Celestron’s AstroMaster 76EQ is the smallest reflector in the AstroMaster lineup, and arguably the best.
Unlike the other AstroMaster reflectors, the 76EQ has quality optics, making it the only reflector in the AstroMaster line that does. However, it still suffers from some shortcomings. Read on to understand why you should or shouldn’t buy it.
Overview Of Astromaster 76EQ
The Optical Tube Assembly
The AstroMaster 76EQ’s optical tube is a 76 mm (3ʺ) f/9.2 (focal ratio) Newtonian with a spherical primary mirror. A spherical primary in a larger and faster telescope such as the 130 mm f/5 AstroMaster 130 would cause a significant decrease in sharpness and definition, and is thus unsuitable for an astronomical telescope, but a 76 mm f/9 sphere deviates very slightly from a parabola. The optics are more than acceptable for even a scrutinizing observer.
The only drawback optically of the AstroMaster 76EQ is its diminutive size. By the time one accounts for light loss from the mirrors and the secondary mirror’s obstruction, the AstroMaster 76 performs no better than a 60 mm refractor.
I consider a 60 mm refractor quite small, but because they don’t need collimation and tend to be offered at a lower price than the AstroMaster 76EQ, I would probably take the refractor.
The AstroMaster 76EQ does offer some advantages over a refractor with no chromatic aberration and shorter focal length, though. The 76EQ gives it better planetary and lunar viewing performance, and a refractor with no chromatic aberration gives it a wider field of view and lower power with a given eyepiece.
The AstroMaster 76EQ has a decent red-dot finder mounted to the front of the optical tube assembly. It also has a great 1.25” rack-and-pinion focuser. This focuser is at least partially metal, and the knobs for it are rubberized metal, which is a nice bonus that looks pretty and doesn’t dig into your fingers.
Both the primary and secondary mirrors can be collimated, which is a feature that although should be required with cheap and small Newtonians, isn’t always.
Mechanically, the one fault of the optical tube is it has an extremely short dovetail that is bolted directly to the tube. There is no way to rotate the tube to a more comfortable position, nor balance it if you are using heavy eyepieces and accessories.
But that’s not much of a concern, seeing as an expensive and wide-field eyepiece would cost more than the telescope itself. This would be the equivalent of putting premium sauce with frozen seafood that you heated in the microwave. The inability to rotate the tube is annoying, so I thought I would point it out.
Like all other AstroMaster Newtonians, the 76EQ comes with a cheap and narrow-field 20 mm eyepiece. This eyepiece provides too much power (35x) to be a “low-power eyepiece” for a 76 mm telescope. It also has a narrow and straw-like field of view. Furthermore, its useless erecting optics and cheap coatings absorb a lot of light that degrades the image quality.
The 10 mm Kellner provided with the AstroMaster 76 is acceptable in quality, though not my favorite. Considering the scope’s low price, I’m willing to give it a pass.
The mount supplied with the AstroMaster 76EQ is referred to variously as the CG-2 and CG-3 because Celestron’s standard naming scheme is all over the place. I am going to call it the CG-3 since that seems to be the more often-applied name.
The CG-3 is overkill for the featherweight 76 mm Newtonian optical tube, but certainly performs great. The scope is rock solid, and I have zero complaints about stability.
The CG-3 has flexible slow-motion cables. But there is only one cable for the right ascension axis however, and you’ll have to swap it from one side of the mount to the other depending on which half of the sky you’re viewing.
The mount is also capable of taking other telescope optical tubes, but a different optical tube would likely cost more than the entire AstroMaster 76EQ unit itself.
The CG-3 can be motorized with Celestron’s Logic Drive for hands-free tracking. Forget astrophotography though, as any kind of camera will make the scope top heavy and there’s no way to balance it. This is in addition to the fact that this is an f/10 scope on a relatively simple mount with an only partially metal focuser.
Apart from simple phone shots, forget any kind of astrophotography with the AstroMaster 76EQ. The scope is too small in the aperture to do useful work with a CCD camera for planetary imaging (a CCD would also cost more than the entire telescope), and a DSLR will strain the focuser and mount, as well as render the telescope unable to balance properly.
For a ~$200 telescope, though, this is all to be expected.
The 76 mm aperture of the AstroMaster 76EQ will show you the brightest deep-sky objects, moon, and planets. With the AstroMaster 76EQ, expect to see:
- Mercury’s phases (with effort and a little luck)
- Venus’ phases
- Lots of details on the moon
- One or two dark patches on Mars (when it’s at opposition every two years)
- Jupiter’s moons, cloud belts, and the Great Red Spot
- Saturn’s rings, its moon Titan, and maybe the Cassini Division (and some banding on the planet itself with good seeing)
- Uranus and Neptune as turquoise and azure dots
- The Orion Nebula, the Ring Nebula, M13, the Pleiades, and a couple dozen of the other brightest deep-sky objects
- Many double stars
What's The Bottom Line?
All things considered, do I recommend the Celestron AstroMaster 76EQ?
Yes and no.
For the same price you could get a larger tabletop telescope, but the AstroMaster 76EQ is unrivaled in its price range when it comes to optical quality, and is the only thing I’d recommend that comes on a tripod.
You will need to factor in at least an additional $20 or so at least to obtain a decent low-power eyepiece. I recommend a 25 or 32 mm Plossl, so keep this in mind when shopping, especially if you’re on a tight budget.