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Scopes I never should have let go

Posted by Malcolm Bird   02/05/2024 12:36PM

I’ve been in this hobby since I was 13. And over these years, I have seen a lot of scopes come and go, but reflecting back, knowing what I know now – which of them would classify as ‘I never should have sold it’? Which ones changed my views (or improved them)? 

Here’s my list. 

Never should have sold. 

A 6”F unknown military Maksutov.  I think it was Surplus Shed I purchased it from, and it was a bare bones fiberglass OTA with no focuser, finder, accessories or means to mount. But once I cobbled together a slip fit focuser and a rudimentary mount, boy was it sharp. Thinking back, knowing what I know now it was probably 1/10-1/20W…  But I knew little about scopes back then and was trying to raise a family and keep a job – so off it went… For all I know, it could have been Questar optics…….But that was almost 30 years ago… (which in itself is an amazing number as it represents just half of Questar’s presence in our hobby) 

6” ETX-LX ACF.  This was my first foray into an automatic GOTO scope. It performed flawlessly, put up fantastic images and was a joy to use.  I wrote a review on this scope on Astromart before I switched over to CN. You can still find it there. That was about 13 years ago. I sold it off for $750. Wish I hadn’t. I had 8” versions after that one, but they didn’t measure up to that original 6” unit. 

My very First Questar 3.5 with Quartz optics and Broadband. This was my first introduction to a Questar and what it was capable of. As my review of this scope on the ‘other’ site illustrated – I was mightily impressed with this little gem. My regrets of having sold it are offset by the fact that I have had 5 more since then, but somehow, I felt none of them were quite as good as the original. I’ve had a couple of ETX’s, but the Q was in a different class – not so much optically, but ergonomically. As you get older, this becomes more important….

Televue Genesis SDF – The back story here is that the guy I bought it from was restoring a Ferrari in his garage. On our final negotiation, I stipulated that he start and rev the engine….Man, it was glorious! And so was the scope. Probably one of the best refractors I have owned. Sharp, colour free, compact…..but heavy. My mounts at the time weren’t quite up to the task, so off it went…. 

In the same vein but years apart – A Brandon 94mmF6 APO. Just like the Genesis, but lighter…. 

Borg 76ED. This scope was a revelation on many levels. How sharp and color free a relatively fast ED achromat could be. How light a 75mm class refractor could be (~3.5lbs) and how you could break down its components for portability or upgrade.

Celestron SS-80. Made in Japan 80mmF5. (Vixen made I believe) The best short tube 80mm I have looked thru. Compared to standard 80mmF5’s – the SS-80 was almost colour free, with deep red CA as opposed to bright violet. I have tried several od the ubiquitous Chinese made 80mmF5’s over the years, and none of them come close to the performance of that SS-80.

 TAL-150K – 6”F10 Klevtsov design. Fantastic optics, minimal design, heavy. (~20lbs for OTA) I used to import TAL into Canada years ago and their optics were almost without peer. However, as I joked at the time, the Russians were melting down Tiger tanks to make telescopes and tanks don’t use much aluminum. But it was a fantastic scope if you could handle the weight. 

Seminal scopes

Unistellar EVscope. This was my dabble with EEA. It showed me an aspect of the various sky objects that I had been peering at for over 30 years in a new light (pun intended). Previous visual dim smudges were revealed with colour and detail not available to strictly visual instruments. I binged on the Messier objects, but you know, once I was done, I was right back where I started – everything started to look the same – you can only image M27 so many times before it gets old. I don’t regret selling it, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities. And it gave me an insight into the potential of plate solving mechanics.

Several ‘Old school’ Unitrons. They opened my eyes to how good a long F ratio achromat could be, and how well a smooth rigid AZ mount could perform. If today’s starter scopes were as good as these were, the various mfr’s would not be inundated with complaints and bad reviews on their entry level scopes.

 8”F6 Newtonian on a split ring equatorial. This was my first real reflector build. I can’t recall where the optics came from, but they were great. The split ring mount (ala Palomar) was a nice change from a standard equatorial – no counterweights. I designed the mount to fold flat into a box.  But it was heavy because the only build adage I know is the ‘Brick Sh#*house’ approach. But it gave me an insight into what a ‘fast’ reflector was capable of, and I enjoyed the split ring mount….It was sort of half way between a standard GEM and a Dob mount..

And of course, I suppose it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include a short list of bad experiences too. My short list is:

Criterion 8000 and 4000. Reviled throughout the universe it seems, and judging by my experiences, well deserved. B&L missed the boat on these scopes. They had superior mechanics than their competitors at the time, but generally subpar optics. It is rare that you read a review where the optics are not rated as ‘poor to fair’. I bought these scope’s knowing full well the odds were against getting a good one, but the prices were so low that it wasn’t much of a risk…..Eternal optimism can be expensive….

I’ve had lots of other scopes that were disappointing on some level, but not enough to make this list. Just because my expectations were high didn’t mean they were necessarily bad.

 That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but these are the ones that stand out.

 However, the whole point of this post is not to tell you guys about my experiences, but to get yours.