I have been into astronomy for many years mostly using the lower & mid-range gear due to financing my other hobbies and interest. In April I began looking into expanding my telescopes either with a new APO refactor which I did eventually purchase, or upgrade my mount which I also managed to do, add some focusers, or expand into solar or a combo. After knocking out two of the three upgrades on my bucket list, I decided to go with a solar telescope to be used for visual and imaging.
Now 2 years later, the Lunt 80 is a proven workhorse and up to the task. I try to use the setup often (as weather allows) below are my thoughts and comments with my hands-on backyard experience, written up as a mini-review, in case you are on the fence.
The Lunt 80mm ships in a well-made protective case with everything you need to get into solar viewing right out of the box – but you will still need a telescope mount. Included items are a vixen dovetail, a solar finder, a lunt zoom eyepiece, a focuser (I got the feather touch version), and a blocking filter. The blocking filter and focuser are normally selected based on your preferences during your checkout from your favorite reseller. My first blocking filter was defective and I sent it back and upgraded to the B3400.
Fit and Finish of the Telescope: The scope sports a red anodize HA module with a large knob to “tune” the scope which looks and feels well-made, The knobs are firm without any hint of slop with very secure and positive feedback as you tune the telescope. The OTA is covered in a good coating of white metal flake paint, and in the sun the hints of metal sparkle, nice touch. This scope stands out in a crowd of other telescopes especially when outfitted with the dual-stack module, I have no complaints with the fit and finish or performance of this instrument.
With everything attached and ready for action the scope weighs in at around 9 lbs. So, if you are on a budget and was looking for a Mount you could get buy with a smaller one, I would recommend a telescope mount that supports 30lbs if you are just starting.
Tuning: Lunt features a pressure tuner to bring the sun’s details in and out of clarity & contrast. Basically, the big knob has air inside, and as it is screwed in or out the air pressure changes and this affects the HA tuner. Lunt recommends “bleeding” the tuners to equalize the air pressure to your local area; this is a simple process by unscrewing the knob until the o-ring is moved outside the inner brass tube allowing the air to equalize. Then you simply screw the knob back on. The benefit of this type of setup is that no visual obstructions going down the center of the optics. I recommend you allow the Telescope to come up to temperature to fully reap the benefits and the view be most stable, as you know air expands as it heats and this is an air pressure tuning system.
Tuning is quick and easy I do notice a bit of lag between the time you turn the tuner and the results “stabilize” in the eyepiece. No big deal because you quickly get used to doing this, and grow accustomed to how far to tune in or out for different effects. If you have added the second DSII module then tuning is a bit different but not all that more difficult. Not to minimize the need to learn your telescope, The tuning technique will take some time, especially when using it as a double stack. It took me the better part of two days to feel comfortable with the tuning. My technique is to tune the first module, then adjust the second one until you have the view just right. You may ask how much of a difference does the second DSII makes? I do notice more contrast, and more details appear and allow me more latitude to tune solar prominence, chromosphere as well as sunspots. You probably will not miss not having a second DSII module until you use one, then you may decide to take the plunge. One last note on purging the tuner; Keep in mind air expands as it gets hotter. So, for the most stable operations, as I stated earlier, I recommend you do your purge after the scope warms up or cools down whatever the weather situation is - outdoors
The drawback to adding a second DSII is that it cost $1,400.00, adds weight, creates some additional “reddish” casting during viewing. For some, the reddish cast and sometimes what appears to be a ghost image can annoy, but with careful eye placement, the right eyepiece the issue becomes mute. If you are set up to start imaging, there are none of these issues to speak of, except some of the reddish background cast, but shooting in B&W this can easily be taken care of in post.
Blocking Filter: I choose a B1800 filter because I also want to do imaging and 1800 works well with this scope and cost was reasonable. When I first started to use the Telescope I had difficulty in viewing and found out I had a defective blocking filter, I returned it and upgraded to a B3400 for an additional $1000.00 difference to spend. Why B3400, it is all about "size" and imaging. Nothing wrong with a B1200 or B1800 just that the B3400 has a much larger filter size and when used with the right camera can offer the "full disk" experience.
Visuals: Everyone who views through the Lunt LS80mm H-Alpha Telescope is pleased with the views especially those first solar lookers. This Solar Telescope can deliver jaw-dropping views of the sun, especially with a second DSII module.
Imaging Platform: This instrument makes your imaging task simple, especially if you have a camera rated for Solar such as a ZWOASI174 or ZWO ASI178. All that might be required is a laptop or tablet, a couple of extension tubes, I use 1.5, 2, and 3 inches and of course the camera.
Final thoughts: Using this scope as shipped is easy and just might be the goldilocks of solar scopes - just right, light enough to use on most mounts, and provides a good focal length for viewing. I highly recommend you visit a “solar party” in your area and take a look through one of these instruments first hand as to set your expectations before making a purchase. An investment in a solar telescope should expand your enjoyment in astronomy but Solar telescopes are considerably more costly as compared to nighttime scopes. If you can afford it a 100mm might just be the perfect Solar Telescope for general use and imaging, while the 80 is right there on its heels as a very portable HA solution, and of course, if you really need portability the 60mm is perfect.
CONS and what are my problems: When I first received this solar system (pun) I was not pleased with the very bad ghosting issues. As it turned out I had a defective BF1800, and I did not realize it until my BF3400 arrived just recently. Once I viewed through the BF3400 I knew something was wrong with the BF1800, so I took a careful look and discovered the filter glass inside was not properly placed and one edge was exposed, not fully seated beyond the circular viewing diameter. Light has a way of getting into places it should not and I suspect that was causing very difficult views. Problem SOLVED. OPT covered this in an RMA months after I initially noted a problem, Thanks OPT!!
Overall I have no real complaints This is a wonderful Solar Telescope, light enough and compact to use on a regular basis without strain. I love the fact I can view the sun in this detail and can set up my Lunt 80mm in a very short time, this makes it very usable, and when something is easy and portable you get more enjoyment out of it because you actually use it.
The Other Stuff If You Care To Read:
Research: I did my research in solar telescopes prior to me making a purchase I was reading everything I could find and digest. Investing in a solar telescope is not exactly the cheapest item in this hobby. So, if you’re thinking about getting into a solar rig I do highly recommend doing your own research as well, especially if this is your first time. In hindsight, I wished I took the extra time to go out and find a “solar party” so I could have look through a couple of models before making the decision to purchase. If so, I may have gone with a 100mm version, but these 80 rocks. + there are always other manufactures to consider.
Stuff you need to know: Blocking Filters, all solar scopes have these in various sizes. My Lunt setup consists of a B1800 blocking filter and if you are new to solar this may need some explanation because it may not be obvious what the difference in blocking filter sizes is. In the most simplistic way a Blocking Filter is placed right before the eyepiece or imaging device and the larger the number means the larger the diameter. The larger blocking filters allow more visual room around the sun and depending on the focal length of the telescope ensures you have a “full disk” to look at. Picking out the right size blocking filter is somewhat easy as the manufacturer's list which ones work best for viewing and imaging at different focal lengths. The larger the number means a larger diameter use and you probably guessed that a larger blocking filter = more $$. Example: a B1800 today cost $998.00 and a B3400 cost $1,798.00. So, you can see the blocking filter does impact your overall solar telescope cost - remember, you can always upgrade the blocking filter later when you get your camera and equipment ready for imaging.
The term double stack; Lunt and others offer the ability to add a second HA module, providing even more details of the sun. A double-stack module; for the lunt 80mm will set you back around $1,400.00. A DSII allows more details to come through along with other challenges, The good news is a DSII module is something you can add later and for the Lunt 80, it takes all of 5 minutes to add the DSII module.
I purchased mine through OPT Telescopes. I have been doing business with OPT for most of my astronomy needs, they are fast, have an accurate stock status for their inventory, and have knowledgeable staff. Other companies sometimes hide the fact they don’t have the item in stock until you make a purchase - then it shows as back-ordered. So, OPT gets a gold star for being upfront on their available stock.
Mount: Well obviously you will need a mount and a tracking mount reduces any "manual" adjusting you need to do while the scope is out for viewing, and is a necessity for imaging, nothing better than a mount that tracks the sun. Speaking of tracking, I wrote another review for the Hinode Solar Guider so check it out, link below.
The scope: Mine arrived from OPT in good condition double boxed with the scope resting inside the metal case. My one issue was the blocking filters had paint chips in two places and a paint crack on one edge This at first appeared cosmetic but months later I discovered otherwise, after contacting OPT they replaced it under RMA this April - this is exactly why you need a company like OPT!
This scope comes with a Lunt zoom eyepiece, vixen mount, and a solar aligner, and once mounted has everything you need to start viewing right out of the box.
Lunt makes a fantastic 80mmSolar Telescope and I expect my next solar purchase will be with OPT and Lunt - both fantastic.