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Unitron Model 114 - a quick look


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I am amazed.

 

I’m 70 years old and I’ve been in this hobby for all but 13 years of that total.

And yet, I had never owned or tried a Unitron. I don’t know why. Their ads certainly competed with the effusive ads of Questar’s at the time (of which I have had a few), but somehow, I never succumbed.

 

A telescope on a tripod

Description automatically generatedParadoxically, I now find myself the owner of a 114 (60mmF15 refractor on an Alt-Az mount)…….. and I love it. 

 

The views are sharp and virtually color free due to their long focal ratio. The mounts are rigid, smooth, precise, and well matched to the scopes they were intended for. They were also well accessorized in their day, so if you can find a complete system for sale, you’re good to go.

 

They were made in the day that put performance and precision before stock valuations.

 

 

A telescope on a tripod

Description automatically generatedI’m currently observing the ½ moon through my office windows, and despite looking thru 4 optically imprecise glass surfaces, the views are crisp and contrasty (kudos to the window suppliers) and with absolutely no false color on the lunar limb. Tracking adjustments are smooth and jerk free. Focusing is easy and precise.

 

If today’s entry level scopes could offer this combination of optical performance and smooth/rigid mounts – the manufacturers wouldn’t be bedeviled by constant negative reviews.

 

 

But here’s the thing, if these people knew they could get these complete 60mm scopes for about what you’d pay for today’s bargain basement scopes – they’d be a lot happier.

 

If you can get beyond the fact that even a 60mmF15 scope is lonnnnng – then I would counsel any budding astronomer to plunk their money down on one of these little jewels instead of the current crop of ‘starter’ scopes.

 

I think I may have turned into a Unitron fan..


  • John rombi, Adam S, ach and 32 others like this


24 Comments

I was 13 years old back in the mid sixties and bought one of these scopes from a local eye glass company back then. I placed a $50 dollar deposit on this scope and every week I would go over and place $10 dollars until I had the $125 price paid in full. This scope came with the prism turret for multiple EP's, a finder, buttery smooth alt/az mount with wooden tripod plus a nice wooden storage box. I will never forget the first light when my older brother and I went out to look at the moon, Jupiter and Saturn for the first time, the views were fantastic and I only wish I never sold that scope. You cannot find the type of quality that scope had today unless you spend way over a thousand and still had plastic today. 

    • ach, weis14, gilbert80 and 9 others like this

I also have become a Unitron fan. I won my 114 in an auction and it was in very good condition.  But, not complete, so I have been adding missing items little by little.  Mine

is also very sharp and has an excellent Airy Disc.  It is amazing to me what a well-made

long-focus doublet can visually achieve.  It is a keeper.

    • gilbert80, Serenity Now, rojavastars and 1 other like this

I've long appreciated the craftsmanship that went into these older Unitrons.  I was too late to have one growing up (started in this hobby when I was 11 or 12 in the mid-1990s) but I would have done much better with one of these than the EQ newt that I started with.  

    • gilbert80, rojavastars and Sbrigham like this
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Lew Chilton
Feb 01 2024 03:34 PM

I purchased a 1961 Swift model 839 60mm f/13 achromatic refractor several years ago at a Goodwill store and placed it on a Unitron 114 alt-az mount and tripod that I purchased on CN. What a wonderful combination! I consider this Swift at least as good as the 60mm Unitron in optical performance and coupled with the Unitron alt-az mount, it's my favorite go to scope for quickly setting up outside my garage or taking to outreach activities with my astronomy club.  I can carry it outside with one arm! With modern 1.25" oculars, this scope outperforms just about everything in its size class. And all for about $210. 

    • John Rogers, Serenity Now, Bill Griffith and 3 others like this
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bmwscopeguy
Feb 01 2024 04:10 PM

My very first scope was a Tasco 50mm/F15 on a fork ALt-Az mount. My first view was that of what I thought to be just a bright star, but it was Saturn. I was blown away. The image was crystal clear and bright.

 

My Dad just went out and bought it for me as a Christmas present. Although the AZ mount was a little shaky, the optics were top-notch and I spent many hours noodling away, trying different targets. That scope was what got me hooked into astronomy.

 

My Dad knew nothing about telescopes and just went out and bought one. I'm glad that happened then, not today. The old Tasco's were likely produced by Nihon Seiko (or one of their Japanese competitors) who also branded for Unitron and University Optics (volcano top orthos I think).  If that happened today, I may have wound up with a Celestron 127EQ or some such.... (shudder)

    • dawsonian2000, Serenity Now and rojavastars like this

I have a bunch of Classic 60mm scopes including a circa '57-'58 Unitron 114. While I love the quality of the entire kit (especially the mount), I have other vintage 60mms that are brighter and sharper. It's been said that the objective quality of them varies quite a bit so your experience might vary. I will say, If I didn't have other scopes for comparison I probbly wouldn't be as critical. I do like the kit so much I'm thinking of using another objective in it.

 

As mentioned the 114 mounts are very nice, so I have a spare that's used with other OTAs all of the time.

 

Also, Over in the Classics Forum, Unitrons are for the most part very coveted

 

p.s. depending on the year and model, most of the old Tascos were made by Royal Astro, or Towa.

    • Serenity Now, Russell Smith and Sbrigham like this
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astronomer10
Feb 02 2024 04:54 PM

I was in my teens when I began with a Unitron 102mm  F15 refractor.  Great scope. Today most of mass produced chinese optics are mash potatoes compared to japanese or german optics steaks!!  Chinese cheap toy telescopes with the bad mounts, tripods, eyepieces etc have turned off more kids away from the hobby than i can believe.

    • gilbert80, Avgvstvs and Sbrigham like this
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CarolinaBanker
Feb 03 2024 05:39 PM

I think it’s difficult to compare a 60mm scope that ran an inflation adjusted $1,000 to an entry level scope. You could buy an AZ GTi plus an AT 80 ED for that price.

    • starspangled and timmywampus like this

Unitrons were great scopes. I once owned a 4" Uni and it was one of the best scopes I ever owned. I sold it back in the early 80's and I regret that I did that, but I was moving across the country and couldn't take it with me. Later, I bought a 60 mm Polarex, which I believe was made by the Unitron people. It was definitely of similar quality.

    • gilbert80, Serenity Now and Sbrigham like this
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astronomer10
Feb 05 2024 12:29 PM

In Europe Unitron label was POLAREX, in USA was Unitron.   Same factory.

    • Wilsonman likes this

This story is similar to my own experience. I’ve been into astronomy for more than five decades and until a few years ago never owned or even looked through a Unitron. I now have three Unitrons, 60mm model 114, 75 mm model 140 and the 104 mm model 152 telescope. I use modern 1.25” eyepieces and the images are super sharp in all of these scopes. I find that I use the 75 mm the most as it offers reasonable magnification and it’s as quick to set up as the 60 mm. The model 152 is a beautiful scope but it has a lot of mass, and it is a LOT work to set up for 4” of glass.  I recently acquired a used Williams Optics 60 mm apo but was very surprised and disappointed that it was under-corrected by a half wave. It is usable for deep sky and long exposures, but its images of the moon and planets can’t hold a candle to the 60 mm Unitron. The 75 mm model 140 is so easy and quick to set up that I can have peeks at the moon and planets between thunderstorms in the spring and summer. This is something that I’d not risk with any scope that can’t be moved quickly. Unitrons are great scopes. 

    • Sbrigham likes this

I had a lot of fun with my Tasco 2.5 inch refractor on an equatorial mount.  The eyepieces were horrible, so I bought some good ones, and I never used the "Sun Filter" which screwed into the eyepiece - too risky !  It also came with long bendable controls for both axes, and a platten for observing the sun by an image on said platten.

 

However, I missed out on a lot of deep sky objects by not having something like the Criterion  6 or 8 inch Newtonian, or a larger refractor. I did not have enough Moolah back then! .  ONce, I spent 45 minutes trying to find the Ring Nebula and finally convinced myself it was there (Bortle 4 skies in 1975, in a  Connecticut park)

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calskywatcher
Feb 29 2024 01:50 PM

I purchased a used Unitron 114 in 1974 for $75.  It was the first scope I purchased with my own money (my parents had generously bought me a "280-power !" department store refractor as a gift a few years before that I managed to use successfully, but it was a challenge).   The Unitron was wonderful, particularly the mount (the main nemesis of the 60-mm starter scopes).   I was able to find 65 Messier Objects with it.  While I know own several other scopes (including a 17.5" Dob & 6" f/9 Apo), I still enjoy pulling out the Unitron now and then.  In particular, I love looking at Double stars with it as the Airy disks are typically undistorted by atmospheric seeing effects.

    • Joe Bergeron and Sbrigham like this
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dawsonian2000
Mar 08 2024 07:39 PM

To some degree, I see that Tasco refractors were mentioned in this discussion. Unfortunately, what I did not see was the mention of the Tasco telescope of great revere during the production time of the Unitron 114, the Tasco 7TE-5 (60mm-1000mm -- f/16.7). From what I was told by historian amateur astronomers, the Unitron 114 was compared to the Tasco 7te-5 (produced by Royal Astro Optics of Japan) in optical quality and the Tasco punished it! I do not know who performed the comparison, or where or who published it, but it is worthy of investigation.

In any case, I own a Tasco 7te-5, and it definitely is a sweet performer.

I don't think the economics of scope production was different then than now.  They made some junk back then and they make even more junk today, much more.  A $200 Unitron in 1965 is the same as $2000 today, by inflation.  $2000 today will buy you a very good apo refractor and a mount.  Eyepieces?  No comparison, what you can get today costs a fraction of what they did then, plus the abilities of eyepieces is far beyond what they had then.  What do I miss about Unitrons?  Machined parts like fine microscope parts, including machined screws!  Everything worked mechanically very well.  The optics.  I had a 4 inch Unitron that showed detail on planets I've yet to beat with apos, CA aside.  Mahogany cases.  But, mostly what I miss were the skies then.

I mowed lawns as a teen in the 60's to get my first 114 and I still have one now. It is, as others have said here, lovely to display indoors, mechanically excellent and probably as good optically as you can expect (especially if you have an early good one) of a 2.4 inch telescope, But as has also been said above, the 3" version isn't much bigger and still easy to carry without disassembly (I had a model 152 too), and it provides noticeably better views than the 2.4. As someone once wrote in a Unitron ad; "A good 3 inch refractor will show anything an amateur really wants to see,"

    • Sbrigham likes this
I started in astronomy at 9 years old with a Gilbert reflector and two eyepieces of 40X and 80X
I got my first looks at Saturn and Jupiter as well as the moon and I was addicted. I was from a poor
family and could only drool over the pics of Unitrons. At age 36 I finally bought a used
60 MM Unitron, wow!! I saw detail in Saturn and it's rings, Jupiter showed me belts and 4 moons
that actually appeared as tiny discs. I then purchased a 4 inch Unitron,
a beast but oh my such wonderful detail I saw in everything. These all
were beautiful high quality instruments.

I never had a Unitron scope but I recently bought a used Unitron equatorial mount on eBay which was in pretty pristine condition.  The mechanism on it is so smooth and the mount is well engineered.  Currently using it for an older Vixen 4" I have had for a while.  I hoping to pair it with a  good Unitron scope I might come across! 

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GeorgiaBrewer
Mar 27 2024 04:27 PM

It's incredible that you are now observing half of the Moon right from your office - it's truly amazing! What you say about the quality of the images and the smooth operation of the scope makes me wonder how valuable such experiences and impressions can be. As you say, sometimes older, tried-and-true models can offer quality that is hard to find in newer models today. Thanks for your recommendation on choosing a telescope - it's really valuable advice

I became interested in astronomy as a lad in the 1960s and started cutting neighbors’ grass to save up for the Unitron 60mm.  ‘‘Twas a happy day when it was finally delivered and led to many great sessions under the stars. I still have it and these posts have inspired me to get it out again. I’ve moved on to bigger fish and astrophotography but that first great scope got me started in the right direction.

When I was 16 I bought an achromatic Konus 60/700 (the Konus Hydra) with which I saw a little bit of everything, especially the sun and the moon. 14 years ago I gave it as a gift then, recently, I wanted an achromatic 60 mm again and I bought a second-hand, well-equipped vintage Bresser 60/900 (5 eyepieces, 90 prismatic diagonal, Porro prism, projection screen solar filter, lunar and solar filters to screw onto the eyepieces). It gave me an excellent view of the moon at 225X (SR 4 eyepiece) and of Castor. I would have to make an adaptation to fit it on an EQ5 mount.

Unitron made GREAT refractors , a stand alone pedigree.  Everything was fabricated beautifully.  An F15 tube might put off today's more compact apo crows but those who know better, the long tube of a 114mm F15  peering into the heavens is absolute romance.  Beautifully corrected optics .

 

Pete

Ah, model 114, I was thinking of their 4" class refractors.  Both have so much soul.

 

Pete 

Certainly not a Unitron, I too remember the ads for them, but I still have the Selsi 80 or 90mm f/15 refractor advertised as 254x that my Dad and I bought back in 66 or 67. Think it had about a 900mm focal length. Had a lot of fun with it but hasn't been in use in a while!



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