Orion ST80 GSO Focuser Upgrade

Fuji X100F JPVG

Apologies for the quality, I just shot these on my phone.

About twelve years ago when I had started to recover from graduate school burnout my wife bought me an Orion ST80-A as a way to get me back into astronomy. At the time just the optical tube was under $200 and it was quite the bargain for an ultra portable telescope. I had wanted one back in middle school in the 90s when they came out and to this day I still do like a refractor despite their price and impracticality.

Since then I've accumulated a few other telescopes and this one sites idle most of the time. The one exception is solar viewing since I have a white light filter for this diameter scope. Plus I tend to do solar viewing in outreach type scenarios so having the smaller scope is nice for stowing in my office or leaving in the car. It also doesn't need much of a mount and I can usually get away with my larger photo tripod along with a Wimberly style gimbal head I use for larger telephoto lenses.

Orion ST80 Telescope

The most disappointing thing about using this telescope has usually been the focuser. It's a single speed rack and pinion that isn't the smoothest brand new and now with a little over a decade it's only gotten stiffer and less fun to use. Fortunately GSO makes a two speed linear Crayford focuser that is a direct fit replacement for the original. For the ST80 and it's mini variants, the same telescope was sold under many brands including Orion and Celestron, you'll want the 86mm version of the focuser. These days due to inflation and whatnot sadly these aftermarket focusers have creeped up a lot in price, to the point where they almost cost more than the telescope itself. Still for such a quality of life upgrade I think it's worth it.

Comparing the two focusers

As a bonus this is alost a rotating focuser so you can change the angle of the eyepiece. That's almost worth the cost of admission on its own. The GSO focuser is a bit heavier than the stock version and you'll need to buy a mounting shoe if you want to keep using the stock finder but those are about then only downsides. The stock focuser only accepts 1.25" eyepieces and the GSO will take 2" parts. With this scope I'm not sure that's really needed or wise, but it does make it easier if I ever want to do imaging through it since most of my parts for that are based on the 2" standard. I have done imaging with the ST80 before and being a lower priced archomat designed in the 90s it's what I'd call serviceable at lower magnifications and lower contrast objects.

Upgrade complete

I honestly think this is a worth while upgrade if you've got one version or the other of the ST80 laying around. It improves the usability quite a bit and that's probably 90% of what makes a telescope good in my book. I was looking at swapping out the grease on the old rack and pinion focuser which is a bit of a chore. But with a Crayford working off friction that is no longer an issue either.

Maybe the prices on the aftermarket parts will come down at some point or you can wait for a sale. I was trying to target using this for the eclipse but between cloud cover and a last minute illness I wasn't really able to get out and put it to use. Hopefully once the weather clears I'll be able to use it a little more, now to look on the used market for hydrogen alpha telescopes people are trying to pawn off after the eclipse!