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Ten-inch Teleport



Background

The ten inch Teleport is a unique high-end altazimuth newtonian made by Tom Noe of Wylie, Texas, and incorporating an F/5 primary mirror by Carl Zambuto. I first became aware of the Teleport from Todd Gross's review at www.weatherman.com in which the Boston-based equipment guru writes that if he could have only one telescope, it would probably be the Teleport. That statement got my attention. Having become interested in astronomy about a year ago with the purchase of a Celestron C5+ Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope (SCT) I had decided that I really needed more light-gathering power. The C5+ was a great first telescope, but after about six months I was longing to see more detail in deep space objects (particularly globular clusters and nebulas) and craved better contrast for high-powered planetary viewing.

After some research, I decided that a premium Dobsonian-type reflector in the 10- to 12-inch range would provide better views than a mass-produced SCT of equal aperture (higher quality primary mirror, smaller secondary, and no corrector plate eating light) and would be more portable as well. Ease of transport is pretty important to me since I live in the Washington, D.C. metro area and like to drive to darker skies whenever possible. Since I had read and heard so much about the high quality of Zambuto optics, I decided to confine my choice to the four telescope manufacturers that use Zambuto mirrors: Starsplitter, Starmaster, Mag1 (Portaball), and Teleport. While my research established that all four companies make excellent scopes, the Teleport won out on the issues that I deemed most important; it is the lightest, most compact when collapsed, and offers the quickest set-up time. At $2,850 it is also the most expensive -- Dang!

Anatomy of The Teleport

The Teleport is made of high-quality Baltic Birch and Apple-ply plywood sealed with polyurethane and painted white-gray. It utilizes an ingenious design incorporating Bogen monopod legs in place of the one-piece struts found on competing models, and an "altitude ring" that completely encircles the altitude bearing surfaces. This allows the scope to fold down when closed into an incredibly compact package (13.5" x 14.5" x 26") and reduces set-up and break-down time to less than 60 seconds. Most impressive, the entire telescope and mounting is one self-contained unit that never needs any assembly or disassembly beyond simply extending and collapsing the Bogen struts. Even the baffled light shroud is integral to the telescope and automatically extends and retracts along with the struts.

The Teleport incorporates premium components such as a Zambuto primary mirror, Protostar spider and 1.83" enhanced aluminum diagonal covering only 3.4% of the primary area, telescoping Bogen struts, and a specially machined 2" helical focuser that is both superbly smooth and surprisingly quick. Despite its many innovations, the Teleport preserves all the advantages of classic Dobsonian design, such as much-appreciated stability, smooth and easy motions, and the all-important "stiction" that comes from using Teflon and Ebony Star for all bearing surfaces.

Everything about the Teleport has been designed to keep observing and transporting the scope as simple and easy as possible. Each accessory has its place inside the scope. The Rigel QuickFinder reflex sight, included with the Teleport, mounts on the secondary assembly when the Teleport is opened, and transfers to a second mounting bracket inside the scope base when the Teleport is closed. Even better is a foam-lined accessories drawer built into the base of the scope that can be customized (by cutting the foam with a razor knife) to accept any combination of accessories such as eyepieces, collimation tools, Barlow lenses, filters, etc. The number of eyepieces that can fit into the drawer will, of course, vary with their size; I could comfortably fit four Pentax XL eyepieces, a 2" laser collimator, a flashlight, and a Kendrick eyepiece dew removal system (the last is included with the Teleport).

In keeping with his "everything in its place" philosophy, Tom Noe put Velcro to good use. The wooden top plate, which helps to keep dust out of the tube, has two Velcro strips that mate to other strips on the side of the scope for convenient placement when the scope is open. The Teleport also comes with an insulated, reflective cover that protects the scope from sun, dew and foreign matter. The cover has side cutouts so the scope can be carried while covered, and uses Velcro to stay closed around the scope when deployed and to fold up and fasten to mated Velcro strips on the side of the scope during observing.

The Teleport also comes standard with an electrical package that includes features only available as options, if at all, on competing scopes. Powered by six C-cell batteries mounted below the mirror cell, the electrical unit powers a fan for cooling the primary mirror when the scope is taken from a warm room to the cold outdoors, a built-in heater for removing dew from the secondary, and a wrap-around warming element that chases dew from eyepieces. As I received the scope in August, I've not yet had a chance to test the primary fan but the two dew removal systems work well.

Incredible lightness is among the most attractive features of the Teleport. Weighing only 32 lbs, it is fully 10-35 lbs lighter than other 10-inch Zambuto-equipped scopes (approximately 10 lbs lighter than Portaball and Starsplitter Compact, 20 lbs lighter than Starsplitter Compact II, and 35 lbs lighter than Starmaster EL). This makes it very easy to pick up with one hand and move about a yard to search for the best shots at various objects. Despite its low weight, the Teleport's smooth motions are as stable as those on heavier scopes of comparable quality, even at high power. The scope comes equipped with three white cylindrical counterweights that can be screwed into threaded receptacles mounted on the base or on the secondary assembly to balance unusually heavy or light eyepieces and accessories. A small adjustment tool is also provided to tighten or loosen the friction damping on the altitude ring as needed. The same tool is also used for collimating the secondary and stores in the accessories drawer.

Todd Gross' excellent review notwithstanding, the most conclusive endorsement for the Teleport has come from my wife Ilana. The Teleport's overall user-friendly design makes it so easy to transport, set-up and enjoy that she has been entirely won over. While even my little 5" SCT struck her as awkward and burdensome to take on trips - requiring schlepping the field tripod with equatorial wedge, the forkmount and tube in a hard case, and a second case full of eyepieces - Ilana actually encouraged me to bring the Teleport along when we visited her parents on Cape Cod for the Labor Day weekend. The Teleport requires much less room in the car than the C5+ rig, weighs less, and is encompassed in one self-contained unit. Ilana thought the Teleport looked cute sitting on the rear passenger seat, buckled in with the seatbelt. When closed, its squat dimensions and shiny metallic cover make it look like a friendly little robot, and we have taken to calling it "R2-D2"after our favorite Star Wars droid.

Purchasing Experience and Service

When I ordered the Teleport in May 2000, Tom Noe estimated delivery time at three months. He gave me regular email updates on the progress of the scope and was available to speak with me whenever I phoned. Despite an unfortunate setback when a thief stole one of his scopes at Riverside, Tom still managed to keep to the delivery schedule and my Teleport was delivered in late August.

The Teleport arrived very well packed in a foam-lined box made of heavy grade cardboard. The foam was very firm all around the scope, which was reassuring. The enclosed owner's manual gave detailed instructions for unpacking the Teleport. The entire process took about 20 minutes. The major steps involved detaching the mirror cell from the scope, removing a plastic disk that protects the primary mirror during shipping, and adjusting the mirror sling to enable proper collimation. I had a bit of trouble figuring out the correct tension setting for the mirror sling, but Tom gave me detailed guidance that solved the problem. The Teleport also came with owner's manuals for the Protostar diagonal and the Rigel QuickFinder. I found that all the manuals fit easily beneath the foam on the floor of the accessories drawer. A final nice touch is the personalized name plate attesting that the scope was made for me by Tom Noe and showing the serial number of the scope (mine is #21; pretty cool to have the 21st Teleport on the planet!)

Tom has some clear opinions about what accessories and techniques work best with the Teleport, and he is not shy about sharing them. The owners manual, for example, contains a statement that Pentax XL eyepieces work best with the Teleport primarily due to their 20mm eye relief and similar size and weight profiles throughout the range. Also, in emails and telephone conversations Tom has given me other recommendations regarding issues such as collimators, filters, etc. Despite some initial skepticism on my part, my own observing experiences have generally confirmed Tom's recommendations.

During the first few nights that I used the Teleport, various questions came up regarding issues such as eyepiece astigmatism and collimation procedures. In the morning I would email Tom my questions and he would get back to me with a detailed email answering all my concerns. In one particular case, I found that the adapters allowing 1.25" eyepieces to be used with the Teleport did not permit me to place the bottom lens cap on the eyepiece without first removing the adapter. Since I had followed Tom's advice by purchasing one adapter for each 1.25" eyepiece in my accessories drawer, I didn't want to have to remove the adapters to recap the eyepieces. Tom replied that he personally doesn't use lens caps, but that he could see my point. He said that some of his best ideas come from customers and then offered to machine a new set of adapters with recessed barrels to accept 1.25" lens caps and to send them to me without charge.

In all my dealings with Tom Noe, it has been apparent that buying one of his handcrafted telescopes is an entirely different experience than buying a mass-produced instrument from a retail dealer. This, of course, has many positives, including high-quality service and individualized advice; the only negative is the three-month wait for delivery, which is similar to that of competing premium Dobs, but far longer than the instant gratification one can expect when ordering one of the major manufacturer's mass produced Dobs or SCTs. In my opinion, there is no question that the Teleport was worth the wait.

Observing with The Teleport

A. Setting-Up

Prior to observing with the Teleport, one must go through the procedures for opening and collimation the scope, which are well explained in the owner's manual. First, one detaches the cover plate and extends the struts. This is done by pulling up on the secondary assembly and tightening two knobs on each of the four struts to lock the scope in the open position. The procedure usually takes me about 30 seconds, although every fourth or fifth time that I open the scope, the struts require a bit more coaxing to fully extend, but this never takes more than 90 seconds. The scope is now ready to be collimated.

The following details the procedure for collimating the secondary and primary mirrors with a laser collimator. (I'm not sure how the procedure works using other types of collimators.) The secondary mirror must be collimated first. The collimation tool provided with the Teleport (similar to an Allen wrench) is used to adjust the three screws in the Protostar diagonal assembly until the laser-projected dot is centered on the primary. Tom Noe makes this easier by marking the center of the Zambuto primary with a small black adhesive ring (I believe he does this only for purchasers who intend to use a laser). The process of secondary collimation is very intuitive and only takes about 30 seconds.

Collimating the primary is slightly more complicated. The user must turn three collimation knobs at the bottom of the tube until the returning laser dot is centered on the collimator's face. Because of the angle and the light shroud, it is not possible to see the target face while turning the knobs. During my first few nights with the Teleport, I had difficulty achieving precise collimation and found the entire process took five minutes or longer and required ten or more trips between the primary knobs and the collimator. I described the problem to Tom Noe, who gave me instructions for adjusting the mirror sling to increase the responsiveness of the collimation knobs. After making the adjustments, I now find that one or two minutes are generally sufficient to get the primary well collimated.

The last pre-observing step is to attach the Rigel QuickFinder. I have found that it is best to check and if necessary realign the QuickFinder each time the Teleport is opened. This is done by putting a bright star in the field of view of a low power eyepiece and then fine tuning the QuickFinder collimation knobs as needed to center the star in the finder. The process is very easy and takes less than one minute.

A final note about setting up with the Teleport concerns the importance of a good seat. The Teleport's height at the Zenith is a little over four feet, which makes sitting during observing much more comfortable than standing. I have found that a chair with adjustable height is a very useful accessory with the Teleport. This feature makes it easy to stay comfortable viewing objects at various positions in the sky and can also be helpful for moving easily between the accessories drawer and the focuser.

B. General Performance Issues

My first impression on looking through the Teleport was that images through this scope were brighter and clearer than in smaller refractors and Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes that I have used in the past. The star test confirmed the excellent reputation of Zambuto mirrors, showing what looked to me to be a perfect diffraction pattern for a Newtonian as shown in books, except when the seeing deteriorated. As expected, I have found that the ten-inch optic on the Teleport is more sensitive to seeing conditions than smaller scopes, but on in-focus images this has only been apparent over 200X. With the mirrors properly collimated, stars focus to near points. Contrast is very good.

One interesting point relates to the performance of the Teleport with different eyepiece combinations. I found that Pentax XL eyepieces show some edge astigmatism in the 21mm and 40mm focal lengths that is not visible when using the same eyepieces at F/10 in Schmidt Cassegrains. In contrast, the 22mm and 35mm Panoptics are both sharp to the edge with the Teleport and have wider apparent fields, although this is balanced by visibly higher light throughput in the 21mm Pentax and a wider true field in the 40mm Pentax. The 10.5 and 5.2mm Pentax XLs show very little edge astigmatism and have larger apparent fields than the otherwise comparable 12mm and 6mm Radians. In any case, I followed Tom Noe's recommendation to go with the Pentax XL's as a matched set, and they do look good lined up in a row in my accessories drawer.

C. Observing Experiences

The Teleport's smooth and intuitive movements invite one to pan around the sky with a low power eyepiece to see what pops into view. The ten-inch primary easily pulls globular clusters and the brighter nebulae and galaxies out of the sky, appearing as small smudges that are obviously not stars. Cranking up the power past 100X darkens the sky background and shows beautiful detail in objects that I had formerly known only as "faint fuzzies". Motions are so steady that I can cruise away from targets at high power to check out their surroundings and then reacquire them without having to drop the magnification or use the finder.

In this section, I will describe a number of deep space objects and planets as they appeared through the Teleport from reasonably good suburban skies during the summer months of 2000. I used Pentax XL eyepieces for all these observations.

M13: Very good at 120X. Bright and well resolved, showing a luminous core surrounded by many stars. Just gets better at 240X, displaying a huge swarm of stars and detail through to the core. Much like a photograph, just dimmer.

M15: At 120X it is smaller and prettier than M13, appearing as a tight ball of diamonds with light shining out from the core. At 240X the core is a well-resolved explosion of light radiating delicate tendrils of stars. Beautiful.

M57: At 60X and 120X the nebula is eerily apparent as a smoky ring floating in space, although averted vision helps show detail. With the OIII filter it becomes much more obvious against a black sky, no averted vision needed at all.

M31: At 30X Andromeda is a fuzzy oblong disc of light. The overall shape of the galactic bulge and arms can be clearly discerned.

Double-Double in Lyra: This pair of double stars splits at 120X, although not as sharp as in an Apo. At 240X, the view becomes really clear and sharply defined.

Double Cluster in Perseus: At 30X this really takes advantage of the wide field eyepiece and is extremely attractive, showing lots of stars in gorgeous patterns.

Jupiter: At 120X the planet is amazingly sharp and bright, showing incredible detail in its bands and festoons. The Jovian moons are hard discs, unmistakably small worlds rather than stars. At 240X the planet is huge, bright and clear. I saw an amazingly sharp image of a moon's egress just off the limb of the planet, which really showed off the quality of the optics.

Saturn: At 120X the image was just like a photo in a magazine. The rings were incredibly sharp. The Cassini Division was utterly obvious, and a lot of bans showed on the planet. Four moons were visible, although only one (Titan?) was a disc. The planetary detail got even richer at 240X, and still better with a yellow filter.

Moon: Absolutely blinding without a moon filter, even at 240X. Even with a filter, this destroyed my night vision. The views themselves were fantastically clear. Just to see how high I could take it, I went up to 650X and saw very sharp rich detail in craters, mountains and valleys all along the terminator.

D. Comparisons with Other Telescopes

When comparing the Teleport to my friend Eric's excellent Celestron 9.25-inch SCT, we found that the Teleport yielded consistently brighter images on deep space objects. This was especially obvious on globular clusters (M-92, M-15) that needed averted vision to split in the C-9 but not in the Teleport. The C-9 was fairly competitive with the Teleport on brighter objects, like the Double Double in Lyrae and the Double Cluster in Perseus. Star images seemed slightly crisper in the Teleport, which was also able to provide a wider field due to its lower F/ ratio. We did not get a chance to compare the quality of planetary images in the two telescopes.

On another occasion I had a brief opportunity to compare the Teleport against a 5-inch Astrophysics refractor. On the Double Double the AP was able to resolve a much cleaner image at lower power than the Teleport. At higher powers (240X) the Teleport may be able to close the gap, but this was not confirmed as I did not have a sufficiently high power eyepiece on hand at the time. On the other hand, the Teleport blew away the AP on M13, showing a much brighter image with far more impressive detail.

Comparing the Teleport to a Takahashi FS78 three-inch refractor yielded results similar to the AP comparison, but even more pronounced due to wider aperture gap. The Takahashi was able to resolve the Double Double more cleanly at a lower magnification, but was utterly outclassed by the Teleport on moderate and dim objects.

Finally, I compared the Teleport to my own trusty C5+ SCT on several types of objects. The Teleport beat the C5+ on every target. Stars focused to crisper points in the Teleport and contrast was noticeably better. Globular clusters that were only dim puffs in the C5+ were well resolved in the Teleport. Open Clusters were brighter and benefited from the wider field available in the Teleport due to its two-inch focuser. Close double stars were easier to resolve in the Teleport and resolved at lower powers. Finally, Jupiter and Saturn looked far more alive, detailed and three dimensional in the Teleport. Subtle surface features that were only hinted at in the C5+ are richly revealed in the Teleport. And the Teleport handles high power much better than the C5+, although the motorized tracking on the C5+ partially makes up for this (at least until I get the tracking platform I ordered for my Teleport).

Concluding Information

Tom Noe estimates that it takes him between 80 and 120 hours to make each Teleport. He therefore limits his production to about two dozen per year. A Teleport website has been under development at www.teleport.ws but has not yet been finalized. For now, exposure of the Teleport is limited to star parties and word of mouth. There seems to be no problem getting enough customers to absorb production. Tom recently delivered his final ten-inch Teleports of 2000, and the next run is scheduled for July 2001.

Some people have encouraged the installation and sale of digital setting circles with the Teleport. Tom Noe was initially reluctant, but recently bowed to his customer's wishes and has been experimenting and working on a prototype for mounting hardware. His plan is to offer optional Sky Commander DSCs with specially developed encoder mounts on Teleports beginning next summer.

Finally, there is a fair amount of excitement brewing over the new compact 7-inch F/5.6 Teleport, which is said to weigh 18 pounds and make carryon luggage. The first of these are slotted to be completed in February 2001 and will sell for $2,350. Also, the larger 14.5-inch F/4.5 Teleport is also in production (two have already been built and sold) and includes several upgrades such as a Feathertouch crayford focuser and dual fans that cool the primary from its front. These big Teleports will weigh 68 pounds and cost a whopping $4,850. If these two new versions of the Teleport are anything like the 10-inch classic, they'll be winners.



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