Orion XT10 Dobsonian Telescope Review (2020)

Ease of Use

4/5

Optical Quality

5/5

Mount Quality

5/5

Overall Score

4.5/5

Overview

The large aperture Orion XT10 is a tried and trusted telescope. For as little as $600, you’ll own a versatile telescope which specializes in deep space but will also provide a lifetime of planetary and double star observation enjoyment.

Vital Statistics

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Introduction

The SkyQuest XT10 Dobsonian telescope is one of the most purchased and well regarded larger telescopes on the market today, and one of our top 2020 telescopes.

Orion SkyQuest XT10g
Orion’s XT10g

The XT10 is one of the 18 models in Orion’s XT telescope range which is designed to meet the needs of all backyard astronomers, no matter their experience level or budget.

In this review, we’ll look at the wider range before digging into the specifics of the XT10 and our views on why this is a great Dobsonian telescope.

XT Range of Telescopes

Orion produces a large range of XT telescopes, with the XT10 being one of the most popular.

Their sizes range from a kid-friendly 4.5 inches and range through 6”, 8”, 10”, 12”, 14” and 16”. Technically, the largest two models are XX models, not XT, because they have open truss frames instead of solid OTAs. There 12” is available in XT or XX versions.

To make things a little more complicated there are also sub-models for many of these sizes. However, they are easy enough to understand:

  • ‘PLUS’ – these models have upgrades over the standard base design, including dual-speed Crayford focuser, adjustable tension in the Dob base and extra accessories 
  • ‘g’ – models with a ‘g’ in them, e.g. SkyQuest XT10g, have a go-to motorized computer attached to them with a 42,000 object database
  • ‘i’ – this stands for ‘Intelliscope’, e.g. SkyQuest XT10i, which is SkyQuest’s push-to database of 14,000 objects

The 8” and 10” SkyQuests are available as ‘Classic’ (base model), ‘plus’, goto or intelliscope. The 4.5” model only comes with the basic setup, the 6” model is either ‘classic’ or ‘plus’. At the top end of the range, the 12” and 14” models are only available with ‘intelliscope’ or ‘goto’ capability, and the 16” only comes with goto.

XT Telescope Pricing

At present, the telescopes in the XT range are priced as follows on Telescope.com. Click the links to see today’s prices:

Specifications of the SkyQuest XT10

Whichever version of the XT10 you buy you’ll end up with the same optical tube assembly. These are its specifications:

  • Optical Diameter – 254mm
  • Focal Length – 1200mm
  • Focal Ratio – f/4.7
  • Primary Mirror – Parabolic
    • Low thermal expansion borosilicate glass
  • Focuser – 2” Crayford
    • 2” dual-speed Crayford on Intelliscope and Goto models
  • Eyepieces – 25mm (48x magnification)
    • Additional 10mm (120x) included with XT10i and 10g models
    • 12.5mm illuminated reticle (XT10g only) for precise centering of stars during star alignment
  • Resolving Power – 0.46arcsec
  • Limiting Stellar magnitude – 14.7

As we’ve mentioned, there are different versions of the X10. As well as the Classic, there is also an ‘Intelliscope’ push-to version and a goto model. In the next section, we look at what these are and the differences between them.

SkyQuest’s Intelliscope vs. Goto

Whereas we see many go-to telescopes, we don’t come across many push-to scopes at all.

The concept is a simple one, there’s a database of objects attached to the telescope. Select an object from the controller and it tells you where to move the scope to place that object in your field of view.

There are many upsides to this. For one, it requires no motors (other than you) so it is lighter and quieter than goto systems, and it requires no external power source.

Purists also argue that it is a better system because you as the astronomer still have control over moving the scope around the night sky. This helps improve your astronomy knowledge and experience, rather than abdicating responsibility to a goto computer.

The other big upside of Intelliscope is that it’s literally half the price of the goto model, as you’ll have seen in the list above. In fact, for $200 less than the XT10g model you could have the XT12i and enjoy a whopping foot-wide mirror, with enough change for a decent eyepiece or two!

How to Set Up Intelliscope

The Intelliscope is a ‘push-to’ not a go-to. The controller tells you where to move the scope for any particular object. This is great for the battery life of the controller and is also a great way for new and young astronomers to find their way around the sky.

The Intelliscope handset is a simple controller powered by a 9v battery. 

The scope users encoders to know where it is. After the initial setup, these digital setting circles track where the telescope moves in each axis in minute detail.

Setup steps:

  1. Switch on the object locator (with its 14,000 object database)
  2. Point the telescope tube vertical, which is simple using the vertical stop on the base. This is so the controller knows the tube is at right angles to the base. The base does not need to be on level ground to do this
  3. Now we need to align the telescope using two bright stars, such as Vega and Altair. Find each in turn (using a star map if needed), centering them in your eyepiece and then pressing ‘enter’ on the hand controller
  4. With that done, the handset displays ‘W=+[number]’. The number you see should be less than 1 and, ideally, less than 0.5. This is a measure of how accurately aligned the telescope is. You are now ready to begin star hunting!
  5. The keypad is simple to use. The number keys 1-8 all have a menu heading, 1=M (for Messier), 4=Nebula, 7=Planet, etc
  6. Choose your object from the database by first picking a heading and then entering a number, e.g. [M] [4] [2] for the Orion Nebula
  7. The goto guide will display numbers for where to move your scope in the vertical and horizontal dimensions to get your desired object in view. Move the scope until both arrow readings reach zero, which is when your target will be in view
  8. If you don’t know what you’d like to look at, choose the ‘tour’ option and pick an item off there
  9. Finally, there is a reverse lookup functionality. If you have an object in view but don’t know what it is, simply press the ‘ID’ key and the controller will tell you

This video shows how to use Intelliscope and provides a good description of how it differs from goto functionality:

How to Setup The Goto Motor Drive

The goto setup has a similar setup to the Intelliscope models, but this time there are drive motors for the altitude and azimuth axis. These slew the telescope to any object you choose from the 42,000 object database.

Of course, this is a huge benefit if you just want to enjoy the sights available on any night without the need to consult a planisphere and spend time star-hopping your way around.

The major drawback that you might not have considered is the need for an additional power source to run the drive motors because this is not included with the telescope. Here is a suitable model, but note that you’ll need to add about $170 to your budget to run it.

There are two modes on the goto scope, auto-tracking, and fully goto.

With auto-tracking mode you can still find an object yourself and then the scope will keep it in the eyepiece. This mode is super simple to set up too, just point the scope north in a horizontal position, press a button on the controller and you’re all set.

The alignment for this mode is the same as for the Intelliscope set up above, just follow steps 1-4. Once set, alignment is kept for as long as you’re connected to power, even if you bump it or manually slew it.

An alternative method of control for the goto range is your smartphone. The XT10g has Wifi enabled and so can be controlled directly from an app on your device.

This video from Orion Telescopes gives much more detail on goto functionality:

XT10 Telescope and Optics

The most important part of any telescope is its optics. The XT10 range all have a parabolic primary mirror, made from low thermal expansion borosilicate glass. Also known as BK7, this glass has superior thermal characteristics and reaches equilibrium temperature faster for clearer images.

As with any reflector telescope, the XT10 will need to be collimated from time to time. This is not a hard job, as our guide to collimation shows, and can be made easier with the use of a laser collimator tool. Orion ship the XT range ready-collimated, so initial and subsequent adjustments should be minor. Our advice is to quickly check mirror alignment every time you use it, especially if it’s moved.

The Classic model is supplied with only a single speed, 2-inch focuser, which is not a dealbreaker but you may want to replace it with the dual-speed Crayford for fine focus with a lighter touch. The dual-speed is a standard fitting on the i and g models.

With the finderscope, we find again that the Classic model is a lesser specification because it comes with a simple red dot model, far from ideal for such a scope. The i and g versions are supplied with a decent correct image 9×50 finderscope, which is much more suitable.

We know it’s done to hit a price point, but it defies logic to provide a worse finderscope on the model without the ability to show you where objects are!

What we really need to know though is what will you be able to see with a 10”, f/4.7 telescope? We’ll discover the answer to that next.

What You Can See With the XT10

The XT10’s focal ratio of f/4.7 makes it a marginally ‘fast’ telescope, so it’s better suited for larger fields of view and lower magnification. This is great because 10” of mirror is best used on larger, more distant objects such as galaxies and nebulae.

If you’re a fan of planetary or lunar viewing, don’t worry, this scope has more than enough prowess to deliver exceptionally detailed views of Jupiter’s cloud patterns and Saturn’s rings as well as picking out details on the Martian surface when it gets close enough to us.

Deep Space Viewing

When looking at galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae, we often need a large field of view to see the whole object in one go.

Our field of view is determined by two things, the eyepiece used and the magnification we achieve. The 1200mm focal length makes for generally lower magnifications and wider fields of view.

Let’s use an example: the Luminos eyepiece we reviewed has a wide apparent field of view of 82°. If we use the 19mm Luminos in our XT10, we achieve a magnification of 63x (1200mm/19mm). To work out our field of view we divide that 63x magnification into the apparent field of view of the eyepiece, i.e. 82°/63 = 1.3°.

Put simply, we can achieve a 63x magnification and a big 1.3° field of view with this scope/eyepiece combo, delivering spectacular views of the Pleiades, Orion Nebula, and other stunning deep space objects.

Add to that a nebula filter and a 2x Barlow lens and you have an enviable setup for your backyard astronomy.

The limiting stellar magnitude is given as 14.7, meaning that we can see objects down to that magnitude, under perfect conditions. That puts dwarf planet Pluto within reach! Use this calculator to work out the limiting magnitude for your observations.

Here’s what owners of the XT10 have to say about their DSO experiences:

Comment on Cloudy Nights forum (source)
A view from AstronomyForum.net (source)

As you can see, a 10″ mirror puts a whole lot of deep space within your grasp. However, if your preferred viewing is the planets, what can the XT10 do for you there?

Solar System Viewing

Ten inches of light-gathering power is huge!

This ten-inch mirror gathers 56% more light than can be achieved with an 8” scope! Such light-gathering prowess means you can use high magnification on the brighter objects of our solar system and still receive quality views of details that are out of reach for smaller models. 

As astronomers, we’re all limited by the Earth’s atmosphere on how much magnification we can ultimately use but, on a good seeing night, you’ll comfortably push this scope to 300x with a 4mm eyepiece (or 8mm with a 2x Barlow).

Viewing with such high magnification also demands a rock-steady base because shake and vibration become more exaggerated at higher magnifications. The weighty, sturdy Dob base on this Orion is more than up to the job.

Only the brightest objects can handle that level of magnification. Users report that the moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mars all look magnificent through this scope.

Here are some more first-hand reviews of the XT10:

Seeing Jupiter’s Great Red Spot with the XT10 (source)
Seeing the Cassini Division in Saturn’s rings (source)
More about Saturn, the video mentioned is below (source)

Now we’ve seen how good the XT10 is with DSOs and planets, let’s take a look at how it copes with splitting double stars.

Double Stars

One final area of space exploration where the XT10 excels is in splitting double stars. Bigger apertures deliver finer resolution (which is why they show more detail on planets and the moon too).

The XT10’s resolving power is just 0.46 arcseconds, less than 1/7200th of a degree!

The formula for calculating resolving power is simple but there are two versions of it: Rayleigh and Dawes. The Dawes Limit describes the separation at which a double star might be suspected whereas the Rayleigh Limit is when actual separation can be observed, i.e. there is a seeable gap between stars.

For the first, divide the aperture in inches into 5.45 and for Dawes use 4.56. For the XT10 we get 0.55” and 0.46” respectively, which means you can see as separate stars doubles which are about half an arcsecond apart!

This article from Sky & Telescope gives some challenging doubles which only a 10” scope can reach.

As we’ve seen, Orion’s XT10 is a great all-rounder. The dimensions make it natively built for wide-field, deep space objects. But its huge mirror delivers stunning planetary views and a resolving power that rewards double star hunters too.

Setting Up the Orion XT10

You may be concerned about the amount of setup required for a scope of this size, but you needn’t worry.

The XT10 is supplied in two parts, the Optical Tube Assembly (OTA) and its Dobsonian base. You don’t need to set up the OTA, it is advisable however to check collimation before using it for the first time, and making sure the finderscope is properly aligned.

The Dobsonian base comes flat packed and will need construction, but that’s a simple enough exercise and all the hardware you need is provided. This detailed walk-through video from Orion will make sure that you don’t go wrong:

Let’s take a closer look at that mount.

The XT10 Dobsonian Mount

Telescopes are often let down by a base or mount which is neither sturdy or robust. Weaker mounts lead to vibrations in the eyepiece when it’s touched for focusing or you’re stargazing on a breezy night, which makes for a poor astronomy session.

With the Orion XT range, there are no such issues. The solid base is a rigid and forgiving platform that naturally dampens vibrations and creates a reliable viewing experience.

The Classic model has tension springs to keep the tube optimally balanced in the cradle. Bearings in the mount are non-stick PTFE / UHMW for smooth movement in both axes. The Intelliscope version comes with a ‘disc brake’ tension system and setting circles, which are superior to the springs.

Praise for the Intelliscope ‘disc brake’ (source)

In the same thread as the above quote, a user reports that ‘The ‘disc brake’ tension adjust system allows you to compensate for heavier weight eyepieces such as the Hyperion, Stratus or Nagler…’

However, if you’re watching the pennies and want to buy the Classic model, don’t be alarmed. As another user says, ‘the springs hold wonderfully’!

One concern about big scopes is how easy they are to move from storage to your observing site, so let’s look at that next.

Is The Orion XT10 Telescope Easy to Move?

There’s no disguising that the XT10, with its large mirror, is a big telescope that needs a base up to the task of handling it.

The OTA is 10 inches wide, weighs in at just over 30 lbs and is four feet long. It does detach from the base but is a beast even so. 

The cost of a sturdy and stable Dobsonian base is weight, which is 22.6lbs (10.3kg). That’s not exceptional but it is unwieldy, so, if you want to move the scope around frequently, it’s worth considering how you’ll deal with that.

You definitely won’t want to carry this up and down any stairs! Ideally, you’ll want to store it near where you’ll use it, e.g. a shed or garage. This has the added advantage of being much nearer to ambient temperature, so you won’t have to wait for your mirror to cool down for peak performance.

We suggest using carry handles or putting the whole telescope on a cart or hand truck will make moving this scope around a much easier proposition.

In reality, only the biggest sedan cars will have room in the trunk for the OTA, but it will lay across the back seats. Otherwise, you’ll need to collapse a rear seat in an SUV or use a pickup to move it any kind of distance.

This video shows the official dob dolly in use, which you can buy here:

Included Accessories

There are slight variances between the accessories supplied with the XT10 Classic and the XT10i and g. In the list below we’ve highlighted what comes with the Classic. Any variation with the i or g versions is shown in brackets.

  • 25mm Orion Sirius Plossl eyepiece, 1.25” fitting. This provides 48x magnification
    • (Additional 10mm Orion Sirius Plossl eyepiece included with 10i & 10g. This provides 120x magnification)
  • Eyepiece rack mounted on the base
  • Red dot finder
    • (9×50 finderscope, right angle, correct image on 10i & 10g)
  • 2” – 1.25” eyepiece adaptor
  • Collimation cap – cheap and simple collimation
  • Starry Night software, which is not cheap to buy separately

We’ve looked at most of these in the review above, so we won’t revisit them here, except to say that if you buy the classic model you’ll soon want to upgrade your finderscope, maybe to a Telrad.

Advice from Stargazers Lounge on EPs (source)

Whichever model you choose, the quality and size of eyepieces will make a big difference to your observations. You can see more on eyepieces here.

What XT10 Owners Say

So far we’ve looked at the specifications of the XT10 and the differences between the models. We’ve also considered what you can see with the Orion XT10, but what we really need to know before making that final buy decision is what owners have to say about this telescope.

Below, we’ve set some helpful views and experiences of XT10 owners of the which can be found in the popular astronomy forums Cloudy Nights and Stargazers Lounge.

A ringing endorsement of optics (source)
Great advice for DSO viewing (source)
Car transporting and ease of setup (source)
Be prepared to add a handle and wheels to make moving easier (source)

Overall, there’s a lot of positive comments out there. Let’s wrap up what we’ve learned about the Orion XT10.

Summary

Best Dobsonian telescope between $500 and $1000 orion 8946 skyquest xt10

A 10″ telescope is beyond the size we could consider to be a beginner scope. With an aperture this large you are likely upgrading or had lots of practice at your local astronomy club.

The Orion XT range is tried, tested and trusted by thousands of backyard astronomers and has been for many years. It’s a relatively inexpensive scope, costing as little as $600.

For that price, you’ll get a versatile tube which specializes in deep space but will also provide a lifetime of planetary and double star enjoyment.

Things to watch out for include its size and the sacrifices made on the basic model. Ten-inch scopes are big, that can’t be helped. So keep in mind how you’ll transfer it and that you’ll need to allow plenty of time for that big mirror to reach optimum temperature.

As for specifications, we’ve seen that the Classic model is cheap because Orion severely limits the number and quality of accessories. That may not be an issue if you’re upgrading but, if this is your first scope, it may be worth opting for the Intelliscope / Goto varieties for a better package.

Whatever you choose, we believe you’ll not be disappointed if you buy the Orion SkyQuest XT10 for your backyard.