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Some people get a thrill out of getting a lot for a little. Stretching your dollar to gain the most perceived value is a rush. If you are one of those people who enjoy this kind of bargain hunting then you will feel electric when you open up the Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope.

This scope has been jam packed with accessories, computerized technology, and extra features and is available for a very reasonable price. Some telescopes with these same features or with all of the included add-ons purchased separately could easily go for twice the price.

Meade Instruments ETX80 Specs

  • Refractor design
  • 80mm objective lens
  • f/5 focal ratio
  • 80x highest useful magnification
  • 12lbs assembled weight

Though the bargain level of this telescope is high, it does not come without its flaws and hiccups. If you can deal with a few potential pitfalls, the Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope has the potential to be a versatile and diverse telescope that can do a lot for a little.

Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Review
  • Packed with extras
  • Decent refractor telescope
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Quality control issues
  • Software issues
  • Not very powerful
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Let’s dive in.

Low Focal Ratio, Small Size

The thing that immediately jumped out at me about this scope’s optical specifications was the extremely low focal ratio. This was a surprise and changes the kind of experience I was expecting to have with this telescope. Generally, refractor telescopes have a higher focal ratio which is more suited to their smaller aperture sizes compared to reflector telescopes.

This combination of an 80mm objective lens and a focal ratio of f/5 makes this telescope hard to pin down. It has a wide-angle view of the stars which would benefit more from a larger objective lens. Instead, we are stuck with limited light gathering ability and a low focal ratio which leaves a lot to be desired.

This low focal ratio is derived from its very short focal length. Most refractors have a long focal length and optical tube to create higher focal ratios but this one is very squat. When it is inside of its fork housing compartment it looks more like a reflector than a refractor.

So what does this design mean?

These unique design decisions is why the highest useful magnification of this telescope is only 80x. That means that this combination is not going to work for a lot of astronomers out there. If you have specific views in mind or want a more powerful telescope or a more highly focused one, this model is going to disappoint.

In fact, if this telescope did not come with a literal backpack full of additional features, I would have to rate this poorly because of the odd optical setup they have going. However, it functions well enough that with the additional features, it scrapes by.

The lenses are fully coated with Ultra-High Transmission Coatings (UHTC™) which are designed to maximize the light intake which makes up for the smaller objective lens. The Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope can also be used on land as a terrestrial viewer as well which adds to its functionality.

You will still be able to get great views of the moon with this telescope. Other familiar sights such as bright star clusters, constellations, and bright planets will also be visible with this refractor setup.

The image quality itself is not bad, it is just hard to find objects that this telescope can image properly to really shine. That is why so many people complain about not being able to focus this scope effectively. If you are a complete beginner, this combination of low light and the low focal ratio has the potential to lead to some serious frustrations.

AI To the Rescue

One of the redeeming graces of this telescope kit is the inclusion of Meade’s full set of modern computerized functions that ship with it. This includes a fully functional goto mount, a star database comprised of over 30,000 celestial objects, a preprogrammed audio tour of the most popular sights in the night sky and a nifty handheld controller to direct it all.

This computerized setup is the way of the future for telescopes and they have been becoming more prevalent on the market but rarely at this price.

The addition of the computerized features to a standard refractor telescope is an interesting one. This whole kit feels designed for a reflector telescope but instead, they added it onto a refractor. This is what has kept the price down and the portability up which are two things not usually seen on computerized telescopes.

The Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope is able to align itself, find objects you select with the controller, and zero in on them for viewing without any human input. The system is nifty if it works properly.

The inclusion of a four-hour audio tour of the night sky turns your backyard into a live planetarium. The feature is cool but probably only has a short lifespan. Once you’ve listened to it once or twice you probably won’t be listening to it again but it is a great teaching tool. It also makes a good party trick if you are a social star gazer.

How To Setup & Align Video

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My worry is that the ETX80 is not powerful enough to fully utilize the features provided. It may offer 30,000 objects in the database but how many of those can it actually image properly? My guess is probably not many. Maybe it’ll be able to show you a lower quality broad image of some of the deep space objects but it won’t be able to offer a crisp high quality image as some telescopes can.

You will get plenty of opportunities to try the database out because this telescope is very portable. Many computerized telescopes are hard to move effectively but this one is very easy to take along to new locations. This offers a chance for the database to be opened up by new dark sky locations.

This is all if the setup works properly. A lot of people reported having issues with their software when the telescope showed up. This is a problem because if the software doesn’t work properly that downgrades the ETX80 to an overpriced standard refractor telescope.

Some people reported having issues with the software on the controller while others had a tough time getting their telescope to align properly. If it cannot align itself, the goto mount won’t work and the database becomes close to useless.

Not everyone had these problems but they are something to keep in mind. Unlike some other computerized telescopes, this one would have a hard time standing on its own without the computerized features holding it up.

Accessories For The Accessories

If the inclusion of a neat suite of software and computerized assets did not pique your interest may be the accessory list will. Meade has thrown the kitchen sink at this telescope kit and has included nearly every type of accessory you can imagine. Here is a mostly complete list of everything that will ship with the Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope.

This setup includes a tripod, a backpack that fits the optical tube and the tripod, accessory tray, two eyepieces, a finderscope, an internal flip Barlow lens, a 45-degree roof prism, dew shield, and a bubble compass.

This accessory list makes it so this telescope can be used in a variety of different ways straight out of the box with very little hassle. Combined with the computerized functionality, this scope becomes an extremely versatile tool. What it lacks in pure quality, it makes up for in quantity.

Meade has leaned into the portability aspect by including a backpack that can fit everything in it. Many telescopes come with a cheap nylon bag with an eyepiece rack but this comes with a beefier backpack that really makes it easy to hike and travel with this setup.

ETX Observer Series Video Overview

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The ETX80 has a 1.25” fitting which makes it easy to add on extra eyepieces. It comes with two out of the box a 9.7mm and a 26mm. These are nonstandard sizes for eyepieces which shows that they know that the low focal ratio will need a little bit of customization to use properly.

This telescope also comes with an internal Barlow lens which means that no matter what eyepiece you attach you can add on the benefits of a Barlow lens by flipping a switch. It ups the feasibility of the two included eyepieces and is a cool innovation that I have only seen Meade attempt to do. Boosting the magnification of any eyepiece is super easy with this feature.

For most telescopes, that would be the end of the line in terms of accessories but Meade went above and beyond by adding in a few more extras that most telescopes just don’t have.

The roof prism makes it so this telescope can be used for terrestrial viewing. This means that if you want to take it on a hike to a dark sky park, you can use it to survey the landscape during the day and then turn it skyward at night for night viewing.

It also comes with a dew shield that you can throw over it at night so that it can stay up in a campsite without having to break it down in the middle of the night. With the compass, this really does become a powerful camping telescope.

It will still do great in a backyard setting but Meade clearly designed this scope to be taken out into the wilderness. You rarely get a dew shield, backpack, and compass with a telescope.

Quality Control Issues

The biggest complaint that this telescope gets is that it ships with some quality issues. There is a deluge of frustrated users online who claim they received their telescope and it was either damaged, piecing pieces, or both.

I do not know if this is a problem with Meade itself or if there is an issue with third party retailers properly shipping everything. The missing pieces are probably on Meade’s side, there is a lot to ship with this kit. The damage could be done in shipping. It is hard to say.

There were enough complaints of this nature that it raised a red flag for me. This telescope is featured on a variety of retailers, including Meade itself, so I am not sure who the culprit is here. Somewhere along the line, there is a serious quality control issue that has arisen.

This complaint does not take away from everything this telescope offers but it is definitely something to keep in mind when you are considering a purchase.


This telescope is an oddball. The scope itself is a weird mishmash of refractor, focal ratio, and low power that makes it hard for new users to wrap there heads around. Then Meade lures you in with a fat list of accessories and extras which are intriguing enough to consider a purchase.

So who is going to be the best fit for this telescope?

I am going to say that it the outdoor astronomer. Anyone who likes to take their telescopes with them to national parks or out camping or to dark sky areas will enjoy a lot of the features and accessories of this kit. The database plus the backpack, refractor, dew shield, and compass make this an intriguing hiking telescope.

You could get any refractor to take along with you but this one comes with enough outdoor geared extras, like the backpack, that it raises its stock considerably in that regard.

I would not recommend a beginner take this telescope. There are much better, simpler, and cheaper options out there for the new astronomer. The odd optical specifications will only confuse and frustrate a brand new astronomer even if it’s one of the Best Refractor Telescopes.

If you have a little bit of know-how and love to play with telescope accessories and spend a lot of your time outdoors then this is an intriguing and valuable pick up. The accessories themselves offset the cost by a lot. If you are looking for a bargain, interesting accessories, or a versatile outdoor telescope then the Meade Instruments ETX80 Observer Telescope is a good consideration.