Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Who Wants a 66mm Telescope?

66 millimeters? You mean 66 millimeters of telescope aperture? You’re joking, right, Unk? What good is that?

“Not much” would’ve been most amateurs' answer back in the days of the Dobsonian revolution. But if you’ve looked around you recently on the club or star party observing field, you’ve probably noticed that smaller aperture telescopes, mostly refractors, have made a dramatic comeback. Yeah, you still see some honking-monster Starmasters and Obsessions, but you’re also seeing far more SCTs, MCTs and, yrs, refractors of late.

Why? Because many amateurs have decided that, while aperture is a very important thing, it’s not the only thing. A portable--not merely transportable--telescope on an accurately driven goto mount has a lot going for it, even if you have to sacrifice some (or a lot) of aperture. That’s what I am hearing from quite a few scope-savvy boys and girls, anyway.

SCTs and MCTs? Y’all know how I feel about them, but what’s my take on small refractors, color-free APO refractors? It’s no surprise APOs are popular and that their popularity shows no sign of abating, especially now that you can obtain very well-made (Chinese) apochromat OTAs in the 60 – 80mm range for prices in the half-a-grand category or less. These little telescopes are finely made and super portable, things that tend to appeal to quite a few folks, especially as they hit late middle age. Small APOs have multiple uses, and almost any observer will find one is good for something. In fact, the only real bar to the appeal of these little apochromats heretofore has been the many $$$ required before you could get your hands on one.

Now, even for the cheapskates among us (like your Ridiculous Old Uncle), excellent 80mm apochromats are beginning to replace the ubiquitous 80mm short-tube achromats we’ve loved so much and used so much over the last seven or eight years. Who’s the real star of the Chinese apochromat show, however? The 66mm. That’s right; suddenly everybody seems to want a 2.6-inch telescope.

2.6-inches? Who wants a scope that small? Well, to learn the whole consarned, dad-blasted story of why you should want a 66mm APO , you’ll have to wait for me to finish my in-depth review of the William Optics 66mm pictured above riding on my C8, but, just to whet your appetite…

I got a chance to tote this elegant looking little scope out to our club dark site located near the metropolis of Tanner-Williams, Alabama this past Saturday night. It was a muggy evening, that’s for sure, just like you’d expect in late August down on the Gulf Coast. Nevertheless, the Milky Way was dramatic away from the Possum Swamp light-dome, and the summer deep sky beckoned in the heavy air.

This was the first time I’d had a chance to really use the 66, and I wasted no time pointing it in the direction of the countless burnished wonders crammed into Sagittarius. What was the experience of using a small, medium focal ratio (about f/7) scope like? Frankly, I came away amazed.

Yes, it is just 66mm, but those are 66 finely made millimeters. Despite a not-inconsiderable reduction in aperture when compared to my dear little Synta Short Tube 80, the WO easily outperformed that scope, showing stars, or at least graininess, in quite a few globulars, and not just M22. Anything but 22 basically turns up as a fuzzball in the ST80. Bright stars? Dang. In focus or out of focus either way, no spurious color did I see. Weight and size-wise, the WO 66 Zenithstar APO is just about a perfect match for a C8.

One thing to remember? The images, astrophotographic images, in a 66mm refractor will be no dimmer than those in a 200mm aperture telescope. The only difference is that the 66mm will display a much wider field.

Have I made you anxious to learn more about this wee scope? If I have…hope your Old Uncle gets some clear star partying weather over the next month or two, weather that will allow him to really put the 66 through her paces (and maybe even use her for an astrophoto or two).

Stay tuned, Muchachos...

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