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Leica APO-Televid 77 A sturdy widefield refractor you shouldn't overlook
Leica is well known for their outstanding cameras and many in the amateur astronomy community swear by their binocular line. Leica's optics provide some of the brightest and highest contrast images in the industry. In addition to their binoculars, the company also makes a tremendous spotting scope known as the Televid 77. The Televid comes in two models, the standard, and the APO. The standard model uses two uncemented lenses and qualifies as an achromat. The APO uses three uncemented lenses, with one lens made from fluorite to provide apochromatic images. The literature says the lenses are multi-coated, with the outer lens having a hard protective coat, but doesn't specify the exact nature of the coatings.
In addition, each model is offered either with a straight through or angled viewing option. This article reviews the angled APO-Televid 77 with the 20x-60x zoom eyepiece.
|Focal Length||440 mm ( f/5.7 )|
|Dimensions (L x H x W)||410mm x 105mm 93mm|
|Eyepiece Lenses||8 elements|
|Magnification||20x to 60x zoom|
|Exit Pupil||3.85mm to 1.28 mm|
|Field of view (true)||2.0 deg to 1.2 deg|
Since the scope is designed for terrestrial use, primarily bird-watching, it provides an upright, L/R correct image using a set of porro-prisms as in Leica's binoculars.
Picking up the scope one is immediately impressed with its sturdiness. This is the first piece of optical equipment I would feel comfortable wielding as a weapon. The entire body is aluminum alloy with the only plastic/rubber parts being the retractable lens hood, roller knobs for the focuser, and bits of rubber armor on the sides and bottom of the rear portion of the tube. The manual claims the unit is shock resistant to 100 gravities. I have no doubt this is a conservative value. As the unit is designed for field use, it is filled with nitrogen gas and sealed to be water tight down to 3 meters. I have yet to actually try the unit under water however.
The narrowest part of the tube is fitted with a rotating ring attached to a mounting plate with a standard 1/4"-20 threaded hole. A set screw can be loosened and the ring rotated to mount the scope from below or either side. The small size and weight make the scope ideal for use with the Bogen 410 geared head for precise positioning. Even a lightweight Bogen 3001 tripod provides a reasonably stable support, though I prefer using it on the more beefy Bogen 3236.
The Televid uses proprietary eyepieces produced by Leica. There are three eyepieces yielding 20x, 32x, and 40x magnifications. A fourth zoom eyepiece provides a 20x to 60x magnification range. This restriction in eyepieces limits the unit to wide-field observing (more on this below). Note that no eyepieces are provided with the scope, you must buy them separately. Finally, Leica also sells a camera adapter for the scope. The adapter is the equivalent of a 1.88x Barlow, extending the focal length to 800mm, resulting in a f/10.3 focal ratio. The camera adapter screws in place of the eyepiece and terminates in standard t-thread. You will need to purchase a t-adapter for your camera to attach it to the photo-adapter.
Personal History with the Scope
I've been an amateur astronomer for two years and own 5 scopes (the Lecia, a Takahashi Sky-90, Takahashi FSQ-106, Helios 1 H-alpha solar telescope, Orion ST-80, and Orion Argonaut 150mm Mak-Cass). Reviewing this list, it's clear I have an affection for the small to medium aperture refractor. The Televid was actually the first scope I purchased two years ago. I owned a pair of Leica binoculars at the time and was confident the scope's optics would be excellent. Also, its small size and weight were attractive, allowing me pick up scope and tripod in one hand. Finally, the correct image presented by the scope was invaluable as I was learning to star hop.
After about a year of use, I felt constrained by its design (see below under Advantages and Disadvantages) and decided to sell it, so I could upgrade to a Takahashi Sky-90. You never really forget your first love though, and within just a few months I discovered I missed the ease of use the Televid offered. I guess I pined for it a bit too vocally for my fiancée, because just before our wedding, some nine months after I sold it, she bought me another unit as a wedding present. It's wonderful to have it back in my arsenal.
Looking at the spotting scope is almost as pleasant as looking through it. The aluminum body has a smooth brushed finish with a wonderful light silver-blue luster. The rubber armor/bodywork is teal and black and contrasts nicely with the metal OTA. Finally, a red Leica logo decorates both sides of the tube near the dew shield in front of the white silks-creened Televid banner. The scope's looks match its construction quality.
The scope does away with the conventional cylindrical design, instead tapering the barrel from its widest part surrounding the objective to its narrowest part where the oversized mounting plate is attached. Just behind the mounting plate, the body swells again into a rounded boxy compartment housing the porro-prism assembly and focusing mechanism.
The focuser is worth discussing in detail. First off, all focusing is done internal to the scope by moving the entire prism assembly forward and back within the water-tight housing. The overall length of the scope never changes. The focus wheels are located on the top of the scope and are rubberized to allow for sure focus. There are actually two focus wheels. The larger forward wheel allows you to adjust the coarse focus quickly. The smaller rear wheel is geared down from the big wheel with a 3:1 ratio to allow for fine focus adjustment. It's a delight to use, and a feature I'd like to see on all telescopes. As the scope is designed for terrestrial use, its closest focusing distance is approximately 3 meters.
Spotting scopes don't have finder scopes, and the Leica is no exception. I fixed this problem using a Celestron reflex finder (one of the many "red-dot" sights), an adapter plate for the Bogen 410 geared head, and a little hot-glue. The finder scope attaches just to the left of the finder, which can be adjusted to point to the center of the scope's field of view. It works great.
Finally, there's a slight seam near the back of the where the angled or straight-through rear fitting is attached. This is a factory option and can't be changed by the owner. I suspect it can't be changed by the manufacturer either after assembly. To maintain its waterproof structure there is a rear glass plate at the base of the eyepiece mount. Eyepieces are attached via a custom 1/4 turn bayonet mount. You line up the dot on the eyepiece with the dot on the scope, insert the eyepiece until it stops and then rotate clockwise to lock it into place, much like a camera lens.
When viewing through the scope you find yourself resting your hand quite naturally on the rear compartment, index finger landing perfectly on the focusing knob and palm cupped gently around the body. The superb ergonomics become clear when using the scope for bird watching where you change focus and position frequently.
The scope sounds great, but what's it like actually looking through it? Spectacular! The limited magnification forces you into widefield observations. Open clusters and larger globular clusters look magnificent. Stars are sparkling diamond chips on a velvety background. Contrast is very good.
The combination of fluorite and a triplet objective eliminate all false color in the image. Vega was a brilliant blue-white with no halo whatsoever. The red and green components of Albireo were crisp and well defined. Of course, maxing out at 60x helps this quite a bit. I did notice coma at the edge of the field with the eyepiece set to widest FOV (20x), but no chromatic aberration. There was also a slight astigmatism noticed, but I chalk this up to my own eyes (I need to update my prescription).
At 60x under poor seeing conditions I distinctly remember seeing up to four bands on Jupiter, and Saturn's rings cleanly defined. Four stars in the Orion's Trapezium were clearly defined at 20x.
I've also used the scope for bird watching and am very happy with its performance. While others were enjoying viewing the whole bird in their binoculars (a healthy adult male Wood Duck), I was admiring the subtle color variations in the feathers surrounding its eye. The fine downy breast feathers were clearly defined including the cottony edges and low contrast speckles. As the bird swam away, it was easy to adjust focus in real-time because of the smooth focus travel and fine adjustment features.
In general, the scope offers very pleasing, high-contrast, color-free views worthy of the Leica brand and reputation.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The scope's advantages are also its disadvantages. Let's be very clear here, this is not a telescope; it's a spotting scope. Its feature set is really optimized for terrestrial viewing, especially bird watching and other nature observations. It doesn't use standard telescope eyepieces, and it tops out at only 60x magnification. Using it astronomically, you're limited to wide field, low magnification work. Also note that you can't fit standard filters on the scope. Given all these disadvantages, why do I like this scope so much?
It's light, it's small, it's rugged. It has killer optics. Since it doesn't use standard replaceable telescope componentry, you don't have to deal with all of it. There's no star diagonal, very little fiddling with knobs and set screws. I find there's just less hassle using this scope for quick grab-and-go viewing, even over portable scopes like the Sky-90.
I always keep the scope mounted on its tripod with the zoom lens inserted. I can pick up the whole kit in one hand and be observing in under 15 seconds. The lack of flexibility in the spotting scope makes it terribly easy to use. There just aren't that many options to think about, you can concentrate on observing. Because of the light weight, I also wind up moving the whole kit to different places in my yard to see different parts of the sky.
The Sky-90 offers me portability also, but to a lesser degree. Its greater weight forces me to use a heavier tripod. My satisfactory Sky-90 setup weighs over twice my Televid setup, and is bulkier all around. Its 90mm aperture doesn't buy me much more than the 77mm from the Leica, and I wind up carting out all my eyepieces. If I'm only going to observe for 10 or 15 minutes on a partly cloudy night here in Seattle (which is usually the case), the Leica is my weapon of choice. Longer than 30 minutes, then I consider the Sky-90.
The scope is also very user friendly. For whatever reason, novices find the Leica much less daunting than a traditional telescope. They're always shy about touching the controls on my other scopes, but have no fear with the Leica.
Finally, you can't beat the Leica for traveling. The scope is built like a tank. I would have no qualms hauling this scope around the world with me. If you go camping the Leica is ideal. You can use it during the day for bird watching and at night for star gazing. It's rugged enough to simply strap on to the outside of your pack, especially if you purchase the optional cordura field case. The field case is very cool because you can leave it on the scope and still view by simply opening three velcro sealed panels to access the eyepiece, focus knob and expose the objective. Very slick.
Leica has built an excellent spotting scope that serves as a very good, if limited, telescope. The unit is extremely rugged, small and light, and offers superb optical quality. Everyone who's looked through it at various star parties has walked away impressed. If you don't have a small wide-field refractor in your collection, this would be a scope to consider.
Keep in mind it is not a true telescope. You won't be able to use your existing accessories with it and your maximum magnification is only 60x. But, if you're looking for a very simple, elegant, and rugged scope, one that you can take camping anywhere in the world, consider Leica's Televid 77. If you get one, don't be surprised at how often you wind up using it.