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Vintage Vixen Polaris GEM vs. new Tasco repro

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#1 hottr6

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Posted 24 February 2013 - 02:56 PM

I've long been a fan of the classic Vixen Polaris GEM as a solid, smooth, well-made and handsome GEM grab-n-go. Happiest carrying my 5" f/5 Newt, I often overload it with my tank-like 6" f/5 Newt and 6" MCT while retaining pleasing handling.

I recently discovered that Tasco sell a made-in-China clone of the Polaris. I had to find out how this reproduction compares with the original.

The Tasco mount (#302013) is usually delivered with a 4.5" f/8 Newt, and can be bought new on fleabay for $125 including shipping. As I have a fleet of 4.5" OTAs, I would have no problems comparing the Tasco with the Vixen back-to-back.

The Tasco arrived well-packed in a typically colorful Tasco box. The first major differences observed between the Tasco and the Vixen is Tasco's handsome black-wrinkle finish, a saddle that will only hold a 130-140mm diameter tube, smooth counter-weight shaft, and generic aluminum legs. I also note that the Tasco makes use of the larger eyepiece tray found on Vixen SPs rather than the smaller tray found on the Polaris. Assembly was fast and straightforward, and I soon had a Cometron CO114 (made by Vixen) on the Vixen, and a Towa (sold by Lafayette) on the Tasco. As an aside, regular readers of the Classics forum may recall my observations that the Towa performs significantly better than the Vixen optics.
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More detailed observations of the 2 mounts expose more differences. It seems that the Chinese did make a valiant attempt to remanufacture the Vixen, but did take a few shortcuts, perhaps mandated by bean-counters, or engineering/artistic license.
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As can be seen in the photos, I have hot-rodded the Vixen, replacing slo-mo controls, adding a Vixen saddle and CG-5 counterweight and shaft, and cleaning out the old grease, polishing bearing surfaces and using low-temperature grease that does not stiffen when the temperatures fall below -20F.

Handing impressions of the Tasco were positive. The Tasco is equally smooth, but will benefit from the same strip/clean/polish/relube that the Vixen has received. Dec axis handling is identical in both GEMs, and interestingly, I found the Tasco equally stiff in handling around RA to the Vixen. I have been meaning to polish an additional thous or two off the RA bearing in the Vixen to remedy this, so now I have to do it to the Tasco as well.

The aluminum tripod legs of the Tasco are not up to the standards of rigidity of the Vixen's wooden legs, but when I swapped in a set of white oak legs to the Tasco, vibration damping times seem identical between both GEMs.

All-in-all, I am delightfully impressed with the Tasco. However, used Vixens that require a little elbow-grease can be found for the same price as the Tasco. For the user who want new, or needs-it-now, the Tasco is a worthy contender for the Best Lightweight GEM award.

When in alt-az mode, I believe both Tasco and Vixen mounts provide the best-bang-for buck of *any* new alt-az with slo-mo controls.

#2 Astrojensen

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Posted 24 February 2013 - 03:23 PM

How interesting!! It does look pretty nice! Looks like parts from one will fit the other as well. I'd say this is pretty good news for owners of small scopes, such as a 60mm or the like, who can't find a used Polaris.

Just found one for $99 on the 'bay.


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#3 Geo.

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Posted 24 February 2013 - 06:23 PM

Yes, I saw one from Bill Vorce and wondered if was a Polaris I'd somehow missed. Thanks for the 'view.

#4 Glen A W

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 05:57 PM

My original Polaris has a setting circle like the one on your Tasco. GW

#5 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 08:36 PM

Great Article. I bought one from Bill also. I also Bought an iOptron Smart EQ polar scope. It fits perfectly into the Tasco mount. This is a lot of mount for the 95$ I paid. Worth 3 times more easily.

#6 greju

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 09:13 PM

While the Chinese may have made a valiant attempt I don't think they have created an equal to the original Polaris mount. Yet. ;)

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#7 Starhawk

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 11:22 PM

Then again, my Vixen Polaris has about 40 seconds of PE. So I find it quite possible something as-good should be achievable.

-Rich

#8 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 11:44 AM

Actually I think the Chinese mount is heavier with better clutches. They operate smoother than the Polaris. I had to loosen by 1/4 turn the bolts in both DEC axis. and the Chinese mount smoothed out quite a bit. the Polaris still hangs up. Just my observations.

#9 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 12:08 PM


The iOptron Smart- EQ polar scope fits perfectly. It is $50 vs. $250 for the Vixen version that also fits. Easy choice.

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#10 labmand

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 01:06 PM

Wow, I always find out about these deals late it seams, looked on ebay last couple days could not find anything
as described above, so today I called Telescope warehouse,
(Bill) they said they are long gone. Back to looking for a used GEM. Unless someone has some advice.
Thinking of a GEM or??? for my new Tasco 10te, think it weighs about 9 lbs but is very long.

#11 dbledsoe

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 10:43 AM

My original Polaris has a setting circle like the one on your Tasco. GW


Same here on my vintage Polaris.

#12 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 04:35 PM

William had a couple of Brand New LXD tripods with Autostar brand new in the box at some crazy price like 150$. I would have loved to bought one, but they would be almost impossible to get repaired should something go bad down the road (seeing how Meade's support has been the past few years :()

#13 greju

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 09:32 PM

My original Polaris has a setting circle like the one on your Tasco. GW


Your Polaris might, but THE original does not. ;)

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#14 hottr6

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 10:13 AM

Great Article. I bought one from Bill also. I also Bought an iOptron Smart EQ polar scope. It fits perfectly into the Tasco mount. This is a lot of mount for the 95$ I paid. Worth 3 times more easily.

Great tip, thanks. I think I'll try one and also see if it fits the Polaris.

#15 watcher

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 02:30 PM

So with all the garbage Tasco puts out these days, why isn't this available? :question: I would love to buy one.

#16 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 12:57 PM

I do not know. Mine was brand new in an unopened box. I paid $94 for it, and when I opened it, I thought I had been shipped a wrong mount by accident until I saw the folder with the tasco stuff written on it. I have no idea how long he had been sitting on these, but obviously they are not like telescopes now. Even Meade and Celestron mounts do not close to these nowadays. I am slightly baffled myself. I Wrote him and asked where in the world he come across these, and he only replied "Not all of Tasco stuff is junk". That's no joke. :lol:

Even the OTA and tube is very high quality, a lot of metal, and machined aluminum collimation knobs. I even have a right ascension motor and electric focuser that is original Tasco mounted on it. I've owned (and own) several Meades, Celestrons, iOptrons, Bousch and Lombe, Vixen, and for the quality and construction, I can say this is probably the nicest telescope I have ever owned.

Beats me why I have never seen these available. :confused:

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#17 hottr6

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:10 PM

You got the OTA as well? Sweeeet, Is the mirror parabolic or spheroidal? How does it star test?

I will agree with you that the mount is very nice. Despite murmurs from the peanut gallery who have never seen the Tasco mount, I have compared it directly with the Vixen Polaris and you cannot tell the difference between the two in the dark (unless you touch it and then the crinkle-finish gives it away). The smoothness of controls, lack of backlash and heft is of identical quality to the original.

You may think about junking the aluminum legs. I put on wooden legs and now the damping time is identical to the original.

A bit of machine work is required to adapt the mount to other OTAs.

#18 hottr6

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:21 PM

My original Polaris has a setting circle like the one on your Tasco. GW


Your Polaris might, but THE original does not. ;)

I don't think your mount was made by Vixen. Mizar made clones for a while with a smooth black paint.

#19 greju

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:49 PM

No black paint on this mount. Milled out of a solid block of aluminum. This is how Vixen first produced them before the cast versions that you are using for a comparison. A few tweaks on the insides too. While I cannot speak for the comparison you are making I realize the pictured mount would not be an apples to apples comparison to either of the mounts you picture. ;)

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#20 greju

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:50 PM

Pretty sure it is a Vixen product. ;)

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#21 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:52 PM

It is a straight Newtonian, Not Jones Bird barlow, the reason it is so long at F/7.5, so a very nice ratio. and pinpoint sharp stars. I am looking for a nice set of replacement legs actually. Seen some on the web.I just want to make sure the wood is good, I have heard horror stories about wood legs shrinking and the locks not holding, dumping the scope. Actually the metal legs look pretty standard, but they are heavier gauge than typical.
On a side note, the iOptron polar scope made an incredible difference. I can nail DSO's with setting circles after polar alignment, and with a 9mm eyepiece, I calibrated the drive motor .. just sweet. :jump:

#22 greju

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 03:00 PM

The Mizar mounts of that era looked a little different. ;)

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#23 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 03:03 PM

Nice pics!

This is a great thread. Glad there are some classic EQ fans out there

#24 hottr6

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 03:09 PM

That was the GEM made for Meade, and nothing like the Vixen Polaris. Jon Isaacs has a Mizar clone of the Vixen Polaris. Or maybe Vixen cloned the Mizar. I just don't know. :shrug:

As an aside, Japanese collectors state that Vixen literature of the time called their mount the "New Polaris", not "Polaris".

#25 orion61

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 03:32 PM

While the Chinese may have made a valiant attempt I don't think they have created an equal to the original Polaris mount. Yet. ;)

Has anyone?






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