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Review of the Burgess Optical 1278 Refractor

Posted by Joplin Motisher-Chittenden   05/27/2004 12:00AM

I’ve been an avid amateur astronomer for the last ten years and currently play an active role in the local astronomy club as coordinator of star parties and outreach events. My first “real” telescope was a 6” Dynascope RV6 which I still use on occasion. Thanks in large part to the Astromart classifieds my collection now includes the Burgess 1278, an 80mm APO, 8” Dob, C9.25, and a 10” F6 Newtonian.

Anticipation – When the Burgess Optical 1026 (4” F6) and 1278 (5” F8) achromatic refractors were announced on the Burgess Optical and ATWB websites they drew much interest from the Astromart Community. A combination of curiosity and a price that was simply too good to pass up convinced me to place an order for the 1278 with Burgess Optical. Speculation about these scopes on various Internet groups reached frenzy in the months that followed. There were a number of setbacks that delayed delivery of the telescopes. I already had a number of other scopes to use so I did my best to sit back and wait patiently for the 1278 to arrive.

In November of 2003 I received notice that a number of the 1278’s were ready for shipment with the exception of the thumbscrews for attaching the rings to the dovetail bar. I couldn’t wait any longer, I phoned Bill Burgess and made arrangements to pick up my 1278. I drove to Knoxville and met Bill and his wife Tammy in person. They were some of the nicest people I’ve met and Bill is so enthusiastic about astronomy and telescopes it is amazing. I did have a long drive back through the Smokey Mountains to get home so I had to leave earlier than I would have preferred.

First Light 11/15/2003 - Conditions for first light with the 1278 were not good but I did manage to get some short but satisfying views through it before the clouds rolled in. The conditions the next night were better and I posted the following report in the Burgess Optical forum on Astromart:

I had the 1278 out last night for a multi-club dark sky observing session in the Sumter National Forest. The conditions were good to excellent with high, thin clouds drifting by at times. First target was Vega, which was a bit above the trees in the west. I used it to adjust the finder then inserted a 7mm Pentax XL eyepiece for 142x magnification. Vega appeared as a brilliant white orb surrounded by a dim violet halo. I headed over to the Ring Nebula and was surprised by the contrast of the image. The ring structure was very clearly defined as well as some irregularities in it (no filter was used). The Dumbbell Nebula was also quite nice and revealed a hint of texture/ structure. I couldn't wait any longer at this point - I had to check out Mars. I raised the power to 220x (9mm ortho, 2x barlow) and observed some well defined albedo features and the minuscule polar cap. I ran the power up to 275x (3.6mm Apogee Easy View) and was very impressed. The image was only beginning to break down under seeing conditions that were only average.

I decided to drop the power down to 33x and hunt down some clusters, etc. with my 30mm 80deg. eyepiece. First was the double cluster, always a favorite of mine the two clusters were stunning and well framed within the 2.37deg. field of view. Again, the contrast of the image was startling and the colorful stars in and between the clusters were quite beautiful. Next was the Veil Nebula (same eyepiece and an Orion Ultrablock filter) which was quite nice despite some thin clouds in that area of the sky. I also gave M31 in Andromeda, M36 and M38 in Auriga, the Pleiades, and M42 in Orion a good look. I needed a good dose of globular cluster at this point so I set the scope on M15 in Pegasus with the 7mm (142x) it was quite nice with a few individual stars resolved. I also had a look at it with a nearby Takahashi 250mm Mewlon Dall-Kirkham which of course blew the 1278 away, but that is to be expected when you compare a scope to one with twice the aperture and 20x the price. Next was the double star Zeta Aquarii, which was nicely split at 142x. I had the Mewlon beat here since the seeing conditions had deteriorated a bit and the image in it was a mess :-)

At this point Saturn was rising above the trees in the East. The image was a mess at first due to the seeing but gradually settled down as Saturn rose in the sky. Saturn showed only a hint of a Violet halo and revealed some nice ring structure and a couple cloud bands on the disk at 220x. Last object observed was the last quarter moon that was obscured at times by the clouds that were moving in. The image was nice at 50x but the seeing was terrible down low in the sky. The moon showed the characteristic thin violet or green halo on either side of focus one would expect from an achromat.

Six Month Report - I’ve had my 1278 for a little over six months now, long enough to draw some conclusions about it. The overall performance of the telescope is excellent, better than I imagined considering the cost of the scope when it was introduced. The optics are exactly what I would expect from a 5” Achromatic refractor – the chromatic aberration is noticeable on bright objects but significantly reduced as compared to the 6” F8 achromats I’ve looked through. Build quality of the optical tube is excellent with heavy gauge metal for the tube and dewshield, the weak points are the rings which are a bit flimsy with a non standard fitting and the finderscope which wasn’t useable as supplied. The focuser is very good, I would rate it as not quite equal to the best Vixen focusers I’ve used in smoothness but the construction of it is more robust in some aspects. I’ve yet to receive the fine focus adjuster and diagonal so I can’t comment on those items.

In comparisons with other telescopes the 1278 is closest to my early 80’s Criterion Dynascope RV6 (a 6” F 8 Newtonian). Both scopes have advantages over the other. I prefer the planetary views through the RV6 to the 1278 due to the more accurate color and lack of fringing in the Newtonian. Where the 1278 really excels is star clusters, nebulae, and brighter galaxies. The image contrast provided by the well baffled 1278 continually surprises me and leaves the older RV6 behind. Some of my most memorable views through this scope were of winter showcase objects like the Double Cluster and the Orion Nebula.

Conclusions – One of the most important aspects of any telescope is the enjoyment one gets from using it. In that respect, the Burgess Optical 1278 has fulfilled all of my expectations. I’ve received many compliments of this scope from other astronomers at star parties and numerous WOWS! from children and adults upon their first view of Saturn through it.

Click here for more about the Burgess Optical 127mm f/8 Achromatic Refractor Package. -Ed.