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Astele 95 Maksutov



My first introduction to Russian LOMO optical products, officially known as Leningradskoye Optiko Mechanichesckoye Obyedinenie (Leningrad Optical & Mechanical Enterprise), came about 5 years ago with my introduction to the 35mm "LOMO Compact" camera. The LOMO Compact camera has an incredible cult following and world wide status. I bought a LOMO Compact camera just for the heck of it thinking it a Russian novelty not previously available to those of us here in the west. As I began to work with and learn about the LOMO Compact camera I soon became educated as to just how large LOMO is, and the depth and breadth of their products. LOMO makes all manner of scientific optical equipment, military optical equipment, telescopes, cameras, and surgical optics just to name a few.

Back to the LOMO Compact camera for a moment. Once I had a chance to use the LOMO Compact I realized what a perfect piece of photographic equipment it is. It is bare bones basic but rugged with excellent optics. It might be describe as a cross between a Minox GT and a Kodak Brownie camera. To this day my LOMO is the camera I don't leave home without.

In the last 6 to 8 years there has been a great influx of Russian optics to the US and other western countries of the world. My first experience with Russian telescopes came in the form of an early Intes 6" Maksutov, the original plain gray tube scopes with moveable primary mirror focusing. Back then they were simply known as Russian Maksutov telescopes, there were no manufacturer's names on them. The Intes or LOMO name was absent in early advertising and had they been used at that time it likely would have meant little to any of us. After all, a Russian scope was a Russian scope. Or so we thought. The optics on these scopes were so-so, meaning you might get a great one or you might get a less than great one but it was worth the risk because the Russian Mak's were very reasonably priced compared to a US equivalent, of which there were few. The so-so quality problem was eventually taken care of by importers who actually cared about the quality of scope they were selling. From there the Intes name began to pop up as the solution to the mediocre quality problems with Russian scopes.

Well I am happy to report that we now have many options in Russian telescopes to choose from here in the US. Not only do we have a wide variety of sizes and configurations to choose from, we also have what appear to be four separate and distinct Russian manufacturers to choose from. There have been a number of reviews of the Intes, Intes Micro, and LZOS, and Astro Rubinar scopes but I have yet to see a review of the Maksutov scopes available from LOMO.

As luck seems to drive me (or should that be lack of luck?) I decided (a spur of the moment decision) to order a LOMO 95mm Astele Maksutov. After looking at a mountain of other scopes I came to the conclusion the 95 Maksutov might just make a super compact scope suitable for planetary observation (my favorite aspect of astronomy) or deep sky objects. Most of the compact easily portable scopes are either short focus achromats that perform poorly on the planets or they are ridiculously expensive apos that have a manufacturers waiting list matched only by their list price. The other scope similar to the Astele 95 is the Astro Rubinar, also made in Russia, which actually is not similar at all in that it is more of a telephoto camera lens make-shiftily adapted for visual observation. Every one I have looked through was poor in performance at much over 50x. Of course there are the US made Celestron C90 spotter and the Meade 90 ETX spotter. Unfortunately performance of the Celestron has, for those I have used, been very little better than the Astro Rubinar and I don't like the half plastic Meade with its cheap little flip-flop diagonal mirror. To its credit, the Astele is in the same price range and you get an additional 5mm of aperture over the Celestron or the Meade.

Having to wait about seven days for the Astele 95 to arrive in Idaho from Scopetronix in Florida, I spent part of that time, as I always seem to do while waiting the arrival of a new scope, wondering what I'll get. Will it be thin tin, plastic, and flimsy like the Meade, optically poor like the Celestron, or some combination of the two? Perhaps the advertised weight should have given me a clue. When the Astele arrived I ripped into the box to behold my new Jewell. "Whoa this thing is built!" was my first thought on lifting it out of its shipping box.

The LOMO Astele 95 is a 95mm (3 ¾") aperture, 1200mm focal length (f/12.6), classical Maksutov. The main tube appears to be made from a very thick wall piece of aluminum tubing machined as necessary to accommodate the flanges, fittings, and optics on either end. The front flange holding the meniscus lens appears to be a three part machined affair. Very stout! The rear cell is equally machined aluminum rather than cast aluminum or injection molded plastic. The meniscus is coated with a deep purple anti reflection coating typical of the optics I have observed coming out of Russia. On the front flange of the scope the meniscus lens coating is claimed to be "multi-coated". I'll take their word for it. The Astele 95, as do all of the LOMO Maksutov of 95mm aperture and bigger, uses the moving main mirror system of focus. Not my favorite but certainly more versatile than the fixed mirror Maksutov's I have seen (they have a limited focus range and may not accommodate 2" diagonals and eyepieces). The moving mirror focusing system has inherent in it, in every case from my experience, some image shift when racking to either side of focus. Some have been totally unacceptable while others were difficult to detect. The Astele 95 seems to be somewhere in between those two with a slight, but tolerable, image shift. A look down the tube at the main mirror revealed no observable flaws. There doesn't appear to be any easy way to collimate this Maksutov. That may not be the case but I couldn't tell by looking at it and the instructions are in Russian and of little or no value to me since I neither speak nor read Russian. Thankfully the Astele I received seems fairly well collimated. It could use just the slightest tweak but I can live with it as is.

The Astele 95 is painted with a very durable black/charcoal gray paint that seems quite chip and wear resistant. The scope is provided with a mounting adapter having a pair of ¼-20 holes for easy mounting on a photo tripod. The meniscus lens is provided with a very stout (heavy) machined aluminum cover that threads onto the main tube assembly. No plastic is to be found on the scope. The scope is supplied with a visual back and what appears to be the ubiquitous Chinese cheap plastic 1 ¼" throw away diagonal, and a 25mm plossl eyepiece, which isn't bad. A 1 ¼" visual back is supplied. Thoughtfully the good folks at LOMO designed the rear cell so it is threaded with the same thread pitch as used by Celestron and Meade for their visual backs. What that means is any of the Celestron or Meade visual backs or accessories can be used on the Astele 95. In my case I had a 2" adapter that was made for Celestron/Meade scopes by Orion that I screwed on the back of the Astele then slipped a 2" diagonal into the adapter. As for a finder scope, well there isn't one. Instead we are provided with a pair of bulls-eye type apertures on either end of the scope of non-glass design. Fine for daylight use but poor for night time use. The worst part is that they were not aligned with the main scope so both point at the same object. Unfortunately there is no easy way to align the "peep" sight with the main tube so plan on getting some sort of accessory reflex finder or finder scope.

So how does it perform? Very well thank you. My experience with other small Maksutov spotting scopes has not been good. As described previously, they either lack optical performance or they are (in my opinion) cheaply made. Not so with the Astele 95. It is very stout in construction and optically superior to any other small Maksutov I have ever used (no that does not include the Questar since I have never had one in hand). My seeing conditions have not been the greatest since I received the scope but have been sufficient to allow some star testing, and a peek at Mars, and comparison with my Borg 100mm achromatic refractor. My first subject for the Astele under night time conditions was Mars. Unfortunately here in the Northwest at 43 degrees latitude Mars simply doesn't get very high in our sky, waddling among the horizon mush if you will. With the 100mm Borg set up beside the Astele the observable disc showed about equal features in both scopes at approx. 160x (the 640mm fl Borg with a Takahashi 4mm Hi-Point and the 1200mm fl Astele with a 7.5mm Takahashi LE). Very low contrast shading (surface features) and a slight hint of a polar cap occasionally popped into view as the seeing conditions came an went. Mostly it was a lot of mush.

Later in the evening Vega was high in the sky so the Astele was turned to it for a quick examination of the at focus image. A nice airy disc surrounded by a defraction ring just slightly brighter than could be seen in the Borg. Not bad. Racking to either side of focus showed fairly consistent sets of rings with possibly a hint of a zone or turned edge. Unfortunately I am not a knowledgeable enough star tester to tell which it was. No astigmatism or coma was observed. Next I turned the Astele to the double double in Lyra. I have had trouble splitting the closest pair lately with my 100mm Borg refractor. It may be partly dues to seeing conditions but I tend to think it is not as well corrected as it should be. The LOMO Astele split the closer pair at 133x with little trouble, although there is more of an in focus defraction ring around the Airy disc with the Maksutov. Still showed a fairly clean split. No doubt a higher magnification would have made it easier but the seeing would not support it. As previously mentioned, there is a very slight image shift when moving through either side of focus but not enough to cause the image to move more than one third the field of view at 160x.

Conclusion

Overall I am quite impressed with what I see so far. I'll reserve final judgement for later this fall when Jupiter and Saturn are well placed for viewing from my location. Then I'll know whether or not I have what I am after, a compact planetary scope of very good optical quality at a reasonable price ($360 - $400 depending on where you buy). But I will say that seeing what I was able to see of low contrast feature on Mars low in the sky at my location, and typically poor summer seeing conditions, I am impressed with the Astele 95. This is an extremely well built little scope that should provide a slightly brighter image than the 90mm Celestron or Meade and appears to be of fine optical quality. Without a diagonal in place this scope measures about 12" long. Definitely small enough to fit in overhead baggage (and still room for lots of accessories to go with) or even under the seat of a commercial airliner.


Don lives on a 60 acre rifle range in the middle of the high desert in southern Idaho. His interest in astronomy goes back to 1978 when he purchased his first telescope, a Celestron C-90. Since then he has owned a number of telescopes and has settled on visual observing with long focal length instruments. Currently he owns two Borg refractors, 100mm achromat and 76mm ED, a Vixen VX120 refractor, a vintage 3" F/18.g refractor, a home made 4" F/15 refractor and his latest addition, the Astele 95. An Orion 6" Maksutov is on it's way.

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