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The TV 85: An Introspective Look

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The TV 85: An Introspective Look
Tom Trusock

So we were sitting around at a star party last year and someone asked me what my all time favorite telescope was... And limited me to one!

Would you believe it?  I couldn't answer.  My first inclination was to say  a big dob, any big dob – but that's just not true.  While every telescope has its pluses and minuses, there are some that are definitely better than others, and if I'm only allowed one, I want to make sure I'd get the most out of it.  So I begged off, and asked for some time to give it a little thought.

My thoughts kept coming back to small, grab and go scopes.  Something in the three to six inch range. A refractor, certainly – there's less fuss factor with those.   No need to worry about collimation, and with the smaller scopes cool down isn't quite as big of an issue either.

Narrowing it a bit more, my favorite refractors fall in the 4” and under category.  Probably in the range of 3-4 inches.  These are just big enough to give you a good window on the universe, but not so big as  to require special consideration when mounting – or so expensive as to require a second mortgage on the house.

On further reflection I also guess I have to admit to being something of a color snob.  I don't demand perfect color correction, but I really dislike purple haze – so achromatic telescopes are out, and any doublets should probably come from the well corrected side of the gene pool.   They have to be somewhat pedigreed optically too – no sense in messing with a tiny instrument that's going to display dim images (comparatively speaking)  unless they are as sharp as they can be.  And I suppose that means I'm fond of apochromatic refractors for their lack of chromatic aberration.  I've also found apochromatic scopes to have a deeper reach than comparative achromats – so there's another plus (to go with the fact that you won't have to carry a heavy wallet around any longer).

For visual use, for the most part, I still lean more towards doublets than triplets.  Doublets are lighter, cool down quicker and are easier to align if something goes out of collimation.  There are a number of very good machine made doublets out there that aren't too expensive, all things considered – but for my favorite scope:  Hmmm...

The fit and finish has to be top notch.  Sure, I'm all about saving money – but I'm shallow – I like my stuff to look and feel like a million bucks.  On top of that, it needs to be durable.  I use my gear – often quite hard.  It's a tool for me, and while I take good care of  my toys, I don't baby them.  And we all know that at 3am, accidents are going to happen.

So, durability is important.  For me, very important.

Size is something else that plays large in here as well.  Over the years, I've found that my most used scopes (at  least till I got my observatory up and running) were actually fairly small – 4” and under.  Oh, I've always had larger ones, but three to four inches is large enough to actually see something, and yet have an almost non-existent setup time.  In addition, small scopes can take advantage of small mounts – another plus if you're looking for a grab and go setup.  You've all heard it said: “The best scope is the one you use most often.”  It's true.

I tend to put a premium on the manufacturers willingness and ability to stand behind and support their product.   And although it's getting tougher and tougher in today's global economy, I still have to admit that I'm kind of fond of that Made in the USA tag.  With the global recession in full force, I like to see as many “local” folks helped out as possible.  It might be silly – or even perhaps offensive to other members of our global community, but just how I feel.

So I guess this is my list (YMMV):
  • Lightweight
  • Small in size
  • Easily mounted
  • Good color correction
  • Good optics
  • Durable finish
  • Great build quality
  • Airline portable
  • Affordable
  • Accessories available
  • Dealer / Manufacturer reliability and support
Over the last decade, I've seen, used or demoed nearly every small refractor under the sun, and I just keep coming back to one – the Tele Vue 85.  This little guy is a real champ.  He's small and portable enough to take anywhere, but yet is a very capable performer.  In fact, even at a mere 85mm, he plays quite well with the big boys.  (I don't think anyone ever told him he's only got 85mm of aperture.)

I've had three different versions of the 85 pass though my hands for extended stays now, and they've all had excellent optics that delivered razor sharp views loaded with contrast.  The scope is available in both green and white – and while I've had both colors, I tend to favor the white – I think most folks do as well.  It's small and lightweight – truly tiny for a refractor in this aperture class.  Part of the reason is due to the fact that Tele Vue has eschewed traditional baffles for flocking material.  The Naglers say that there's no contrast loss but there is a noticeable savings in both size and weight.  As an aside, even the inside of the dewshield is flocked!

The 85 carries a two inch focuser that operates via a simple rack and pinion gearing system.   Modern units have matte black trim, and sport two tension knobs.  No dual speed nor crayford here – and with a truly first class rack and pinion, you'll quickly find out that none are needed.  Some users have complained about the smoothness of the “newer” matte black focusers that  the latest Tele Vue scopes sport.  I've had three or four  scopes with the new focusers, and all I can say is that I haven't seen the issue.  For me, they've been pretty much smooth as silk.  While some will bemoan the lack of a two speed focuser, on this scope, it bothers me not a whit.  F7 is a generous focal ratio, and there's a decent depth of field.  However, if you really feel you must have one, there are several options.  Tele Vue has their own reduction system that is extremely easy to install, or, if you like, you can pop for a Feathertouch replacement. 

Over the last year, I've kept the a TV 85 in a footlocker in the back of my truck along with a Universal Astronomics Microstar mount and a solid bogen tripod.  What a great place for it!  Where ever I've been, it's been handy.  I've used it for birdwatching and nature studies as well as stargazing.  It's been readily available for day trips and those extended camping sessions.   Its been a teacher, showing both young and old the beauty of the night sky.  Last March it was my instrument of choice for our local Messier Marathon (and is a forerunner this year as well).  It performed like a champ, and all my local astrobuddies were suitably impressed with it's optical performance.  It's been my companion into the deep light pollution of major cities, and the dark skies of the southern lake superior shoreline.  We've gazed longingly at ole luna, and gotten lost in the deeps of the Virgo cluster.   Swept the summer milky way and been a testbed for a new type of light amplification device.    It's been there for those 5 minute trips to brave wind chills of 25 below zero, and over the past year or so we've seen more than our share of comets.  With the scope  I've been an explorer, tourist, adventurer and teacher – with a simple alt/az mount, this has been a wonderful scope to setup in the campground.  I know my daughters have enjoyed it – and at times the rest of the campground has as well.

Throughout it all, it's done admirably.  There's not a single ding in the finish, scratch in the glass or loss of collimation.    And  just considering some of the roads I drive, that's an amazing thing.

It's almost silly, but one of my favorite things about the TV 85 is the included case.  It's got cutouts for several eyepieces, and I've found it's just big enough for a star atlas and a copy of Sue French's Celestial Sampler as well.   I typically carry a Pan 24, Nagler 11 t6 and 3-6 zoom in the case.      These are all excellent eyepieces that give a me a good range of magnifications for both daytime and nighttime observing.  The 24 panoptic covers a 2 deg 42 arcminute field at 25x, the 11mm gives me about 55x and that wonderful spacewalk feeling.  The 50 deg afov of the 3-6 covers the high end from 100 to 200x and makes a great lunar and planetary eyepiece.  Even after a year in the back of the pickup, the case still looks nearly new, and it's done it's job – protecting the scope and eyepieces contained within.

Another thing I really like about Tele Vue is they offer such a complete system.  You don't have to worry about piecing things together because if it's TV – they've got it.  Now if you buy into this philosophy or not is totally up to you.  I mean, it's not all beer and skittles for everyone, but the older I get, the more I appreciate things just working.

After touring Tele Vue a couple of years back, I came to a new appreciation of their commitment to quality, their customers and their products.  Seeing first hand the care and attention that their equipment gets really made an impression on me.  And when you see something go from a solid chunk of aluminum to a diagonal right in front of you – well, that's pretty cool.

On the other hand, I can hear some objections now.   What's that?  You say “There's a global recession going on, and here's Trusock talking about one of the most expensive small scopes on the market.  There are others out there that will give you 90% plus the performance, for 60 percent of the price.  Get with the program! “

Sure – and that's a point to take into consideration.  But the fact of the matter is that quality – true quality - is never cheap.  Face it, nobody's making a killing in this or any other astro related market anymore.  They just aren't.  Quality control costs money.  When I asked why he spent $2000 for a pair of Zeiss binoculars, a good buddy of mine explained it to me this way once:  I'm not just buying that one set of binoculars, I'm buying the other 9 sets that they manufactured but smashed when they didn't make it through quality control.

Sure there's small refractors that beat or equal the TV 85 for various items on my list (especially when it comes to the cost) but even considering that, I've yet to see one that beats it in everything.  It's the whole package and pretty dang near the perfect little telescope, at least for me.  For you?  Well, your millage may  vary of course – and that's what makes the world go around. With that in mind:

What's YOUR perfect telescope?

  • jimandlaura26, Scott Beith, CSG and 16 others like this


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