4.5” Newtonian reflectors are a staple of beginner telescope offerings. Of course, many are “hobby killer” telescopes—those with bad Bird-Jones optics, shaky and undersized mounts, and plastic eyepieces yielding far too much to be usable. However, a few models out there are excellent, namely the sturdy Dobsonians offered by Celestron and Orion, as well as a few equatorially mounted models. Four are compared in this article: the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ, the Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro, the Orion Observer 114, and the Zhumell-branded Z114 tabletop Dobsonian telescope.
Orion Telescopes and Binoculars are well known for their offerings of high-quality beginner and advanced amateur telescopes and equipment, and their StarBlast 4.5 Astro Dobsonian is a staple of their lineup, having been introduced almost 25 years ago. The StarBlast 4.5 Astro’s well-known twin, the StarBlast II or StarBlast EQ, uses the same optics but sits atop a spindly equatorial mount and tripod.
Orion recently went through a series of legal battles with one of their main Chinese suppliers, Synta. The result was that both of the StarBlast scopes got tweaked a little bit, and the new, lower-quality Observer 114 was also introduced. The web of American, Chinese, and other astronomical equipment makers/vendors is a bit confusing. Although Synta owns the Zhumell brand, they only produce the tabletop Zhumell telescopes; Guan Sheng Optical in Taiwan produces the larger Zhumell Dobsonians and also sells them through High Point Scientific under the Apertura brand. In any case, the Zhumell Z114 is merely a clone of the old, Synta-made Orion StarBlast and is still almost identical to the new StarBlast version.
The Zhumell Z114 is merely a clone of the old, Synta-made Orion StarBlast and is still almost identical to the new StarBlast version.
Orion’s new Observer 114 reflector, sadly, is closer to being a “department store” telescope or “hobby killer” than a serious astronomical instrument. The supplied optics, accessories, and general design sound a lot like the StarBlast II, but there’s a decided lack of quality, from the barely working red dot sight to the suspiciously lightweight and cheapened “Plossl” oculars supplied. We don’t recommend this telescope unless your only alternatives are decidedly worse models. However, the StarBlast II is decent enough, and the StarBlast 4.5 Astro/Z114 are among the top picks in our telescope rankings and for newcomers to astronomy as a whole. You can’t go wrong with these simple, portable, wide-field telescopes, and they render pleasing views of the Moon and planets at high power too.
|Scope||Aperture & Focal Length||Optical Design||Mount Type||Max FOV*||Maximum Magnification||Stability||Quality|
|Newtonian Reflector||Alt-Az Tabletop||3.6°||225x||5/5||4/5|
|Newtonian Reflector||Alt-Az Tabletop||3.6°||225x||5/5||4/5|
|Newtonian Reflector||German EQ||3.6°||225x||3/5||4/5|
|Newtonian Reflector||German EQ||3.2°||225x|
*Max FOV is a bit of an irrelevant figure here, as coma will render the outer degree or so unusable with all of these telescopes.
The only significant difference between the Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro and Zhumell Z114 tabletop Dobsonians is in their fluctuating retail price; whichever you can obtain for a lower amount and more easily is the one we would recommend. Both are excellent telescopes.
The equatorially-mounted Orion StarBlast II, while similarly priced to the two Dobs, wouldn’t be our first choice due to the limitations and difficulty of learning how to use an equatorial mount. There is little practical benefit to an equatorial mount for most visual observation, especially with a small, wide-field telescope.
The Orion Observer 114 is just a lower-quality imitator of the StarBlast, lacking the same attention to good optics or build quality and including toy-like accessories that barely fulfill their intended function.
Table of Contents
The Zhumell Z114 and both Orion StarBlast variants are 114mm (4.5”) f/4 Newtonian reflectors with a focal length of 450mm, give or take a few millimeters. These scopes are designed for wide-field views of deep-sky objects, having been inspired by the now-defunct Edmund Scientific Astroscan.
The Orion Observer 114mm uses a slightly longer focal ratio primary, an f/4.4 unit with a 500mm focal length. This translates to a marginally narrower field of view, slightly less coma, and slightly more lax collimation tolerances. However, the Observer 114mm is not held to the same quality standards as the 114mm f/4 reflectors and consequently may not have as sharp images.
At f/4 and f/4.4, there is quite a bit of coma at the edges of the field of view of these telescopes. Of course, given that all use only a 1.25” focuser, there isn’t much you can do about it since coma correctors are not made for 1.25” size formats. The other aberrations you may see with a low-power eyepiece with these telescopes are things like edge-of-field astigmatism caused by the eyepiece itself; high-quality wide-angle eyepieces will clean up the view somewhat.
Speaking of focusers, all four of these telescopes both use 1.25” rack-and-pinion focusers made out of plastic. These focusers have some backlash and wobble, enough to make a laser collimator basically unusable as the device will not remain parallel to the focuser body. However, they work well enough with most 1.25” eyepieces and are smooth enough for high power use, especially if properly shimmed and lubricated. The collimation of these telescopes is adjusted at the back end with three small hand knobs for the primary mirror and three recessed screws in the spider at the front end for the secondary mirror. On the StarBlasts and Z114, these are hex screws; the Observer uses Philips head screws for adjusting the secondary.
The Observer 114 differs from the 114mm f/4 reflectors in that it uses a cast metal 3-vane spider rather than a thin 4-vane spider tensioned at the ends. This means it has thicker spider vanes, causing brighter diffraction spikes on stars and planets – as well as six of them instead of four, given the 3-vane design it uses. The cast metal of the Observer 114’s spider is very brittle and prone to breaking if the telescope is mishandled. This design choice is a cost-cutting measure, and as with the rest of the Observer 114, it demonstrates the markedly lower quality of this telescope compared with the competition.
The tabletop Dobsonian StarBlast and the Z114 both attach to their mounts with a plastic clam shell that encloses the tube but allows you to rotate and slide the tube as well as remove it if you wish. The StarBlast II and Observer 114mm both utilize a pair of metal tube rings bolted to a Vixen-style dovetail to hold the tube; the dovetail in turn slides into the mount’s Vixen-compatible saddle or into the saddle of any compatible mount you wish to use with the scope. You can buy the correct size rings to attach the Dobsonian-mounted StarBlast or Z114 optical tubes to a dovetail plate and likewise use them on another mount, too.
Being budget-priced telescopes, the eyepieces included with the Z114 and both StarBlast variants are all, well, not exactly optimized for f/4. The StarBlast II is in theory the most well-equipped with its pair of Plossl eyepieces – a 25mm yielding 18x and a 10mm for 45x, respectively. But the 25mm ocular actually provides too low of a magnification to be useful in more light-polluted environments. The StarBlast 4.5 Astro swaps the 25mm for a more reasonable 20mm Bertele (23x) and the 10mm Plossl for a Bertele as well. Neither are great eyepieces, but they are sharp enough given the low price of these telescopes. The Z114 includes a 17mm Kellner (24x) and a 10mm Kellner.
The Observer 114, too, includes a pair of “Plossls” – a 25mm (20x) and a 10mm (50x in this telescope). However, these are not the high-quality kind bundled with the StarBlast II – but rather, they are mostly plastic and decidedly mediocre in performance.
Obviously, 45x or 50x isn’t nearly enough magnification to enjoy close-up views of the Moon and planets, so you’ll want to pick up at least one or two shorter focal length eyepieces and/or a Barlow lens for any of these three telescopes. A 4mm “planetary” eyepiece (125x in the Observer, 113x in the others) is a good choice for the highest magnification you’re likely to use; a 9mm redline/goldline is a good replacement for these telescopes’ stock 10mm oculars (yielding 56x with the Observer 114 and 50x with the other telescopes).
All four of these telescopes are equipped with red dot finders, which work fine for aiming a low-power, wide-field instrument. But the version supplied with the Observer 114, as with much of the telescope, is substandard compared to the red dot sight typically provided with other telescopes such as the three in our comparison.
The Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro and Zhumell Z114 both use a tabletop Dobsonian mount (technically a one-armed alt-azimuth fork if you want to get really technical). This mount is simple – push the telescope where you want to go, and it pivots up-down while the base swivels left-right.
The Orion StarBlast II and Observer 114 use a German equatorial (EQ) mount. Equatorial mounts are designed to follow the rotation of the night sky on one axis (the right ascension axis), mimicking the Earth’s direction of rotation. The other axis, declination, adjusts north-south pointing. A counterweight is required to balance the telescope on a German equatorial mount, which must be properly adjusted to keep the scope from swinging about or drooping when the clutches are unlocked. Fine slow-motion cables allow you to keep tracking your target by simply turning the right ascension knob every so often.
While the ability to follow the sky with the turn of a single knob sounds nice in theory, in practice there are only disadvantages to the adoption of German EQ configuration. The cheap EQ-1 mounts supplied with these two telescopes, while certainly sturdy enough, lack the robustness of a Dobsonian mount as well as a polar scope for accurate alignment. Equatorial mounts used with Newtonian reflectors also tend to put the eyepiece and/or finder in extremely awkward and uncomfortable positions when aimed at certain portions of the sky. You can add an aftermarket drive so these telescopes automatically track, but in lieu of this additional expense, there is really no good reason to go with an equatorially mounted telescope over the StarBlast 4.5 Astro or Zhumell Z114 and their Dobsonian configurations.
Astrophotography Capability Comparison
Despite the assumptions of some beginners (and confusing marketing by manufacturers), the equatorial mount of the StarBlast II and Observer 114 does not render it any more usable for astrophotography than either of its Dobsonian counterparts. The more useful item included (at least with the StaBlast II) is its smartphone-to-eyepiece adapter, which will allow you to take shots of the Moon and perhaps the planets. However, for long-exposure astrophotography, you’ll need a much more expensive telescope and mount, or a DSLR/lens and a motorized star tracker.