Sunday, May 31, 2009


The Mother of All Chinese Scopes

Well, not really. As astronomically oriented and creative as the Chinese people have always been, it’s not a surprise to learn the telescope was introduced to that country back in the 17th century, not long after it made such a big splash in Europe. By “mother of all Chinese telescopes” I mean amateur telescopes, muchachos.

I don’t mean the Tasco imports that began hitting our shores from Taiwan in the 80s, either, I mean The Little Telescope That Could, the one that showed amateurs “Chinese telescope” was no longer synonymous with “cheap junk.” When this 80-mm refractor burst onto the amateur astronomy scene in the mid 90s, it was the herald of good astronomical things to come from the East. Yep, you called it; I am talking about the ubiquitous Short Tube 80.

A little refractor, a 3-inch f/5, seemed way too humble to give birth to a burgeoning telescope industry, yet that’s just what it did. This short focus achromat clued-in us rank and file Kats and Kittens that there was, or shortly would be, gold coming out of those mainland and Taiwanese telescope factories.

The situation was a wee bit analogous to what it was with Japan in the 70s and 80s. Previous to that time, most of us had been suspicious of any scope stamped “made in Japan.” That was despite some incredibly fine Japanese instruments being imported into the U.S. of A. during the 60s and even 50s—see my entry, “The Good Tasco,” for a few words about Gotos and Royals. What finally got the message out on the fineness of Japanese scopes was the coming to the U.S. of Vixen under the wing of Celestron. This 80 f/5 did the same for Chinese telescopes in the 1990s with the help of Orion.

I suspect a lot of the credit for the Short Tube’s success should go to the founder and former owner of Orion (the U.S. Orion, "Telescope and Binocular Center"), Tim Giesler. He was no doubt searching for a new product to keep him ahead of the pack in the go-go days of amateur astronomy marketing of the 1990s, and hit upon a Chinese company, Synta, who were pushing this fast achromat.

In retrospect, a product like the ST80 looks like an obvious winner, but that wasn’t so obvious just then. Not that amateurs hadn’t been offered telescopes of this sort before. There was a reasonably popular forerunner to the ST80 on sale as far back as the mid-80s, a 60-mm f/5 imported during the Comet Halley craze by Tasco, Celestron, Meade and others and sold under names as varied as “Comet Seeker,” “Cometron,” and “9VR.”

Quite a few seasoned amateurs liked these li’l scopes (made by Mizar and at least one other Japanese manufacturer), and they were point-and-shoot heaven for the tyros out to hunt down Halley. I have little doubt more cash-strapped novices actually saw the comet through their Cometrons than their more well-heeled brothers and sisters did with brand spanking new f/10 SCTs.

Why didn’t these little scopes become more a fixture of amateur astronomy? Perhaps they were just swept out with the detritus in the wake of Halley. As with more expensive instruments during the comet’s reign, their quality varied. Or maybe the time was just not right. Maybe it took a few more years of the big Dob revolution to make Joe and Jane Amateur aware that f/5 could be a sweet thing compared to f/10. Like me, lots of observers back then were still scratching their heads at the idea of an RFT (richest field telescope). How was I gonna count craterlets on the floor of Plato with a thing like that?

Whatever. Orion and Giesler correctly divined that the time was ripe in amateur astronomy for a wide field and inexpensive refractor. In 1996, Orion’s multi-page color extravaganza catalogs began to feature full page spreads on the 80 f/5 that shouted its virtues to high, high heaven. Sure, like Unk, a lot of amateurs were suspicious of a fast Chinese scope, but at the price, about $250.00 for an OTA, quite a few boys and girls were willing to take a chance.

And soon the word began to spread. This was a quality scope that, within the limits imposed by a small, fast, achromatic objective, delivered outstanding images. Most frequent comment on sci.astro.amateur? (what came before Cloudy Nights, y'all)  “YOU GOTTA GET YOU ONE!” Turned out that even Unk, who was quite a refractorphobe in those days, was not immune to the siren song of this Visitor from the East.

Refractor-phobic? Uncle Rod? Who reputedly loves all telescopes? You betcha. I’d done little more than take quick glimpses through lens-scopes at star parties for the past 30 years, and then only at the strong prompting of their proud owners. Even the incredible refractor resurgence that began in the 1980s and came to full flower in the 1990s thanks to Uncle Roland and Uncle Al left Unk cold. Why? I was slightly traumatized by a refractor in the 1960s. My memory had been seared by a Unitron. And not in a good way.

In 1968, a neighbor boy, a good friend of mine for a couple of years, Eddie, had achieved that holy grail of old time amateur astronomy. His affluent Dad (compared to those of most of us neighborhood kids) had bought him a Unitron, the 60-mm on an alt-azimuth mount.

What Eddie got was a beautiful scope with a long, gleaming white tube perched on an attractive and sturdy wooden tripod. Best of all was the Unihex rotary eyepiece holder mounted on the focuser. It sported oodles of eyepieces and looked like something that belonged on Captain Kirk's starship bridge. I was drooling at the very thought of this superscope. 

I finally managed to cadge a look through this beauty--somehow. Thanks to silly, little Rod's "social skills" or lack thereof, we had had a serious falling out shortly before his scope arrived and were no longer friends and never would be again. However, one evening when its owner had it pointed at a gibbous Moon, I swallowed my pride, walked over to his house, and asked if I could look. I was prepared to be impressed. Looking at the full-page Unitron ads in every month’s Sky and Telescope had prepared me to be blown away. I pressed my eye to the eyepiece, focused up…and... “What the--?!”

After I pulled away from the Unihex, I was able to mutter a polite, “Looks great, congratulations!” but I had hardly been impressed. At about 50x, Luna was considerably dimmer than she was in the plebian Palomar Junior set up in my backyard. The disk had a noticeable warm yellow-orange tone, too, rather than the pristine pure white of my Pal. It wasn’t just the images that bothered me, though. The tube was beautiful. But the finder? Wasn't a 16-mm aperture finder just a wee bit small? Even for a 2.4-inch telescope? And that Unihex sure was cool, but, come on, .965-inch eyepieces (there was, I believe, room on this gadget for a single 1.25-incher, but the scope hadn’t come with one)?

If I’d given the little telescope more of a chance, it’s possible I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. As I learned in later years, this and other quality 60-mm achromats can produce impressively sharp images. But I didn’t get another chance with the Unitron. I never got to look through it again. Didn't want to, anyhow. It seems dumb to have condemned all refractors to perdition based on a single look through one, but that’s just what I did. Dumb, yeah; my one quick peep through a Unitron Model 114 caused me to avoid all refractors for the next three decades.

Nevertheless, strange as it seemed, one day at the end of the last decade Unk found himself contemplating spending a modest amount of inflated dollars on a rather small refractor. Why? By the end of the 1990s, I was in the midst of a grab ‘n go crisis.

Everybody needs a “g-n-g,” a telescope that can be stationed near a back door for use at a moment’s notice for a quick glimpse at the Moon or a bright DSO, to hunt down a little comet, or just to use to putter around in the sky on evenings when you don’t feel like maneuvering a "real" telescope into your light-polluted backyard.

Down here in The Swamp, those sorts of nights are frequent during the summer. It’s hazy, it’s hot, there are tons of mosquitoes, and the clouds are always at least incipient. It’s safe to say that if I didn’t have a grab ‘n go, I wouldn’t do much backyard observing from May through September. Unfortunately, in the late 90s, I found myself without a scope that could serve in that role, and was somewhat desperate for something easier to trot out than my 12.5-inch Dob or Ultima C8 Schmidt Cassegrain.

The ST80 was, I decided, IT. If Clara Bow was the It Girl, the Short Tube 80 was the It Telescope. But the question then became, “Which Short Tube 80?” By 2000, plenty of astro-vendors had noticed Orion’s success with the little guy, and thanks to Synta, who, back then, was ready to sell to all comers, we began seeing 80 f/5s wearing not just “Orion” and “SkyWatcher” badges, but “Celestron” and, believe it or not, even “L.L. Bean.” After some looking and cogitating I settled on an especially good deal being offered by a small merchant, Eagle Optics.

Eagle was a big name with the birding crowd (still is), and they made a too brief foray into astronomy just at the time I was hunting for an 80. They were offering a nice package that included a Celestron-branded Short Tube 80 and a small but serviceable EQ-1 GEM mount. This outfit was priced not much higher than what Orion wanted for just the OTA, and there were a couple of other advantages the Eagle had over the original as well.

Back then, Orion only sold the 80 with a correct-image diagonal that, while OK for birding and other terrestrial uses, was the pits for the sky, producing ugly diffraction spikes that emanated from bright objects. The Orion’s OTA mounting scheme was also questionable, a plastic under-tube block with a ¼ 20-tpi hole in it—something that proved to be neither stable nor durable.

The Celestron version came with a passable 90 degree astronomical diagonal, and, instead of the mounting block, genuine tube rings. The forward tube ring even sported a ¼-20 bolt for mounting a piggyback camera. But it got better. Eagle also included an adapter that allowed scope and rings to be mounted on any ¼ 20-tpi device. Remove the tube rings from the EQ-1 GEM, attach ‘em to the adapter via provided holes, and, voila, the 80 could ride piggyback on my SCTs or be attached to a camera tripod.

Probably the greatest plus for the Eagle package, though, was the included EQ-1 mount. You would think a scope as small as the 80 f/5 would be fine on a camera tripod. Not. Surprisingly, the wee one tends to overcome all but the largest photo-video tripods. Even on substantial photo tripods, balance is a real problem and motions are rarely very smooth, even at low powers.

A small GEM like the EQ-1 allows the 80 to be balanced easily, and the ability to track the stars with just the RA slow motion control means that even if this motion is not quite as smooth as what a fine fluid-head video tripod can offer, it feels that way. One of the modern alt-azmuth mounts like the ones sold today by Orion, William Optics, and Astronomics might be even better, but even the tiniest GEM is mucho better than any camera tripod for this scope.

I spent the next week or so in an agony of anticipation: Would this small REFRACTOR be worth even the modest amount I’d paid for it? Would it turn out to be just a toy like the then-current red-tube Chinese refractors from Tasco? I just couldn’t get over the idea that a darned lens-scope was on its way to me. Luckily, the agony of anticipation was relatively short-lived. I arrived home one 5 p.m. to discover a yellow note on the portal of Chaos Manor South. At first I thought, “Dang it, I missed it, and it’s too late to make a run down to UPS.” Fortunately, though, the the driver had left my package with the neighbors across the street.

I beat feet to Jim and Shelley’s. God only knows what they thought when they opened their door at my pounding to discover a wild-eyed Rod chanting “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!” As I trotted the surprisingly big box—nearly 20-pounds—back to the Old Manse, I found telescope-jaded little ol’ me was getting excited at the prospect of a 3-inch refractor. Before long, I had the little feller unpacked and assembled (15-minutes, tops). Relieved? Heck, I was impressed.

The little telescope was cute, bordering on pretty. The white tube of the Orion version is nice, but I thought the glossy black of the Celestron was better. It would, I figgered, look sweet riding piggyback on my Ultima C8. In addition to the OTA and GEM, some other cool things came out of the box and put the Celestron miles ahead of the Orion (back then; these days Orion sells some very nice and reasonably priced ST80 packages).

For one thing, there was a decent if not perfect finder marked “6 x 30 L.E.R” on its objective end (“long eye relief” I guess). Despite the presence of a baffle that stopped down the finder objective, images were bright and sharp inside during the day and turned out to be much the same outside in the dark. There was also a single eyepiece hiding down amongst the Styrofoam peanuts, a 25-mm marked “Super-Modified-Achromat” or some such foolishness. In truth, it was a workable Kellner capable of fulfilling the role of “better than nothing,” I suppose.

All told, for less than 300 simoleons this was a nice outfit by the standards of the day. What is surprising a decade later is how much scope prices have continued to plummet. In 2009, Orion will sell you an ST80 and all the fixings at a price similar to what I paid all those years ago, but with a nice 40-mm finder, two genuine wide-field eyepieces (Synta Expanses), and a considerably better tripod than the somewhat flimsy wooden one my little scope's EQ-1 possessed.

As ALWAYS, the very act of your Old Uncle carrying a new scope into the backyard, even an humble Short Tube 80, brought a sudden and immutable flood of clouds, but  I was at least able to give the 80 a quick check-out. Lyra’s Vega and Double-Double were briefly in the clear in a sucker hole near the zenith.

First and best of all, it was obvious I could forget any trepidation concerning the EQ-1 mount. It was almost overkill for the Short Tube. At 120x, the shakes produced by a sharp rap on the OTA died out in a couple of seconds. Optically? The ST easily split the Double-Double through a sucker hole at just over 100x. Nice and sharp at that magnification, too. I did note, however, that one of my good 1.25-inch diagonals provided a substantially better image. The stock unit seemed prone to flaring on bright stars like Vega, a sure sign of misalignment. The 64 dollar question, however? How bad was the scope's chromatic aberration, the fearsome Color Purple?

Vega did, as I expected, show considerable in-focus false color, but, surprisingly it was not a distracting amount. A nice airy disk and diffraction rings were visible at 120x, and the in-and-out-of-focus diffraction patterns looked quite acceptable.

Dislikes? Other than the punk diagonal, not much. With a bit of adjustment the focuser was smooth and easy enough, though it certainly couldn’t compete with the JMI Crayfords I was so fond of  in those days.

In just a few minutes this little Short Tube 80 refractor gave me a great deal of joy. If nothing else, it was clearly a grab ‘n go champ, perfect for waltzing around the backyard hunting breaks in the trees (and clouds). After even this limited amount of observing with the refractor, one thing was sure: this was not a toy. This was a real telescope capable of real work.

I still didn’t have a good idea what the 80 could do on the sky, though, and was right anxious to find out. Naturally, the week passed with no clear skies. Until Friday night, when, also naturally, I was otherwise engaged. That year, my step-daughter, Beth, was in her high school's marching band, and Miss Dorothy and I spent every Friday night at the Big Game. And what a nice night this Friday was. Bizarrely enough for down here in October, a cold front had passed through, moderating temperatures and cleansing the sky.

By the time we returned home it was 11 p.m., and good ol’ Jupe was well up in the east, Saturn was tagging not far behind, and there was a real and unmistakable hint of fall in the air. If you think I grabbed my new scope and ran for the backyard, you are right. This was what grab ‘n go was all about. It was late and I was tired, but the Short Tube 80 was so easy to get set up that there was no way I wouldn’t do a little observing.

Shortly, I had my little bird pointed at Jupiter. Due to my diagonal diagnosis on first light night, I used a good Celestron prism star diagonal this time, the 1.25-inch that came with my ‘95 Ultima 8. Still, I didn't know what to expect. When pointed at a planet would the little refractor sing that Jimi Hendrix moldy-oldie “Purple Haze”?

Well, yeah, there was some color, but it was genuinely unobtrusive. At 133x (6mm Circle T Orthoscopic, 2x Barlow), much detail was on display. Including, by 1 a.m.--could it be?--the Great Red Spot. The GRS, pale as it was at the time, was noticed more as a "hollow" until it rotated well onto the planet, but it was easily recognizable.

Earlier, I'd watched a shadow transit of Io, and was just blown away to realize that not only could I see the shadow of the moon, a hard, black little pimple on Jove's saturnine face, but also Io’s disk as she crossed a cloud band slightly darker than herself. At modest magnifications the other Galilean moons showed as tiny but visible disks. I hadn't expected a heck of a lot on the planets from an inexpensive 80mm f/5 achro, but I was seeing a very respectable Jupiter. And the 80 had done it from the get-go. No cool-down or warm-up wait for this baby.

On to Saturn. Sharp. Cassini's Division was easy (the rings were nice and open that year), with some banding on the planet obvious. I could also see other detail—like brightness variations across the rings--when the seeing steadied down. I soon found I could pick out one or two other satellites in addition to Titan when I bumped the power up. 

How did she take magnification? Fairly well. Saturn always seems to allow a little more power than Jupiter, but at 150x I thought the 80 was starting to pant a bit, and at 200x (achieved by stacking Barlows), it was clear the small, short refractor was about ready to drop with exhaustion. But that was OK; I’d told myself before I’d forked over the bucks that I’d be satisfied if the ST80 could at least do 100x on the Moon and planets, and it was clear that would not be a problem.

On the planets, yeah, but how about the Moon? Luna was getting over into the west, but still a good target, so we went there. Verdict? Good. Not great, but good. As on the planets, color was not a problem. Yes, there was a thin line of spurious color on the limb, but the terminator was essentially perfect. I’ve seen far more color in a 4-inch f/10 achromat, which yielded purple shadows along the terminator. Even at over 100x, the Short Tube produced black crater and mountain shadows.

If the small scope had faults where Lunar observing was concerned, they were mainly that the disk away from the terminator was not as sharp and detailed, I thought, as what a similar aperture long focal length reflector might deliver. Also, like I found on Jupiter and Saturn, push much past 150x and the image got mushy and a little ugly, even with good eyepieces. No, I wouldn’t be gawking at Plato’s floor at 400x, but it was clear the Short Tube was more than usable for casual Moon touring.

Before I knew it, it was 2 a.m. and I was feeling a mite weary. As a last treat, I turned to M45. How wonderful to find all the Pleiads perfectly framed in one field and shining like hard and perfect sapphires. A look at an open cluster also helped me assess some of the 80’s other optical characteristics. Edge sharpness was more than adequate, especially considering the f/5 speed of the scope. Contrast also seemed good, though, of course, I didn’t even suspect the Merope nebulosity from the Garden District’s sodium pink skies. But, oh, that wide, wide field. What a lovely thing to see:  The Pleiades rising just above the chimney of the old Victorian home next door. 

I won’t lie to ya’ll: I wound up staring at the Seven Sisters for at least another half hour before calling it a night. And calling it a night with this grab ‘n go sure was sweet. That consisted of collapsing the EQ-1’s extendable tripod legs, putting the aperture cap in place, and carrying the whole shebang in through the back door in one go. Time between last peek at M45 and first sip of Rebel Yell? Maybe 2-minutes.

The Short Tube 80 wasn’t just a Grab ‘n Go scope, though; it was a Richest Field Telescope, too. I was all antsy to see what it could do from my friend Pat’s dark (a decade ago) back 40. First moonless night I could, I grabbed the 80, threw it in the backseat and hauled butt across the bay to see what the l'il scope could show of some deep sky objects.

M22: This fantastic, large globular star cluster was getting awful low, so this was me and Pat’s first stop. The cluster looked nice at our finding power of 25x, but, while that provided a beautiful wide-field vista, there wasn’t much in the way of resolution, with the glob being nothing more than a blob. However, boosting the 80 to a bit over 100x with a 7-mm Orthoscopic and a 2x Shorty Barlow provided definite resolution in the form of plenty of teeny-weeny stars around the edges.

M13: The Great Glob is the prize for late summer observers, right? The big guy was still nice and high at this fairly early hour. How was it? So-so. M13 was bright and easily visible in the 80 f/5 and even in her small finder scope, but it was was just a bright blob no matter how much power we poured on or how we squinted. It was attractive in its own way, but its tighter nature (M13 is of Shapley - Sawyer Class V) as compared to M22 prevented the 80mm from showing even a hint of resolution under Pat’s skies. And from the other skies I later tried the scope from. Oh, under the good—not great—skies of the Peach State Star Gaze I was able to maybe pick out a star or two in M13 at 150x, but that was dicey.

M11: The Wild Duck (galactic) Cluster was simply outstanding. I looked at it for a very long time, my little bird of a telescope seeming to flap along with those distant fowl, Woodstock flying with the eagles. What made M11 so nice in this scope was that the ST80’s wide field nature showed off both sides of the cluster’s nature. At low power with a 26-mm Plössl, it took on that famous triangular “flight pattern” shape. At higher magnifications it assumed the appearance of a loose globular, with the reddish star at the heart of the cluster very prominent.

M27: What a treat the Dumbbell Nebula was. The apple core shape was blatantly obvious at 15x, and a terrific view was provided by a Barlowed 15-mm Plössl. An OIII filter worked very nicely with this combo as well. Have you heard folks opine that an OIII “won’t work with a small scope”? They don’t know pea-turkey.

M31: Was climbing now, so away we went. Not bad, not bad at all. The less than black skies at Pat’s, e’en a decade ago, prevented the Andromeda Nebula from showing anything close to its full extent, but there was a lot of galaxy visible at 15x. Companion M32 was extremely prominent. I even convinced myself I could see dimmer satellite galaxy M110 at this magnification.

Double Cluster: Stupendous! Looked best in a 15-mm Plössl. I thought a long focal length eyepiece for once actually provided too much space around the pair.

M57: Looked much more like a smoke ring than it had in the city, OIII or no OIII. It was easier to pick out the donut hole, I thought, than it was in my old Palomar Junior 4.25-inch Newtonian.

M15 in Pegasus is a tightly-wound glob with a strange, bright core. And it looked good in the 80. Not surprisingly, no hint of resolution, though.

Naturally, these nice wide field views whetted my appetite for RFT glory in Short Tube style. Henceforth, I began taking the ST along anytime I headed to a dark site star party. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if I hadn’t done this I would have missed some of the best views of my life.

The first time I got my silly little refractor under a genuinely dark sky was at our “home” star party, the Deep South Regional Star Gaze, the very year I got the scope, 2000. At the time, the star party's McComb Mississippi site was still relatively dark (we've since moved to a better location). What would I hunt with the little telescope I'd begun calling "Woodstock"? One of my most wanted objects had always been the North America Nebula, NGC 7000

I’d seen the NAN a time or two over the years through binoculars and my SCTs at very low power. With binocs, however, it was difficult to distinguish the great nebular complex from the gauze of the Cygnus Milky Way. In my (unfiltered) SCTs, I sometimes thought I picked up the brightest area of the nebula, the Gulf of Mexico region, but I was not at all sure, suspecting I was using as much averted imagination as averted vision. I could see parts of the nebula convincingly with my filtered 12-inch Dobsonian, Old Betsy, but the field was way too narrow to show the North America shape.

I didn’t expect too much, then, when I turned the 80 toward Deneb. My fellow observers thought I’d gone nuts from the way I was suddenly hopping up and down and yelling, but there was a reason for that. At 16x in the ST80, the NAN wasn’t just visible or “suspected,” it was obvious, with the North America shape being clear. Bumping up the power and adding an OIII filter made it near spectacular. Later, I found that NGC 7000 wasn’t much of a challenge with the scope even from not-perfect skies, since I was able to see it almost as well from some only semi-dark paper company land back home.

My other “most memorable” observation came at a Peach State Star Gaze back in the days when that excellent star party was still held at the Indian Springs State Park in central Georgia. Being just outside the metro Atlanta light dome didn’t stop the 80 from doing a real job on M31. With the power just high enough to frame Andromeda perfectly, the monster galaxy for once really looked like a galaxy. One dark lane was starkly visible and the other wasn’t hard. M32 burned away, and M110 wasn’t just seen, it took on form and substance, with fleeting details shimmering near the nucleus. I even thought I glimpsed the great star cloud NGC 206, which lurks in M31’s southwest arm. If so, that’s quite a catch for an 80-mm, as it generally takes about 4-inches to see that. What helped? I had the 80 piggybacked on my Ultima C8, and the uber-stable platform and excellent drive helped the ST80 see a few things it normally couldn't. As above, though, still not many/any stars in M13.

Whatever became of my Short Tube 80? Nuttin honey. Unlike some of y’all, Unk rarely sells/trades gear on the Astromart. Heck, the last major doohickey I sold there was a Starlight Xpress MX516, so that oughta tell you something. Yeah, I’m a gear pack-rat and sometimes that is a Good Thing. I will admit the ST80 was eclipsed by a far more capable 80, a William Optics Megrez 2 fluorite, but the ST80 kept a place in my heart.

The Short Tube does have its strengths, and that is why it still comes out of its case regularly. Most of all, the 80 is useful for more than just quick looks. I’ve used it regularly as a guide scope with my Atlas mount. My William Optics 66 had been doing well in that role, but I got to wondering if the good, old Short Tube might not pull in a few more guide stars. Sure enough, she did. Lately, I’ve been using the 80 every single day. I’ve got interested in monitoring the Sun (not that there is much to see, lately), and have a nice Thousand Oaks filter I bought for the 80 one afternoon at a star party when I was bored.

It’s not just that I keep findin’ things to do with my Short Tube 80 that keeps him at my side; it’s also that the little scope, who I long ago dubbed "Woodstock," became an old friend. After almost a decade of thick and thin observing it’s hard to imagine not having the ST80 along at dark sites, be that the Tanner Williams club field or the Texas Star Party.

Yeah, there is More Better Gooder around today, muchachos. You can get a 66-mm ED from WO or Astronomics that costs less than 350 bucks and will show you more than the ST80. On the other hand, you can get a Short Tube 80 for about a hundred dollars less than that, and that will include a GEM little mount, a finder, even a couple of decent eyepieces. And, like Unk, if you are prone to practicing spur of the moment “guerilla astronomy” from "unusual" locations on occasion, you may find the inexpensive and rugged ST80 more suited to that than a lovely ED/APO. However you observe, you may, like me, also come to love the little telescope. It’s a timeless classic, humble and lovable, and I think every working amateur still needs one.

I really like your review and comments about the ST80. I have one and also the Orion StarBlast. I have trouble lifting anything heavy so these two are just right for that. I haven't used either very much, tho. Your comments are very encouraging for me; I keep thinking I should get something bigger or better and more expensive. This post and the other ones about the StarBlast have made me very satisfied to have these two scopes. I plan on taking them to the GSSP this month. My home observing is in the city with lots of sky glow and ambient light and trees; I have your book about urban observing. So is it possible to use these two small OTA's under the conditions I have. I only have a good view to the east because of trees.
PS I'd like to link my new blog "Astrogranny" to this post.
Hey there, Unk' Rod!

Thanks for the great 80f5 article. I was given mine by my loving wife in '99 and still enjoy it immensely. It led to my taking John Dobson's class and grinding / making my 10 inch f/6.5 Dob. The latter still is incredibly better at really dim objects but the little 80f5 still is gobs of fun.

Now in the midst of a two-year long move (!) my Dob is in storage along with almost all my possessions. But the 80f5 is always at hand.

Clear and dark skies to you and yours always -

Jim Horn, Bingen WA (moderator, 80f5 group)

It was your advice (on a different forum) that markedly improved my ST80. I bought it used. Hadn't ever seen one up close. Found the focusser was sloppier than I would have liked. Then your advice on how to get at those invisible screws atop the focusser fixed the problem.

Have been using it exclusively for H alpha solar but after reading this blog, I'll give it a go at night too.

There is something about carrying the little thing out with one hand (on an EQ1) that makes my CV102 on an SVP or my XT10 suddenly seem like an awful lot of work. But i know they'll be back at work soon enough here at home. The little guy will probably get the pleasure of going on vacation with us from now on. Day AND night.

We'll see.

Gene Baraff
Great post Uncle Rod. I've been thinking about buying an Orion ST 80-A to use as a grab and go scope. My Edge HD800 is too much work to set up sometimes, and I'm thinking the ST 89-A with a light weight mount would be perfect. Honestly, I haven't read anything bad bout them.
Curious if you ever used this for Astrophotography? I've heard of some people using it for wide field Astro pho.
I've taken a few shots through one...OK...lot of chromatic aberration which makes processing more work. I got one of the little 66mm ED scopes popular some years ago, a William Optics Patriot SD, and it was much easier to use. ;)
I very much love my own little ST80. It's the finderscope and wide-field-scope for my big CPC1100 SCT, and serves admirably in both roles. The SCT has a somewhat narrow field-of-view and benefits from a wide-field-scope companion. I always use the ST80 with a low-power Panoptic 24mm eyepiece, which is perhaps a bit silly because the eyepiece costs twice what the scope did, but it does give wonderful rich views with it. Though i suppose if I ever tried using it at higher powers, i wouldn't be as happy.

I'm sorry to see though that the ST80 appears to have been discontinued recently. Oh well, i guess the big-SCT finderscope market is perhaps a bit small...

Both Celestron and Orion seem to only be selling a cheap 8mm f/5 with dubious optics and a terrible plastic focuser. OTOH, Meade is now offering the Synta ST-80 i9n Tak off white as the "Adventurer 80" in a backpack model and the "infinity" in Royal blue with a fairly stable alt/az mount a la AZ-3.

If anything the optics are even better than earlier samples I've had my hands on. Plastic is still limited to the objective's cell.
I am just returning to astronomy after an absence of better than 25 years and was surprised at the changes in all that time.

Astrophotogaphy was out of reach for me as a young adult, but now with these DSLRs and short tube refractors, I figured I'd give it a go and went with a Meade 80mm adventure scope to pair up with my DSLR and we'll see how it goes!

I also bought a 70mm Celestron travel scope for grab and go as well and also will add it as a finder on my soon to be rebuilt 6inch F8 reflector for my observatory I will finally have built after a lifetime of dreaming of one.

Thanks for a great article that has been very helpful!
2019 now, 10 years from when this was written, I still love the ST80/clones. As a learning process before I spend mucho dinero on AP, I put the $90 ST80 clone, a Meade Adventure 80 (metal focuser) on a $100 EQ2-wanna-be-3 mount (ES Exos Nano EQ), added a arduino+stepper RA drive and guiding with a Ebay guidescope and webcam and a family DSLR. For what I call Observational AP. Yes it has CA, yes I get oval stars without very accurate polar alignment and no Dec guiding, but imaging with this shows me way more than visual on my 8" Dob in my skies. Pluto (3 min subs), Large galaxies with faint surface brigthness, fainter comets, novae and supernovae, the Markarian chain in a single frame are examples.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

stats counter Website Hit Counters