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Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ Review – Partially Recommended

The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ isn’t bad, but the StarSense Explorer Technology has no functional purpose with such a small telescope that has little in the way of capabilities beyond viewing the Moon and planets anyway.

Included in the Ultimate Telescope Shortlist

Celestron’s StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is the smallest of the regularly-advertised StarSense Explorer telescopes Celestron offers. It’s on the small side for any beginner telescope, let alone one in its price range or with computerized capabilities. Simply put, the StarSense Explorer technology isn’t needed at this aperture and a larger scope is going to be a much more rewarding purchase for the price. An 80mm refractor generally isn’t our first choice for beginners, let alone at a price point that is competing with 114-130mm reflectors.

If you’re fortunate enough to get a good deal on the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ, or already own one, however, they are just fine scopes with or without the StarSense Explorer technology. Many people purchase these telescopes solely for the StarSense Explorer bracket to attach to another telescope and sell the leftover LT 80 AZ at a very good used price as they do not need it.

How It Stacks Up

Ranked #5 of 14 ~$200 telescopes

Rank 5
Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ
3.7

Included in the Ultimate Telescope Shortlist

What We Like

  • Great optics
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Decent included accessories


What We Don't Like

  • Small aperture and narrow field of view severely limit targets
  • Mediocre mount design with no fine adjustments
  • StarSense Explorer technology is essentially unnecessary with such a small, narrow-field telescope
  • For the price, you could get a reflector with 50% more aperture


Bottom Line
Partially Recommended

The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill cheap refractor with the StarSense Explorer tech added as an afterthought. However, provided you can get it for a good price it’s not a terrible scope; there just isn’t much of a justification for buying it when a 4” or larger tabletop reflector with a steady mount can be purchased at a similar or even lower price point. The StarSense Explorer technology is nice, but you simply don’t need its help for finding bright targets and the scope is too small to pull in dim ones.

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For purchasing this telescope, we highly recommend HighPointScientific, the largest telescope retailer in the United States. Their knowledge of the subject, combined with features like a price match promise, free lifetime tech support, a 30-day return policy, and financing choices, makes them a great pick.

The Optical Tube

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ uses the same optical tube as the Celestron Inspire 80AZ and many other cheap 80mm refractors and offers great performance on the Moon, planets, and double stars. The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is an 80mm (3.15”) f/11 achromatic refractor with a focal length of 900mm. A small, slow achromatic doublet shows only slight purple fringing (usually referred to as chromatic aberration) on bright targets like the Moon, planets, and naked-eye stars, and not enough to significantly hamper views—many eyepieces add more chromatic aberration of their own, such as the 10mm ocular included with the LT 80 AZ. 

Amazon Price – $214.95

Refractors don’t need collimation, and small ones cool down to ambient temperatures pretty quickly, which makes the LT 80 AZ attractive as a “grab n’ go” telescope for quick peeks at bright targets from home. The optics in the LT 80 AZ are quite good and will serve well for lunar, planetary, and double star observation.

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The focuser on the LT 80 AZ is a plastic 1.25” rack-and-pinion unit, which works fine with all but the heaviest eyepieces and diagonals (which you’re unlikely to use anyway due to most such eyepieces costing more than the LT 80 AZ itself).

Accessories with StarSenes Explorer LT 80AZ

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ includes two 1.25” eyepieces: a 25mm “Super” Konig providing 36x and a 10mm “Super” Konig providing 90x magnification. Both eyepieces have plastic bodies and barrels but coated glass optics, and the Konig optical design provides a fairly sharp 55-degree apparent field of view with longer eye relief than a Plossl design. The 10mm Super is easy to look through without jamming your eyeball into it, as one would have to with a 10mm Plossl ocular. 

A 2x, all-plastic Barlow lens is included with the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ to double the included Super eyepieces’ magnifications to 72x and 180x, respectively. But the Barlow is poor quality and 180x is too much magnification for the LT 80 AZ to realistically handle anyway. 90x is all you need or should be using. There’s really no need to go out and buy additional eyepieces; you’re essentially covered with the included pair.

Being a refractor, the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ needs a star diagonal for comfortable viewing, and Celestron has chosen to provide their standard 1.25” Amici-prism unit, which provides a corrected left-right view at the expense of glare, vignetting with wider-angle eyepieces than the stock 25mm, and producing a bright diffraction spike on targets like planets and stars. It is mostly plastic and really a bottleneck on the telescope’s performance. We would recommend you replace it at the earliest opportunity.

As with many beginner telescopes, the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ comes with a red dot finder for aiming it in the sky. A red dot finder is really all you need for looking at the Moon, planets, and bright deep-sky targets. 

Mount

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ uses a pretty basic fork mount with a tangent arm much like that provided with cheap “department store” refractors, though thankfully it’s pretty stable. However, the mount lacks any kind of slow-motion adjustments and is wobbly enough that pushing on the tube to make fine adjustments to your aim at high magnification is really annoying. Thankfully, there are no plastic parts, however, and an accessory tray is provided in the middle of the aluminum tripod.

The StarSense Explorer Technology & App

The StarSense Explorer technology takes advantage of the existing camera and gyroscopes in your smartphone to aim the LT 80 AZ around the sky without the use of additional encoders, motors, or electronics. Apart from a provided mounting bracket with an adjustable mirror, all of the StarSense Explorer technology is on the software end, inside your phone.

The StarSense Explorer app initially takes a few snapshots of the sky in the mirror with your phone’s camera to use as a reference and then estimates your position afterward using your phone’s built-in gyroscope. Obviously, the quality of your phone’s camera and gyroscopes is going to heavily dictate its accuracy, which pretty much inevitably drops off over time due to the physical shifting of the phone/bracket and the inaccuracies in gyroscope readings building up. A good phone and alignment will achieve an accuracy of less than ¼ a degree – or about half the width of the full moon; a bad alignment or low-quality phone will at least get your target in the field of view at low power most of the time. 

Should I buy a used Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ?

If you find a used StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ, there’s a high chance it’s missing the StarSense Explorer bracket and/or the software code has been used up, as many of these scopes are bought solely to remove the bracket for re-use on other scopes. However, seeing as the scope doesn’t need the StarSense Explorer technology to function nor to find the targets you’re likely to aim it at, you may be getting a surprisingly good deal. 

Alternative Recommendations

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is far from the best choice in its price range. We have a few different alternative picks that should fit your needs and budget:

  • In a similar price range:

The Zhumell Z114/Orion StarBlast Astro provides a significantly wider field than the LT 80 AZ, superior lunar and planetary views, and more than double the light gathering of the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ too, all with a sturdy and simple Dobsonian mount and compact form factor.

  • With a little bit more money:

Those with a larger budget might want to consider a larger 130mm f/5 tabletop reflector from Zhumell or Sky-Watcher.

  • Even cheaper scopes with better optical performance

If your budget is on the low end, a 100mm tabletop Dobsonian from Zhumell or Orion will work well and easily beat out the StarSense Explorer LT 80 in viewing quality and convenience.

  • Other tripod-mounted scope options:

If you must have a tripod-mounted telescope, the pickings are slim under $300. LT 80AZ is, in fact, a good option if you’re limited to tripod-mounted scopes for some peculiar reason. As for the alternatives, the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 works really well, or there’s the Explore One Aurora 114. Both are ranked just above the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ on our telescope ranking list.

Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations

The only major accessory upgrade we would recommend for the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is a better star diagonal. Because the included diagonal is quite low-quality, adding a proper prism or dielectric star diagonal will significantly improve your image resolution and contrast, as well as add a few percent more brightness due to superior light throughput. The 94115-A prism diagonal sold by Celestron is all metal in construction with a multi-coated glass prism and works very well in most refractors.

A 1.25” 32mm Plossl eyepiece would provide 28x magnification with the StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ and a slightly wider true field compared to the 25mm (about 1.9 degrees versus the Super 25mm’s 1.5 degrees), but it’s of questionable benefit and sinking a lot of money into the LT 80 AZ wouldn’t be our first choice.

What can you see with StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ ?

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ is great for viewing the Moon and planets. You’ll be able to see the phases of Venus and Mercury, thousands of craters and mountains on the Moon, and the rings of Saturn. On a clear and still night, you can spot the ice caps on Mars and maybe a few dark markings when the planet is at its closest to Earth. Jupiter’s colorful cloud belts and four largest moons can be seen, and you can just barely make out their shadows at high magnification when they transit in front of the giant planet. 

The Great Red Spot is tough to see with only 80mm of aperture, but you can just barely glimpse it on a good night. You’ll also be able to see the Cassini Division in Saturn’s rings, some cloud belts, and a few of its moons. Uranus and Neptune are featureless bluish dots, barely distinguishable from a star at all due to their tiny angular sizes, and their moons are much too faint to see.

The StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ’s small aperture and narrow field of view make it less-than-ideal for deep-sky objects. The telescope simply lacks the resolving power or light gathering ability for globular clusters and galaxies (with the exception of a few bright ones with dust lanes, perhaps) to appear as anything but dim, oblique smudges. Open star clusters are gorgeous and colorful even under suburban skies, however, and bright nebulae like the Orion Nebula (M42) or Lagoon (M8) can be seen too. 

Performance Score Of Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80 AZ

3.7

Quantitative measurements of how the telescope performs in various performance categories:

Optics

4/5

Focuser

3/5

Mount

3/5

Planetary

3/5

Rich Field

2/5

Accessories

4/5

Usability

4/5

Portability

4/5

Value

4/5

An amateur astronomer and telescope maker from Connecticut who has been featured on TIME Magazine, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, La Vanguardia, and The Guardian.

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