I wanted a telescope that was light, easy to move around, quick to set-up and quick to put away. I had spoken to people who had started out with a scope that was too big. They produced great views but were so heavy or cumbersome to move, set-up, then break down and put away that they rarely used them or gave up on astronomy.
After months of research, I came up with the following criteria for my first scope.
- A computerized scope, also called a GoTo scope, to help me find things in the sky
- Tracking – Once I found the target I wanted the scope to keep it in the field of view
- Clutches that can be released so it can be used manually, with the computer turned off
- Light and portable for quick set-up for home use as well as quick toss in the car for remote darker sites
- Compact so I could take it on a plane in my carryon or in a very packed car on a vacation
- Possible use for video based imaging
- Options to attached a DSLR camera someday
- Based on industry standards so other brands of accessories can be used
- Large user community
- A major brand with a reputation for good service and support
I took delivery of the ETX 80 observer in October of 2016. This is the same scope that is available today. As a quick summary, as a two-year owner, I have been very happy with it and have recommended it to many people.
The Meade ETX 80 Observer’s compact size and ease of use make it a great first scope for an adult or young teen. And due to the tracking and wide views, this is a great first family scope as you can find things fast and it will keep them in view as various members of the family come to take a look.
With manual, non-computerized scopes, kids can become distracted as you hunt through the sky trying to find something interesting. Or guests become annoyed as you have to take the scope back when they bump it and can’t see what was in view. The ETX 80 eliminates these issues.
Note that the ETX 80 Observer in the photo is shown as it would be used as a spotting scope with the included 45 degrees diagonal attached at the rear. For stargazing that would be removed. I will comment more on that rear port later.
What Can You See With The ETX 80 Observer?
I will touch what comes in the package later as that is available on any listing of the scope. What you really want to know is what you can see with this scope.
Well after two years I have seen a lot. Let me share some of it with you.
I have used my Meade ETX 80 Observer to view Mars and Mercury. I have seen the phases of Venus. I have seen Jupiter, Jupiter’s cloud bands and Jupiter’s great red spot. I have also seen the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. And there is little that is more spectacular than the rings of Saturn. I never get tired of Saturn.
The Meade ETX 80 is also great for viewing beautiful open star clusters like the Pleiades, the Hyades, the Double Cluster, Owl Cluster and so many more. These are great targets, even in light polluted areas.
The Orion Nebula and the Ring Nebula look great in the Meade ETX 80 even from my light polluted suburban location. The ETX 80 Observer has no problem finding them.
Double stars are stars that appear to be a single star but are actually two stars that are very close together. Using the ETX 80 I have been able to split many doubles so that I can see the two, and sometimes three or four stars. I have used it to split double stars like Albireo, Mizar and Alcor and others. Sometimes what appears to be a single white star is actually a blue and yellow or red star once you split them. They can be quite beautiful and double stars are not particularly affected by light pollution.
Many of the showcase targets are quite wide. The Andromeda Galaxy is over three degrees wide. The Pleiades is close to two degrees wide. Many nebula requires wide view capability. But many scopes have a narrow field of view design. Some have a field of view of less than 1 degree. But the ETX 80 can provide over 2.5 degrees field of view with the standard eyepieces. Add a 32 mm Plossl eyepiece and you approach a 4-degree field of view. Many scopes simply can’t do this.
And let’s not forget the Moon. I have used the ETX 80 to see the Apollo landing sites, (no you can’t see the flag or the landers), huge craters and mountains on the moon, some of which extend out into space along the edge. After years of enjoying astronomy, there is still so much to enjoy on the Moon and the ETX 80 has done a great job of showing me the sights.
The photo on the right was taken at a solar eclipse event in August 2018. A local college invited me and one other person to their eclipse party.
I added solar filters to my Meade ETX 80 Observer, on the right in the photo, and my Meade ETX 125 EC, on the left. I set them to track the Sun which they did for hours. People lined up to view the solar eclipse as it progressed. It was great fun and I received a lot of inquiries about the ETX 80 from those who were interested in getting their first scope.
I have also purchased a video imaging kit that I will add to the ETX 80 Observer for what is called EAA, electronically assisted astronomy. This replaces the eyepiece with a camera. You can display the image on a screen so a group can see it. Or you can capture a stream of frames and process them on the computer, called stacking, to produce images that approach those obtained by advanced astrophotography, AP, at a fraction of the cost of an AP set-up.
For EAA to work well you need a scope that tracks. The tracking feature of the ETX 80 Observer is more than sufficient for this purpose. I have not explored this much yet but plan to in the future.
EAA will allow a small scope like the ETX 80 Observer to present images that have previously required much larger scopes and expensive imaging equipment. Once I have gotten more deeply into this I will do a combined review.
The Joy of a Computerized System
Many people buy telescopes only to lose interest after a short time because they can’t find the wonderful things that are in the sky. But with the Meade ETX 80 Observer you have a fully computerized and robotic system. Once you do the alignment, which only takes a few minutes, the scope can find thousands of objects in the sky.
The system is so easy to use. If you use a GPS in your car, home computer apps or phone apps, you will find setting up the ETX 80 Observer to be very simple. In fact, I brought this to a meeting of my astronomy club recently to demonstrate the computerized GoTo features and people were quite impressed as to how easy it was to use.
Let’s say you wanted to see the Pleiades, one of the most spectacular star clusters in the constellation of Taurus. Would you know where to look or how to identify the Pleiades? Let’s see how you would find the Pleiades, also called Messier 45, using your ETX 80 Observer.
Using the handset, select the Messier objects menu and enter 45. The ETX 80 Observer would then turn the scope to the location and put M45 in the field of view of the 26 mm eyepiece that comes with the scope. Using the arrows on the handset you can adjust the position if necessary.
If you were to find M45 with a manual scope you first need to know where to look. Then you would have to get it into the field of view of the eyepiece. Then you would have to constantly adjust the position of the scope to track the target as it moved through the sky.
The ETX 80 observer finds it for you and then tracks it for you. You can go into the house to get a drink or call your family. When you came back outside, the earth would have rotated and the stars in the sky will have moved. If you were using a manual scope, the Pleiades would no longer be in view. But the ETX 80 Observe will follow it in the sky so your family and friends can take a look without you having to find it again or to reposition the scope after each person.
Believe me, this tracking capability makes observing the universe so much more enjoyable than having to constantly keep adjusting the scope to track your target. It also lets you spend more time enjoying the view and less time trying to keep the target in sight.
M45 is one of over 100 wonderful targets that were cataloged by the French astronomer Charles Messier. The Messier Catalogue includes star clusters, galaxies, nebula, and other objects, all of which can be found for you by the ETX 80 Observer. The Messier list is a favorite of new telescope owners.
The darker your location the better these objects will look. Since the ETX 80 Observer is light and compact it is so easy to put it in the smallest car for a trip to a darker site. You can even put it in the included backpack and jump on your bicycle or motorcycle for that trip to a darker location.
The ETX 80 Observer also has a cool tour feature that will take you on a tour of the best objects in the sky tonight. If you don’t know what you want to look at tonight, just take the tour.
The earlier ETX 80 AT and Backpack Observatory only had 1,400 objects in the AutoStar database. One of the upgrades from earlier ETX models is that the new AudioStar hand controller included in the ETX Observer line boasts over 30,000 objects.
Another new feature is that the new AudioStar hand controller includes audio descriptions of the things you will see. If you tell it to go to Jupiter it will tell you all about the king of planets. It has a volume control so you can adjust the sound to your preference. Kids love this feature!
Another extra benefit with Meade’s computerized telescopes is that virtually all of them use the same AutoStar or AudioStar system to control the scope. So if you want to upgrade to a larger Meade scope later, you already know how to use it.
I recently had the opportunity to use an observatory telescope at the Vanderbilt Planetarium. They have a Meade LX200 16 inch. That big Meade scope costs well over $15,000 but it works almost exactly like my ETX 80 Observer.
Overview Of ETX 80 Observer
The Meade ETX 80 observer is a very complete package with some unique features. Unlike many introductory telescopes, the Meade ETX 80 Observer contains everything you need to get started.
The first and most important feature is a very comprehensive easy to follow manual. Many of the entry level scopes I have seen lack a telescope user guide, leaving it to the buyer to figure out how to assemble and use the scope. Meade has taken great care to see that you have the guidance you need. They even include a brief chapter on basic astronomy.
A red dot finder is included. This is a good match to the ETX 80 Observer as this is typically only needed during set-up. Once you have the scope aligned you can turn this off as the scope will find the targets for you.
There is a software DVD included. And Meade also provides an instructional video to show you how to set-up and align the scope. The video can be found here.
You get an 80 mm refractor telescope, two eyepieces, a built-in 2X Barlow lens, dew shield, and lens covers. There is a compass and bubble level that helps with the set-up. The scope has an integrated 90-degree star diagonal which gives you the best position for viewing the sky.
That integrated star diagonal also has a port on the back, not something you will see on other telescopes in this class. Purchase the appropriate adapter for your brand of DSLR camera and you can mount your camera to the back of the scope. You can look through the eyepiece and then flip the mirror and have the light go to the camera.
This is also where you would mount the included 45-degree correct image diagonal that turns the ETX 80 into a spotting scope for daytime use. Take in out for bird watching, watching boats on the lake, ships in the harbor, climbers on the mountain or deer in the field.
I have set up the ETX 80 Observer to see nesting birds down by the beach and to observe hawks atop distant trees. The included correct image 45 degrees diagonal is optimized for daytime use. The images are correctly oriented, just as they would be in a dedicated spotting scope or binoculars.
You get a fully computerized and motorized mount with the new AudioStar hand control that has over 30,000 objects in its database. And it provides the ability for you to add more objects either by downloading them or by adding your own targets right into the handset.
The six AA batteries go inside the base of the scope so there are no external battery packs or power supply needed. Some other computerized scopes require an external pack which can be inconvenient to use, or which can be forgotten at home. I recently had a newbie bring over his new computerized telescope, not an ETX 80 Observer, so that I could help him set it up. But he left the battery pack home so we could not make it work.
A great feature with the Meade ETX line is that you can use it manually. Let’s say your batteries died. Many other computerized scopes would be dead, unusable, but not the ETX 80 observer. If you want to use the scope manually, which I do from time to time, you can unlock the clutches and point the scope yourself. Many computerized scopes do not allow you to do this, but the ETX 80 Observer makes it easy. Some nights, when I know exactly what I want to see and where it is, I just point and view.
Another interesting enhancement is that the optical tube can be easily removed from the mount with two screws. Previous versions made it very difficult to remove the optical tube if you wanted to put it on a different mount. In fact I have been thinking of making an adapter plate for my digital camera to put it on the ETX mount to take advantage of the tracking for taking long exposure photos of the sky with my camera, using the camera’s lens.
Another great advantage of this design is that you can use the Meade ETX 80 Observer on the included tripod or as a tabletop scope. This is different from most computerized scopes where the drive system are integrated into the tripod.
With the ETX 80 Observer the brains are in the base of the scope and the handset. Take it off the tripod and put it on a table and you have a fully functional computerized robotic system. This makes it even easier to take traveling as you don’t have to bring the tripod.
It all comes packaged in a very nice quality backpack along with a fold-up tripod so you can pack it away, toss it in the car for travel, take it on a hike or hang it on the wall for storage. For teens, they can put on the backpack and bicycle to the local schoolyard or park.
Over time, we telescope owners like to add eyepieces. Eyepieces are what magnify the image. The included 26 mm eyepiece gives you 15X. The included 9.7 mm eyepiece gives you 41X. Flip in the included integrated 2X Barlow lens and 15X becomes 30X and 41X becomes 82X. However, that is not the limit of what the ETX 80 can do.
I have since added Meade and other brand eyepieces that will let me take the ETX 80 to much higher magnifications. Since it adheres to the 1.25” industry standard for eyepieces and other visual accessories you can add eyepieces, filters, Barlow lenses, and other accessories from Meade or other brands.
My favorite eyepiece in my ETX 80 is an 8-24 mm zoom eyepiece that works like the zoom lens on a camera. Meade makes a nice one that would be an excellent addition to the ETX 80 observer.
If there is one weakness in the package it is that the tripod is a bit lightweight. This is in keeping with the backpack, lightweight and easily portable concept of the ETX 80 observer. This can lead to some image shake during focusing or in a strong breeze. This is a common issue for entry-level scopes. Initially this bothered me, but I learned to adjust to it.
If you wish, Meade does sell an optional tripod that is heavier and more robust should you wish to add that in the future. Of course, you don’t have to use the tripod at all, just place it on a sturdy table, stool or a level rock and you are all set.
When I consider this package based on price, the included accessories, the backpack, and the beautiful wide views I can achieve, I consider it a very good value. This would be a great starter scope for anyone. The lightweight, compact size and ease of use would make this a great starter for a teen. You don’t have to know a lot about the sky to get started and the scope will let you use it manually when you like.
People are also using this scope for entry-level astrophotography, video imaging and more. There are lots of videos on YouTube.
As I have learned, over time people tend to have more than one scope. I have four. This is my grab and go scope. It is also my wide view telescope. Some targets look better in the ETX 80 Observer than they do in my larger scopes.
This is also the one I take on vacation. And I prefer this one when I am showing the sky to people at an astronomy outreach session. It packs up small, and the tracking comes in so handy to serve a crowd. The computer, GoTo system, makes it so quick and easy to move from target to target.
Will the Meade ETX 80 Observer be a good scope for you? Well, if your criteria are like mine then yes. If you think this is going to compete with a $1,200 200 mm scope then you will be disappointed.
If you are looking for a first scope that can find things for you in the sky and track them, this is a great choice. If you are looking for a compact scope for travel and vacations, this is a great choice. The ETX 80 Observer is a great wide view computerized GoTo scope at a good price with lots of accessories and options available. It also makes a great second scope to complement a larger scope. I will have this a long time. Even now that I have other larger scopes, the Meade ETX 80 continues to get its share of sky time and that’s why such a positive review about ETX 80.
Tips for Getting the Most Enjoyment with your ETX 80 Observer
Batteries – The scope uses 6 AA batteries for power. Meade recommends alkaline batteries and they work fine. However, I find that the AA lithium batteries work better and last a lot longer. I only use lithium batteries in mine.
If you are going to be observing at home you do have the option to buy an AC adapter and do away with the internal batteries. Or you can buy an adapter cord to plug into your car’s 12V power port. I have used one of these cables and an auto jump start pack to power my ETX scopes from time to time.
Light Pollution – If you are observing from a very light polluted area, as I do, focus your observing time on bright targets such as the Moon, planets, open star clusters, and double stars as well as some bright nebula and globular clusters. Save galaxies, most nebula and dimmer globular clusters for occasions when you can get to a darker area.
Even with my larger scopes, I follow this practice as the glow of the sky washes out the targets at my home location. Some targets look so much better at darker locations regardless of what scope I am using.
The Moon is a wonderful target but it is also a source of light pollution. Look at the stars in your sky when there is no Moon. Now, look when there is a full Moon. You will see far fewer stars when the Moon is out. The light from the Moon reduces the contrast between the sky and deep sky objects. They will look better when the Moon is not in the sky.
Speaking of the Moon, the full moon is the worst time to observe the Moon. The surface is evenly illuminated resulting in very low contrast. The best time to observe the Moon is when the Moon moves from first slivers after the new moon and continuing on into the first quarter. These are the best time to observe the moon. And the same is true from the last quarter to the final slivers. There are deeper shadows on the craters and you can see more detail. And don’t forget to note the outer edges were craters and mountains extend out into space.
Many people like to use a Moon filter. I often use one. There are many types which are rated by the percentage of light they transmit. With the Meade ETX 80 I prefer a 25% or 40% filter. The 13% filters are for much larger telescopes.
Consider where your best view lies in the sky. For me, it is northeast to southeast. This is the darkest part of my sky so I focus my observing there. For you, it may be in a different area of the sky. But try to spend the majority of your observing time in the darkest part of your sky.
Just a few tips that may help enhance your enjoyment of your observing time.