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Takahashi FS-60C Apochromatic refractor

Posted by Lawrence Carlino   05/19/2004 12:00AM

As one of the brotherhood of well-seasoned amateurs, I began my serious astronomical pursuits decades ago with the purchase of a then ubiquitous 60mm refractor. The long white tube and fine optics of the f/15 Unitron achromat provided some marvelous views and an assured future of moving up to bigger and more capable instruments. But after numerous near-fatal bouts of aperture fever, I had all but forgotten the charms of my first telescopic love.

Things have changed, however, with the acquisition of a petite Takahashi FS-60C apochromat. This tiny wonder is the modern iteration of a classic - and very possibly the best small telescope ever produced. Weighing a mere 2.9 pounds and measuring just over a foot in length, the "baby Tak" sets new standards in both optical and mechanical quality. It is a sheer joy to use. Like most of the modern Takahashi scopes ranging from 60 to 152 mm in aperture, this "little guy " uses a 2-element objective lens, the front element being crafted from artificially-grown Calcium Fluorite crystal. This special low-dispersion "glass" allows for the almost total elimination of spurious color, even in relatively short f/ratios. At f/5.9, with an effective focal length of 355mm, the FS-60C is not much larger than pocket-sized, but its quality and performance puts many larger instruments to shame.

In the manner of all Takahashi scopes, the build quality of the FS-60C is impeccable. The glossy white tube is complemented by the trademark lime green focuser and white dewcap. The silky precision of the rack and pinion is impressive: absolutely no backlash or image shift. The unit takes standard 1.25" accessories: eyepieces, star diagonals, video and ccd cameras - locking them in neatly and safely with a compression ring fitting. This latest version of the telescope has its main tube shortened by some two inches, providing enough "in" focus to accommodate a binoviewer. For those who wish to create a rather strange "tail wagging the dog" appearance, a 2-inch adapter is available as an option. A flat area atop the right side of the focuser provides mounting space for the bracket and beautiful little Tak 5x25mm finder, an amazing performer in its own right. Fully configured, the scope is light enough to be handled easily by a medium-weight photographic tripod and head, making it ideal for "grab and go" celestial or terrestrial viewing.

Being the owner of several larger Takahashi refractors, I fully expected the FS-60C to share the breed's razor sharp images and superb contrast - and I was not disappointed. But the real surprise came when I mounted the baby Tak on a light-weight Celestron G -3 equatorial with the beautifully crafted Tak tube holding ring and went deep-sky observing. Despite its small aperture and limited light grasp, this 2.4" provided some wonderful, high-contrast views. Using a 9mm Nagler type 6 wide-field eyepiece that generated 40x, I found the oft-observed Double Cluster in Perseus a wonderful sight. Pinpoint stellar images against a field of velvet black seemed to lend sparkle to the vista. In similar fashion, the three bright Auriga open clusters, M 36, 37, and 38, were small but scintillating beauties. Orion's showpiece, M42-43, was most impressive with a fully resolved Trapezium, the"bat wings," and an amazing amount of low-contrast detail in the outskirts of the nebula. The green cast visible in larger instruments could not be detected, but the overall appearance far exceeded my expectations and easily bettered the image provided by an Orion short-tube 80mm refractor. Moving to lower magnifications, the FS-60c became a giant, ultra-high-quality finder with a 5 degree field-of -view. In this configuration, the Andromeda Galaxy filled almost the entire eyepiece with a marvelous revelation of its true size.

Despite its unexpectedly fine deep-sky performance, the baby Tak was at its best when tight double stars, the moon, and the planets were its target. This is a telescope that will resolve to Dawes' limit and beyond, and do it in less than optimum seeing conditions. With truly "textbook" Airy disk and a delicate first diffraction ring on the brighter stellar subjects, the FS-60c resolved some very challenging double stars with ease, even with a fairly turbulent atmosphere conspiring against it. Using a 2x Barlow and 6.7mm Meade UWA eyepiece (106x), I was able to split Epsilon Lyrae into four distinct and well-defined disks on a Stygian background. Often uncooperative multiple stars such as Iota Cass, Epsilon Bootis, Alpha Herculis, and Castor were neatly and easily resolved. Fellow observer and FS-60c owner Tom "Hubble Eyes" Nigrelli managed to glimpse the tiny companion to Delta Cygni nestled in the primary star's first diffraction ring at 128x, though I was not certain of the split myself. In all of these severe tests of optical quality, the little Tak passed with distinction.

It was in lunar and planetary observing, however, that the telescope really impressed. Saturn, its rings at near maximum openness in fairly steady air, displayed unexpected detail and clarity. The Cassini ring division snapped into focus at 106x, and the globe of the planet easily revealed its equatorial belts and dusky south polar hood. The "C" or Crepe Ring was just visible where it crossed the globe, and satellites Titan and Rhea could be discerned. Overall, it was a very impressive sight - one that belied the Tak's small size and rivaled the views in significantly larger reflectors and catadioptrics. Jupiter, despite its low altitude, was also a fine sight. Mottled equatorial belts, two of the north temperate belts, and the gray south polar area were clearly visible at 106 and 128x, though the image brightness and solidity was more pleasing at lower (80x) magnification. Only a tiny bit of chromatic aberration, manifest as a very faint blue halo around the giant planet, detracted from the view. In fact, the color correction of the FS-60c is so good that miniscule amounts of false color are barely visible only around the brightest objects ( Venus, Jupiter, Rigel) at high power under poor seeing conditions. No spurious color, however, was detectable on the moon at any power. The little Tak revealed a wealth of razor-sharp, high-contrast detail on the first quarter + 2 day orb. The terraced walls of the just-appearing Copernicus took on a larger scope appearance of bright peak and stark shadow. Smaller lunar features such as the Hyginus Cleft, Straight Wall, and the rays emanating from Messier and Pickering were strikingly visible, and the heavily cratered lunar south was awash in overlapping crater detail - an impressive sight.

Several months of using the Tak FS-60c have certainly given me a new appreciation for what a small, high-quality telescope can do. It seems that only the just-released TeleVue 60mm APO is in the same class as the tiny Tak, and it remains to be seen if the less expensive ED glass used in the TV can provide the same magnificent performance. The larger 70mm TeleVue Ranger and Pronto bracket the Tak in price, but their "semi-APO" optics lag in color correction and image contrast. Certainly, at a cost of $829 for the Tak's optical tube assembly alone, this is by no means an inexpensive purchase. The same investment can buy a much larger Meade or Celestron achromatic refractor with mount or a monster 10" Dobsonian reflector, with change left over. So the FS-60c is not for everyone. But for those who must have the very best in a given category, need extaordinary portability, or who wait with unswerving patience for tiny breaks in the winter overcast for a quick celestial peek, your ideal telescope has just arrived.

Clear skies and sharp eyes!
Larry Carlino

Click here for more about the Tak FS60C . -Ed.