Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2: a clever equatorial mount makes this a standout telescope for amateur astronomers looking for something more advanced

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2: a clever equatorial mount makes this a standout telescope for amateur astronomers looking for something more advanced


The Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope is one of the best beginner telescopes (opens in new tab) simply because it’s one of the most unusual. At its core it’s a Newtonian reflector telescope like many others available on the market, but the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 has something different in the shape of its equatorial mount (EQ). While most telescopes at this price come on a basic alt-azimuth mount that moves up and down, left and right, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 moves much more fluidly thanks to having one axis aligned to Polaris, the North Star. Here’s everything you need to know about the unique and impressive Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 – and just why its EQ mount could be worth investing in.

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 review: Specifications

  • Optical design: Newtonian reflector
  • Aperture: 130 mm
  • Focal length: /900 mm
  • Focal ratio: f/6.9
  • Eyepiece focal length: 10 mm (30x) and 25 mm (75x)
  • Total kit weight: 12.6 kg
  • Mount type: German equatorial (EQ2)

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope review: price and release date

The Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 originally went on sale in 2012 and costs $236 / £195 / AU$600. It’s of mid-range size in Sky-Watcher’s line-up of Newtonian reflector telescopes, though its EQ2 is an entry-level model in its vast range of equatorial mounts.

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope review: features and what’s new

The Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 is all about its clever equatorial mount, but there is more to it than that. It’s a Newtonian reflector with 5.1 inch/130 mm aperture, which enables it to collect just enough light to make the sky objects look bright and detailed. In the box are two eyepieces – 25mm for wide-angle views and 10mm for close-ups – as well as a 2x Barlow lens for doubling the magnification. Unlike most smaller budget telescopes that’s something the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 can cope with because of its 900mm tube length.

Although its reasonably long tube makes it heavier than most, it’s actually that equatorial and the counterweight it comes with that piles on the pounds. Although it’s equipped with two axes just like any telescope mount, instead of the simple left/right, up/down design of an alt-azimuth mount – the kind you get with almost all budget telescopes aimed at beginners – the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 has one axis that must be aligned to Polaris, the North Star. Why? Polaris sits directly above the Earth’s northern axis. So aligning it to a Polaris puts the mount’s bearings parallel to Earth’s axis, which means it can move in alignment to how the stars appear to move as Earth rotates. The end result is that it can track objects in the night sky. This is not a motorised telescope, so it won’t automatically follow objects, but a simple nudge is all that’s needed to keep an object in the telescope’s field of view.

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope review: set-up and use

If you have not had experience with an equatorial mount before then setting up the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 will at first appear slightly counterintuitive. However, it’s worth persevering with because of the freedom and fluidity of movement that equatorial mount gives this telescope. After fall, it’s an almost unique proposition at this price point. That’s not to say that setting it up isn’t a bit of a pain. It’s partly down to the weight of both the telescope itself and the equatorial amount, as well as the tripod and the counterweight. Truly, this is not a good choice of telescope if you intend to go hunting for dark skies. Yes, it is possible to deconstruct it, with two rings around the telescope tube easily coming apart. However, setting up the mount requires getting the perfect balance, something that’s best done carefully and infrequently.

What this telescope does have in common with other telescopes in its price point is its manual design. This is not a ‘go to’ telescope in any way; you’ll need to find everything in the night sky yourself and position the telescope accordingly. It comes with a basic finderscope to help with that. What is a bit of a shame is that the Explorer 130 lacks a motor drive because telescopes using equatorial mounts are ideal for astrophotography. For example, attaching a camera to a telescope on a motorised EQ mount  is a great way of taking multi-minute exposures of faint objects. The Explorer 130 even comes with fixings on those tube rings specifically for attaching a camera, though the motor drive to make that a live feature costs extra.

(Image credit: Getty)

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope review: performance

Once you’ve got the hang of its equatorial mount the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 is a lot of fun to use. Getting objects back into the field of view once they’ve drifted out of it is easy. However, it does lack a little accuracy. That equatorial mount is, not surprisingly at this price, not of the very best quality. In our tests we did encounter a little bit of droop. It won’t make too much difference to most observers, though we wouldn’t recommend the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 be used for deep sky astrophotography.

What it’s good at is being an all-round astronomical telescope. During our tests we were able not only to get high resolution views of Jupiter and its four giant moons, but we could even glimpse the pinkish bands of Jupiter’s atmosphere through the Barlow lens. Crucially, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 has some versatility, with planets and craters of the Moon looking sharp while distant star clusters looked brighter than on many other beginner telescopes of a similar price.

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

What the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 lacks is a motor to make it easier to operate. That can be fixed in one fell swoop by instead purchasing a variant called the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130PM, which sells for a slightly higher price, but adds a motor drive system with handset that allows you to track objects in the night sky and add a camera. For another Newtonian reflector telescope with a similar aperture as the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2, but no EQ mount try the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ, which must be moved manually yet has a sleek smartphone mount system that shows you exactly where to point it.

Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope review: verdict

Although it’s a great choice for anyone desperate to get their hands on an equatorial mount without spending big, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 does lack a little precision. Physically it’s not a particularly mobile telescope, but what the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 does have is good quality optics that prove versatile enough to be used for faint deep sky objects as well as solar system objects. It could also be a fantastic first step in astrophotography, though you’ll need to add a motor drive and even then be prepared to rely on wide-angle imaging due to the Explorer 130’s slight lack of accuracy.