: 127 mm (5”)
  • Focal Length: 1540 mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/12.1
  • Eyepieces Included: 28 mm

Who is the SkyWatcher SkyMax 127 Best Suited to?

The SkyMax 127 is a 5” catadioptric telescope with a Maksutov-Cassegrain optical system. Beginners and even seasoned astronomers looking for a portable, secondary, or inexpensive telescope will find the SkyMax satisfies their demands. With its quality optics and build, it’s a telescope that is designed for all users of various skill levels.

The SkyMax is a standalone purchase, so a mount must be purchased separately. Experienced users will likely already have a mount/tripod to use the telescope with whereas it will require an additional investment for a newcomer to the hobby.

The upside is beginners will start off with a quality telescope system that will last them a long time with the ability to grow with the scope and unlock its full potential as skills are learned and additional accessories acquired.

How Does the SkyWatcher SkyMax 127 Perform?

Mak-Cass telescopes can be really slow with a focal length around f/15 to keep central obstruction acceptable. So, the SkyMax pushes the limits to bring the focal length down to f/12 making it a good, all-purpose Mak-Cass telescope with good contrast but with the compromise of some light loss. Even so, the optical and build quality of the SkyMax is exceptional for its price. While the focuser arrangement isn’t anything to rave about, it’s smooth and keeps image-shift to a minimum.

The SkyMax performs excellently within the mid-power range of around 100x-150x particularly with good seeing conditions. You can even push power limits to around 200x to see very intimate details of the moon’s surface, and the polar cap and MC-4 on Mars. Come down in power and you can see Jupiter’s polar hoods and banding and much more.

There is some slight field curvature on the very edge of the field of view and some light reflections that could be due to inferior baffling which makes it difficult to resolve point sources. However, it does an exceptional job at resolving double stars if you can center them within the field of view. But, all in all, the SkyMax 127 mm Mak-Cass telescope has excellent value and can likely complete with a small aperture APO that costs at least twice as much.  

Features & Benefits

Maksutov-Cassegrain Optics

The SkyMax has a Mak-Cass or MAK (Maksutov-Cassegrain) optical design. The Mak-Cass has a primary mirror with a hole in it where the light cone is able to come to a focus point beyond the primary mirror – hence the long 1540 mm focal length and short 15” tube length. This provides for a compact, short, and lightweight tube that is convenient for travel and good for high-power photography and mid-power planetary observation.

Light is focused via the secondary mirror which is a thick meniscus lens with an aluminized spot. It’s essentially a spherical negative corrector lens. Why have it? It corrects for spherical aberration that is an inherent drawback of the spherical primary mirror. Spherical aberration causes a blurry image due to the multiple focal points of light rays as they bounce off the concave curve of the mirror.

So, what you have is an optical system that provides a compact and lightweight size, excellent correction of spherical aberration, the elimination of spider vanes (due to the lack of an actual secondary mirror being held in place), good contrast, and little to no chromatic aberration.

Excellent Lunar & Planetary Performance

It’s always recommended that beginners start with observing the moon and then move on to planets. However, viewing planets in detail is often a difficult task to do with a cheap, starter telescope. Fortunately, the SkyMax isn’t a cheap telescope.

With a 5” aperture, you already have the advantage of additional light grasp over a smaller scope even with its optical obstruction that results in some light loss. The longer focal length also allows for higher magnification from any given eyepiece and a larger image scale. So, things will look brighter and larger through the SkyWatcher telescope.

Unlike kid’s toys and many beginner scopes that can’t see surface detail on the moon, the SkyMax can with great contrast and no chromatic aberration discernable to the eye. Planets like Saturn and Jupiter are gas giants, and as such, they are bright objects to locate but their features are low contrast and faint. This makes it difficult for telescopes to provide optimal resolution in seeing details. However, the SkyMax can achieve excellent views of the planets especially if you upgrade the eyepieces.

Astrophotography

The SkyMax’s long focal length will mean compromises when using a DSLR camera for astrophotography. Regardless, it can be done. The visual back can be removed and has threads for a T-mount. Due to the large image scale, you could achieve good images of the moon’s surface and possibly try to capture planetary nebula (small DSOs) that would fit within the field of view.

Of course, your choice of mount will determine how far you can go with astrophotography techniques. A heavy-duty and steady mount with a dual-axis motor drive with equatorial movement will do the trick.

Portable

As a Mak-Cass telescope, it’s naturally short in length at 15” making it easier to travel with. However, you may come to find that it weighs more than it looks. The tube itself weighs approximately 10 lbs which is still very portable but is on the heavy side. With that weight comes the meniscus lens and a 5” aperture.

Choosing a tripod with an adjustable length can retract to provide for an even more mobile setup and combined with a mount, it will add additional weight to the entire telescope system. Even so, portability and setup and disassembly ease will not be compromised.

Limitations

No User Manual

Currently, there is no user manual included with the SkyMax telescope nor can one be found online. This could change in the future if SkyWatcher puts one together. Without instructions, a beginner could struggle with the telescope process and will not understand how to use accessories, how to attach the tube to a mount, and will lack basic knowledge required for effective observation sessions. You’re on your own to figure it out – for now.

Popular Questions

What Mounts can be used with the SkyWatcher SkyMax Telescope?

The SkyMax has a versatile mounting system with its Vixen-style dovetail bar and four 1/4” 20 tripod threads spaced at 10 mm apart. With these options, it can be mounted to any photography tripod with the ¼” 20 connections, or it can be mount to most modern mounts with its dovetail bar.

Popular mounts others have used with the SkyMax include the Celestron CG-4, Celestron VX, EQ5, SkyWatcher EQ6R, SkyWatcher AZ-GTI, and SkyWatcher HEQ5.

The type of mount you choose is essential as it may determine if it’s a visual-only telescope or if you will be able to track and take photos. The payload capacity of the mount should be a point of detail as you don’t want to exceed 75% of the payload when loading the OTA with additional accessories like cameras and heavy eyepieces.

What Size Accessories works with the Visual Back on the SkyMax 127?

The SkyMax telescope comes with 2” accessories that includes the 28 mm eyepiece and 90-degree star diagonal. With the 2” visual back, it accepts 2” accessories. Fortunately, it has SCT threading, so the visual back can be replaced with a different one or a 1.25” one to accept 1.25” accessories.

You should know that there is no compression ring around the visual back since it’s secured with set screws. Experienced users can work around this arrangement with their own compression ring visual backs and necessary adapters for various eyepieces.

Can you see Deep-Sky Objects with the Maksutov-Cassegrain SkyMax Telescope?

The Mak is a great lunar and planetary telescope with a 5” aperture that provides excellent resolution and clarity on local bodies. However, the brightest DSOs can be seen, and the Pleiades can fit within the field of view with the right eyepieces.

Of course, Orion Nebula is a popular diffuse nebula in the Orion constellation to find and see, and small planetary nebula may also be a good target for imaging. However, going larger in aperture next time will help with locating galaxies and other types of nebulae.

Is the SkyWatcher Telescope Covered with a Warranty?

The SkyMax 127 is covered with a 2-year manufacturer warranty. It’s a standard warranty that is comparable to most other warranties in the market. The owner is responsible for the shipping costs and must acquire preauthorization to send it in under a claim.

Conclusion

The SkyMax telescope is a great starter scope for a beginner.

But, leaving it at that wouldn’t be doing it justice. It’s also a great option for an experienced user to buy as a supplementary scope, something they can modify if desired, and it can be placed on a mount/tripod of the owner’s choosing.

This telescope can show you more and will do more in the long run to keep an amateur interested in astronomy. Not only is finding objects in the sky important for a beginner but being able to see with good seeing quality is what makes the difference.

Its high optical quality is what makes it a great option for all.

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