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Posts Made By: David Colton

September 15, 2002 03:04 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 3

Posted By David Colton

Part 3
Of course, by now I was becoming a true amateur astronomer because I was getting instrument fever. About three years ago I purchased a Meade ETX90 RA. This introduced me to the world of telescope accessories (sound familiar?). I purchased a JMI wedgepod, Orion Sirius plossl eyepieces, Orion filters, Orion lunar filter, an Orion solar filter, and an Orion EZ finder. (Guess who’s on Orion’s mailing list?) I probably learned more about telescopes from this experience than anything I had done to date. For example, I find most views with the ETX90 to be mushy much above 110x, which makes sense given its aperture and central obstruction. However, it is a very good visual instrument at lower powers. I hardily recommend the purchase of a solar filter and a yellow and red filter, as the view of sunspots have been fantastic. Also, given its focal length, the ETX90 is not a good wide field instrument, even with a 32mm eyepiece. Still, I have a lot to learn to get more out of this instrument and so enjoy visiting Weasner’s Mighty ETX website and may buy his book on the ETX as well.

I also bought a good pair of binoculars (Nikon 10x50), which I tried out before I purchased. Although they cost about $140, they were well worth it, as the views are crisp and clear. I bought an outdoor chair from Sam’s Club this summer, which has a reclining back and so with autumn’s clear sky’s I’m looking forward to spending some nights just “browsing”. I’m also learning my way around the night sky, as I can easily locate half a dozen constellation and a few of the major features, such as the Andromeda galaxy and the Orion nebula. But there were still problems in my observing abilities, so it was time to buy yet another telescope!

I have a feeling that my experience ‘hits home’ for a number of contributors to this forum. Later this week I will explain how I came about purchasing another small scope before making my latest (last?) purchase.

September 15, 2002 03:38 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 4

Posted By David Colton

Part 4
The binoculars taught me the beauty of wide-field views and the ETX taught me the limitations of some instruments in providing those views. I am at a point where I really need to learn to determine the field of view of my binoculars and eyepieces, so that I can learn how to star-hop better. However, I also thought it would be nice to have a small wide-field instrument, so when Orion offered their short-tube 80mm refractor on sale, I purchased one. I have this mounted on a camera tripod, and need to add slow motion controls (they go for about $30) to really make better use of this instrument. I agree with some reviewers that this scope makes an excellent starter instrument for someone just coming into the hobby. It provides excellent wide-field views, which is great for large objects such as the Andromeda galaxy and the Pleides, and offers up enough power to see belts on Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, albeit with limited detail. (No, I’m not on Orion’s payroll, but if they want to send me a free accessory for my glowing endorsement, that will be fine.)

So, for the last few years, I have become more actively engaged in the hobby, have garnered a collection of instruments and accessories, and I guess like most in our hobby, have pined for clearer skies, more accessories, and of course MORE APERTURE!

The need for aperture really hit home during the spring and summer of 2001 when I was trying to observe Mars. Even through the ETX90’s long focal length, Mars looked like the head of a pin. There was absolutely no way to make out any features (even if they had been visible through the planet’s unexpected dust storm). Reading that Mars would be at opposition in the summer of 2003, I made my mind up that I would purchase a better/bigger instrument. And so I began exploring the literature and weighing the pros and cons of the various instruments. This past spring I began asking questions on the Astromart forum and obtained excellent advice, which led to my becoming even more thoroughly undecided.

After much consideration, my list narrowed down to an APO refractor (if I could figure out how to buy one) or a GOTO SCT. This not to say that I didn’t consider other configurations, such as dobs, a newtonian on a good EQ mount, achromatic refractors, and the Russian mak-newts, which are said to be excellent planetary scopes. In the next section I’ll explain how my list was shorted to the APO and SCT.

September 15, 2002 06:57 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 5

Posted By David Colton

Part 5
One of the things that I have learned through this process is that ultimately, the decision we make about which telescope to purchase is the best decision we can make based on personal preferences and needs at a particular point in time. In other words, why I ended up choosing the LX90 over another instrument fit my personal needs and budget at this time. Under other circumstances, I might have selected another instrument. What made sense for me may not make sense for others.

A standard piece of advice is to attend an observing session at a local club. The astronomy club in my area, the Shenandoah Valley Stargazers, held a display of their equipment at the local mall last fall. This provided me the opportunity to meet and chat with members about their scopes. I also attended one of their open sessions. Their site is located in the western part of the county, not very far as the crow flies, but about an hour’s driving time due to the winding rural roads. It was a clear evening during the Leonid meteor shower.

The first thing I noticed was the number of dobs from 10” to 20”. Many members had installed Skycommander digital setting circles. As you would expect from a clan of amateur astronomers, everyone was gratuitous about sharing their scopes for observation. I have to say that I was mightily impressed by the clear and contrasty views these scopes provide. I was even more impressed by how smoothly these behemoths moved. I don’t believe any were motorized and I certainly didn’t feel that motorization was essential.

I was very interested in observing through a SCT, as that was on my short list. One member had a Meade 8”SCT on a GEM and I was surprised by the view. Saturn appeared like it was being viewed through a piece of smoked glass. Even my mighty ETX offered crisper views. At the moment, that took the SCT out of the running. (Wait a minute, you’re thinking, didn’t you start off by saying you bought an LX90? Well, that just goes to show that first impressions aren’t necessarily lasting impressions.)

September 15, 2002 06:57 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 6

Posted By David Colton

Part 6
Well, after going to the observing session, I realized I had a lot of evaluating to do before making my decision. I went to every telescope review site I could find and read as much as I could. At that point I was thinking that my primary reason for buying the scope would be for planetary viewing, so I began leaning toward an APO refractor. My dream scope became the Astrophysics 130mm APO, which (1) would not be ready by the summer of 2003 and (2) was utterly beyond my means. Second was the Televue 102, which was (1) readily available and (2) near the extreme fringes of my financial means. I also began looking at alternatives including the Orion 120 achromatic and the Orion 8” reflector (which have recently has been given a larger/heavier mounts) and the ITE mak-newts. While I admire the dobs, I didn’t feel strongly led to buy one. This is more of a feeling than a rational decision, which may change over time (i.e., when I want more aperture and realize that a dob is the only way I’ll be able to afford it.) I also began to take notice of the mounts these telescopes came on or which might work best with them. For example, I liked the idea of an alt-azimuth mount for ease of use and portability and was taken by the Televue Gibraltar with Skytour.

By the spring of 2002 I was beginning to ask a lot of questions on this forum, particularly under the Meade, Celestron, Televue, and refractor sections. At this time I was heavily leaning toward the Televue and was trying to figure out how in the world I could afford one. However, just when I thought the balance had clearly swung in the favor of the Televue, Celestron announced its $500 rebate on their GPS SCT. Now I had to do some more considering, as I could get more aperture and the convenience of GOTO for considerably less than the 4” APO. Things really heated up when Meade countered Celestron’s offer by offering the rebate and a discount on their eyepieces. (The latest is that Celestron is offering their own eyepiece deal, which includes a barlow and filters; hurray for competition.)

In August I did the only sensible thing a person can do – I made a list of the pros and cons. This helped, but was not conclusive. For example, the Televue was lighter and more portable, but not as good on deep sky objects. The 8” was heavier and more stable and would allow me to see deep sky objects, but not as well as a 10” or 12”. I also visited some more websites. Tom Trusock’s site was informative as he has used both an 8”SCT and the Televue 102. Tom invites comments so I emailed him and like most amateur astronomers, he as been very gratuitous in communicating with me and sharing his thoughts. His site also has a link to Ron Bee’s site, where Ron describes the benefits of his mighty TV 102 “light cup.”

September 15, 2002 06:58 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 7

Posted By David Colton

Part 7
At this point I began to reconsider what I wanted to do (primarily visual), what I wanted (more aperture than my other scopes) and where I would use it (mostly in the backyard, front driveway, or the sidewalk in front of my house). Finally, I got a grip on reality and carefully thought about the finances. Although I do some parttime work on the side, it would not pay enough to buy the Televue and would be somewhat stressed by the GPS. I also began to realize that despite all of the great advice and feedback offered on this forum, ultimately no telescope is perfect for all the things we want/hope it will do. It was time to ‘get a life’, make a decision, and enjoy whatever I purchased.

I also began to reconsider how my site would affect viewing. There are lampposts at each end of the street, but they do a good job of keeping the light focused downward. More obtrusive is my next-door neighbor’s lighting. He has an enclosed porch on the rear of the house, which is their TV room, and he keeps a light on in that room almost all night. He also has 4 (yes 4!) lights on the front of his house. One on each side of the front door and one on each corner. They usually stay on until 11 or 12 at night. This past summer he asked me to join him in asking the city to install a streetlight in front of our houses because someone had broken into his son’s car. Right. The only large bright object I want in front of my house is the moon and I’m not too thrilled with the intrusion of that orb most nights. I kindly explained to him that I’m an amateur astronomy and like vampires, we distain light. I encouraged him to install a motion sensor and made copies of the recent Sky and Telescope article on light pollution to help explain my position.

This summer new neighbors moved in across the street. This guy likes to keep three lights on in front of his house. A light on a lamppost, a light over his garage, and a light just below the gutter to bath his (and to some extent my) entire house in luminescence. I plan to talk to him after I receive my new telescope, to explain to him my dilemma and to invite him to come out and look through my telescope whenever I’m out with it. As an aside, I joined the Dark Sky Association last year and I’m planning on making a presentation to our city government this fall. Amateur astronomy is making me into an activist.

The bottom line is that these issues helped me in my decision. Ultimately, I realized that I wanted aperture, ease of the GOTO feature (don’t forget, I still have problems navigating the night sky), and portability. When I went back to consider my options, the LX90, which is about 18 pounds and $500 lighter than the 8” LX200 GPS started to look attractive.

September 15, 2002 06:59 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 8

Posted By David Colton

Part 8
I also realized at this point that I could choose to be paralyzed by the decision process. For example, I could forever be plagued by “what if” questions, such as what if I had held out for the Televue, what if I had gone with an Orion scope, etc. The reality is that no telescope is perfect or will fit all of our needs and desires – the Astromart classifieds are a testament to that principal.

In making my decision I had also thought about my experience looking through the Meade 8” SCT last fall. I think much of the problem I observed was due to the two “C’s”: cool down and collimation. The scope had just been setup and the temperatures were in the 30’s to 40’s. Also, I have no idea how well collimated this scope was. From what I’ve read here and elsewhere, these are two problems that are not overwhelming and shouldn’t distract from the viewing experience.

In that regard, I also ordered Bob’s Knobs, just in case I need to tweak the collimation. I also plan to purchase a better diagonal, such as a Lumicon or Televue Everbright, just as soon as I get the telescope paid off. The bottom line is that I think and hope this scope will provide me many evenings of enjoyable viewing. I think it will help me learn the night sky better, which can improve and increase the use of my smaller scopes. (I can see my Cloudy Nights review now; “First Light: The Orion 80mm takes on the Meade 200mm.”)

The old adage is that whenever we buy a new telescope, it will rain. Well, I live in a part of central Virginia which has been experiencing a drought; it has only rained twice since the first of July. However, true to form, as I await delivery of my new telescope, it is raining. It’s not a downpour; for that I would have had to buy a 20” dob.

Coming up: my thoughts on the telescope marketplace.

September 17, 2002 11:24 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 9

Posted By David Colton

You can’t spend a lot of time scouring the telescope want ads without coming away with some opinion about the marketplace serving the hobby of amateur astronomy. There is a sense of fraternity among the ranks of amateur astronomers and that fellowship appears to extend to vendors as well. I have had occasion to call vendors regarding products, including JMI, Orion, Optcorp, and Televue, and in all cases I found the person I spoke with to be helpful and courteous. I think this goes beyond just customer service, as this is a niche market and most vendors are also actively involved in the hobby/field. (It’s hard to call this a hobby when many amateur astronomers make important contributions to the professional aspect of the field.)

As regards the marketplace, this is clearly the ”best of times and the (but not too) worst of times.” I doubt that there has been any other time in which there have been so many products available to the amateur astronomer. From good quality entry-level telescopes to high-end CCD imaging and spectrographic hardware, our ability to make use of this equipment is limited only by our pocketbooks. I am probably like a lot of contributors to this forum who dream about a high end Astrophysics or Takahashi telescope, a Coronado Max Scope, or an SBIG color CCD camera. But even if I cannot currently afford these items, I do have a broad choice of telescopes and accessories that will be in my price range.

I am troubled by the cost of some of this equipment. I realize that we form a limited marketplace, although on a worldwide basis we are talking about hundreds of thousands of potential customers. By marketing to the worldwide audience, I would think that many vendors could reduce their prices. For example, I think its time for Meade and Celestron to stop this silly “limited time only” sale of their SCT’s. (By the way, Meade has AGAIN extended their rebate offer.) If sales are up it should tell them something. The real winner will be the company that acknowledges the success of their rebate offer and announces that henceforth, this reduced price will be the retail price for their equipment. I would also encourage them to offer extra values, such as free shipping or an extra eyepiece of two. This type of marketing (lower prices, more features, and special deals) apparently works for Dell and Gateway computers and should work in the telescope marketplace as well.

September 17, 2002 11:26 PM Forum: Equipment Talk

Buying a Telescope - Part 10

Posted By David Colton

Part 10
Another area that I think would flourish with price reductions is the sale of APO refractors. Currently, most APO’s sell for 5 to 6 times the cost of an equivalent size achromatic. While I may not completely appreciate the time and labor needed to manufacture an APO, I would think that once the production process is established, it would be possible to manufacture in the quantities needed to increase sales and reduce costs. When I started out on my quest, I identified the Televue 102 as being one of the telescopes I was most interested in. However, if I were now seeking a telescope primarily for planetary and lunar observation, I would purchase a Russian made mak-newt or mak-cassegrain. The reason: same weight, same optical qualities, and half the price. (The 5” INTES M503 on a Televue Gibraltar with SkyTour is priced $500 less than the TV102 by itself!) Given that APO refractor manufacturers now have real competition, I hope this will lead to more realistic pricing.

It is my understanding that Synta, a Chinese company, is now manufacturing a lot of entry-level equipment. If the review of their EQ6 mount in the October issue of Sky and Telescope is any indication, they could, with some improved quality, take a big bite out of the marketplace. They appear to be mass-producing acceptable telescopes, mounts, and eyepieces. As their products gain wider acceptance I would encourage them to listen to customer feedback and concentrate on quality. For example, the EQ6 has the potential to become, with some refinement, a cost-effective competitor to Losmandy mounts. Consequently, the number of products available to us not only increases choice, through competition it can make things more affordable.

As someone who has chronicled his problems navigating the night sky, I would also encourage vendors to include models with digital setting circles. For example, if Orion marketed their 8” SkyView Pro reflector with DSC, it would have created a realistic alternative for me when I was making my selection. DSC can help newbies learn to navigate the night sky and can provide increased satisfaction in their initial viewing experience; therefore I don’t know why so few vendors include them as a built in, optional feature.

Finally, I hope that as the digital camera market expands, there will be increased competition and reduced prices for CCD technology. My 3-megapixel camera cost $350 and prices continue to fall. Hopefully, as component prices drop, entry-level CCD’s will become more affordable.

Well, those of my thoughts. I hope that my experience in deciding on which telescope to buy will be helpful to others with similar questions that visit this forum. Thanks for listening and thanks to Astromart and Anacortes for making this site available.

September 22, 2002 11:03 PM Forum: Meade

Autostar Alignment Stars

Posted By David Colton

I just purchased an LX90. My primary observing site (my front and back yard) is treed so that the view to the South is often blocked. When using the two-star alt/Alz routine, is it possible to add alignment stars to the Autostar menu? Thanks.

October 22, 2002 12:37 AM Forum: Equipment Talk

Alt-Az Mount

Posted By David Colton

Does anyone know where to find plans to build an alt-az mount? I've seen one plan in Sky and Telescope for a simple "cradle" mount made of wood, however, I was thinking of something along the lines of the Gibraltor that I could build using parts from a hardware store.