The Optical Tube
The Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ is a 130mm (5.1”) f/5 Newtonian reflector with a focal length of 650mm. The optics in these telescopes at least seem to be parabolic, though there is the concern of shoddy spherical mirrors (which cannot provide a sharp image at high magnification) being swapped in, as is, unfortunately, the case with the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ. The Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P, Zhumell Z130, and Gskyer 130mm EQ all feature proven parabolic optics with the same specs as the Polaris 130mm EQ, and are vastly superior telescopes as a whole. An f/5 telescope performs acceptably with most 1.25” eyepieces, though the edge of the field of view can have some aberrations like astigmatism, particularly with cheap oculars like the ones supplied.
At f/5, collimation (alignment of the primary and secondary mirror optics) is fairly critical for good performance. Unfortunately, you need a screwdriver to collimate the Polaris 130mm EQ, and the screws for collimating the primary mirror are hidden behind a cover that you have to pry off the back of the telescope. The secondary mirror can be adjusted with a hex key, which is standard for most telescopes. A collimation tool is not provided with the Polaris 130mm EQ, but you can easily make one yourself.
The focuser on the Polaris 130mm EQ is a 1.25” rack-and-pinion unit made entirely out of plastic. This is not the focuser typically supplied with cheap reflectors but rather a very low quality one taken from a 60mm or 70mm “department store” refractor with an adapter fitted on. It is unusually tall, owing to its origins as being designed for a refractor, and suffers from a huge amount of backlash and sloppiness, making focusing at higher magnifications difficult. There is also a fair amount of shift when you focus the telescope, displacing your target from the center of the field of view and exacerbating the problems of the Polaris 130mm EQ’s less-than-stable mount/tripod.
The Polaris 130MM EQ attaches to its mount via a pair of tube rings, which allow you to rotate the tube and slide it back and forth for balance. The rings are bolted directly to the equatorial mount head with no other interface in between, unlike most scopes in this price range, which use a universal Vixen-style dovetail bar and saddle to attach interchangeably to mounts.
The Polaris 130mm EQ comes with two 1.25” Kellner eyepieces: a 20mm providing 33x and a 10mm providing 65x. These eyepieces have metal barrels and glass optics and provide fairly sharp views, though the apparent field of each is only about 50 degrees. And the 10mm is rather short on eye relief, requiring you to jam your eye into it to take in the whole field. The provided eyepieces are acceptable, but you’ll want more and better eyepieces if you are stuck with the Polaris 130mm EQ in order to get the best possible views out of it.
A 1.25”, 1.5x “erecting Barlow” is included with the Polaris 130mm EQ, which is a low-quality prism/Barlow lens that provides fuzzy images (though technically upright and slightly magnified). The optics and body are both plastic, and you really don’t need an erecting prism for a Newtonian reflector telescope anyway. It is basically complete garbage.
A smartphone adapter is also provided with the Polaris 130mm EQ, which features a built-in 1.5x loupe to scale up the image for smartphones. This works well, and it can clamp onto most cheaper 1.25” eyepieces without difficulty, such as aftermarket “Goldline” and “Redline” oculars as well as the ones provided.
For a finder, Solomark includes a 6×30 magnifying unit. But unlike the 6x30s provided with many other beginner telescopes, which are acceptable quality if uncomfortable to look through, the Solomark 6×30 is complete junk, with a plastic bracket that’s hard if not outright impossible to adjust for alignment, as well as plastic optics that provide fuzzy and dim views. It makes aiming the already tricky-to-aim equatorial mount nearly impossible and causes a lot of frustration when trying to find pretty much anything besides the Moon in the night sky.
Lastly, a 1.25” “Moon filter” is provided to screw onto your eyepieces. It dims the image by 87%, makes the view slightly fuzzy, and really isn’t needed. Moonlight may seem bright, but it is far too dim to hurt your eyes, and the increased viewing comfort provided by the filter isn’t worth the sacrifice of image clarity.
The Polaris 130mm EQ uses the same “EQ-3” mount as many inexpensive equatorial 130mm reflectors, like those from Celestron, Orion, and Gskyer. It is a German equatorial mount (there is no “German Technology” here like the advertising claims—it’s all made in China). Setting up this mount is a little complicated. You have to extend and level the tripod, balance the telescope and counterweights, and then get the mount approximately polar aligned. Once you do so, the mount is fairly simple to use: you unlock the clutches to aim at a target, lock the clutches, and then use the slow-motion cables on the mount to fine-tune your positioning. You then use the right ascension slow-motion cable to track your target as it moves from east to west across the sky.
There is some slop and backlash in the EQ-3’s controls, but they work well enough. However, the extruded aluminum tripod legs are not the sturdiest, and the telescope is certainly not as steady at high magnification nor as easy to aim and set up as a Dobsonian telescope. Putting a weight on the accessory tray or filling the legs with sand, as well as not extending the legs if you can avoid it, helps with stability, but it’s still a bit wobbly and hard to aim precisely.
The EQ-3 mount is easy to motorize with a suitable aftermarket drive, which allows you to track objects hands-free and take stacked images of the Moon and planets. However, the mount, tripod, and focuser of the Polaris 130mm EQ are not up to the task of deep-sky astrophotography in any form.
Should I buy a Used Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ?
We don’t really like the Polaris 130mm EQ in the first place, but if one comes up at a suitably low price, it’s worth it, especially if you’re willing to do some tinkering to make it more stable and improve the focuser. As usual, check for obvious damage and make sure the mirror coatings are not corroded.
The Polaris 130mm EQ is far from our first pick in its price range. Here are some of our alternative recommendations:
- The Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P has the same optics as the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, but is easier to collimate, features better accessories and a better focuser, has a collapsible tube, and is mounted atop a sturdy and easy-to-use tabletop Dobsonian mount.
- The Zhumell Z114 and the copycat Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro have less aperture than the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, but come with better accessories, easy-to-use tabletop Dobsonian mounts, and better quality control.
- The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ shares the optics and features of the StarBlast 4.5 Astro but is mounted atop an equatorial mount like the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, which is less stable but works if you must have an equatorial mount and tripod.
- The Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P has more aperture and thus better performance than the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, with a tabletop Dobsonian mount, quality included accessories, and a collapsible tube for portability.
- The Popular Science Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 100AZ Refractor has similar light-gathering and resolving capabilities to the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, but its alt-azimuth mount and tripod is rock-solid, the included accessories are decent, and the Celestron StarSense Explorer technology assists you in navigating the night sky with your smartphone. However, being a fast refractor, it does have some chromatic aberration that impairs high-power viewing.
- The Gskyer 130EQ Reflector offers many of the same basic features of the Solomark Polaris 130mm EQ, but with better accessories, a better focuser, and more attention to quality control.
Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations
If you are stuck with the Polaris 130mm EQ, you might as well upgrade it to perform at its best. On the low-power end, the provided 20mm Kellner provides a rather narrow field of view; the Agena 25mm Starguider provides 26x magnification and a true field of 2.4 degrees with the Polaris 130mm EQ, versus the 33x and 1.5-degree field provided by the stock 20mm Kellner, in addition to having a wider apparent field of view, more eye relief, and better contrast/sharpness, especially towards the edges of the field.
A 15mm SWA or redline eyepiece (43x) fits nicely in magnification between the stock 20mm and 10mm Kellners. A 6mm “goldline” or “redline” will give you 108x, ideal for planetary and double star viewing. And a 3.2mm planetary eyepiece will provide 203x magnification, at around the limit of what a 5” telescope like the Polaris 130mm EQ can handle (as well as typical atmospheric conditions), but great for planetary viewing or splitting the closest double stars.
Like many other cheap equatorial mounts, the Polaris 130mm EQ’s mount has some provisions for attaching a motor drive. The Celestron Logic Drive attaches in just a few minutes and will automatically track, saving you the hassle of adjustments at high magnification and allowing for basic lunar and planetary astrophotography as well.
While somewhat expensive, a UHC (ultra high contrast) nebula filter, namely our top pick, the Orion 1.25” UltraBlock filter, enhances your views of nebulae like the Orion Nebula by only letting through the colors (technically the narrow spectral emissions) emitted by the ionized gases in the nebula. It screws onto the threads on the bottom of your 1.25” eyepieces.
What can you see with Solomark Polaris 130EQ?
The short focal length and thus fairly wide field provided by the Solomark Polaris 130EQ make it ideal for viewing larger deep-sky objects such as open star clusters, particularly with the use of a wider-field eyepiece than the provided 20mm Kellner. Open star clusters can be viewed almost anywhere, even from fairly light-polluted locales, and can feature hundreds of colorful stars inside. The Double Cluster in Cassiopeia, M11 in Scutum, the famous Pleiades (M45) in Taurus, and M35 in Gemini are some examples of showpiece open clusters that can be seen easily in the provided 6×30 finder or even with the naked eye under suitably dark skies.
You can also resolve the brightest globular star clusters, albeit barely, with the Polaris 130EQ, though a higher magnification than the 65x provided by the stock 10mm Kellner will give you the best results. Even with the 6×30 finder scope, some globular star clusters can be seen. M3, M13, M15, and M22 should all show their outer member stars at high magnification under suburban or darker skies with the Polaris 130EQ. Dimmer ones will remain “faint fuzzies” devoid of detail regardless of magnification and viewing conditions, however.
Galaxies can be seen with a 130mm aperture telescope like the Polaris 130EQ, though you’ll be able to see them best under dark skies with little to no light pollution. Even so, most galaxies are too dim to see much in the way of detail with a fairly small instrument – a few like M31 (Andromeda) or M82 (the Cigar Galaxy) may show dust lanes under good conditions, and galaxy groups like the Virgo Cluster, the elliptical galaxies orbiting M31, or the Leo Triplet can be seen without too much difficulty. In total, a few hundred galaxies are visible scattered throughout the night sky with a telescope of this size. A handful of the brightest and biggest planetary nebulae, like M27 (the Dumbbell), M57 (the Ring), and NGC 2392, can be seen; a UHC filter will allow you to see the gigantic Helix Nebula under dark enough skies, too.
The Polaris 130mm EQ can also show you bright emission nebulae, like the Orion Nebula (M42), the Lagoon (M8), and the Swan (M17). A UHC nebula filter brings out fainter detail and enhances contrast on these objects, as well as revealing new ones like the Veil Nebula in Cygnus and the previously-mentioned Helix planetary nebula.
A 130mm aperture telescope like the Polaris 130mm EQ is a great performer on Solar System objects, too. Mercury and Venus show their phases, and you can see thousands of details on the Moon with features mere miles wide visible under good seeing conditions, such as craters, mountain ranges, and ridges. The polar ice caps and dust storms on Mars can be seen, and the Polaris 130mm EQ can resolve a few dark markings when the planet is at is closest to Earth and the air is sufficiently steady. The 6×30 finder scope reveals the moons of Jupiter; their disks are visible at high magnification along with their shadows whenever they transit in front of Jupiter itself. Jupiter shows various colorful and constantly-changing cloud bands and storms, including the famed Great Red Spot, which is visible amidst the southern equatorial cloud belt on a steady night.
The Polaris 130mm EQ shows Saturn’s rings easily, along with the Cassini Division within them and some cloud belts on Saturn itself on a clear and steady night. A few moons, such as Titan and Rhea, can also be seen around Saturn. Uranus’ disk can be resolved, but a 130mm telescope is not big enough to reveal any of its subtle cloud details or faint moons; Neptune is hard to resolve at all but its large moon Triton is faintly visible close besides it. Pluto is too dim to see with the Polaris 130mm EQ; a telescope around twice the size is the minimum you’ll need to guarantee success.