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Explore Scientific 10″ FirstLight Dobsonian Review: Recommended Scope

The Explore Scientific 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is well-designed mechanically and provides great views, but it’s not our top pick in terms of value for the money, especially when it comes to the included features and accessories.
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When you read one of my reviews at TelescopicWatch, you can trust that not only have I gotten to use the product, but I’ve compared it to numerous others and tinkered with it down to the literal nuts and bolts. When I'm not writing reviews, I'm out under the night sky with my own homemade or modified telescopes, with over 7 years of hands-on experience in astronomy, having owned 430 telescopes myself, of which 20 I built entirely.

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Score Breakdown

Optics: 5/5

Focuser: 5/5

Mount: 5/5

Moon & Planets: 4/5

Rich Field: 5/5

Accessories: 3.5/5

Ease of use: 5/5

Portability: 3/5

Value: 4.5/5

Read our scoring methodology here

The Explore Scientific 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is one of the various FirstLight telescopes offered by Explore Scientific. Having used a variety of telescopes, I’ve observed that most of the FirstLight telescopes are undermounted, poorly designed, and/or poorly accessorized tripod-mounted manual instruments, with two Dobsonians (an 8” and this 10” model) rounding out the list.

At the time of my review, the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is actually the cheapest solid-tubed 10” Dobsonian available and the cheapest overall apart from the 10” Hybrid also offered by Explore Scientific, which shares the same optics, accessories, and many of the same design features aside from being a truss instead of a solid tube. I’ve realized that the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian isn’t as great of a deal as it seems when considering the cost of upgrading the eyepieces and finder as well as the other accessories offered by default with some of the more “deluxe” Dobsonians out there. The unique design of the FirstLight Dobsonians is, however, a selling point regardless if you aren’t trying to get the absolute best bang for your buck.

Explore Scientific 10″ FirstLight Dobsonian

How It Stacks Up

Ranks #4 of 17 ~$950 telescopes





Explore Scientific FirstLight 10" Dob


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Best Similar Featured Alternative: Apertura AD10 Dobsonian

What We Like

  • Great optics
  • Decent aperture for your money
  • Well-optimized mount design with smooth motions and plenty of balance/ergonomic adjustments
  • High build quality with excellent focuser/finder

What We Don't Like

  • Oversized central obstruction
  • Low-quality included eyepiece
  • Confusing instructions
  • Focuser is only a single-speed design
Recommended Product Badge

The Explore Scientific 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is a great beginner scope, though it’s in dire need of some accessory upgrades before you even start using it.

The Optical Tube

The 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is a 10” (254mm) f/5 Newtonian reflector with a focal length of 1270mm. An f/5 reflector does have some minor coma at the edges of the field of view, especially with a wide-angle eyepiece. However, cheaper wide-angle eyepieces like Erfles show other edge-of-field aberrations like astigmatism that easily hide the coma, while more well-corrected wide-angle eyepieces make the coma almost invisible. Collimation at f/5 is fairly critical and is done in the same manner as with most reflectors: a set of three screws can be adjusted on the back for the primary mirror while smaller screws adjust the tilt and rotation of the secondary mirror. Though, the FirstLight Dobsonians are provided with thumb screws to adjust the secondary mirror rather than annoying recessed hex screws, which require a key (and praying you don’t drop it onto the primary mirror) to adjust. 

Explore Scientific 10" Dobsonian FirstLight Telescope

The focuser on the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is a massive 2.5” single-speed hexagonal rack-and-pinion/Crayford hybrid focuser, borrowed from some of the imaging telescopes Explore Scientific sells. This focuser holds the heaviest of eyepieces and accessories with ease and also features enough inward travel to reach focus with a DSLR or cooled astronomy camera by default, a nice if unnecessary bonus. However, it’s only a single-speed design, so focusing at high magnification can be a little trickier than with a dual-speed Crayford unit. Since the focuser and optical tube are designed to have sufficient in-travel for a camera, using the provided extension tube is mandatory for most eyepieces, and with the focal plane so far from the center of the tube, the secondary mirror is a little bit bigger than it otherwise would need to be. But this is much less of an impact on performance than with the 8” FirstLight Dobsonian.

The 10” FirstLight optical tube sits in an adjustable tube cradle with the altitude bearings screwed on to the sides. This means that you could put a Vixen- or Losmandy-style dovetail bar on the rings and use the scope atop an equatorial mount for astrophotography. However, a mount capable enough to hold a 10” reflector for deep-sky imaging is going to cost several thousand dollars at a minimum and isn’t really portable, while planetary imaging can be done by tracking by hand or building/buying a Poncet-style equatorial platform to attach beneath the Dobsonian base.


The 10” FirstLight Dobsonian doesn’t include much in the way of accessories. You get a 25mm, 1.25” Plossl eyepiece providing 51x magnification and a reflex sight finder. The 25mm Plossl is not the best; it’s rather short on eye relief, the body is plastic, and there are some issues with glare and scatter that are not present in better-quality Plossl eyepieces. You’re also going to want more eyepieces for higher magnification and probably a low-power, 2” wide-angle eyepiece anyway.

The reflex sight provided by Explore Scientific is similar to the Telrad, and attaches via a standard bracket capable of accepting Vixen/Synta or Explore Scientific/Meade finder shoes – there are two of these brackets mounted to the tube depending on which side of the scope you want to place the focuser and finder, made possible by the adjustable rotating tube cradle. The provided reflex sight is extremely easy to use with its bullseye reticle and brightness adjustment settings and is much more accurate than a red dot design while lacking the pitfalls and discomfort of a 9×50 magnifying unit.


The 10″ FirstLight Dobsonian is pretty typical in that it has a particle board rocker box that you have to put together from its flat-packed box. However, Explore Scientific’s design doesn’t have the screws holding the mount together thread directly into the particle board but rather into embedded anchors. This means that it’s possible to take the rocker apart for transport repeatedly without causing damage or a loose fit over time. The rocker box features cutouts to reduce weight and provide built-in handles. For azimuth (side-to-side) motion, the bottom of the melamine-covered rocker box pivots smoothly on a set of three Teflon pads, rather than cheap roller bearings or nylon pads like in most other mass-manufactured Dobsonians. 

For altitude motion, a pair of large, half-circle bearings are attached to the tube rings holding the 10” FirstLight optical tube. The bearings’ large size means that the telescope won’t go out of balance when you put a heavy eyepiece, finder, or other accessory on the front end, though for extreme scenarios, you can slide the tube in the cradle to adjust its center of balance. The bearings are covered in pebbled glassboard and glide smoothly against the Teflon pads on the rocker sides; there’s no need to adjust clutches or springs, and the motions don’t get “stuck” when trying to make small position adjustments at high magnification. You can also rotate the optical tube in its cradle to adjust the placement of the focuser/eyepiece if you prefer it at a different angle or on the other side of the tube.

Should I buy a Used Explore Scientific 10” FirstLight Dobsonian?

A used 10” FirstLight Dobsonian would be an excellent telescope. However, since the base is particle board and the tube is thin-walled steel, it’s possible you might find one in damaged condition. Removing large dents from the tube can be done; small ones that don’t get in the way of the optical path can and should just be left alone. As someone who has repaired telescopes, a damaged Dobsonian base can be either repaired or replaced, but I always account for the cost of replacement lumber/paint/varnish as well as my time when considering purchasing a used sample. And as with any used reflector, always make sure that the mirror coatings are in good condition and free of corrosion or missing spots (though some dust/dirt is fine and can easily be rinsed off; see our mirror cleaning guide for more information).

Alternative Recommendations

The 10” FirstLight Dobsonian is a fairly good telescope. However, you may want to opt for something with either a little more portability or more accessories included for the money, and as such, we’ve picked out a few different alternative options for you to consider:

Under $700

  • Manual Scope: The Explore Scientific 10” Hybrid Dobsonian features the same optics and giant altitude bearings of the 10” FirstLight, but with a truss tube design for increased portability, all-metal construction, and a significantly lower price. The issues with the provided accessories, however, remain, and the focuser is a standard single-speed 2” Crayford unit.
  • Manual Scope: The Apertura AD8/Zhumell Z8/Orion SkyLine 8 is smaller than the 10” FirstLight and has a decidedly inferior mount design – though it’s still plenty functional. However, it includes a large assortment of high-quality accessories such as a 9×50 finder, 2” wide-angle eyepiece, and built-in 2” dual-speed Crayford focuser, which would easily cost a few hundred dollars to purchase separately as an upgrade.


  • Manual Scope (Best Value): The Apertura AD10/Zhumell Z10/Orion SkyLine 10 offers the same performance as the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian, but with the same improved accessories and features as the AD8/Z8. You don’t get quite as good of a Dobsonian base design due to the use of the roller/ball bearings, but the included dual-speed focuser, 9×50 finder, eyepieces, and built-in cooling fan make up for it somewhat, especially given the price.
  • Partially Computerized Scope: The Celestron StarSense Explorer 8” Dobsonian has less aperture than the 10” FirstLight but does feature a lightweight rocker box with cutouts, handles on the tube for portability, and Celestron’s StarSense Explorer technology to assist you in aiming it. However, as with the FirstLight Dobsonians, you only get one eyepiece, a red dot finder, and a single-speed Crayford focuser. A 10” model is also available, and we’d recommend it if you can afford both the scope and the mandatory accessory upgrades.
  • Manual Scope: The Sky-Watcher 8” FlexTube Dobsonian’s collapsible tube makes it a little more compact when disassembled than a standard 8” or 10” Dobsonian (though the easy-to-dismantle rocker of the FirstLight Dobsonians does provide some competition in that regard) and the included eyepieces, finder, and focuser are of acceptable quality. However, it needs a shroud, the altitude bearing design is not very good, and the scope is rather heavy.

Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations

While the included 25mm Plossl eyepiece is functional, you do need additional eyepieces for the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian anyway. Your budget is going to largely dictate what eyepieces you get for this telescope, but our top picks for an affordable starter set would be the SVBONY 26mm wide-angle (49x), a 15mm wide-angle or redline eyepiece (85x), and a 9mm gold-line or red-line eyepiece (141x). A shorter focal length eyepiece, such as the Astromania 4.5mm (285x), is ideal for planetary and double star work but may not be necessary right away, especially if you have sub-optimal seeing conditions on a regular basis. 

Once you have a full set of eyepieces and a good finder, you should buy a good UHC (ultra high contrast) 2″ nebula filter. Our top pick in this category is the 2” Orion UltraBlock filter. It’ll improve contrast on nebulae like Orion, the Swan, and the Lagoon and bring out previously-invisible objects like the Helix Nebula or the Veil Nebula under sufficiently dark skies. A 2” filter will screw onto the scope’s provided 1.25” eyepiece adapter for use with 1.25” oculars and future-proof you even if you don’t have any 2” eyepieces right away.

What can you see with Explore Scientific 10″ FirstLight Dobsonian?

Your views of deep-sky objects—that is, stuff outside the Solar System—with any telescope, including the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian, are going to be dictated by the severity of your light pollution conditions. Light pollution affects extended objects, or “faint fuzzies,” like galaxies and nebulae, the most, and point sources (i.e., stars and clusters of them) the least. 

Even from a suburban or city sky, the 10″ FirstLight Dobsonian will be able to separate most large to mid-sized globular star clusters into individual stars. Many of these clusters have clearly different shapes and morphologies, like M13’s dust lanes, M15’s nearly stellar core, and M92’s flattened elliptical shape. Open star clusters number in the thousands, and the brighter and more interesting ones like M11, M35, or the Double Cluster show lots of beautiful star colors, which appear far richer than with a smaller telescope thanks to the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian’s superior light-collecting abilities. A 2” wide-angle eyepiece makes scanning the open clusters and dark nebulae along the Milky Way in Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Scutum, and Sagittarius even more enjoyable, and you’ll be sure to stumble upon a few globular clusters in the summer Milky Way too.

As previously mentioned, extended objects like nebulae and galaxies are more affected by light pollution, though the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian will have no trouble showing you brighter objects like the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) or Orion Nebula (M42), if perhaps mere washed-out shells of their former glory compared to the view under better observing conditions. The 10” FirstLight Dobsonian will show you thousands of galaxies under dark skies, with dozens or hundreds showing some sort of detail such as shapes, dust lanes, or star-forming regions. The dust lanes and orbiting companion galaxies of M31, details in the Leo Triplet group of galaxies, the eponymous Sombrero Galaxy, and hints of spiral arms in galaxies like the Whirlpool (M51) and others like M33 are all possible to see under reasonably dark skies. You can also see hundreds of galaxies in the Virgo Cluster; sometimes dozens of easily visible ones will fit in a single low-power field of view. 

While you don’t need a filter to see nebulae, a UHC filter like the one we mentioned earlier is a really great accessory to have for any telescope, especially the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian. The Orion Nebula (M42) shows a greenish color when unfiltered, and you can resolve the Trapezium star cluster at its center with high magnification. A UHC filter brings out the fainter sections of the nebula and increases the contrast of its darker areas. The Lagoon Nebula (M8) and its embedded star cluster are dazzling, and you can see the dark lanes in the Trifid (M20) and Eagle (M16). The Veil Nebula can be seen under dark skies with a UHC filter and spans several fields of view at low power with the 10” FirstLight Dobsonian.

Zane Landers

An amateur astronomer and telescope maker from Connecticut who has been featured on TIME magazineNational GeographicLa Vanguardia, and Clarin, The Guardian, The Arizona Daily Star, and Astronomy Technology Today and had won the Stellafane 1st and 3rd place Junior Awards in the 2018 Convention. Zane has owned over 425 telescopes, of which around 400 he has actually gotten to take out under the stars. These range from the stuff we review on TelescopicWatch to homemade or antique telescopes; the oldest he has owned or worked on so far was an Emil Busch refractor made shortly before the outbreak of World War I. Many of these are telescopes that he repaired or built.

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