Date: October 29, 2010
Title: A Primer on High End Refractor Telescope Optics. Part 3
Podcaster: Edgardo Molina
Organization: Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. www.pleiades.org.mx (web site soon to be presented also in English)
Description: In part 3 of this series, Edgardo Molina discusses high end refractor telescope manufacturers, the people behind curtains who make it possible for us amateur astronomers to enjoy our passion for the best views of the heavens through crystalline refractive optics. He also analyzes the history behind some of the most successful enterprises dealing with high performance refracting telescopes.
Bio: Edgardo Molina. B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Anahuac University in Mexico City. Post graduate studies in IT Engineering and a Masters Degree in IT Engineering. Working for IPTEL, an IT firm delivering solutions to enterprises since 1998. Space exploration enthusiast who participated in several Mexican space related activities. Licensed amateur radio operator with call sign XE1XUS. Amateur astronomer since childhood and actual founder and president of the Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. in Mexico City, Mexico. Avid visual observer and astrophotography fan. Public reach through education in exact sciences, engineering and astronomy. Lectures and teaching in several universities since 1993.
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Part 3 of 3
A Premier on High End Refractor Telescope Optics.
Hi! This is Edgardo Molina, from Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies in Mexico City Mexico.
Today I am your host again for the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast this podcast corresponds to the third of three parts titled “A Premier on High End Refractor Telescope Optics”. We are going to concentrate on the high end refractor telescope manufacturers, the people behind curtains who make it possible for us amateur astronomers to enjoy our passion for the best views of the heavens through crystalline refractive optics. We are going to analyze the history behind some of the most successful enterprises dealing with high performance refracting telescopes.
Until now in our past episodes we have been introduced to the refractor telescope history and optics theory. Nowadays there have been great advancements on this arena and just recently a fever for high quality refractor telescopes arrived. This has been commanded by the appearance of affordable DSLRs and CCD detectors that allows most of us amateurs to work hard towards getting impressive images in many parts of the spectrum of our universe.
Refractors began to flourish as a fever among amateur astronomers just a few years ago. But, there are well respected and well known companies doing their job for excellent products since the early 70′s.
Examples do not abound and I will try to concentrate on the most successful companies and offer my most sincere apologies beforehand if some are not mentioned due to the shortness of this podcast.
I will start by mentioning the companies and their compact history on this arena: Astro-Physics, Televue, TMB, TEC, Takahashi, APM and Carl Zeiss.
But, first a disclaimer: Although I get highly excited about refractor optics, I declare I have no personal or commercial bound with any of the companies mentioned here (although honestly I wish I could, just to be in refractor heaven). My opinion is completely personal and sometimes based in my humble experiences with such fine pieces of equipment.
The presentation of the companies is not related to their age or importance, but their geographical distribution.
This is nowadays one of the most respected companies in the high end refractor arena. Mr. Roland Christen has been in business since the 70´s. His scopes have an extraordinary quality both optical and mechanical. All the production is strictly through an agenda and pre-orders. There were times when most anybody could buy an Astro-Physics telescope on a short notice without having to be included in a multi-year waiting list as it is the case nowadays. I just recently heard of an Astro-Physics fan who received his telescope 9 years after ordering it. So better hurry and pre-order today. You never know if life is short and would not allow to enjoy this telescopes.
Astro-Physics have done a lot of research and work on triplet refractor optics design. A triplet is a three element objective that sometimes it is separated by air and sometimes the elements are separated by crystalline synthetic oil. Every effort is aimed to achieve the long searched goal of apochromatism, which as you may recall is the optical design of a refractor telescope objective that shows no color around bright optics when inside or outside focus. Astro-Physics and other companies have achieved this with the use of special dispersion glass and carefully studied and designed optical elements for their objectives. Of course one can witness that apochromatism is not the only thing these companies are looking after. They also take care of minimizing the optical aberrations.
Astro-Physics has many of the worlds finest apochromatic refractor telescopes. Some of their models like the legendary small aperture refractor called the Stowaway are collector pieces with prices now in the used market reaching thousands of US Dollars that can buy bigger telescopes with better apertures. There are several runs of their production telescopes that are low in number. So whenever a telescope like this surfaces into the used market, they are sold like pancakes by enthusiasts who are willing to pay the price for owning such a fine refractor.
It is worth mentioning that being a small company, Astro-Physics prefers not to soak the market with average quality products. They have to keep their reputation at high levels, and so they do still nowadays.
This company is one of my favorites I must admit. It was at some point in my life the “Holy Grail” of refractors with one of the earlier models, the Renaissance, with it’s brass tube and hefty looks, that immediately caught my eye and dreamed of such a beauty. Nowadays I am the proud owner of several Renaissance decendants. Despite this I would still love to have a mint condition Renaissance.
Al Nagler. Who is Al Nagler? An engineer from N.Y., who during the Apollo program worked for NASA on the lunar landing simulator. Al Nagler is also the father of Televue. Why on earth “Televue”? Simple. The company started it’s way selling television projectors with high quality optics. Then, after the passing TV gadget fashion, Al Nagler started designing and constructing hyper high quality eyepieces (the best wide field eyepieces around) and wide field telescopes to match his eyepiece designs. Televue is much like Astro-Physics in some ways. It is a family owned and operated company. Al Nagler is every time on the other side of the telephone line answering questions to his customers as well as offering expert support directly from the man behind the brand. I have spoken several times with him and it makes me feel absolutely confident that my treasured optical possesions are fully supported technically. Me? I feel like at home calling the Naglers.
There is an eyepiece line called Nagler that offers a wide field experience. Just recently the Ethos line of eyepieces just surpassed the Nagler design. Televue also markets simple but superb Plössl eyepieces along with some other designs like zooms or excellent eye relief eyepieces called Radians. Televue eyepieces dress the most exotic and advanced telescopes in the world, just take a look in Google which other high end telescope companies recommend them. They can’t be wrong.
In terms of telescopes Televue has two main lines, the visual instruments (please note I do not use the word “only” after “visual”) and the astrographs. Any Televue telescope is capable of performing excellently in both visual or imaging tasks, but the imaging or astrophotographic telescopes are a breed apart. The Televue telescopes are built around different sizes, from a pocket rocket size of only 60mm to 127mm which is the aperture of the family flagship, the TV-127is.
TMB stands for the late Thomas M. Back. A true genious of optical design who recently left us behind in the journey to the stars. Thomas Back is responsible for a collection of superb apochromatic refractor telescope optics. Such a shame he is no longer with us. But his legacy will forever live among the best refractor optics. He started his telescope company under the name TMB Optical. The company is nowadays run by family members but the spirit is not quite the same with the master pieces he left us in design. Many of his designs were produced by him, testing each optical train personally and giving the final tune up to the telescopes he gave birth to. He partnered with the best optical companies in Russia, LZOS and LOMO. Each telescope was offered with interferometric test results and tight optical quality inspection cards.
All of Thomas designs are truly collectables. If you ever see a used original TMB scope for sale which has been babied, do not hesitate. You will be given one of the most memorable views and pleasures in life while looking at it and through it.
Farewell Thomas! I have the chance to admire your work through your 80/480mm super apochromat triplet design I am fortunate to own.
Yuri Petrunin is the man behind TEC (Telescope Engineering Company). In the late 90′s TEC made the decision for starting his own production of optics and telescopes, at that time TEC brought to the USA a complete line of equipment for testing glass and optical manufacturing along with a super team of optical engineers and designers from the extinct Soviet Union. In the 1998 TEC started production of optics in Golden, Colorado. TEC was producing a line of Maksutov telescopes ranging from 6″ to 10″ diameter and continue to work on special optics for professional observatories. In the beginning of the new century TEC began working on a new product – Apochromatic refractors, the first APO was made in the year 2000 ( APO200FL) and in 2002 TEC have started regular production of smaller refractors. The first production model of refractors was the APO140 F7 ED oiled triplet – which was a good choice for introduction to the market; later on TEC added larger models: APO160, APO180 and APO200. Apochromatic refractors make up the majority of TEC’s ongoing present and near future production.
TEC as many of the companies I am describing here has the policy of doing things by hand with personal attention to detail. You can order a scope from them and they will follow up on the construction of it and will let you know when it is finished, tested and ready to ship directly to your door. Or, you can buy from several TEC dealers if they have them in stock, considering that they sell even before reaching the dealers premises.
Just recently a new product was announced. A 110mm flourite apochromat short F.L., refractor. I am eager to see it in action as it promises to blow out many of the high end telescope offerings for wide field visual and imaging work.
Takahashi is also one of my favorite telescope brands. Position which I certainly share with many amateurs in love of refractors out there. Takahashi is a pioneer in the manufacture of apochromatic high end refractor telescopes using flourite as the main component of their objectives. Production started after the company left their original roots for manufacturing specialized mechanical parts. The casting shop in which the parts were manufactured, was reconditioned to handle the construction of telescope parts and a specialized optical and machine shop were established to complete the telescope production. As all things japaneese, Takahashi seeks for true high quality craftsmanship and it really shows on their products. I have never seen an ugly piece of equipment or a dubious origin or design part in their instruments.
Takahashi’s products are rated among the best in the world of high end apo telescopes. There is a tremendous differentiator of this company vs the rest. All of their products are available off the shelf most of the time. You do not have to wait months or years to own one magnificent instrument. Their history is full of a numerous set of telescope models ranging from apo fluorite 50mm lovely tiny refractors (grab one of those if you can find one, they are truly an optical master piece despite their reduced size) to observatory class 200 to 300mm apo refractors in aperture.
Takahashi also specializes in other optical telescope architectures, but they are simply out of the scope of this podcast. Takahashi has mastered several techniques that result unique for mechanical components and production. Their complete telescopes are master pieces that surely will make their way through time and space. Their flourite triplets command high prices in the used market. Nowadays Takahashi also produces the finest extra low dispersion objectives using glasses that are easier to manufacture and less environmental damaging than flourite.
Although Takahashi is based in Japan, their presence in America and Europe certainly gives a peace of mind to all of us lovers of the brand.
If anybody is thinking of allowing the Rising Sun enterprise to enter their arsenal of fine optics, do not doubt it. Takahashi has a proven record of being the most enthusiastic and perfectionist asian telescope manufacturer. I can prove it with the examples I have the privilege to own, and my check book which in time has been hurt while getting closer to these rare beasts. Ouch! Takahashi accessories for their telescopes are works of art with high price tags. The higher price tags for astronomical accessories in the market, but if you can afford a new Takahashi telescope, it will certainly not matter what the cost of the required accessories will be. Trust me, once you go Tak you can’t go back.
GERMANY: Carl Zeiss
First I thought of leaving the best for last. I do not regret it. Carl Zeiss is the number one optical master in the world. Their german origin and their passion for perfection has them in a very special niche when talking optical perfection.
Although it is truly a shame Carl Zeiss is no longer producing telescopes for the amateur market, their refractor lines that one can afford used on the second market are fine examples of a superb dedication to offer a master product.
There are stories (which I have heard are true) that whenever a finished product, in our case a telescope was finished and taken to the final quality control, the thing would be smashed with a sledge hammer if it didn`t pass the tests with bells and whistles. No defects or imperfecions of any kind were and are allowed to leave Carl Zeiss production faciliies.
Although Carl Zeiss had a production of achromat telescopes with semi-apochromat characteristics (and I mean very close to the actual apochromat telescopes) their flagship line and highest standard apochromatic highest end refracting telescopes was the APQ line.
If you see nowadays an APQ scope for sale. Don’t think twice: Take a loan! Spread the expense among all the credit cards you can afford. This is a true gem and a No Brainer to invest in it. Invest? In a telescope? What about the current trend of investing in precious metals? All I can say is that the APQ line of Carl Zeiss refractor telescopes are commanding higher and higher prices on the used market. And it is getting extremely difficult these days to find an example for sale. If you find it you might well consider spending well beyond the $10k USD mark for a telescope with an aperture and focal lenght which costs orders of magnitude less in the mass produced refractor telescope market. Every day the APQ telescopes are getting higher and higher in price, and people is responding to this trend while buying them, that is why I consider this scenario an investment. At least you can make more money out of it than what your bank will pay you with interests for having your money quietly sitting in a safe box.
Once you look through an APQ you will never look back. I haven’t been able to see one of these beauties in real life, but I challenge you to read all the reviews on Carl Zeiss APQ refractor telescope line on the Internet during a rainny afternoon or best, during a frustrating cloudy season.
If somebody has one for sale… Preferably the APQ 100/640mm model (if it is not too much to ask), I certainly sell my car to afford it!
That reminds me that I previously heard from Dr. Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast, that she had a theory which can be proven when dealing with high end telescope optics. Most of us amateur astronomers will invest as much as our car’s price in astronomical equipment. Don’t get me wrong! I drive a VW Jetta. Thanks heaven there are still Ferraris out there to match prices with the most desirable and exotic astronomical instruments.
Next time you visit a star party. Go for the refractors. Although there will certainly be bigger light buckets out there, you will never, ever be able to match the contrast, clarity, planetary fine detail, imaging capabilities, portability, ease of use, fast cooling times, delicate sharpness and wide fields, along with pin point star vistas provided by a refractor. Are the advantages clear?
From a truly refractor lover and enthusiast. I wish you clear skies and the very best for your astronomical work, amateur or professional. Don’t ever forget the Galilean legacy of the refractor telescope world. Thank you.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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