This is a very special article for me because I owned the Skywatcher Explorer 130P SynScan AZ GoTo twice. The first one I had in 2012 for a while, but I sold it because I was moving to Australia. Then, 5 years later, I came back, and I started looking for a new telescope- something small portable and good enough for visual astronomy and maybe astrophotography. And there was no other choice for me. I loved this telescope before, so I bought it again. Now, let me tell you everything I know about it as I know it pretty well.
Firstly, you may be surprised that I said I chose this scope for astrophotography but I will explain it later. Anyway, Skywatcher Explorer 130P SynScan AZ GoTo is the perfect telescope for everything, and it is an excellent choice for a beginner, especially in a situation like I was. I was thinking about the version on the equatorial mount, but because the view of the Polaris is obstructed from my main observing location, I had to go for altazimuth mount. It was the biggest reason to buy this scope. Of course, the other reason was that it is a great telescope, and it fulfilled my requirement for a GoTo mount.
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Skywatcher Explorer 130P OTA
The telescope is a Newtonian reflector design and has a very nice black optical tube assembly(OTA)with a sparkling silver finish. I like reflector telescopes a lot; They are affordable with a big aperture. This OTA has 130mm aperture and 650mm focal length.
The telescope is F/5, so it’s pretty fast. It means that the image you will see is brighter, plus the faint deep sky objects are visible. If you have a slow scope like F/10, it is better for planetary observing and moon observing. The F/5 will give you a larger field of view which is important for deep sky objects. Some of them are really big in the sky, sometimes few times the diameter of the full moon. So this scope is more suitable for deep sky objects that I’m very interested in. But don’t worry, there is no problem with observing the Moon or planets, you will just need to use more magnification which means Barlow lens and short focal length eyepieces.
The primary mirror is just the right size, and it has 30% more light gathering than 114mm aperture. Also, the primary mirror is parabolic which is the most important thing regarding the optics of this OTA. Cheap Newtonians usually have a spherical mirror which suffers from spherical aberration. Better scopes are using a parabolic mirror. You can quickly determine if the telescope has a parabolic mirror when you see “P” behind aperture size in the name of the telescope.
The secondary mirror is mounted on 0.5mm ultra-thin supports that are not obstructing the light coming into the tube too much.
The focuser is another highlight of this telescope. It is much higher quality compared to other scopes in the same price range. Skywatcher did a good job here; it is a 2” rack & pinion focuser with 1.25” adaptor. It’s a big advantage because you can also use 2″ equipment, not only 1.25″. The 2″ to 1.25″ adaptor is crucial for the astrophotography with DSLR with this particular telescope. It was another reason why I repurchased this telescope.
The adjusting wheels for the focus are much bigger than on standard focusers which allows you to make fine focus adjustments. It’s not like with dual speed focuser, but it is close enough. The bigger wheels are working much better than smaller ones; it’s simple physics. They are made of aluminum with a rubber cover for better grip.
The final useful thing on the focuser is the focusing lock. It is only a locking screw which you tighten up after you reach the perfect focus, and it will hold it for you the whole night. It’s also very helpful if you have a heavy camera attached to the focuser as it will prevent sliding it out of focus.
The Skywatcher Explorer 130P is equipped with 6×30 finderscope with a sturdy metal mount. This finderscope is a small telescope with a crosshair that is helping you to find objects on the night sky. But first, you have to align it with the OTA.
Word of advice, try to do it during the day. Find some terrestrial object like a tree or a street lamp, and by adjusting the screws on the finderscope mount, you align finderscope. You have to see the object in the middle of the finderscope and the OTA. Even with the Synscan tracking system, it can be sometimes hard to find objects using high magnification and center it in the eyepiece. The finderscope will help you with that because it has the crosshair in it and much bigger field of view.
Some telescopes are using red dot finder which is just a red LED light pointing on the piece of glass. I find it hard to use, and I prefer using finderscopes with a crosshair. It is more precise, and easier to find and center the object in the eyepiece. So another thumb up for the Skywatcher Explorer 130P Synscan AZ GoTo.
- Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): x65 & x26
- Highest Practical Power (Potential): x260
- The diameter of Primary Mirror: 130mm
- Telescope Focal Length: 650mm (f/5)
- Eyepieces Supplied (1.25″): 10mm & 25mm
- x2 Deluxe Barlow Lens (1.25″) with camera adaptor
- Parabolic Primary Mirror
- 0.5mm Ultra-Thin Secondary Mirror Supports
- 6×30 Finderscope
- 2” Rack & Pinion Focuser with 1.25” adaptor
- SynScan™ AZ GoTo Computerised Alt-Azimuth HD Go-To Mount
- Stainless Steel Tripod with Accessory Tray
- 30% more Light Gathering than 114mm
Synscan AZ GoTo Mount
Synscan GoTo mount is a motorized type of mount. It has two motors moving the telescope in altazimuth directions, up down and left right. You can control the mount with the Synscan handset that contains almost 43 000 objects that you can point the telescope at. After the initial star alignment, the mount will point the telescope anywhere you want, and it will track the object on the sky keeping it in the middle of the view.
It comes with a small handbag for AA batteries that can power the mount when you are in the field without the power outlet. But I bought additional 12v DC Power Supply to power the mount. The power supply is not included in the package, and you have to buy it separately if you want. I recommend to buy it because the tracking is better with power supply and you don’t have to worry about going out of juice in the middle of the night.
The mount head sits on the tripod, and this tripod is another thing I like about the telescope. Many low-cost telescopes come with aluminum legs tripod which is not sufficient, and it wobbles a lot when you touch the scope or try to focus. This tripod has sturdy stainless steel legs which make whole equipment strong, and it handles the load of the telescope and the mount pretty well. And of course, it looks much better.
AZ GoTo Features:
- SynScan™ Database: Total 42,900+ Objects, including Complete M, NGC, IC & SAO Catalogues
- Alignment Method: Two-star or Brightest star alignment
- Pointing Accuracy Enhancement (PAE) feature
- The unknown Object Identification feature
- Pointing Accuracy up to 10 arcmin
- Tracking Rates: Sidereal, Lunar, Solar
- Slewing Speeds: 1.0x, 2.0x, 16x, 32x, 64x, 128x, 400x, 500x, 600x, 800x
- Tracking Mode: Dual Axis Tracking
- Quiet Operation
- Motor Type & Resolution: DC Servo Motors. Resolution 0.8923 arcsec or 1,452,425 steps/rev
- PC Compatible: can be used with popular Planetarium Software.
- SynScan Handset Firmware upgradeable via the Internet
- Power Requirement: 12v DC Power Supply (Tip Positive) or AA Batteries (not supplied)
Setup And Star Alignment With Synscan
The setup is easy and straightforward. First, take the tripod and place it on an even solid surface. You need solid base under the tripod because you don’t want to have any vibrations from walking around or in case it’s on the grass, it can sink in over time and mess up the leveling and alignment. So put it on the path or concrete where it will be stable.
When you find a good place for it, you need to level the tripod. Here is a small tip based on my own experience with few scopes. Don’t use the built-in level tool but buy your own in the hardware store and use that to level the tripod in all directions. Build in levels are in most cases little bit off, so you would end up with the wrong level and inaccurate star alignment which would cause you a headache during the observing session.
Now, you can screw the mount head on to the tripod and then connect the telescope securing the Vixen dovetail on the mount. Tighten everything up so nothing will fall off the tripod and mount. But be careful not to move the tripod after you properly leveled it. Now you are ready to start the star alignment.
Be sure to prepare everything while it’s still a little bit of light outside. It’s more convenient, and you are ready when it gets dark. Star alignment is a simple procedure where you have to tell your telescope few things, so it will know where it is and how the sky looks right now. When you power up the mount, the Synscan controller will light up warning you to never point the telescope at the sun without the proper filter. At this point, you have to type in few data. Your current time, time zone, daylight saving, GPS location, and your elevation. After filling up the requested information, it will ask you what type of star alignment you want to do.
There are a few options: the brightest star alignment, the 2-star alignment, and the daytime alignment. Daytime is of course for day observing, so you have to choose between the brightest star or the 2-star alignment. Both methods will give you the same tracking accuracy (my favorite is the brightest star). Just pick the sky you want to use (northern sky, western sky, etc.), choose the brightest star and then point the telescope to it using the hand controller. Use a star chart or any planetarium software to identify the star you want to use. After centering the star in the eyepiece, choose the second star. In this step, you don’t have to know where the star is because the telescope will find it automatically for you. Just make sure that the second star is visible from your location and there are no obstructions in the view. The telescope will automatically slew to that star, and you only need to center it in the eyepiece. After the centering and hitting enter, the alignment is successful. You can now tell the telescope to point at any object you want.
You can encounter problems and some issues, but the provided instruction manual for the Synscan GoTo mount is truly helpful, so be sure to read it before the first use. It is very well written, and it includes few tips on how to get the best alignment possible. I have learned a few new things there too and I’m the type of person that don’t read manuals so please read it!
Because the scope is a Newtonian reflector, it needs to be collimated. The collimation is the alignment of the mirrors so you can get a crystal clear image. If the telescope is not collimated, you will have a hard time to focus, and basically, it’s impossible. The telescope should come factory collimated, but because of the shipping and handling, it can be out of collimation. There are few methods of how to do it, and I have described one here. However, it is a good idea to buy a quality laser collimator that will help you with the process. Once you do it, it needs to be redone from time to time depending on how you handle the telescope. Don’t be scared of it because it is easy and fun to do. Try to do it properly because it will vastly impact your observing experience and the quality of the image in the eyepiece.
Eyepieces and Barlow Lens
You will get two eyepieces and one Barlow lens with this telescope. They are Plossl type 1.25″ eyepieces, one with a focal length of 25mm and the other one 10mm. The 25mm is wide field eyepiece good for deep sky objects. The smaller one, 10mm is perfect for planets, and you can increase the magnification two times with the 2x Barlow lens.
The included 1.25″ eyepieces are of decent quality, but I would suggest extending the collection with more focal lengths. Read my eyepiece guide to learn more about the options you have. And because the focuser can handle 2″ eyepieces, you can buy nice, wide field eyepieces to improve the experience with this amazing scope.
The Barlow lens has some unique features. You can unscrew the lens element from it and screw it directly to the eyepiece which will give you 1.5x magnification. This is good because with only two eyepieces you have 6 focal lengths altogether- your default eyepiece focal length, 2x and 1.5x with Barlow lens. The Barlow also has M42 thread to attach DSLR camera so you can make some pictures of the planets and the moon. You will, however, need a T-Ring for your DSLR to connect it.
Yes, it is possible to do astrophotography with this telescope. There are two types of astrophotography; the planetary and the deep sky astrophotography. The planetary one is easy and includes the Moon and planets, and it can be done with just a simple webcam. You can create stunning images or videos of the Moon and planets with this method.
The deep sky astrophotography is more complicated with this telescope, but it is possible. You will have to modify the telescope, and you can read my guide on how to do it with this exact model. Here is an example of the deep sky photos I recently did with this telescope.
And here comes the final question, who is this telescope for? In my opinion, it is good for everyone. It’s the perfect beginner telescope, but it will also satisfy more advanced users. The aperture of 130mm is sufficient to see a lot of objects on the dark sky, and the Synscan GoTo mount is easy to use plus it will save you time finding the objects on the sky. I also selected this telescope because it is on altazimuth mount, so I don’t need to see the Polaris for the star alignment unlike with German equatorial mount. If you are in the same situation as me and the view of the Polaris is obstructed from your location, you have to buy an altazimuth mount. This telescope will make happy any amateur astronomer or a total beginner who wants to start exploring the universe from home.