Pros: Decent viewing of the Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter. Great for daylight terrestrial viewing.
Cons: Mount is a bit unstable, quality issues under high magnification, barlow lens limited usefulness.
One of my hobbies is astronomy and at the very beginning of my night sky gazing I decided to upgrade from a pair of 7 X 35 binoculars to a telescope. Unfamiliar with the wide range of telescopes available, I decided to purchase this Meade telescope from Wal-Mart. Like many other first time buyers I expected too much out of this optical device. I wasn't looking for Hubble quality but my expectations were unreasonable (especially looking back now, three upgrades later to an 8 inch scope). I think it is very important that consumers understand that virtually all $60 to $100 telescopes offered at department stores are not going to yield nice images of deep space objects and close up crisp images of the planets.
Telescopes in this price and quality range are much more powerful than binoculars and deliver nice images of the moon and terrestrial objects. The claimed 525X magnification on the box is a mathematical maximum and in no way represents a realistic viewing power for a telescope with a 60mm objective lens. A serious amateur should start out using a telescope with a lens (or more likely mirror) with a diameter of at least 4.5 inches and 8 inches is preferable.
The Telestar 60AZ-D is a refracting telescope (it uses two lenses like a binocular rather than mirrors as with a reflector telescope to operate) with a 60mm (2.4 inch) objective lens and 700mm focal length. The focal ratio is 11.7 and the it uses an altizimuth mount. The lens size is pretty much standard for low price department store telescopes with the focal length being a little longer than average.
The telescope includes an eyepiece holding tray built into the tripod frame, which, extends to about 48 inches in height at most. Three eyepieces are included; a 25mm, 12.5mm, and 4mm, along with a 3X barlow lens. All eyepieces and the erector mirror are in .965 inch diameter size. There is a dust cover for the main lens and the 5 X 24 viewfinder you mount to the top of the main tube.When fully assembled the telescope only weighs a few pounds but it does take up an area about 3-4 feet tall and 1-3 feet wide depending on how you position the main tube for storage.
The 8 page owners manual gives you a nice introduction to telescopes and guides you through set up and use of the Telestar. An 11 step guide to unpacking and assembly coupled with a 3 step guide to aligning the viewfinder and main telescope tube is enough to get you started. There is also an 8 step guide to using the telescope once you have it assembled. Everything is easy to follow and set up shouldn't take you more than 15 minutes, take your time though as this is not a toy but a precision optical instrument with breakable parts. Basic assembly is just screwing things into place with wingnuts, you don't really even need a screw driver but it might be helpful.
Powers and Magnification:
The maximum useful magnification of any telescope is limited by the diameter of the objective lens or mirror. For a telescope this size (60mm) the best clear image you can get out of it on a calm night is about 120X magnified. The magnification is determined by dividing the focal length (700mm in this case) by the eyepiece size. The magnification for the eyepieces included with this telescope are 25mm (28X), 15.5mm (56X), and 4mm (175X). Notice that the 4mm eyepiece exceeds the maximum realistic magnification and as a result the images I get with it are generally dim and somewhat blurry. This telescope also comes with a 3X barlow lens, this lens triples the magnification of each eyepiece. In mathematical theory the 4mm lens coupled with the barlow will yield 525X magnification but in reality it creates an indistinguishable image. The only practical use of the barlow lens is with the 25mm eyepiece to get 84X magnification.
So what can you see with this telescope? The Moon in all its phases, Jupiter's moons, and Saturn's rings, can all be observed in relative clarity (though the latter two are very small). The Pleiades star cluster looks brilliant, Mars appears small and featureless but the red coloration is easy to pick out. Venus can be seen in the twilight or early morning but can be hard to pick out, it appears as a white crescent shape smaller than the moon. Finally millions of stars, many of which cannot even be detected by binoculars, can be seen with this telescope. Very faint and distant objects cannot be seen because the telescope simply doesn't have enough light gathering power. An available 9mm eyepiece can be purchased from Meade for enhanced medium power viewing.
It is always best to have a star chart and some idea where to look for celestial objects when observing. If you know what to look for your enjoyment of this telescope will vastly improve. Don't look at the sun without proper know how and equipment. It is best to start off with the 25mm eyepiece and move up in power when observing. Newspapers like the Wisconsin State Journal and websites like Space.com can be helpful in finding planet rise and set times. Space.com is my favorite place to go to find out if anything interesting will be observable during the week.
This telescope is also compact enough for use as a spotting scope. Bird watching or long distance viewing in the daylight works great with this telescope. The erecting lens on the end of the telescope not only allows for a better sitting or standing position when looking through the telescope; the mirror inside also inverts the image seen through the telescope. Inverting the image is important for terrestrial viewing because the image would be upside down if not for the erecting lens.
I have used this telescope to see Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, our Moon, countless stars, and even the occasional satellite. Quality is generally good, stars can be focused to a fine point of light and minor planetary detail can be seen. Under medium to high power I can see craters on the moon and the shadows they cast. The most interesting sights in this telescope are probably the moons of Jupiter. On a clear night I can see 4 or five moons and once I even saw the shadow of one of the moons cast over the planet. All images of planets are very small so don't expect too much and remember that atmospheric conditions will principally effect image quality and vary.
The altizimuth mount of this telescope is stable enough to keep it from falling over but images will bounce if you bump it while viewing under high power. Chromatic aberration ( a rainbow effect on images or a difference in quality for different color light) is evident with this telescope when looking at bright objects due to the low quality of the eyepieces. In this telescopes defense, I must say that its lenses and eyepieces are better suited for night viewing than many competitors (which I have used).
During the day I have used this telescope at a nearby state park with an observation tower. The tower sits atop the highest point in Southwest Wisconsin and you can see for 30 miles or more on a clear day. With this telescope you can read street signs 5 miles away and water towers 15 miles away. I even saw the state capitol in Madison (about 30 miles away from the park) on one clear night just after sunset. At home I watch deer at the end of a corn field with the telescope, they appear close up and detailed from a quarter mile away.
Overall I believe that the quality of this telescope is superior to many department store competitors. It is very easy to use and would be a great aid in a budding astronomy interest. The metals and plastics used in its construction seem stronger and more durable than my Tasco 60mm telescope and the tripod is more sturdy. The precision focuser on the side of the telescope is of poor quality in contrast with the rest of the scope. The screw to tighten it has stripped and the metal rod bent with the chrome finish coming off after 2 years. The eyepieces, barlow lens, objective lens, and main optical tube assembly remain in like new condition.
I trust Meade as a maker of very high quality and reasonably priced telescopes, binoculars, and riflescopes and I recommend this telescope, not only based on that but on its superiority over similar products. If you want a 60mm refractor of decent quality then this is a good choice. I really recommend getting a larger telescope if you want to observe more seriously and Bushnell or Meade have plenty of good options available, however, they come at a higher price.