Stellarvue Nighthawk Review

Ten years ago, having just got back into astronomy, I was looking for a cheap way to get a premium refractor. No cheap Chinese APOs back then. Stellarvue had just started up and I simply couldn’t decide whether to get their long-focus 80mm achromat (the 80/9D) or their short-focus version (the Nighthawk). I loved the look of the Nighthawk, but wanted the planetary performance of the 80/9D. Function won over form and I bought the longer scope. Years later I got a Nighthawk to see if I had missed something.

 

Design and Build

First thing to say is that though this looks a lot like an ST80, it is a much heavier and more substantial telescope. Both the large dew-shield and the telescope itself are made from heavy-gauge aluminium and that tube ring is a chunky thing as well. The cell isn’t adjustable, but threads onto the tube; the sliding dew-shield also threads on, making it easy to dismantle for travel (incidentally the threads are coarse enough for regular use; anyone who has tried to re-install a Takahashi dew-shield with its micro-fine threads will know what I mean).

With the dew-shield retracted the Nighthawk is a very compact scope, but unfortunately the clamshell prevents full retraction, so with the clamshell in place (removing it means allen bolts) it is much less compact than it might be.

Whilst fit and finish are good, the parts solid and well-painted, the Stellarvue lacks the refined CNC-milled parts and fine castings of a Tak’ or a TeleVue.  The r&p focuser is a bought-in Synta-type unit  and works well, but is not up to the standards of modern premium scopes, though this one does have the nicer alloy SV knobs rather than the plastic ones on the 80/9D.

Critically, compared to an ST80, the Nighthawk’s focuser takes 2” eyepieces. This gives the potential for a much larger field of view – great for surfing star fields, use as a super-finder, or for budget imaging. The Nighthawk is capable of a binocular-like 6.6 degree field compared to the ST80’s 3.9, almost three times the area.

The lens looks well-coated in typical China green and has a similar spec to an ST80 – 80/400 F5. Just like the 80/9D, the tube internals include knife edge baffles.

The clamshell tension adjusts with big knurled knobs and so is very easy to use – a real improvement on the fiddly thumb-screw on a TeleVue clamshell.

Talking of TeleVue, the SV clamshell has ¼-20 threads that allow it to go straight on a TeleVue mount head and a centre one for a photo tripod (it would have to be a big one).

In Use

Just as you would expect there is quite a lot of chromatic aberration which limits high magnification a bit, but even so the Nighthawk provided a great view of the Moon at 80x with a 5mm Nagler. The lens is very sharp, pops into focus and has an excellent star test as well. So the optics are first rate and they star test every one at the factory, so quality control should be good (unlike some brands).

As you would expect, stars are tight and the field quite flat. Stray light is very well-controlled thanks to proper baffling and general deep-sky performance excellent for the aperture, with the high contrast you expect from a small refractor. M42 showed a lot of detail in the nebulosity with a glittering Trapezium easily split out at low power and a flat, wide, diamonds-on-velvet view.

Overall performance for deep sky is helped by the potential to use 2” eyepieces.

Very early Nighthawks were said to have issues with vignetting by the focuser drawtube, but if mine suffers from this problem it is too minor to have much impact on the measurable exit pupil.

The overall quality of the view can be gauged from my standard daytime birds-in-branches shot. Despite the false colour, it is pin-sharp:

 

Summary

The Nighthawk is an excellent grab-n-go or cheap imaging refractor (though the CA will get in the way for serious imaging use). However, compactness and build quality are not in the premium class. It has fine optics and gives very good views for an 80mm achromat; but so does an ST80 whilst being much cheaper and easier to mount. Of course the key difference is the 2” focuser – if you need it then the Nighthawk is an option, if not buy an ST80, ludicrously cheap as they are.

Recommended, but don’t think you’re getting the refinements of a TeleVue Pronto.

 

Addendum: Stellarvue don’t seem to be able to decide whether they are high-end or low-end. They advertise low end re-badged Chinese fare alongside big-money premium large refractors. In my opinion this is a mistake. Makers like AP, TeleVue, TEC and Takahashi have understood the need to remain a premium alternative in the face of budget competition from brands like Sky-Watcher (who now, let’s face it, make a great telescope) that hardly existed when SV set up a decade ago.

I contacted Stellarvue recently looking to buy some tube rings. Sadly they didn’t bother to reply. Contrast AP, who are always most helpful.