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CN Reports Review: Orion SkyQuest XX14i

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#1 Olivier Biot

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 04:00 PM

CN Reports Review: Orion SkyQuest XX14i

By David Knisely.

#2 City Kid

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 05:28 PM

After following David's thread on his mirror I was really looking foward to reading his review. I thought the review was very thorough and very fair.

#3 David Knisely

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 07:20 PM

Thank you. We have had snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures with cloudy skies almost every day since the secondary got back from re-coating in December (had a coating failure). At the moment, the portions of the tube containing the newly-refigured optics are sitting in the garage cooling down to near zero degrees F (the current temperature is +4F). Last night, it got to -6 F with a nasty wind, so needless to say, the new optics didn't see first light. The wind is very light right now, so maybe I will be able to get a look at something quick before I freeze over :). Clear skies to you.

#4 City Kid

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 08:36 PM

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on your refigured mirror.

#5 Jb32828

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 10:36 PM

Thank you for the detailed review. I want to buy a big dob this year and this is very helpful.

#6 helpwanted

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 10:37 PM

thank you for an excellent review. you advice is always well respected here.
i shiver just to hear you mention your temperatures!!!

david (helpwanted)

#7 David Knisely

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 11:45 PM

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on your refigured mirror.


Your wish is my command:

Well, despite an outside temperature of -2 F (-19 C), I have the XX14i out with the new optics. HOLY COW!!! Mike Lockwood said it would handle 50x per inch, but it didn't. It handled **836x** on the moon (*59.7x per inch* of aperture) which is as high as I can go!!! I was seeing things I have *never* seen on the moon. Hadley Rille's area showed incredible detail (the 2 km wide shallow craterlet St. George was visible at the turn of the rille at the base of the Hadley Delta mountain). There were a huge number of tiny secondary impact craters from major named impact craters all over the place. The view bounced a lot at 836x, but that is to be expected (my NexStar tends to do that). Jupiter was too low to get a good look at, but at least I could see five or six belts. Star tests look pretty good, although I do have to run the fan much of the time (it *does* help) and I may have to adjust the cell's retaining clips a little. The e and f components of the Trapezium were unbelievably easy, although I could not quite resolve Sirius B due to seeing problems (houses sending up thermal plumes). I need to flock the interior of the metal OTA segments, plus I have to install some sort of baffle around the base of the trusses, as even with the shroud on, light can come into the tube from the middle through the openings in the rear OTA's truss attach points (lousy design). Still, if it weren't so cold, I would spend the whole night out with the scope. My quick collimation routine inside the house prior to disassembly and transport to the driveway turned out to be pretty good. Once I got things reassembled, I only had to tweak one of the primary's screws just a tiny bit to get Polaris to look nice and pretty symmetric, although it was so cold that it may still have been just a tiny hair off (fingers and near zero metal surfaces don't work well together). I *like* this, as it really holds alignment well!! I don't know what I did exactly, but now, my 5-8mm Speers Waler does come to a focus, although the 8.5-12mm still doesn't quite make it. I don't know if I will have to shorten the trusses or not, but I think all my eyepieces with that lone exception will focus in the scope. Frost is now forming on the tube and the sky is a little hazy, so I guess I will have to start tearing things down once my fingers get un-froze :). So, thanks to Mike Lockwood, I NOW HAVE A GOOD BIG DOB!! Clear skies to you.

#8 doctordub

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 09:50 AM

Thanks for the review David. I am glad the refiguired mirror performes so well!
CS and warmer temps!

#9 GeneT

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 10:32 PM

Very nice review. You mentioned the 12.5 inch Portaball. Have you owned one? This is where I ended up after a life time of buying and selling telescopes.

#10 GeneT

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 10:35 PM

I have the XX14i out with the new optics.


Would it have been possible to have bought the Orion telescope minus the mirrors, and had custom mirrors made? Or, was it more economical to just have the mirrors refigured? Lastly, did you also have your secondary mirror refigured?
GeneT

#11 David Knisely

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 01:13 AM

Very nice review. You mentioned the 12.5 inch Portaball. Have you owned one? This is where I ended up after a life time of buying and selling telescopes.


I have never owned a 12.5 inch Portaball, but I would have liked to have. I have two friends who have them, and I got quite a bit of experience with putting the 12.5 inch together and using it, which is what made me so fond of it. However, the cost was a bit on the high side, although for the cost of having the mirrors refigured with the XX14i, it would have been a tough choice. As far as I know, it isn't possible to order the scope without optics, although you might check with Orion about that. I had Mike Lockwood refigure both mirrors, and I am super satisfied with them both. The primary is actually better now than my old custom (1/19th wave p-v, 1/69th wave RMS) Enterprise Optics 10 inch f/5.6 Newtonian, and it really showed it last night. I just wish it would get warmer, as I don't do well observing below 20F! Clear skies to you.

#12 Cames

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 07:58 AM

David,

Thanks for your detailed review and congratulations on your outstanding new dob. Your photos, descriptions and impressions are of great interest to us and provide us with insight and details that are not obtainable from the retailer's product descriptions. Regarding the size and weight - I remember my first impression on seeing my much smaller dob for the first time and thinking OMG what have I done? Now, it seems to be just the right size for me. The sturdy, rigid construction of your XX14i will likely be a blessing in the long run by holding collimation and resisting buffeting of breezes. Those characteristics will allow you to eventually be able to ignore the instrument and concentrate on what you are actually trying to see. That's why I am sure that it will become the perfect complement to your skill and experience in observation and a capable, new window into the night sky.

Your choice of optician was obviously the right decision. And the outcome of the re-figuring process raised a couple of questions in my mind that you may wish to share with us:

Did you choose to have the mirrors recoated with enhanced aluminum as they were in the original configuration?

How did you re-attach your secondary mirror to the holder so that the outstanding figure of the secondary would be preserved?

Best regards
------
C

#13 David Knisely

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 01:45 PM

David,

Thanks for your detailed review and congratulations on your outstanding new dob. Your photos, descriptions and impressions are of great interest to us and provide us with insight and details that are not obtainable from the retailer's product descriptions. Regarding the size and weight - I remember my first impression on seeing my much smaller dob for the first time and thinking OMG what have I done? Now, it seems to be just the right size for me. The sturdy, rigid construction of your XX14i will likely be a blessing in the long run by holding collimation and resisting buffeting of breezes. Those characteristics will allow you to eventually be able to ignore the instrument and concentrate on what you are actually trying to see. That's why I am sure that it will become the perfect complement to your skill and experience in observation and a capable, new window into the night sky.

Your choice of optician was obviously the right decision. And the outcome of the re-figuring process raised a couple of questions in my mind that you may wish to share with us:

Did you choose to have the mirrors recoated with enhanced aluminum as they were in the original configuration?

How did you re-attach your secondary mirror to the holder so that the outstanding figure of the secondary would be preserved?

Best regards
------
C


The mirrors were re-coated with enhanced aluminum (97% reflectivity at 4850 angstroms normal incidence) by NOVA Optical Systems). As for the secondary, for now, the secondary is fixed to the holder via the same kind of double-sided tape that Orion used to attach it in the first place. Eventually, depending on the measurements I make once I have gotten a little more experience with using the scope, the trusses will be shortened slightly and the secondary mirror support system and spider will be replaced with a Protostar setup. The double-sided tape does not appear to be distorting the secondary that much at present, so for now, it appears to be working. However, in the long run, I want a mechanical support, as I don't trust the tape for long-term use.

As for the overall "beefy" design of the scope, it definitely could have been made lighter without compromising the overall functionality and stability of the instrument. The attachment of the secondary cage to the trusses is particularly vexing due to that weight, mainly due to the stupid big rectangular block that was used to hold the truss pairs together. This is one point where the Meade Lightbridge got things somewhat better in their design, although the Lightbridge has problems of its own. However, the Portaball's truss attachment method and its light secondary cage has both Meade's and Orion's beat as far as weight and ease of attachment are concerned. Clear skies to you.

#14 FirstSight

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 02:26 PM

Great review, David. Hopefully we can look forward to a comprehensive supplemental follow-up after you've had the scope long enough to undertake tweaking and upgrading it for better mechanical performance.

#15 Starman1

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 05:08 PM

Brightness of Intelliscope control panel (kudos to Orion for using a number pad!) can be tamed by using the Vixen transparent stickers that Vixen sells as an accessory for the StarBook controller used on Vixen mounts. These are smoke colored and can be stacked for desired brightness.
If the brightness of the numbers is also too high, a piece of smoke-colored plexiglass can easily be attached to the face plate with velcro button on the corners.

As for springs, I refer David to recent threads on CN that describe the use of Belleville springs. These can be tailored to whatever load is necessary, and they are or can be a little shorter than a heavier coil spring. However, they can also be a little taller than the stock springs and be stiff laterally.
If David adds a little height to the springs, and increases the thickness of the cork pads behind the mirror to 1/4" (available in all hardware stores), the focal point of the mirror will move out 1/4-3/8" from where it is now and solve his problems. for infocus, that is.:grin:

One thing about the design leaves me wondering: Why didn't Orion shorten the lower tube assembly, lengthen the poles, decrease the height of the side panels and make the scope lighter and more transportable?
Same reason, I guess, that they used green lighting on the Intelliscope controller.

Even with the costs of refiguring and recoating, David's 14" with premium optics is now a lot less $ than the equivalent high-end dob with a premium mirror. And once you have the right mirror(s), changing the housing is easy.
And customizing that housing to suit is part of the fun of owning a dob.

Glad to see David was successful in his "souping up". He has just embarked on a journey that is never-ending. :foreheadslap: :help: :lol:

#16 Donnie

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 06:41 PM

Great report David, glad to see it finally published. I found it to be a thorough and fair evaluation.

#17 spaceboy62

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 01:50 AM

A great read! :bow:

I'm just now getting acquainted with my new XX12i. Thanks to that report, I feel like I know my new 'scope a little bit better now.

#18 David Knisely

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 03:44 AM

Hi there Don. You posted:

If David adds a little height to the springs, and increases the thickness of the cork pads behind the mirror to 1/4" (available in all hardware stores), the focal point of the mirror will move out 1/4-3/8" from where it is now and solve his problems. for infocus, that is.


Nope, this isn't really possible. The adjustment bolts are not long enough to support much loosening of the springs before they become completely disconnected from the rest of the cell. At most, I have perhaps 1/8th of an inch more forward movement before this happens (the locking screws won't touch after that anyway), and I need more like half an inch. Even loosening the big bolts that act as supports for the circular "rubberized washer" mirror clips has limits as well, so I would gain little if I made the pads on the support triangles thicker. Moving the mirror forward would also start to aggravate the balance problem with the scope (it is very slightly nose-heavy without the tensioning knobs being tightened to begin with). My only option is, unfortunately, the shortening of the truss poles. This should kill two birds with one stone, as it will make the scope a little shorter and move the balance point more towards the rear of the tube. I am figuring between half and 3/4 of an inch will probably do the trick, but I am awaiting a clear warm night with John's Powermate and Barlows to see exactly how much farther things need to be shortened. Clear skies to you.

#19 floyd_2

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 03:50 PM

I need to flock the interior of the metal OTA segments, plus I have to install some sort of baffle around the base of the trusses, as even with the shroud on, light can come into the tube from the middle through the openings in the rear OTA's truss attach points (lousy design)



I just finished flocking the upper and lower OTAs of my XX14i this weekend using protostar flocking paper. I only had a chance to quickly test after doing the upper tube assembly and it made a big difference to contrast on brighter objects. The clouds chased me away not long after I set up. From what I saw at the eyepiece, I'm really glad that I went to the trouble of flocking the scope.

I also flocked the inside of the focuser draw tube, made a baffle to cover the rear OTA's truss tube attach points (looks like a square gasket with the corneres cut off, and a big hole in the middle), and made a half diameter light shield to block off axis light from finding its way into the eyepiece from the top of the scope. I made the baffle and light shield from protostar flockboard which is plenty hardy enough for the job.

I'm considering putting a rear cell baffle in (looks like a donut that fits into / onto the back end of the scope) and may do that this weekend. It's a bit of work flocking your scope, as you pretty much need to disassemble your OTAs completely to flock properly, but well worth the effort.

Dean

#20 otocycle

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 08:54 PM

Thanks for a very interesting and informative report. I have been considering the XT12i/XT12g mechanicals over costlier aftermarket upgrades to a Starmaster 12.5 ELT (for true truss poles and GoTo or Push To), and your review provided good insight into what I should expect. My intention was to swap out the optics straight away because I already have them, not because the Orion mirror set might not be diffraction limited.

I have always seen good to excellent performance from Orion XTs in the field, but as we know, the game gets harder with these larger apertures. Either that or I have been spoiled by Mr. Zambuto!


Clear Skies - Mike

#21 Abbe

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 09:26 PM

David,

Thanks for the excellent report. I have always believed that diffraction limited meant that the optics of such a telescope would be limited in performance only by seeing conditions. Apparently I have been way too optimistic. I would expect a telescope advertised as diffraction limited to have a mirror with a very smooth surface, no turned edge etc, and at least 1/4 wave p-v at the eyepiece. Now it seems that the term can be used to mean any minimum optical quality a company wants it to mean. A $1800 telescope should not have a mirror that has to be refigured. I hope that other people that buy this scope have better luck than you had.

George :cool:

#22 azure1961p

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 09:41 PM

While I like Orion and have heard good things about their customer service, their telling you that the particular mirror was representative of all mirrors was a bit of a gaff it would seem on their part. I'm assuming they know you posted your concerns on the internet [here] hence them contacting you "abruptly". For them to essentially shrug and say "thats business as usual, but heres a refund if youd like" just smacks of an acceptance with mediocrity on their part. Had I been Orion, even if it were true that the other scopes were like that, in the name of marketing and dodging a bad review bullet, I would have had the mirror exchanged for a better one.

I went through the aggravation of once owning optics as you mentioned 25 years ago and so on. Once is enough. Ultimately, you resolved the issue with another company and now have premium optics. For that I'm very glad and I look forward to further reports . I thought the review was thorough and fair.

Pete

#23 Fimpster

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 01:02 AM

I've been looking forward to this review for a few months now. Great write-up David! :waytogo: :waytogo: It's also good to hear that your "new" Lockwood mirrors are doing so well.

#24 Mike B

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 02:06 PM

Hey Dave-

Was a very enjoyable read concerning this new 14" Dob- nicely detailed, no candy-coatings, and an excellent portrayal of what it's like in-the-field. Not sure how much you have invested in the optical upgrading, but when combined with the purchase price i'm sure you're still well below the cost of a "premium" rig... probably even a "used" one.

Which was my route, about 4 years ago, in acquiring the 15" 'StarSplitter' Dob in my sigline. When collimated and cooled, the views i've enjoyed parallel what you've described! That fact that your motions allow successful hand-tracking into the 400x's is a pretty decent testament to the workability of this scope... or perhaps more accurately stated, its workability in your hands.

Yet it may or may NOT be THE large Dob for the masses. Considering its weight, assembly niggles, and various points of vulnerability to breakage & tweakage, it may eventually reveal itself to be more of a "tinkerer's" scope than many buyers may realize- so here your review may be a tremendous public service!

If my 'Splitter is any indication of the breed (& i suspect it is, but don't really know from limited firsthand experience ;)), the "premium" aspects of its design have presented no real niggles that would compare with what you've experienced- it just plain-and-simple works, smoothly & easily on every assembly & outing. At ~109# its somewhat lighter, and assembles very easily.

When i was "in the market" for a largish Dob ~4 years ago, there weren't nearly the options available there are NOW... and the field narrowed drastically beyond 12-inches. As in there WERE NONE!... "premium" was the only avenue i could find in the 14-16 inch category. The Meade "LB" wasn't quite here yet (iirc?). Had this Orion truss-Dob been available, i think i would've bit on it!

And based on your experiences, i believe i would've been pretty content with it, too. Yes, i've done a few minor mods to the 'Splitter, so i'm probably a good target for Orion's Dob. And if i was, or became at some point dissatisfied with its optics, i would eventually have done the very same thing you've done- have them refigured. As you compared the stock optic's views with those of a premium scope, side-by-side, you were able to see what that difference amounted to... and i still wonder if the not-quite-diffraction-limited version you'd received wouldn't please a goodly percentage of XT buyers. Hopefully yours represents a rather extreme bottom edge to the bell-curve of offshore optics? But this is pointless speculation. The overall response out there to "offshore" Dobs seems to be fairly favorable.

It seems to me your caveats stated at the beginning, and throughout your review, were prudent & accurate, and the market can be glad it has one more viable alternative at a decent pricepoint to the "premium" option... an option that's characteristically been priced such that most folks desiring larger scopes choose to settle for smaller rigs for *budgetary* reasons, which is truly unfortunate. And quite un-Dobson like.

Clear skies... and warmer temps ahead!
:grin: mike b

#25 JCAZ

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 07:00 PM

Good job Dave. Nice to see someone checking exactly what vendors are providing optically. WELL DONE.






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