The Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope ($199.97/£169) may appear, at first glance, to be just what you've been looking for. Simple, lightweight and affordable, it's got everything any beginner might want.
Optical design: refractor
Aperture: 2.75-inch/70 mm
Focal length: 15.74-inch/400 mm
Focal ratio: f/5.7
Eyepiece focal length: 0.78-inch/20 mm (20x)
Total kit weight: 6.5 lbs/2.95 kg
Mount type: Altazimuth
It even ships with a simple photographic tripod, which will be far more familiar to most people than the alt-azimuth and confusing equatorial mounts that telescopes typically use. However, despite its apparent simplicity and comprehensive package, there are some serious downsides to the SV501P that you need to know about before you make a purchase.
Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope review
Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope: Design
- Very lightweight
- Short telescope tube
- Comes with backpack
The SVBONY 501P 70 is an incredibly simple product. A 2.75-inch/70 mm refractor mounted on a small, portable and lightweight tripod, this is a telescope that's made to move. So easy to set up, the package's optics comprises the optical tube and a very basic 5x24 finderscope that attaches to it, as well as a 45º image diagonal that makes it easier to see through its medium power 20mm (20x magnification) eyepiece supplied. It has a focal length of 400mm, which is more than enough to get a good view of the moon. The tripod reaches 41.5-inch / 105cm as standard, but a central column can be extended to take it to 50-inch / 127cm.
All of that fits inside a small backpack that's of very rudimentary quality yet nevertheless just about keeps everything secure while on the move. When everything is packed in place, the backpack weighs 4.6 lbs / 2.1kg.
Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope: Performance
- Lacks sharpness
- Decent views of the lunar surface
- Struggles with everything else
During the first part of our test, we were able to point the SVBONY 501P 70 at the full moon as it appeared on the eastern horizon. I got a reasonably sharp view of the orangey lunar surface as it appeared between two buildings, with excellent views of some clouds drifting in front.
1.25-inch erect image diagonal
Aluminum alloy tripod
The views were not as sharp as hoped for, but considering its portability and ease-of-use we can see some people using the SVBONY 501P 70 solely to look at the moon now and again. It's a shame there are no more eyepieces to get a closer look, but these could be easily added at a low cost. As a general rule of thumb you'll get about 50x of useful magnification per inch of aperture, so don't go for an eyepiece claiming any more than about 135x.
Something we did like about moon viewing through the SVBONY 501P 70 is its dust cap. It's possible to remove a puck on the gas cap to reveal a 1-3/4 inch / 42mm hole that instantly reduces the amount of light coming into the telescope cube. That's useful when viewing a full moon when the glare can otherwise be a bit much.
A week later under moonless skies, we used the SVBONY 501P 70 to explore a few planets and the deep sky. We were able to see Jupiter and its four moons, though the view lacked sharpness. It also lacks the light-gathering abilities to make anything more than a basic stab at the deep sky, with the Andromeda Galaxy looking less clear through the SVBONY 501P 70 than through a pair of entry-level 10x50 binoculars. This telescope is for moon viewing only.
Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope: Functionality
- Lots of droop and overreach
- Panhandle lacks precision
- Lacks fine controls
The SVBONY 501P 70 may appear to be a simple and easy-to-use telescope, but it falls down on the latter because it's consistently difficult to fix it on a target. Telescopes need fine controls. You need to be able to point your telescope at an object in the night sky and then, with one eye on the eyepiece, fine-tune its position so you get the object in the center of your field of view. Then, when the object moves out of the field of view — which it always will because Earth is rotating — you need to be able to manually tweak the telescope's position to get it back into the center of the field of view.
Using the SVBONY 501P 70 it's tough to do this. That's because it is mounted on a flimsy tripod with clumsy controls. Photographic tripods with panhandles are typically used for video. To move the telescope it is necessary to loosen the azimuth locking knob on the top of the tripod and then use a finderscope to locate your target. This, of course, is an entirely manual process that beginners will struggle with purely because their knowledge of the night sky will be relatively poor (though the moon and possibly the planets will be easier). With the azimuth not unlocked it's possible to use the panhandle to rotate the telescope through 360 degrees.
With the handle itself loose, you can move the telescope up and down, then tighten its altitude locking knob when you have the object in the eyepiece. That all sounds really easy, but it's almost impossible to do because of the poor quality of the components. There's just so much drag to the system that we had to focus at least two moon-widths above the moon to get it to settle in the right position to have the moon in the eyepiece. It takes a lot of trial and error, which is far from ideal if you're a beginner because even if you do manage to locate a target (the basic finderscope doesn't help much), getting it in the crosshairs of the SVBONY 501P 70 is too difficult.
Should you buy the Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope?
It's good to see a telescope this affordable, however it is limited in what it can do. If you really only want to look at the moon, and perhaps Jupiter, the SVBONY 501P 70 it's a reasonably good purchase. However, we can't see why anyone would want to take this telescope anywhere with them. The moon and planets can easily be observed from anywhere on Earth, with light pollution making zero difference. It's therefore hard to fathom why the SVBONY 501P 70 even needs a backpack.
If the Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope isn't for you
For a similarly low price and better optics, a tabletop telescope like the Celestron FirstScope 76 Tabletop or the step-up Sky-Watcher Heritage-90P Virtuoso are good alternatives. If portability is not essential and you want as much clarity from deep sky objects as possible while retaining affordability then go for a Dobosion like the Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200P or Celestron StarSense Explorer.